CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
13 DECEMBER 2010
The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.
Butterworth, A.: Sym 5, 3 Nocturnes, Quiet Tarn, Green Wind, etc; Butterworth/RScotNa [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Most have heard of English composer George Butterworth (1885-1916), whose untimely death in the battle of the Somme (World War I, 1914-1918) robbed us of a budding talent. But the association between that name and classical music lives on with the world première recordings on this release of selections by his compatriot Arthur Butterworth (b. 1923).
The work of a septuagenarian, the three-movement fifth symphony (2001-02) shows Arthur had lost none of his creative powers. He tells us it was inspired by the Scottish Highlands (see the Foulds recommendation below), which must explain the chill that pervades it. That's particularly true of the opening and closing allegros, which conjure up images of the wind-swept Scandinavian North à la Sibelius (1865-1957). They surround a desolate adagio reminiscent of the opening from Howard Hanson's Romantic Symphony (No. 2, 1930).
Seven occasional pieces fill out the disc, beginning with three nocturnes titled Northern Summer Nights" (1958). This triptych opens with "Midsummer Midnight" flecked by the last streaks of daylight. "Rain" is a colorful orchestral shower, and the concluding "The eerie, silent forest in the stealthy darkness" returns to the Highlands, invoking the cool nocturnal stillness of dense pine arbors.
Next up The Quiet Tarn (1960) and The Green Wind, both from 1960. The former is a pastoral with ominous overtones hinted at by a recurring theme related to the Dies Irae (see the newsletter of 22 November 2010). The latter must have been blowing over the same patch of sea Debussy (1862-1918) immortalized in his La Mer (1903-05, see the newsletter of 9 March 2006).
The concluding Coruscations (2007) and Gigues (1969) end the disc under a cover of Sibelian starlight followed by a juvenescent romp based on waggish ditties of folk persuasion.
Aside from a couple of intonational lapses in the viola section, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the composer give spirited, and what must be definitive performances of this music.
The recordings are good from the soundstage and venue standpoints, but somewhat grainy in the high end. That said, you'll find some occasional whacks on the bass drum that are the epitome of a tight, transient low end.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P101213)
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Foulds: Keltic Ste, Holiday Sketches, Ste Fantastique & 4 Short Orch Wks; Corp/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
In the past we've told you about some of English composer John Foulds' (1880-1939) more serious efforts (see the newsletters of 15 July 2006 and 15 April 2008), but here are several in the "British Light" tradition that fall easily on the ear. All appear for the first time on CD with the exception of the Keltic Suite (1911). Appealingly tuneful and beautifully structured, these selections give Eric Coates (1886-1957, see the newsletter of 15 May 2008) a run for his money!
The concert begins with Foulds' Keltic Overture from 1930, which is an engaging mulligan stew of Scottish, Irish and Welsh-sounding tunes. It's a worthy follow-on to Hamish MacCunn's (1868-1916) The Land of the Mountain and the Flood (1887), and perfectly sets the mood for the Keltic Suite (1911) which follows.
In three-parts, the opening "Clans" recalls the Scottish Highlands (see the Butterworth recommendation above) with heather-scented melodies and "Scotch Snap" rhythms (see the newsletter of 21 December 2009). The cello is the aggrieved in the poignant "Lament" section that follows. It embraces one of those sublime English melodies, which would make it the composer's most popular piece. In contrast the concluding "Call" serves up another bowl of mulligan ditties that Foulds works into an exuberant finale.
A Mediterranean interlude is next with Sicilian Aubade and Isles of Greece, both written in 1927. There's something of Gustave Charpentier's (1860-1956) "Mules" and "Napoli" from his Impressions d'Italie (1891, see the newsletter of 15 January 2008) in the former. Then as we sail across the Ionian Sea, idyllic sunny Hellenic islands come into view with the latter.
The Holiday Sketches of 1908 is a real "Pops" piece commemorating four German vacation spots which were all the rage with aspiring British intellectuals in the early 1900s. There's a droll hint of militarism in the opening Nuremberg section, while the Bohemian one is colored with Gypsy fiddling. The cello dominates "Evening in Odenwald," invoking a peaceful forest scene at dusk. The suite closes with a campanological remembrance of town bells in Coblenz echoing over the nearby scenic confluence of the Moselle and Rhine.
It's off to points south with An Arabian Night (1936-37). Here the composer's years in India (1935-1939) and fascination with Eastern music show in his use of exotic scales and percussive effects.
The CD closes with Suite Fantastique derived from incidental music he wrote for Sacha Guitry's (1885-1957) comedy Deburau (1951). The first two of its four numbers, "Pierrette and Pierrot" and "Chanson Plaintive" will remind you of Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900). The next one, "The Wayside Cross," is appropriately reverential, building to an impressive colorfully scored climax that includes chimes and pipe organ. The spirit of Sir Arthur returns in the final "Carnival Procession," which ends the suite in festive heraldic fashion.
Conductor Ronald Corp and the BBC Concert Orchestra, who are no strangers to these pages (see the newsletter of 10 May 2010) add a little extra nationalistic touch to these pieces making them far from ordinary "Pops" fare. Cellist Katharine Wood gets a big round of applause for her gorgeous solo work in the Keltic Suite and Holiday Sketches.
The recordings are generally good, and present a broad but slightly recessed soundstage in a warm acoustic. The instrumental timbre is bright and clear with the solo parts well balanced against the rest of the orchestra.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P101212)
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Holbrooke: Sym 4 "Homage...", Vc Con "Cambrian", Pit..., etc; Vass/Wallfisch/RLiver/RScotNa [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Although British composer Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958, first name sometimes spelled Joseph) died the same year as Vaughan Williams (1872-1958, see the newsletter of 18 February 2009), he continued to write music stylistically similar to that by such Edwardian romantics as Sirs Hubert Parry (1848-1918, see the newsletters of 27 November 2009 and 26 March 2010), Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924, see the newsletter of 20 September 2006) and Edward Elgar (1857-1934, see the newsletter of 15 March 2008). The modern day revival of Josef's considerable symphonic output continues here with four world première recordings "Angloromantics" won't want to be without.
Holbrooke was preoccupied with the writings of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849), and composed a substantial number of works inspired by them that he referred to as his "Poeana" (see the newsletter of 31 July 2009). The Pit and the Pendulum was the seed for his 1929 fantasy for orchestra of the same name, which begins this disc. It's a tone poem echoing the emotionally charged symphonic offerings of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) and even Rachmaninov (1873-1943).
The three-movement cello concerto of 1936 is next. Subtitled "Cambrian" (Cambria being the classical name for Wales) it honors the cellist daughter of Thomas Scott-Ellis (1880-1946), who was a wealthy Welsh landowner and longtime patron of the composer.
The opening andantino recalls the outer movements of Victor Herbert's (1859-1924) second cello concerto (1893), and contains a killer cadenza. With a couple of lovely arias for the soloist, the lambent adagio borders on the impressionistic. But not the headlong finale, which brings to mind the opening of Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) first cello concerto (1872). An animated rondo with a gorgeous rhapsodic central episode, it makes this work all the more deserving of much wider attention.
The fourth of Holbrooke’s eight symphonies follows. Written in 1928 for the Schubert (1797-1828) Centenary Competition (formally known as the 1928 International Columbia Graphophone Competition), it's in three movements and appropriately titled "Homage to Schubert." Unfortunately it lost out in the British division to a couple of other submissions, which included the three purely orchestral movements that open Havergal Brian's (1876-1972) Gothic Symphony (No. 1, 1919-27). Incidentally, the competition grand prize went to Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) for his sixth symphony (1927-28).
Despite its failure to win anything, Josef periodically continued to tinker with it right up until as late as 1943. In the final version heard here, Holbrooke begins with a theme from a preliminary sketch Schubert did related to his Unfinished Symphony (No. 8, 1822). It's the basis for an opening movement that’s among the most charming romantic pastiches ever penned by an English composer.
As the symphony progresses it drifts farther and farther away from Schubertian shores. The middle slow movement is a rustic English pastoral. On the other hand French Impressionism and German Expressionist chromaticism characterize the delicate finale, which ends with a bumptious final coda based on the opening theme.
The program closes with a "British Light" classic (see the Foulds recommendation above), Pandora or Pandora's Box of 1920. An orchestral dance lasting only six minutes whose understatement is only matched by its refinement, it leaves the listener with a smile.
George Vass conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) in The Pit and the Pendulum as well as the symphony, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) for the other two selections. The performances are enthusiastic, and successfully convey the considerable emotional impact of this music. Just for the record, the RLPO would seem to have a slight edge over the RSNO from the technical standpoint. Raphael Wallfisch lives up to his reputation as one of today's most celebrated cellists in the "Cambrian" concerto.
Although the RLPO and RSNO recordings were made at different locations, the sonics are quite consistent. The soundstage is broad with just the right amount of depth and reverberation. The instrumental timbre may be a tad bright depending on your speakers, but the bass is deep and well defined. The positioning of the cello as well as balance between it and the rest of the orchestra are ideal.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P101211)
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Kajanus: Ste Ancienne, Berceuse (vn & stgs, w Jaunis & Saikkola); Palola/StMich StgO [Alba]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Five works for strings by three little known twentieth century Finnish composers are on this new release from Alba. Three of the selections are world première recordings and so indicted by "WPR" after their titles.
The concert begins with the Suite Ancienne of Robert Kajanus (1856-1933), who's probably best remembered as an outstanding conductor, and for founding the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 1882. A very late work dating from 1931, it's in four movements and begins rather solemnly with a Nordic folk-like tune. But a delightful fugue soon pops up ending the movement on a more cheerful note. A melancholy canzone worthy of Grieg (1843-1907), and perky minuet follow. Then there's a hint of Elgar's (1857-1934) Pomp and Circumstance (1901-30) in the concluding march, which ends this delicate work in toy soldier fashion.
Although the name of Lauri Saikkola (1906-1995) will be new to most, he composed extensively with three operas and ten symphonies to his credit. He's represented here by the Tripartita of 1984 (WPR) and Music for Strings completed in 1950. Both are in three movements, and have a Slavic angst like that frequently found in Shostakovich (1906-1975, see the Weinberg recommendation below). This undoubtedly reflects his studies in Eastern Europe during the 1930s, and the lasting effect World War II (1939-1945) seems to have had on him thereafter.
We've told you about Armas Launis (1884-1959) before (see the newsletter of 18 April 2006), and here's his Suite Nordique for Violin and Strings (WPR). Launis emigrated from Finland to France in 1930, and it was there he wrote this suite between 1949 and 1955. In four movements, the astringent solitudinous opening gives way to a diaphanous pastoral. The piece concludes with a wistful berceuse and rustic shepherd's song. There isn't a wasted note in this sparsity for strings.
The CD ends with Kajanus' Berceuse (WPR), which is an arrangement he made for violin and strings in 1907 of "The Orphan's Lullaby" movement from his orchestral suite Summer Melodies (1896, not currently available on disc). It's a real teaser that makes one anxious to hear the whole work, and adds the perfect "Finnishing" touch to this concert from a land of the midnight sun.
As on their previous Naji Hakim disc (see the newsletter of 31 May 2010), you'll find it hard to believe the St. Michel Strings can produce such a lush sound with only a dozen players! Conductor Erkki Palola, who's also the violin soloist, gives stirring accounts of these recherché selections, leaving listeners with hopes he'll introduce us to more unknown Scandinavian string repertoire soon.
The recordings are good and project a convincing soundstage surrounded by the amenable acoustic of Martti Talvela Hall in Mikkeli, Finland. The string tone is for the most part natural, but with a little more digital grain than on the SACD tracks of Alba's hybrid discs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P101210)
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Ries, Ferd.: Pno & Orch Wks Cpte V4 (Concs 3 in c & 5 in D, etc); Hinterhuber/Grodd/Bourn SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Here's the fourth and next to last volume in Naxos' traversal of German-born Ferdinand Ries' (1784-1838) complete music for piano and orchestra (see the newsletter of 11 May 2009). In addition to being a composer, Ries was a highly successful concert pianist who was much in demand throughout Europe. So it's not surprising he wrote eight concertos to showcase his talent, and delayed their publication as long as possible to keep them exclusively for his personal use.
The fact he assigned them opus numbers in order of their appearance in print creates great confusion today as to their compositional chronology. However, after some extensive sleuthing it would appear the ones on this disc were probably the third (C minor, 1809) and fifth (D major, c. 1816) to be written.
A close associate and student of Beethoven (1770-1827), it's not surprising to find reminders of his mentor here. However, there's a melodic succulence and tonal as well as rhythmic fluidity which is similar to Hummel's (1778-1837) efforts in this genre (see the newsletters of 18 April 2006 and 30 January 2008), and anticipates those of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847, see the newsletter of 21 December 2009) and Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849).
The CD begins with the fifth, which Ries called his "Concerto Pastoral." Accordingly there's a rustic tunefulness about this three-movement work in keeping with its sobriquet. What's more, the spirited outer sections and dark-hued comely central andantino are riddled with horn calls suggestive of forestial hunting parties and peasants yodeling from mountain tops.
The closing allegro has a recurring theme with more than a passing resemblance to the finale of Mozart's (1756-1791) third horn concerto (K 447, c. 1784-87). And the soloist is given plenty of opportunity to strut his stuff in some of Ries' most demanding keyboard passages.
The third piano concerto is a much more serious affair, whose ancestors would seem to be Mozart's twentieth (D minor, K 466; 1785) and twenty-fourth (C minor, K 491; 1786), as well as Beethoven's third (C minor, Op. 37; c. 1800). An engaging hyperactive opening allegro is followed by an adagio, where a butterfly piano flutters around a graceful melodic tutti flame, and right into a dazzling allegretto finale. Frequent displays of pianistic fireworks must have given Ries a chance to show off his considerable technical abilities before the concerto ends in a shower of Mendelssohnian sparks.
And speaking of Mendelssohn, the closing selection, Introduction et rondeau brillant of 1835, not to be confused with Ries' earlier one of 1825, would seem to take its cue from Felix's Capriccio brillant (1825) and Rondo brillant (1834), also for piano and orchestra. A study in contrasts, the weighty introduction gradually accelerates into an arrestingly catchy rondo. Here the soloist machine-guns the audience with a staggering bravura fusillade of notes. The level of excitement never lets up, making this release another magnificent disc of discovery from the adventurous Naxos folks.
As on his three previous Ries concerto CDs (see Naxos-8557638, 8557844 and 8570440) pianist Christopher Hinterhuber is superb! With a wonderful feel for the fickle tempos and dynamics populating these pieces, he makes them sparkle. Again partnered with Uwe Grodd, this time conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, they make the strongest case possible for some music long overdue to emerge from Beethoven's shadow.
The recordings are good, presenting a wide, deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic which will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The piano is well captured and balanced against the orchestra, whose timbre is bright but natural across the entire frequency spectrum.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P101209)
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Weinberg, M. (Vainberg): Stg Qts Cpte V4 (5, 9 & 14); Danel Qt [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Polish-born composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) was of Jewish decent, and the only immediate member of his family to get out of Poland alive, following the Nazi occupation of 1939. Initially he fled to Minsk, where he studied with one of Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) pupils. But as the Nazis “panzered” into Russia, he moved further east to Tashkent in 1941.
While there Weinberg sent a copy of his first symphony (see the newsletter of 28 February 2010) to Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), who was so impressed he invited him to Moscow. He accepted, and from 1943 on would spend the rest of his life in the Russian capital. But in some respects one could say he jumped from the Nazi frying pan into the Soviet fire, considering his music was ignored for many years by the hard-line cultural establishment. Not only that, in 1953 his Jewish associations came into conflict with Stalin's anti-Semitic policies, leading to his arrest. But once again Shostakovich interceded, writing a letter to the authorities which got him released from prison.
Incidentally, the composer's Russian residency has lead to confusion over the English spelling of his name, which transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet becomes Moisey Vainberg, or even Vaynberg. Consequently, it's advisable to try all of these variants when searching for his music online.
During his years in what was the old Soviet Union, he would became a close associate of Shostakovich, stating at one point, "I count myself as his pupil, his flesh and blood." This is quite apparent in his seventeen string quartets (1937-87), which stylistically have much in common with the older composer's fifteen (1938-74). But don't get the idea they're simply retreads of the latter! On the contrary, while they speak the same language, they do so with an entirely different accent.
This fourth installment of the Danel Quartet's ongoing survey of them (see the newsletter of 21 December 2009) begins with the fifth of 1945. Atypically in five movements titled "Melody," "Humoresque," "Scherzo," "Improvisation," and "Serenade," there's enough variety and informality to make it more of a suite. The hyperactive central movement smacks of twitchier moments in Shostakovich's second quartet (1944), but generally speaking there's an emphasis on melody that's identifiably Weinberg.
The next quartet, which is the ninth from 1963, is in four connected movements, and would seem to indicate the influence between these two composers went in both directions! More specifically the opening pair of high-strung allegros may bring to mind Dmitri's fifth quartet (1952). But the pleading andante that follows, while harkening back to Shostakovich’s third (1946) and sixth (1956), presages his tenth (1964). The combination mysterious and folksy final allegro anticipates Dmitri's eleventh and twelfth, both from 1966.
Weinberg's fourteenth (1978) ends the concert, and represents a return to five movements, but with metronome markings instead of names. The most progressive music on the disc, this is a unique Weinberg creation, which one could imagine hints at what Shostakovich might have come up with had he not been dead for three years.
The irascible first movement is notable for a dogfight between the cello and first violin. A mournful interlude follows, and then a muted furtive scherzo in tandem with a mysterious indecisive adagio. These reinforce the sense of ambivalence with which the piece began.
The finale opens softly as if to clarify everything, but suddenly the mutes come off and all four instruments crush any attempt to do so with some forte passagework. The quartet then ends indecisively with mutes once again on, leaving the listener dangling. You'll have to "play it again, Sam" to get the full impact of this one!
Having apprenticed under the renowned Amadeus Quartet, the Danel has since become one of today's finest string foursomes, specializing in outstanding lesser known repertoire. Heretofore this has included works by Ernst Toch (1887-1964, see the newsletter of 20 May 2006) and Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991), but Weinberg's quartets have become one of their specialties. Their commitment to this Polish expatriate’s music is evident in these stirring performances as well as on their three previous releases for CPO (777313, 777392 and 777393). Bring on the rest!
Spread over a modest soundstage, the recordings are superb. There's just enough reverberation to allow the music to breath without masking any of its subtle detail, particularly in those muted passages. Over and above their remarkable technical proficiency, the Danel musicians produce an amazingly rich ensemble sound. CPO has faithfully captured it on this CD, which should appeal to modern music lovers and audiophiles alike.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y101208)
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