CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
21 SEPTEMBER 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.
Alwyn, W.: Conc Grossi 2 & 3, Dramatic Ov..., Serenade, 7 Irish...; Lloyd-Jones/Rliver PO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Englishman William Alwyn (1905-1985) was one of those extremely prolific composers who almost never turned out a "dog." Consequently he's already well represented on disc, still "there's gold in them thar hills," which Naxos has been mining for the past few years.
One of the nuggets they found was the first of his three concerti grossi (see the newsletter of 8 September 2008), and here are the remaining two. As an added attraction, this latest release is filled out with world premiere recordings of three other orchestral works.
First we get his Dramatic Overture: The Moor of Venice composed in 1956. Originally conceived for massed brass bands, in 2001 composer-musicologist Philip Lane (b. 1950, see the newsletters of 15 June 2008 and 27 July 2011) prepared this orchestral version. It's a symphonic poem of cinematic proportions that musically encapsulates all the treachery, deceit and jealousy of Shakespeare's (1564-1616) tragedy (c. 1603). Hearing it one can well understand why Alwyn was in such demand for film scores, eventually writing some two-hundred of them.
The second concerto grosso of 1948 is next. Scored just for strings and in three movements, the solo group is a quartet. The energetic beginning and ending of the opening allegro feature a jumpy angular idea (JA) that suggests Bach's (1685-1750) Brandenburg Concertos (1708-21). But not the more restrained, somewhat impressionistic central section, which anticipates the mood of the upcoming adagio.
This is a lovely lyrical offering where the tutti spin out a comely, sighing melody (CS) decorated from above by the violins of the solo quartet. The final vivace couldn't be more different, and shivers with a rhythmic and melodic nervosity. There are closing allusions to JA as well as GS, and then the concerto ends perfunctorily.
Alwyn's Serenade dating from 1932 was a birthday present for his first wife written during a trip to Australia. The opening prelude starts with a six-note tone row (SN), which is the seed for the thematic ideas in all four of its movements. Once introduced, SN is fragmented and romanticized, but boldly restated by the horns at the prelude's end.
The next movement, "Bacchanal," was inspired by Norman Lindsay's (1879-1969) lithograph The Procession. It's a rustic debauch that may bring Gabriel Pierné's (1863-1937) ballet Cydalise et le chèvre-pied (1914-15) to mind, and is followed by a soothing air for muted strings.
The folkish finale is in keeping with those British country dances by Alwyn himself (see the newsletter of 8 September 2008), as well as the likes of Alun Hoddinott (1929-2008, see the newsletter of 27 November 2009) and Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006, see the newsletter of 21 December 2009). Oddly enough, the main theme sounds related to the opening of the next work, and seems a perfect introduction to it.
This is Seven Irish Tunes, which is a suite for small orchestra that Alwyn wrote in 1936 based on an earlier, eponymous piece for string quartet (1931). It borrows melodies from a collection of Hibernian ditties published in 1855. The ones here include a lyrically, endearing "The Little Red Lark" [T-9], "The Maiden Ray" [T-11] and "The Gentle Maiden" [T-13].
Then there's a wistful tune called "The Sigh" [T-14], as well as three, toe-tapping numbers. The first two of these are titled "Country Tune" [T-10] and "The Ewe with the Crooked Horn", which is a Reel [T-12], while the third is an unidentified Jig [T-15]. It ends the work on a real Hibernian high!
The disc concludes with the third concerto grosso from 1964, which Alwyn wrote in memory of the great English conductor Henry Wood (1869-1944) on the twentieth anniversary of his death. For woodwinds, brass and strings, it's much more contemporary sounding than its predecessor.
In three movements, the first is driving with a utilitarian air suggestive of Paul Hindemith (1895–1963). The middle one begins as an introspective "andante," but suddenly shifts gears becoming a mischievous prickly "vivace."
It's the perfect foil to the subdued finale, where the main theme [track-18, beginning at 00:46] sounds like a cognate of the one opening Elgar's (1857-1934) first symphony (1907-08, see the newsletter of 15 September 2007). Made all the more dramatic by a couple of brief ff passages, this movement is a moving in memoriam for one of England's best loved conductors and someone Alwyn greatly admired.
As with their previous Alwyn Naxos releases, these rarities couldn't be in better hands than those of conductor David Lloyd-Jones and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Their playing releases all the drama pent up in these scores, while preserving that sense of inner logic which makes Alwyn's music so satisfying.
Made on two separate occasions (2007 and 2010) in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, the recordings are well-matched and project a magnificent soundstage in this spaciously bright acoustic. The sonic clarity and focus are exemplary to the point where there's a bit of digital grain in massed violins. Except for the latter, the disc is demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110921)
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Glazunov: Stg Chbr Wks Cpte V4 [Stg Qt 6, 5 Novelettes (stg qt)]; Utrecht Qt [MD&G]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A Russian "Wunderkind," Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) wrote the first of his eight completed symphonies (see the newsletter of 20 August 2009) at age sixteen (1881). He was also a revered teacher, and became director of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory (1905 to 1928), where one of his favorite students was a precocious teenager named Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).
Glazunov composed instrumental music almost exclusively, including a large body of chamber works for strings. And the Utrecht Quartet continues their survey of the latter with this fourth volume in a series devoted to all seven of his quartets (see the newsletter of 3 October 2008).
His sixth effort in this genre is featured here along with the set of Five Novelettes for string quartet. These two works represent very different aspects of Alexander's musical personality. More specifically, the former is a relatively late, finely nuanced, intellectual undertaking, and the latter, a youthful, ebullient set of miniatures where lyrical folk elements predominate.
The quartet dates from (1921) and is in four movements lasting forty minutes. The initial allegro with its carefully judged melodies and immaculate construction is a rather somber offering with the solidity of Brahms' (1833-1897) later quartets, quintets and sextets for strings. But the mood lightens with the following "intermezzo," which is in essence a scherzo whose thematic ideas have Russian folk roots. It's a series of dancelike episodes with all the charm of similar movements in the Borodin (1833-1887) and Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) quartets (1875-1885 and 1871-76).
The anguished andante is a two-hanky lament with brief modulatory weeping phrases typical of Glazunov giving it a Slavic slant. It sets the tone for the beginning of the final movement, which is a theme and variations [track-4].
This opens with a morose main idea (MM) followed by three dolorous variations highlighting the quartet's two violins [beginning at 00:42], viola [beginning at 01:13], and cello [beginning at 01:52] respectively. However, the outlook brightens with the scherzoesque fourth variation [beginning at 02:25], and will-o'-the-wisp fifth [beginning at 03:04]. Melancholy sets in with the plaintive sixth [beginning 03:45]. Then there's a refreshing change of pace as Glazunov gives us a juvenile seventh [beginning at 05;51] one could jump rope to.
With a little legerdemain involving melodic inversion, the composer turns MM into an attractive hymn tune, which is the subject of the eighth variation [beginning at 07:01]. It couldn't be more different from the concluding ninth [beginning at 08:40], which despite an ominous start, turns perky and lyrically joyful, ending the quartet with great optimism. It's the perfect conclusion to a work that becomes all the more appealing with repeated listening.
The disc is filled out with the Five Novelettes composed thirty-five years earlier (1885-86). These originated as separate pieces written for the weekly Friday night string quartet gatherings known as "Les Vendredis," which took place at the home of wealthy Russian philanthropist Mitrofan Belyayev (1836-1903). Published as a set in 1886, it's a musical travelogue of dance-like pieces written in the style of various countries, and has since become one of the composer's most popular works.
Our first stop is Spain for "Alla Spagnuola," which opens with a bow-bouncing ditty that coalesces into one of those meltingly beautiful Glazunovian tunes. This is subjected to a soul-searching variation, and then the piece ends much as it began.
Next, we journey eastwards for "Orientale," whose thematic material is of a more exotic nature like that frequently found in Mily Balakirev (1837-1910, see the newsletter of 28 October 2008) and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s (1844-1908, see the newsletter of 30 August 2007) music. Although similarly structured to the preceding novelette, this piece invokes images of whirling dervishes rather than Flamenco dancers.
The third selection, "Interludium in modo antico," is a devotion that finds us in Mother Russia. Made all the more solemn by the composer’s use of the Dorian mode, it invokes images of Russian Orthodox religious ceremonies.
Vienna is our next destination for a delicate "Valse" that's as light as a feather with occasional Slavic turns of phrase. But things get considerably more spicy as we once again journey east for the concluding "All' Ungherese.' This is a paprikash miniature based on a theme of Hungarian Gypsy extraction. It ends with a fade-out tonic chord on the violins, leaving the listener with a great sense of anticipation and regret that Glazunov didn't take us to a few more countries.
The members of the Utrecht Quartet may be Dutch, but when it comes to Russian repertoire their playing is not only immaculately articulate and technically dazzling, but full of Slavic soul! They once again prove their mastery of Glazunov's music (see above), giving us the finest rendition of the novelettes now out there. And as far as the sixth quartet is concerned, this is the only version currently available, and you couldn't ask for a better one!
The recordings are superb from all standpoints. They project a soundstage ideally proportioned for ensembles of this size, surrounded in a warm reverberant acoustic perfectly suited to these delicate creations. By the way, if you like this CD, make sure you investigate the Utrecht's other MD&G releases of more Glazunov (6031236, 6031237 and 6031238), as well as Alexander Grechaninov's (1864-1956) four string quartets (6031157 and 6031388).
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110920)
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Pulkkis: On the Crest..., Tales of... (cl conc), Vernal...; Kriikki/Suovanen/Lintu/Tamp PO [Ondine]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
On the heels of their highly acclaimed release of orchestral music by Finnish composer Jukka Tiensuu (b. 1948, see the newsletter of 6 January 011), Ondine now gives us one with some by his fellow countryman Uljas Pulkkis (b. 1975). And once again all selections are world premiere recordings that will stretch the appreciation envelope of late romanticists, delight modernists, and wow audiophiles!
Pulkkis, like Tiensuu and their compatriot Esa-Pekka Salonen (b.1955, see the newsletter of 13 July 2009), is a magnificent colorist who writes music brimming over with kinetic energy. And a good example of that is his eighteen-minute, orchestrally opulent tone poem On the Crest of Waves (2003). Highly programmatic, it's about the sea and takes its cue from earlier romantic and impressionistic composers.
It's made up of seven seamlessly connected "fantasias," as the composer calls them, each having a descriptive title. In the introductory one [track-1], glistening strings suggest a calm glassy sea, and introduce an angular sighing riff (AS) [track-1, beginning at 00:07] that will act as a unifying motif throughout the piece.
Woodwinds, brass and harp join in the following fantasia entitled "On the Shore" [track-2], which the composer says was inspired by his seeing waves striking the coast of Iceland. There's something of Debussy's (1862-1918) La Mer (1903-05, see the newsletter of 9 March 2006), Sibelius' (1865-1957) fifth symphony (1915, revised 1919), and Ravel's (1875-1937) Daphnis and Chloé (1912) in this mesmerizing section.
However, it's the calm before the storm, which Pulkkis conjures up in the next three fantasias named "The Wind," "Rough Sea" and "Approaching Storm" [tracks-3, 4 and 5]. Stabbing allusions to AS and heavy duty percussion make this the most exciting part of the poem with passages calling to mind Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Ein Heldenleben (1897-98).
After an arresting thunder and lightning-streaked passage, [track-5, beginning at 03:19] Neptune's wrath (see the newsletter of 20 August 2009) abates in "The Clam" [tracks-6], which gives way to the concluding fantasia, "On the Waves." It ends this extraordinary seascape in a benign state with a sinusoidal contemplation of ocean motion.
As we've noted before the Finns seem to have a real knack for turning out superb contemporary clarinet concertos. To wit, Magnus Lindberg's (b. 1958) highly acclaimed one of 2002, and Jukka Tiensuu's from 2007 (see the newsletter of 6 January 2011).
Well, here's a third which Pulkkis calls Tales of Joy, Passion, and Love. It's in three adjoining movements corresponding sequentially to each of the sentiments in the title. The last one was composed first in 2005, with the other two following in 2010.
Inspired by the composer's love for opera, he likens the clarinet's role to that of a leading tenor. Carrying this a couple of steps further, there are stage directions for several members of the orchestra (see the album notes for details), and the clarinet is joined in the last movement by a male soloist singing a love song.
The first movement, "Tales of Joy," begins with a chortling ursine melody on the bassoon that could be a deformed variant of that skittish theme in Mozart's (1756-1791) overture to The Magic Flute (1791, see the newsletter of 29 October 2010). It's soon taken up by the clarinet, and the music gains momentum as a brief minimalistic, rhythmic riff bubbles periodically to the surface [track-8, beginning at 01:30].
All the while the soloist swoops virtuosically over brilliantly colored tutti passages, eventually hitting a sustained high note [track-8, beginning at 05:40]. This marks a turning point after which a more subdued section follows.
But the music builds again, becoming even more frenetic. Passages reminiscent of Mahler's (1860-1911) fatalistic symphonic moments appear, only to die away and eventually transition into the next movement, "Tales of Passion."
This begins introspectively with amorous bravura utterances played by the soloist along with the orchestra's two clarinets. The music becomes more florid, and they're joined by a quartet drawn from the string sections [track-9, beginning at 06:12]. This gives us a concerto grosso of sorts with a septet of soloists.
The pace then gradually slows, and the movement fades into the final "Tales of Love" announced by strings and tubular chimes. This is the most reflective as well as unconventional part of the concerto. It includes a strange hybrid aria in which the soloist is the clarinet together with a baritone singing Thomas Moore's (1779-1852) poem "She Sung of Love" (see the album notes for the text) from his Irish Melodies (1808-34, volume 9). Reputedly the intention of all this is to have the vocalist verbalizing what the clarinet's expressing -- its effectiveness is left up to you!
The last selection is the nine-minute tone poem Vernal Bloom from 2008, which has no underlying program other than invoking feelings associated with spring. Written for a Finnish youth orchestra, it's appropriately straightforward as well as energetic. And in an effort to give every youngster their day in court, it takes on the aspect of a brilliantly scored mini-concerto for orchestra with solo passages popping up like spring flowers.
The opening is high-strung with fragmented motifs and frequent brass flourishes that may bring Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Le Coq d'Or (The Golden Cockerel, 1907) to mind. The composer constructs a colorful harmonic house of cards from these with arresting horn glissandi. And then the piece suddenly ends in medias res, leaving one wondering whether all the music was passed out to the players.
Conductor Hannu Lintu and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra give us thrilling performances of these Technicolor scores, and the same can be said of clarinetist Kari Kriikku in the Tales... concerto. He lives up in every respect to his previous recordings of those by Lindberg and Tiensuu (see above). A big round of applause also goes to "the voice of the clarinet," baritone Gabriel Suovanen, for his sensitive delivery of Moore's poem.
The Ondine engineers turn out some of today's best sounding conventional CDs, and this one's no exception! Done on separate occasions in Tampere Hall, Finland, the recordings are consistently outstanding. They project an expansive, but well focused soundstage in one of those venues where you could hear a pin drop. Clarity is paramount with the clarinet and other soloists, including the baritone, perfectly placed and balanced.
Pulkkis' elaborate scoring covers a wide frequency spectrum and generates a considerable dynamic range, both of which will test the limits of any sound system. The instrumental timbre is musical with bright silvery highs, and gut-felt lows whenever the guy in the "kitchen department" whacks that bass drum. This is definitely a "sheep-and-goats" disc when it comes to judging new audio equipment!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110919)
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Serov: Judith (cpte opera); Soloists/Christiakov/USSRAcC & MaleChC/BolshTh O [Brilliant]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
Alexander Serov (1820-1871) began his career as a Russian civil servant, but decided to become a full-time composer in the early 1850s. Today he's best remembered for his two completed operas Judith (1861-63) and Rogneda (1865, not currently available on disc). Both impressed Russian audiences of the time, including the Tsar, who consequently granted Serov a royal pension, while Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) was very taken with the former.
They establlish an important bridge between the pioneering Russian operas of Glinka (1804-1857), i.e., A Life for the Tsar (Ivan Susanin) (1836) and Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), as well as those of Alexander Dargomizhsky (1813-1869), i.e., Esmeralda (1840, not currently available on disc) and Rusalka (1856, see the newsletter of 16 August 2010), and those soon to come from Borodin (1833-1887), Mussorgsky (1839-1881), Rimsky Korsakov (1844-1908) and Tchaikovsky.
Based on the Book of Judith in the Old Testament, Serov put the cart before the horse, first composing the music for his five-act drama, and then getting several writers to fashion a libretto for it (none included here, but there is a plot synopsis). The story is about a Jewish heroine who saves her town from foreign invaders by beheading their leader. It's been the subject of several other vocal works, and if you don't already know it, you might want to investigate German composer Siegfried Matthus' (b. 1934) powerful opera of the same name for a contemporary take on it.
Colorfully orchestrated, the opening overture [CD-1, track-1, lasting 5'06 and not 8'10 as indicated in the album notes] is more Central European than Slavic sounding, with a lovely memorable idea that soon turns foreboding. It captures the fear and desperation of the Hebrew people in the city of Bethulia, which is under siege by the Assyrian Army.
The first act curtain goes up on the town square, where the elders Ozias and Charmis along with the high priest Eliachim recall events leading up to the current crisis. They attempt to assure the people God will eventually prevail and deliver them. A couple of stirring choruses follow, including a brief fugal one [track-3, beginning at 02:03] that smacks of Handel (1685-1759).
The tension mounts, and then the act ends quietly with a final chorus in which the town folk implore God to save them. There are a couple of dramatic interjections by Ozias, Charmis and Eliachim (all Russian basses) anticipating what would soon come in Mussorgsky's Boris Goudonov (1869, revised 1872).
Judith makes her appearance in act two with a moving aria declaring her intentions to seduce and murder the enemy's commanding general Holofernes. She then gets the elders' approval to visit the Assyrian encampment, and in a dramatic duet with her slave Avra, the two set out as the act ends.
A stirring orchestral interlude known as "The March of Holofernes," where you'll find a passing resemblance to the sorcerer Chernomor's march in Glinka's Ruslan... (see above), follows. It anticipates the Eastern exoticism that suffuses the third act.
It begins with a terrific song and dance number for Holofernes' odalisques (Turkish female slaves) that's again reminiscent of Ruslan... (see above). All this is cut short by the entrance of the big man himself, who dismisses them and sings a macho aria resolving to capture Bethulia the next day!
But not so fast! Enter his troops with a rousing chorus extolling the beauty of some strange woman who's just walked into camp. Holofernes joins them to see what all the fuss is about, and becomes immediately smitten by Judith. She tells him she'll show him a secret entrance to the city, and the assembled Assyrians anticipating an easy victory, sing a joyfull chorus that concludes the act.
The fourth act really grabbed Tchaikovsky, and no wonder because it represented a dramatic high point in Russian opera up to that time. It begins with another thrilling odalisque dance sequence, and then a seductive pas de deux done by two Egyptian girls. We then get an over-the-top orgy scene, in which Holofernes has three or four too many, followed by a gorgeous Hindu love song crooned by Bogoas, who’s the harem keeper.
Presaging some of the arias in Boris... (see above), the inebriated Holofernes sings a marvelous one with choral support from his troops, bragging about their inevitable victory. He's then joined by Judith, Bogoas and Avra for a memorable ensemble number laced with reminders of his march (see above). Already in a drunken stupor, he eventually falls into a deep sleep, during which Judith summons up all her courage and decapitates him. Putting his head in a sack, she and Avra exit stage right for Bethulia, ending the fourth act!
The fifth and final one begins with the same sense of gloom that hung over the opera's opening, as the Bethulians bemoan their supposed fate at the hands of the Assyrians. They are just about to capitulate and open the city gates to the enemy, when trumpets announce the arrival of Judith, who tells them she has the head of Holofernes and victory will soon be theirs. Reports follow that the invading army has scattered. Serov then pulls out all the stops in a glorious final ensemble piece with Judith and her people thanking God for their salvation.
A Bolshoi Theater studio production, the singing here is uniformly good featuring Russian soloists in the title roles. These include soprano Irina Udalova (Judith), mezzo-soprano Elena Zaremba (Avra), tenors Nikolai Vassiliev and Lev Kuznetsov (Bogoas and the HIndu love song respectively), with basses Mikhail Krutikov, Anatoly Babykin, Pyotr Gluboky and Maxim Mikhailov (Holofernes, Ozias, Eliachim and Charmis).
Andrey Chistiakov conducts the USSR Russian Academic Choir and Male Chamber Choir along with the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra in a fervent rendition of this rarely heard Russian operatic masterpiece. What the performance may lack in refinement it makes up for in authenticity and enthusiasm.
The recording was made in 1990 during the last days of the Soviet Union, and while it's certainly better than earlier stereo Melodiyas with their wailing brass and shrieking highs, it won't win any audiophile awards. Incidentally you may notice a momentary drop in level at the beginning of track ten on the second disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110918)
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Vaughan Williams: Garden..., In the Fen... (w Hadley); Soloists/Daniel/JoyCoSing/Bourn SO [Albion]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
From the official label of The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, Albion Records gives us world premiere recordings of two rare English choral works. Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed the earlier of these, and helped arrange the other, which was written fifty years later by his student Patrick Hadley (1899-1973).
Completed in 1899 and scored for soprano, chorus and orchestra, The Garden of Proserpine [track-1] was VW's first large-scale work. A secular cantata that portends his youthful A Sea Symphony (No. 1, 1903-09, revised 1923), it's a powerful setting of A.C. Swinburne's (1837-1909) poem by the same name (1866). In twelve stanzas, the imagery of a sterile garden tended by Proserpine (aka Persephone), queen of the underworld, is used to invoke feelings of world-weariness and longing for release through the finality of death (see the album notes for the complete text).
It begins with a brief somber timpani-accented prologue, immediately followed by a dramatic chorus that sets the Stygian tone of this piece [stanzas-1 through 3]. Some beautifully written poetic passages for the soprano are next [stanzas-4 and 5], after which the chorus intones a grim march-of-death [stanza-6] that's picked up by the soloist [stanza-7]. But the mood gladdens as the chorus returns [stanza-8] with the soprano joining them for the last two lines of the stanza. They then sing a lovely remembrance of things past [stanza-9].
The somewhat more optimistic conclusion follows, beginning with two delicately set verses for the soloist [stanzas-10 and 11]. The final chorus [stanza-12] is almost chant-like with a hopeful orchestra joining in to bring this precocious piece to a peaceful conclusion.
The 1953 North Sea flood, which killed over two thousand people along coastal areas of the Netherlands, Belgium and eastern central as well as southern England was the inspiration for Hadley's secular cantata Fen and Flood completed in 1955. With words by the composer in collaboration with his good friend musicologist Charles Cudworth (1908-1977, see the album notes for the complete text), it was originally scored for soprano, baritone, male chorus and a small instrumental ensemble.
Later that year Hadley expanded it for a full orchestra, which included a wind machine. While he was doing this, his friend Vaughan Williams rearranged the vocal parts for mixed chorus without changing the solo passages. And this is the version included here.
In two parts, the first is made up of nine sections that give a history of the Fens, or Fenland(s). These were originally marshes along the mid and lower east coast of England that were drained in the seventeenth century to become low-lying agricultural regions. Unfortunately by their very nature they were at the mercy of the North Sea, setting the stage for the disaster that prompted Hadley's cantata.
Part one begins with a baritone recitative [track-3] that's initially miasmic with vaporous woodwinds. It then turns joyful, foreshadowing the next section [track-4], which is a delightful Gloria for soprano and male chorus in keeping with the many churches located around the Fens.
The baritone returns singing an aria [track-5] that brings Delius (1862-1934, see the newsletter of 27 July 2011) to mind. It introduces the last six sections of the first part, which tell about the conversion of the area from swamp to farmland (see the album notes for more musical details). Highlights include a lovely soprano "Lament for Walsingham" [track-7], and a couple of sea-shanty-like numbers for baritone with male chorus [tracks-8 and 9]. A striking full choral arrangement of the hymn tune "Lynn" by Dutch composer Pieter Hellendaal (1721-1799) [track-11] concludes the first part.
The second begins with a jolly ditty from an earlier VW folk song collection. Entitled "The Painful Plough" [track-12], it's sung by the baritone with mixed chorus, and followed by a five-line declaratory "Shipping" air for the soloist [track-13] with words that could be out of Walt Whitman (1819-1892).
"The Lynn Apprentice" section that's next [track-14] is based on another song from that collection entitled "The Captain's Apprentice" (see below). Sung by the soloists and mixed chorus, this is a hauntingly tragic number with a melody VW had already used in his Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 (1905-06), and a story line reminiscent of Benjamin Britten's (1913-1976) opera Peter Grimes (1945). It sets the stage for the frightening flood to come [track-15].
Scored for the entire cast, this reaches thrilling operatic proportions, and the use of a wind machine harkens back to VW's Sinfonia antartica (No. 7, 1949-52)]. The cantata ends as the waters recede [track-16], and the survivors thank God for their deliverance with an impressive chorale [track-17]. While Hadley's subject matter may be parochial, his inspired handling of it gives this work universal appeal.
The disc is filled out with a couple of selections related to the Hadley. First there's VW's symphonic impression for orchestra "In the Fen Country" (1904-07, revised 1958) [track-2]. Here the composer never actually quotes any folk songs, preferring to borrow stylistic elements from them to come up with his own folk-inflected melodies. He treats these impressionistically, creating a stunning orchestral study typifying English pastoral music of the late romantic period.
Finally we're treated to VW's original arrangement of "The Captain's Apprentice" (see above) [track-18] in a setting for solo baritone. It was one of the composer's favorite melodies, and perspicacious English music enthusiasts will find references to it in several of his other works.
The performances are superb and mezzo-soprano Jane Irwin certainly has a green thumb in The Garden of Proserpine. Her silken voice and dramatic delivery would be hard to beat. The same can be said of soprano Mary Bevan in Fen and Flood. Additionally she delivers the more folksy numbers in Hadley's cantata with an innocence and sincerity that are totally captivating.
Baritone Leigh Melrose is one of those vocalists whose highly dramatic singing is tempered with great precision, making it possible to understand his every word. And on that note the Joyful Company of Singers is equally articulate in their delivery of these picturesque texts.
You may remember it was the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) under conductor Paul Daniel that gave us what many consider the finest rendition of Elgar's resurrected third symphony. And that same combination now turn their turn their attention to these neglected cantatas as well as a VW orchestral rarity with equally spectacular results.
The recordings were made in the Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center in Dorset, England, and project a spacious soundstage in an ideally reverberant acoustic. The balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra is outstanding, but there is a digital edge to the voices in ff passages. This may be due in part to an overly robust dynamic range, and would have undoubtedly been greatly reduced in super audio had this been a hybrid disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110917)
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Ysaÿe, E.: Stg Qnt, Andante (stg qnt), London Qt, Paganini Vars; Bogdanas/Kryptos Qt [EtCetera]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Following in the footsteps of Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) and Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), both of whom he studied with, Belgian-born Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931) became the most renowned violinist of his day. He was greatly admired by a number of outstanding composers, among them César Franck (1822-1890), who gave him his violin sonata (1886) as a wedding present.
Ysaÿe also wrote a considerable number of chamber works, four of which appear on this new EtCetera release. And as of this writing, they're the only extant commercially available recordings of them. However, please be advised that the order of the two middle selections as indicated on the album's back panel is reversed, i.e., the Andante is track two, and the London Quartet, track three.
The program begins with his string quintet of 1894 dedicated to his brother, pianist-composer Théo Ysaÿe (1865–1918, nothing currently available on disc). In one continuous twenty-minute movement, it's a searching, angst-ridden offering that owes a debt to Franck, and even has a theme [track-1, beginning at 03:24] similar to the main one in his Les Eolides (1875-76).
There's also a subtle expressivity and chromatic itinerancy which make it a piece that reveals something new with each listening. In that regard it may bring to mind the original string sextet version of Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) Verklärte Nacht (1899).
The Andante for string quintet from 1893 follows [track-2, and not track-3 as incorrectly indicated on the album back panel]. At just a little over thirteen minutes, it's a somber offering with an imploring central idea [track-2, beginning at 00:29] that undergoes a series of moving transformations. They range from introspective, to playful, contrapuntally agitated and blissfully resigned. There are some soaring violin passages much in keeping with this having been written by one of the greatest violinists of all time.
The next selection began life as the first movement of a violin duo (c. 1916, and currently unavailable on disc) Ysaÿe composed in London for Belgium's Queen Elisabeth (1876-1965), who was one of his private pupils. He then rescored it for string trio, naming it his London Trio (no date given, and currently unavailable on disc). Finally the composer's grandson Jacques Ysaÿe (b. 1922) expanded it for string quartet (no date given), calling it London Quartet, which is what we have here [track-3, and not track-2 as incorrectly indicated on the album back panel].
After an anguished introduction that could almost be out of a late Beethoven (1770-1827) quartet (1823-26), we get a rhythmically jagged theme (RJ) [track-3, beginning at 02:05] that's developed by way of rubato and contrapuntal means. Towards the end, fragments of RJ are tossed about in an impassioned coda that ends the work definitively.
The concert concludes with another of Jacques Ysaÿe's quartet arrangement (no date given), this time of his grandfather's Paganini Variations originally for solo violin (no date given) [track-4]. It's based on the last of Niccolò Paganini's (1782-1840) Twenty-four Caprices (1801-07), which has proved to be a favorite subject for similar works by a number of other composers. Can you name some [see possible answers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]?
The original theme is modified right from the start for a total of sixteen inventive variations. Highlights include a lachrymose third, fourth and fifth [track-4, beginning at 01:07, 01:47 and 02:47], in addition to a Scandinavian-tinged seventh [track-4, beginning at 04:33], which may bring the last of Grieg's (1843-1907) four Symphonic Dances (1896-98) to mind.
There's also a florid virtuosic ninth [track-4, beginning at 05:48] and bouncy pizzicato tenth [track-4, beginning at 06:28], as well as a lovely angelic thirteenth and fourteenth [track-4, beginning at 08:23 and 09:15]. The final two variations [track-4, beginning at 09:37 and 09:58] are bravura bashes, ending this showpiece in a spectacular display of fiddle fireworks.
Formed in 2002, the Kryptos Quartet derives its name from the Greek word kruptos (hidden), which we're told is meant to signify its members' intent to reveal the innermost secrets of anything they play. That may sound sophomoric, but one can't deny they deliver sensitive, technically accomplished performances on this release. First violinist Hanna Drzewiecka gets a big hand for her spectacular solo work in Paganini.... And violist Vlad Bogdanas is to be acknowledged for his contribution to the quintets.
Done in Brussels, these studio recordings will appeal to those liking drier, more up-front sonics. They project a modest soundstage in a friendly acoustic, and are notable for their clarity and focus. In that regard the violins can sound a bit steely at times.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110916)
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