CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
6 JANUARY 2011
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.
Graener: Vienna Sym, Flute... Ste, Watchtower..., Fl Conc; Grohmann/Solén/Alten-Gera PO [Sterling]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
German-born Paul Graener (1872-1944) was pretty much a self-taught composer, and lived for several years in London before moving back to the continent in 1910. He'd spend the rest of his life there in a rather peripatetic existence involving a number of Austrian and German cities. His first stop was Vienna, then on to Leipzig, where he replaced Max Reger (1873-1916, see the newsletter of 9 June 2009) as professor of music at the local University.
The year 1930 found him in Berlin, where he joined the Nazi party in 1933, probably to advance his career. It was there he succeeded Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954, see the newsletter of 28 April 2007) as composition teacher at the Reichsmusikkammer (Third Reich State Music Institute), eventually becoming its vice-president in 1935. However, the vicissitudes of World War II (1939-1945) forced him and his family to flee south in 1943. They eventually ended up in Salzburg, where he died the next year.
There's been a lot of water over the dam since Graener's days in Berlin, and nothing has come to light indicating he was a hard-line Nazi sympathizer. So it seems only reasonable in these modern times to judge the man by his music rather than any political indiscretions. That said, the four selections on this disc are valuable contributions to the body of late romantic symphonic works. Three are CD world première recordings, and so indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
The program begins with his Vienna Symphony (Wiener Sinfonie, WPR) from 1941, which is the second of the two he wrote. In three movements the radiant opening allegro is chock-full of scrumptious melodies. They include one [track-1, beginning at 01:48] borrowed from the last movement of Mozart's (1756-1791) Jupiter Symphony (No. 41, 1788), and a couple closely related to themes Graener had used previously in the suite that's next.
The lovely andante is graced with some sublime wind passages of classical period persuasion, and sets the stage for the dramatic concluding finale. This begins with an animated scherzo-like motif that alternates with a more restrained imploring theme (RI). The two are skillfully developed, and then RI appears recast as a stately chorale tune that forms the basis for the symphony's overpowering final coda.
The concert continues with a suite for flute and orchestra from 1929 called The Flute of Sanssouci (Die Flöte von Sanssouci). The title pays homage to Frederick the Great (Frederick II, 1712-1786), who was an amateur flutist-composer of considerable ability, and had a summer palace named Sanssouci. This piece became Graener's most popular work, and a favorite of such great conductors as Furtwängler, Erich Kleiber (1890-1956) and Arturo Toscanini (1857-1967).
The four movements are in the form of dances like those used by Baroque composers. And the flute takes on a more supportive than concertante role, much as in J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) second orchestral suite (BWV 1067, c. 1717-23).
As Respighi (1879-1936) did in his Ancient Airs and Dances Suites (1917-32), Graener puts new wine in old bottles with a solemn opening saraband, toe-tapping gavotte, pastoral air and inventive final rigaudon. The last is the cleverest movement of all with foxy rhythms and atonal fugato embellishments that titillate the ear before the suite ends peacefully.
In 1938 Graener wrote the Watchtower Song (Turmwächterlied, WPR), which follows. He described it as being orchestral variations on a poem by Goethe (1749-1832), prefacing the score with "Zum Sehen geboren" from the second part of Faust. It starts with a somber introduction that hints at a chorale-like main idea, which eventually appears in the brass. This is immediately subjected to a series of emotive variations that underscore the poem's storyline. The work then ends quietly just like it began.
The flute concerto of 1944 (WPR), which was his last completed work, fills out the disc. In the usual three movements, its sanguinity belies the hardships the composer and his family suffered during the last years of the war. The opening allegro is as light as a feather with engaging melodies and ample opportunities for the soloist to demonstrate their technique. There's a swaying dance-like quality about the central andantino that contributes significantly to the concerto’s overall appeal.
The spirited final rondo has as its recurring theme a musical setting written in 1793 by Hans Georg Nägeli's (1773-1836) for the song "Enjoy Your Life" ("Freut Euch des Lebens"), which became very popular throughout Germany. It reflects the composer's enduring optimistic attitude towards life, and can't help but impart the same to the listener.
The German Altenburg-Gera Philharmonic Orchestra under Swedish conductor Eric Solén gives glowing accounts of Graener's music. Flutist Cornelia Grohmann, whose technical ability perfectly complements her sterling tone and sensitive phrasing, makes a strong case for the concerto. Plaudits must also go to flutist Andreas Knoop for his invaluable support in the suite.
The recordings display exceptional clarity and project a detailed soundstage in a hospitable acoustic space. Graener loved to leaven his scores with imaginative writing for the winds, and the Sterling engineers have captured and balanced them to perfection against the rest of the orchestra. Some may note a bit of coarseness in the massed violin sound, but it's not ultimately off-putting.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110106)
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Järnefelt: Sym Fant, Ste, Serenade, Berceuse (vn & orch); Kuusisto/Lahti SO [BIS]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
As far as Finnish composers go, Armas Järnefelt (1869-1958) couldn't have picked a worse time to be born! That's because his music has remained eclipsed both in concert halls as well as on record by his illustrious contemporary, fellow countryman and brother-in-law, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). This new release from BIS should help overcome that oversight by introducing classical music lovers to four of his best symphonic creations. Except for Berceuse, all make their modern day recording debuts.
Järnefelt studied in France and Germany, where he attended the 1894 Bayreuth Music Festival, and became a Wagner (1813-1883) devotee. Accordingly it's not surprising to find Armas' Symphonic Fantasy of 1895 influenced by him. Unfortunately this caused Finnish music critics to savage it for German philosophizing and gloom after its première in Helsinki that year. Consequently it wouldn't be heard again in Finland until 2008.
The music seems rooted in Wagner's later operas, and is a twenty-minute tone poem sans program, anticipating those soon to come from Richard Strauss (1864-1949). Still there are cool lucid passages typical of other Scandinavian composers like Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960).
The opening is anguished, but after a couple of heroic horn calls the mood becomes more optimistic. It then turns pensive, and the composer treats us to a dramatic heartfelt central section. Towards the end the music breaks into a brief jubilant Scherzo followed by a big tune of reconciliation, for want of a better term. The fantasy then ends peacefully, leaving one feeling the critics misjudged it!
The five-movement symphonic suite which is next came two years later in 1897. Much more Scandinavian sounding, the opening andantino recalls Edvard Grieg's (1843-1907) orchestral dances. A hint of Jules Massenet's (1842-1912) Scènes Alsaciennes (Orchestral Suite No. 7, 1881; see the newsletter of 15 January 2008) is also present, which is not surprising considering he taught Armas in Paris. On that note, there's a Gallic lyricism about the following adagio, which could almost be out of a Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) symphony (1850-1886).
Hearing the charming presto, it's easy to imagine a passing parade of toy soldiers (see the newsletter of 28 February 2010). The short-lived melancholy lento proceeds directly into a final bustling march-like allegro that's a tasteful blend of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) and Elgar (1857-1934).
One of Järnefelt's earliest orchestral works, the serenade of 1893 was written during his student years in Paris. It's in six movements of varying mood, the first three being an infectious miniature march, gorgeous aria-like andante, and wistful adagio. The latter, which is for violin and strings, became one of his most popular pieces with a life all of its own.
The fourth movement is a rustic waltz, and the last two run right into each other. They provide a moment of Latin reflection before the serenade ends in a foot-stomping finale, again leaving the listener with thoughts of Grieg and Scandinavia.
The CD closes with the Berceuse for violin and orchestra from 1904, which was a musical get-well card for Järnefelt's ailing daughter. Along with his Praeludium (1899-1900, and not included here), it's unfortunately the only piece he's remembered for today, but hopefully this disc will help remedy that.
Conductor Jaakko Kuusisto leads the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in tender, loving performances of everything. In so doing they make a strong case for some music that's been out of circulation far too long! Maestro Kuusisto is also to be complemented for his fine solo violin playing in the Berceuse.
The recordings are exceptionally clean with sparkling highs and rock-solid bass. But the soundstage projected is a bit distant, although in a nurturing venue. The instrumental timbre is quite natural across the entire frequency spectrum, while the dynamic range is a bit tamer than on some of BIS's older releases.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110105)
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Leshnoff: Dbl Con, Sym 1 "Forgotten Chants & Refrains", Rush; Wetherbee/Diaz/Stern/IRIS O [Naxos]
Not too long ago we told you about up-and-coming American composer Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973, see the newsletter of 11 May 2009), and here are three more symphonic pieces on this second volume from Naxos devoted to him. An associate professor of music at Towson University in Maryland and composer-in-residence with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, he's a contemporary composer who writes intellectually stimulating music with immediate appeal.
Dating from 2007, his Double Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra is set in four movements. The slow opening one begins with a dark anguished theme (DA) that we'll be hearing from again. A last minute sprinkling of notes on the piano adds a glitter of hope, but not for long as the movement ends in gloom.
The mood turns manic in the following scherzo, where fragments of DA writhe around each other in a neoclassical tarantella sometimes reminiscent of Stravinsky (1882-1971). Marked "Mysterious," a sense of nocturnal calm prevails in the penultimate movement as the soloists powered by DA, glide through star-studded celestial space.
In contrast, the finale is a virtuosic tour de force with additional neoclassical associations as well as intimations of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) more frenetic moments. Leshnoff instills it with an amazing sense of Brownian motion, to borrow a concept from physics. The closing measures see the return of DA to conclude the concerto in subdued cyclicity.
Subtitled "Forgotten Chants and Refrains," his first symphony was written in 2004. He tells us it’s an attempt to state in symphonic terms that despite race and religion all human beings are related by the emotions of joy and grief. He includes thematic quotes from a number of early liturgical works of varying creeds, including ones by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397-1474) and Salomone Rossi (c. 1570-1630). These are meant to signify all mankind should work together for a world full of consideration and respect.
In five conjoined movements, the first two are successively reverential and spiky with six-tone-pealing tubular chimes imitating church bells. Both have a predominance of modal themes, one of which is announced by a solo trombone, bringing to mind the music of Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) [track-5, beginning at 00:40].
Based on plainsong melodies punctuated by what sounds like an actual church bell, the introspective middle section is the symphony's center or gravity. The work then closes with an "allegro" and "resolution," which are thematically as well as structurally mirror images of the opening movements. The penultimate one is characterized by percussively accented scurrying modal motifs, while more chimes and Hovhanessian trombone solos highlight the restrained finale.
The disc is filled out with an eight-minute orchestral essay titled Rush. Written in 2008, it's based on themes from some of the composer's solo piano pieces. A thoroughly engaging work, it begins and ends "in a rush" with a couple of mesmerizing moonlit respites for solo winds and strings.
One couldn't ask for better soloists than violinist Charles Wetherbee and violist Roberto Díaz in the concerto. They are afforded inspired support by acclaimed American conductor Michael Stern and the Tennessee-based IRIS Orchestra, who also max out the other selections. Recorded live, there's a fervor about these performances that make Leshnoff's vivacious music all the more exciting. By the way, does anyone know what "IRIS" stands for?
Made in the same venue on different occasions, these recordings project convincing soundstages. The concerto seems a bit more confined, which may relate to soloist-orchestra balance issues under live circumstances. The presence of an audience is only noticeable at one pertussal point in the symphony [track-6 at 02:06-08], so it would seem the Naxos engineers deserve a pat on the back for some clever miking and editing.
The instrumental timbre is excellent across the entire frequency spectrum, which is notable for crystalline highs and well defined bass. Leshnoff's brilliant scoring with its many imaginative percussive effects will delight audiophiles and contemporary music fans alike.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110104)
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Tiensuu: Vie, Missa (cl & orch), False Memories I-III; Kriikku/Storgårds/Hels PO [Ondine]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
All world première recordings, the selections on this new release from Ondine featuring orchestral works by Finnish composer Jukka Tiensuu (b. 1948) will stretch the appreciation envelope of late romanticists, delight modernists, and wow audiophiles! Like his compatriot Esa-Pekka Solonen (b.1955, see the newsletter of 13 July 2009), he's a magnificent colorist who writes cinematically fervent music brimming over with kinetic energy. But he's loath to comment about any of his works, so you’ll have to come up with your own interpretation of them.
Subtitled "A Concerto for Orchestra," his Vie from 2007 is in one movement, and begins with insistent scurrying strings that are soon overpowered by the percussion and brass. Everything grinds to a halt as mysterious iridescent "Neptunian" passages with shimmering winds and occasional trombone glissandi appear. But not for long as the music accelerates into an express train scherzo that gradually slows. Then in the spirit of Honegger's (1892-1955) Pacific 231 (1923), the engine builds up another head of steam, and speeds on down the track. Those who've seen the recent movie Unstoppable (2010) may find Vie its symphonic counterpart!
The Finns seem to have a real knack for turning out superb clarinet concertos -- Magnus Lindberg's (b. 1958) highly acclaimed one from 2002 comes immediately to mind -- and the next selection is no exception! It's Tiensuu's MIssa for solo clarinet and orchestra (2007). In seven sections, the first six are named after parts of the Latin Mass. The last is titled "Ite," which in Latin means "Go," probably here in a recessional sense.
The beginning "Introitus" is reserved with a dulcet toned clarinet seemingly invoking the presence of God. Anguished shrieks and klezmer outbursts (see the newsletter of 16 August 2010) rend the "Kyrie" and "Gloria," giving the soloist opportunities for some virtuosic shenanigans that include the clarinet equivalent of Bronx cheers.
The Credo takes the form of a rhythmically captivating hootchy-kootchy number that builds to a percussive climax, and ends in a soft-shoe routine. It sets the stage for the jazzy spastic "Sanctus" that concludes with a spectacular clarinet cadenza, and pungent orchestral chords that could be out of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990).
The Agnus Dei opens as gentle as a lamb, but stabbing phrases soon emanate from the clarinet, reverberating through the orchestra. As they fade away, calm is restored and the closing "Ite" follows immediately. It ends the work with some antsy passagework for soloist and orchestra, and a final inscrutable pp note on the clarinet made all the more arcane by a celesta descant.
The final selection is False Memories I-III written in 2008. Subtitled "Morphoses for Orchestra," the first memory, "Review," with its jagged rhythms and ff outbursts once again brings Bernstein to mind, but there's a kinetic skittishness that would seem to be a Tiensuu trademark. Listening to it one can phantasize a prehistoric earth sequence like the one Walt Disney (1901-1966) set Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Rite of Spring (1913, revised 1947) to in Fantasia (1940).
In the next memory, "Nostalgy," the upper strings, winds, celesta and vibraphone conjure up images of lingering mists floating over some primeval landscape implied by the lower instruments and percussion. A solo trumpet adds to the mystery, recalling Charles Ives' (1874-1954) The Unanswered Question (1906).
The fog slowly lifts in the concluding "Trauma," revealing swooping pterodactyls and darting dragonflies. Shrieks of prehistoric beasts echo over magmatic plains, and then die away as this lost world fades from sight.
Founded in 1882 by Robert Kajanis (1856-1933, see the newsletter of 13 December 2010) the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra has become one of the world's finest. That's quite evident on this release, which finds them under their current conductor Finnish-born John Storgårds. They perform Tiensuu's music with an energetic abandon perfectly suited to its chimerical disposition.
That's particularly true of Missa, which technically as well as expressively must be one of the most challenging clarinet concertos ever written! But not for Kari Kriikku who plays it to perfection, making it a worthy successor to Magnus Lindberg's (see above), which he also premièred.
Done on separate occasions in Finlandia Hall, Helsinki, the recordings are phenomenal! Calling for a large orchestra with substantial percussion, this music will test the limits of the best systems. The soundstage is expansive, but the clarinet as well as the many other instrumental solos that animate this music are perfectly balanced and focused.
From the silvery tintinnabulation of the celesta down to the gut-felt thud of the bass drum, the instrumental timbre is completely natural over the extensive dynamic range of these recordings. Audiophiles will want to take this CD along the next time they audition new equipment.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110103)
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Weismann, J.: Stg Qts (4 & 11, arr stg orch by cndctr); Mais/PforzSWG ChO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Highly esteemed in his lifetime with over a hundred fifty opuses to his credit, including operas, symphonies, concertos, chamber works and songs, the music of German-born Julius Weismann (1879-1950) is unfortunately an unknown commodity these days. His adherence to romantic principles rather than embracing "the new" explains this to some degree. But today's audiences will be delighted to discover the selections on this disc, which show what a master craftsman he was.
Two of his twelve string quartets are included in arrangements for string orchestra done by our conductor here, Georg Mais (b. 1958). Not a note of the original scores has been changed, but only the voices doubled and cello part augmented with a bass fiddle.
The program begins with the fourth quartet of 1940, which is in four movements. Considering the general mood of this piece, and the composer's having prefaced the score with a brief text describing clouds drifting through blue skies, this is nature music (see the newsletter of 28 January 2009). There's a melodic delicacy and rustic simplicity about the two relaxed opening movements that make them as welcome as a warm spring day.
The pace quickens with the angular scherzo that follows. Its perky outer sections have some invigorating key changes, while the lovely inner one is built on a simple folkish melody. Overcast skies seem to dominate the ominous beginning of the concluding andante. But a brief fugal breeze springs up, and as the clouds roll by, chromatic sunshine bursts forth, ending the piece in pastoral bliss.
Written between 1943 and 1945, the eleventh quartet is also in four movements, but harmonically more adventurous than the fourth. The opening allegro is soothingly relaxed with a quote near the beginning [track-5, beginning at 01:25] of the first few notes (FF) from a theme in the second movement of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Fate Symphony (No. 4, 1877). It would appear this had some unknown significance for the composer because he uses it as a unifying element throughout the piece.
The next allegretto has lullaby-like outer sections based on a lovely swaying melody (LS) that's a distant cousin of FF. They surround a perky central episode, where there are allusions to FF in the minor. The movement ends as LS creeps out the backdoor "on little cat feet."
The dark lento might easily be a lament associated with the horrors of World War II (1939-45), which had just ended ten days prior to the quartet’s completion. Fragments of the main idea seem rhythmically related to FF.
The rondo finale begins with an innocent childlike tune (IC), which would seem to be a variant of FF. It's soon subjected to an assortment of clever contrapuntal manipulations à la J.S. Bach (1685-1750), followed by its return in the minor. A spirited coda with some chromatic legerdemain ends the quartet on a happy note.
Our arranger and conductor here, Gerog Mais, whips the Pforzheim Southwest German Chamber Orchestra string players into rousing performances of these heretofore buried treasures. What the musicians lack in technical polish, they make up in their enthusiasm for this unknown music. Deep catalog Romantics will definitely want this disc.
The recordings are good and project a beautifully proportioned soundstage in a warm acoustic. The string tone is generally acceptable, but there is some digital grain in forte violin passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110102)
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Winter, P. von: Sym 1, Ov, Entrs 3, 5 & 6, Sinfa (fm Schwerin manuscript); Moesus/Mun RO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Widely known and highly regarded throughout Europe in his day, Peter von Winter (1754-1825) is another of those German composers like Julius Weismann (1879-1950, see the recommendation above) who has fallen into oblivion. Peter was a wunderkind, and by age ten he was playing in the Mannheim Orchestra, regarded by many back then as Europe's finest.
For the most part self-taught, he was extremely prolific, and could be considered a successor to such Mannheim school composers as Franz Xaver Richter (1709-1789), Christian Cannabich (1731-1798) and Carl Stamitz (1745-1801). While his first love was opera, he also wrote a substantial amount of symphonic music, highlights of which are included on this release from CPO. Except for the overture, all are world première recordings.
Our program begins with the first of Winter's three symphonies for grand orchestra written sometime around 1780. In three movements, the opening sonata form allegro is a Mannheim masterpiece, which like the music of that school is characterized by splendid themes, thrilling modulations, electrifying dynamics and brilliant orchestration.
The romanza that follows is rather dance-like, invoking images of an elegant eighteenth century ball. It's the perfect foil to the exciting concluding rondo, which has a curious two-part recurring theme whose second half [track-3, beginning at 00:25] begins exactly like the finale of Mozart's (1756-1791) Posthorn Serenade (No. 9, K 320, 1779; see the newsletter of 2 March 2006). This commonality is extensive enough to rule out chance. However, uncertainty about the symphony's inception date makes it impossible to say who thought of it first. In any case it makes the ending of the Winter all the more memorable just as it does Mozart's serenade.
An overture for grand orchestra published in 1817 (date of composition unknown) comes next. On a grand scale by classical standards, this elaborately orchestrated dramatic piece anticipates the imminent romantic era, and Mendelssohn (1809-1847) in particular. Highly operatic in temperament, the slow tragic opening theme is followed by a more expansive energetic idea. These are subjected to a spirited development with some arresting chromatic effects, and then the overture ends in a whirlwind coda.
Winter wrote six entr'actes (dates of composition unknown) that were published in two parts (three each) in 1807 and 1811. Designed for general stage use, the third, fifth and sixth are included here. Played consecutively, they form a charming miniature suite. Rhythmically spirited and full of pastoral woodwind solos, all three sound like country dances. There would also seem to be a bit of early Rossini (1792-1868) in them, which is not that surprising considering Winter's infatuation with opera.
An undated sinfonia with no opus number closes this adventurous disc of discovery. It only survives as a copyist's manuscript found in Schwerin, Germany. In two movements, it's full of those "Birds," "Sighs," "Crescendos," "Grand Pauses" and "Rockets" (see the newsletter of 31 August 2006) introduced by the Mannheim school.
The first movement opens bucolically, quickening into an excited passage. The alternation of restrained and frenzied episodes makes for a riveting symphonic experience heightened by a manic Mannheim ending. But the best is yet to come in the brief closing allegro. Here Winter pulls out all the stops, giving his audience a tuneful, rhythmically exhilarating finale easily the equal of Mozart. It may remind you of the Wranitzky (aka Pavel Vranicky, 1756-1808) symphonies we told you about a few years ago (see the newsletter of 20 December 2006).
The Munich Radio Orchestra under conductor Johannes Moesus gives beautifully phrased, rhythmically charged renditions of everything here. They deliver performances which are not only technically accomplished, but have the spontaneity and over-the-top vitality we're told characterized the Mannheim Orchestra. Flutist Christiane Dohn, oboist Jürgen Evers and bassoonist Michael Weigel get high marks for their fine solo work in the entr'actes.
Done by the Bavarian Radio in one of their Munich studios, the recordings are certainly pleasant enough from the musical standpoint. However, the soundstage borders on the cavernous, so don't expect high resolution demonstration quality sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110101)
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