CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
28 FEBRUARY 2016
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.
Badings: Syms 4 & 5; Porcelijn/Bochum SO [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Henk Badings (1907-1987) was born to Dutch parents in Indonesia, orphaned at age eight, and sent back to the Netherlands, where he was raised in a foster home. Although he showed an early aptitude for music, he was discouraged from pursuing it, and went on to study geology and mining technology, graduating with honors in 1931. But having never lost interest in it, he concomitantly taught himself the fundamentals of composition, and began writing as early as 1928.
In the course of his autodidactic efforts he took some lessons from Dutch composer-critic Willem Pijper (1894-1947). He'd also later acknowledged his music was strongly influenced by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), Béla Bartók (1881-1945), Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) and Paul Hindemith (1895-1963).
From 1931 to 1937 he worked as a mining engineer and paleontologist. Then he secured teaching positions at a couple of music schools, and decided to devote himself entirely to his first love. What's more, Badings' compositions were winning numerous awards, which lead to many commissions that seemed to further guarantee a successful career in music.
Then during the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands (1940-5), he accepted an appointment as head of the State Music Conservatory in the Hague. This led some to consider him a Nazi sympathizer! And although he was later exonerated of any such leanings, his music nonetheless received greater acceptance abroad than at home.
A prolific composer, he'd leave around a thousand works in all genres. They include fifteen numbered symphonies that CPO continues to investigate (see 15 February 2008 and CPO-777522) with this release of his fourth and fifth. Each is in four movements, and these are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The fourth was completed in 1943. A product of the war years, there's an underlying tension and austerity that seem to reflect the ominous events then taking place in Europe. Moreover, the first movement [T-1] opens with portentous hesitancy [00:00]. Then there's a pragmatic theme [01:21] that takes on testy Hindemithian proportions (TH) [01:51]. Bass drum accents along the way create a feeling of impending doom.
An introspective episode [03:32] and brass-reinforced, heroic section [06:35] follow. The latter falls off into a tentative delicate passage [08:01], which seems to be looking for reassurance. This comes in a TH-based, martial coda [10:19] that ends the movement forcefully.
A fetching scherzo is next [T-2], where antsy passages alternate with a tune-swept trio section [00:57]. Then we get a solemn largo [T-3] having a sighing melancholy theme (SM) [00:00] that's elaborated, and gives way to a brief glimmer of hope [02:14].
But a despondent variant of SM reinstates the opening mood [03:23] made all the more sinister by strokes on the bass drum and tam-tam. The movement ends in the same spirit it began with reminders of SM [04:46] and a dying tam-tam.
The final allegro [T-4] is in modified sonata form, and starts with an energetic thematic nexus (ET) [00:00] consisting of several forte flourishes. ET is then examined, repeated and succeeded by a stately countermelody (SC) [01:46], which builds into a magnificent Brucknerian march.
This suddenly ends in a repeat of ET's opening phrases, which give way to a relaxed contemplation of the foregoing ideas [03:57]. A recap of ET [05:21] and SC [06:01] follows. Then a coda based on them [06:52] concludes the work triumphantly with thundering percussion.
Badings' fifth symphony of 1949 was commissioned to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of what's known today as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. There's a Gallic irreverence here that brings to mind Honegger and Milhaud.
The first movement [T-5] is in sonata form, and opens with a spooky slow introduction having three motifs that are respectively ominous (O1) [00:06], searching (S2) [00:34], and furtive (F3) [01:06]. These are the thematic seeds from which the work will grow.
Then there's a fast, bellicose opening statement [01:42] beginning with an explosive O1-based idea (EO) laced with tumultuous percussion. EO is followed by an extended S2 [02:22], and the two undergo an earthshaking, cinematic development [03:25]. After that EO initiates a romantic recapitulation [07:00], which ends the movement unassumingly.
The next scherzo [T-6] gets off to a pugnacious O1-related start (PO) [00:00] with rocking riffs [00:35] recalling Bartók. A wistful S2-derived trio follows [00:55], and alternates with fragments of PO, which has the last say, ending the movement as suddenly as it began.
Then there's a pensive, pleading largo [T-7] with hints of S2 and F3 that finds Badings at his most rapturous! It's a respite before the vivacious presto finale [T-8], which is a rondo.
This is based on a rousing S2-related initial theme (RS) [00:00] and F3-like countersubject (FC) [00:55]. These excitedly chase each other about, and are finally amalgamated into a martial coda [02:19]. This concludes the symphony with forte reminders of RS [03:36, 03:59], recollections of FC in the brass [04:28], and a last massive cinematic peroration.
Not long ago we sang the praises of Dutch conductor David Porcelijn (see 31 July 2015) and the Bochum Symphony Orchestra (see 23 February 2015), who with this release once again deliver stirring accounts of more rare symphonic repertoire. Their performances are exemplary for the great enthusiasm, dynamic sensitivity, and attention to detail they bring to these works. In short, music that in lesser hands might come off as ordinary fare becomes a memorable listening experience.
Made in 2012 at the Ruhrcongress Convention Center, Bochum, Germany, the recordings project a robust sonic image in spacious surroundings with just the right amount of reverberation. The instrumental timbre is characterized by piquant highs, a pleasing midrange, and seismic bass in those Badings' drum-reinforced passages. You won't have to dust your speakers for a week!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y160228)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Braunfels: Don Juan Vars for Orch, Sym Vars on an Old French Nursery Song; Frank/Alten-Gera PO [Capriccio]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
German composer Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) makes a welcome return to these pages (see 27 February 2008, 23 June 2014, and 23 February 2015) with this recent Capriccio release. It gives us two inventive orchestral works from a man who began his career as an extremely successful opera composer, whom critics rated alongside Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Hans Pfitzner (1969-1949).
Both selections follow the theme and variations schema, the first being the only recording of Walter's Don Juan currently available on disc. Completed in 1924, this is a cleverly constructed romantic suite based on some timeless tunes from Mozart's (1756-1791) Don Giovanni (1787).
It opens ominously [T-1] with dark intimations [00:01] of the main subject (MS), which will soon follow. There's also that rising-falling motif (RF) [00:29] heard during Giovanni's scene with the Commendatore and subsequent damnation.
Then we get MS, which borrows one of the most familiar melodies in Mozart's opera. It accompanies the Don's Act I aria "Finch'han dal vino calda la testa" ("So that the wine may set their heads whirling") [02:05], and is presented here in sprightly fashion followed by a brief elaboration.
After that MS is repeated, and segues into the first [T-2] of seven variations. Here bits of MS undergo an ecstatic development that ends with a brief pause. Then there's a portentous searching variant [T-3], and a mischievous mercurial one [T-4]. The latter is embellished with snatches of the tune for the Act I "Là ci darem la mano" ("There you'll give me your hand") duet between the Don and Zerlina (DZ) [00:09]
The fourth variation [T-5] has graceful dancelike outer sections based on a lilting thematic combination of SM and DZ (SZ) [00:00]. They surround an anxious episode [02:00-04:18], anticipating the upcoming transformation [T-6], which brings a return to the work's opening mood.
This is the longest, and in essence seems like a short tone poem based on SM. Somewhat along the lines of Faust's ride to the nether regions in Berlioz' (1803-1869) Damnation of Faust (1845-6), it's easy to imagine the music limning the Don's descent into Hell.
The sixth variant [T-7] seems to be a plaintive remembrance of the Don. It's dominated by a rocking motif [00:00], and based on a wistful SZ-related idea [00:04] with bits of RF [03:11].
But not one to end this portrait on a grim note, Braunfels' concluding variation is a magnificent SM-derived, imitation-laced presto [T-8] that seems to express the Don's irrepressible joie de vivre. All the main themes return, and the work ends in Richard Strauss fashion with heroic brass flourishes [03:15] and a final reminder of DZ [04:39]. This music will appeal to the libertine in everyone!
The companion set of variations [T-9] dating from 1909 was Walter's first orchestral effort. We're told his subject theme (ST) is from an 1883 French collection entitled Vielles chansons pour les petits enfants (Old Songs for Young Children) put together by none other than Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937, see 31 July 2013). Although the particular selection is not identified, ST is very close to one there titled Coucou, which begins "En passant près d'un petit bois" ("While passing near a small wood").
The work is very programmatic, and even takes on the aspect of a tone poem, but no underlying story is provided. However, the composer once implied (see the album notes) it's meant to reflect the youthful world of these songs. Accordingly we'll make up a fairy tale to the music in hopes of more effectively characterizing it.
First we get ST [00:00] and passages that could be a magic forest setting with twittering birds. This section ends in phrases recalling Bruckner's (1824-1896) symphonies. And after a brief pause, there's a laid-back version of ST [01:16], which transitions into an adventurous episode [02:05]. Here it's easy to imagine a band of intrepid explorers searching for treasure.
Then our adventurers stop for a brief rest set to a lazy pastoral interlude [03:26]. Resuming their quest [04:20], they're joined by some hunters [05:22], and all proceed to a verdant mountain meadow with singing larks [06:02].
However, things are about to change for the worse! To wit, after a dramatic pause we get a lumbering motif [06:54] announcing the presence of an evil ogre. As the sun sets [07:59] he lurks along the edge of the forest in hopes of feasting on the travelers later that night.
Then miraculously "Jacques the Giant Killer" appears to passages [08:15] worthy of heroic moments in Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben (1897-80). And none too soon, as the ogre emerges to partake of a human repast [10:04].
However, gallant Jacques nimbly confronts [11:02] and slays him. His triumph is celebrated in a stirring ST-based episode [11:40] with a valiant big tune (VB) stated in the brass [12:51].
Subsequent passages then bridge into a final SB-dominated epilogue [13:13] recalling past ideas. It builds to a stunning climax, and quietly fades away ending the work with whimpers of ST. Suffice to say this thematically intricate creation is the work of a budding symphonic master craftsman.
We have the Altenburg-Gera Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Markus L. Frank to thank for this outstanding disc of discovery. Their technically accomplished playing, sensitive readings, as well as attention to rhythmic and dynamic elements make a strong case for these rarely heard pieces.
Made three years ago at the Bühnen der Stadt Concert Hall, Gera, Germany, the recordings project a wide, deep soundstage in spacious, considerably reverberant surroundings that enrich the music with minimal loss of orchestral detail. The instrumental timbre is pleasing with sunny highs, a convincing midrange, and bass that some may find a bit on the lean side. In that regard, these works are scored for average-sized orchestras with standard percussion sections.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160227)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Carpenter, J.A.: Krazy Kat…, Pno Conc, Carmel Conc, Patterns...; Chertock/Lockhart/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Harvard University is well represented here with this release of American composer John Alden Carpenter's (1876-1951) music, and the one below having that of Edward Burlingame Hill (1872-1960). John like Edward first studied music there with John Knowles Paine (1839-1906, see 18 April 2006). He then journeyed to Italy in 1906, and took some lessons from Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934, see 15 March 2008).
Like his fellow countryman and contemporary Charles Ives, (1874-1954; see 21 December 2009), who was a Yalie, Carpenter made his livelihood as a businessman, writing music during his off-hours. Even then he managed to produce a significant body of works long overdue for revival.
Unlike Charlie's iconoclastic creations, John's are of late romantic persuasion and have immediate appeal. Intricately crafted and brilliantly scored, there are jazz as well as adventurous rhythmic elements pointing the way towards American modernism. These are the only recent, readily available recordings of the four symphonic selections included here.
Speaking of jazz, you'll find smatterings of it in the opening work titled Krazy Kat: A Jazz Pantomime. This is music Carpenter wrote for a 1921 ballet based on an eponymous American newspaper comic strip that was extremely popular in its day (1913-44).
In eight brief sections, it's scored for what amounts to a large dance band with winds, saxophone, brass, strings, harp and a percussion section that includes piano. The "Introduction" [T-1] is noteworthy for a trumpet fanfare similar to the opening of Carpenter's quaint Adventures in a Perambulator of 1914.
As the curtain rises to some drowsy music [T-2], we see Krazy Kat asleep, and get this foolish feline's signature motif [00:17]. It alludes to Debussy's (1862-1918) soporific Faune (1892-4), which strangely enough Hill hints at in his Elegy mentioned below.
Next a billposter dressed as a dog and appropriately named "Bill Postem" enters to some jolly music [T-3]. Are those references to the tune for "Yankee Doodle" [00:21 and 00:31]?
Bill puts up an advertisement for a grand upcoming ball, at which point Krazy Kat wakes up. He reads the poster, pulls on a conveniently placed ballet skirt, and does a couple of jazzy dances. Then a large bird known as "Joe Stork" appears, and leaves a mysterious bundle.
Some flighty music follows [T-4] as Krazy opens it, finds a vanity case, and proceeds to make himself up for the ball. There are some humorous passages here with sensual saxophone solos [00:22].
After that he does an ostentatious Spanish waltz [T-5] with Chabrier (1841-1894) overtones (see 31 July 2013), and then a mysterious figure enters to some mischievous music [T-6]. It's none other than Krazy Kat's nemesis, Ignatz Mouse, who loves to throw bricks at him! He's disguised as a Mexican merchant, and holds a bouquet of catnip that he gives Krazy.
He sniffs it, and has a euphoric catnip fit that takes the form of a terrific "Fox Trot" [T-7] with a curious reference to Stephen Foster's (1826-1864) "Old Folks at Home" (1851) [00:31]. The ballet then ends in a presto. This gets off to a frenetic start succeeded by a drum roll as Ignatz winds up to throw that brick. It glides through the air with the greatest of ease to a piano-harp glissando [00:23], and bounces off Krazy Kat's head.
He drops to the ground and falls back asleep as we hear reminiscences of the ballet's somniferous opening passages. Then Carpenter concludes this choreographic comic strip with a final forte guffaw.
The program continues with the three-movement Concertino for piano and orchestra of 1915, which was revised in 1947. As in Krazy Kat… there are bits of Jazz, but also a preponderance of Latin American rhythms. That's particularly true of the initial, castanet-accented allegro [T-9].
This brilliantly orchestrated movement starts with a fetching fickle thought (FF) [00:13] that's explored, and followed by an attractive theme of Gottschalk (1820-1869; see 30 June 2007) ancestry (GA) [03:56]. Both undergo a fecund development [04:43] that gives birth to a couple of attractive countermelodies. Then the movement ends in a curt recap coda [08:12].
The lento [T-10] is a mesmerizing Carpenter creation with a jazzy segment [02:28-03:49] presaging George Gershwin's (1898-1937) works for piano and orchestra (see 31 March 2011). It bridges into the concluding moderato [T-11] that begins with pounding timpani and a rhythmically insistent theme (RI) [00:09].
RI is explored giving rise to several catchy related melodies that appear almost in theme-and-variation fashion. One of them is an innocent merry-go-round number [04:38-05:33] that again brings to mind those Adventures... mentioned above. Then the piano reminds us of RI [05:34], and the music swells into a sweeping episode with more castanets and hints of past ideas.
This is followed by a pensive piano [07:03], which is soon joined by the tutti in an introspective passage [07:28]. It leads to a lyrical animated finale [08:37], after which there's a dramatic pause. Then we get a lively coda [09:29] that has a final hint of FF [09:49], and concludes the work in great jubilation.
Next there's the curious single movement, fifteen minute Carmel Concerto of 1948 [T-12], which was the composer's last symphonic venture. Apparently a reworking of an earlier violin concerto (1937; currently unavailable on disc), we're told it was inspired by a visit he made to scenic Carmel-by-the-Sea in Monterey, California. Premiered in 1949 by Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) and the New York Philharmonic, it subsequently disappeared until its revival here.
As far as concertos go, this falls into the category of those for orchestra, where various soloists as well as instrumental groups are highlighted. What's more, it's a musical landscape painting of the scenic Carmel area, but you won't hear "Misty"!
The driving, percussion-reinforced opening [00:00] and jaunty first theme [00:16] conjure up images of monstrous breakers crashing on the imposing rocky California shoreline. After that an Indian war drum introduces what seems like a Native-American-related episode [02:16].
This ends in what could be a beautiful sunset [05:34] succeeded by a restful nocturne with twinkling stars [06:38]. Then dawn breaks to some frolicsome passages [07:21], which might represent children at play.
These are followed by a pregnant pause, and we get another lively segment [08:10] with a great cymbal crash that announces a commanding motif [08:44]. Oddly enough the latter seems distantly related to the melody for a song called "Nature Boy", which appeared the same year as this concerto.
Then there's a busy bridge into a dreamy sequence [09:43] that could again be night-related. It's followed by sinister passages [11:07] prefacing the work's strange conclusion [11:32], which is a juxtaposition of dances that range from Indian-inspired to playful and waltzlike. The work then ends peremptorily with a couple of ff orchestral flourishes.
The release is filled out with another selection for piano and orchestra called Patterns. Dating from 1932 and in four adjacent movements, this is not a concerto! Rather, it's an inventive exploration of various rhythmic patterns, including Latin American ones, where the piano plays an extensive obbligato role.
The first moderato [T-13] begins with growling timpani and low strings playing a tone-row-like, somber idea (TS) [00:04] that will dominate the piece. Next the piano enters with a frenetic syncopated theme [00:22], which is picked up by the orchestra, and explored with keyboard embellishments.
Then a more cheerful version of TS makes an appearance [01:53], and a second developmental episode follows. After that the piano plays some TS-derived riffs [03:30] introducing a scintillating coda, which ends the movement peacefully.
It's immediately followed by a lento [T-14] built around a TS-related, rhapsodic, keyboard-ornamented melody for the strings. The music then suddenly shifts gears giving us a più animato [T-15]. This begins in animated fashion leading to a proud Flamenco dance fragment [00:46] that could be out of Manuel de Falla's (1876-1946) Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1911-5).
The latter transitions via a quirky sequence into a rapturous cinematic theme [01:28] that's passionately explored, giving rise to an forte reminder of TS [04:56]. This fades into quiet keyboard musings that the strings pick up on.
Then after a momentary pause, they launch into a nervous, TS-related tune (NT) that begins a rondoesque, closing animato [T-16]. Here NT is tossed back-and-forth by all, and succeeded by a rhythmically spastic episode [01:01]. This has reminders of past TS-based ideas, two of which are big tune versions of it [01:39 and 03:09]. The last of these along with some bass drum support ends the piece triumphantly.
On the heels of their highly acclaimed releases for Dutton featuring the music of Frederick Converse, who was another Harvard graduate (1871-1940; see 8 February 2012) and George Chadwick (1854-1931; see 19 October 2012), Keith Lockhart along with the BBC Concert Orchestra give us more rare American symphonic fare. Maestro Lockhart's attention to phrasing and rhythmic detail bring out all the nuances of Carpenter's intricate, skittish scores. Michael Chertock deserves a big hand for his deft handling of the composer's frequently difficult piano writing.
Made at one of the world's largest recording venues, Abbey Road Studio One, London, the sonic image presented is wide, deep and in cavernous surroundings, which should appeal to those liking a wet sound. Still the Dutton production staff manages an acceptable balance between the many soloists and orchestra. On that note, some may feel the piano deserved more highlighting in Concertino and Patterns.
The overall instrumental timbre suffers from a touch of top end digital grain, but the midrange is generally pleasant. The lows are clean, and go down to rock bottom whenever that bass drum sounds.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160226)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Cervelló: Stg Qt Wks; Remembrances, Dos Mvmts (2), Études nach Kreutzer (5), A Bach; Atrium Qt [Columna]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The four works on this recent Columna Música CD are significant additions to the body of contemporary string quartet music. They are an ideal introduction to Spanish composer Jordi Cervelló (b. 1935), and as presented here the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
First trained in Spain and then Italy as well as Austria, he's written a considerable amount of music in all genres. You'll find these selections reveal a composer with a gift for melody and romantic stylistic leanings.
The program starts with Remembrances, which he began in 1987, but didn't complete until 1999. In four movements of varying temperament, we're told the first marked "Andante lirico" [T-1] is meant to evoke the world of Schubert (1797-1828). Melodically speaking this emotive offering does just that. However, there's also a chromaticism present recalling Zemlinsky's (1871-1942) early quartets (1893-5), which Jordi may have known from his days in Salzburg.
"Lento e contemplativo" [T-2] is a delicate restrained creation with impressionistic overtones. On the other hand the outer sections of "Scherzo" [T-3] conjure images of angry hornets, who buzz around an imploring central episode [02:16-02:44].
Delicate impressionistically tinged passages open the "Finale" [T-4], giving way to a chromatically swaying segment that becomes increasingly antsy. This is suddenly succeeded by a return to the work's opening mood [03:11], after which the music once again turns anxious. Then there's a rhapsodic bridge into reminders of the quartet's first measures, which conclude the work peacefully.
Dating from 1965 the following Dos moviments Two Movements seems to have been the composer's first significant effort for string quartet. A pair of contrasting movements, the first is a despairing "Andante" [T-5]. This is offset by "Allegro-Studio" ("Allegro-Study") [T-6], which opens with more incensed hornets (see above) flying around two nests of tranquility [03:37-05:10 and 07:59-09:14]. The composer tells us this movement was inspired by a violin exercise he once had.
And speaking of exercises, they're also the starting point for the next piece entitled Études nach Kreutzer (Études after Kreutzer, 2006). It's based on music by virtuoso violinist-composer Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831), who along with Pierre Rode (1774-1830, see 30 November 2015) founded the French Violin School. Moreover, each of Cervelló's five studies is related to one of Kreutzer's forty odd Études ou caprices (Etudes or Caprices) for solo violin (1796), specifically Nos. 2, 4, 9, 29, and 30 respectively.
The initial "Calmo-Allegro energico" [T-7] begins slowly hinting at a repeated, rapid eight-note motif that soon follows (RE) [00:17]. Then after a brief pause and dramatic pizzicato plunk, the music becomes an RE-possessed study in fast détaché bowing.
The next "Poco adagio" [T-8] is a melancholy tidbit demonstrating staccato. While the third "Allegro moderato" [T-9] addresses the articulation of slurs. It's a driven, flighty number that ends with a lovely melody [02:24].
Continuing in a lyrical vein and marked "Calmo-Espressivo", the tentative fourth [T-10] is devoted to changing strings and slurring. Then we get a vivacious final "Molto allegro" [T-11] full of détaché as well as slurred, rapid string crossings. It brings this set of studies to an exciting conclusion.
The disc closes with another homage to the past called A Bach (To Bach; 2004). Each of its two parts is a reworking for string quartet of a different movement from J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) violin sonatas and partitas (1720). Moreover, the first "Adagio" [T-12] takes its cue from the opening of the third sonata (BWV 1005, 1720), and is a haunting introspection.
The concluding "Preludiando" [T-13] is based on the initial "Preludio" of the third partita (BWV 1006; 1720). In Jordi's arrangement it's characterized by fleeting moods that range from fretful to combative and resigned.
Based in St. Petersburg, Russia, the award-winning Atrium String Quartet (ASQ) has long had a personal as well as professional relationship with the composer. He was even present, and worked with its members when these recordings were made. Having his imprimatur so to speak, their technically transcendent, sensitive performances must be considered definitive.
Made at Saint Catherine Lutheran Church in the ASQ's hometown, these recordings project a generous, well-focused soundstage in a warm, moderately reverberant acoustic. The string tone is naturally bright, and as conventional CDs of quartets go, this ranks with the best.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y160225)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Hill, E.B.: Sxt (pno & wind qnt); Fl Son; Idyl, Elegy & Scherzo (fl & pno); 4 Pcs (wind sxt); AustinChSol [Pierian]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Here's another outstanding release of American, Edward Burlingame Hill's (1872-1960) music (see 30 March 2015) from some musicians based in Austin, Texas. This time around we get four chamber selections, these being the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Better remembered now as one of Harvard's most distinguished music professors (1908-40), Edward was also a highly successful composer in his day, who could count John Knowles Paine (1839-1906; see the Carpenter recommendation above), Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937; see 31 July 2013), and George Whitefield Chadwick (1864-1931, see 19 October 2012) among his teachers. In that regard, between 1916 and 1949 the Boston Symphony Orchestra played his works on no less than eighty-five occasions!
Hill was a gifted melodist who wrote communicative, superbly crafted music with an underlying structural solidity harkening back to Brahms (1833-1892). Frequent twentieth century French influences, and even hints of jazz are also present. In many respects it anticipates what would soon come from Virgil Thomson (1896-1989, see 22 November 2010), Walter Piston (1894-1976) and Randall Thompson (1899-1984), all of whom studied with him.
As done here the four-movement Sonata for Flute and Piano of 1925 is drawn from the best sources currently available (see the informative album notes), and gets this release off to an invigorating start. The initial allegro [T-1] begins with a couple of attractive themes that undergo a skillful development with some affecting key changes. The movement then ends with a nostalgic recap and playful coda.
The following minuet has chivalrous outer sections courting an alluring inner one [01:10-02:19], and is succeeded by an oneiric impressionistic andante [T-3]. Then the sonata ends in a vivace [T-4] similar in design to the first allegro, but with a whole new cast of melodically flighty thematic characters.
Next we get the recording premiere of Idyl, Elegy and Scherzo for Flute and Piano (1921-2). Possibly inspired by Widor's second suite for the same instruments (Op. 34, 1898), there's a Gallic air about this. While the first piece is demure [T-5], there's an impressionistic introspection about the second [T-6] with maybe a hint of Debussy's (1862-1918) Faune (1892-4). The third [T-7] has a mischievous syncopated beginning and ending wrapped around a lullaby-like trio [01:46-03:13].
Four Pieces for Wind Instruments (flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon and horn) dating from 1928 starts with a "Prelude" [T-8] that's a beautifully scored, puckish tidbit. Then there's "Quasi Minuetto" ("Like a Minuet") [T-9], which is a restful dance invoking images of summer days in the country.
The penultimate "Scherzino" [T-10] is a busy virtuosic snatch of tomfoolery. However, the concluding "Elegy" [T-11] features a mellow swaying motif, and recalls the mood of the second piece. It closes the work in relaxed pastoral fashion.
Filling out the disc there's the four-movement Sextet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Piano of 1934. This colorfully scored work was commissioned by American music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953, see the newsletter of 30 November 2015), and is one of the composer's most outstanding chamber efforts.
It gets off to an allegro [T-12] start with a jazzy racem-chasem segment (JR). This features a petulant piano that's immediately pounced on by scolding winds. After that there's a leisurely lyrical episode, and the two alternate. But JR has the last say, closing the movement cheerfully.
A brief scherzo follows [T-13] with catchy syncopated outer passages bracketing a languorous central trio. Then the mood turns morose with Lento con duolo (Slow with Sorrow) [T-14]. This is a funeral march that begins with a grief-stricken, plodding idea for the piano surrounded by wailing winds. A dour development follows [01:09] where there are moments of consolation, but in the end the movement concludes despairingly.
However, the outlook brightens in the sonata-rondo finale [T-15]. It opens with a wind-embellished, cheerfully perky theme for the piano (CP) [00:00], after which there's a comely flowing, CP-related melody introduced by the horn [00:36].
The two undergo a development [01:22] having some imitative spicing [01:45], and then a tiny CP-based fugato [04:12] initiates a swaying recapitulation. The latter ends in a thrilling, CP-derived coda [05:24] that concludes this romantic chamber gem with the same jollity it began.
These immaculate scores finally receive a long overdue outing thanks to the Chamber Soloists of Austin (CSA). Moreover, founding members, flutist Karl Kraber and pianist Gregory Allen deliver superb accounts of the first two selections.
They're joined by oboist Ian Davidson, clarinetist Stephen Girko, bassoonist Daris Ward Hale and hornist Tom Hale for the engaging sextet. As for the Four Pieces for Wind Instruments, Mr. Allen is replaced by clarinetist Hilary Scop. Judging by these technically accomplished performances, all the CSA artists are virtuosos in their own right.
Made at the University of Texas, Butler School of Music in Austin, the recordings project a distant, compressed soundstage in affable surroundings. The overall wind tone is pleasant, while the piano is presented in more of a supportive role. The music would have sounded all the better had the performers been farther apart and more closely miked.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160224)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Zbinden: Stg Qts 1 & 2, Alligun (stg qt); SinNum Qt [Gallo]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Born in Rolle, Switzerland, Julien-François Zbinden (b.1917) makes his CLOFO debut here. At age ninety-eight as of this writing, he can claim the title of the oldest living composer in these pages!
After receiving his musical training in Paris, Zbinden would first pursue a career as a pianist in the pop field until 1947. He'd then go on to head the music departments for a couple of Swiss Radio Stations. He'd also write a significant number of works, several of which would receive noteworthy awards.
The year 1982 saw him retire from radio, but he continues to compose -- shades of Havergal Brian (1876-1972), who was still writing into his nineties (see 30 April 2015). Moreover, the most recent of three works for string quartet presented here dates from 2011 when Zbinden was ninety-three.
Proceeding chronologically, the program begins with the three-movement, first quartet of 1979 dedicated to a violinist friend. The initial rondo-like "Exorde" ("Introduction") [T-1] starts with a fugato based on a rising-falling motif (RF), having a distinctive four-note beginning (DF) [00:03]. RF will appear in several developmental guises, and makes a fugato return [04:22] to close the movement with a final reminder of DF [04:46].
We're told in the album notes, which incidentally are only in French, that the theme for the next "Berceuse" [T-2] is derived from the letters of the dedicatee's first name. The resultant melody is a wistful number that turns this movement into more of a lament.
The final "Rythme" ("Rhythm") [T-3] is a jazzy excursion apparently harkening back to the composer's days as a dance band pianist. This is a vivacious fugal number based on a bouncy subject, and has an unhurried bluesy central episode [02:18-03:24]. It concludes the quartet in a virtuosic state of excitement.
It seems the next selection called Alligun (1983) [T-4] was written in response to a request from the same violinist friend mentioned above. The title may be related to his first name, and at just under five-minutes, the piece falls into four connected sections.
Zbinden describes these as an "Introduction", "Allegro", "Berceuse" and "Coda", with the first being a cheeky tidbit having humorous cello glissandi [00:03]. A flighty flirtatious (FF) idea [00:27] offset by a couple of relaxed melodies [00:58 and 01:31] dominate the second, and a gently rocking tune characterizes the third [03:03]. The fourth [04:03] recalls FF bringing things full circle, and closing the work in plucky fashion.
At almost half an hour, the composer's second quartet of 2011 is his most substantial and last to date. In four movements, the opening one [T-5} has a mysterious lento introduction [00:04] with shimmering strings and pizzicato accents. This is followed by an allegro episode [03:59] with a couple of themes that are respectively driven and songlike. These undergo a dynamic, chromatically colorful development that ends the movement pragmatically.
A scherzo, which Zbinden aptly describes as a "frolic for strings", is next [T-6]. Here antic passages surround a playful folkish trio [02:26-03:35]. It couldn't be more different from the following "adagio" [T-7], which is the longest movement here.
This starts off as a keening [00:01] with an anxious central outburst [01:13-01:38]. It then becomes a funeral march [02:44] with a cello pizzicato accompaniment [02:44], and gradually fades away. After that the movement's opening mood returns, but with a sense of peaceful resignation that ends it hopefully.
The concluding "allegrissimo" [T-8] is an austere fugue with a sober main subject [00:02]. It's a virtuosic tour de force that gives the musicians a chance to strut their stuff, and ends this nonagenarian creation with an exuberance characteristic of composers half Zbinden's age.
These performances are by four Lausanne-based musicians, who chose the Latin title "Sine Nomine" ("Without a Name") for their quartet. It's meant to represent their commitment to outstanding music by all composers regardless of name. Their playing is exceptionally dynamic, but at the same time brings out all the subtleties in these scores.
The recordings were made two years ago in Ropraz, Switzerland, presumably at one of Swiss Radio and Television's broadcast venues. They project a superb, ideally proportioned sonic image in optimal surroundings. The musicians are perfectly balanced, and the string tone completely lifelike. There are occasional rustling and breathing sounds from the artists, but never so pronounced as to deny this disc an audiophile rating.
In closing, although the album is clearly marked with the label name "Gallo", some website retailers list it as just "Gall". Accordingly when looking for other releases from this record company, it's advisable to search under both spellings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y160223)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
|- RECOMMENDED CLASSICAL MUSIC WEB SITE OUTLETS -|
|IF YOU OR ANY OF YOUR FRIENDS WOULD LIKE TO BE NOTIFIED WHENEVER THERE'S A NEW CROCKS NEWSLETTER ON CLOFO.COM, JUST CLICK THE E-MAIL ADDRESS BELOW AND LET US KNOW.|
|- SEE OTHER CLOFO SERVICES -|
|AUDIOPHILE SELECTIONS||BEST FINDS OF LAST YEAR||CLOFO HOME PAGE||CLOFO RECOMMENDATIONS||OTHER CROCKS NEWSLETTERS|