CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
20 JUNE 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.
Grainger: Large Chorus & Orch Wks (10); Davis/SydChC/Melb C&SO [Chandos (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
A wunderkind, composer Percy Grainger (1882-1961) lived for extended periods in Australia, Germany, England and America. Born in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, he began his musical education "Down Under," but in 1895 at age thirteen moved with his mother to Frankfurt. He'd continue his studies there, and help form the circle of British student composers who became known as the "Frankfurt Group" (see 7 November 2012, and the Cyril Scott recommendation below).
However, Mrs. Grainger developed mental health problems forcing her son to leave academia and become a concert pianist in order to support them. They consequently moved to London in 1900, where Percy established himself as a keyboard virtuoso, arranger and composer. Then in 1914 with the advent of World War I (1914-18), mother and son left Europe for the United States. Grainger would make it his home base for the rest of his life, and become one of America's most renowned musical figures.
An abiding interest in literature lead him to write many vocal works throughout his career. These included a number for large chorus and orchestra, ten of which are on this new Chandos hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release. Three call for double chorus, seven as presented here are world premiere recordings, and four are from live performances (see the audio commentary below). They're so indicated by "DC", "WPR" and "L" after their titles. English texts are provided in the album notes.
The words for the first selection entitled King Solomon's Espousals (1900; WPR) [T-1] come from the Douay translation of the Old Testament Song of Solomon (chapter three, verses seven through eleven). Calling for a huge orchestra, it's a youthful effort with an endearing naiveté, and hints of much greater things to come.
The next, Danny Deever (1903, revised 1924, L) [T-2], is a more progressive piece that's a setting of Rudyard Kipling's (1865-1936) eponymous poem from his first series of Barrack-Room Ballads (1892). Consisting of a dialogue between a sergeant (baritone solo) and his battalion (male chorus), it describes their being assembled to watch the execution of a fellow soldier who's murdered a comrade in arms. The underlying melody is a grim march with the haunting death rattle choral refrain, "...hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'."
Grainger's great love of Walt Whitman's (1819-1892) poetry was the inspiration for Marching Song of Democracy (1901-17; WPR, LP) [T-3]. Scored for a mixed chorus singing wordless syllables, the orchestral accompaniment includes some underlying seismic organ pedal points and colorful percussion. It might best be described as a "dished up ramble," to borrow one of Percy’s own expressions.
The composer’s veneration of Norse culture is in keeping with his writing The Wraith of Odin (1903-22; DC, WPR) [T-4]. The text is Longfellow's (1807-1882) poem of the same name, which is the sixth in the section titled The Musicians Tale: The Saga of King Olaf from the first part of the poet's 1863 collection Tales of a Wayside Inn.
It's an engaging story about a strange one-eyed man who joins Norwegian King Olaf and his retinue at a local tavern, and proceeds to recite some enthralling sagas. All then retire for the night, only to discover the next morning the mysterious visitor has vanished without a trace! This leads Olaf to believe he was the ghost of the Norse god Odin.
Grainger spices up what might have been an ordinary narrative song with chromatically colorful touches, and some challenging vocal glissandi. There's also another of those catchy refrains, this time to the words, "Dead rides Sir Morten of Fogelsang," referring to the one-eyed stranger.
The Hunter in His Career (1904, revised 1929; WPR) [T-5] takes its words from an English air found in William Chappell's (1809-1888) Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855-1859). There's a Gilbert and Sullivan (1836-1911, 1842-1900) ring to this florid alfresco ditty about a hunter in full pursuit of his prey. The colorful accompaniment includes two pianos and an organ.
Grainger's Sir Eglamore (1904, revised 1912; DC, WPR) [T-6] is an arrangement of a French folk song, which the composer found in John Stafford Smith's (1750-1836, and of "Star-Spangled Banner" fame) Musica Antiqua collection of 1812. Dedicated to Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), whom Percy in his admiration for things Norse greatly revered, it's a knight and dragon tale.
The opening wind passages are deceptively subdued, gainsaying the humorous choral ballad which follows. Made all the more droll by a frequent puerile refrain ending with "...lanky down dilly," there are also facetious brass roars from the beast [1:57]. It builds to a comic climax in which our dragon-slayer visits a local pub, and as a reward for his efforts downs a pint or two.
Humor turns to heroism in the next The Lads of Wamphray (1904-5, revised 1942; DC, WPR) [T-7]. Based on the poem from Sir Walter Scott's (1771-1832) Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802-3), the story line is a Scottish equivalent of the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys.
A plucky offering with martial overtones, there are short solos for baritone [02:11-02:33] and tenor [03:12-03:38]. The work builds to a triumphant march-like conclusion with the chorus declaring that of all the lads in ken (sight), "A Wamphray lad's the king of men."
Next up, The Bride's Tragedy (1908-9, revised 1914, L) [T-8], which is a setting of Swinburne's (1837-1909) poem of the same name from his 1889 third series of Poems and Ballads. Somewhat of a tragic follow-on to Sir Walter’s (see above) Lochinvar (1808), it was first performed in 1922 a month after Percy's mother died. Consequently he apparently thought of it as a remembrance of her.
The angry opening reveals the subject bride's dislike for the man she's about to marry. Then we get a prickly syncopated episode that takes place in front of the church, where her true love lifts her onto his horse, and rides away pursued by the bridegroom along with the bride’s family. This forces the eloping couple to try and cross a raging river in which they drown, bringing the piece to a sad conclusion. A refrain ending with "Blaws the wind and whirls the whin" concludes each stanza serving to unify the piece.
Now we come to what many consider one of Grainger's most original works, his Tribute to Foster (1913-31, L) [T-9], which was a present for his mother on the occasion of her fifty-third birthday (1914). As a boy she used to sing him to sleep with Stephen Foster's (1826-1864) Camptown Races (1850), which explains his abiding love for the song, and why it's the basis for this piece.
To use a Graingerism, it's a "ramble" in three connected sections for soprano, mezzo-soprano, two tenors, bass-baritone, chorus and a large orchestra. The latter has an exotic percussion section that includes musical glasses and bowed metal marimbas. The text for the opening part is drawn from the first three stanzas of the original song, each followed by the old familiar "Gwine to ride all night..." chorus.
It begins with the orchestra introducing a catchy syncopated percussion-accented version of the melody (SP) [00:00]. The vocalists then join in with a brilliantly underscored, delightful swaggering variant of SP [00:44]. A captivating more sedate instrumental episode prefaces the next section [02:48], where the vocalists sing a gently swaying lullaby [04:13] derived from SP. While the words hereafter are the composer's own, they're so cleverly crafted they seem to be part of Foster's song.
The excitement of the opening measures is recaptured in the finale [07:42], where all the vocalists reprise SP to a flashy orchestral accompaniment. Then in "polyrhythmitonal" passages [09:19] reminiscent of Charles Ives (1887-1954) the music fades, and we hear some off-stage instruments playing the second theme from Percy's bizarre The Lonely Desert Man Sees the Tents of the Happy Tribes (1911-4). This vanishes leaving only the tap-tap of a side-drum, which quietly ends just as if the composer had once again been lulled to sleep by his mom.
The concluding selection is another creation with a wordless chorus, and one of the last large-scale works the composer wrote. Called Thanksgiving Song (1945, WPR) [T-10], it's the final 'tone-bout" (Grainger's word for movement) of a planned three-part piece whose first two movements never seem to have been completed.
Initially introspective, the orchestral opening turns cheerful [00:45], and is colorfully scored with sequined piano ornaments. The trumpet then enters hinting at what we'll call the theme of thanksgiving (TT) [00:52] soon to come, after which a lovely Graingeresque countermelody appears over chugging brass [02:22]. A playful percussion-spiced development follows, concluding with insistent repeated chords. These become increasingly more pronounced, only to suddenly end in total silence.
A generous pause follows, which is necessary during live performances so that some of the orchestra members can leave the concert platform and join an offstage chorus for the closing measures -- shades of Haydn's (1732-1809) Farewell Symphony (No. 45, 1772). We then hear them intoning cabalistic syllables to a full-blown version of TT [05:24]. The chorus becomes increasingly distant à la "Neptune" in Holst's The Planets (1914-6), and is finally swallowed up by the infinite cosmos, ending the work as well as this disc with a sense of wonderment.
Sir Andrew Davis conducts the Melbourne Symphony Chorus and Orchestra along with the Sydney Chamber Choir for the double chorus selections (marked "DC" above) in these once-in-a-lifetime performances, which Percy would have loved! A big hand also goes to baritone José Carbó (Danny Deever), tenor Andrew Morton and baritone Alexander Knight (The Lads of Wamphray), as well as soprano Jessica Aszodi, mezzo-soprano Victoria Lambourn, tenor Ben Namdarian, tenor Timothy Reynolds and bass-baritone Nicholas Dinopoulos (Tribute to Foster) for their invaluable vocal support.
Convincingly capturing the considerable forces assembled here represented a real challenge for the Chandos engineers, which they met most successfully! Made over a ten-day period at Hamer Hall, in the Arts Centre, Melbourne, Australia the recordings sound very consistent with The Bride's Tragedy seemingly having slightly more dynamic range. The soundstage on the stereo tracks is enormous and in vast but not excessively reverberant surroundings. The multichannel one will put you in a center orchestra seat where you'll be engulfed by these affable Grainger goodies.
The balance between soloists, choruses and orchestra is ideal in all play modes. Careful microphone placement presumably along with some skillful touchup and editing would seem to explain the absence of extraneous audience sounds and applause in the live selections (marked "L" above).
More often than not choruses on conventional discs have a digital edge, but these sound amazingly good. That's particularly true of the SACD multichannel track. The soloists are beautifully captured, and the orchestral timbre is very musical with clear highs and clean bass. Grainger fans and audiophiles will delight in this music by a man who had a creative voice all of his own.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130620)
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Hickey: Cl Conc (stg orch), Vc Conc; Fiterstein/Kouzov/Lande/StPeteStAcad SO Stgs/StPeteSt SO [Delos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Many know Sean Hickey (b. 1970) as one of the guiding lights at Naxos, who's helped it become the largest classical music label and distributor in the world. Besides being an astute business man, he's also one of America's up-and-coming composers judging from an earlier highly successful CD of his chamber music (2005), and the two concertos on this new Delos release.
Both of the concertante pieces are melodically terse, rhythmically articulate and exquisitely scored, giving them a pellucidity suggestive of Stravinsky (1882-1971). These are the only currently available recordings of either on disc.
Regarding the cello concerto dating from 2008, Hickey’s informative album notes tells us he composed it with two ideas in mind. Namely, to instill it with a neoclassical structural clarity, while at the same time writing a cello part preserving the songfulness present in so many masterpieces for this instrument.
He seems to have accomplished just that in its three unmarked movements. The initial one [T-1] begins with a drum roll, wind and cymbal flourish [00:01] followed by a leaping idea for the cello [00:14], and a chorale-like woodwind passage [00:45]. An animated episode involving both soloist and tutti [01:16] with reminiscences of Shostakovich (1906-1975) [01:44] comes next. Then all of the foregoing is subjected to a capricious development at one point smacking of Copland (1900-1990) [05:12]. The movement ends questioningly on a prolonged note for the brass [08:14].
The stealthy pizzicato opening of the second [T-2] recalls Sibelius (1865-1957) [00:00], whom the composer acknowledges he had in mind. Hickey also says the remainder of the movement is a reflection on the futile bloodshed taking place in Iraq at the time. That's easy to believe hearing the following anguished expressive episode for the cello over an increasingly agitated orchestral accompaniment [00:12].
This evolves into an arresting percussion-accented cadenza [03:04-04:25] followed by a keening for soloist and tutti [05:22]. The latter includes a despondent English horn passage [06:02], and then the movement ends tragically with a lugubrious bass clarinet and funeral drum.
The finale [T-3] gets off to a frolicsome start with cheeky strings and winds, followed by some virtuosic contortions for the soloist and selected members of the orchestra. This sets the stage for a demanding cello cadenza [04:23-06:45] involving double-stops, node-induced harmonics and eerie sul ponticello.
Ursine growls from the bassoon section announce the return of the tutti followed by a bounding theme played by the soloist [07:28]. This is tossed about by various members of the orchestra, and after some flamboyant cello fireworks, all make a mad dash for the finish line ending the work with a grin.
Sean's concerto for clarinet and string orchestra of 2006 is also in three unmarked movements. The first [T-4] begins with a flighty theme for the soloist over a spunky pizzicato-laced accompaniment [00:00], followed by a lovely lyrical idea (LL) [00:42]. These are elaborated with a recap of LL [03:06] and an introspective cadenza for the soloist [04:38-05:42]. The tutti then return alluringly, rouse the clarinet from its contemplative state, and together they end the first movement peremptorily.
The second [T-5] is a harmonically dense, moving meditation with sinuous passages for the clarinet. It builds to a restrained climax that suddenly falls into the slumberous funk that characterized the opening measures and ends enigmatically.
The finale [T-6] starts with furioso strings [00:00], and could pass for the beginning of a modern day concerto grosso (see 21 September 2011). They're soon joined by the clarinet intoning a brief riff [00:24], after which the music grinds to a halt. The soloist then reenters [00:58] followed by the orchestra playing some dance-like fragments Hickey borrowed from a couple of Scottish airs. Next there's a perky development and rhapsodic cadenza [03:29-04:46] ending in sustained string chords.
The clarinet reappears over these playing a reel known as "Hunter's House" by Irish-American musician and composer Ed Reavy (1898-1988) [05:00]. It's the melodic fuel for the infectious remainder of the movement, making it particularly appealing to those of us with Scotch-Irish blood. The concerto then ends with some high-stepping virtuosic passages for the soloist, and a perfunctory pizzicato thump.
A talented instrumentalist himself, Hickey writes music with performer as well as listener appeal. These concertos are no exception, and couldn't possibly have better advocates than the musicians on this enterprising Delos disc of discovery.
The cello concerto was commissioned by the soloist here, Dmitry Kousov, who delivers a vibrant, totally committed account of it. Conductor Vladimir Lande and the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra (SPSSO), who recently gave us a stunning version of Weinberg's (1919-1996) Bright May Symphony (No. 19, 1985; see 18 February 2013), again work their magic providing Kousov with outstanding support. A round of applause must also go to several members of the SPSSO for their exemplary solo work in the concerto's last movement.
Adding all the more to his growing reputation as one of today's finest clarinetist, Alexander Fiterstein delivers an outstanding account of the other concerto. Maestro Linde is once again on the podium, but this time with the Saint Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra strings, which couldn't be more supportive.
Russian produced, engineered and recorded at Melodiya Studios in St. Petersburg for Delos, we've certainly come a long way from those pinched, steely sounding Soviet era recordings of the 1960s and 70s! The ones here project a generous, clearly focused soundstage in an acoustic with enough reverberant bloom to insure concert realism without any blurring. Both soloists are beautifully captured, and the balance between them and their respective orchestras is ideal.
The cello tone is lush, while you'll find the clarinet enticingly perky one minute and mellifluously liquid the next. The orchestral timbre is very musical with completely natural sounding strings. In that regard this disc proves proper miking and post production can circumvent the digital edginess in massed strings present on so many conventional CDs.
Audiophiles will find pleasingly bright highs, a lifelike midrange, and low clean bass. The cadenza in the second movement of the cello concerto [T-2, 03:04-04:25] is a good system test. However, those with speakers that go down to rock bottom will hear occasional low frequency murmurs throughout the work. Maybe someone was moving pianos next-door, or the rush hour traffic was particularly bad that day!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130619)
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Mancinelli: Scene veneziane Ste, Cleopatra Intrmzos (1 & 3 of 6); Vecchia/Rome SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Luigi Mancinelli (1848-1921) studied in Florence, began his career as a cellist, and would go on to become a renowned opera conductor in Rome, Madrid, London and New York City, where he was associated with "The Met" from 1893 through 1901. In his day he was also a composer of some note who wrote a modest number of works in all genres. And going by the sampling of his symphonic efforts on this new release from Naxos, it would seem he was a very accomplished one at that! These are the only currently available recordings of them on disc.
The CD begins with his Scene veneziane (Venetian Scenes) from 1877, which anticipates Gustave Charpentier's (1860-1956) Impressions d'Italie (1891, see 15 January 2008), and Italian conductor Victor de Sabata's (1892-1967) 1934 incidental music for Il mercante di Venezia (The Merchant of Venice, see 13 July 2012). A programmatic orchestral suite in five sections, we're told it's about a couple of young lovers.
The opening "Carnovale" ("Carnival") [T-1] starts with shimmering strings and a joyful commanding fanfare (JC) [00:04] auguring the opening of Respighi's (1879-1936) Pines of Rome (1923-4, see 9 March 2006). A bouncy dancelike episode (BD) presaging the more festive moments in Sir Arthur Sullivan's (1842-1900) music for The Gondoliers (1889) comes next [01:28], making it easy to imagine a festive Venetian carnival scene with masked partygoers.
Two of the merrymakers are our subject sweethearts as represented by the innocent puppy love ditty (IP) [02:22] that follows, and will serve to unify the work. The scene plays out roughly in sonata form with remembrances of JC, IP and BD. It then ends exuberantly, after which we get a "Dichiarazione d'amore" ("Declaration of Love") between the innamorati [T-2]. Here they're represented by the English horn and oboe that engage in an amorous IP-based dialogue in the moonlight of muted strings.
However, ardor turns to fear and trepidation in the next "Fuga degli amanti a Chioggia ("The Lover's Flight to Chioggia") section [T-3]. Here they elope in a gondola, and journey south at one point braving the winds and heavy seas of a local tempest. But the elements abate, and their passion assuaged, they have a peaceful trip back to Venice in the lovely "Ritorno in gondola" ("The Gondola Returns") [T-4] with echoing cries from passing gondoliers [00:41, 03:09, 05:13]. The scene then ends in a wistful IP-related love duet [05:31].
Twice as long as any of the foregoing, the final "Cerimonia e danza di nozze" ("Wedding Ceremony and Dance") [T-5] could qualify as a brief tone poem. The august organ-like opening [00:01] recalls more somber moments in Wagner's (1813-1883) Rienzi (1840-3). It conjures up images of a church interior where our couple again represented by IP [03:47, 04:14, 05:32] are being married.
The flighty passage that's next [07:13] would seem to indicate the happy married couple's departure from the church and into the town square, where they're joined by a host of well-wishers. A celebratory episode follows where the world of Goldmark's (1830-1915) Rustic Wedding Symphony (No.1, 1877) is not too far away. It features a nuptial four-part fugal march [07:32] that alternates with a binary spirited folkish dance number [08:57]. IP then appears [11:31] taking on big tune status to close the suite ecstatically.
The concert concludes with the first and third of six interludes Manzinelli wrote for Pietro Cossa's (1830-1880) 1877 play, Cleopatra. The initial "Ouverture" [T-6] serves as a prelude to the drama, and opens with an ominous anxiety-ridden theme (OA) for muted strings [00:01]. OA soon takes hold of the whole orchestra, swelling to a dramatic climax anticipating the romantic tragedy to follow.
A sprightly Eastern-sounding idea announced by the oboe [03:02] provides some temporary relief. But OA returns more forcefully than ever [03:35], bridging into a distantly related, gorgeous amorous motif (GA) [04:39] representing Mark Antony (83-30 BC) and Cleopatra's (69-30 BC) love for one another. The striking elaboration juxtaposing GA and OA that follows is worthy of moments in Verdi's (1813-1901) Aida (1871), and builds to a hair-raising finale making this an overture you won't soon forget!
The other interlude entitled "Battaglia di Azio" ("The Battle of Actium") [T-7] is in the same league with Liszt's (1811-1886) symphonic poems (1849-61). It describes the famous naval engagement between ancient Egypt and Rome where Anthony chose love over honor, and deserted his men for Cleopatra, sailing back to Egypt on her ship.
A mal de mer opening [00:01] evokes images of the sea and impending conflict. Then a martial drum roll [01:52], brass fanfares, and nervous combative passages initiate a cinematic representation of the encounter. A subdued wind and string episode follows [05:39], presumably implying Anthony's longing for Cleopatra and imminent ignominious departure.
The battle music then resumes [08:02], suddenly giving way to a final coda with subdued ethereal remembrances of GA in the high strings [10:02]. It brings the interlude to a tragic conclusion in keeping with the liebestod of these "star-crossed" lovers soon to come.
Once again we have conductor Francesco La Vecchia and the Rome Symphony Orchestra to thank for introducing us to more undeservedly neglected late-nineteen-early-twentieth-century Italian symphonic music. As was the case with their previous Sgambati release (see 16 January 2013), they give us dramatic readings of these long lost symphonic gems that are sure to revive interest in Mancinelli. The only quibble would be with a shaky brass passage in the last Cleopatra excerpt.
Made on two separate occasions at the Via Conciliazione Auditorium in Rome, the recordings are consistent. They project a considerably wide and deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The orchestral timbre is generally musical, but the highs are bright with occasional digital grain in massed violin passages.
With a clean rather subdued low end, the overall sound would have benefitted from a bit more emphasis on the bass at the expense of the treble. Those having tone and/or equalization controls may want to adjust accordingly.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130618)
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Martinu: Early Orch Wks V1 (Little Dance Ste & 4 others); Hobson/SinfaVars [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
This is the first of six projected CDs from Toccata Classics surveying forgotten early works of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959, see 13 July 2012). Four of the five included here predate his move to Paris in 1923, where he'd study and live until 1941, and all have glimmers of those stylistic traits which would distinguish his mature work. Their outstanding melodic content, solid construction and colorful orchestration easily justify this long overdue revival! These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Written six years after his arrival in Paris, Prélude en forme de scherzo (Prelude in the Form of a Scherzo, 1929-30) [T-1] originated as the second in a set of eight piano preludes, and was orchestrated a year later. It's a brilliantly scored jazzy tidbit whose jagged rhythms seem to reflect the influence of his teacher Albert Roussel (1869-1937), as well as Parisian dance hall music of the 1920s.
The next selection has no title page, and for the purposes of this CD it's simply referred to as Orchestral Movement (1913-4) [T-2]. French Impressionistic influences are rampant recalling Debussy's (1862-1918) Nocturnes (1897-9) as well as Ravel's (1875-1937) Rhapsodie espagnole (1907-8) and Ma mère l'oye (1908-11). The exotic opening and closing sections have some lovely woodwind solos, including a couple for the elusive English horn, which float on a shimmering ostinato sea of sound from the harp, celesta, piano and strings. The dramatic central episode [03:02-06:10] could be a musical impression of van Gogh's (1853-1890) Starry Night.
Believed to be Bohuslav's second work, Posviceni (Village Feast, 1907) [T-3], is a delightful dance suite for flute and strings in three contiguous sections. The subdued first [00:00] quotes the Czech folk song (CF) "To je zlaté posviceni" ("What a golden feast!") [01:26], and has moments reminiscent of Smetana (1824-1884).
The following section [03:00] is a catchy foot-tapping number that begins like a mazurka, and then turns into a polka [04:01] recalling a couple of dances in Smetana's The Bartered Bride (1863-66). It concludes with reminders of the work's opening measures, and is immediately followed by the third and last part [04:50]. Incorporating elements of CF, this is a lively two-step that brings Dvorák's (1841-1904) Slavonic Dances (1878-86) to mind. It concludes this endearing folk frolic in youthful fashion and a final impetuous toss of the head cadence.
The next selection entitled Nocturno 1 (1914-5) [T-4] would seem to have at least one sibling, but this is all that's surfaced to date (see the informative album notes). Written a year after the Orchestral Movement mentioned above, it's also impressionistic and in three arches, but of much darker hue.
The melancholy first section [00:01] features sad viola and oboe solos. It bridges right into an emotionally charged march-like central episode [03:48] that builds to a stirring climax. This fades into the last section [05:47], which ends the piece despairingly with a grief-stricken violin solo over tearful string tremolos.
Filling out the CD we get the Little Dance Suite of 1919. And don't let the word "Little" fool you because this is a big Martinu find! In four movements lasting just over forty minutes, it's a tad longer than any of his six symphonies (1942-53), and could be considered a precursor of them. The impressionism in some of the earlier works above is nowhere to be found. Instead we have a much more straightforward piece with a folk-related lyricism and rhythmic drive along the lines of Smetana or Dvorák.
The initial Tempo di valse [T-5] is in three connected sections, and opens with a gracious waltz tune (GW) first played on the violin [00:06], and then elaborated by other instruments of the orchestra. After a brief pause, there's a related nostalgic number (RN) for the cello [04:51], which introduces a tune-swept central trio section. This ends quietly, and after another pause we get a return of the opening measures and GW [07:55]. A development hinting at RN follows, ending the movement with a final sigh.
The next Moderato: Pisen ("Song") [T-6] is a lyrical dance with a couple of captivating ideas. These may well be related to Czech folk melodies the composer heard while growing up in his hometown of Policka along the border of Bohemia and Moravia.
The following Scherzo [T-7] comes in three sequential flavors with the first [00:00] smacking of that prickly wind-dominated writing which would characterize parts of his first symphony (1942). This is contrasted with a lovely lyrical central episode [04:56] exclusively for strings.
The winds again take control in the closing section [09:07], which initially builds to a martial climax with brass, percussion-reinforced fanfares. These suddenly subside and the movement ends perfunctorily with a couple of taps on the timpani and a subdued woodwind chord.
The opening measures of the final Allegro à la polka [T-8] are somewhat diabolical, and introduce a folkish sounding motif [00:30] that’s immediately subjected to a momentary manic development. A Smetanesque dance-like ditty (SD) comes next [01:44]. Then Martinu gives us one of his gorgeous killer melodies (GK) [02:26], whose roots may be in one of those folk songs from the Hornácko region of Moravia. A dreamy elaboration of GK [02:50] follows, and the suite ends exultantly with a glorious recap of SD [06:01] and GK [07:10].
We've lauded conductor Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsovia before (see 25 November 2008), and are pleased to do so again! These early stylistically diverse works require considerable flexibility on the conductor's part to bring out their best, and Hobson successfully meets the challenge. He elicits performances from this up-and-coming Polish ensemble that exhibit the youthful exuberance as well as the impressionistic introspection characterizing these pieces.
Maestro Hobson was also the producer for this release, which was made over a three-day period late last year in the Polish Radio's Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Warsaw. Incidentally this is the same venue CPO used for the first three volumes of their Panufnik (1914-1991) orchestral series, which got audiophile ratings in these pages (see 25 May 2011).
While the recordings here aren't as impressive as those, they project a convincing soundstage in an ideally reverberant space. The instrumental timbre is musical in all five pieces with bright highs and lean clean bass. Those with sound systems favoring upper frequencies and having equalization or tone controls may find it desirable to tweak the latter to tame the former.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130617)
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Scott, C.: Pno Conc (rlz Yates), Vc Conc (rlz Yates et al), Pelleas… Ov; Soloists/Yates/ BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Like Percy Grainger (see the recommendation above) English-born Cyril Scott (1879-1970) was a member of the "Frankfurt Group." He makes a welcome return to these pages (see 21 December 2012) on this new Dutton release featuring three of his early works. The result of some scrupulous reconstruction and editing, all are world premiere recordings.
First on the program, the original version of Cyril's Overture to Pelleas and Melisande (Op. 5, 1900) [T-1], not to be confused with the later revised one (Op. 20, c. 1902; currently unavailable on disc). Specially edited for this recording by our conductor Martin Yates, it's an enthralling romantic piece that could also be considered a tone poem.
Falling into four arches, the first [00:06] is a somber ominous meditation (SO) that opens with a tragic idea [00:16] whose first five notes will act as a unifying idea throughout the piece. However, the mood brightens in the lovely passionate second section (LP) [04:29], which may recall the Fauré (1845-1924) and Sibelius (1865-1957) Pelleases (1898 and 1905). A sudden outburst [12:11] then introduces a brief heroic third arch that ends abruptly, and is followed by the concluding one [13:22], which synthesizes LP and SO.
Dutton once again scoops (see 7 October 2011 and 7 November 2012) Hyperion’s ongoing "Romantic Piano Concerto" series (see 27 May 2013) with the next selection. Sketched in 1900 and apparently abandoned by the composer along with several other works written in his twenties, it's a performing version realized by Maestro Yates (see above) of a youthful piano concerto. Considering Scott's two numbered ones of 1913-4 and 1958, this would be his "No. 0" (see the informative album notes).
In three movements the opening adagio [T-2] with its massive piano chords over a sinuous string accompaniment [00:01] brings Rachmaninov’s (1873-1943) concertos (1900-27) to mind. As it gathers momentum like some giant pendulum, there are hints of a spirited romantic theme (SR) finally played by the soloist [05:25]. A chromatically colorful development with fiery keyboard passages follows, and then subsides ending the movement in a sublime state of repose -- you'll love it!
The intermezzo that's next [T-3] opens with piano arpeggios [00:01] and an auburn pastoral theme (AP) played successively by oboe [00:10] and English horn. AP is elaborated, and then an agitated bravura piano passage [02:17] leads to a relaxed AP-related melody (RA) again introduced by the oboe [03:14]. A rapturous episode based on RA having occasional sinister moments [05:13, 06:12, 08:10] follows, and then the movement closes gracefully with a reminder of AP [08:44].
The virtuosic vivace finale [T-4] has the same tunefulness and dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics found in the Moszkowski (1854-1925) and Paderewski (1860-1941) concertos (1898 and 1888). A blazing sonata-rondo it begins with the soloist stating a fetching angular theme (FA) [00:00]. This is developed and followed by a more informal melody (MI) [02:11] that oddly enough anticipates some of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) more quirky moments.
MI is elaborated, after which a recap of FA [05:57] announces another development involving both, and having frequent fiery passages for the soloist. All this gives way to a thrilling final FA-MI-spiked coda [08:04]. With a death-defying downward run on the piano [09:19], it ends this magnificent piano discovery in a meteoric blaze of glory!
The program closes all too soon with another resuscitated gem, the cello concerto of 1902. This predates by thirty-five years what was at one time thought to be Scott's only effort in the genre (1937). Although it's come down to us in more complete form than the previous concerto, it still required some heavy editing on the part of both Maestro Yates and our soloist Raphael Wallfisch to realize this performing version.
In one extended twenty-minute movement [T-5] generally falling into four spans, the first is a largo with a mysterious, hushed drum roll opening [00:00]. The cello soon introduces a drop-dead gorgeous multi-faceted theme (DGM) [01:31] that undergoes a transported expansion merging into the next arch.
This is marked quasi-cadenza [05:13] reflecting its extended length and some substantial support from the tutti. It's one of the most exquisitely rich cantilena-like outpourings you could ever hope to hear, and ends in a hair-raising statement for full orchestra.
This fades into a penultimate andante [10:45] where DGM undergoes a heavenly chromatic development. A transitional passage for the soloist then introduces the final allegro span [14:25]. Here the thematic material is lighter but still DGM-related, and provides a respite that precludes the concerto from becoming a romantic quagmire.
The work ends gloriously with brilliant virtuosic passages for the soloist and a big tune treatment of DGM by the orchestra [19:04], which turns wonderfully nostalgic [20:01]. It concludes this CD on just the right note, making it one of most outstanding discs of discovery to appear in a long time, and something that belongs in every arch romantic's collection! This CD will undoubtedly be a CLOFO "Best Find" for 2013.
Martin Yates takes on the dual role as conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra (BBCO) for all three works, and "realizer" of the concertos, giving us spectacular accounts of everything. Pianist Peter Donohoe and cellist Raphael Wallfisch deliver striking performances of their respective pieces playing them with stunning virtuosity and total commitment. It's a shame Scott isn't still around to hear how some of his earliest efforts have been turned into a treasure trove for modern day classical collectors.
A coproduction with BBC Radio 3 and the BBCO, this release was done at Colosseum Town Hall, Watford, England, which has been the site for other recent Dutton releases (see 25 February 2013). As with them the recordings project a well-focused soundstage, but this time around the surroundings seem a bit cavernous. The balance between soloists and orchestra is generally good.
The instrumental timbre is musical, but there are occasional bright spots in forte violin passages. The piano tone is more percussive than rounded with occasional hints of digital edginess. Mr. Wallfisch's cello is natural sounding, but his burnished playing might have been shown off to even better effect with a tad more highlighting. That said, with music this captivating pointy-eared audiophiles will soon forget any sonic shortcomings!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130616)
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Tymoczko: Eggman..., Typecase…, This…, Another…; Soloists/Various Qts/Taylor/IllModEn [Bridge]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
American composer Dmitri Tymoczko (b. 1969) tells us his music is an attempt to weave together stylistic elements from classical, avant-garde, jazz and even popular sources in unexpected, entertaining ways (see the composer's album notes). Accordingly Dmitri has "dished up" -- to borrow an expression from Percy Grainger (1882-1961, see the recommendation above) -- the four imaginative eclectic creations which appear on this new enterprising release from Bridge Records. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
We get off to a colorful start with The Eggman Variations (2005) for piano and string quartet. In three subtitled movements the first "Pentatonia" [T-1] imagines a world where music is based on five-note scales. It comes off sounding like a mini concerto for erhu (a Chinese violin) and gamelan, and ends on a sustained piano chord, which the composer considers the ugliest in a major key.
This bridges directly into the next "Bent" section [T-2], which is a kaleidoscopic collection of riffs that we're told are rock music clichés. It begins with the piano playing a restrained impressionistic motif [00:00] to a queasy string glissando accompaniment. Suddenly the music becomes more aggressive [02:29], but gradually returns to the mood of the opening measures with more slippery strings [05:28]. The last few measures [05:57] provide motivic hints as to who the Eggman is.
The final movement has the unusual title "A Roiling Worm of Sound" [T-3], and according to the composer is meant to make you feel like you're running after a train that's always just beyond your reach. Be that as it may, it's a catchy scherzoesque offering that gives the performers a chance to strut their stuff. With an opening that may recall "Golliwog's Cakewalk" in Debussy's (1862-1918, see 10 March 2011) Children's Corner (1906-08), it gets off to a twitchy start [00:00] that soon turns increasingly combative [01:04].
The music then suddenly shifts gears becoming mysteriously introspective [03:01] with flashes of those preceding truculent passages. The movement ends with a recap of its opening measures [05:12] and a final pianistic spasm [06:01].
Named after the compartmentalized tray used to store type, the next selection titled Typecase Treasury is also for piano and string quartet (2010). In seven titled independent sections that are just statements of ideas sans development or recapitulation, it might be considered a Tymoczko sampler. For what it’s worth, the composer says they’re arranged so as to give them structure in an “intuitive, associative way.”
There's a neoclassical wiriness about the initial "Where We Begin" [T-4] recalling Stravinsky (1882-1971), while the second "Hurdy Gurdy" [T-5] is a plucky number of detached humorous bent. You’ll find "Crackpot Hymnal" [T-6], which is also the album title, a romantically reverent offering with chromatically demented moments. The latter pervade the next "This One Was Supposed to be Atonal..." section [T-7], which turns into a tipsy jazz number for cello and violin [01:23].
"Russian Metal" [T-8] is at first weeping [00:00], and then becomes darkly Slavonic [01:52] à la Shostakovich (1906-1975). "Intermezzo" [T-9] features a winsome rocking melody set to a throbbing accompaniment, and has glimmers of polytonality. The work then ends with "Anthem" [T-10], which the composer describes as a "Schubertian rock-out finale" having harmonic reminders of the opening movement.
Next up, This Picture Seems to Move for string quartet, and one of Dmitri's earliest pieces (1998). More conventional sounding, it's in two movements that are each based on a painting. The first [T-11] is after Paul Klee's (1879-1940) Twittering Machine (1922), which some may recall was also one of the subjects for Gunther Schuller's (1925-2015) Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (1959). While that piece was literally all atwitter, Tymoczko's is a montage of neoromantic melodic fragments that begins nervously and ends in peaceful resignation.
The second movement [T-12] takes Boccioni's (1882-1916) Those Who Go from his 1911 States of Mind trilogy for its inspiration. Somber and introspective with impressionistic touches reminiscent of Debussy (1862-1918), Ravel (1875-1937) and early Stravinsky, it's built around a haunting ostinato first stated by the cello [00:00] over an arresting pizzicato accompaniment. The variational development that's next leads to a pleading episode [05:29] followed by a brief coda hinting at the opening [07:15]. This brings the piece to an uneventful close.
The disc is filled out with Another Fantastic Voyage (2012) that's actually a piano concerto having the same eclectic and programmatic propensities as the forgoing selections. In three movements, the first is called "The Mad King" [T-13]. It gets off to a blustery start with a repeated cackling riff (RC) [00:00] and surging heroic theme (SH) [01:49].
The album notes tell us the movement is meant to suggest some crazed monarch, presumably denoted by RC, who’s sending his knights on an impossible romantic quest that would seem to be represented by SH. The following helter-skelter development, which includes a deranged cadenza for the soloist [04:35], could be interpreted as their frustration over trying to fulfill their mission. The music then becomes spacey [05:51], possibly reflecting their nervous embarrassment over their failure to accomplish it. The movement then ends with a subdued RC reminder of the Mad King.
The composer may have had the 1976 horror film The Omen in mind when he wrote the next "Changeling" movement [T-13]. It's a macabre adagio apparently meant to evoke images of an adorable child who turns totally wicked. Accordingly what starts off as a simple strummed lullaby becomes increasingly threatening. There are fiendish shrieks from the winds and manic piano passages, the last of which concludes the movement with a disquieting feeling of evil in the air.
It sets the stage for the final "An Evil, Evil Carnival" [T-15], which is a contemporary amalgam of Mussorgsky's (1839-1881) Night on Bare Mountain (1866) and Milhaud's (1892-1974) Creation of the World (1923). With an ominous beginning having a couple of satanic outbursts [00:13, 00:50] and some strange infernal scratching sounds [01:44], this develops into a demonic jazz fest [03:12]! It brings this bizarre concerto and capricious disc to a raucous conclusion, which ends in midair with chimes presumably striking midnight, and unresolved diabolical chords for the soloist.
Pianist John Blacklow and the Corigliano Quartet join forces for The Eggman Variations, which they deliver with virtuosic abandon tempered with fickle sensitivity. Typecase Treasury and This Picture Seems to Move are the handiwork of the up-and-coming Amernet Quartet, who are joined by pianist Kevin Weng-Yew Mayner for the first number. All have technique to burn, and can turn on a dime delivering engaging performances of these mutable scores.
As for the final concerto, the composer couldn't have better advocates than pianist Daniel Schlosberg and the Illinois Modern Ensemble under conductor Stephen Taylor. They give a riveting account of this music loaded with a sense of drama perfectly suited to its underlying cinematic proclivities.
A Bridge Records regular, audio wizard Adam Abeshouse mastered this release giving them another demonstration quality disc. The recordings of the first three chamber works were made at Princeton University's Taplin Auditorium. Presumably done on different occasions, they project a consistent generous soundstage in an accommodating chamber venue.
The pianos are ideally balanced against their respective quartets in the first two selections, and beautifully captured with no hint of digital nasties in even the most complex passages. The strings are convincingly natural sounding in all three chamber works.
Done in the University of Illinois' Froelinger Great Hall, the concerto understandably presents a much wider soundstage in a more reverberant acoustic. However, skillfull mixing, which included both Abeshouse and the composer at the controls, keeps the piano as well as the many solo groups perfectly in balance with a sharply focused tutti. Once again the piano sound is superb and the instrumental timbre very musical with sparkling highs and clean bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130615)
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