CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 APRIL 2020
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.
Aranda: Fl Conc "Acqua", Fl & Gtr Conc, Pno Conc; Canales/Márquez/Aranda/Shade/CamCoah [Urtext]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
The opening line of that old popular song "South of the border, down Mexico way" (1939) aptly describes the music on this new, Urtext "twofer" CD album. And CROCKS Newsletter readers will find it an ideal introduction to one of that country's up-and-coming composers, Alexis Aranda (b. 1974).
This release was produced by his younger compatriot, Marisa Canales (b. 1959), who's not only Urtext's founder and director, but the flautist in the first two works presented here. The recordings of these as well as the companion Piano Concerto are the only ones currently available on disc. Incidentally, errata information is enclosed regarding inconsistencies and timing errors in the album notes.
By way of background, Alexis was born as well as raised in Mexico City, where he started playing the piano at age six, and was admitted to the National Conservatory of Music when only eleven (1985). Then in 1995 he met Mexican composer Mario Lavista (b. 1943) and began four years of studies with him, while taking courses in musical analysis, orchestration and conducting at the National Center for the Arts.
Subsequently, he began a highly successful career as a concert pianist, and as of this writing, Aranda has produced an impressive body of works. These have met with great success at home as well as in Europe, South America and "North of the border, up USA way". Described by the composer as intended for "the common music lover", they're immediately accessible, yet intellectually stimulating pieces, bearing repeated listening. A significant number are concertos; however, rather than being the usual bravado showcases for soloist and orchestra, Aranda's are more virtuosic, duelistic encounters between the two.
Five of them were inspired by characteristics typically associated with people born under a particular sign of the Zodiac. That said, one of these, the Concierto Acqua (Water Concerto) for Flute and Orchestra (2013), opens this album. Commissioned by Canales (see above), its three movements each honor one of the water-related signs, the first being "Scorpion" ("Scorpio") [D-1, T-1].
Folks born under this are allegedly adventurous, but sometimes violent. Consequently, it gets off to a tam-tam-drumroll-enforced, explosive start, followed by a rhythmically harried section [00:09]. The latter has frenetic flute passages, and a sustained note for the soloist that brings things to an abrupt halt. Then there's an ethereal, pensive episode [05:23-07:44], after which the music resumes its hectic pace. This leads via a florid cadenza [08:49-10:03] to an explosive coda [11:13] that ends the movement abruptly.
The succeeding "Cáncer" ("Cancer") [D-1, T-2] depicts people, who are said to be emotional and moody. Accordingly, this begins with wistful, rising harp passages invoking a pining clarinet melody [00:19] picked up by the flute. The latter engenders a lovely, melancholy serenade, having a dramatic, interim episode [03:04-03:57], and brings the movement to a tranquil conclusion.
Then there's a virtuosic, pert "Piscis" ("Pisces") [D-1. T-3] characterizing those of artistic temperament, who are sometimes out of touch with reality. Here an initial forte chord triggers a cantering, orchestral ostinato, which is based on a rhythmically perky theme (RP) [00:04] and has flighty, flute descants [00:17 & 01:43].
This transitions via a sustained note for the soloist into a captivating episode [03:00], where she plays a lovely melody over a blissful tutti accompaniment. Subsequently, RP surfaces [04:40], initiating a contrapuntally spiced, flute-embellished, development. Here there's a palaverous cadenza [07:59-11:16] with some flutter-tonguing [09:41-09:52], and some supportive tutti passages [10:38-11:02]. Then RP makes a spunky return in the orchestra [11:17], which is joined by the soloist, thereby ending the work perfunctorily.
Señora Canales (see above) and Mexican guitarist Jaime Márquez commissioned the succeeding Concerto for Flute, Guitar and Orchestra, which was presumably written in 2015-16. And in the world of double concertos, this combination of solo instruments is a real rarity, its only companion of any consequence being Italian composer-guitarist Ferdinando Carulli's (1770-1841) Op. 8 in G major (c. 1809).
The Aranda is in the usual three movements, the first being a "Preludio" ("Prelude") [D-1, T-4]. This begins with the orchestra repeating an ethereal motif (RE) that invokes a wistful, folk-song-like melody (WF) [00:11]. WF is accompanied by a loving guitar, which picks up on RE [00:47]. Then the flute plays WF [00:52], after which there's an alluring serenade based on both ideas.
It sets the stage for the following "Nocturne" [D-1, T-5] that opens with rising passages for Señor Márquez, which summon a melancholy flute melody (MF) [00:21] set to a tender guitar accompaniment. This gives rise to a twilight serenade, where there's a piquant version of MF for the oboe [01:25-01:56] and subdued guitar cadenza [05:52-06:32]. Then MF returns on the flute [06:34] and a subdued tutti join in, ending the movement full circle.
Alexis serves up a complete change of pace with the closing, atavistic "Concerto grosso" [D-1, T-6]. which harkens back to Baroque times and Arcangelo Corelli's (1653-1713) set of twelve such works (Op. 6, 1708-12). However, Aranda's take on this has the usual orchestral ripieno, but a flute-guitar concertino.
The ripieno open the movement with a heraldic, brass prelude, hinting at an upcoming, Corelli-like, sprightly, thematic nexus (CS). This soon appears [01:02] along with the concertino, after which CS engenders a virtuosic, contrapuntally spiced, rondoesque romp [01:48]. Here bits of CS are tossed back-and-forth by the orchestra members and soloists in a discursive game of catch that brings the work to a curt conclusion.
The album closes with Aranda's Piano Concerto (2004), which was his first, large symphonic work. In three-movement, the opening one is a "Toccata" [D-2, T-1]. Accordingly, it's a show-off piece for the soloist that may bring to mind more virtuosic moments in Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) keyboard concertante works (1891-1941).
This begins with a commanding introduction for the piano, followed by a frenzied, propulsive idea (FP) [00:46], having intermittent orchestral support. FP then undergoes a wild development with a percussive-laced segment [02:54-03:35] -- and is that some shouting from the musicians at [03:33]?
Be that as it may, the foregoing adjoins a demanding cadenza [03:36-04:17], which calls up a mysterious episode [04:21] with searching passages for the soloist [04:51]. But a slam on the bass drum [06:26] triggers a harried version of FP from the piano, having tutti outbursts. Then the music suddenly quits only to be followed by an explosive afterthought [08:49] that ends the movement categorically.
The middle "Lento" ("Slow") [D-2, T-2] begins with pianissimo meowings for the tutti and distant, intermittent horn whoops [00:33], all of which bridge into a laid-back, romantic theme (LR) for oboe and piano [01:23]. Then LR is explored, and the music suddenly erupts [04:37] into agitated passages for the soloist that conjoin a slow, peripatetic episode [06:09]. This has a concluding, songish section begun by the piano [06:59], which waxes and wanes into wisps of those opening meows [09:19], thereby ending the movement full circle.
Tranquility turns to turbulence in the rondoesque "Presto enérgico" ("Very fast and energetic") [D-2, T-3]. It starts with arresting, forte orchestral chords and FP-reminiscent, scurrying thoughts for the soloist (FS) [00:06], having a related cantilena countermelody (FC) [01:18].
They give way to a brass, chorale-reminiscent, imitative [02:17] episode, which transitions with the rest of the orchestra and soloist into a rigorous keyboard cadenza [03:34]. This gets increasing support from the tutti [beginning at 04:22], and after some ff chords [04:40] interspersed with anticipatory pauses, manic passages for everyone [04:43] end the work excitedly.
With the composer at the keyboard, the Concerto receives a thrilling, authoritative performance. He gets superb support from his fellow countryman, conductor Ramón Shade, who elicits enthusiastic, totally committed performances from the Camerata de Coahuila (CC), based in Torreón some 500 miles north-northwest of Mexico City. Along with flautist Marisa Canales and guitarist Jaime Márquez, Maestro Shade and the CC also deliver outstanding accounts of the other two works.
All three Concertos were recorded in the CC's hometown. More specifically, the last two were made during 2018 at the Teatro Isauro Martínez, and the first, a year later in the Teatro Nazas. As for the sound, the piano is centered in front of the CC with the other solo instruments just left (flute) and right (guitar) of it. Canales and Márquez are adequately captured as well as balanced against the orchestra; however, the piano tone is lean, and Aranda's playing would have been even more impressive had he been better highlighted.
Generally speaking, these recordings present consistently narrow, withdrawn sonic images in reverberant surroundings and sound better on headphones as opposed to speakers. Sonically, this album falls short of demonstration quality, but wins top marks for its musical content.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P200430)
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Breiner: Beatles Go Baroque V2 (tweaks of Bach & Vivaldi wks w Beatles tunes); Karvay/Breiner/Breiner ChO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Back in the 1960s an English rock band known as "The Beatles", comprised of John Lennon (1940-1980), Paul McCartney (b. 1942), George Harrison (1943-2001) and Ringo Starr (b. Richard Starkey, 1940), dominated popular music. The resultant "Beatlemania" had some interesting side effects.
A case in point was American musician Joshua Rifkin's (b. 1944) working themes from their songs into captivating baroque-like creations, which first appeared on a Nonesuch LP titled "The Baroque Beatles Book" (1965). This gained great popularity, and was eventually released on CD (see 31 May 2010).
Then in 1983, Slovak pianist-conductor-composer Peter Breiner (b. 1957) came up with an orchestral encore piece along similar lines, which led to his writing four, concerto-grosso-like pieces laced with Beatles melodies. These were the subject matter for a 1993 Naxos disc called "Beatles Go Baroque" (see 31 May 2010) that soon sold over a quarter of a million copies. And now that adventurous label gives us a welcome follow-on. It includes nine selections, each of which is based on an actual Baroque piece that Peter has deftly cropped and tweaked with snippets of Beatles tunes.
Five of the parent works are by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), and considering the nature of Peter's creations, we'll label them "Entweakments" as shown in the table below. Incidentally, back in Bach's day, the first selection would have featured a harpsichord, but current performances are more often done with a piano, which is the case here.
That said, Breiner's scoring of these pieces does include token, continuo-like appearances for a harpsichord. There's also some spirited, rhythmic clapping just after the beginning of Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 [T-9; 00:05-00:06] and an arresting fughetta animates the Mass's "Et in Terra pax" [T-18; 01:45-03:05].
Moving from Germany to Italy, Breiner gives us a "Beatlization" of Monsignor Antonio Vivaldi's (1678-1741) timeless "Le quattro stagioni" ("The Four Seasons"). These are the first of his twelve violin concertos collectively known as "Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione" ("The Contest Between Harmony and Invention", Op. 8, 1723-25), and we'll accordingly call this "The Four Seasonings" as shown in the table below.
If asked today about the foregoing selections, the composer might say, "I wrote them With a Little Help From My Friends (1967) Johann and Antonio. However, the one filling out this release is Breiner's own baroque-styled medley based on three songs from the Beatles "Abbey Road" collection of 1969 (see the table below), which was the next to last of their twelve core albums released in the UK (1963-1970).
These performances featuring the composer conducting his own chamber orchestra of outstanding musicians from Austria, France, Germany, Japan and Slovakia, are terrific. Pianist Maroš Klátik as well as violinists Dalibor Karvay and Juraj Tomka, all of whom are compatriots of Breiner, get a big round of applause for their superb solo work in the concerto-based selections. All together they make this release a "must" for Beatles' fans.
These recordings were made during December 2018 at the International Church in Bratislava, Slovakia, some 35 miles east-southeast of Vienna. They present a generous sonic image in pleasantly warm surroundings with the soloists, who are centered in front of their colleagues, well captured and highlighted. Also, that harpsichord is conspicuously positioned stage-right, thereby adding a welcome, baroque touch to these tuneful proceedings.
Generally speaking, the instrumental timbre is lifelike and characterized by sparkling highs as well as a rich midrange. As for the bass, it's good but with a hint of boom in the larger stringed instrument's lower registers. However, everything considered, this release is a Honey Pie (1968) worthy of an "Audiophile" stripe.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200429)
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Hartmann, E.: Pno Qnt, 2 Stg Qts (Op. 14 & 37), Andante & Allegro (vn & pno); Soloists [Dacapo]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Now for some Danish pastry in the form of chamber music by Emil Hartmann (1836-1898). Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, he was composer J.P.E. Hartmann's (1805-1900) son and the brother-in-law of Niels Gade (1817-1890; see 31 March 2018), who was one of that country's greatest musicians.
Emil showed musical talent as a youngster, and received his first instruction from Dad. Consequently, he began composing very early on and would further his education at the University of Copenhagen.
Then in 1859 he received a scholarship grant that allowed him to study in Leipzig, Germany, where Gade had been a close associate of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and succeeded him as conductor of that city's Gewandhaus Orchestra, between 1844 and 1848. Emil also spent some time in Paris, but returned to Copenhagen in 1861, where he held positions as the kapellmeister-organist at a couple of prominent churches right up until his death.
He was an active composer all of his life, and left a large body of works across all genres. These include a substantial number in the chamber category, four of which fill out this superb release, all being world premiere recordings. In that regard, hearing these magnificent selections, Hartmann comes off as a highly gifted melodist, and one can only wonder why it's taken so long for them to appear on silver disc -- but better late than never!
The concert begins with his Piano Quintet in G minor (Op. 5, 1865), the first of whose four movements is a sonata-rondo with a "Poco Andante" ("Slowly Walking") [T-1] preface hinting at two themes soon to come. Then the music turns "Allegro" ("Lively"), and we get the first of these, which is an angular, proud tune (AP) [00:41]. AP is toyed with and followed by a closely related songlike melody (AS) [02:09], which will sound very familiar, as it's based on the opening subject of Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) Piano Concerto in A minor (Op. 54; 1841-45).
Subsequently, both ideas are skillfully juggled about in rondo fashion with treatments of varying mood along the way. And then a repeat of the opening measures [10:59] gives rise to an AS-based coda [11:33] that closes the movement in great excitement.
Next, a "Romanza" [T-2], which is an "Andantino con moto" ("Leisurely with movement") marked, ternary, A-B-A offering with gorgeous "A"s built on a loving thought. They surround a moody "B" [02:22-03:14], and end the movement like it began. Then tenderness turns to tomfoolery in the "Scherzo" [T-3], which is an "Allegretto vivo, sempre molto leggiero" ("Joyful, lively and very nimble") cavort that has a perky ditty (PD) [00:01] surrounding a folk-dance-like trio section [00:57-01:46].
PD sets the stage for the scampering, sonata-form "Finale" [T-4], which gets off to an "Allegro molto" ("Fast and lively") start with an assertive introduction. It hints at a flighty number (SF) that soon follows [00:25] and bridges into a related hymnlike melody (SH) [02:13], which takes on big tune proportions [02:30]. This initiates a catchy, contrapuntally spiced development [02:47], followed by an SF-invoked frenetic recap [03:54] with recollections of SH. The last of these [05:19] then triggers an SF-based coda that ends this wonderful Quintet in spirited fashion.
Moving right along we get the first two of Hartmann's three String Quartets, which on the basis of their opus numbers, would seem to have originated around 1875 and 1885, respectively. While both are in four-movements, the former is amiably disposed, while the latter is of dour demeanor.
The earlier A minor one (Op. 14, c. 1875) has an "Allegro" beginning [T-5] with an innocent, sighing theme (IS) [00:00], succeeded by a delicate countermelody [00:29] and a yearning version of IS [00:55]. Then the foregoing is repeated [01:35], giving way to a pause and gentle, march-like variant of IS [03:10]. This calls up a development of the previous material [04:04] and subsequent recap [05:28], having an insistent coda [06:06] that ends the movement definitively.
A captivating, ternary "Andante cantabile" ("Flowing and songlike" [T-6] is as advertised with exquisite outer sections embracing a curt, pert one [02:14-02:38]. And then it's dance-time with a charming "Menuet" [T-7], where it's easy to imagine elegantly dressed couples gliding about.
The "Finale" [T-8] gets off to wistful start, hinting at a playful thematic nexus (PN) [00:33] that will be the recurring subject matter for this concluding rondo. Bits of PN then appear in three, notable guises, the first two being sequentially cantering [02:05] and songlike [03:41]. Then a third, bustling one [04:04] ends the Quartet all atwitter.
As indicated above, Hartmann's later C minor effort (Op. 37, c. 1885), takes on a more serious air, and in that regard, he wrote "Tenax propositi" (Latin for "Tenaciously purposeful") above its first bars. Accordingly, it has a "Moderato" ("Moderate"), sonata-form, first movement [T-9], which opens wistfully with a longing motif (WL) [00:01-00:19] and halting riff [00:20-00:25] that suggest a couple of related ideas soon to follow.
The first of these is antsy (WA) [00:26] while the other has a yearning disposition (WY) [01:59], and both then undergo a WA-invoked, harried development [03:04]. Subsequently, WA calls up a recap [04:26] with WY [05:36], which adjoins an anxious WA-based coda [07:36] that concludes the movement despairingly.
The blissful "Andante" [T-10] is based on an angelic theme, which hovers about and gently lands on "cloud nine". Then it's time for a "Minuetto" [T-11] that's a more sophisticated version of the previous Quartet's "Menuet" [T-7].
And in conclusion, the composer serves up a "Rondo" [T-12], whose first measures are an extended version of WL. They engender a lively, WA-reminiscent jig-like tune (WJ) [00:50], which is wrapped around a songish countersubject (WS) [01:49-02:17], and followed by a twitchy variant of itself with pizzicato spicing (WT) [02:40]. Then the return of WJ [03:52], WS [04:21] and wisps of WT [05:09] plus some more WJ [05:23] bring the Quartet to a decisive ending.
This release closes with Emil's Andante and Allegro in A minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 12 [T-13]. He dedicated it to Gade (see above), and with a little more opus-number-based guesswork, it would seem to date from around 1870. In any case, this piece is a two-part fantasia, having an improvisational sense of spontaneity.
The "Andante" ("Flowing") begins with a tender, pensive theme (TP) spun out by the piano. Then the violinist appears [02:11], but not to be outdone, the keyboardist reenters feverishly [02:57], kicking off the "Allegro" ("Fast"). This elicits an excited, imploring thought (EI) from the violin [03:07] that's picked up by the piano [04:02].
Subsequently, the violinist invokes a TP-derived, cavatina-like melody (TC) [04:20], which undergoes a binary development [04:54 & 05:36]. The latter wanes into a brief, cadenza [06:19-06:36], succeeded by the return of TP [06:38] and TC [07:08]. These initiate a final exploration [08:03] with dramatic fireworks for both instruments that end the piece flamboyantly.
German-born, American pianist Daniel Blumenthal and Danish violinist Elisabeth Zeuthen Schneider, make a strong case for this work. That also holds for the Quintet, where they're joined by Belgian violinist Nicolas Dupont and violist Tony Nys, plus German cellist Justus Grimm. Then the four string players go on to give superb accounts of the two Quartets.
These recordings were made in early December 2018 at the Krzysztof Penderecki European Center Concert Hall located in Luslawice, Poland, some 150 miles south of Warsaw. They present a comfortably sized sonic image in warm surroundings, where the strings are placed from left to right in order of increasing size with the piano centered in front of them.
Mr. Blumenthal's instrument is beautifully captured with pleasantly rounded notes, and he's ideally highlighted against his fellow musicians. As for the strings, they're very lifelike, thereby making this a demonstration quality release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200428)
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Saint-Saëns: Orch Excs fm 3 Operas, Andromaque (Ov & Act IV Prel), La Jota..., Ov to an...; Märkl/Malmö SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
On the heels of a recent CPO CD featuring orchestral excerpts from Jacques Offenbach's opera (1819-1880) Orphée aux Enfers (1858-74; see 31 March 2020), Naxos serves up some found in three of his younger colleague, Camille Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) thirteen, completed ones (1864-1910). And as a bonus, there are two numbers he wrote for a play, plus a couple of short, standalone pieces.
Five of these selections are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles. Incidentally, the CD booklet's paging is in disarray, but the informative, English and French commentaries seem to be all there.
The program begins with a couple of opera excerpts, namely the third act ballet from Ascanio (1887-88) [T-1 through 11] and prologue to Les Barbares (The Barbarians, 1900-01) [T-12], both of which we told you about in the newsletter of 8 February 2012. Rather than repeating ourselves, we'll only add that this release includes something a little extra in regard to the ballet.
Moreover, its "L'Amour fait apparaître Psyché" ("Love invokes the appearance of Psyche") and "Variation de l'Amour" ("Love Variations") numbers [T-7 & T-9] became very popular with flautists. Consequently, the composer came up with later versions of each, highlighting that instrument, both of which are included here (OCAR) [T-18 & T-19].
Back in October 1880 Saint-Saëns, who was an inveterate traveler, visited Spain and Portugal, where he encountered the folk music of Aragon. This included something known as La Jota, which is a dance that seemingly inspired him to pen his La Jota aragonese of the same year [T-13]. At just over four minutes, it's not an "Overture" as billed on the CD's back panel, but a colorful, castanet-accented, Iberian romp, that's a teaser for Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) ever popular Capriccio espagnol (1887).
Enter French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), who at the height of a distinguished career, got Camille to write incidental music for her 1902 production of Jean Racine's (1639-1699) five-act tragedy, Andromaque (Andromache, 1667). Based on Euripides' (c. 480-406 BC) eponymous play (c. 425 BC) and the third book of Virgil's (70-19 BC) Aeneid (29-19 BC), this takes place just after the Trojan War, and the composer would write seventeen numbers for it, two of which are included here.
One of these is the "Overture" (OCAR) [T-15] that starts with two, isolated, tension-building, forte chords. They're followed by an anxious, pensive idea (AP) [00:11] and related, distraught motif (AD) [01:27]. AD dies away into a contemplation of AP, which escalates into an agitated, extended development [03:07], Here it's easy to imagine Andromache's troubled state of mind over how to save the life of her son Astyannax, whose father was the great Trojan warrior Hector. Then a frantic version of AD [08:14] ends this with implications of ominous things to come.
There's also the "Prelude to Act IV" (OCAR) [T-14], which is moving, sorrowful music that augurs future dire developments. Moreover, Andomache decides she'll marry her husband's killer, Pyrrhus, to insure Astyannax survival, and subsequently commit suicide.
During the 1860s and 70s, Western Europe became preoccupied with the Japanese culture, which led to what was known in France as Japonisme. This was reflected in classical music of that period, a good example being Saint-Saëns early, one-act, opéra-comique La Princesse jaune (The Yellow Princess, 1871-72). His second effort in the genre, it's represented here by the "Overture" [T-16], which was discussed in a previous newsletter (see 31 July 2012). Consequently, we'll only add that you'll want to play this totally infectious music over and over again.
With all his duties as an accomplished pianist, organist and composer, to say nothing of extensive travels, Saint-Saëns must have been somewhat forgetful. This seems evidenced by the closing work, his "Ouverture d'un opéra-comique inachevé" ("Overture for an Unfinished Comic Opera", 1854; OCAR) [T-17]. Moreover, he apparently put the score away in a drawer, only to discover it some sixty years later (1913). Then famed English conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961) brought this music back to life, when he premiered the piece in London that same year.
Written around age nineteen, just about the time Camille graduated from the Conservatoire de Paris, where he was an outstanding student, it begins with a happy, innocent tune (HI) [00:01]. HI is repeated [00:48] and bridges [01:30] into increasingly agitated passages [01:52], having ominous, brass outbursts [02:10] and diabolical, three-note phrases (DT) [02:31], which bring to mind his Danse macabre (1873-74; see 31 July 2012).
Subsequently, the music wanes into a tension-building pause, after which HI initiates [02:52] remembrances of the opening measures. They're followed by flighty recollections of HI [03:48] and a commanding, initially brass-accented segment [04:35]. Then the latter launches a DT-riddled coda [05:05], which brings the Overture to a dramatic conclusion.
Here German conductor Jun Märkl continues his exploration of Saint-Saëns' orchestral works (see Naxos-8573732 & 8573745). However, this time around, he directs the Malmö Symphony Orchestra (MSO), which is based at the southern tip of Sweden, some 20 miles across the Øresund from Copenhagen, Denmark.
The MSO is one Sweden's best orchestras, and Maestro Märkl elicits exceptional playing from its musicians. Their enthusiastic, committed performances make a convincing case for some music that in lesser hands could come off as ordinary fare. That said, the MSO flautist deserves a big hand of applause for all that solo work in those fluty Ascanio numbers [T-7, T-9, T-18 & T-19].
Done during August 2018 in Malmö at what's known as the Live Concert Hall, these recordings present a consistently wide soundstage in spacious, reverberant surroundings. That said, the overall instrumental timbre is a mixed bag. Moreover, the highs are sometimes brittle sounding, particularly in the upper registers of the strings and metal percussion instruments. But the midrange is lifelike, while the bass goes down to rockbottom with some pants-flapping whacks on the bass drum that are a bit boomy.
Everything considered, this CD doesn't earn an "Audiophile" stripe. However, the beguiling music on it will soon have pointy-eared listeners forgetting any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P200427)
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Vladigerov, P.: 7 Symphonic Bulgarian Dances, Vardar Rhapsody, Bulgarian Ste; Todorov/Rousse PO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
In the late 1980s Bulgarian folk music became a big hit in the US with the appearance of a Nonesuch LP titled Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices, 1987). This was released on CD in 1990, which led to an increased interest in works by that country's most outstanding, classical composer of the day, Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978).
Born in Zürich, Switzerland to a Bulgarian father and Russian-Jewish mother, Pancho spent his early years there, during which he began playing the piano as well as composing. However, his Dad died when he was around eight, and in 1910 the surviving family moved to Sofia, Bulgaria.
Soon thereafter, Vladigerov began lessons with one the country's major 20th century composers, Dobri Hristov (1875-1941), and would go on to study in Germany at a music school that's since been assimilated into what's now known as the Berlin University of the Arts (1912-20). His teachers there included three, whose names will be familiar to CLOFO readers, namely Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916; see 31 October 2019), Georg Schumann (1866-1952; see 28 November 2012) and Paul Juon (1872-1940; see 31 March 2017).
A highly gifted student, he won the coveted Mendelssohn Scholarship twice (1918 & 1920) and upon graduation, became music director of the German Theater (Deutsches Theater), Berlin. Then in 1932, Pancho returned to Sofia, where he'd spend the rest of his life. He taught music there at what was then called the Bulgarian State Conservatoire, and was so highly regarded that in 2006 it was renamed the National Academy of Music "Prof. Pancho Vladigerov".
Having left a large oeuvre across all genres, today he's considered Bulgaria's greatest composer. This enterprising, recent Naxos release has a good sampling of his symphonic fare. And while there's another Vardar Rhapsody performance currently available on disc, these are the only ones of the other two selections. All three show Vladigerov's penchant for infusing classically structured works with Bulgarian folk material. In that regard he could be considered a Slavic counterpart of Hungarian composers Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967).
Things gets off to an exhilarating start with Seven Symphonic Bulgarian Dances (Op. 23, 1931), which are right up there with those of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) and Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). The first six are in ternary, A-B-A form, and the initial one marked "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-1] has thrilling "A"s on either side of a comparatively furtive "B" [01:25-03:57].
Next, an "Allegro moderato grazioso" ("Moderately fast and graceful") [T-2] occasions flighty sections around a folk-song-like, inner one [01:24-02:36]. Then the following "Presto" ("Very fast") [T-3] features exotic "A"s with a Middle Eastern-sounding tune [00:24], which would be in keeping with his mother's ethnic background. Be that as it may, they bracket a related, jolly "B" [01:31-02:13] and end the dance expeditiously.
The mood becomes more laid-back in the middle "Andante con moto" ("Slow with movement") [T-4], where pensive passages are wrapped around a fetching, whimsical ditty [03:05-04:25]. However, the music once again turns vivacious in the fifth "Vivamente" ("Vigorously") [T-5]. It's reminiscent of the first dance and has ebullient "A"s surrounding a coy "B" [02:25-03:15].
Subsequently, Pancho serves up a subdued "Allegro comodo" ("Moderately fast") [T-6] that's arguably the most moving of the seven. It has an initial, oneiric episode (OE), whose opening measures bring to mind those of German composer Johann Pachelbel's (1653-1706) ever popular Canon and Gigue in D Major (c. 1680) -- is that an accordion in the background [beginning at 00:08]? Anyway, OE is followed by a frolicsome flight of fancy [03:29-05:21], and returns, ending things full circle.
It would seem Vladigerov makes a side trip to Italy with the tarantella-like, concluding dance [T-7]. This gets off to an effervescent, "Animato con vivezza" ("Animated and vivacious") start, and then pounding drums [02:19] initiate "Vivacissimo" ("Extremely lively") passages that bring this toe-tapping work to a whirlwind conclusion.
The program continues with the composer's best-known work, the Vardar Rhapsody (aka Bulgarian Rhapsody (Op. 16, 1928) [T-8], which is his orchestration of an earlier, eponymous piece for violin and piano (Op 16, 1922). It's named after a major river some 300 miles southwest of Sofia that runs through North Macedonia. On that note, this piece could be considered the Bulgarian counterpart of Bedřich Smetana's "Vltava" ("The Moldau"), which is the second of his six musical paintings known collectively as Má Vlast (My Country, 1874).
Pancho's piece is a theme and variations with tone-poem-like, programmatic connotations. However, no underlying story is provided, so we'll make one up as we go along in hopes of better characterizing the music. That said, it begins effusively, hinting at the main subject (MS), which is a flowing, majestic melody [00:11], presumably representing the Vardar. MS then becomes playful (MP) [01:40], suggesting all those bubbling springs that give birth to this river, and a subsequent, graceful treatment [01:58] implies their confluence into an impressive, moving body of water.
After a brief break, the music turns agitated [03:02], conjuring images of rapids with snare-drum rocks. Subsequently, gliding, sporty passages [04:29] suggest kayakers and canoeists enjoying a day on the Vardar.
Then there's an anticipatory pause, and MS makes a big tune return [06:42] that becomes leisurely. This could infer nightfall on the river, and going on that assumption, subsequent, perky passages [08:47] ostensibly limn sunrise [08:47] with morning birds singing [09:00]. They seemingly proclaim another day of fun and frolic on the beautiful blue Danube -- oops, Vardar – sorry 'bout that, Johann!
This engaging release closes with the composer's four-movement Bulgarian Suite (Op. 21, 1927). The opening "Quasi marcia" ("March-like") [T-9] has an initial, somewhat MP-reminiscent, catchy tune (MC) along the lines of that old familiar favorite, the first of Franz Schubert's three Marches Militaires (D 733, Op. 51, No. 1; 1918).
MC is then repeated [01:37] and undergoes an airy, pastoral treatment [01:48], after which it makes a triumphal return [03:52]. This calls up a thrilling, MC-based coda [05:14] that ends the movement with an exultant forte whoop [05:30].
The succeeding "Chant" [T-10] is a moving reverie of post-romantic persuasion, having impressionistic touches. Stylistically, it owes a debt to Alexander Scriabin's (1872-1915) later symphonic works (1902-08) and Ottorino Respighi's (1879-1936) more opulent fare, such as his Roman Trilogy (1914-28).
Next up, an invigorating "Chorovodna" ("Round Dance") [T-11], this being another ternary utterance (see above). Here whirling "A"s with a folksy, jocund tune [00:51] cavort around a capricious "B" [02:49-04:36], which is arguably reminiscent of excited passages in Paul Dukas' (1865-1935) The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897). Then the movement closes with a dashing cadence.
Last but not least, there's a convivial "Ratchenitsa" ("Line Dance") [T-12] based on a delightful, pixilated ditty (DP) [00:33], smacking of impish moments in Paul Hindemith's (1895-1963) Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943). DP undergoes a zesty development [03:40] and returns [06:23], ending the work and this superb release on a Bulgarian high.
These performances by the Rousse Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) under one of the composer's compatriots, conductor Nayden Todorov, are totally committed. Maestro Todorov's attention to dynamics, phrasing and rhythmic detail makes a strong case for Vladigerov's folk wine in classical bottles.
All three works are brilliantly scored for large forces, and beautifully captured on recordings made during 2016 in Bulgaria at the RPO's Concert Hall located in their hometown (also spelled "Ruse"), some 150 miles west-northwest of Sofia. They present a generous soundstage in warm. enrichingly reverberant surroundings, and will be particularly appealing to those liking wetter sonics.
The orchestral timbre is characterized by superb highs, where the string tone is as good as it gets on conventional CDs. That said, the midrange is lush and well-focused, while the low end goes down to rock bottom with some pants-flapping whacks on the bass drum. Audiophiles will want to take this disc along on their next highend shopping expedition!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200426)
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