CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
25 APRIL 2012
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.
Benjamin, A.: Storm Clouds..., Film Excs (w Lucas); Sara/CôrCaerd C/Gamba/BBCWalNa O [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Chandos gives us another enterprising release in their ongoing exploration of lesser known film music (see the newsletter of 12 April 2010) featuring excerpts from ten scores by Australian-born, English-trained Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960, see the newsletter of 14 May 2007) and British composer Leighton Lucas (1903-1982). For the most part the twenty-one selections presented here have been reconstructed from piano scores as well as the soundtracks themselves. Seventeen of them are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after the title of their respective films.
The Benjamin portion of the disc opens with a suite from the docudrama titled The Conquest of Everest (1953; WPR). In four connected sections the music stands on its own as an inspiring picture of earth's highest peak.
One of the most unforgettable moments in all of Alfred Hitchcocks' (1899-1980) movies is the assassination attempt in his 1934 and 1956 versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much. It’s played out to the Storm Clouds Cantata, which is next (see the album notes for the text in English, French and German).
The version here is the more extended one in the later film, but without Doris Day's (b. 1924) ear-piercing shriek, and the chaos following that fateful cymbal crash. Scored for mezzo-soprano, massive chorus and orchestra, with some last-minute support from the organ, it's one of those late romantic oratorical extravaganzas the English love and do so well!
The waltz and "Hyde Park Galop" from an An Ideal Husband (1947, currently unavailable on DVD) are the last of the Benjamin pieces. The former has the opulence of Ravel's (1875-1937) La valse (1920), while the latter is a catchy flibbertigibbet of a number.
Three excerpts from Yangtse Incident (1957; WPR) begin the Leighton Lucas selections filling out the disc. The attractive title theme is memorable for a lovely cor anglais solo line. It's followed by a jolly hornpipe with snatches from familiar seafaring ditties, and a rousing march set to one of those big English heads-held-high tunes.
A cue from Portrait of Clare (1950, currently unavailable on DVD; WPR) follows. It's a lovely instrumental arrangement of Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) "Widmung" ("Dedication"), which is the first song from his cycle Myrthen (Op. 25, 1840).
The next selection "Prelude and Dam Blast is a minisuite from The Dam Busters (1954; WPR), and after the first few measures British light music fans will say, "But that's Eric Coates (1886-1957)!" They're right, because the slower second strain from his similarly named march eventually made its way into the movie, for which Lucas wrote the score (see the informative album notes for more details). Consequently you'll hear Eric and Leighton playing musical hide-and-seek with each other in this clever compilation done by one of today's greatest film score reconstructors, English composer-musicologist Philip Lane (b. 1950).
Lucas was also associated with Alfred Hitchcock, scoring his Stage Fright in 1950. Lane (see above) gives us a rhapsody for piano and orchestra based on the title theme and some sketches that never made it into the film. There are echoes of Richard Addinsell's (1904-1977) ever popular Warsaw Concerto written for the film Dangerous Moonlight (1941).
Next up, a three-part suite from Ice Cold in Alex (1958; WPR), where "Alex" is short for Alexandria, Egypt, which figures in this North African World War II (1939-1945) saga. The opening prelude stands out for a repeated rhythmic motif recalling "Mars, the Bringer of War" in Gustav Holst's (1874-1934) The Planets (see the newsletter of 12 April 2012).
A melodically lilting love scene erases the war-torn memories of the previous section. Then the piece ends with a perky march, which arranger Lane (see above) tells us is an orchestrally "beefed up" version of the one in the film.
As is often the case with music for documentaries, that for This is York (1953, currently unavailable on DVD; WPR)" has much more lasting value than the film itself, which is about a day in the life of the city's railway station master. The colorful suite extracted from Lucas' score has a couple of distinctive cues having a reciprocating insistency commensurate with the film's subject matter. The closing number may recall the lighter moments in Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Golden Cockerel Suite (1909).
The program closes with a rousing extract from the music for the award-winning World War II Royal Air Force documentary Target for Tonight (1941; WPR). It's a march sequence with commanding brass fanfares that bear a passing resemblance to Erich Wolfgang Korngold's (1928-1987) title tune for Captain Blood (1936, see the newsletter of 31 March 2011).
A continuation of Conductor Rumon Gamba acclaimed survey of film music for Chandos, this CD finds him leading the Côr Caerdydd Chorus and BBC National Orchestra of Wales. He delivers stirring accounts of everything, whipping the assembled troops into a sonic tempest for the Benjamin cantata. The soloist in the latter, Abigail Sara, is no Cecilia Bartoli (b. 1966) but gives a serviceable account of it, while organist Rob Court provides some dramatic underpinning. Credit should also go to pianist Catherine Roe-Williams for her substantial contribution to the Lucas rhapsody.
Done in Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales, the recordings project a wide, deep soundstage in a suitably warm, reverberant acoustic that adds all the more drama to this music. The Chandos engineers keep a perfect balance between the various soloists, chorus and orchestra throughout, giving us a pleasing overall sound. However, there is some occasional brittleness in the upper registers during massed violin and choral passages. Had this been a hybrid disc that probably would not have been the case on the SACD tracks.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120425)
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Blower: Hn Conc, Eclogue (w Gaze Cooper, Kelly & Milford); Soloists/
Laus/Malta PO [Cameo Cl]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Holbrooke: Pantomime Ste (w Mackenzie, & Somervell);
Laus/Malta PO [Cameo Cl]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Cameo Classics resumes their unearthing of little known British orchestral works with these two discs. They're the only currently available recordings of the eight selections offered here and well worth your attention.
The first CD (album cover to the left) begins and ends with two rarities for horn and strings by Maurice Blower (1894-1982), who was known mainly for his vocal music. Eclogue from the 1950s [track-1], is in A-B-A form with lovely pastoral outer sections surrounding a more animated central one.
The other piece is a three movement concerto (1951) [tracks-13 through 15] that was premiered by the legendary Dennis Brain (1921-1957) in 1953. It opens with a heroic allegro followed by an attractive lento. The work then closes with another allegro that’s an energetic display of virtuosity having a demanding cadenza. It's a significant contribution to the body of works for solo horn.
A student of Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) and Gustav Holst (1874-1934), Robin Milford (1903-1959) wrote some outstanding music, the suite for oboe and strings included here being one of his finest efforts [tracks-2 through 4]. In four movements you'll find this a charming throwback to Elizabethan and Baroque times.
We've already had good things to say about Frederick Kelly (1881-1916, see the newsletter of 16 April 2007), and his serenade for oboe with harp, horn and string accompaniment (1911) [tracks-5 through 9], doesn't disappoint. In fact many may find it the highpoint of this disc! It makes one all the sadder to learn that he like George Butterworth (1885-1916) was killed in World War I (1914-1918).
A prolific composer with eight symphonies to his credit, it's a wonder the name of Walter Gaze Cooper (1895-1981) isn't better known, particularly in light of his delightful concertino for oboe and strings (1957) that follows [tracks-10 through 12]. There's a Nordic chill recalling Sibelius (1865-1957) that pervades the pensive first two movements. But not the third and final one, which is a winsome whimsical offering laced with attractive pizzicato passages.
The second disc (album cover to the right) begins with Josef (sometimes spelled Joseph) Holbrooke's (1878-1958) Pantomime Suite for strings, written sometime in the early 1900s. It's a series of four musical portraits named for and based on characters in the English harlequinade, which is an adaptation of Italian commedia dell'arte (see the newsletter of 20 January 2012). There's a jaunty Arlequin, coquettish Columbine, haughty Pantalon and antic Clown all served up with great relish.
The concert continues with music by Scotsman Alexander Mackenzie (1847-1935), who studied in Germany for several year. His La Belle Dame sans Merci (1883) based on Keats' (1795-1821) ballad of the same name is a symphonic poem deserving much wider exposure. After a somber opening, we're introduced to some heroic and amorous ideas that are ingeniously developed. The piece then closes much as it began.
Not long ago we told you about some works for piano and orchestra by Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937, see the newsletter of 26 October 2011), and his only symphony (1912-13) subtitled "Thalassa" after the sea goddess of Greek mythology, is next. He also studied in Germany, and his debt to Brahms (1833-1897) is evident in its four movements.
The first allegro is an expansive pelagic invocation, while the following elegy honors British explorer Robert Scott (1868-1912), who died in the Antarctic. The latter is a moving dirge with plaintive passages for cor anglais, and entirely different from anything in Vaughan Williams' music for the film Scott of the Antarctic (1949), which was the basis for his Sinfonia antartica (No. 7, 1949-52).
A catchy hornpipe scherzo follows, and then the final allegro. This opens dramatically with a solemn chorale-like idea, but about halfway through the mood turns festive with the appearance of a jolly folkish melody. Then after brief remembrances of past themes, the symphony ends jubilantly.
Hornist José Garcia Gutiérrez, oboist John McDonough and flutist Rebecca Hall give good accounts of the five concertante works on the first disc. The enthusiasm with which the Malta Philharmonic strings under conductor Michael Laus support them easily makes up for playing that's not the ultimate in refinement. This is also the case with the other disc , which features the same conductor and orchestra. However, with repertoire this rare beggars can't be choosers, and we're lucky to have what's here.
Made last year in Floriana, Malta at Robert Sammut Hall, which as originally a Gothic church, the recordings on both albums project wide, deep soundstages in a highly reverberant acoustic. While this blurs the sonic image to some extent, it smoothes out the instrumental timbre all for the better.
The selections on the first CD seem a bit more forward than those on the second , with the soloists placed to the left and generally well-blanced against the strings. There's a momentary click [track-2, at 02:27], at least on the review copy, and what seem to be isolated traffic sounds [track-8, beginning at 01:58].
The recordings on the second disc suffer from a bit of "tunneling" and grainier highs. There were also some intermittent tracking problems [track-9] on one player that wiping the disc seemed to help. Despite these technical shortcomings, and once again considering the unavailability of these works, recording producer David Kent-Watson gets a vote of thanks for making it possible to hear them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120424, P120423)
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David, F.C.: Stg Qts 1, 2 & 4 (unfin); Cambini-Paris Qt [Naďve]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Orphaned at age five, French composer Félicien-César David (1810-1876) had a religious upbringing, and would go on to study at the Paris Conservatory in 1830. But he left after only eighteen months to become a member of the early socialist Saint-Simonian community. When their leader was arrested in 1832, the group disbanded and David made his way to Egypt, where music of the East would make a lasting impression on him.
After his return to Paris in 1833 he'd go on to write a significant body of works, including the then highly acclaimed symphonic ode Le Désert (1844). This established Félicien as one of the first French romantic orientalists, and made him known throughout the Continent.
Chamber music figures significantly in his output, but curiously enough the influence here is European rather than Eastern. This is quite apparent in his four string quartets, which bear similarities to those of French composer George Onslow (1784-1853, see the newsletter of 25 April 2010).
The program begins with the first, which dates from 1868, and is in four movements. The opening one is a moving study in melancholia. The second is an A-B-A adagio with outer parts based on a killer folk-song-like theme you won't soon forget! They surround a contrasting livelier section, which makes them stand out all the more.
There's something of Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42) in the fleeting scherzo, while the final allegretto is a masterfully crafted, somewhat droll offering built around two rustic subjects. The antsy first is set to a drone bass, while the other is a more lyrical idea with a pleading accompaniment. They pop up in rondo fashion, and end this charming work on a light note.
For a more detailed analysis of it as well as the other selections on this disc see the superb album notes. They also offer an informative biography of the composer, and discussion regarding the French concertant versus brillant style of quartets.
The second quartet written around 1869 is also in four movements with a sonata from opening allegretto having a repeated exposition. The thematic material is delicately melodic and intricately developed. The recapitulation surprises the listener with further developmental passages, and a final flurry of virtuosic flourishes that conclude the movement in high spirits.
There's a reverential chorale-like simplicity about the andante, while the feline scherzo stalks in and out on pizzicato feet. Enter a happy group of peasants for the dancelike final allegro, which has some imitative touches and ends the quartet unassumingly.
Written the year he died, the disc is filled out with David's unfinished fourth (1876), which only consists of an opening allegro. Austere thematic material and rigorous construction make this a throwback to the more anguished movements in the late quartets of Beethoven (1770-1827) and Schubert (1797-1828). The composer penciled "The last work of Félicien David" on the score, which seems in keeping with the mood of this music.
The French Cambini-Paris Quartet gives us immaculate, sensitive, technically accomplished performances of these rarities. Their expressivity in the andante of the first quartet makes for a moment of recorded bliss that only comes along in a blue moon.
The recordings project a wide but focused soundstage in a reverberant acoustic that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. All this enriches the sound, giving the music more of a romantic perspective despite some wiry upper violin passages. It should also be noted there are a couple of brief low frequency rumblings probably related to outside traffic.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120422)
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Fuchs, R.: Serens 3 (stgs), 4 (2 hns & stgs) & 5 (orch); Ludwig/Col ChO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A year ago we told you about an exceptional Naxos release featuring the first two of five serenades by Robert Fuchs (1847-1927. see the newsletter of 18 April 2011), who's best remembered as one of Austria's greatest music teachers. And now they give us a companion disc with the other three. The third like the first two is just for strings, whereas the fourth includes horns, and the fifth is scored for a classical-sized orchestra.
Completed in 1878, the third is in four movements. There's a Nordic coolness about the rueful opening romanze anticipating Sibelius (1865-1957, see the newsletter of 7 May 2006), who incidentally was a student of Fuchs. But the mood lightens in the entreating menuetto, fickle allegretto and busy Magyar-influenced finale, which brings to mind Brahms' (1833-1897) Hungarian Dances.
A couple of horns join the fourth serenade of 1892. Coming fourteen years later and set in five movements, the structure, scoring, and harmonic scheme are more sophisticated than its predecessor. The initial andante is memorable for its captivating melancholy, while an infectious impishness dominates the next allegretto. A sense of loss pervades the following menuetto with its sobbing string phrases and wailing horn calls.
As the album notes point out, the adagio is the emotional heart of this serenade with a chromaticism auguring the music of another Fuchs' student, Franz Schmidt (1874-1939), whose four symphonies (1896-1933, see the newsletter of 15 January 2010) come to mind. One of Fuchs' loveliest movements, it's followed by a vivacious finale having a couple of comely dance tunes. These are accented with decorative horn calls, and bring this elegant work to a satisfying conclusion.
Some wind players join the horns and strings, lightening the tone of the fifth serenade (1894), which reverts back to four movements. Smacking of Robert's friend and admirer Johannes Brahms, it's a worthy successor to the latter's two serenades (1857-59). The somber first adagio is quite beguiling, while the following two fast movements are respectively folkish and playful.
The finale may at first have you thinking the Naxos producers got their tapes mixed up as it starts with a theme from Johann Strauss II's (1825-1899) Die Fledermaus (1874). But no, this is just the beginning of an intricate fantasy in which Robert takes the tune apart and reassembles it, concluding his last serenade with a bow to "The Waltz King."
Following the success of their earlier Fuchs disc for Naxos, conductor Christian Ludwig and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra (CCO) give us superb renditions of all three works. As before their performances of these immaculately crafted scores are technically precise, but at the same time filled with enough emotion to prevent the music from ever sounding academic.
Like the previous release this CD was a coproduction with German Radio, and done in the same Cologne studio that proved to be such an ideal venue for the CCO before. Although these later serenades were recorded on separate occasions, the soundstages projected seem identically proportioned. There’s just the right amount of reverberation to ensure a pleasing instrumental timbre without any loss of clarity. Audiophiles will not be disappointed!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120421)
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Humperdinck: Pno Qnt, Minuet, Str Qt, 2 Stg Qt Mvmts, Noct; Kirpal/Dubrovskaya/Diogenes Qt [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Mention German composer Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) and everyone immediately thinks of his fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretel (1803). But he wrote many other works in a variety of genres, including several chamber pieces, most of which are on this new CPO release. The same tunefulness which makes the opera so loveable, is also found in these selections. Except for the string quartet, these are the only currently available commercial recordings.
His most extensive chamber undertaking was the piano quintet of 1875 [tracks-4 through 6], which departs in a couple of ways from the majority of those being written back then. Instead of the usual four movements there are only three, and structurally speaking the outer ones are both rondos with the last acting as a combination scherzo and finale. Oddly enough the first movement with its bubbly recurring theme as opposed to the more dramatically involved third would somehow seem to have gotten reversed. Try playing them the other way around and see what you think!
But regardless of their order, they surround a moving adagio, which the composer dedicated to the memory of his younger sister, who had died two years earlier. With its reverential opening and lovely lachrymose main idea [track-4, beginning at 01:16], it's the quintet's emotional center of gravity.
A minuet for the same combination of instruments dating from three years earlier (1872) follows [track-7]. This was Engelbert's earliest chamber work, and once again his gift for writing attractive folk-tinged melodies is evident even at the early age of eighteen.
Turning to the medium of the string quartet, this disc includes his only completed one composed in 1919-20. As with the previous quintet, it's in three movements [tracks-1 through 3], but coming some forty-five years later, more structurally compact and harmonically complex. The opening sonata form allegro has some memorable thematic ideas that are juggled about with a chromaticism just short of that so rife in Max Reger's (1873-1916, see the newsletter of 9 June 2009) music.
The second movement has a couple of rustic ditties that are subjected to some inventive contrapuntal manipulations before it ends peacefully. The finale is populated with catchy angular skittering motifs that undergo a series of transformations, but return in rondo fashion to end the quartet energetically.
Two allegros for uncompleted string quartets follow. The one in E minor dating from 1873 [track-8] opens searchingly and introduces a couple of melodies that are elaborately developed in passages not too far removed from Dvorák's (1841-1904) earlier quartets. The recapitulation is notable for a couple of false endings before the movement finally concludes with the same motif heard at its outset.
The other in C minor from 1876 [track-9] begins with a couple of vivacious motifs followed by an attractive leisurely melody. Fragments of these are developed, and the movement then closes with a recapitulative coda much as it began.
The disc ends with the Notturno for violin and string quartet of 1879 [track-10]. This is a melodically fetching miniature rhapsody with an attractive sprinkling of pizzicato, and won't disappoint!
Our core ensemble here is the Diogenes String Quartet, who along with pianist Andreas Kirpal are no strangers to these pages (see the newsletter of 10 May 2010). They play Humperdinck's exquisitely crafted music with great authority. Also violinist Lydia Dubrovskaya deserves a round of applause for her solo work in the last selection.
A coproduction between CPO and Bavarian Radio, the recordings were made almost five years ago in August Everding Hall, Grünwald, Germany. They project a modest soundstage in a slightly reverberant acoustic.
The strings are clear and well-focused throughout, with the violins sounding a tad bright in their upper registers. The piano is well captured, but one could wish it had been a bit more highlighted in the quintet's opening movement. On the other hand, the solo violin in Notturno seems perfectly balanced against the quartet.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120420)
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