CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
28 FEBRUARY 2019
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.
Bennett, W.S.: Sextet (pno, stg qt & dblb), Chmbr Trio (pno, vn & vc), Stg Qt; Young/Bosch/Villiers Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Born in Sheffield, England, some 60 miles west of Liverpool, pianist-conductor-composer Sir William Sterndale Bennett (1816-1875) was orphaned at age three. Subsequently he was raised in Cambridge by his grandfather, John Bennett, who sang professionally with the King's, St. John's and Trinity College choirs.
The boy was first taught by Grampa John, and 1824 saw him join the famed King's College Chapel choir. Then in 1826 at the tender age of ten, William astounded the examiners at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM), London, with his precocity and would go on to study there for the next decade.
During this period he wrote the first three of five numbered piano concertos, and his initial effort, dating from 1832, was so successful that it received four performances over the next year. The last of these took place in London with the composer at the keyboard, and none other than Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) in the audience. Reputedly, he loved the work, and was later equally taken with Bennett's Second as well as Third Concertos (1833 & 1834-5).
This led to a budding friendship between the two, and Mendelssohn would at one point refer to his younger colleague as "the most promising young musician I know". Consequently, William would make several trips to Germany between 1836 and 1842. The first in May 1836 was to Düsseldorf, where he attended the premiere performance of his new friend's oratorio Saint Paul (1834-6).
Then there were three extended visits to Leipzig. During the first (October 1836 to June 1837), he made his Gewandhaus Orchestra debut, playing his Third Concerto (see above) with Mendelssohn conducting.
Bennett also establish a strong friendship with Robert Schumann (1810-1856), who thought very highly of his music. As a matter of fact, so much so that he dedicated his Symphonic Etudes for Piano (1837) to William, who reciprocated with his four-movement Fantasie in A Major for Piano (Op. 16, 1837; not currently available on disc).
In the course of his second Leipzig sojourn (October 1838 to March 1839), he played his recently completed Fourth Concerto (1838-9). While the third (January to March 1942) found him regaling German audiences with his Capriccio (Caprice) in E major for Piano and Orchestra (Op. 22, 1836-8).
On his return to London from all these peregrinations, William would continue his association with the RAM up until shortly before his brief illness and death, presumably from a stroke. During these years he was also active as a freelance teacher, conductor, and formidable music administrator, who'd hold many important positions. Consequently, he received a considerable number of honorary degrees and awards, which included a knighthood conferred by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1871.
He'd also compose around 150 works mostly in the orchestral, solo piano and chamber genres. Three in the latter category fill out this recent Naxos release, these being the only readily available recordings of them currently available on disc.
The program starts with his four-movement Sextet in F sharp minor of 1935, scored for piano, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. He seems to have modelled it after Mendelssohn's Sextet for Piano and Strings in D major (Op.110, 1824), which calls for a single violin and two violas. But that’s not to say this just a clone of Felix's work! On the contrary, the piano part is highly demanding and makes the work more of a mini-concerto than an intimate chamber piece.
It gets underway with a sonata-form-like, "Allegro moderato ma con passione" ("Moderately fast, but with passion") [T-1], having an initial, wistful, searching idea (WS) for the strings [00:03]. WS is picked up by the piano [00:34], elaborated and followed by a pause. Then a related, lullabylike countermelody (WL) introduced on the keyboard [01:36] is explored [beginning at 02:28] and succeeded by another break.
Subsequently, WS returns in the strings [03:49], after which the piano repeats it [04:22], and there are some discursive passages that lead to a recall of WL on the keyboard [05:24]. This elicits a scampering developmental episode [06:19], followed by a WS-initiated recap in the strings [07:40] and piano [08:13]. It has an aggressive version of WS [08:43] that then bridges into the return of WL on the keyboard [10:45] and some frenetic passages [11:25]. These wane into a captivating, WL-WS-initiated coda [12:18], which ends the movement excitedly with bursts of WS.
Next, a scherzo [T-2] having capricious, outer sections, each based on two, fetching themes that are respectively hesitant (CH) [00:00] and waltzlike (CW) [00:52]. They surround a tuneful trio [03:55], featuring a CW-related, oneiric tune, and conclude this movement [beginning at 05:16] with an antsy CH-based coda [06:33] that ends things perfunctorily.
Then Bennett gives us a wistful, "Andante grazioso" ("Gracefully flowing") [T-3] theme and variations. It opens with the piano playing a WL-related, contemplative main subject (WC) [00:00] somewhat like the "Andante", second movement of Mendelssohn's First Piano Concerto (Op. 25, 1831).
WC is followed by six variants, the first five being amorous [00:37], agitated [01:20], rhapsodic [02:11], ominous [03:17] and retiring [04:32]. After that, a waltzlike sixth [05:23] gives way to a pensive, WC-derived coda [06:24], bringing the movement to a tranquil, resigned conclusion.
The pace quickens in the sonata-rondo, "Allegro assai ed energico" ("Very fast and energetic") finale [T-4]. The exposition (E1) consists of a jaunty tune with a Schumannesque angularity (EJ) [00:00], succeeded by two, related countersubjects that are respectively undulating [01:35] and urbane [02:39]. E1 is repeated [03:13], after which EJ invokes an agitated development [06:28]. Then a condensed E1 recap [07:54] and EJ-based coda [09:40] end the Sextet on a melancholy note.
Written four years later, the Chamber Trio in A major (1939) for piano, violin and cello, is a charming work. The first of its three movements is a sonata-form "Andante tranquillo ma con moto" ("Tranquilly flowing, but sprightly") [T-5] that has an exposition (E2), which begins with a demure melody (ED) [00:00], followed by a couple of closely related ideas. These take the form of a bobbing tune [00:44] and flowing number (EF) [01:02] that smacks of busy, scalar moments in Chopin (1810-1849).
Then E2 is repeated [02:37] and explored [04:09], after which ED evokes a yearning development [05:13] succeeded by a harmonically adventurous recap of romantic persuasion [06:00]. The latter has a lovely, EF-based coda [07:23] that ends the movement nostalgically.
The next one is a "Serenade" marked "Andante ma un poco scherzando" ("Flowing but somewhat playful") [T-6], which also serves as a scherzo. It's a plucky little piece featuring a whimsical notion for the piano set to a pizzicato string accompaniment.
Structurally speaking, the "Allegro" ("Fast") finale [T-7] mirrors the first movement. However, the exposition here (E3) sports a cocky theme (EC) [00:00], which seemingly pays homage to the one opening his buddy Felix's First Piano Trio (Op. 49, 1839). EC is succeeded by two, derivative countersubjects that are respectively tripping [00:53] and cavatina-like [01:08].
Subsequently, E3 makes another appearance [02:18] and is jostled about [04:13]. Then EC triggers a troubled development [04:29], followed by a recap [05:18]. The latter is a more severe rendition of E3 with a swelling, EC-based coda [06:45], which brings the Trio to an exultant conclusion. Regrettably, except for his Sonata Duo in A Major for Cello and Piano (1852), this would be the last chamber ensemble work he'd ever write.
Moving back eight years we get one of Bennett's earliest extant pieces, his one and only String Quartet of 1831. The ghost of "Papa Haydn" (1732-1809) lurks throughout its four movements, the first of which is yet another sonata form creation.
Marked "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-8], the opening statement (OS) has a quaint, lullaby-like, initial theme [QL] (00:00] plus a related, scampering countermelody (QS) [00:49]. Then OS is repeated [02:03] and bridges [beginning at 03:22] into a QS-triggered [04:05], questioning development. This is succeeded by an OS recap [04:57], having a QL-based, coda [06:21] that ends the movement definitively.
The "Adagio" ("Slowly") [T-9] is a loosey-goosey theme and variations, having a hymnlike main subject (HM) [00:00], followed by four variants. The first three are sequentially imploring [01:00], hopeful [02:11] and rhapsodic [02:42]. Then a resigned treatment [03:43] with a last cello reminder of HM [04:29] brings this to a tranquil conclusion.
A couple of "Allegro" ("Fast") movements round out the Quartet, the first being a ternary, A-B-A minuet [T-10] with agile, outer "A"s [00:00 & 02:01], surrounding a related, songlike "B" [00:57-02:00]. Then there's an infectious rondoesque finale [T-11], sporting a recurrent, rollicking theme [00:00], akin to the one running through the last movement of Haydn's Miracle Symphony (No. 96, H 1/96, 1791). It closes the Quartet and this engaging CD in sprightly fashion.
Pianist Jeremy Young, the Villiers Quartet (VQ), which is named after a street in central London with strong musical associations, and double bassist Leon Bosch give us the Sextet. After that, Mr. Young, VQ first violinist James Dickenson and cellist Nick Stringfellow remain on stage for the Trio. Then VQ second violist Tamaki Higashi along with violist Carmen Flores return for the Quartet. Except for an intonationally queasy spot or two in the upper strings, they make a strong case for these Bennett bonbons.
The recordings were done a year ago at the Royal Northern College of Music Concert Hall, Manchester, England. They present an appropriately sized soundstage with the stringed instruments placed left to right in order of increasing size, and the piano centered just behind them. All are well balanced against one another with the strings characterized by pleasant highs, a natural sounding midrange and clean bass without any hangover in lower cello or double bass passages.
As for the piano, it’s well captured with just the right amount of percussive bite, but there is some action noise that’s particularly noticeable in trilled passages (e.g., T-2 at 03:00 and 06:58). However, taking everything into account, this disc earns an "Audiophile" stripe.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190228)
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Dubois, T.: Vn Conc, Vn Son, Ballad (vn & pno); Turban/Grüneis/SaarbKaisGer RP/Kuen [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
No stranger to these pages, French composer Théodore Dubois (1837-1924) had a distinguished academic background and career, which we told you about earlier (see 31 May 2015). While he's best remembered for his association with César Franck (1822-1890) and many religiously oriented works, the three on this new venturesome CPO release are secular ones, featuring the violin. By the way, thematically speaking, they reflect Franck's "cyclic form".
The main attraction is Théodore's sole Concerto for that instrument, this being the only recording of it currently available on disc. As for the two accompanying chamber selections, we recommended them ten years ago (see 28 January 2009), but these spirited performances raise the bar.
The Concerto, which was probably written around 1897, is dedicated to the great Belgian violinist-composer-conductor Eugčne Ysa˙e (1858-1931; see 23 February 2015). In the usual three movements, the opening "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-1] gets off to a quiet, unassuming, orchestral start [00:00] with a yearning, Franckian idea (FY) [00:16]. This surrounds a martial riff (FM) [00:57], which brings to mind the opening of Robert Schumann's Spring Symphony (No. 1, Op. 38, 1841).
After that, the violin enters, comments on FY [01:45] and plays a gentle, swaying version of it (FS) [03:07]. FS is explored, picked up by the tutti [04:30] and contemplated. Then bits of FM in the orchestra [05:14] along with some violin embroidery launch a virtuosic development [05:49], having reminders of FM [06:46], FY [07:01 & 08:34] and FS [07:27 & 08:15].
A subsequent drumroll [09:14] is succeeded by the forceful return of FM for the brass [09:15] and soloist [09:23], heralding a recap with recollections of FA [09:40] and FS [11:49]. The latter then makes a dramatic bridge [beginning at 12:14] into a virtuosic coda [12:43]. This has a glorious violin moment [13:27] that turns increasingly frenetic and closes the movement joyfully.
The ternary "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-2] is a moving Dubois creation with a hushed, hesitant opening [00:00]. Then the violin sings a lovely, lilting tune (LL) [00:07], having a delicacy, which brings to mind the second movement of Gabriel Fauré's (1845-1924) First Violin Sonata (Op. 13, 1875-76). LL is offset by a frowning thought [01:07 & 01:20], and then both ideas undergo an optimistic exploration [02:31]. They subsequently return [03:57] with a final hint of LL [05:21], bringing the movement to a wistful conclusion.
Melancholy turns to playfulness in the final sonata-rondo marked "Allegro giocoso" ("Fast and playful") [T-3]. It gets underway with a jolly, chortling riff (JC) [00:00] for the orchestra and violin. This is followed by the soloist playing a related scampering ditty (JP) [00:11], adjoining a waltzlike melody (JW) [01:01].
Then a songlike version of JC (JS) [02:01] triggers a developmental episode [02:21], having a hint of LF [02:49]. Next, JC returns [03:51], succeeded by JP [04:03], JW [04:52] and a demanding, extended cadenza [05:57-07:29]. The latter gives way to JS-related tutti passages [07:35], which bridge into a magnificent, JW-based coda [08:18] that ends this wonderful discovery with a forte reminder of JC [08:37].
Moving to more intimate music, the CD closes with a couple of chamber selections, the first being Dubois' only Sonata for Violin and Piano (1900). In three movements, the opening "Allegro appassionato" ("Fast and passionate") [T-4] has an initial, manic, headstrong theme (MH) [00:01] followed by a related, passionate idea (MP) [00:39].
MH initiates a development [01:09], where rhapsodic passages surround antsy ones [beginning at 01:37] and trigger an excited recapitulation [05:33], having an extended, romantic treatment of MP [07:07]. This adjoins a thrilling, two-part coda, which starts with big-tune reminders of MH [08:14] as well as MP [08:28]. It then just quits, only to resume with a subdued hint of MP [08:40]. This is coupled with an antic MH afterthought [08:53] that ends the movement with a big grin.
The next one marked "Andante quasi adagio" ("Flowing somewhat slowly") [T-5] is a solemn utterance. It opens [00:00] with suggestions of a sublime, chromatic, subject (SC) that soon appears on the piano [01:18] and is picked up by the violin [02:02]. Then SC undergoes a moving contemplation, where melancholy passages surround more hopeful ones [03:06-06:17] and bring the movement to a resigned conclusion.
However, skies brighten in the final "Allegro deciso, con fuoco" ("Fast, determined and fiery") [T-6], where Franck's "cyclic form" prevails in that it’s suffused with reminders of past themes. This begins with a kinetic, charging subject (KC) [00:01], having moments [00:46] reminiscent of wilder ones in Saint-Saėns' (1835-1921) Piano Concertos (1858-1896).
Then KC gives way to a related, retiring thought (KR) [01:49] that engenders a dazzling development [02:13] and recap [04:26]. Both are spiced with recollections of MP [04:35], KR [05:22], SC [05:50] and MH [06:40], after which a KC-derived coda [06:48] ends the sonata blithefully.
The concluding Ballade (1909) [T-7] was inspired by some lines from French poet Maurice Bouchor's (1855-1929) Počmes de l'amour et de la mer (Poems of Love and the Sea, 1875-6) that was also the basis for Ernest Chausson's (1855-1899) similarly titled song cycle (1882-92). They're printed on the score (see the album booklet for French and English versions), and meant to convey the scenario underlying this brief work.
Its opening measures [00:01] seemingly invoke images of a somber, serene forest. These give way to a crazed episode [02:50-05:21], which apparently limns a moonlit scene with amorphous figures dancing about. Then there's more forestial fare [05:22] that brings this cinematic, tone miniature and memorable disc to a tranquil conclusion.
German violinist Ingolf Turban and the Saarbrücken-Kaiserslautern German Radio Philharmonic under Conductor Raoul Grüneis make a strong case for the Concerto. Herr Turban is joined by his compatriot pianist Lukas Maria Kuen for the two concluding selections. Both artists give technically accomplished, sensitively phrased accounts of them, which sweep away what little competition there is for these Gallic delights.
This release was a coproduction of CPO and Südwestrundfunk (SWR, "Southwest Broadcasting"), Germany. The Concerto recording, which was made in 2014 at SWR's Kauserslautern Studio, presents a slender, recessed sonic image in a pleasant venue. The soloist is placed just right of center stage, and could have been better highlighted. As for the overall instrumental timbre, it's characterized by occasionally scrappy highs, a compact midrange and clean bass.
The chamber recordings were done two years later (2016) in SWR's Hans Rosbaud Studio, Baden-Baden, Germany. They project an appropriately sized soundstage that's more forward and in somewhat drier surroundings. Both instruments are marginally captured with the violin intermittently suffering from more of those problematic highs, while the piano seems a bit muffled.
Granted this release won't win any audiophile awards; however, as we've noted before with repertoire this rare, we're lucky to have what's here. Also, these appealing works will soon make you forget any sonic shortcomings. French romantic music enthusiasts won't want to be without them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190227)
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Eller: Vn Conc, Sym Legend, Fantasy (vn & orch), Sym 2 (unfin); Skride/Elts/EstNa SO [Ondine]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
CDs with orchestras based in the Baltic States, playing music by composers from other countries have frequented these pages (see 28 February 2017 and 31 December 2017). Now here's one from Ondine, where the Estonian National Symphony Orchesta (Eesti Riiklik Sümfooniagorkester, ERSO) gives us some magnificent works by their native son Heino Eller (1887-1970). Those liking the music of Grieg (1843-1907) and Sibelius (1865-1957) are in for a real treat.
Born in Tartu, Heino would study the violin as a youngster and receive his first musical training in his hometown. He'd also become involved with concert life there, playing in a local orchestra and string quartet. Then in 1907 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory (SPC), Russia, for further training on his instrument. But fate intervened, and he strained his hand, thereby dashing any hopes of his ever becoming a concert violinist.
Consequently, in 1908 he switched to the study of law at St. Petersburg State University. However, the lure of music was still strong, whereupon, he left in 1912 just short of getting his degree and returned to SPC, where he enrolled in compositions classes. His days there were interrupted by World War I (1914-18), during which he served as a musician in one of the Tsar's army orchestras. But he finally graduated in 1920, and for the next twenty years taught music theory as well as composition in Tartu.
Then from 1940 right up until his death, Eller had a distinguished career as a professor at what's now known as the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre in Tallinn. During these years he successfully weathered the harsh Soviet, Stalinist, cultural repressions in his country that began in the late 1940s, and would become regarded as a founder of Estonia’s national school of music.
Eller wrote a substantial number of works that are almost all instrumental. They include a good number of orchestral ones, three of which are symphonies, as well as six string quartets, thirty violin pieces and around two-hundred for piano. Four from the first category are featured on this release, these being the only readily available versions on disc of the editions presented here.
The program starts with his only Violin Concerto. Originally written in 1933-4, this was revised three years later (1937) and again in 1964. Incidentally, previous recordings have omitted around 200 bars towards the work's end, but most of them have been restored here.
In a single, sonata-rondo-like movement [T-1], it starts with an engaging declaratory theme (ED) played by the orchestra [00:01]. Then the violin immediately launches into an ED-based cadenza [00:13-01:19], after which the tutti reappear, and the soloist plays an ED-related, serene thought (ES) [01:20]. This is repeated by the orchestra [02:07], explored and succeeded by two more ED-reminiscent ideas for the violin that are respectively tender ET [03:29] and virtuosic [04:50].
Next, the tutti repeat ET [05:29], which is examined and followed by a fourth, ED-derived playful number (EP) for the soloist [07:02]. It adjoins a moody development [08:04] with hints of ES [09:49]. These bridge into the orchestra playing ES in full [11:58], thereby announcing the recapitulation.
Subsequent recollections of ET [12:46] then engender a rhapsodic episode [13:42], which is succeeded by an extended, frisky, EP-laced one [beginning at 15:31]. The latter includes a strenuous cadenza [16:13-18:06] as well as a reminder of ED [19:47-19:10], and leads to a frenetic ED-based coda [21:44]. This darts about, dispensing bits of past themes, and then with a couple of forte chords for all [23:05], the Concerto just quits!
Moving right along, we get the composer's Symphonic Legend (Sümfooniline legend; 1923, revised 1938) [T-2], which is a tone-poem of theme-and-variations persuasion. Unfortunately, Eller rarely talked about his music, so there's no underlying program, except for his once saying it was based on a "mythological, fantastic subject".
Other than that, the album notes imply the introduction limns "a mystic lake". This seems borne out by undulating, harp-swept, opening passages [00:00] suggestive of rippling waves. Then an impressionistic, sublime, main subject (IS) gradually floats to the surface [beginning at 02:33]. This is the basis for nine picturesque, variant episodes, the first of which [04:56] is a fantastic dance that may bring to mind Paul Dukas' (1865-1935) ballet La Péri (The Elf, 1911-12).
It's followed by a yearning, chromatic variation [06:30], reminiscent of subdued moments in Scriabin's (1872-1915) late symphonic works (1902-08). Subsequently, oboe and flute introduce a pensive one [08:54], which makes a flighty transition [11:47] into a tranquil amorous fourth [11:57], with romantic violin passages [12:00]. This connects via a heroic, brass bridge [13:24] to a tintinnabular, fifth transformation [13:58], having a cello reminder of IS [14:26].
After that, we get a waltzlike offering [14:42], smacking of Maurice Ravel's (1835-1937) Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) and a whimsical seventh [16:35], which invokes a valiant, cinematic treatment [17:20]. The latter wanes via descending harp glissandi [18:51] into increasingly antsy passages and a nostalgic, big-tune, ninth transformation [19:29]. Then spooky, harp flourishes [21:56] and an anticipatory caesura are followed by a repeat of the opening measures [22:08], which bring this tone-myth full circle.
Our soloist returns for the next selection, which is a ternary Fantasy (Fantaasia) [T-3]. It began life in 1916 as a work for violin and piano (not currently available on disc) that Heino would orchestrate some fifty years later (1964), giving us the version presented here.
At a little over six minutes, it begins with a brooding tutti [00:01] soon joined by the soloist playing a folklike, melancholy melody (FM) [00:06], which undergoes a questioning exploration [01:16]. This gives way to a more radiant tune for the violin [02:11] that's followed by a pause and pensive passage [03:11]. Then FM returns [03:56], ending the piece despondently.
The concluding work is the Second of Eller's three symphonies. It would appear to have been a victim of the Stalinist, culturally repressive years in Estonia that started with Soviet bureaucrat Andre Zhdanov's (1896-1948) "anti-formalism" doctrine of 1946 (see 17 August 2011). Moreover, the work was begun in 1947, but abandoned during the next year, after the composer completed the first movement. The fact that both of its companions (1937 & 1955-61; neither currently available on disc) are in three-movements, makes this a teaser for what would have a substantial, symphonic work.
The sonata-rondo-like fragment here [T-4] has a hesitant, brass-accented introduction [00:01] with hints of themes to follow. Soon flute and oboe introduce the first of them, which is an attractive, pastoral tune (AP) [01:08]. Then AP dramatically bridges into two related ideas, the initial one being an agitated motif (AA) [02:29] reminiscent of feverish moments in the symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). AA is followed by a complacent melody (AC) [02:34] and a spirited exploration of the foregoing [02:50], which ends with AC's reappearance [03:43].
This transitions excitedly [beginning at 04:10] into subdued remembrances of AA and AC [05:59]. They’re succeeded by a trumpet-heralded, martial development [06:38], conceivably reflecting the tumultuous, post World-War II (1939-45), Soviet-dominated years in Estonia.
Be that as it may, an AC-pervaded recapitulation [08:15] comes next, where AC undergoes a climatic exploration [beginning at 09:22], which fades into nostalgic, AC-afterthoughts [10:10]. Then that trumpet returns, announcing an exciting coda [11:47] with an AA-laced, final charge [13:06], bringing this moving, symphonic remnant and noteworthy disc to a triumphant conclusion.
Heino couldn't be better represented than by Riga-born Soloist Baiba Skride and the ERSO under Estonian Conductor Olari Elts. Ms. Skride delivers magnificent performances of both violin works, and her tone is all the richer for playing a loaner Stradivarius. She receives outstanding support from Maestro Elts and his musicians, who go on to give memorable accounts of the two symphonic selections. All together they make a strong case for some late romantic music that's well worth getting to know.
The recordings were made on three occasions during the six-year period from 2013 through 2018 at the Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn. They project a surprisingly consistent, generous sonic image in an acceptably reverberant venue that will particularly appeal to those liking a wetter sound. The soloist is placed just left of center stage, and her Stradivarius beautifully captured and balanced against the ERSO.
The overall orchestral timbre is characterized, by pleasing highs, a well-focused, full-bodied midrange and lean, clean bass. All in all, this release will meet with audiophile approval. However, Eller's scoring calls for a conventionally sized orchestra with the usual percussion. Consequently, it won't plumb the depths of today's “highend” sound systems.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190226)
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Kuula: Vn & Pno Wks: Son (unfin, 1906), Son Op 1, 5 Pcs (1905-7), 2 Pcs (1910-2), 3 Songs, Dance; Karmon/Triendl [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Finnish composer Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) were wunderkinder who'd die in their mid-thirties at the height of their creative powers, but under entirely different circumstances. More specifically, Wolfgang's demise was from natural causes despite rumors he was poisoned by his colleague Antonio Salieri (1750-1825). Toivo's resulted from a mortal gunshot wound received during a drunken quarrel in conjunction with a celebration commemorating the end of Finland's Civil War (1918).
Born and raised in Vaasa, which is a regional capital in Finland's province of Ostrobothnia, he showed an early talent for the violin and demonstrated considerable compositional skills. Consequently, the year 1900 saw him journey some 230 miles south to attend what’s now the Uniarts University Sibelius Academy (UUSA), Helsinki, where he received instruction on his instrument as well as in music theory and composition.
Unfortunately, financial difficulties forced his return home in 1903, where he'd support himself by giving violin and piano lessons. Toivo would also gain some conducting experience, and make frequent trips throughout Ostrobothnia to collect local folk music, which would subsequently pervade his works -- shades of Bartók (1881-1945) and Kodįly (1882-1967) in Hungary. Then in 1906 he resumed his academic pursuits at UUSA, where he became Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) first composition student.
Two years later (1908) Kuula studied counterpoint with Enrico Bossi (1863-1925; see 30 June 2018) in Bologna, Italy, and would go on to Leipzig and Paris for instruction in conducting as well as orchestration. He'd then return home in 1910 and hold conducting posts with a couple of Finnish orchestras right up until his untimely demise (see above).
Toivo left roughly a hundred works, only a couple of which are symphonic (see 31 October 2015). The remainder fall into the vocal or chamber category, and eight in the latter for violin with piano accompaniment, fill out this CD. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The program starts with the most substantial piece here, which is the Violin Sonata (Op. 1, 1907) written during Kuula’s second stint at UUSA. In three movements, the first "Allegro agitato" ("Fast and excited") [T-1] is a consummate, sonata form creation that starts anxiously [00:01] with hints of an impending, exquisite songlike theme (ES), presumably of Ostrobothnian folk origin [beginning at 00:06]. These coalesce into a stunning, full version of ES sung by the violin [01:39], which then gets a knockout, big-tune treatment on the piano [02:26].
Subsequent, bridging passages [03:02] call up a related, questioning idea (EQ) [04:11] that initiates a development [04:35] and tender recap [05:56] with subdued buds of ES [beginning at 06:03]. These blossom into a restatement of ES [07:55], followed by a wistful EQ afterthought [10:09]. Then an antsy, ES-tinged coda [10:31] ends the movement capriciously with a "So there!" cadence [10:48].
The succeeding "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-2] opens impressionistically, as we hear an ES-related, modal melody (EM) [00:00] played by the piano. This is related to poems in the great Finnish national epic known as the Kalevala (1835), which were sung by itinerant bards, who accompanied themselves on the dulcimer-like kantele. Be that as it may, you may find EM reminiscent of dreamier moments in Manuel de Falla's (1876-1946) Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1911-5).
Then the violin lovingly embraces EM [01:03], and the music fades into a melancholy [02:41], lyrically romantic [04:09] contemplations of it. This is followed by the piano, which recalls the opening measures [06:01], and is joined by a sorrowful violin [06:37], thereby ending the movement darkly.
Gloom turns to momentary elation with the final, "Allegro molto" ("Very fast"), sonata-rondo [T-3] that opens with an ES-derived, playful tune (EP) [00:00]. But the mood soon darkens as we get a distantly related, doleful countersubject (ED) [00:37] on the piano, that’s picked up by the violin [01:14]. Subsequently, ED undergoes an increasingly frenetic exploration [01:45].
This is followed by a pause and development of the foregoing ideas [beginning at 02:30], which has a dramatic, EP-based fugal episode [05:09-06:24] and skittering reminders of EP [06:25 & 06:42]. They're succeeded by an ED-initiated recap [07:11], where there's a big-tune keyboard repeat of ED with an EP, violin descant [08:10]. Then after an expectant break, a manic EP-driven coda [09:07] brings the work to a thrilling conclusion.
This release also includes an unfinished Sonata in F major of the previous year (1906), which Kuula abandoned after completing its opening "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-11]. As this was written just before he resumed his studies at UUSA, conceivably they convinced him to start afresh with the one above. If that's the case, it would seem he was his own worst critic as there's a youthful freshness that makes it very appealing.
The opening statement (OS) starts with a folkish tune of sanguine disposition (FS) for the violin with piano arpeggios [00:01], and has a hint of a brooding idea (FB) [00:08] soon to come. Then FS is repeated [00:22], explored [00:27] and bridges into a full version of FB [01:19]. This undergoes an initially agitated exploration [02:20] that wanes into contemplative passages.
These are followed by a note-for-note, repeat of OS [03:06], after which FS triggers a modulation-laced development [06:10] and vivacious, condensed recap [08:21]. The latter calls up a glorious, FS-based coda [10:03] that ends the movement jubilantly.
Between 1905 and 1907, Toivo wrote five short, occasional works for violin and piano, which he later grouped under the name Pieces with the designation Op. 3a. The first two were written last and are longer, more sophisticated, ternary structures.
The initial one titled "Kehtolaulu" ("Lullaby") [T-4] has outer sections based on a gentle, berceuse-like melody [00:02]. These surround a smiling episode [01:10-01:50], and end the piece with a nostalgic postscript [03:02].
It's followed by "Notturno" ("Nocturne") [T-5], whose extremities feature a sinuous, auburn theme (SA) introduced by the violin [00:17], which oddly enough resembles a well-known melody -- namely, the one heard on that instrument at the beginning of Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Scheherazade (1888). They bracket a related, lyrical midriff [02:06-03:01], and the aforementioned likeness becomes even more apparent with the return of SA in the closing measures [03:18].
Next, we get "Kansanlaula No. 1" ("Folk Song No. 1") [T-6] and "Kansanlaula No. 2" ("Folk Song No. 2") [T-7], which are respectively melancholy and yearning. The latter smacks of Grieg's (1843-1907) more somber string works and would also appear as the second movement of Kuula's South Ostrobothnian Suite No. 1 (Op. 9, 1909; see 31 October 2015). It's succeeded by a final "Scherzino" ("Frolic") [T-8], which is a sprightly dance number that seems based on a Finnish folk counterpart of the Polish mazurka.
In 1910 and 1912, Kuula wrote a couple of miniatures that would became his Pieces, Op. 22. The earlier originated as a Joululaulu (Christmas carol), which he later called "Chanson sans paroles" ("Song Without Words") [T-12]. Here a tender melody heard at the outset, makes an increasingly dramatic reappearance and then fades away [03:02].
The companion titled "Suru" ("Sorrow") [T-13] is a tiny tone picture after Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt's (1854-1905) homonymous painting (1894). This is moving music again in ternary form, where a sobbing, heartsick thought [00:01] surrounds an anguished developmental episode [01:11-02:47].
And filling out this release, there are four additional, violin-piano transcriptions of folk melodies. Three are from the songs "Ut min väg i väriden går" ("I go my way into the world") [T-9], "Elä itke impeni nuori" ("Cry not, young maiden") [T-10] and "Kesäilta" ("Summer evening") [T-15]. Done in 1899, 1901 and 1907, these charming salon miniatures make for good listening, but won't set the world on fire.
The fourth (date unknown) descriptively titled "Pohjalainen tanssi" ("Ostrobothian Dance") [T-14] was initially arranged for orchestra (1906-7), and would become the basis for the third movement of that South Ostrobothnian Suite mentioned above. It's a jolly tidbit with a couple of fetching themes that are respectively busy [00:01] and childlike [00:42].
German soloists Nina Karmon (violin) and Oliver Triendl (piano) give magnificent, technically accomplished accounts of these immediately appealing, folk-suffused works. Their attention to dynamics and sensitive phrasing make a strong case for some music that could easily come off as ordinary fare.
A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur (DLF), the recordings were made two years ago at DLF's Kammermusiksaal (Chamber Music Hall), Cologne, Germany. They present an intimate soundstage with the musicians placed sufficiently left (violin) and right (piano) of center stage to give the music comfortable breathing space.
Their instruments are ideally captured and balanced against one another. What's more, Frau Karmon's violin is very natural sounding, while Herr Triendl's piano comes across with just the right amount of percussive bite. In conclusion romantic chamber music enthusiasts are in for a treat with this CD, as are any audiophiles among them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190225)
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Paganini: 24 Vn Caprices, Op. 1 (arr M.Skoryk for large orch); Zemtsov/LvivInt SO [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
This new Toccata release gives us the world premiere recording of music that was thirty-five years in the making. To wit, Niccolņ Paganini spent fifteen (1802-17) writing his 24 Caprices for Solo Violin (Op. 1). And then Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk (b. 1938; see 8 September 2014) took another twenty (1985-2005) to make these stunning arrangements for a huge, modern day orchestra (1985-2005) with a percussion section that includes a variety of rarely heard sonic contrivances.
Arguably the greatest violinist who ever lived, some believed Niccolņ's virtuosity stemmed from a pact with the Devil. Be that as it may, his Caprices, or Whimseys, have inspired more arrangements, transcriptions and works by other composers than any other nineteenth century piece ever written. Some of the more notable ones are given in the table below.
Skoryk first encountered "Pag's Caps" during his younger days as a violin student, and remembered them as highly melodic as well as harmonically inventive pieces. They seemed ideally suited to large scale symphonic arrangements, which could be considered somewhat analogous to today's colorized versions of classic, black-and-white films. Accordingly, he's scored them for massive forces with some thirty additional instruments over and above the conventionally sized orchestra. These included such exotica as a banjo, cowbells, drum kit, flexatone, thundersheet and even a wind machine.
That said, he retained the thematic content, harmonic structure and form of the originals, but dynamically as well as rhythmically, allowed himself more leeway. In that regard, many of Niccolņ's tunes are based on southern Italian folk material, and Myroslav recast a few of them as more modern waltzes or tangos. He also spiced things up with an occasional agogic.
This technicolor pasticcio opens with a Caprice known as "The Arpeggio" [T-1]. It presents an infectious, flighty tune (IF) [00:01] that gets things off to a captivating start, and will later reappear, thereby bringing the work full circle [T-24]. But for now, IF is briefly toyed with, and soon followed by a slower, contemplative Whimsey [T-2] with drum kit accents. This waxes and wanes into a third [T-3] having commanding outer sections, which surround a fleet, waltzlike episode [01:19-02:29].
It’s succeeded by one [T-4], where a hymnlike tune [00:00] alternates with a couple of carefree, secular ideas. And then there’s a fifth [T-5] that begins with shrieking flutes, clarinets and the wind machine [00:00], which give way to scurrying, vibraphone-flexatone-tinted passages [00:28]. These have satanic overtones along the lines of Saint-Saėns' (1835-1921) Danse macabre (1873-4; see 31 July 2012) and bring this Caprice to a thundersheet-enhanced ending [03:10].
Then an eerie sixth called "The Trill" [T-6], having spooky, flexatone embellishments [01:16], leads to a bizarre, percussively accented, waltzlike number [T-7]. Subsequently, a lissome eighth [T-8] calls forth a venatic Caprice appropriately titled "The Hunt" [T-9]. Incidentally, the original Paganini had passages meant to imitate the flute and horn, which now appear in Skoryk's arrangement.
This sets the stage for a lively Whimsey with Sicilian folk dance associations [T-10] that paves the way for a balletic offering [T-11]. The latter has gorgeous outer passages based on a lovely romantic melody, bracketing a playful, perky tidbit [01:26-03:07].
Then there's a brief, frivolous Caprice [T-12] contrasted with a diabolical one dubbed "The Devil's Laughter" [T-13]. This has demonic, whistling passages on either side of a cantering episode [00:57-02:17], which suggests a horseback ride into the nether regions and confines of Hell.
The next three are sequentially martial [T-14], rustic a la siciliana [T-15] and moto-perpetuo (perpetuum mobile) [T-16]. They’re followed by a captious Whimsey [T-17] with flatulent brass (02:03 & 02:13), and then a saltarello-related one [T-18].
After that there's what seems like a "Big Top" number [T-19], where it's easy to imagine a Circus band marching around a high-wire act. But not for long, as we journey to the Scottish Highlands for a bagpipe-like treatment [T-20], and South America for an amorous, maraca-marimba-seasoned one [T-21].
Coming into the homestretch, Niccolņ and Myroslav dish up a pastoral Whimsey [T-22], having a crazed, central saltarello [00:46-02:19], and then a dramatic, tone-poem-like one [T-23] with heroic, brass fanfares. It serves as a prelude to the grand finale, which is the best-known Caprice of all [T-24].
This is a theme with variations, and as presented here in orchestral vesture, something you'll not soon forget! Here IF returns as a pixilated tune (IP) [00:00] familiar to most everyone. IP is succeeded by eleven variants, the first five of which range from flighty [00:16] to apian [00:31], keening [00:47], feline [01:14] and cumbrous [01:33].
Then there are amorous [01:53], quixotic [02:23], regal [02:41], effervescent [03:02] and Arabian [03:24] variations. The last gives way to a tempestuous eleventh [04:00], where a thundersheet and wind machine reinforced coda [04:37] brings this terrific, brilliantly scored potpourri to a stentorian conclusion.
Based some 300 miles west of Kiev (also spelled Kyiv), Ukraine, the Lviv International Symphony Orchestra (INSO-Lviv) under their artistic director and principal conductor Alexander Zemtsov (b. 1978) give a rousing account of this music. Maestro Zemtsov skillfully manipulates his massive forces with an attention to dynamics, phrasing and tempos, which brings out all the intricacies of this kaleidoscopic score.
What's more, the INSO-Lviv musicians uniformly deliver technically accomplished, virtuosic accounts of the many solo passages, which frequently call for oddball instruments. All together they champion a work that was a long time in the making, but well worth the wait.
The recording was made a year ago in Lviv's Philharmonic Hall. It projects a recessed, moderately sized sonic image in a reverberant venue, where the orchestra sounds a bit like it's at the end of a tunnel. The instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasant highs and somewhat withdrawn midrange. As for the bass, it's clean but lean for an orchestra of this size.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190224)
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