CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 JULY 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.
Akimenko: Vn Sons 1 & 2, Mélodie russe (vn & pno), 2 of 3 Pcs (1909), 3 Pcs (bf 1912); Chulochnikova/Dedik [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Ukrainian-born Théodore Akimenko (1876-1945) was a Russian-trained composer-pianist, whose teachers included Balakirev (1837-1910; see 28 October 2008), Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908; see 14 July 2014), Lyapunov (1859-1924) and Lyadov (1865-1914). He was also a highly respected pedagogue, and could count Stravinsky (1882-1971) among his students.
Théodore began his career teaching in Georgia between 1901 and 1903. Then France would be his home for the next three years (1903-6), where he earned much of his living as a pianist. He graced many concert halls and Paris salons with his sensitive playing, and fell under the spell of Impressionism while there.
As of this writing, nothing is known about him from 1906 until his return to academia in 1915 as an instructor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. He'd remain there until 1923 when he moved to Prague, and resumed concertizing. Then in 1929 he once again took up residence in France, where he'd live out his remaining years.
During his lifetime Akimenko would write a substantial amount of music that includes many orchestral as well as chamber works. We're treated to some of the latter for violin and piano on this new Toccata release. These include both of his sonatas for those instruments, and the concert begins with the first dating from 1907.
In three movements the initial andantino [T-1] has a restrained, tonally itinerant introduction. This prefaces an attractive waltz (AW) [01:47] in the best tradition of late 19th century salon music followed by a dramatic virtuosic exploration. AW then makes a couple of rondo-like reappearances with attendant developments [03:38, 6:55], and the movement ends in a showy AW-related coda [08:01].
The intricate andante... [T-2] finds Théodore at his most innovative. It starts with a profound nine-note passacaglia-like theme (PP) for solo violin. The piano then enters distractedly, soon delivering a ringing endorsement of PP [00:44], which the violin heartily approves in a subsequent excited episode [01:07].
Three variations each ending with brief developmental commentary follow, the first two being respectively insistent [02:07] and searching [03:12]. They're succeeded by a pensive third [04:51] with a heavenly afterthought [05:43] featuring a soaring violin and hushed reverent piano.
The final movement is a modified sonata-form allegro risoluto (fast and tenacious) [T-3] that ends the work as advertised. It starts with a sprightly Cossack-sounding dance (SC) [00:01] for the violin, and a lovely Slavic folk melody (LS) played by the piano [00:44]. The two undergo an imaginative development [01:11], and then SC returns [04:10] succeeded by LS [05:34] to end the work jubilantly.
Some of Akimenko's occasional pieces surround the other sonata, the first being his Mélodie russe (Russian Melody) [T-4] of 1925. It's top-notch salon music in A-B-A trio form, where "A" is a melancholy Russian folk tune (MR) [00:01], and "B" a high-stepping Ukrainian hopak dance [00:54]. MR may remind you of "The Song of the Volga Boatmen", which appeared in Balakirev's 1866 collection of folk songs, and was later borrowed by Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936, see 20 August 2009) for his tone poem Stenka Razin (1885).
Théodore also wrote two sets of elegant short works for violin and piano, calling each of them "Trois morceaux" ("Three Pieces"). The one from around 1909 is next, but only the outer pieces survive, an inner "Valse" having been lost long ago. The first "Cantabile" [T-5] is a sorrowful song for violin set to a mournful keyboard accompaniment. On the other hand, "Danse" [T-6] takes the form of a hopak (see above), where the violin brays like a donkey, and then skitters about flirtatiously.
After that we get more serious fare with the second sonata written sometime before 1911. Once again in three movements like the first, it's generally more adventurous with highly chromatic, fragmentary themes in a lean harmonic framework. This creates a feeling of tonal wanderlust, and gives the work an impressionistic patina.
An initial sonata form allegro [T-7] sets it in motion with a roving idea (RI) [00:01] followed by a skittering thought. These undergo a gaunt contrapuntal development [02:29] with what sound like fleeting hints of the Dies Irae [03:39, 03:51] (see the Lopes-Graça concerto below). Then we get a recap [05:28] and final coda [07:09], bringing things full circle.
The succeeding andante [T-8] has fluid outer sections featuring a Satie (1866-1925) flavored melody (SF) [00:01]. They surround a demonstrative central episode [01:52] with a brief violin cadenza [02:53-03:30], and conclude the movement like it began.
The final allegro molto (fast and lively) [T-9] is an antsy sonata-rondo that begins with an introduction hinting at SF [00:02]. Then we get a blithe recurring two-part ditty (BR). This is a jolly RI-derived tune [00:16] conjoined to a swaying SF-related melody [00:46], which is briefly explored. BR plus short developmental passages then recur in rondo fashion, terminating this sonata on a sustained somber note.
Filling out this disc there's the other "Trois morceaux", which appeared sometime before 1912. It opens with a charming "Valse" [T-10] and an impressionistic "Doux rêve" ("Sweet dream") [T-11]. The latter starts pleasantly, only to become increasingly troubled and close in a funk.
But not one to end things on a dour note, Akimenko then gives us an optimistic "Danse rustique" ("Country Dance") [T-12]. Here cheery outer sections surround an introspective trio [01:55-02:58], and end this significant disc of discovery on a high.
Ukrainian-born violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova and pianist Anastasia Dedik turn in authoritative, technically accomplished accounts of this music. Except for Mélodie russe, which appeared a few years ago (see Gallo-1001), they give us the only performances of the other selections now on disc.
The recordings were made at Patrych Sound Studios, New York City. They present a suitably proportioned sonic image in warm surroundings with no hint of studio confinement. The performers are centered with the violinist slightly left of the piano, and the balance between them is good. However, some may find the overall sound skewed a bit left, and want to adjust their controls accordingly.
Ms. Chulochnikova's violin is markedly bright, and the piano ideally captured with a percussively rounded tone. Audiophiles should not be disappointed!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y160731)
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Braga Santos (Santos): Vc Conc (w Branco, Costa & Lopes-Graça): Borralhinho/Neves/Gulben O [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A couple of months ago Naxos issued an exemplary release with some Portuguese piano trios (see 30 April 2016). Now they give us an equally winning follow-on of works for cello and orchestra by four of that country's leading twentieth century composers. They include Luiz Costa (1879-1960, who was represented on the trio disc, Luis de Freitas Branco (sometimes listed as just Branco, 1890-1955; see 22 November 2011), Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906-1994; see 20 June 2012), and Joly Braga Santos (sometimes listed as just Santos, 1924-1988; see 8 February 2012).
The first three composers were all students of José Viana da Mota (also spelled Vianna da Motta, 1868-1948; see 31 October 2015), and Freitas Branco, who'd studied earlier with Humperdinck (1854-1921), would go on to teach Lopes-Graça as well as Braga Santos. Incidentally the Costa and Branco works are world premiere recordings.
Many may find Braga Santos' concerto of 1987 the most affecting music here. It's in three conjoined movements of sullen neoclassical severity that follow a slow-fast-slow schema. All together they make the work somewhat of a symphonic poem, but there's no mention of any underlying story.
The initial "Moderato" [T-6] starts introspectively with a primitive modal motif (PM) played by the oboe, bringing to mind the opening of Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Rite of Spring (1913). It's taken up by flute and clarinet respectively. Then soloist and tutti engage in an extended, dark, chromatic dialogue that ends on a sustained note for the lower strings.
It's immediately followed by an allegro [T-7]. This starts with jagged Rite... rhythmic figurations in the orchestra, over which the cello makes a querulous virtuosic entrance. The tension then subsides into a morose meditative passage succeeded by another captious one.
This manic-depressive interplay persists throughout the movement. Then about halfway through there's a reminder of PM on the bassoon [03:58] that sounds even more Rite...-like. It’s succeeded by a recap of the opening [04:36], after which the music ends with some fireworks and somber afterthoughts for the soloist.
After a momentary pause the final andante begins with a melancholy bassoon [T-8] followed by the oboe alluding to PM [00:14]. This gives way to a tragic reverie in which the cello broods to a wistful tutti accompaniment. The music becomes increasingly sorrowful, and after a despondent chime stroke fades away, ending the concerto in oblivion.
Branco wrote his romantic one-movement Cena Lirica (Lyrical Scene) for cello and orchestra [T-5] around 1916. He'd then revise the orchestral part in the 1940s, giving us the next selection.
It opens with the English horn playing a lovely folkish lullaby-like melody (FL) to a hushed string accompaniment. The soloist then picks up on FL, and a dramatic exploration follows. After that FL is recapped [05:13], concluding the work in the same mood it began.
Sometime in the early 1950s Costa wrote a one-movement piece for cello and piano called Poema (currently unavailable on disc). Then in 1956 he began but never finished a version with orchestra.
Fifty years later his cellist daughter asked prize-winning, Portuguese composer Pedro Faria Gomes (b. 1979) to realize it from some notes her father left regarding the scoring. Accordingly, in 2008 he came up with the eponymous piece presented here [T-1]. This is an engaging travelogue of scenic snapshots with cello commentary. What's more, in concerto fashion Pedro even includes a closing cadenza.
It begins tranquilly with wistful strings and winds hinting at a delightful exotic idea (DE) soon delivered by the soloist [00:35]. Then there's a charming pastoral scene [01:08] with avian twitters, followed by an impressionistic Eastern setting [02:11]. Here it's easy to picture a gorgeous mountain valley [02:32] with a winding brook [03:18] and rustic village [06:02], where a lively peasant dance (LP) soon gets underway [07:52].
Then there's that cadenza [09:13-10:56], which is a whimsical DE-related virtuosic workout, succeeded by a rousing recap of LP [10:56] for both soloist and tutti. It's followed by some nostalgic forte passages [11:47], and a skittering last thought [12:27] that ends Poema with a hop, a skip, and a jump!
Turning to Fernando Lopes-Graça we get his three-movement Concerto da Camera col Violincello Obbligato (Chamber Concerto with Cello Obbligato, 1965-6), which some claim is one of his finest works. Commissioned by the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), who gave the premiere, it may remind you of more anguished moments in the two concertos Shostakovich (1906-1975) wrote for him (1959 and 1966).
Like Fernando's earlier sinister Canto de Amor e de Morte (Song of Love and Death, 1961) for piano quintet, this is an austere neoclassical work. There are intimations of Stravinsky as in the Braga Santos above, along with moments sounding like Bartók (1881-1945; see 31 August 2015). It may reflect the many hardships Lopes-Graça experienced in Portugal as an outspoken opponent of the dictatorial Salazar regime (1932-68).
The opening Allegro moderato [T-2] begins with the harp over shimmering strings playing a repeated angular four-note motif (AF) [00:00], which will infect the entire piece. AF is then picked up and elaborated by the cello in a pleading transitional passage of increasing tempo.
This adjoins a percussively volatile segment [01:52] that subsides into conflicted AF-derived passages [03:20]. These are placid one minute and frenetic the next, with the former finally prevailing to close the movement apprehensively.
The Andante [T-3] starts with hushed tutti chords, and a sobbing, four-note-prefaced motif (SF) played by the soloist [00:11]. This movement is a despairing dialogue except for a brief manic outburst [03:58-04:34], presaging the frantic opening of the AF-possessed finale [T-4].
The latter falls into two spans, the first being a frenzied virtuosic showcase for all, where the soloist goes bonkers. Like Stravinsky's Rite... and Akimenko's second sonata (see above) there are veiled references to the Dies Irae [beginning at 01:42].
This crazed section gradually abates into the next span, which is a melancholy reverie, beginning with SF [04:55], and riddled with allusions to AF. It concludes the concerto somewhat hopefully with a last glimmer of AF [08:45].
The disc will introduce you to up-and-coming Portuguese cellist Bruno Borralhinho (b. 1982). With the support of conductor Pedro Neves and the Lisbon-based Gulbenkian Orchestra, he delivers remarkable performances of these four Iberian treasures.
The recordings were made in the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation's Grand Auditorium, Lisbon, and project a full sonic image in surroundings that enrich the music all the more. Senhor B's cello is realistically captured, and he's ideally balanced against the orchestra. The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by sparkling highs, a well-focused midrange, and articulate bass. All this makes for a demonstration quality CD.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y160730)
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Klenau: Sym 9; Soloists/Schönwandt/DanNa CnC&SO [Dacapo]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
Paul von Klenau (1883-1946) was born in Copenhagen, but left his native country as a young man for Germany and Austria, where he'd complete his musical training, and establish himself as a successful composer-conductor for most of his life. However, increasing deafness meant the end of his conducting career, and in 1939 he returned to Denmark, where he'd live out his years.
There are questions regarding his political associations with the Nazis during the 1930s, but suffice it to say he wrote a significant number of quality works in the late romantic, German tradition. These reflect his studies with Max Bruch (1838-1920) and Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907; see 8 April 2013). They also show the influences of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), Richard Strauss (1864-1949), and even the Second Viennese School (1903-1925).
Dacapo is in the process of exploring his nine symphonies, the last of which makes its recorded debut here. Written a year before his death (1945), and totaling almost ninety minutes, this would be his final major work. Scored for soprano, mezzo, tenor, bass, chorus and orchestra, four of its eight movements have Latin texts that are mostly altered extracts from the Catholic Requiem Mass (see the album notes). Consequently, it's an eclectic amalgamation of that and the traditional symphony.
The opening movement marked "Allegro" [D-1, T-1] is just for orchestra. It begins nervously with forte outbursts creating a troubled episode (TE). This hints at a pious melancholy theme (PM) soon to appear, and comes to a diminuendo close with a hushed drumroll.
Next the flute and winds introduce a magnificently constructed fugue based on PM [02:48] that reaches a towering climax, and suddenly ends. Pensive passages [06:01] then bridge into a TE-derived coda [07:54], bringing the movement to a pounding conclusion.
The second one titled "Requiem. Andante" [D-1, T-2] imbues the work with sacred connotations. It begins with mezzo, chorus and soprano singing the familiar "Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine..." ("Grant them eternal rest, Lord...") to a subdued orchestral accompaniment.
This is followed by a dramatic pause, and then orchestra and chorus burst into the familiar "Dies Irae..." ("Day of wrath...") sequence (DI) [04:31]. This abates by degrees into a lovely episode for the mezzo [08:21]. DI then resumes, and falls off transitioning into a heavenly reprise of "Requiem aeternam..." for chorus and both female soloists [10:54]. They then close the movement with an ethereal "Kyrie eleison" ("Lord have mercy on us") [11:49].
The next, all symphonic "Allegro molto vivace" ("Lively and very vivacious") [D-1, T-3] could be considered a scherzo. The opening section (OS) begins with a couple of memorable ideas, the first being a valiant bounding theme (VB). It's immediately followed by a development that includes a VB-based fugal episode [00:40] with Nielsen (1865-1931) overtones. Then there's a contrasting chorale-like tune [02:21] that undergoes a Brucknerian exploration.
A whimsical VB-related trio with an innocence recalling childlike moments in Humperdinck (1854-1921) is next [03:41]. After that OS returns [05:15], bringing things full circle, and a VB-derived final coda [08:56] ends the movement subito.
The succeeding "Andante" [D-1, T-4] begins pensively with tenor and chorus intoning a Latin text that departs from the Mass. Probably written by the composer, it reflects World War II (1939-45), and man's predilection to take up arms, and then long for peace during the ensuing conflict. As the album notes point out, this mirrors the classic Old Testament saying in Ecclesiastes, "For everything there's a season and time... a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to pull down and a time to build up...".
Then the chorus breaks into a lively fugue on the words "...in bellum nos conjiciamus..." ("...into war we rush...") [02:25], and the soloists have a moving exchange invoking "Discite venerationem vitae..." ("Learn reverence for life..."). It's followed by another fugal setting for all of "Haec est vitae discrepantia sempiterna..." ("This is life's eternal contradiction...") [05:49], which just fades away.
The subdued woodwind passages that are next [08:39] set in motion the movement's stirring conclusion, which becomes rather operatic. This not surprising considering Klenau's several significant efforts in the genre (none currently available on disc), three of which are twelve-tone works (1933-41).
Here the female soloists recall "Discite venerationem vitae..." ("Learn reverence for life..."), after which there's an exhilarating orchestral fugue [10:50] that suddenly ends. Then after a dramatic pause everyone returns once again singing "Haec est vitae discrepantia sempiterna..." ("This is life's eternal contradiction...") [12:26].
This builds in stages to an exciting climax followed by a dramatic pause and a choral passage based on the line "...veneratio vitae est veneratio Dei" ("...reverence for life is reverence for God..."). The latter begins quietly [15:52], and explodes on the word "Dei". Then brass and snare drum add a final exclamation point.
The fifth movement is a captivating march-like allegro [D-2, T-1] just for orchestra. It opens with a festive brass and percussion-accented episode (BP) that's followed by a strutting idea (SI) [02:42], which surrounds an attractive proud melody (AP) [03:46-04:38] reminiscent of Wagner (1813-1883). BP is then repeated and succeeded by a meandering SI-related bassoon tune. This prefaces a development of previous thematic material [07:19], after which BP is recapped [09:18] to end the movement triumphantly.
The next "Adagio" [D-2, T-2] is also solely symphonic. Poignant strings dominate the beginning, giving way to a flighty flute that quickens the pace. It's joined by the rest of the orchestra in worried passages, which become a funeral march [06:03]. Then after a pause the music turns melancholy recalling Brahms (1833-1897) [08:13], and the opening measures reappear to end this section like it began.
The chorus returns for a miniscule "Misericordia" ("Mercy") [D-2, T-3]. Marked "Sehr leidenschaftlich bewegt" ("Very Passionate and Moving"), it's a wake-up call for the last movement titled "Ruhige Viertel" ("Devout Conclusion") [D-2, T-4]. This is a delightful sequence of concluding episodes that constantly change mood.
The first is rather philosophical and begins with an arresting, sustained trumpet note (ST) that will reappear a couple of times. The tenor then proclaims "Stella lucet per coelum!" ("A star is shining in the heavens!"), after which the chorus declares "Deus est Deus!" ("God is God!") followed by some thoughts about human understanding
The trumpet introduces the next section with a reverent stately tune (RS) [01:56] that will dominate it. Here soloists and chorus launch into an exhilarating number glorifying God, whose ending moments include the words "Benedictus" ("Blessed be") and "Osanna in excelsis" ("Hosanna in the highest") recalling the Mass.
The succeeding episode starts off with an orchestral fugue having a lively RS-related subject [06:36]. It introduces a dramatic "Luceat lux." ("Let the Light shine.") chorus with an interim "Dona nobis pacem." ("Grant us peace.") for bass, tenor and mezzo [08:43-09:21]. This section ends with exultant choral "Osannas" ("Hosannas") as well as "Glorias", and another ST [10:06] that segues into a "Lumen, quod mentis tenebras dissipat... ("The light that disperses the shadows of the mind...") afterthought [10:20].
A fired up orchestra [10:59] introduces the next episode, and is soon followed by the chorus proclaiming "Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua." ("Heaven and earth are full of your glory'). After that they deliver a moving, pensive "In nobis lex aeterna" ("Within us is the eternal law") [12:16]. Then the soloists join in for "Dona nobis Pacem" ("Grant us paece") with just the soprano singing a last "Pacem" ("Peace") to great effect.
The grand finale is an exultant choral fugue on "Gloria in excelsis." ("Glory in the highest.") [16:07] with reminders of "Deus est Deus!" ("God is God!"). And after another ST, there's a final blazing "Stella luceat. Stella." ("A star is shining. A star.") [18:03].
This symphony would lie buried for fifty-five years until 2001 when it was discovered with a large collection of the composer's manuscripts in Vienna. Then another thirteen would pass before our conductor Michael Schönwandt premiered it in 2014.
That was the occasion for this recording featuring soprano Cornelia Ptassek, mezzo-soprano Susanne Resmark, tenor Michael Weinius and bass Steffen Bruun with the Danish National Concert Choir and Symphony Orchestra. They give a superb account of this undeservedly forgotten score undoubtedly made all the more vibrant by this being taken from a live performance. It leaves one anxious to hear more of Klenau's symphonic music.
Done in the acoustically superb Danish National Radio's Koncerthuset (Concert Hall), Copenhagen, careful microphone placement coupled with skillful mixing assure good balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra. What's more, adept postproduction touch-ups and editing preclude any extraneous audience noise or applause.
On the other hand, there is some occasional, high end digital grain, particularly in the voices, and a slightly recessed midrange. Also the bass is a tad boomy, and pointy-eared audiophiles may notice what seem to be occasional edit ticks. Taking all this into consideration, the album isn't in the demonstration category, but as we've noted before with rarities like this we're lucky to have what's here!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160729)
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Martinu: Early Orch Wks V2 (Stin: cpte bal); Soloists/Hobson/SinfaVars [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
As far as twentieth century Czech composers go, Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) was among the most prolific. His output includes countless orchestral as well as chamber pieces, in addition to thirty completed operas and ballets. One of his youthful efforts in the latter category appears on this second volume in Toccata's continuing survey of his early orchestral works (see 20 June 2013).
Extensive details regarding the composer and this one act ballet can be found in the album notes by Martinu guru Michael Crump. Consequently, in the interests of time and space, the discussion below is limited to some general facts about it.
Entitled Stin (The Shadow, 1916), it's hard to believe this enchanting score wouldn't be premiered until almost a hundred years later with the release of this 2015 recording. The explanation seems to lie in Martinu's good natured music being somwhat incongruous with the ballet's tragic scenario. In that regard the composer captiously referred to it some forty years later (1958) as a weak, derivative student work. However, this disc would seem to prove him his own worst critic!
Scored for a small orchestra (double woodwind, two horns, piano, harp, celeste and strings), it's a vibrant choreographic creation whose magic "Introduction" [T-1] opens with cheerful horn calls and a piquant oboe theme. As the curtain goes up we see an old park with a fountain surrounded by a mirrorlike pool. Then the piano ushers in a lovely "Song" [T-2] that’s a wordless vocalise (WV) sung by a backstage soprano [00:05]. The melody is very similar to the opening theme in the third movement of Beethoven's Piano Trio No. 6 (Op. 70, No. 2; 1794-5).
Soon a girl enters listening to it, begins dancing to some perky pizzicato [T-3], and starts playing with a ball. The music bridges via passages having lovely violin and oboe solos into a captivating waltz (CW) [03:33], whose scoring finds the composer at his most inventive.
His ability to get a rich sound from such a small ensemble is quite amazing. It anticipates later masterpieces like the Fantasies symphoniques (Symphony No. 6) written in 1951 for the Boston Symphony Orchestra while he was living in the US (1941-53). Piano and celesta embellishments add all the more color to the music.
The girl continues her dancing in the next three numbers, the first being a romantic coquettish "Lento" [T-4]. This transitions into a chromatically ethereal "Allegretto" [T-5] and "Moderato (di valse)" [T-6], presaging Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) 1918 incidental music for Moliere's (1622-1673) play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670, see the newsletter of 11 July 2007).
The succeeding "Ball game" [T-7] begins with horns playing an infectious ditty (ID) that could be out of a Czech folk song. Here the girl cavorts about while tossing her ball, which unfortunately falls into the water [T-8]. Bending over to get it, she sees her reflection in the pool, and playfully begins dancing with it
But, oh my goodness gracious! The image suddenly materializes into “Shadow” as the dancer is referred to in the ballet, and rises out of the water to strains of ID [T-9]. Then it starts gliding about, frightening our heroine away.
During some transitional passages [00:30] the girl regains her composure, and returns for a sequence of six numbers with Shadow that are among the score's most attractive. The initial "Comodo" [T-10] has more Straussian connotations. and is followed by a "Tempo di Menuetto" [T-11] recalling Mozart's (1756-1791) dances.
After that there's a perky trio [T-12] with a flowing central waltz anticipating some of the great melodies soon to come from Martinu. This bridges into a spirited "Vivace" of Gallic persuasion [T-13], followed by an "Allegro" [T-14] that's a fleeting waltz. Then there’s a brash "Allegro vivace" [T-15], which starts off in jig fashion, and turns into a rustic march [01:37], bringing Goldmark (1830-1915) to mind.
This comes to a sudden halt, and after a dramatic pause sinister passages [T-16] introduce the next episode, where "Three dark male figures appear...", the tall central one being "Death". At first the girl seems unconcerned, and "The dancing continues..." [T-17]. But two violins introduce a moment of introspection [01:43] where there are repeated, suspense-building chords on the piano.
This gives way to anxious passages [03:07], which turn increasingly ominous, and have a recurring fateful rhythmic riff (FR) ) [beginning at 04:02] like that in Beethoven's Egmont Overture (1810). They surround a lush reminder of CW [05:10], and end this section starkly.
Some eerie ID-related measures follow, and "The girl collapses exhausted..." [T-18], after which Shadow dances towards "Death". Seeing what's happening, she rises and tries to intervene. However, it's too late and with chilling FR-related orchestral outbursts [00:21], Death throws his cloak over it.
With that both Shadow and girl fall dead to more FRs [00:46], and pallid shimmering string passages [00:52] that waste away. Then after a slight pause a more romanticized version of "The Song is heard again from afar" [T-19] (see WV above), bringing the ballet to a wistful, albeit lighthearted conclusion.
Once again conductor Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia Varsovia (see 20 June 2013) give us a groundbreaking account of another early Martinu discovery. He gets superb playing from the members of this up-and-coming Polish ensemble that gives this youthful, exuberant music a new lease on life. Soprano Dorota Szczepanska, violinist Anna Maria Staskiewicz and pianist Agnieszka Kopacka are to be commended for their fine performances.
Done late last year, the recording like its predecessor was made at the Polish Radio's Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Warsaw. This time around the microphone placement and mixing produce a wide, deep sonic image in what sounds like an even more reverberant space.
All of the soloists are well captured and balanced against the orchestra. As for the instrumental timbre, there's some digital grain in the highs, particularly noticeable in massed violin passages, but the midrange is generally pleasing. With no heavy duty percussion present, only the lower strings produce any substantial bass.
Those having speaker systems favoring that end of the audio spectrum may encounter a bit of boom as well as frequent low end thumps. The latter stem from Maestro Hobson's more active moments on what must have been one of those timpanic podiums. Listeners having equalization and/or tone controls can try tweaking them to minimize these distractions.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160728)
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Melartin: Traumgesicht, Blue Pearl Bal (8 excs), Marjatta (sop & orch); Isokoski/Lintu/FinR SO [Ondine]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
This first appearance of Finnish composer Erkki Melartin (1875-1937) in these pages is long overdue, but better late than never! With almost two hundred opuses to his credit, he stands alongside compatriots Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), Armas Järnefelt (1869-1958; see 6 January 2011), Toivo Kuula (1883-1918; see 31 October 2015), Aarre Merikanto (1893-1958; see 12 March 2015), and Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016; RIP).
Erkki received his first musical training at home (1892-9), and went on to study composition for two years (1899-1901) in Vienna with renowned Austrian pedagogue Robert Fuchs (1847-1927; see 31 July 2015). Upon his return he'd become one of Finland's most versatile musicians. Moreover, his career included conducting, administration, twenty-five years as a teacher (1911-1936) at what’s now known as the Sibelius Academy, and a lifetime of composing.
He wrote a substantial number of orchestral works, and Ondine's survey of them, which has to date included his six completed symphonies (1902-24), continues here with three shorter selections. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Melartin's stirring tone poem Traumsgesicht (Dream Vision, 1910) for large orchestra [T-1] is based on incidental music he wrote for Italian poet Gabriele d'Annunzio's (1863-1938) symbolist tragedy Sogno d'un mattino di primavera (The Dream of a Spring Morning, 1897). This is one of the composer's more progressive pieces, where there are French, Russian and German influences.
An oneiric impressionistic opening recalls Debussy (1862-1918; see 10 March 2011) and even Scriabin (1872-1915). It intensifies, fades and bridges into a captivating extended theme introduced by the oboe (CE) [03:25]. This will pervade the piece, and may bring to mind Richard Strauss' contemplative (1864-1949) moments.
After that we get a dramatic sequence containing a dynamic romanticized version of CE (DR) [05:05]. This segment is reminiscent of rousing passages in Mahler's (1860-1911) symphonies (1888-1910), which Melartin introduced to Scandinavian audiences. It’s followed by a stormy tract that abates into a pensive contemplation of CE [06:02].
Then there's a brief pause, and an excited episode [09:06] succeeded by subdued hints of CE [09:48]. These become a tragic funeral march that reaches massive proportions, only to fade into the quiet return of CE [12:54]. It's the lifeblood of a moving conclusion that ends the work with triumphant recollections of DR [14:50], and a tranquil CE-related last thought.
In 1913 Finnish soprano Aino Ackté (1876-1944) asked Sibelius to write something for her with orchestra. Accordingly he composed Luonnotar, which is a sung tone poem having a text from the opening creation section of the Finnish national epic known as The Kalevala (1835, see 16 December 2013).
Then a year later she requested another such piece from Melartin, who came up with the similarly scored selection that’s next [T-2]. With a text (see album notes for Finnish and English versions) that’s an abridgement of the last poem in the above epic, and described by the composer as a “legend”, he’d name it Marjatta (1914) [T-2] after the young shepherdess who’s the central character.
The beginning, which is even more impressionistic than that of the previous piece, limns a peaceful country setting. The clarinet soon imitates a cuckoo -- shades of Delius' "On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring" (1912) -- which Marjatta encourages to sing, and then asks it how long she'll remain an unmarried shepherd girl.
After that the music becomes mystical [03:44] as she finds and eats a lingonberry, which results in the Kalevala counterpart of an immaculate conception. Heroic passages follow [06:23], in which we learn she has a son, and this along with references to his baptism seemingly make the poem an allegorical account of Finland's Christianization.
He grows into a handsome youth, and becomes King of Karelia. This angers the godlike shamanistic minstrel Väinämöinen , who presumably represents pagan Finland, and he tries to have the Christian monarch killed. When his attempts fail, he sings a magical incantation creating a copper boat in which he can leave the country [08:45].
The work then ends with him sailing away to "loftier regions". The underlying plucked harp and string accompaniment suggests his dulcimer-like kantele, which he leaves with all his songs to the Finnish people.
In 1929 Erkki completed Finland's first full-length ballet entitled Sininen helmi (The Blue Pearl), which would be his last major work. Eight selections from this fairy tale set on a South Sea island conclude the disc.
It involves a Princess held captive by an octopod monster, and a shipwrecked Prince, who saves her and gets the rare gem named in the title. All this is somewhat reminiscent of that 1948 John Wayne adventure film Wake of the Red Witch.
Brilliantly scored for a small colorful orchestra, the percussion section includes a piano and wind machine. The opening "Entrée avec pantomime" (“Entrée with pantomime”) [T-3] begins with a guest appearance by Marjatta's cuckoo (see above)! The music here is alternately pastoral and fickle.
The next "Danse de Nénuphares" ("Dance of the Water Lilies") [T-4] starts impressionistically, and then turns into a flowing, piano sequined waltz [01:51]. It's succeeded by a dynamic "Scéne (Tempête)" ("Storm Scene") [T-5] made all the more realistic by the wind machine.
Then harp and violin introduce an amorous "Pas de deux" [T-6] presumably for the Prince and Princess. A lovely "Variation II" [T-7] with an animated central episode and high-stepping "Coda" [T-8] follow, preparing the way for a graceful "Poissons à voile" ("Goldfish") [T-9].
"Finale..." [T-10] brings this balletic sampler to a rousing conclusion. Here emissaries from different lands perform their native dances for our heroines, calling to mind the exotic numbers in Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) The Nutcracker (1891-2).
The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (FRSO) under their chief conductor Hannu Lintu gives wonderful readings of all three selections. They're ideally complemented by lyric soprano Soile Isokoski in Marjatta, who sings this romantically lyrical work to perfection.
Made at the Helsinki Music Center, the recordings present a broad, deep, detailed soundstage in optimal surroundings. Ms. Isokoski and the other instrumental soloists are beautifully captured against the FRSO. The overall orchestral timbre is natural sounding with sparkling highs, a lifelike midrange, and clean low bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y160727)
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