CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 AUGUST 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.
Catoire, G.: Stg Qnt, Andante (stg qt), Pno Trio, Deux Poèmes (pno); Catoire En [Challenge]
RECOMMENDED Best Find (1 CD)
Georgy Catoire (1861-1926) was born in Moscow to French parents, who'd moved there some forty years earlier (1817). We've already lauded a couple of his orchestral works (see 14 May 2012 and 16 January 2013). Now this recent Challenge release gives us some of this composer-pianist's exquisite chamber music. In that regard, the great Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) remarked about the talent young Georgy had displayed in an early string quartet of 1886, and went on to encouraged his compositional efforts.
Unfortunately, Catoire was apparently his own worst critic and destroyed most of it, except for the Andante. Then around 1888 he'd write another (Op. 4), but this was never published, and the manuscript now seems to be lost. However, it was the basis for a Quintet, calling for an additional cello (Op. 4a; c. 1888).
The surviving Andante as well as the Quintet receive their world premiere recordings here. They're accompanied by a couple of other selections, these being the only readily available versions of them now on conventional disc. Incidentally, the album notes are somewhat strange in that the movements of all these works are simply listed as "Part 1", Part 2", "Part 3" or "Part 4".
Our program begins with the Quintet, which has four movements. The first ("Part 1") [T-1] is in sonata-form with an opening statement (OS), having a laidback preface [00:00]. This hints at a couple of themes, the initial one being of a cheerfully spirited disposition (CS) [00:58]. CS is explored and followed by a related, folksong-like thought (CF) [02:13] that's rhapsodized.
OS is then repeated [03:29], subsequently becoming the material for an excited development [06:10] and recap [08:13]. The latter has a CS-based, nostalgic coda [11:52], which closes the movement with an emphatic, forte "So, there!" cadence [12:14].
The scherzo-like "Part 2" [T-2] sports flighty, outer sections [00:00 & 05:28] based on a twitchy tune. They surround a related pensive trio (PT) [01:57-05:27], and the closing one has a PT-inspired afterthought [07:21]. It ends the movement with a spirited gesture [08:08], recalling the opening measures.
Whimsy turns to woe in "Part 3" [T-3]. Here a sorrowful episode [00:01] introduces a CF-reminiscent, keening melody (CK) [01:07]. CK invokes a poignant contemplation that waxes and peacefully wanes into oblivion.
Then "Part 4" [T-4] is announced by scampering passages [00:00], which conjure up a CS-related, perky idea (CP) [00:08]. CP is the recurring subject for a rondoesque cavort, where it undergoes several, vivacious treatments. The last ebbs into a punchy hint of CP [05:53], which terminates the Quintet with a forceful, final flourish.
That Andante from the original Quartet (1886) is next [T-5]. Marked "Part 2" here, this was presumably the work's second movement, and it gets off to a hesitant start [00:03], soon followed by a gentle, thematic nexus (GN) [00:08]. GN has a couple of intimate thoughts that undergo three treatments. They're respectively searching [01:17], agitated [03:50] and nostalgic [05:41], with the last subsides into reminders of GN [06:37], which bring the music to a nostalgic, tranquil conclusion.
The concert continues with Georgy's three-movement Piano Trio (Op. 14, 1899-1902). While this is at heart a Russian work, there are moments of French as well as German tenor. The latter undoubtedly stem from the composer's studies in Berlin (1885-87), where he developed a great liking for Wagner (1813-1883).
The first movement ("Part 1") [T-6] is marked "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") on the score. It has a rising piano preface (RP) [00:00], succeeded by a lovely, swaying theme (LS) [00:06] that brings to mind the one at the beginning of Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio (A minor, Op. 50; 1881-82). LS then undergoes a captivating development [00:40], having a big-tune version of itself [01:24] and virtuosic passages [02:12].
These give way to a pensive contemplation of LS [03:10], which ebbs and flows, calling up a powerful restatement of it [06:47]. This invokes a capricious episode [07:46] and subsequent coda [10:18] that ends the movement euphorically.
An "Allegretto fantastico" ("Lively and fanciful") "Part 2" [T-7] smacks of music by the composer's fellow countryman and contemporary, Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915); namely, his Piano Trio's (D major, Op. 22; 1906-08) "Allegro molto - Tema con variazioni" ("Very fast - Theme with variations"), second movement. It has tuneful, pixilated sections [00:01-02:50 & 06:12-08:35] that alternate with related, reflective ones [02:51-06:11 & 08:36-10:01], the last of which invokes a quiet conclusion.
The spirited "Part 3" [T-8] is marked "Molto allegro agitato" ("Very fast and excited") and begins with an RP-triggered, charging version of LS (RS) [00:00]. RS is then the basis for a couple of lyrical treatments [00:56 & 01:19] that become increasingly agitated. They give way to some piano fireworks [02:05] and the forceful return of RS [02:19]. The latter calls up yearning [03:15], coy [04:44], anxious [05:14] and troubled [05:48] versions of LS. Then a triumphant one [07:21] waxes and wanes, ending the Trio somberly.
This invaluable release closes with a couple of Catoire's short piano works, and they'll leave you wanting to hear more! They're the first two selections from his Quatre Morceaux (Four Pieces, Op. 34; 1924-26), where each of them is referred to as a "Poème". However, the ones here are collectively titled Deux Poèmes (Two Poems), but given separate tracks.
Both are impressionistic and call to mind the piano oeuvre of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) and Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). The first ("Part 1") [T-9] has dreamy passages that bracket an increasingly agitated episode and end the piece in the same mood it began. Then a searching second ("Part 2") [T-10] with dabs of Debussy (1862-1918) closes this disc on a somewhat gloomy note.
The Catoire Ensemble (pianist Anna Zassimova [T-6,7,8,9,10], violinists Maria Milstein [T-1,2,4,5] & Boris Tsoukkerman [T-1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8], violist Julia Dinerstein [T-1,2,3,4,5], cellists Sebastiaan van Halsema [T-1,2,3,4], Stephen Heber [T-6,7,8] & Ketevan Roinishvili [T-1,2,3,4]) give superb accounts of this music. They make a strong case for a composer who deserves much wider attention.
As for the recordings, the solo piano ones most likely date from 2010, and find the instrument well captured in an intimate, unidentified venue, probably somewhere in Germany. The others were made on three occasions in July and December 2015 at the Power Sound Studio Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
The later ones present a modest sonic image in a warm, intimate venue. The strings are centered from left to right in order of increasing size with the piano between the violin and cello for the Trio. All are convincingly captured as well as balanced against one another. While the overall sound is good, this disc won't win any audio awards. On the other hand, these Russian rarities will certainly qualify it as one of the "Best Finds of 2020".
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P200831)
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Čiurlionis: Kęstutis, In the Forest, The Sea; Pitrėnas/Lith NSO [Ondine]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Back in the dim distant past we told CLOFO readers about a couple of rare, superb symphonic poems by Lithuanian-born, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911). This release makes it worth bringing them to your attention again as those versions had suffered cuts and were reorchestrated, whereas these are the restored, original ones. They make their first appearance on disc along with the premiere recording of an overture by this composer.
The program begins with the latter, which is titled "Kęstutis" after a renowned, Lithuanian Duke (1297-1382), who ruled that country during medieval times (1342-61 & 1382). Completed back in 1902, only parts of it have come down to us. But Mikalojus' fellow countryman and colleague, composer Jurgis Juozapaitis (b. 1942; no discs of his music readily available at this time), recently reconstructed it from the piano manuscript, and that's what we have here.
It has a pensive beginning [00:01], which builds into a dramatic, nationalistic-sounding section (DN) [02:00] with a hymnlike tune that may well be folk-oriented [03:27]. This gives way to nostalgic passages [04:29], which evoke a DN-reminiscent, martial episode [05:42], presumably reflecting the Duke's many battles. These ebb with a drum roll [07:22] into a longing afterthought [07:53] that closes the piece quietly in the same spirit it began.
The two poems were written on either side of the preceding work. They're landmarks in Lithuanian symphonic fare and teasers for numerous other orchestral pieces the composer sketched, but never finished. Brilliantly scored, late-romantic, through-composed creations, they reflect his studies of Hector Berlioz' (1803-1869) writings regarding orchestration, as well as Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) oeuvre in this genre.
"In the Forest" ("Miške"; 1900-01) is a gorgeous, arboraceous creation, which seemingly limns dark, green woodlands with chirping birds. There's also a brief episode, that could be a passing storm [08:46-09:49]. But in the end, everything comes to a peaceful conclusion.
"The Sea" ("Jūra"; 1903-07) at a little over half an hour is the composer's largest surviving symphonic poem. It includes an organ [T-3] as in Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Op. 30; 1895-96), and starts with a captivating, four-note-dominated thought (CF) [00:00-00:12 & 01:43-02:09]. CF recurs throughout the work and brings to mind Berlioz' use of what he called an idée fixe.
This brilliantly scored, pelagic piece flows in melodic waves, ostensibly depicting those vast bodies of water covering 70% of Earth's surface. Then troubled passages [04:31-05:35] followed by flowing ones that become increasingly agitated [beginning at 12:50], seemingly depict a tempest at sea.
However, the skies ostensibly clear to radiant outbursts of CF [17:27], and laidback passages [22:55] conjure thoughts of a vast heavenly expanse with twinkling stars [24:49 & 26:17]. Subsequent, nostalgic thoughts are followed by triumphant allusions to CF [31:23], which end the work all aglow.
The performances by the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSO) under the composer's fellow countryman Modestas Pitrėnas, who's the LNSO's principal conductor and artistic director, certainly do justice to these magnificent scores. Their playing is highly enthusiastic, but at the same time sensitive enough to bring out all the subtleties of three Baltic gems, thereby precluding their becoming romantic wallows.
Dating from April and October 2019, the recordings were made at the Lithuanian National Culture Centre's recording studio (no photos readily available) in Vilnius. They present a wide, withdrawn, sonic image in pleasant, warm surroundings.
These serviceable-sounding accounts are characterized by rounded highs with occasional digital artifacts, an adequate midrange and bass that goes down to rockbottom with a bit of boom. This release won't win any audiophile awards, and some listeners may find it comes off better on headphones as opposed to speakers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P200830)
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Sinigaglia: Cpte Stg Qt Wks V1 (Conc-Étude, 2 Character Pcs, Vars on a…, Scherzo, Hora..., Qt in D); Archos Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Composer Leone Sinigaglia (1868-1944) was born in Turin, about 60 miles west-southwest of Milan, to middle-upper-class, Jewish parents. He'd first study music at the local conservatory, and was an avid mountaineer, who made many ascents in the neighboring Dolemites of Northeastern Italy. There's a sense of drama pervading his works, which one could imagine akin to what he must have felt scaling those scenic peaks.
In any case, 1894 saw him move to Vienna, and for the next six years he became an associate of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), who greatly influenced him. Then 1900-01 saw him move to Prague and spend a year, working with Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904. After that, he again took up residence in Turin, where he pursued a successful career for the next forty years.
But that Bob Dylan song, "The Times They Are a-Changin'" seems particularly descriptive of his last years there as by 1944 the Nazis dominated Europe, and their anti-Semitic policies were being implemented in Italy. Consequently, when the 75-year-old composer checked into a local hospital with coronary problems, he was arrested by the SS (Schutzstaffel) for deportation to one of the Nazi concentration camps. This led to his having a fatal heart attack, which in retrospect was probably a blessing in disguise!
With this release Naxos serves up their enterprising, first volume devoted to Leone's complete works for string quartet. The six on this CD are all world premiere recordings, and the only versions currently available on disc.
The program begins with his Concert-Étude in D major (Op. 5; 1901) [T-1]. This was penned in Prague for the Bohemian Quartet (BQ; 1891-1934), and Leone may well have known one of the BQ's founding members, famed Czech composer-violinist Josef Suk (1874-1935). Based on an attractive flighty theme heard at the outset [00:01], it's a concert study that's a delightfully spirited, melodic, virtuosic frolic for all four musicians with a playful ending.
Next, Zwei Characterstücke (Two Characteristic Pieces, Op. 35; 1910), both of which are congenial miniatures. The wistful "Regenlied" ("Rain Song") [T-2] conjures images of a peaceful, raindrop-glistening countryside. While "Étude-caprice" ("Capricious Study") [T-2] is a captivating, perky ditty.
Moving right along to more serious fare, we get Variations on a Theme of Brahms (Op. 22; 1901). This opens with a catchy, angular subject (CA) [T-4] that seems derivative of the one beginning the third movement of Johannes' First Piano Quartet (G minor, Op. 25; 1855-61).
Then there are sixteen tiny variations. These range from waltzlike [T-5] to songish [T-6, 11, 12 & 13], sorrowful [T-7], playful [T-8, 10, 16, 19 & 20], resigned [T-9], whimsical [T-14], searching [T-15 &18] and lullabyesque [T-17]. The last [T-20] has a closing allusion to CA [00:24], which ends the work full circle.
Written during his years in Vienna, the succeeding Scherzo (Op. 8; 1892) has lively outer passages [00:00 & 01:52] based on a scampering idea. They surround a related cantilena-like trio section [01:13-01:51] and finish the piece with a pizzicato flourish [03:26].
Pleasantry turns to piety in Hora Mystica (The Mystic Hour; 1890) [T-22]. A ternary, A-B-A form creation, it's dedicated to Italian Sculptor Leonardo Bistolfi (1859-1933), who was a family friend. Here melancholy "A"s [00:00 & 01:59] surround a reverent "B" [00:59-01:55] and close this utterance tenderly.
Last but far from least, there's the pièce de résistance on this engaging disc, the composer's String Quartet in D major (Op. 27, 1902). Here the training he received in Vienna and Prague comes to the fore in this beautifully structured piece. Not only that, it abounds with that sense of lyricism, which typifies the music of his native land.
In four movements, the first "Allegro comodo" ("Moderately fast") [T-23] is in conventional sonata form with an opening statement, having two, folklike, main ideas. Respectively songlike (FS) [00:00] and coquettish [01:42], they undergo a skillful, spirited development [03:02]. Then there's an FS-initiated verbatim recap [06:05] that concludes the movement perfunctorily.
The "Allegro vivo" ("Fast and lively") [T-24] scherzo has quaint outer sections [00:00 & 04:24] based on a catchy tune (QC). These surround a serenade-like episode [02:27-04:22] with a QC-related theme and end things as they began.
It's succeeded by a theme-and-variations-like "Adagio non troppo" ("Slow but not overly so") [T-25]. Here a sad, searching thought [00:00] gives rise to four variants. The first two are tearful [01:12] and sobbing [02:34]. However, the mood brightens with a somewhat hopeful third [04:55], after which a contented fourth [06:39] closes the movement tranquilly.
Bringing this work to a jolly conclusion, there's a sonata-rondoesque romp [T-26], whose exposition starts with a carefree, hop-and-skip theme (CH) [00:00]. It has a graceful, one-time countersubject [00:49] that bridges into a wistful version of CH (CW) [01:25], which is explored [02:03]. Subsequently, the return of CH [02:35] invokes a development [02:59] and recapitulation [04:47]. Here CW [05:36] calls up a CH-based, frenetic coda [06:29], which terminates the work in a state of joyful excitement.
Founded in 2009, the young, prize-winning, German-based Archos Quartet (AQ) is featured here. When these performances took place, the AQ was made up of Polish violinists Filip Jeska (I) and Mikołaj Pokora (II), Bulgarian violist Radenko Kostadinov, plus Italian cellist Francesca Fiore. They deliver enthusiastic, committed accounts of some chamber rarities that are a significant addition to what's now on disc.
The recordings were done during early 2019 at the Adam Mickiewicz University's Acoustics Recording Studio (no photos readily available) in Poznań, Poland, about 170 miles west of Warsaw. They project a suitably sized sonic image in pleasant, warm surroundings, where there's no feeling of that confinement sometimes associated with venues of this type.
Centered from left to right in order of increasing size, the instruments are well balanced against one another. The string tone is as good as it gets on conventional discs, and consequently, this release earns an "Audiophile" stripe. By the way, pointy-eared listeners will note a momentary, awkward edit in the Variations... [T-6, 00:12].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200829)
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Stevens, Robin: Stg Qnt, Stg Qts 1 & 2 "Three Portraits"; Botbol/Behn Qt [Divine Art]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Born to a musical family in Newport, Wales, just northeast of Cardiff, Robin Stevens (b. 1958) would grow up some 60 miles west-southwest of London in Winchester, England. It's home to a Gothic cathedral that's one of Europe's largest. Incidentally, older CLOFO readers may remember this vast house of worship was the inspiration for a British song that appeared in 1966 and gained world-wide popularity.
As a youngster Robin belonged to a local church choir and played cello with a nearby youth orchestra. Then at sixteen, Stevens attended the Dartington College of Arts, Devon, England, where he took two-years of preparatory music courses, and began composing works heavily modelled after those of the great German classical as well as early romantic composers. All this led to further studies at the University of Manchester (UMan) in addition to the Royal College of Music, London.
By age twenty he'd gotten a degree from the UMan and would spend five years (1978-1983) as Music Director of St. Paul's Church in York, England, about 60 miles east-northeast of Manchester. During this time, Stevens wrote a considerable amount of church music in addition to some chamber pieces, one being the initial version of the Quintet presented here.
Subsequently, he took a year of teacher training and became head of the Music Department at a Yorkshire County secondary school. However, this only lasted until 1990, when he contracted a debilitating virus and resultant fatigue that kept him out of work for the next seventeen years. These unfortunate circumstances left this budding composer only able to write small pieces. They were mostly for cello and piano, but there were also some for a variety of wind instruments (see Divine Art-25194).
However, time passed and by 2007 Robin had regained his strength, allowing him to spend the next six years getting a PhD at the UMan. He'd also tutor 9 and 10-year-olds in the three Rs, which is a pursuit he's followed to this day.
With his recovery, Stevens has set himself the task of creating a portfolio of larger scale works, and the ones here represent a good start. They include the recording debut of an extensively reworked Quintet (see above), and the only performances of the two Quartets now readily available on disc.
String Quintets are usually scored for two violins, viola and cello plus an additional viola, as exemplified by Dvořák's (1841-1904) American one (No. 3 in E♭ major, Op. 97, B 180; 1893). However, like Schubert's (1797-1828) late effort in the genre (C major, Op. 163, D 956; 1828), Robin's has another cello instead of the viola. It's not that surprising, when you consider the composer is an accomplished cellist, and this scoring produces a richer sound.
On that note, this four-movement piece was originally written in 1980-81, during his time at St. Paul's (see above). Then the year 2018 saw him revise it for this recording in accord with his more mature style of some thirty-seven years later.
He describes the first movement [T-1] as an introduction and "ensuing extended adaptation of Sonata Form". Respectively marked "Adagio non troppo" ("Slow, but not too laid-back") and "Allegro molto moderato" ("Fast, but very moderate"), the former has an initial, yearning, cello thought (FY) [00:01], which is soon picked up by the other instruments [00:34]. Then the music bridges into the next part, whose exposition has two, FY-reminiscent, main subjects that are flighty (FF) [01:26] and waltzlike (FW) [03:06].
The foregoing material undergoes a testy development [beginning at 03:42], and an excited, fortissimo FF initiates a recap [05:53] with nostalgic reminders of FY [07:20] and FW [07:41 & 08:19]. They evoke an FY-based coda [08:46] having pizzicato teardrops [09:11] as well as wisps of FW [09:49] and FY [09:55] that end the movement in the same mood it opened.
Next, an "Allegro vivace" ("Lively and vivacious") scherzo [T-2] that starts as advertised with a catchy, syncopated theme (CS) [00:00] followed by a lyrical idea for the violin (CL) [00:27]. Subsequently, the viola introduces a CL-based trio [02:42], which wanes into a break and stoic reminder of CL [04:12]. Then, like the middle movements of his compatriot Sir Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) First Symphony (A♭ major, Op. 55; 1907-08), the music proceeds attacca into the third "Adagio non troppo" ("Slow, but not too laid-back") " [T-3].
Here, an initial, tender, mellow melody (TM) for viola [00:00] is restated by the first-violin [00:52], and to quote the composer, "against a 'Bluesy', second-violin countersubject" (TB) [00:57]. The foregoing is briefly explored [01:36], giving rise to an FY-derived pensive thought [02:04] that's the subject for a distraught fugue (DF).
This ends suddenly with a caesura, after which the first-violin launches into a TM-based, contemplative recitative [04:11] that gives way to a rapturous treatment of TM [05:08] and melancholy hint of DF [06:18]. Then amorous memories of the opening measures [06:46] are followed by allusions to TB [07:19] in the first-violin's upper-registers, which close things mysteriously.
The "Allegro non troppo" ("Fast, but to too quickly") finale [T-4] is structurally similar to the first movement. It has a nervous preface [00:00], hinting at the immediately forthcoming exposition's first subject that seems like an agitated variant of FY (FA) [00:25].
Then there's a pause and emphatic, three-note motif played by the cellos (ET) [00:49]. This invokes passages with violin cries, that lead to an FF-reminiscent, songlike idea (FS) [01:22] intoned by the first-violin. It's caressingly repeated by the second cello [01:42], and gives way to a lurching, syncopated third thought (LS) [02:10].
LS launches a captivating development [02:21] with the return of FA [04:10], which starts what amounts to a note-for-note recapitulation. The latter is succeeded by an FA-initiated, ET-riddled coda [06:20] that ends the work exuberantly.
The program continues with the composer's two String Quartets written after those problem years mentioned above. He gives a good rundown on both in the album notes, so we'll just make some general comments about them, and begin by saying they're stylistically birds of a different feather from the Quintet. Whereas that was of late-romantic persuasion, both of these are austere-sounding, contemporary pieces.
Stevens penned No. 1 during his initial year of those PhD studies (2008), and this is in a single movement lasting just over half an hour [T-5]. It falls into three, adjoining sections, the first of which [00:00] introduces most of the thematic material. This includes several, dissonant thoughts with widely spaced intervals, and a contrasting, sorrowful, lyrical one of narrow melodic range (SL) [02:29]. Then there's a twenty-minute developmental core [04:32] with alternating fast and slow episodes.
Those in the first category are contrapuntally embellished, disputatious passages, whose scoring Robin tells us was inspired by some he'd come across, when he studied American composer Elliott Carter's (1908-2012) initial effort in this genre (No. 1; 1959). That said, the slower ones are generally less contrapuntal, more direct, and of lyrical disposition.
The foregoing is followed by fidgety hints of SL [25:29] that trigger the third section, which is an extensive, closing coda, where our old friend SL surfaces on the viola [25:57]. Subsequently, the music becomes generally simpler with less contrapuntal spicing. It transitions into a flighty thought [30:03] reminiscent of the Chopin (1810-1849) Third Piano Sonata's (B♭ minor, Op. 58; 1844) closing measures. And then the work ends with a cheeky, hee-haw flourish [30:53].
In 2011 Stevens completed his Second Quartet, which bears the subtitle "Three Portraits", connoting programmatic associations. In four short movements the first three are adjoining, theme-and-variation-like, character studies of different personality types as indicated by their respective markings (see below). What's more, underlying thematic bonds between them imply the people involved are members of the same family.
The first "Impulsive One" [T-6] has an initial, antic idea [00:01], followed by a mishmash of treatments. These range from songish [00:20] to whimsical [00:57], jeering [01:29], dancelike [02:07], flighty [03:16] and canonically strident [03:59].
This music proceeds attacca into "God-Seeker" [T-7], featuring a keening cello [04:22]. It opens with a pious chorale-like main subject (PC) [00:00] with several variants. These are all of a melodically prayerful disposition, except for the last [04:25], which is an eerie utterance with a final pizzicato exclamation point.
Then after a brief pause, we get "Arguer" [T-8]. This takes the form of a frenetic dance with Eastern-European-folk overtones. It's the most contrapuntal movement here and ends with a rowdy number [02:55] that suddenly vanishes.
The fourth movement marked "Epilogue" [T-9] is a tranquil, PC-initiated recap, referencing the previous studies. Here, according to the composer, "all family squabbles are mercifully reconciled..."
Our core performing group on this release is the all ladies Behn Quartet (English first violinist Kate Oswin, Dutch second violinist Alicia Berendse, Portuguese violist Ana Teresa de Braga e Alves & New Zealander cellist Ghislaine McMullin). Formed in 2015, they chose to name themselves after seventeenth century, English woman playwright-poet-writer Aphra Behn (1640-1689). And with a little help from prize-winning, Swiss cellist Timothée Botbol in the Quintet, they deliver superb, sensitive accounts of these selections.
Made in January and July 2019 at St. Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, the recordings project a generously proportioned soundstage that's amazingly well focused despite significantly reverberant surroundings. The strings have an agreeable brightness, which complements the wiry Quartets. Contemporary chamber music enthusiasts as well as those audiophiles, who like wetter sonics, will like this disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200828)
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Weiland, D.: Stg Qts 4 & 5; Melbourne Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Composer-violinist Douglas Weiland (b. 1954) hales from Great Malvern, Worcestershire, England, about 100 miles northwest of London. and the year 1978 saw him begin his career as a violinist with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Then in 1985, he journeyed to the land "Down Under", and helped found the Australian String Quartet (ASQ), of which he was a member for the next five years.
During this time Douglas wrote several pieces, that resulted in a number of commissions. These lead to his becoming a full-time composer in 1990, and accordingly, he's produced a variety of well-received works. They include six string quartets, although it seems the Second was never completed. Be that as it may, today's critics consider them some of the best contemporary ones. That said, his skill in writing for this medium was undoubtedly helped by the years he spent with the ASQ, where he got to know many of the masterworks in this genre.
The two on this release are both world premiere recordings, and the album notes contain a prolix, tonal-oriented analysis of them. It's by the first violinist here, Australian-born William Hennessy (b. 1965), who was also one of the ASQ's founding fathers. Consequently, we'll just make some general comments about them.
Weiland's Fourth (Op. 50; 2011) is in five movements like Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) penultimate String Quartet (No. 5, Sz 102, BB 110; 1934), and begins "Allegretto" ("Lively") [T-4] with a tone-row-like, descending thematic nexus (TD) [00:04]. TD is explored [01:26] and followed by an "Andante" ("Slow"), aria-like treatment [05:58] that has a tunefulness, smacking of Schubert's (1797-1828) songs (1811-27). Then spirited "Allegro" ("Fast") [07:06] passages bring this movement to a frenetic conclusion.
Next, a "Misterioso, quasi allegretto" ("Mysterious, and somewhat lively") marked "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-5]. This is a TD-related contemplation with eerie twitches [00:08, 02:31, 05:00 & 05:20] and ghostly shimmers [00:26, 03:56 & 05:32].
After that, the composer serves up something called a "Scherzo Germanesque" ("Germanic scherzo") [T-6], where Schubert's music again comes to mind. It has a playful, "Allegro giocoso" beginning based on a capricious, skipping idea (CS) [00:00]. This is followed by a pause and pensive, thematically related "Largo molto espressivo" ("Slow and very expressive") trio [03:39] with wisps of CS. Then "Presto" ("Very Fast") passages [07:57], recalling the movement's opening measures, end things with a tonally striking cadence [09:46].
A brief "Intermezzo pastorale ("Bucolic scherzo") [T-7] provides a peaceful respite, before the concluding, fifth movement [T-8]. Here an initial, buzzing main subject [00:00] undergoes several treatments of differing temperament. These range from searching [01:20] to agitated [02:43], wistful [03:01] and whimsical [05:11]. Then the latter bridges into a waltzlike one [06:35] with spooky passages [08:11] that end the work in creepy fashion.
A year later, Douglas completed his Fifth Quartet (Op. 51; 2012). There's a structural simplicity and straightforwardness about this three-movement work similar to some of Franz Josef Haydn's (1732-1809) in the same genre (1762-1803).
It gets off to an "Allegro" ("Fast") start with a downward, tone-row-like, sighing theme (TS) [T-1, 00:04]. Then TS undergoes an intermittently lively examination [00:57] that falls away into a "molto moderato" ("very moderate") postscript [04:42] and successive, high-stepping "quasi Alla Marcia" ("like a march") [05:06]. The latter concludes the movement with a TS-related, commanding, cadence [05:55-06:03].
Subsequently, there's a "Siciliana La Toscana" [T-2]. Presumably named after the beautiful Tuscany region of Italy, which is known worldwide for its Chianti wine, this is for the most part a genteel dance (GD).
It's followed by a spirited, closing movement [T-3], having an antic "Introduction" [00:00]. Then a GD-reminiscent, scherzo-like "Allegro" ("fast") [01:26] segment is succeeded by a nostalgic "Adagio" ("Slow") one [05:57]. The latter gives way to a "Presto" ("Very fast") [06:48] passages that end the Quartet with a jolly flourish.
The Australian Melbourne Quartet (MQ), whose members include William Hennessy (violin I), who was mentioned above, Markiyan Melnychenko (violin II), Keith Crellin (viola) and Michael Dahlenburg (cello), deliver totally committed, sensitive accounts of both works. These selections make it easy to understand why Weiland is considered one of today's finest composers in this medium.
As for the recordings, they were made on two occasions in late 2018 at the Iwaki Auditorium in Melbourne, and project a lifelike sonic image in pleasant surroundings. The instruments are centered from left to right in order of increasing size, and accurately captured as well as balanced against one another.
The string tone is a tad wiry in the upper registers, but otherwise about as good as it gets on conventional discs. Everything considered, this release merits an "Audiophile" rating. However, some listeners may want to tweak their tone/equalization controls for a more rounded sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200827)
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