CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 JULY 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.
Since the first of the year there have been an increased number of noteworthy discs with unusual repertoire. In order to cover more of these in the time available for each newsletter there's a little less detail than usual.
Atterberg: Ste 5 "Barocco" (orch), Dbl Conc (vn & vc), Sinfa for Stgs; Andersson/Levin/Svedlund/Örebro ChO [Danacord]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The spate of silver disc releases over the past couple of years has meant that some of those little-known composers, who were past CLOFO regulars, have gotten short shrift in these pages as of late. A good example is Sweden's Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974), who last appeared five years ago (see 10 November 2014) and has since been featured on several albums (see Chandos-5154, 10894, 5166 & CPO-999874). Accordingly, it's a pleasure to welcome him back with this engaging release from Danacord.
The CD features three of his orchestral works, namely a Suite, Concerto and Sinfonia, the latter being one of his most moving pieces. The first selection is the only readily available version currently on disc, and the second, a world premiere recording. As for the third, most will find this performance the best to date.
Kurt left a significant oeuvre across all genres that includes nine symphonies (1909-56) as well as five operas (currently unavailable on disc). And in his capacity as Kapellmeister at the Stockholm Royal Dramatic Theater (RDT) from 1916 through 1927, he also came up with a substantial amount of incidental music for plays staged there.
Atterberg distilled some of the latter into several, stand-alone suites, and this disc begins with one titled "Barocco" (No. 5, 1923). This is a set of dances drawn from what he wrote for the 1923 RDT production of Shakespeare's (c. 1564-1616) Twelfth Night (1601-02). He tells us it's "kept in old Italian style" and heavily influenced by the music of Corelli (1653-1713) as well as Handel (1685-1759).
The opening "Entrata" ("Entrance") [T-1] is a jolly, festive offering followed by a serene, piquant, oboe-spiced "Sarabanda" ("Sarabande") [T-2], having Eastern overtones. Then there's a perky "Gavotta" ("Gavotte") [T-3] and ternary, A-B-A "Pastorale e Gagliarda" [T-4]. This has pastorale "A"s featuring a rustic tune for cor anglais (English horn) wrapped around a charming "B", which is a galliard. After that, a wistful, cavatina-like "Siciliana" with a descanting flute [T-5] gives way to a rollicking "Giga" ("Gigue") [T-6], ending the Suite in the same spirit it began.
Next up, Kurt's one movement Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and String Orchestra (1960), which we're told takes its melodic inspiration from folk material he'd used before, presumably in his Svensk sommarfest (Swedish Summer Party, 1957; currently unavailable on disc). Be that as it may, the work is in one movement and takes the form of a theme with subsequent, developmental treatments. As presented here, it's in five conjoined episodes that are conveniently banded for easy access.
The first of these [T-7] starts with a forceful riff for the orchestra, hinting at a commanding, main subject (CM), which they then play. CM is seconded by the soloists, and a subsequent development that takes on successively playful, serenade-like, lilting and willful characteristics.
All this transitions into a contemplative, second episode [T-8] with lovely lyrical passages. And after a brief pause, we get the concluding three, which are sequentially searching with mystic overtones [T-9], anxiety-ridden [T-10] and insistent [T-11]. The last has virtuosic asides for the soloists and ends the Concerto as it started. Incidentally, the composer would rework this piece into a Concerto for Violin, Viola and Orchestra (1962; currently unavailable on disc), as well as a Trio Concertante for Violin, Cello and Harp (1965).
This release is filled out with Atterberg's Sinfonia for Strings (1951-53), which also exists as his String Quintet for Two Violins, Viola and Two Cellos (1953; currently unavailable on disc). In four movements, the opening "Con moto" ("With Motion") [T-12] is an engaging serenade, where the listener is swept away by a comely melody that might be of Scandinavian folk origin. And moving right along, there's an "Allegro molto" ("Very fast") [T-13] that's a busy piece of work with overtones of more active moments in Edvard Grieg's (1843-1907) things for strings (see 22 March 2012 & 12 July 2013).
Then there's a gorgeous "Tranquillo" ("Tranquil") [T-14], which is as advertised. It's followed by a final "Allegro molto e ritmico" ("Very fast and rhythmical") [T-15] that's a frenetic sonata-rondo romp with two, fetching, related ideas, which are respectively flighty and striding. They power a final coda that ends the Sinfonia with rueful, final reminders of each, thereby bringing the Sinfonia to a somber conclusion.
Our performing group here is the Örebro Chamber Orchestra (ÖCO) that's an offshoot of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), which is based in that city, some 100 miles west of Stockholm. What's more, the soloists, violinist Amus Kerstin Andersson and cellist Mats Levin, are members of the SCO.
Under award-winning, Swedish conductor Thord Svelund, whom we've lauded before (see 6 July 2011), they give an authoritative performance of the Concerto. Maestro Svelund along with the ÖCO also deliver a dynamic, rhythmically exciting reading of the Suite and a sensitive account of the Sinfonia that leaves the competition in the dust.
These superb recordings were made back in 1995 at the Örebro Concert Hall, which is a warm, ideally reverberant venue that makes the sound all the more radiant. They project a generous sonic image, having an overall orchestral timbre characterized by lifelike highs and a rich midrange. As for the bass, with the conservative forces called for in these scores, it's not of seismic proportions, but what's here is very clean.
Regarding the Concerto, the soloists are located just left of center stage, where they're well captured and perfectly balanced against the tutti. In the case of the Sinfonia, although this recording goes back almost twenty-five years, the string tone is more natural sounding than that on its only current competitor, and a rare case where older is better! On that note, this CD earns an "Audiophile" stripe.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190731)
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Elfman: Vn Conc "Eleven Eleven", Pno Qt; Cameron/Mauceri/RScotNa O/Ber P Pno Qt [Sony]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Cinephiles have long associated American composer, singer and songwriter Danny Elfman (b. 1953) with his award-winning music for films. These have included such greats as Back to School (1986), >Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Good Will Hunting (1997) and Men in Black (1998), to name a few.
Then in 2017-18, he turned from the silver screen to the concert hall, giving us two rigorously structured works in the classical realm. They appear here, and considering Danny is entirely self-taught with no formal musical training, show what an innately talented musician he is. Both of these recordings are world premieres.
The concert begins with his Violin Concerto of 2017, which bears the strange subtitle "Eleven Eleven". This reflects the composer's fascination with that number, whose spelling in German is the first syllable of his surname. What's more, the work has exactly 1,111 measures, which according to the composer is not by design, but totally coincidental.
In his informative album notes, "Elevenman" tells he's previously enjoyed writing music for the concert hall as it's not dictated by visual images. Accordingly, after a performance in Prague featuring the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and young, up-and-coming, American violinist Sandy Cameron (b. 1986) playing selections from his scores for Tim Burton's (b. 1958) films, he was delighted to receive a commission for the Concerto.
In preparation for it, Danny listened to a considerable number of violin concertos by his favorite composers. Many of them were Russian, which is not surprising, considering his family's Slavic background. He also closely collaborated with Ms. Cameron on the solo parts, and her invaluable expertise helped him write an emotionally charged piece that's also artistically challenging. Together they created an orchestrally colorful, melodically flowing work with an overall structural integrity that makes it very appealing to classical audiences.
He describes this as a fusion of early 1900s post-romanticism with the rhythms and harmonies found in music of the late twentieth century. A four-movement work, the initial one [T-1] has a "Grave" ("Serious") beginning, which may bring to mind the opening of Dmitri Shostakovich's (1906-1975) First Violin Concerto (1947-55). What's more, a subsequent, increasingly dramatic, violin-embellished episode in the Elfman fosters a fateful motif with five-notes (FF) [03:31], the first and last three of which recall the "DSCH" (D-Eb-C-B) musical monogram often used by that great Russian composer.
FF initiates a brilliantly scored, "Animato", developmental section with an extended, demanding cadenza for Ms. Cameron [08:09-09:35]. Then the music becomes highly agitated and makes a twitchy bridge into a big-tune version of FF played by the orchestra [11:48]. This wanes into an FF-tinged, somber afterthought for soloist and tutti, which ends the movement indecisively.
The macabre "Spietato" ("Ruthless") [T-2] is an FF-spiced, percussion-garnished, satanic scherzo, which could well be a brief tone poem about the devil playing his legendary fiddle (see 28 February 2019). The high point here is a demonic episode for Sandy and the percussion section [05:13-07:14], which recalls her wild gypsy violin cadenza a couple of minutes into Elfman's Edward Scissorhands Suite, which he distilled from his music for that film (1990).
The composer contrasts the foregoing movement with what he calls a ("Fantasma") ("Phantom") [T-3], which starts with forlorn, rising riffs for the orchestra that are explored. These are picked up by the soloist, who toys with them, and along with the tutti, spins out a couple of eerie, evanescent melodies. The latter give way to despairing passages that end this ghostly, third movement with a bleak, bass-drum-reinforced stroke on one of the tubular chimes.
A skittering fourth [T-4] starts "Giacoso" ("Playful") with an FF-colored, flighty ditty for the orchestra that's soon joined by the violin. Subsequently, the tutti allude to that old, foreboding chant known as the Dies Irae (DI) [00:52], which has been a favorite quote with Russian romantic composers. Incidentally, that's particularly true of Rachmaninov (1873-1943), and perspicacious listener's will also detect it in the above mentioned Shostakovich.
Next, antsy, DI-infected, developmental passages make a soaring bridge into a "Lacrimae" ("Tearful"), FF-tinged episode [06:03]. This builds, engendering another, big tune allusion to FF, which fades. Then there's a nostalgic afterthought, and the Concerto ends tranquilly with a prolonged, pianissimo note for the soloist.
Ms. Cameron plays up a storm and delivers a technically astounding yet sensitive account of this music on her magnificent sounding instrument, which was made by the great Italian luthier, Pietro Guarneri (1695-1762). She receives superb support from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) under legendary, American conductor John Mauceri, who's a good friend of the composer and has championed his music.
This recording was made a year ago at the RSNO Center's, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, and projects a spacious sonic image in a wonderful venue. The soloist is positioned just left of Maestro Mauceri, and her Guarneri is beautifully captured as well as ideally highlighted against the orchestra. The overall sound is characterized by acceptably bright highs, a rich midrange and clean lows that go down to rock bottom with pants-flapping whacks on the bass drum. Audiophiles will approve!
Then the release concludes with Danny's Piano Quartet, which was written a year after the Concerto (2018). A more playful creation, the composer tells us he first conceived it as a set of variations based on the melody for that mocking "Nyah-nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah!" chant children all over the world sing. This is certainly reflected in the second of this work's five movements.
Each of them have descriptive titles, but in his notes, the composer makes no mention of what they specifically mean. Moreover, the first is called "Der Ding" ("The Thing") [T-5] and starts with flighty passages, over which a relaxed, songlike idea (RS) appears [00:09]. Then the foregoing undergoes an agitated exploration with some stealthy pauses as well as strange meows [01:48] -- maybe this "Thing" is some strange manifestation of Puss in Boots.
Subsequently, the music makes a poised transition into the return of RS [03:20], that powers an increasingly troubled development. It fills out the movement and closes with a few repeated pp piano notes, which end things perfunctorily.
As mentioned above, Elfman's original idea for the work surfaces in the second one titled "Kinderspott" ("Children's Taunt") [T-6]. This is a theme and developmental variations of differing temperament, which opens with wistful sighs that are soon followed by a "Nyah-nyah..." main subject (NM) on the piano [00:39].
NM then undergoes several, sequential treatments that range from scampering to singsong, excited and ridiculing. These give way to a couple of more relaxed ones, after which a frenetic variation with a sense of childish abandon, ends the movement in midair.
The whimsical third marked "Duett für vier" ("Duet for Four") [T-7] alternates a brisk opening idea with a couple of innocent, related tunes. It's a puerile mélange of tidbits that sound like they could be out a book of piano exercises for children. But things turn a shade darker in "Ruhig" ("Peaceful") [T-8], which is a brief, delicate, contemplation of a lullaby-like melody (LM).
After that, the work closes with a rondoesque "Die Wolfesjungen" ("The Wolf Boys") [T-9], having an LM-related, vivacious, recurring theme (LV). And, at one point [02:27-02:35], there's a hint of that ominous DI (see the Concerto), adding a somewhat sinister touch to this movement. Do you suppose these "Boys" are werewolves? In any case, LV then returns [03:07] and brings the Quartet to a thrilling, definitive conclusion.
It receives a splendid performance from the Berlin Philharmonic Piano Quartet (BPPQ), which is made up of acclaimed, German pianist Markus Groh and three members of the BPPQ, namely Andreas Buschatz (violin), Matthew Hunter (viola) and Knut Weber (cellist). Incidentally, Herr Weber originally suggested to Elfman that he write a piano quartet, and the BPPQ plays it with a youthful enthusiasm totally in keeping with the composer's original conception of the piece (see above).
Made last year at the Berlin Philharmonic Kammermusiksaal, Germany, the recording presents a generous soundstage with the strings comfortably centered from left to right in order of increasing size, and the piano just behind them. All are well balanced against one another in this superb venue, for which the music is all the richer.
The string tone is completely natural and piano notes well rounded with an appropriate amount of percussive bite. That said, there's no hint of boominess in the cello or keyboard lower registers. Considering this and the exemplary sound of the above work, this disc easily gets an "Audiophile" rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190730)
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Hennessy, S.: Stg Qts Cpte (4), Sérénade (stg qt), Petite trio celtique (vn, va & vc); RTÉ ConTempo Qt [RTÉ]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Reading about this Irish-American composer and listening to his music, the old proverb "Variety is the spice of life" comes to mind. Born Edward Hennessy (1866-1929) to wealthy parents in Rockford, Illinois, some 250 miles southwest of Chicago, he was soon called "Swan", which was his mother's maiden name, and spent his childhood in the "Windy City".
In the mid-1880s, young Swan journeyed to Germany, where he studied music, and would subsequently live in London from about 1886 to 1892. Then, after travels throughout Europe, the year 1903 saw him settle in Paris for the rest of his life. Accordingly, Hennessy's music is a fascinating mix of international influences that include German and Celtic as well as French.
He'd leave a substantial number of works in the solo piano and chamber categories. Six of the latter, all for strings, fill out this new release. It's from the Irish, classical-music-and-arts radio station RTÉ lyric fm based in Limerick, which is about 100 miles north of Cork, where the composer's father was born.
These world premiere recordings include all four of Hennessy's String Quartets, which are each in four movements, and our concert opens with the Second (pub. 1920). Having strong, Irish associations, it's dedicated to the memory of author-politician Terence MacSwiney (1879-1920), who was elected Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21). He was then arrested by the British Government on charges of sedition, and sent to a London prison, where he'd go on a fatal hunger-strike.
The work's first movement titled "Introduction" [T-1] is a nostalgic, "Andante" ("Slow") remembrance of MacSwiney's self-imposed martyrdom. On the other hand, the following three seemingly reflect characteristics of the Irish people. More specifically, there's a quaint, "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-2] and subsequent, wistful "Interlude" marked "Andante" ("Slow") [T-3], which respectively call to mind their sense of humor and pathos. Then a jolly, folk-riddled "Allegro" [T-4] with hints of Uilleann pipes implies good days ahead for all Hibernians.
Written some eight years earlier, the composer's First Quartet (1912), which he initially titled Suite, is a more international affair. To wit, the opening, chanson-like "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-5] and succeeding, nocturnal "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-6] have a Gallic lilt commensurate with his Paris years. What's more, Swan's time in Germany is suggested as there's a dusting of peripatetic chromaticism recalling Max Reger's (1872-1916; see 31 August 2016) works in this genre (1888-1911).
Then a brief, scherzoesque "Allegretto" [T-7] based on a coquettish melody sets the mood for the final movement. Parenthetically marked "sur des airs irlandais anciens..." ("on ancient Irish airs..."), it begins "Andante sostenuto" ("Slow and sustained") [T-8] with a lovely melody somewhat like the one for "The Sigh".
But soon the pace turns "vivacissimo" ("lively") with that Irish reel "Molly on the Shore". Widely popularized by Australian-born composer Percy Grainger's (1882-1961) several arrangements of it, the first of which was for string quartet (1907), this brings the work to a whirlwind conclusion back on the "Emerald Isle".
Our concert continues with the Third Quartet (1923) that has a tuneful, ternary "Introduction" [T-9]. Here a delicate, extended idea embraces a jolly, Celtic-folk-tinged, modal ditty and ends the movement like it began. Then the work becomes programmatic with three charming, concluding ones titled "Les Écossais" ("The Scots"), "Les Étudiants" ("The Students") and "Les Fées" ("The Fairies").
The first of these [T-10] comprises two folklike dances of the composer's own design, presumably modelled after music you might hear in the Scottish Highlands. The next [T-11] seems related to Swan's days in Germany as it brings to mind drinking songs and feelings of student camaraderie. On the other hand, the somewhat fey following one [T-12] ends the work back in Ireland and conjures up images of mischievous leprechauns scurrying about.
Continuing in the same vein we get a charming, stand-alone miniature called Sérénade (1924-25) [T-13] that has a short, sedate preface. This is succeeded by a fetching Irish jig that alternates with melancholy passages, which close the work reverently.
It's followed by Hennessy' crowning, chamber achievement, the Fourth Quartet of 1927-28. This gets underway with a ternary "Andante con moto" ("Slow with movement") [T-14], having tranquil, impressionistic, outer sections wrapped around another of those spirited, Hibernian-tinged ditties. And next, there's an "Andante" ("Slow") movement [T-15], where a Scotch-snap-accented, hymnlike tune is interspersed with a couple of faster dance episodes, and then returns, ending things as they started.
Things turn more playful in the subsequent "Allegretto scherzoso" [T-16]. Here a pixilated, pizzicato notion alternates with reminders of the opening movement as well as an arco rendering of itself. And bringing the Quartet to a vivacious finish, there's a rondesque "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with spirit") [T-17], where we first hear a jaunty idea bearing a resemblance to the melody for that traditional Welsh folk song "All through the Night". It plays tag with several tuneful countersubjects and concludes the Quartet contentedly.
Then moving south from Wales to Brittany, the composer honors music from that peninsula along France's northern coast with his Petit trio celtique, which is scored for violin, viola and cello. Moreover, the even movements are marked "dans le style breton" ("in Breton style"), while the odd ones are "dans le style irlandais" ("in Irish style"). Incidentally, this would turn out to be his most often played work.
The initial "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-18] is a winsome offering based on a couple of songlike ideas, and has more of those "Scotch-snaps" mentioned above. Then it's on to Brittany for a "Moderato" ("Moderate") [T-19] second based on a piquant theme by Swan's Breton composer friend, Paul Le Flem (1881-1984; see 27 August 2012).
After that we return to Ireland for an "Andante" ("Slow") [T-20] third. This has a gentle, undulating melody and ends with a reminder of the first movement's opening. Then there's one last stop in Brittany with another "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-21]. It engenders a saucy tune that undergoes a couple of lively treatments and brings the Trio to a passive conclusion.
Our performing group is the all Romanian, award-winning, ConTempo String Quartet (CTSQ). Formed in 1995, it's based in Bucharest and the RTÉ's "Quartet in Residence". Accordingly, the CTSQ has championed music by several other, little-known Irish composers, and delivers magnificent, technically accomplished, highly sensitive accounts of these savory selections.
The recordings were made over three days in 2017 at the Irish Chamber Orchestra Studio, Limerick, and present an ideally sized soundstage in a warm acoustic with an enriching amount of reverberation. The instruments are centered and generously spaced from left to right in order of increasing size. They're beautifully captured and well balanced against one another, yielding a natural overall string tone.
More specifically, the sonic image is characterized by lifelike highs, a rich midrange and clean bass with no hint of hangover in the cello's lower registers. Everything considered, when it comes to conventional, string quartet discs, they don't get any better than this. Those looking for some different, romantic chamber music repertoire are in for a real treat, and any audiophiles among them will find nothing to quibble about.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190729)
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Järnefelt: Song of the Scarlet Flower (cpte film score; rst Kyllönen & Kuusisto); Kuusisto/Gävle SO [Ondine]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
Back in 1919, the Swedish silent movie Song of the Scarlet Flower (Sängen om den eldröda blomman) was a huge international success and the first, Nordic, feature film to have a full-length, orchestral accompaniment specially written for it. Based on Finnish author Johannes Linnankoski's (1869-1913) novel Song of the Red Flower (pub. 1905), the music was penned by his fellow countryman Armas Järnefelt (1869-1958), who was conductor of the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm between 1911 and 1933.
The composer said this presented a difficult challenge, and consequently, it's come down to us via a circuitous route (see the informative album notes). However, thanks to the extensive, restorative efforts of two more Finns, namely music editor Jani Kyllönen and our conductor here, Jaakko Kuusisto, Ondine now gives us this two-disc album with the world premiere recording of the authentic, complete score.
Written for a theater-sized orchestra, it falls into seven scenes, or chapters as they're called here, which make up a highly memorable, coherent, extended suite. The music is of romantic persuasion and nationalistic as it draws on Finnish folk material. There are also overtones of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), whose works the composer greatly admired and often conducted. In that regard, some of the film's main characters have leitmotifs.
A token plot synopsis can be found in the album notes, and suffice it to say at this point that the story centers around a Scandinavian Don Juan named Olof Koskela (Olavi in the novel), who seduces several young ladies. One of them known as Gazelle (Gaselli in the novel) then becomes a town prostitute and comes to a sad ending, but more about that later.
"Chapter I: The first flush of spring" [D-1, T-1] gets off to a somber start with a wistful motif characterizing Olof (OM) [00:01], and passages for the oboe, representing the sound of a herdsman's pipe. Then there's a delightful dance episode where young, local villagers cavort and play games along a river bank. During this, Olof and Gazelle go behind a nearby hill for some hanky-panky, and soon reappear hand in hand. This causes one of his other girlfriends great distress, and the scene ends with a heartbroken remembrance of OM.
However, the mood momentarily brightens in "Chapter II: The mother's glance" [D-1, T-2], which starts with a jolly tune for Olof and Gazelle that turns furtive as the two have a nighttime assignation in an abandoned building on the Koskela estate. But the music becomes austere as Olof's mom catches them in flagrante, and they return to the main house.
Gazelle goes into the maids' bedchamber waking everyone up, and Olof has an altercation with Dad, presumably over her not being worthy of him. This leads to a falling out between father and son, after which Olaf leaves home to the accompaniment of OM-related, sorrowful passages. These turn tearful, and the chapter closes as Gazelle departs, but in the other direction.
Meanwhile, Olof has joined a logging team, and we get "Chapter III: Learning life" [D-1, T-3]. It commences with a folklike work march (FW), having flowing romantic segments. These underscore an initial meeting between our Nordic Romeo and a wealthy landowner's daughter, named Kyllikki, whom he finds very attractive. Olof asks her to bring him flowers. However, she haughtily refuses, so he decides to shoot the treacherous river rapids, hopefully impressing her.
Then it's back to chopping down more trees in an FW-reminiscent, busy segment! This is followed by the ponderous return of FW, and a delightful, folksy dance sequence, which brings this scene as well as the first disc to a close.
The second begins with "Chapter IV: A young man's daring-do" [D-2, T-1], which finds all the local villagers, including Kyllikki, gathered along the river bank to watch our would-be hero challenge nature. The scene begins with colorfully scored, flowing music having heroic bits of OM, which becomes increasingly agitated as he comes into view and successfully runs the rapids. This is cause for a brief celebratory episode and tender moment when he finds a bunch of flowers left for him by Kyllikki on the gate of her nearby family estate.
The music bridges directly into "Chapter V: Kyllikki" [D-2, T-2] that opens with mellow, amorous passages, featuring lovely clarinet and violin solos. These accompany a meeting of the two on a hilltop, where they discuss a possible future together. Then there's a pause and lively folk sequence with a fiddle as well as an accordion, where the loggers have a farewell dance.
During it, Olof asks Killikki's father for her hand, and he refuses. But on the side, she promises to wait for him, and shortly thereafter there's a pugnacious episode, in which her jilted, former fiancée gets into a scuffle. Then our loving couple join the dance, and the music comes to a sudden halt, followed by sad passages, whereby Dad takes his daughter away.
The story turns tragic in the penultimate "Chapter VI: In the Town" [D-2, T-3], which opens with tenebrous, tick-tock-accented, nocturnal music as Olof walks along one of the streets in a nearby town. He meets and picks up a "lady of the night", after which they have a brief dalliance set to a couple of seductive waltz sequences. However, he tires of her, and in some spooky passages, they hit the pavement again, only to take up with one of her associates, who's none other than Gazelle (see above)!
Next, a drumroll-prefaced, troubled episode underlines Olof's horror at her having become a prostitute. He then flees to a neighboring restaurant, where he looks into a mirror and sees himself as a cad, whose been the cause of her downfall. After that, searching passages accompany his trying to find Gazelle, and erupt in an emotional outburst, when he discovers she's died by her own hand. These wane, calling up harmonium-accompanied thoughts that end this scene with sorrowful recollections of better days.
Bringing this superb suite to a fitting conclusion we get "Chapter VII: The pilgrimage" [D-2, T-4], which begins with solo oboe passages, where Olof encounters a young herdsman playing his pipe. The lad tells him his parents have died and are buried in a nearby cemetery. Deeply saddened by this, he visits their grave to some harmonium-colored, orchestral passages, having a melody curiously akin to the one by British, clergyman-hymnist Rev. John Bacchus Dykes' (1823-1876) for "Eternal Father, strong to save" (1860) [02:26].
Then the mood turns more uplifting as Olof realizes that after all his years of wanton philandering he must change his ways and lead a better life. Consequently, a moving segment, featuring an OM-reminiscent, gorgeous theme of hope for the future (OH) [06:33], accompanies a segment where he again asks Killikki's father for her hand.
This time around he agrees, now knowing that Olof is heir to the wealthy Koskela estate. Subsequently, a dramatic, closing segment, having a big tune version of OH and related moments with the sound of distant church bells, accompanies the film's ending.
Järnefelt's superb score gets a long overdue revival here thanks to the efforts of Maestro Kuusisto (see above) and the Gävle Symphony Orchestra (GSO). They play with total commitment, as well as an attention to structural detail, phrasing and dynamics that preclude this music from becoming a sentimental, cinematic wallow.
The recording was made a year ago at the GSO's home Concert Hall in Gävle, Sweden, 100 miles north of Stockholm. It presents a broad soundstage in warm, reverberant surroundings, and the solo instruments are perfectly highlighted. The overall orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a totally convincing midrange and low clean bass. All romantic music lovers will want this stirring symphonic suite, which will should also meet with the approval of any audiophiles among them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190728)
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Leshnoff: Sym 4 "Heichalos", Gtr Conc, Starburst; Vieaux/Guerrero/Nashv SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Naxos continues its ongoing survey of American composer Jonathan Leshnoff's (b. 1973) music (see 6 January 2011) with this recent release. It includes the latest of his four Symphonies to date, a concerto for guitar, and an earlier, brief orchestral piece. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The album notes tell us "Jewish spirituality has provided an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the composer", and that would certainly seem true of the Symphony (No. 4, 2017). Moreover, it was commissioned for a concert given by our performing group here, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (NSO), where some of the violinists play instruments from the Holocaust-related "Violins of Hope" collection.
What's more, the work is subtitled "Heichalos" ("Rooms"), and accordingly based on ideas found in the Jewish mystical text known as the Heichalos Rabbasai, which was written some 2,000 years ago. This cabalistic enchiridion lays out meditational techniques, whereby practitioners can advance themselves into "rooms" of increasingly higher consciousness, and ultimately achieve communion with the Divine.
The Symphony is a colorfully scored, neo-Romantic creation that's in two parts. Leshnoff says these should not be considered movements as they're independent of one another, except for a striking, austere, core motif (SA) common to both. He also tells us the first [T-1] is "a musical depiction of an initiate's travels through these rooms".
It's marked "Fast: ה Binah", where "ה" is the letter "Hey" in the Hebrew alphabet, connoting the word "Binah", associated with contemplation and intuitive understanding. The music takes the form of a theme with variations that has an opening, SA-based, main subject (SM), which in this context presumably represents one's search for spiritual enlightenment.
SM then passes through seven developmental "rooms". The first six range from anxiety-ridden to sagacious and exhilarating. Then this part ends with a penetrating seventh, where we're told Judaic angels known as the chayot glare at our novitiate.
The composer describes the "Slow", second [T-2] as "a love song between humanity and God". That said, he's marked the score with numerous comments (see the album notes) that give a programmatic dimension to this, bordering on the bathetic. Be that as it may, the music is a devout cerebration, which calls to mind one of those brooding adagios in Mahler's (1860-1911) Symphonies (1888-1910).
This begins with somber strings that include the "Violins of Hope" mentioned above. They play a longanimous version of SA (SL), which builds to a colossal, SL-based, extended climax [06:43] for full orchestra that's of cinematic proportions. Then the music suddenly falls off [10:24] into somber reminders of SL, which again feature those strings and bring the Symphony to a peaceful conclusion.
As of this writing, the composer has penned some twelve concertos for a variety of instruments, and we're next treated to one he wrote for guitar back in 2013. A three-movement work, the first "Maestoso, allegro" ("Majestically, fast") [T-3] is a proud, but busy disquisition for the soloist with colorful tutti commentary. It brings to mind Joaquin Rodrigo's (1901-1999) guitar concertante works (1939-83; see Naxos-855541 & 855842), which is not surprising as Leshnoff says he studied pieces in this genre before undertaking one of his own.
The second movement [T-4] reflects more Jewish philosophy. It's marked "ו: Hod, adagio", where "ו" is the Hebrew letter "Vav", connoting the word "Hod", associated with "prayer" and "humility". Consequently, it's a delicate serenade for the guitar set to a caressing violin and harp accompaniment.
Then the spirit of Rodrigo returns in the delightful, "Finale: Lively" [T-5], which is an Iberian dance number that escalates into a frenzied fandango. This has some closing, would-be-castanet knocks on blocks and ends the Concerto in fiery Spanish fashion.
Filling out this release we get an eight-minute, stand-alone orchestral work with the programmatic title Starburst (2010). No underlying story is provided, but from the astronomical standpoint, the name suggests those exploding stars known as supernovae. That association seems in line with the music, where the composer has well realized his stated aim of writing a compact, energetic, exciting piece.
It's aptly described by Jeff Joneikis in a recent Records International catalog as a "Concert Overture" (see here). This has colorfully scored, rhythmically animated outer sections that bring to mind wilder moments in Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) last orchestral works (1936-43). These surround a short, eerie, ruminant episode [02:45-03:29] and end the piece even more dramatically than it started.
Returning to the cosmological implications of its title, the work could be a musical representation of the three phases typically characterizing those above mentioned catastrophic, heavenly events. These are an initial brightening of a star, followed by a brief decrease in its luminosity, and then a blinding burst of light comparable to that of an entire galaxy as it blows itself apart -- So much for today's Astronomy 1 lesson!
The NSO makes a welcome return to these pages (see 30 September 2016 and 30 June 2017) under their internationally acclaimed music director, Nicaraguan-born, US-trained Giancarlo Guerrero. One of America's most active recording orchestras and biggest champions of up-and-coming composers, they deliver a superb account of these engaging Leshnoff selections.
And a big hand goes to award-winning, US classical guitarist Jason Vieaux for his highly sensitive, well-articulated performance of the Concerto. Along with Maestro Guerreo and the NSO, they make a strong case for a most welcome addition to the few extant, modern orchestral works featuring this instrument.
The recordings were made in 2016 (Concerto) and 2018 (Symphony & Starbust) at the magnificent Schermerhorn Symphony Center's Laura Turner Hall, Nashville, Tennessee. They consistently present a wide, comfortably distant soundstage with the guitar beautifully captured and ideally highlighted against the tutti. The orchestral timbre is characterized by acceptably bright highs and a lifelike midrange. As for the bass, it's clean and appropriately lean in accord with the conventional forces called for in these scores. Audiophiles won't be disappointed!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190727)
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Marx. J.: Eine Herbstsymphonie (An Autumn Symphony) ; Wildner/Graz PO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
In 1952 the great, German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler described composer Joseph Marx (1882-1964), who's no stranger to these pages (see 15 April 2009), as "the leading force of Austrian music". Born in scenic Graz, some 90 miles south-southwest of Vienna, Joseph was a nature lover, whose very first and last symphonic works both honor Autumn.
They're also musically related! Moreover, the later 1946 tone poem Feste in Herbst (Autumn Celebration; see 28 January 2009) is a reconstruction of the fourth movement from his lengthy 1921 work presented here. It's the only disc currently available with the uncut version of this massive piece.
When it was premiered in 1922 by the Vienna Philharmonic under Joseph's fellow countryman, Felix Weingartner (1863-1942; see 8 April 2013), the work received a spotty performance due to insufficient rehearsal time and got mixed reviews. But soon thereafter, Clemens Krauss (1893-1954) and the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO) gave a superb account of it that won great praise from audiences and critics alike.
This is complex, lavishly scored, chromatically peripatetic music that smacks of moments in Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), Max Reger (1873-1916; see 31 August 2016), Franz Schmidt (1874-1939; see 30 September 2016) and Franz Schrecker (1878-1934). That said, it comes across as more of a through-composed, extended rhapsody than a formal symphony and bears repeated listening to be fully appreciated.
The opening "Ein Herbstgesang" ("An Autumn Song") [T-1] gets off to a mystic start somewhat like orchestral moments in Schrecker's opera Die Gezeichneten (The Marked, 1913-15), and we hear a gorgeous, highly chromatic theme (GC) that will pervade the entire work. GC then undergoes a mesmerizing, connected series of transformations, which wax and wane with a couple of intervening climaxes.
These give way to tranquil, effervescent passages that adjoin and begin the next movement titled "Tanz der Mittagsgeister" ("Dance of the Midday Spirits") [T-2]. This is a tone-poem-like creation that conjures images of nymphs cavorting about in sunlit, forest meadows. It takes the form of a GC-derived, brilliantly scored Viennese l�ndler, which builds and recedes with hints of twittering birds as well as distant church bells. Originally, all this came to a quiet conclusion, but the composer's later version, where there's a forte final chord, is presented here.
Next, a nostalgic, spacious, sonata-form adagio (slow) titled "Herbstgedanken" ("Autumn Thoughts") [T-3] that seems associated with Fall being the dying season of the year. Here a GC-derived, wistful theme (GW) is followed by a rapturous second, which brings to mind ebullient moments in Bruckner's (1824-1896) Symphonies (1863-96).
These ideas undergo a moving development with a motif [08:13], smacking of the melody running through the last movement of Mahler's (1860-1911) Third Symphony (1893-96). Then the Marx builds into a powerful restatement of GW, which engenders a recap. This trails off into contemplative memories of the movement's opening measures, thereby bringing things full circle.
Then Joseph's fervent, "Fall panegyric" ends with "Ein Herbstpoem" ("A Poem to Autumn") [T-4], whose beginning features a festive, harvest dance [00:00]. It gently subsides into swaying reminders of GC [02:02]. These wax and wane with some mystical moments along the way [beginning at 04:01] into another ländler [05:35] (see above). However, this one is spiced with tuned percussion as well as occasional Eastern sounding passages, making it somewhat reminiscent of Ravel's (1875-1937) Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911), or even La valse (1920).
The foregoing is skillfully transformed into a gallant, hymn tune [12:01] and stately brass chorale [12:28], which slowly wanes, invoking a pastoral contemplation [16:04] of the work's previous motifs. The latter then builds with contrapuntal embellishments to a towering climax [21:19] that ebbs, and calls up a GC-initiated, melancholy, epilogue [22:51]. This ends the movement and Joseph's monumental Symphony with serene thoughts seemingly about nature's never-ending cycle of birth and death.
The composer's hometown band -- the GPO (see above) -- returns here (see 31 May 2018) under Austrian conductor Johannes Wildner (see 31 July 2018), and together they give a totally committed, highly sensitive account of this mammoth rarity. Maestro Wildner's meticulous attention to dynamics, phrasing and tempos brings out all the subtleties of Marx's emotionally wrought score, which in lesser hands could become a romantic wallow.
Done in June of last year at the historic Graz Opera's main auditorium, the recording is average and projects a wide, somewhat shallow sonic image in a warm, pleasing venue. The instrumental timbre is characterized by marginally acceptable highs, a compact midrange, and somewhat muddy bass. Accordingly, this release is not demonstration quality; however, it's a welcome addition to the burgeoning body of undeservedly neglected, 20th century, symphonic repertoire on silver disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190726)
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