CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 APRIL 2017
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.
Alwyn, W.: Stg Qts 10, 11, 12 (Fantasia) & 13; Tippett Qt [SOMM]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
A highly cultivated man, William Alwyn (1905-1985) was a talented painter, accomplished writer, and above all, one of twentieth century Britain's most prolific composers. An album devoted to selections from his myriad film scores was the starting point for our last newsletter (see 28 February 2017). And now here's some chamber music from his equally prodigious concert hall output.
The four string quartets filling out this new SOMM release were written in the 1932-6 timeframe, and are marked Nos. 10-13. However, a word of explanation is in order as the composer would write three more (1953-54), which he'd designate as Nos. 1-3. That's because William, being his own worst critic, later withdrew the first thirteen.
The ones included here received excellent reviews at their premieres, and are in retrospect welcome additions to the quartets of their time. Accordingly, they deserve to be heard again! These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
In 1932 Alwyn made a tour of music schools in Australia, and occupied his idle moments writing several new pieces. These included a string quartet (No.10, 1932), which was actually completed during his ocean voyage home. With a score dedicated "to the ship", it's a remembrance of his return trip, and accordingly marked "En Voyage".
A programmatic work, each of the four movements has a descriptive title, the first "Departure" [T-1] being a melancholy utterance. It starts with hints of the tune for that age-old song about old acquaintances based on Robert Burns' (1759-1796) poem Auld Lang Syne (see 31 December 2016). These pervade the movement, and end it tranquilly, implying Alwyn was having fond recollections of friendships made during his sojourn.
Things brighten in the scherzo-like "Sea Birds" [T-2]. Here agitated passages ostensibly representing avian cries are interspersed with graceful ones, which make it easy to imagine gliding gulls. Then there's a becalmed threnody for muted strings titled "The Lonely Waters" [T-3] that begins with weeping passages for violins and viola. They're soon joined by the cello intoning a song of sorrow. This is explored, and quietly expires, bringing the movement to a somber conclusion.
The final "Trade Winds" [T-4] has two contrasting, atmospheric ideas that are respectively gusty and wafting. They alternate with meteorological unpredictability, and a sustained note for the viola closes the work in a becalmed state. Those liking this quartet should be sure to investigate Australian composer Alfred Hill's (1869-1960; see 31 December 2015).
Alwyn's succeeding effort (No. 11, 1933) has three-movements, the first [T-5] being in modified sonata form. It begins with a thematic nexus having a rhythmic four-note motif (RF) [00:00] followed by a related lyrical melody (RL) [01:11]. They're explored, and after a short caesura undergo a dramatic development [01:47]. This ends with an RL-derived, captivating folklike ditty (RC) [03:48].
Then there's a brief break, and RF initiates [04:51] a recap. This is a reworking of the opening measures, which dies away into a substantial pause followed by an RC-based coda [08:12]. The latter ends the movement nostalgically with wistful reminders of RF [09:37 & 09:47].
A ternary, A-B-A andante for muted strings is next [T-6]. This starts with a haunting theme (HT) [00:04] that's passed around, and brackets a winsome, sighing "B" section [02:01-03:10]. Then HT closes the movement mysteriously.
A closing allegro [T-7] opens with an innocent rising-falling idea [00:01], which becomes increasingly agitated, finally giving way to an RC-like motif [02:21]. This ends the work in hushed ambivalence.
Two years later Alwyn completed a single movement string quartet (No. 12, 1935) that he named Fantasia [T-8]. Lasting almost thirteen minutes, it's dedicated to his compatriot Alan Bush (1900-1995; see 9 April 2014), and gets off to quivering start. Then there's a sweeping lyrical theme on the violin (SL) [00:02], and an SL-related jagged motif (SJ) soon introduced below [00:06]. After that SL is forcefully restated [00:42], and lurches into a developmental fantasy.
This is at first anguished [01:09], but slows into a couple of gently swaying pastoral segments [02:23 & 03:22], which may bring Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) to mind. Then an SJ outburst [04:13] gives way to a weeping episode [05:18], ending with a lachrymose cello [08:09]. Next there's a troubled, pizzicato-spiced segment [08:41], and pensive passage [09:10-09:48]. The latter merges into melancholy memories of SL [11:10] and SJ [12:07] that conclude the piece in shimmering mystery.
The next quartet (No.13, 1936) is an oddity, considering there are only two movements, and the first was written after the second. Not only that, Alwyn soon reworked the leading one into another piece scored for two horns, timpani and strings (1936), which he called Tragic Interlude. All this makes one wonder if these may have originally been parts of a more extensive work he never finished.
The opening "Adagio e largamente e marcato" ("Slowly, dignified and marked") [T-9] is in four contiguous segments, and begins with a forceful four-note rising-falling riff (FR) [00:01]. This is soon followed by a descending four-note one (DF) [00:22], which undergoes an insistent exploration, leading to a lyricized version of FR (LR) [01:39]. It introduces an FR-permeated episode that becomes increasingly excited, and then slowly wanes, ending the first segment apathetically.
After a brief pause, the next begins with a sighing, DF-associated idea [04:32]. This is contemplated, and a moment of silence is followed by a third [05:10], which seems an afterthought. Then there's another short break, and LR announces a concluding segment [06:05] that closes the movement despairingly.
The final "Allegro molto e vivace" ("Fast, lively and vivacious) [T-10] is a scherzoesque creation with a pixilated opening section (PO) [00:00]. This is succeeded by a PO-derived bucolic one (PB) [01:24], recalling folkish moments in Gustav Holst's (1874-1934) The Planets (1914-6). The two ideas then undergo an extensive four-part development [02:55, 04:49, 06:12 & 08:02] that merges into a slow, PB-related romantic coda [08:48], ending the quartet nostalgically.
The Tippett Quartet, named after the great English composer Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998), makes a welcome return to these pages (see 17 August 2011). They give technically accomplished, enthusiastic accounts of some long-forgotten works, which are a significant contribution to the body of twentieth century chamber music.
Made last year at St. Nicholas Parish Church in Thames Ditton some 15 miles southwest of London, the recordings project a wide sonic image. The instruments are ideally placed, captured and balanced in warm spacious surroundings. The music sounds all the richer for it, giving us a demonstration quality disc of discovery that's a must for romantic chamber music fans.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170430)
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Bériot, C.-A. de; Vn Concs 4, 6 & 7, Air varié No. 4 "Montagnard", Scène de ballet;
Tsuji/Halász/CzPard ChPO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Bériot, C.-A. de; Vn Concs 2, 3 & 5;
Quint/Trevor/SlovR SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Bériot, C.-A. de; Vn Concs 1 "Military", 8 & 9;
Nishizaki/Walter/RTBFBrus SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Like Pierre Rode (1774-1830; see 30 March 2015), Belgian-born Charles-Auguste de Bériot (1802-1870) studied with the celebrated founder of the French violin school, Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824). Charles would become a renowned virtuoso and the toast of Europe, finally settling in Brussels (1843), where he established the Franco-Belgian school of violin playing. His students would include the great violinist-composer Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881).
Bériot's oeuvre would subsume ten concertos for his instrument, which are fetching, early romantic creations. Naxos began surveying them some time ago, and have to date released the three albums pictured above, which give us all except the tenth.
The two to the right appeared in the 2003-8 timeframe, and won't be discussed as they've already received glowing reports from several widely available sources. The one to the left is the most recent, and also has a couple of occasional pieces for violin and orchestra. Conjointly these CDs represent the only currently available recordings on disc of the first, third, fifth, sixth and eighth concertos, as well as the two shorter works.
The concertos on the most recent album are at heart similarly conceived, triple movement structures despite their different markings. Written in 1844, the fourth [T-1] is indicated as in a single movement [T-1], and begins with an orchestral preface having an initial somber theme [00:01], bracketing a cheerful, related one (CR) [01:06-01:48]. Then after an anticipatory pause the soloist enters [02:24] for a virtuosic exploration of both ideas.
This bridges into a rhapsodic, developmental episode [07:33] that could be considered an intermediate movement. It's followed by the reappearance of CR [10:17], which introduces a fiddle fireworks finale [11:16], ending the concerto triumphantly.
Then we get Charles' sixth and seventh ones completed sometime in 1845. Although each of these is in two sections separated by a short break, their overall layout is very similar to the one above, and both have equally fetching themes.
The sixth begins with the orchestra playing an initially proud [00:00] and then respectful [00:16] binary idea (PR) that's picked up by the violin [02:42]. PR becomes the subject of a development, which bridges into a melancholy andante [07:40], which is the equivalent of a middle movement. This ends with a stratospheric note for the soloist that ushers in lively concluding rondo based on a jolly PR-related ditty [T-3]. It's full of violin pyrotechnics set to a skittering tutti accompaniment, and ends the work excitedly.
Moving right along we get the seventh concerto that's structurally pretty much a carbon copy of the sixth. Dedicated to William III of the Netherlands (1817-1890), the initial allegro-andante [T-4] opens with an understandably regal subject [00:00] and magnanimous countersubject [01:15] played by the orchestra.
The first section of this two-part movement then becomes a developmental episode for soloist and tutti full of fancy fiddling. The second is a heartfelt lament [08:16] that makes an expeditious transition into a third and final allegro [T-5], which is another rondo, but this time based on a bouncy RM-related tune [00:17]. It concludes the concerto in spirited fashion with antsy, virtuosic displays for the soloist egged on by a frivolous tutti.
In Bériot's day many violinist-composers wrote Airs variés (Airs with Variations) based on popular songs of the time. He would pen some fifteen, the fourth of which, dating from the 1830s, is next [T-6], Titled "Montagnard" ("Mountain Man"), it would seem to portend Vincent d'Indy's (1851-1931) Symphony on a French Mountain Air (1886), and begins with a short martial, drumroll-spiced orchestral preface [00:00], succeeded by a folk-ballad-like main subject (FB) [00:37].
Next there's a busy bridge [01:49] into the first of six variations, the first four of which are sequentially amorous [02:10], cocky [03:37], pining [04:43] and whimsical [05:51]. After that the mood turns Latin with a variation of haughty Spanish temperament [06:49], and one that could pass for a tarantella [07:51]. Then the piece closes decoratively with the soloist virtuosically embellishing a heroic, horn-enhanced reminder of FB [09:04].
Filling out this release we get what we're told is probably the composer's best known work, i.e., his Scène de ballet, dating from around 1845 [T-7]. It starts with a commanding orchestral flourishes [00:00] succeeded by the demure entrance of the soloist [00:20], who launches into a lithe dance (LD) [00:53]. After that we get five more balletic episodes, the first of which is entreating [02:16]. Then the brass announce another of proud Iberian persuasion [03:12] with castanet accents and a graceful midsection [04:10-05:03].
Following a brief pause there's a winsome waltz [05:36] succeeded by a hesitant passage [06:51], leading to a coquettish number [07:03], and the dramatic return of LD [09:09]. Then there's a skittish bridge [09:56] into a frenetic final coda [10:37] with bravura gilding by the soloist. This brings the work to a thrilling conclusion.
The performances on this release by violinist Ayana Tsuji and the Czech Pardubice Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra under Michael Halász are equally as commendable as those on the previous two discs. The ones there respectively feature soloists Philippe Quint accompanied by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra with Kirk Trevor on the podium, and Takao Nishizaki along with the Belgian Radio & Television of the French Community (RTBF) Brussels Symphony Orchestra lead by Alfred Walter.
The recordings on this most recent release were done last year in Pardubice, Czech Republic, some sixty miles east of Prague at the House of Music's Joseph Suk Hall (no photos readily available). Those on the other discs were made in 2006, and 1989 at sites in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, and Brussels, Belgium, respectively. Despite all these differing circumstances, the three albums project amazingly consistent, generally good sounding sonic images in warm accommodating venues.
As for the instrumental timbre, the highs are pleasant, if a tad tinkly, and the midrange pleasing. Beriot's conservative scoring precludes any heavy bass, but what's here is lean and clean with no low string hangover. In closing, all three soloists are technically accomplished virtuosos with superb tone, and this showy music would have probably come off as even more dazzling had they been a bit more highlighted.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170429, P170428, P170427)
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Draeseke: Qnt, Op. 48 (pno, stg trio & hn), Qnt, Op. 77 (stg qt & vc), Scene (vn & pno); Soloists/Breuninger Qt [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Born in Coburg, Germany, Felix Draeseke (1835-1913; see 15 April 2009), studied at the Leipzig Conservatory, and after hearing an 1850 performance of Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) Lohengrin (1846-7), began composing in that vein.
Back then he identified himself with the somewhat inchoate "Neudeutsche Schule" ("New German School"), and his music would receive strong support from Franz Liszt (1811-1886). But it was too far out for German audiences of the time, and Draeseke moved to Switzerland in 1861, where he made a living as a piano teacher.
Then in 1876 he returned to Germany, and would spend the rest of his life in Dresden, where he taught at the local conservatory. He'd also write a significant body of works that were mostly in the operatic or sacred vein, and far more conservative than his earlier efforts. In that regard, the late 1800s saw him grow increasingly critical of his younger, more adventurous compatriots such as Richard Strauss (1864-1949). This negative attitude was exacerbated by a progressive hearing loss that started when he was in his teens, and would lead to his becoming totally deaf by the early 1900s.
During the first half of the twentieth century, his music found less and less favor with the public. And in retrospect, this wasn't helped by the Nazis promoting it as "reine deutsche" ("pure German")! However, disregarding any political associations, it's well written, and deserving of reappraisal. That's particularly true of the three chamber selections on this enterprising CPO release. Composed between 1888 and 1901, these are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
As far as quintets go, Draeseke's Op. 48 of 1888 is a rarity, considering it's scored for piano, string trio (violin, viola & cello) and horn. In four movements, the initial sonata-form-like allegro [T-6] begins with a four-note riff (FR) [00:01], which introduces an angular theme (AT) [00:22] reminiscent of Robert Schumann (1810-1856). AT is then explored, and followed by a wistful countersubject (WC) [01:37]. The latter ushers in what amounts to an engaging, horn-embellished rhapsodic development [03:15] that's followed by a recapitulation [05:53] and final coda [07:54].
Next, we get a contemplative andante [T-7] based on a devout idea (DI) heard at the outset [00:01]. This takes on several guises with rhythmically twitchy piano accents [01:08 et al], and horn-reinforced passages [02:11 et al]. DI then reappears [07:02], bringing the movement to a shuddering conclusion [07:38].
An innocent, playful scherzo marked "Presto leggiero" ("Fast and light") [T-8] gets off to a skittish start [00:01], succeeded by an innocent folkish tune (IF) [00:24]. After one of the many pauses that frequent Dreaseke's music, there's a serious treatment of the preceding [01:33]. Then a celestial episode [04:00] ushers in a return of the movement's opening [05:29], seemingly ending it. But capricious Felix fools us with some unexpected afterthoughts [07:01, 09:20 & 09:27] that bring the music to a flippant close.
The final allegro [T-9] commences with the reappearance of FR [00:01], and a fast variant of IF (IV) [00:25]. These are succeeded by a couple of new romantic ideas [01:10, 01:50], the first of which is ideally suited to the horn [01:21]. Then IV introduces a contrapuntally-spiced development [02:16] with numerous references to past themes. They include DI [04:39], which underlies a meditative passage [04:39], that leads to a sweeping, IV-permeated coda [06:13]. It's emblazoned with dramatic horn calls, and ends the work joyfully.
Felix completed his String Quintet (Op. 77) some thirteen years later in 1901. And like Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) late effort in the genre (Op. 163, D956; 1828), this calls for an additional cello rather than another viola. Draeseke aficionados consider it his finest chamber work, and with good reason!
A confident, immaculately constructed piece, there are four movements, the first, second and last of which are through-composed. Moreover, although Felix wouldn't want to admit it, there's a continuous stream of ideas smacking of Richard Strauss' music.
The initial "Langsam und düster" ("Slow and Somber") [T-1] opens with a solemn six-note motif (SS) [00:02] succeeded by dark passages. These give way to a rapturous thematic nexus [01:20] that flows into an extended chromatic development. The latter has the coherence of Wagner's "Liebestod" in Tristan und Isolde (1857-9), and expires with a moribund remembrance of SS [07:15] and a deathly pause. But SS revives [07:30], gains strength, and the mood becomes optimistic [08:26], bringing the movement to a tranquil conclusion.
Next there's a "Sehr schnell und prickelnd" ("Very Fast and Prickly") scherzo [T-2] with pixilated plucky outer sections surrounding a comely cantilena [01:56-03:45]. It's completely offset by the third "Langsam und getragen" ("Slow and Stately") [T-3], which is a solemn cerebration smacking of Richard Strauss' more profound moments.
Like the first movement, the beginning of the finale [T-4] is marked "Langsam und düster" ("Slow and Somber"), and recalls SS [00:01] along with the quintet's opening measures. Then the music becomes "Rasch und feurig" ("Quick and Spirited") [00:48], where it's easy to imagine a bustling rustic village [00:59]. But this activity abates into another of those arresting Draeseke pauses, after which the mood darkens and becomes distraught [06:28]. However, SS returns [07:34], bringing things full circle, and ending the quintet contentedly.
Filling out this release there's a ten-minute Scene for Violin and Piano (Op. 69, 1899) [T-5]. The rambling album notes say this is an instrumental reworking of a presumably amorous duet from the composer's unperformed opera Bertran de Born (WoO 22, 1892-4).
It begins excitedly [00:01] with hints of a valiant masculine theme (VM) that soon appears on the violin [00:32]. VM is tweaked, forcefully repeated by the piano [01:10], and succumbs to a shy feminine idea (SF) for the violin [01:40]. Then SF merges [02:16] into a skittish exploration of the foregoing, which ends questioningly with more of those Draeseke breaks [03:55],
After that VM returns in an amorous guise (AM) [04:01], giving rise to a romantic developmental episode [04:47]. This ends with a cocky version of VM [06:03], followed by a reminder of SF [06:56]. The latter bridges into an ecstatic VM-VF-entwined coda [07:35] that concludes the work in a definitive passionate embrace.
Making a welcome return to these pages, violinist Matthias Wollong and pianist Birgitta Wollenweber (see 28 April 2007), deliver a well-judged account of Scene... They're joined by violist Felix Schwartz, cellist Andreas Grünkorn and hornist Georg Pohle for an invigorating reading of the earlier quintet. As for the later one, the Breuninger Quartet with a little help from Herr Grünkorn give an immaculate, sensitive account of it.
A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur, these studio recordings were done on a couple of occasions during 2009 at the Hanns Eisler School of Music (Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler) in Berlin. The musicians are spread across a generous soundstage for the quintets, while Scene... finds the violin and piano more centered. Warm, accommodating surroundings enrich these works.
All of the instruments are convincingly captured and well balanced. Moreover, the string tone is natural, the horn compelling without being overbearing, and the piano pleasantly percussive, if a bit recessed in the quintet. While this may not be the ultimate high-end test record, audiophiles will find there's much to like, and Romantic German chamber music fans won't want to be without it!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170426)
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Kálmán, E.: Die Bajadere; Soloists/Bonynge/ColWDR C&O [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
Recently we told you about two wonderful Austro-Hungarian Singspiel operettas from Nico Dostal (1895-1981; see 31 October 2016) and Joseph Beer (1908-1987; see 31 December 2016). Now CPO gives us another, Die Bajadere (The Temple Dancer, 1921) by Emmerich Kálmán (1882-1953). Along with Franz Lehár (1870-1948; see 7 October 2011), he was the leading composer of what's been called the "Silver Age" of Viennese operetta during the first half of the 20th century.
Born Imre Koppstein of Jewish parents in Siófok, Hungary, along the southeastern shore of scenic Lake Balaton, he'd later take the name we know him by today. Emmerich originally wanted to be a concert pianist, but the early onset of arthritis made that impossible. Consequently, he concentrated on composition, which he studied at the Budapest Academy of Music, where two of his fellow students were Béla Bartók (1881-1945; see 31 August 2015) and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967).
Early on, Kálmán penned some cabaret songs that became very popular. This led to his writing operettas, which established his fame in Vienna, and eventually worldwide. On that note, he was one of Adolf Hitler's favorite composers, and shortly after the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938, offered the privilege of becoming an "Honorary Aryan". But he declined and immediately fled to Paris.
The year 1940 saw him move to the US, where he'd take up residence in California and later New York City. However, Kálmán missed Europe, and returned to Vienna in 1949. He'd reside there until 1951, when he settled in "The City of Light" for the rest of his life.
Stylistically his music is a captivating amalgam of influences that include the Viennese waltz and Hungarian csárdás. There's also a flavoring of Roaring-Twenties and 1930s dance hall numbers (see 10 March 2011), which is particularly prevalent in his Die Herzogin von Chicago (The Duchess of Chicago, 1928). As for Kálmán's melodies, they're sometimes reminiscent of Puccini (1858-1924), while his brilliant scoring has all the drama of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).
Die Bajadere is a fanciful love story with a libretto by Julius Brammer (1877-1943) and Alfred Grünwald (1884-1951). Unfortunately, the album notes don't include it, and there doesn't seem to be one online. However, there are sketchy plot synopses in German and English. Consequently, we'll concentrate on the music rather than the story.
Suffice to say it's a three-act work set in 1920s Paris, and involves more of those amorous escapades characterizing operettas of this period. There is a modicum of German dialogue, most of which is accompanied. In that regard, those disliking chatter, will find the extensive banding facilitates getting around it.
The central characters are a fictional French soprano named Odette Darimonde, and East Indian Prince Radjami von Lahore. Moreover, she's singing the role of a Hindu dancing girl, or bayadere, in a local, unnamed stage production. It gives us an opera within this parent operetta, and to avoid confusion we'll call the former Opinop.
The introduction [D-1, T-1] begins with portentous Eastern-sounding orchestral passages presumably invoking India (PE) [00:00], and a spirited, csárdás-like dance (SC) [01:08]. Then the curtain goes up revealing the interior of Odette's theater during the first act intermission of Opinop. Radjami, who's attended every performance of it is there, and having hopelessly fallen in love with Odette, asks the theater Director to help him meet her. He sings an aria set to a gorgeous, flowing melody (GF) [02:38] that will be the work's theme song. All this receives choral support, and closes with more SC [04:51].
Then Opinop's second act is announced, and Radjami takes his seat next to his friend Napoleon St. Claire. The latter has amorous designs on a married woman named Marietta, who's nearby with her husband Louis-Philipp, or "Phipsi" as she calls him. He owns a chocolate factory, and is busily scheming with others around him about how to become the Milton S. Hershey (1857-1945) of Paris. These preoccupations divert Phipsi's attention, allowing an affectionate waltz-like duet for Napoleon and Marietta (AW) [D-1, T-2].
A brief interlude follows [D-1, T-3] with a reminder of PE [00:15], after which Odette vocalizes into a couple of arresting ensemble numbers. The first features the Prince plus chorus [D-1, T-4], and concludes with him singing her praises to an infectious accompaniment [01:59]. The other [D-1, T-5] has some colorfully scored, winsome solos for Odette [01:39]. Then Radjami joins her in a captivating GF-based duet [D-1, T-6; 01:18], succeeded by a flirtatious one for Napoleon and Marietta [D-1, T-7].
The extensive finale [D-1, T-8] begins with references to the tune for the British National Anthem, which seemingly reflects India's being part of the Empire when Kálmán wrote this. The music is a brilliantly scored, magnificent blend of past ideas, and one of the finest moments in Viennese operetta. It ends the act with a reminder of GF [15:06].
The second takes place in the Prince's Parisian palace, where a great party is underway for all of the above. The introduction [D-1, T-9] starts with a festive SC-like preface [00:00], having choral backing. Then we get some enticing Eastern dances [00:46], where the scoring includes the exotic sounding tárogató [02:45]. Next there's a spunky, 1920s-spiced aria for Marietta with some choral support [D-1, T-10].
An interlude follows [D-2, T-1] where Radjam and Odette have a saucy dialogue-duet. After that Napoleon and Marietta [D-2, T-2] sing another giddy number, and are joined by Phipsi for a waggish trio [D-2, T-3].
Next, Radjam and Odette return for a dramatic, affectionate exchange [D-2, T-4] tinged with sadness [01:35], which includes an SC-related sequence [07:24-08:13]. All this reveals troubles in their relationship brought about by his narcissism, and her pride. It also sets the tone for the finale [D-2, T-5], which is again a colorfully scored, wonderful blend of past tunes.
The third and final act transpires some three months and ninety performances of Opinop later. It transpires in a little Paris bar, where all the main characters will appear, and begins with a cheery introduction for orchestra and chorus [D-2, T-6]. The music takes a lesson from Julius Fucik (1872-1918) as the scoring calls for some whistling, presumably from members of the orchestra [00:55] (see 31 October 2015).
Then we get a frivolous duet for Napoleon and Marietta [01:22]. They're now married, she having recently divorced Phipsi, who's become a Parisian Willy Wonka. He's also just been appointed consul to India by the Prince.
A gold-digging, social-climber, all this has Marietta thinking of dumping Napoleon to remarry her ex, and occasions a duet for her and Phipsi set to a cocky tune [D-2, T-7]. After that this section concludes with a commanding dance number [03:07] based on the foregoing.
An amorous wistful interlude with sung and spoken passages for the Prince follows [D-2, T-8], and a carefree lied for Napoleon [D-2, T-9] recalling AW [00:37]. Then he's joined by "Mr. Hershey Bar" and Marietta in a spunky trio of leave-taking [D-2, T-10]. As it turns out Napoleon is tired of her, and tells Phipsi he's welcome to have her back.
The operetta concludes in a brief scene, starting with some accompanied dialog for Odette and the theater Director [D-2, T-11], who's instigated a clever ploy to reconcile her with the Prince (see the album notes). Suffice it to say, Radjami suddenly appears [01:00], she falls into his arms, and he belts out a final avowal of love [01:03]. Then the operetta ends with a triumphant, forte orchestral statement of GF [01:14].
The German cast includes soprano Heike Susanne Daum (Odette), mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung (Marietta), tenor Rainer Trost (Prince Radjami), baritones Stephan Genz (Napoleon) and Miljenko Turk (Louis-Philipp) as well as bass Ulrich Hielscher (Theater Director), all of whom also speak their parts. One couldn't ask for better soloists as they're in magnificent voice, and give spirited portrayals of their respective characters.
They receive superb support from world-renowned conductor Richard Bonynge (b. 1930), leading the Chorus and West German Radio (WDR) Orchestra of Cologne. Under his baton, all of the above deliver a performance of Die Bajadere that leaves past and present competition in the dust.
A WDR production, this studio recording was made three years ago in their Klaus-von-Bismarck-Saal, Cologne. The recording presents a spacious soundstage appropriate to the considerable forces present. Moreover, the soloists as well as the chorus are well placed and balanced against the orchestra in an enriching venue. It adds all the more character to this wonderful romantic wallow.
Well captured voices and an overall pleasing orchestral timbre earn this album an audiophile rating. However, those with sound systems favoring higher frequencies may notice a bit of sparkle, which might prompt some equalization and/or tone control adjustments.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170425)
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British Tone Poems V1 (6; Austin, Alwyn, Bantock, Gurney, Gardiner, Vaughan Williams); Gamba/BBCWalNa O [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Here's the beginning of what promises to be an invaluable survey of British tone poems from Chandos. The six on this CD are each by different composers, and were written between 1902 and 1926. Four of them are the only currently available representations on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.
The concert opens with a dollop of discovery dished up from Frederic Austin's (1872-1952; see 14 May 2012) little-known works, namely his Spring Rhapsody for Large Orchestra (1902-7; OCAR). This is music of renewal in five conjoined segments.
The first is a vibrant episode [T-1] based on a fetching thematic nexus (FN) [00:03] reminiscent of Richard Strauss (1864-1949). This becomes a graceful flowing segment [T-2], succeeded by an excited third [T-3], which strangely enough augurs George Gershwin's (1898-1937) An American in Paris of 1928. Vernal romance seems to characterize the next [T-4]. And then the rhapsody ends in one that begins tranquilly with seeds of FN [T-5], which blossom into an ebullient paean to spring. You'll love it!
Our old friend William Alwyn (1905-1985; see the first recommendation above) is represented by his Blackdown (1926; OCAR) [T-6], which is an early work written around the time he was appointed professor of composition at the Royal College of Music (RCM). Billed as a "Tone Poem from the Surrey Hills", it was inspired by the highest mount in scenic Sussex County, England.
According to the composer, the opening pastoral, songlike melody for strings (PS) [00:00] depicts the peaceful panoramic view from this knotty pine-covered knoll. After that winds and brass introduce a chromatic, PS-related breezy tune [00:23], which develops into what could be interpreted as a passing storm [01:56]. One can imagine streaks of lightning [02:14 & 02:29], and some rumbling thunder [02:43-02:54] as it rolls by. Then calm returns, PS reappears [03:44], and the poem ends in the same spirit it began.
Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946) started out as a civil engineer, but turned to music in his early twenties. He first established himself as a distinguished conductor, and championed works by his colleagues, one of whom was Joseph Holbrooke (1878-1958; see 31 December 2016). But he was also a prolific composer, and we're treated to the fifth of his six tone poems, The Witch of Atlas (1902).
In eight linked parts, each was inspired by a different stanza of Percy Bysshe Shelley's (1792-1822) eponymous, narrative poem (1920). The composer allowed as how they're closely illustrated musical descriptions of them, and even wrote extracts from their texts on his score (see the enlightening album notes). Those wishing to see the original poem can click here, and the stanza numbers are given below after each of their tracks.
The first [T-7; I] begins with shimmering strings and a knockout beguiling melody (KB). It sets the scene for this lady-witch's abode, which we're told is a cave by a "secret fountain" on "Atlas' Mountain". This bridges into a portentous episode [T-8; III], followed by one [T-9; VIII] with a reminder of KB [00:18], depicting an arboreal, Greek mythological setting.
Then there's a somewhat agitated segment having oceanic overtones [T-10; X], which adjoins a flowing one [T-11; XII] indicative of the Witch's beauty at birth. After that the music turns suddenly threatening [T-12; XIV] with malevolent agitated passages (MA). These represent evil forces in her cave, and she calls upon attendant spirits to subdue them [T-13; LII].
The turmoil abates into winsome, tandem harp and string solos [01:04] that preface the finale, which starts with the return of KB [T-14; LXIX]. Except for a brief reminder of MA [00:57-1:02], this brings the poem to s sublime conclusion with nostalgic hints of KB.
Most readers have probably never heard of Ivor Gurney (1890-1937), who was born in Gloucester, England. He began writing music at fourteen, and in 1911 got a scholarship to the RCM, where one of his teachers was Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924; see 22 November 2011).
However, World War I (WWI, 1914-8) interrupted his musical endeavors when he served in the British Army between 1915 and 1918. Then following his return to civilian life, he showed great promise as one of England's most gifted composers, briefly studying with Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958; see below) at the RCM. Unfortunately, he had a history of progressive bipolar disorder. This curtailed his productive output to the point where he'd spend his last fifteen years in mental institutions, dying at the early age of forty-seven.
He's represented by one of his only three surviving orchestral works titled a Gloucestershire Rhapsody (OCAR). Dating from 1919-21, it came down to us in manuscript form, and was considered unplayable until British scholar Philip Lancaster and composer Ian Venables (b. 1955) did some extensive restoration, giving us the performing version done here.
At almost twenty minutes, it's the longest selection on this disc, and for the most part a sublime tone painting evoking the countryside surrounding Ivor's hometown. A slow pastoral introduction [T-15] that waxes and wanes could represent sunrise and the beginning of a warm summer's day. Then a sustained note [T-16] merges into a jolly passage that peaks, and is succeeded by a dramatic pause. After that we get a nostalgic gracious theme (NG) [00:43] worthy of Elgar (1857-1934; see 15 September 2007). This recurs frequently, and may well represent fond memories of home.
Next NG undergoes a dramatic exploration that falls off into a subdued reminder of it [T-17]. This becomes increasingly agitated, and introduces a charming rustic dance [T-18]. The latter builds, turns melancholy [01:21], and finally bellicose [02:14], setting the scene for a martial finale.
Presumably inspired by Gurney's WWI experiences, it's a heroic march [T-19] with subdued recollections of NG [beginning at 02:00]. After that the music turns more anxious [02:37] with a couple of playful spots. All this gives way to a big tune reminder of NG [03:52], which ends the tone poem in a star shell burst of glory.
A member of the "Frankfurt Group" (see 7 November 2012), Henry Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950) is probably best remembered for sponsoring concerts promoting the music of his contemporaries. They included Frederic Austin mentioned above, as well as such better-known composers as Gustav Holst (1874-1934; see 23 January 2015), Arnold Bax (1883-1953; see 10 November 2014) and Percy Grainger (1882-1961; see 20 June 2013).
Henry was very self-deprecating, and A Berkshire Rhapsody (1913; OCAR) is one of his few surviving orchestral works. It's a musical remembrance of summer days spent at his well-appointed cottage in Berkshire County fifty miles west of London. In four conjoined arches the first [T-20] seems descriptive of warm evenings [00:01] with twinkling "celestal" stars [00:07, 00:19]. Then we hear some early morning avian cries for the winds [00:44], and one can imagine daybreak with a sustained horn note representing morning sunshine [02:48].
This is followed by a more active episode [T-21] that becomes increasingly busy, possibly limning local inhabitants going about their daily tasks. Then all the bustle subsides into a melancholy arch [T-22], where it's easy to picture a sunset. A soothing follow-on [T-23] conjures images of returning night, concluding the rhapsody with a feeling of nocturnal euphoria.
Last but not least there's a tearful impression by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) titled The Solent [T-24]. This appeared in a newsletter some three years ago, and rather than going into another detailed musical analysis of it, please see 16 December 2013.
Suffice it to say, the piece was inspired by a stanza from a poem of Philip Bourke Marston's (1850-1887) titled To Cicely Narney Marston (1873; see the album notes). He was then suffering from incipient blindness, and wrote it for his sister, who became his amanuensis. A troubled evocation of passion and sorrow with pelagic overtones, it shows the influence of late Wagner (1813-1883), and ends the disc despairingly.
On the heels of his magnificent CD of Alwyn's film music (see 28 February 2015), conductor Rumon Gamba returns, this time with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BNOW), giving us superb accounts of these rare British pastorales. He elicits enthusiastic yet sensitive playing from the orchestra, making a strong case for some too long-forgotten works. What's more, whereas the only other rendition of the Vaughan Williams is on a disc we had reservations about (see 16 December 2013), there are none here.
Made in association with the BBC and BNOW at Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales, the recordings project a wide somewhat distant soundstage in reverberant surroundings. The instrumental timbre is characterized by bright highs, particularly in massed violin passages, a gaunt midrange, and lean clean bass. It's too bad this wasn't a hybrid album as the upper end would probably have been more lifelike on the SACD tracks. Those having tone and/or equalization controls may want to tweak them accordingly.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170424)
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