CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
27 MAY 2013
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.
Fuchs, K.: Falling Canons, Falling Trio (pno trio), Stg Qt 5 "American"; O'Riley/Trio21/Delray Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
In the twelve years since the terrorists toppled the World Trade Center buildings (11 September 2001), numerous composers have written works commemorating the events of that horrendous day. These include American Kenneth Fuchs (b. 1956), who holds advanced degrees from the Juilliard School, and has become a highly successful, sought-after figure in today's classical music world.
Between 2008 and 2010 he wrote a scena for baritone and orchestra called Falling Man with a text adapted from a fragment of Don Delillo's 2007 eponymous novel about "9/11". His three chamber works on this new Naxos release incorporate elements from this, and are all world premiere recordings.
The beginning one entitled Falling Canons (2009) is a set of seven canonic movements for solo piano derived from the Falling Man theme (FM) in the aforementioned work (to be recorded by Naxos in August 2013). Each canon is based on a different note of the C major scale (see the album notes for more details), and has a time signature related to its sequential number (1-7). Despite all this musical gimmickry, the piece has plenty of emotional appeal, and is conveniently banded for easy access. Consequently the canon and track designations coincide.
The first two are on B and A respectively. Both begin with a simple FM-based idea (SF) stated one note at a time, but become increasingly complex and virtuosic. The third (on G) is a whirling canonic orrery followed by a funereal fourth (on F) [00:03] hinting at the Dies Irae (see 28 April 2013). The set ends in a squirrely fifth (on E), bell-tolling sixth (on D), and introspective seventh (on C) filigreed with tetched trills.
Fuchs' fifth string quartet subtitled "American" (2011) is next, and a worthy successor to its highly praised immediate predecessors. The composer tells us stylistic influences from the American symphonic school prevail, and there are also reminders of FM pervading its four movements.
The opening one [T-8], which is in modified sonata form, begins slowly with a lovely expansive melody (LE) [00:00] suggesting the wide-open spaces of the American West. A catchy elaboration of LE decorated with a faster fiddle tune variant of it (FF) follows [02:38]. Then the movement gradually slows becoming more anguished, and ends quietly with occasional glissando sobs.
The scherzo [T-9] kicks off with a prickly theme overlaid by a relaxed derivative of LE (RD) [00:45], and is spiked with occasional cork-popping pizzicati. Busy passages with some flashy fiddling follow, and then the mood becomes more leisurely. After a reminder of RD [03:54] the pace again quickens, and the movement ends in what could be a whinny from a Wild West stallion.
The next "Elegia" [T-10] is infected with FM pathogens right from the start. It begins with a slow haunting episode alluding to LE [00:22] followed by a fast jiglike one built on SF [01:36]. The composer then fills out this infectious movement with alternating variations of these, the last of which ends mysteriously with a pizzicato hint of SF.
It couldn't be more different from the finale [T-11], which might best be described as a contrapuntal hoedown. This begins with a brief open string warm-up, after which the first violin plays a lively American-sounding ditty (AD) [00:14] related to LE.
AD and other thematic material from the opening movement become the subject matter for a spectacular double fugue, which at one point subsides and is followed by an allusion to LE [04:08]. The movement then ends in a virtuosic, fiddle fireworks coda based on AD, bringing the quartet to a spirited conclusion.
The disc is filled out with the composer's one movement piano trio completed in 2010. Called Falling Trio [T-12], it's a theme with seven variations plus what Fuch's calls a "reconciliation theme" (RT). This acts as a moderating bridge between a couple of the more tonally disparate variations.
The work begins with the piano playing an almost note-for-note version of SF that we'll call SF1 [00:00]. However, the violin soon joins in [00:18] followed by the cello [00:37], turning the opening into a haunting SF1-based, three-man canon. The mood suddenly turns tempestuous in the first variation [02:46], but RT smooths the waters [03:46] for the next [05:12], which in ways recalls Satie's (1866-1925) 3 Gymnopédies (1888).
The third variant [05:48] is detached, fourth [06:27] impassioned, and fifth [07:27] a gossamer web from which it's easy to imagine a spider descending by a silken thread. The snappish sixth [09:38] is followed by RT [10:14], which prepares the way for the final seventh [11:39], where fragments of SF1 are whipped up into a stirring finale.
All of the works here were composed specifically for the artists playing them, and the performances are accordingly totally committed. American pianist Christopher Riley gives a technically stunning, insightful reading of Falling Canons, while the Florida-based Delray Quartet play Fuch's most recent effort in the genre with great panache.
As for Falling Trio, Fuchs wrote it for the Trio21's 2011-2 inaugural season. Consequently the work not only introduced the public to an exceptional new chamber ensemble, but also an outstanding contemporary addition to the piano trio literature.
Done on separate occasions in 2011-2 at two different locations, the recordings sound amazingly consistent projecting generous, detailed soundstages in inviting surroundings. The Falling selections are the handiwork of distinguished producer-engineer Judith Sherman. Made in the ideal chamber setting of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York City, the piano is beautifully captured, and the strings very natural sounding.
The same is true for those in the quartet, which was done at The Hit Factory Studios in Miami, Florida. All three selections are demonstration quality, but depending on your speaker placement and balance settings, Trio21 may seem positioned a bit left of center.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130527)
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Holmboe: Va Conc, Vn Conc, Conc for Orch; Tomter/Heide/Slobodeniouk/Norrk SO [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
A prolific composer who wrote music of consistently high quality, many of Danish-born Vagn Holmboe's (1909-1996) works have only recently made their silver disc debuts, e.g., his chamber symphonies, which appeared just a few months ago (see 12 September 2012).
Now Dacapo gives us a new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release with world premiere recordings of three concertos composed at the beginning and ending of his career. Like the rest of Holmboe's oeuvre, they are rigorously compact, sinewy works that incorporate his principle of thematic metamorphosis, and grow on you with each listening.
Back in the 1940's he penned thirteen chamber concertos, the fifth being for viola (1943, currently unavailable on disc). But he wouldn’t compose the full-scale one that’s the first selection on this disc until a few years before his death. Completed in 1992 and in two movements, it would be the last of his many concertos.
The first movement is a powerful allegro [T-1] that starts with a unifying, drum-pounding motif (UD) [00:00], which wouldn't be too far out of place in Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Rite of Spring (1911-3). The viola then enters with an imploring cadenza [00:25], and is joined by the orchestra [01:21] in a transitional passage ending with a reminder of UD [01:35]. A sophisticated development with a folk dancelike episode follows [02:43], and after another reference to UD [04:51], the movement ends peacefully with traces of same.
The next one [T-2] is in three sections, follows a fast-slow-fast schema, and begins energetically with soloist plus tutti stating a couple of memorable themes. The Dies Irae once again surfaces (see the Fuchs Falling Canons above) as the source for the last of these ideas [02:49] -- maybe the composer was having "intimations of mortality" – which ends the first section along with hints of UD.
After a pause the second one opens with an extended rhapsodic cadenza for the viola [03:18-06:02], whose last note is taken up by the strings. Soloist and tutti turn this into a moving elegy followed by another caesura and the final section [09:22].
This has an animated UD-like beginning succeeded by a metamorphic development of previous motifs with some endearing "celestal" ornaments. The closing measures have the viola playing an extended note, but a couple of UD-like shots ring out from the orchestra, and it quickly expires ending the concerto dispassionately.
Say "concerto for orchestra," and classical music lovers inevitably think of Bartok's (1881-1945) from 1943. But there were several before that, beginning with Hindemith's (1895-1963) pioneering effort of 1925 and Holmboe's written in 1929, which believe it or not receives its first performance here!
More of an overture than a concerto, it's in a single sonata form movement [T-3] that begins with a reserved chorale-like melody (RC) for the strings [00:00]. This is soon reinforced by brass and percussion [00:15] auguring the fanfares in Walton's (1902-1983) Belshazzar's Feast (1930-1). The elaboration that's next gives way to a subdued section with some soothing pastoral thoughts (SP) [02:15].
A metamorphic development first involving RC [04:35] and then SP [07:44] follows. Finally strings and brass announce a powerful recapitulation [11:00], which ends the work definitively. There's a youthful abandon that makes the piece instantly appealing.
The program closes with Holmboe's second violin concerto (1979) written for Hungarian virtuoso Anton Kontra (b. 1932), who founded the Kontra String Quartet. This along with the composer's interest in Eastern European folk music (his wife was Romanian) undoubtedly explain the work's Magyar melodic and rhythmic leanings.
In two movements the first [T-4] is severe with Bartokian themes, and another of the composer's intricately crafted developments. There are some brief bravura fiddle passages just before it ends in tears.
The next one [T-5] begins with an autumnal pastoral passage for horn and violin soon warmed by the winds. A dialogue between soloist and orchestra leads into a delicate cadenza [05:46-07:02]. Then there's a brief pause and an upward flourish on the violin [07:02] introducing the kinetic finale [07:09]. The most virtuosic part of the concerto, this is a rondo-like roundup of previous motifs that ends the work whimsically with more "celestal" touches.
Norwegian violist Lars Anders Tomter and Swedish violinst Erik Heide have the measure of their respective concertos, delivering technically exquisite, sensitive performances of them. There's no sign of that intonational queasiness frequently associated with the viola.
Russian conductor Dima Slobodenouck puts the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra through its paces, providing the soloists with ideal support. They also give an outstanding, dynamic interpretation of the concerto for orchestra.
Danish orchestral recordings over the past couple of years have been among the best, and this one is no exception! Made at the Louis de Geer Concert Hall, Norrköping, Sweden, the stereo tracks project a generous soundstage in a warm acoustic. The orchestral image is sharply focused revealing all the detail of Holmboe's pragmatic scoring. An ideal balance between the soloists and orchestra is maintained throughout.
The instrumental timbre is very musical in all three play modes with clear bright highs and deep tight bass. Some may find the string tone more natural on the SACD tracks, and the multichannel one will put you in a front orchestra seat. By all means take this disc along on your next audio safari.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130526)
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Lukaszewski: Sym 2, Sinfta..., Trinity Conc, Adagietto, Gaudium…; Soloists/Borkowski/PodlC&PO [DUX]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Fans of Lutoslawski (1913-1994), Panufnik (1914-1991, see 25 May 2011), and/or Henryk Górecki (1933-2010) are in for a real discovery with this new release from DUX featuring selections by a younger compatriot, Pawel Lukaszewki (b. 1968). Educated in Poland, this up-and-coming composer has won many awards, received commissions from all around the world, and had his works performed internationally with increasing frequency. Incidentally, recurring motoric episodes are a distinguishing feature of his music, and may remind you of late Janácek (1854-1928).
The concert begins with his Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope, 1997) [T-1] for soprano, chorus and orchestra. It's based on a decree issued by Pope Paul VI (1897-1978) on the last day of the Second Vatican Council (1962-5), which addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world.
An embracive statement affirming the Church's dedication to the betterment of all mankind, especially the poor and afflicted, Lukaszewski's setting makes it all the more meaningful. You'll find Latin and Polish versions of the texts for this and the second symphony (see below) in the album notes.
The opening scored for a tam-tam-thrashed orchestra and full chorus [00:02] is hair-raising! It's followed by a subdued instrumental interlude, and then the tension ebbs and flows with a couple of lovely soprano solos as well as some haunting choral passages. All are set to a dramatic orchestral accompaniment featuring some arresting support from the percussion section, which includes a piano. With the chorus singing "Alleluia", the music then builds to a crescendo much like it began, and the work fades away on a final "Amen".
The world premiere recording of the composer's sinfonietta for string orchestra from 2004 is next. In four movements the first allegro [T-2] immediately grabs the listener's attention with an insistent motoric motif that won't let go! It couldn't be more different from the mournful adagio [T-3] which is the emotional crux of the piece.
This is offset by a jaunty andantino [T-4] with persistent folksy sawing phrases making it sound like a Polish hoedown (see the Fuchs quartet above). It prepares the way for the final comodo [T-5], that begins with a revolving rhythmic riff (RR) [00:00], over which a melancholy sighing theme (MS) appears [00:16]. MS is soon upstaged by RR, and despite a couple of efforts to reestablish itself, finally succumbs to it ending the sinfonietta perfunctorily.
The program continues with Pawel's Trinity Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra (2006). Considering its title and the composer's strong religious affiliations, one could assume its three movements are a sequential representation of the Christian Trinity -- Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Ghost (Spirit).
The opening larghetto [T-6] is a celestial lullaby intoned by the soloist over a hypnotic swaying accompaniment. It's immediately followed by an antsy agitato [T-7] where the saxophone is given a virtuosic bustling line supported by another of those Lukaszewkian motoric motifs (LM) [00:00]. The music then suddenly stops [01:57], but after a couple of seconds LM is briefly resurrected only to abruptly disappear leaving the movement in midair.
A surging tutti begins the final largo [T-8], and underpins a reverent rhapsody for the soloist. One could imagine a couple of saxophone echo effects [03:07 and 04:35] as the spirit of God suffusing the universe.
Sanctity and veneration characterize the next Adagietto for Strings (2009) [T-9], which is another world premiere recording. A slow hushed opening leads to several dramatic ideas, and for the third time (see the Fuchs Falling Canons and Holmboe viola concerto above), the Dies Irae (DI) raises its ominous head as the inspiration for the last of them [04:46].
These undergo a developmental elaboration with more of those tension-building Lukaszewskian stops-and-starts. Then there's another reference to DI [08:12] terminating in an extended inquiring chord [08:22-09:03] followed by a pausal question mark. A brief hushed pedal point [09:05-09:18] ends the piece apathetically.
The pičce de résistance is next, the composer's second symphony of 2005 subtitled "Festinemus amare homines" ("Let Us Hasten to Love Men") for soprano, chorus, two pianos and orchestra. With a text by Polish priest-poet Jan Twardowski (1915-2006), and in four titled movements, the first "Festinemus" ("Let Us Hasten") [T-10] invokes us to love one another without delay because our time on earth is short.
It begins with an orchestral volcanic eruption featuring pounding drums, tam-tam, and other members of the extensive percussion section called for in this score. The chorus soon enters singing the title line [01:01], after which drums and pianos take center stage. They introduce another of the composer's repeated motoric passages [01:57] oddly reminiscent of Alex North's (1910-1991) 1963 score for Cleopatra's entry into Rome. There are also hints of Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Orff (1895-1982).
Some dramatic choruses with chimes, whooping brass, cymbals and piano embellishments follow. The first of these is a hypnotically swaying mantra (HS) [02:38 and 04:17], and the last [07:32] recalls the movement's opening. The music then ends uneventfully in a diminuendo sustained note for the strings with isolated piano chords.
The soprano joins the chorus for the final three movements. The first of these, "Tempus" ("Time") [T-11], is a relatively subdued, moving reminder of our deluded transitory existence. While the next "Amamus" ("We Love") [T-12] is a pounding, repetitive percussion-laced reminder that we love too little and too late.
The concluding "Decedunt" ("They Leave") [T-13] is a final exhortation with Orffian moments to love one another now. It begins motorically like its predecessor, but with a different rhythmic pattern, and then the chorus enters singing the symphony's opening line [00:06]. Highlights include some heavenly vocal passages [01:39-02:41 and 03:15-04:26] and an electrifying bash on the tam-tam [03:09]. A glorious coda [04:26] based on HS and the score's opening measures end the work in the same spirit it began.
Soprano Anna Mikolajczyk-Niewiedzial, saxophonist Greg Banaszak, and the Ravel Piano Duo are all in good form for their respective pieces. The Podlasie Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra under conductor Piotr Borkowski couldn't be more supportive, which is saying a great deal considering the dynamic and rhythmic intricacies of Lukaszewki's music.
Although there's no information as to where or when these recordings were made, suffice it say they were done in a large reverberant venue. They consistently project an enormous soundstage in keeping with the considerable forces required for the choral works. The balance between soloists (including the pianists), chorus and orchestra is ideal with the saxophone, soprano and pianos convincingly captured.
The string sound in the instrumental pieces is good, but there is a bit of glitter in violin passages. As for the vocal works, Lukaszewki predilection for high-frequency-producing massed voices and percussion (cymbals and tam-tam) coupled with this being a conventional CD result in places where the music suffers from a digital upper edge. It's a shame this wasn't a hybrid disc as that probably wouldn't have been the case on the Super Audio tracks. As for the low end, which occasionally hits rock bottom, it's consistently clean.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com,P130525)
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Saint-Saëns: Le déluge, Orient…, etc; Soloists/Vars Cndctrs/StutGedFigC/ReutWürt P [Ars Prod (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Last year we told you about a couple of spectacular releases featuring lesser-known orchestral music by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921, see 8 February 2012 and 31 July 2012). Now Ars Produktion gives us this groundbreaking hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), one with the only currently available recordings on disc of another two rarities.
The most substantial of these is Le déluge (The Flood, 1875) for soprano, contralto, tenor, bass, chorus and orchestra, which the composer called a "Počm biblique." Drawn from the Old Testament story of Noah and the flood, it's a secular oratorio based on a text by Louis Gallet (1835-1898; see the album notes for French and German versions).
Unlike other French Biblical works of that time there are no extracts from the Catholic Mass, which is probably why it never found favor with Pope Pius X (1835-1914), who heard it in 1903. But music critics have since called it one of Saint-Saëns' best works, which seems borne out by this recording.
In three parts it starts with a brief orchestral prelude [T-3] consisting of a reverent theme [00:01] that's fugally elaborated [00:59], and followed by one of Camille's tenderest melodies (CT) [04:28]. Considering what comes next, CT could be thought of as a leitmotif signifying mankind's antediluvian state of bliss.
Then we get the first section entitled "Corruption de l'homme" ("The Corruption of Man") [T-4]. Its opening for harp and tenor [00:01] suggests bards with lyre in hand reciting ancient Greek epics. CT is heard next [00:32] presumably signifying the Garden of Eden preflood state of the world.
But things quickly turn fugally fractious [03:02] and downright evil as the vocalists sing a striking series of passages about man's moral corruption and abandonment of God. This sets the stage for the divine retribution in the form of the worldwide flood described in the next part [T-5].
With a beginning for harp and tenor like the first, shimmering string storm clouds and rising woodwind gales quickly appear. Then we get what might be called a reassuring ark theme in the brass [01:36] somewhat reminiscent of Wagner (1813-1833).
The music builds with tempestuous choral support to a cloudburst of such thunderous proportions you won't have to dust your speakers for weeks. But the elements finally subside in a passage [06:45] recalling the earthly epilogue towards the end of Berlioz' (1803-1869) Damnation of Faust (1845-6).
The third part [T-6] must rank among the composer's finest vocal creations, and opens with a gorgeous extended soprano solo. Towards the end there’s a verse about Noah's dove not returning to the ark, which is immediately followed by an orchestral reference to CT [09:04]. This announces God's new pact with mankind as represented by Noah, and the promise of a "brave new world" to come.
The chorus and soloists then join for a moving ensemble number as we picture Noah, his family and all those animals exiting the arc. They sing a hymn of thanksgiving, and then the work closes dramatically with God blessing the assembled multitude.
The other rarity on this release is a march titled Orient et occident (East and West, 1869-70) [T-2] that was originally written for military band on the occasion of an 1869 industrial exposition in Paris. It's presented here in a full orchestral version made by the composer the following year (1871).
The western-sounding outer sections bracket an oriental inner one, and give Elgar (1857-1934) a run for his money! While the central episode [02:47-04:33] brings to mind those infectious Eastern melodies Camille heard on his trips to Algeria, and used in such works as Africa (1891) and the Egyptian Piano Concerto (No. 5, 1896).
An old chestnut, the bacchanal from his most successful opera Samson et Delila (1877), complements this release [T-1]. Granted recordings of it are a dime a dozen, but if Neeme Järvi's recent hybrid version (see 31 July 2012) was too frenetic for your tastes, you'll find this one a little less rowdy.
Soprano Isabelle Müller-Cant, contralto Carolin Strecker, tenor Daniel Shreiber and bass Philip Niederberger are all in excellent voice for the oratorio! With no character roles, they function only as narrators, and do so in totally committed, dramatic fashion giving this undiscovered vocal gem a new lease on life. They receive magnificent support from the Figuralchor of the Gedächtniskirche, Stuttgart and Württemberg Philharmonic (WP) in Reutlingen, Germany under conductor Alexander Burda.
The two orchestral selections are also performed by the WP, and fare equally well in the hands of the orchestra's chief conductor Swedish-born Ola Rudner. Some may remember him as a virtuoso violinist, who held the post of concertmaster with several prestigious ensembles, including the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
Made in April and June of last year, the locations for the recordings are not given. But they seem to have been done in the same highly reverberant venue, which adds all the more to the oratorio's dramatic impact. The stereo tracks present a grand soundstage commensurate with the considerable forces involved, while the mutichannel one will give you a center orchestra seat. The balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra is convincing throughout.
From the high end perspective the instrumental timbre and voice quality are musical on the SACD tracks, but occasionally intense on the CD one. The bass is uniformly tight in all three play modes. However, those listening on home theater systems should make sure their subwoofer is activated as there are some extreme lows exclusively on the ".1" channel. Romantics as well as audiophiles should find this disc most rewarding.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130524)
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Taylor, Mat.: Stg Qts 5, 6 & 7; Dante/Allegri/Salieri Qts [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The three string quartets by British composer Matthew Taylor (b. 1964) on this new Toccata release are world premiere recordings. They bring to mind some of the fifteen by his compatriot and good friend Robert Simpson (1921-1997), who was a great favorite with British record companies back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Let's just hope that unlike Simpson’s works, which seem to be performed less and less frequently, Taylor's better stand the test of time!
The program opens with his fifth quartet dating from 2007-8, which is in three connected movements that become succeedingly more subdued. The first marked "allegro furioso" [T-1] begins with a frenetic disjointed motif (FD) [00:01] akin to the opening of Beethoven's Serioso Quartet (No. 11, 1810). A more laid-back lyrical subject follows [00:52], and the two ideas undergo an intricate development traversing all twelve keys. The movement concludes with a condensed recap of both, and a nervous coda based on FD that bridges into the next one.
This is a "fuga" [T-2] beginning with an intense wide-ranging subject that's soon followed by tranquilizing trills. These render the music lighter and more sedate with it finally falling away to a sustained high note on the cello. This transitions into a final "lullaby" [T-3] where all four instruments are muted. A lovely gentle rocking movement, it ends the quartet peacefully with a repeated motif that evaporates into thin air.
The sixth quartet (2006-8) is in four movements with the only break coming between the first two. The initial one marked "giubiloso" [T-4] resembles a scherzo, and begins with a couple of faunal ideas that could well represent a bounding rabbit (BR) [00:01] and a mewing cat [01:04]. The two themes are cleverly developed, but only BR is recapitulated on the first violin [03:13]. An upward glissando ends the movement with a final meow.
The next "romanza" [T-5] is an amorous song without words, which the composer justly describes as the emotional heart of the quartet (see his informative album notes). It's also the spawning ground for the thematic material dominating the remainder of the work. A case in point is the broken cello melody (BC) heard towards the movement's end [04:38].
BC leads directly into the next "andante" [T-6], where it becomes continuous, spiraling ever higher in pitch until it simply fades away with another of those meows (see above). Then all of a sudden we get a riotous "bacchanale" [T-7], which is the "romanza" on amphetamines. A final outburst of BR [04:39] ends the quartet with a hop, skip, and a jump!
Begun in 2008 and completed in 2009, which was the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death (1732-1809) and Mendelssohn's birth (1809-1847), Taylor says his seventh quartet pays stylistic homage to them without any actual quotes. In four movements the initial allegretto [T-8] is a rhythmically capricious creation dominated right from the start by a twittering rising-third riff (TR) [00:01].
A couple of other memorable ideas follow with the music sounding at one point [01:25] like Sibelius (1865-1957). These are deftly juggled with what could pass for bird calls along with more TRs, the last of which ends the movement in midair.
It's quickly followed by a scherzo [T-9], which by the composer's own admission is meant to be a facetious slapstick number honoring Haydn's more cheeky moments. And that's just what it is complete with silly tunes and banana peel, pratfall portamenti.
The next movement [T-10] is a more serious affair that begins with all four instruments playing in their lowest registers. But the pitch ascends and tempo quickens making it easy to imagine an auburn sunrise, and birds singing (see 28 April 2013) as day breaks. The warm pastoral passages that follow seem to limn a flowery summer meadow.
They transition directly into the finale [T-11], which begins with passages recalling the Sibelius-like ones in the opening allegretto. The composer then borrows other ideas from this movement, treating them in Mendelssohnian fashion to produce some scintillating music that ends the quartet in an iridescent glow.
Each of the works on this release is performed by a different ensemble, all of which rank among Britain's finest. In order of appearance, they are the Dante, Allegri and Salieri String Quartets, who give superb accounts of their respective pieces.
The playing is technically accomplished across the board with each group making a strong case for its quartet. The composer's presence at the recording sessions would seem to guarantee we get exactly what he intended.
Made over a two-day period at the same location, All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, the recordings project consistently generous soundstages in an enriching acoustic. The instrumental timbre seems quite natural, but some may find the Dante violins [T-1 through 3] a tad steelier than those of the Allegri [T-4 through 7] or Salieri [T-8 through 11].
There are a couple of isolated low frequency murmurs underlying the last work probably occasioned by outside traffic. However, the overall sound is excellent, and Taylor's colorful writing makes this an ideal string quartet demonstration disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130523)
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Zelenski: Pno Conc; Zarzycki: Pno Conc, Grande Polonaise; Plowright/Borowicz/BBC Scot SO [Hyperion]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
For the 59th installment of their "Romantic Piano Concerto" series Hyperion gives us an all Polish program featuring works by Aleksander Zarzycki (1834-1895) and Wladyslaw Zelenski (1837-1921). Chopin (1810-1849) enthusiasts will find much to like in the former's music, while the latter's should appeal to Moszkowski (1854-1925) fans.
The disc begins with Zelenski's concerto dating from 1903. In three movements the first allegro [T-1] starts haltingly [00:04] with passages that may remind you of the march tune in the third movement of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Pathetique Symphony (No. 6, 1893). But the piano soon makes its presence known with a flamboyant descending scale [00:45] and a commanding introductory theme (CI) [00:56] hinted at in the opening measures.
CI is elaborated with some keyboard pyrotechnics, and a flowing romantic melody follows from the soloist [01:45]. The two ideas undergo an attractive virtuosic development that includes some contrapuntal touches and a lengthy pensive cadenza [08:40-11:16]. The movement then ends excitedly with a dramatic reprise and an infectious coda built around CI.
Next comes a theme and variations [T-2] with the orchestra introducing a main subject (MS) [00:00] along the lines of a Dvorák (1841-1904) Slavonic Dance (1878-87). Five transformations follow beginning with one on the piano [01:31], which is a melodically smoothed out version of MS with a curious impressionistic moment [02:08].
Then there's a giddy triplet-infected variant [02:59] worthy of Mendelssohn (1809-1847, see 21 December 2009), and a somber lament [03:59]. The fourth one is a captivating march [05:44] which builds to an impressive crescendo, only to fade into the fifth and final variation [07:34] that's a highly romanticized version of MS.
The mood changes completely in the finale, which starts with a vivacious orchestral flourish. The soloist then introduces a perky folk-like theme (PF) [00:13] that's MS with krakowiak rhythmic gestures. This will become the dominant idea popping up with rondo regularity between a couple of more restrained intervening episodes. A bravura, contrapuntally-spiced coda [07:53] based on PF as well as CI ends the movement, bringing the concerto to a thrilling conclusion.
Two selections by Zarzycki written while he was studying in Paris during the late 1850s and early 1860s complete the program. The first is his piano concerto of 1859-60, which is atypically only in two movements, and begins with an andante. It makes one wonder whether there might have been an opening sonata form allegro that got lost. But, there's no hint of such an animal in the published version of 1881.
The first movement [T-4] is a gorgeous romantic confection having the intense Slavic lyricism of Russian concertos written back then. On that note, Zarzycki dedicated it to Moscow-born, piano virtuoso Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881), who was Anton's (1829-1894) younger brother.
The final allegro [T-5] is in sonata form and begins with a brief tutti intro. This hints at a proud strutting theme (PS), again of krakowiak persuasion (see the Zelenski above), which immediately follows on the piano [00:19]. It's repeated and worked into a flighty elaboration recalling Mendelssohn and Chopin [01:29] that transitions into a relaxed lyrical idea (RL) stated by the soloist [02:36].
The composer juggles PS and RL in an attractive development with some florid virtuosic piano passages. He then recaps both in reverse order [07:38] and gives us a final coda based on them, bringing the concerto to a resplendent close.
The disc is filled out with Zarzycki's Grande Polonaise in E flat Major (1859-60) for piano and orchestra [T-6], which is in the same ballpark with Chopin's Andante and Grande Polonaise (1830-31), Fantasia on Polish Airs (1828), and Rondo "Krakowiak" (1828).
A churning keyboard opening is interspersed with tutti flourishes immediately followed by a fetching Polonaise tune (FP) from the soloist [00:24] and orchestra [00:42]. Next we get a pathos-tinged countermelody (PT) [00:58], succeeded by a forceful elaboration of FP, and winsome folk-song-like idea (WF) [03:14]. FP, PT and WF then play a game of developmental rondo-like leapfrog, followed by a brilliant FP-based coda that ends the work in spirited fashion.
Pianist Jonathan Plowright, whom we lauded a few years ago for his magnificent account of Henryk Melcer-Szczawinski's (1869-1928, aka Henryk Melcer) concertos on Hyperion (see 27 February 2008), scores again using his considerable technical skills only in service to the music. As before the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, this time under Polish conductor Lukasz Borowicz, give him unstinting support. Their committed, sympathetic performances make an extremely strong case for these until now forgotten works.
Also done in City Halls Concert Hall, Glasgow, once again we get an equally wide orchestral soundstage in a reverberant acoustic. But this time around the piano seems a bit stretched across it.
The overall instrumental timbre is musical with occasional brittle massed upper violin moments, while the piano is for the most part convincingly captured except for some digital glitter in complex passages. A good balance between soloist and tutti is maintained throughout despite the wide-angle piano noted above.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130522)
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