CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 OCTOBER 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.
Dawson, Wm. L.: Negro Folk Symphony; Kay, U.: Fantasy Variations, Umbrian Scene; Fagen/Vien RSO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
During his long career, famed conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) gave innumerable, US premieres of works by composers from Europe, Russia and the New World. One of them, which took place with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1934, featured the initial, 1932-34 version of African-American William Levi Dawson's (1899-1990) Negro Folk Symphony. It got a highly enthusiastic reception, and there were another couple of follow-up performances, after which it disappeared from concert halls.
However, on the heels of a trip the composer made to Africa, the year 1952 saw him make some significant, rhythmic modifications to it based on the music he'd heard there. This later version is presented here, and paired with a couple of orchestral selections by one of his contemporaries and fellow countrymen, Ulysses Simpson Kay (1917-1995). These are the only readily available recordings of them currently on disc.
In three movements the Symphony's opening one titled "The Bond of Africa" [T-1] is in sonata form. It has a somber introduction beginning with the French horn playing a plaintive, pentatonic motif (PP) [00:00] that's repeated by the cor anglais [00:58]. PP will become an idée-fixe, which according to the composer is meant to represent the "missing link" (sic) in the human chain, "when the first African was taken from the shores of his native land and sent to slavery".
The foregoing is food for a pensive episode [01:28] that wanes into the exposition [02:42]. Here the horn introduces a cheery first subject (C1) [02:44], succeeded by delightful, scampering passages, which bring to mind moments in the last movement of Dvorak's (1841-1904) From the New World Symphony (No. 9, E minor, Op. 95/B 178; 1893).
They're succeeded by a lively second theme (L2) soon played by the oboe [04:24]. It undergoes a captivating examination [04:42] punctuated with rhythms based on the Juba dance (see 8 February 2012), which was brought by slaves from what was then the Kingdom of Kongo to plantations in South Carolina. Incidentally, L2 recalls the spiritual "My Little Soul's Goin' to Shine", and will be followed throughout the rest of the work by more tunes hinting at other, lesser-known ones.
After that, wafts of PP initiate a rousing, well-crafted development [05:39] as well as the recapitulation [08:38]. The latter brings back memories of the opening measures, and invokes a thrilling C1-based coda [11:36] that ends the movement excitedly.
Next Dawson serves up "Hope in the Night" [T-2], which is of ternary, A-B-A persuasion, and could be considered the Symphony's slow movement and scherzo rolled into one. Moreover, the opening "A" starts with three, solemn gong strokes [00:00] that according to the composer represented the Trinity "that guides the destiny of man." They're succeeded by the cor anglais playing a despondent, inverted version of PP (PD) [00:15], which Dawson said was meant to suggest "the monotonous life of the people who were held in bondage for 250 years."
But dolor turns to happiness in the subsequent "B" that features a scherzando, coltish ditty (SC) introduced by two oboes [02:45]. We're told SC reflects "the merry play of children yet unaware of the hopelessness beclouding their future." It gives way to PP [03:53] that suddenly quits, and is succeeded by a PD-tinged, pensive, trio-like segment scored for string quartet plus solo woodwinds [04:13]. Then SC [05:35] brings back "B".
This leads to a pause and the return of "A", where we get a big-tune, timpani-chime-enhanced reappearance of PD [07:16]. The latter waxes and wanes with fatalistic, drumbeat-underscored passages [11:14], which bring the movement to a pessimistic conclusion.
The closing one [T-3] is called "O, Le' Me Shine like a morning Star!" after a little-known spiritual (no readily available examples). It's also in sonata form, and begins with shimmering strings [00:00], over which woodwinds descant a reverent theme (R1) [00:03], presumably based on the title tune.
Then R1 undergoes a brief exploration that gives way to a second, ebullient idea (E2) introduced by the oboe [01:23] and clarinet [01:31]. Incidentally, E2 is derived from the spiritual "Hallelujah, I've Been Down Into the Sea" [01:01].
Subsequently, R1 calls up a consummate, dramatic development [02:13] with Juba-dance-like (see above) snatches of E2 [03:29], and triggers an antsy recapitulation [06:05]. This has a forceful, syncopated, timpani-laced coda [07:53], which ends this treasurable work with a forte, cadential flourish for full orchestra [08:07].
Next, those two selections by Ulysses Kay, who was a student of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), and would compose a large number of classical, concert-hall works, plus many scores for film as well as TV. Both pieces here fall into the first category and were written in response to commissions he got in 1963.
Fantasy Variations (1963) [T-4] like Vincent d'Indy's (1851-1931) Istar (1896; see 25 April 2010), is a "bassackwards" theme-and-variations, where the main subject doesn't appear until the very end. That said, the work opens with a rhapsodic introduction [00:00] where a French horn plays a rising, four-note motif in the phrygian mode. This is the cellular seed for thirteen, subsequent, colorful variations of diatonic and chromatic temperament that are spiced with dissonance as well as some tone clusters.
The first of these variants range from flighty [01:22] to snarling [02:11], expansive [03:08], whimsical [04:20], laid-back [05:12], mysterious [06:26], hymnlike [07:05], yearning [08:05], agitated [09:32] and reserved [10:29]. Then a couple of scherzoesque ones [11:57] adjoin a heroic precursor of the main theme [14:28], followed by the brass playing a chorale-like version of it [16:01]. This is picked up by the strings [16:41], but fades away, thereby bringing the work to a tranquil conclusion.
Moving right along, there's the other Kay selection titled Umbrian Scene [T-5]. This is a restful tone-picture that the composer says was inspired by time spent in Italy during 1950, when he won the 1949 Prix de Rome. Moreover, Ulysses tells us it reflects memories of cultural events, historic towns, and the rugged hills as well as beautiful valleys in Umbria, some seventy miles north of Rome.
Despite an Italian setting, the piece is quite Germanic in temperament! It smacks of Franz Schreker's (1878-1934) expressionism as well as the sound world of those composers, who comprised the Second Viennese School. That said, there is one brief segment [09:11-9:47] that brings to mind moments in Ottorino Respighi's (1879-1936) Roman Trilogy (1914-28). Then tenebrous, Teutonic passages bring the work to a despairing conclusion with a muffled gong crash [13:19] and despairing, dominuendo note for the strings.
These performances by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, under acclaimed, US conductor Arthur Fagen are most welcome. They make a strong case for three, mid-twentieth-century, American rarities.
The recordings were made last year at the ORF's Large Broadcasting Hall (Große Sendesaal) in Vienna, and project a recessed sonic image in warm, somewhat dry surroundings. The sound is serviceable with glassy highs, a lean midrange and gaunt bass. This disc won't win any "Audiophile" awards, but its invaluable program content makes for a highly recommendable release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P201031)
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Gunning: Vn Conc, Vc Conc, Birdflight; Mackenzie/Harwood/Gunning/RP O [Signum]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Born in Cheltenham, England, about 100 miles west-northwest of London, award-winning, composer-conductor Cristopher Gunning (b. 1944) studied at the Guildhall Hall School, where his teachers included Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012). In addition to numerous film as well as TV scores, he's written many concert works that as of this writing include thirteen symphonies and eight concertos.
This Signum release continues their exploration of Christopher's music (see Signum-593). It has two of those concertos, accompanied by one of his tone-poem-like creations. These are the only readily available versions of them currently on disc.
The composer says in essence that his ideas for the Violin Concerto of 2012 coalesced with the beautiful, forested trails and panoramic views he experienced during an outing to Sugar Loaf, which is a mountain near Abergavenny, Wales. Accordingly, this three-movement work begins with a peaceful, motif of rising-thirds (PT) [T-1, 00:01].
PT invokes a related, lingering chord (PC) [00:05] meant to represent "the ancient immovable mountains of Wales", and both ideas suffuse this movement. It's a captivating interplay between soloist and tutti, where one can imagine breathtaking panoramas, as well as twittering birds and scurrying forest animals -- is that one of them at [06:02]? Then the movement ends with a gently sighing, coda based on an inverted PT.
The slow, middle one [T-2] is nocturnal sounding. Here, to quote the composer, "you may imagine a town or village where moonlight catches wisps of smoke rising from chimneys, and behind their curtains, restless people toss and turn."
As for the third movement [T-3], it might best be described as a theme with varying, developmental treatments. That said, it has a rousing preface [00:00] hinting at a PT-related, scampering, "moto perpetuo" ("perpetuum mobile") main subject (PS) soon played by the violin [00:21].
PS gives way to whimsical [00:45], amorous [02:09] and antsy [03:03] treatments, in addition to a mysterious number [04:03] with cadenza-like passages for the soloist [05:55-06:17]. Then there's a flighty [07:15] as well as songful one [08:24], which evokes a frenetic, fiddle fireworks-filled coda [09:41] that ends the work abruptly.
Turning to the three-movement, Cello Concerto of a year later (2013), dark skies hang over the outer two. The first marked "Waltz Memories" [T-4] was inspired by the apparent power of music the composer observed during a visit to a nursing home. Moreover, upon his arrival in the activities room, there were many residents quietly seated with some of them sleeping. But when a group of musicians arrived and began playing, they all took to the floor, dancing about.
The work opens with a somber, and in this context, "geriatric", thematic nexus (SG) [00:01]. Here the orchestra plays a solemn idea [00:01], having some cello pizzicato spicing [00:12] and "celestal" embellishments [00:47]. Then the soloist enters with a stringent thought [01:09] that undergoes an anguished examination.
The latter becomes increasingly agitated, giving way to a troubled developmental episode [04:17] with virtuosic passages for the cello. Subsequently, the music gradually turns more optimistic [06:16], bringing the movement to a tranquil conclusion.
With the title "Racing", the next one [T-5] seemingly references some sort of contest; however, the composer leaves its true nature up to the listener's imagination. Be that as it may, this is scherzo-like with outer sections [00:00 & 03:45], featuring an SG-related, flighty tune (SF) intoned by the soloist [00:09]. These surround a lyrical trio [02:26-03:44] that starts with a songful version of SF (SS). Then the movement ends in the same spirit it began, but with a reminder of SS [05:03] and final cello glissando zing [06:29].
A closing "Lament & Variations" [T-6] is as advertised and begins with the strings [00:00], soon joined by the soloist [00:48] intoning an SG-reminiscent, keening main subject (SK). Two variations of respectively agitated [03:26] and searching [05:29] dispositions follow, giving way to an SK-based, demanding cadenza [07:29-08:53]. Then there are treatments ranging from rhapsodic [08:55] to spastic [10:22], carefree [11:11] and anxious [12:02], after which a coy variant [12:46] ends the Concerto with a 🙂.
The tone poem Birdflight [T-7] completing this disc shows the composer's cinematic side. And in hopes of giving you a good idea of how the music sounds, we'll flesh out the composer's sketchy notes regarding the underlying story.
To quote him, it begins with "some quiet night music". Here shimmering strings [00:00] may represent twinkling stars, while warbling winds [00:07] suggest nocturnal, feathered creatures. Subsequently, ascending passages [02:34] conjure images of sunrise and daybreak. Then flute as well as piccolo calls [03:40 & 04:35] presumably reflect an early morning, rising flight of birds -- is that a chirp at [03:47]?
However, all is not well as an ominous, clarinet-embellished episode [05:09] seemingly limns the appearance of a carnivorous hawk! After that, descending [07:08] and furtive [07:30] segments imply our birds hide in the forest below. which is cause for that winged raptor to fly away.
Then a sportive fughetta [08:31] indicates our avian friends once again taken flight. But with the return of night [10:36], they come home to roost, and this tone painting ends peacefully with a soporific, bass-drum stroke [12:06].
These performances find Christopher Gunning wearing two hats as composer and conductor. He leads the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) along with Internationally acclaimed, British born, award-winning soloists, Harriet Mackenzie (violin) and Richard Harwood (cello), giving us definitive accounts of his music.
Made in 2015 at Henry Wood Hall, London, the recordings project a suitably sized sonic image in spacious, pleasant surroundings. Both soloists are centered in front of the RPO, where they're instruments are well captured and balanced against it. Moreover, the orchestral timbre is characterized by highs where the violins' upper registers are somewhat steely. However, the midrange is generally acceptable, while the bass goes down to rock bottom with no boominess.
Everything considered, had this been a hybrid disc, the Super Audio tracks would probably have come off as demonstration quality. That said, what we have here doesn't rate an "Audiophile" stripe, but that's a minor drawback considering these superb works.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P201030)
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Nápravník: Chbr Wks V1 (Vn Sonata, Ste for Vn & Pno, 4 Pcs for Vn & Pno); Trotovšek/Angelov [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Czech-born-and-trained, Russian émigré Eduard Nápravník (1839-1916) is best remembered as chief conductor of the Imperial Russian opera that was based in the Mariinsky Theater, Saint Petersburg (see the superb album notes). But Eduard was also an accomplished composer, who left a large oeuvre across all genres.
These include a number of superb chamber works, some of which we've already told you about (see 31 July 2017). Now those champions of undeservedly neglected repertoire at Toccata Classics give us three more for violin and piano. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The concert begins with his sole Violin Sonata (Op. 52, G major; 1890). Lasting thirty-five minutes, it's a four-movement extravaganza, whose opening one is a sonata-rondo-like offering [T-1]. It has a couple of recurring ideas, the first being an amorous, extended theme (AE) [00:08] that's succeeded by a related lyrical one [02:48]. Then AE makes a big-tune reappearance [03:28] over descending passages, which may be a reference to Russian Orthodox bell ringing.
This section ebbs and flows into a development [06:06], where there's a sense of drama reminiscent of all those romantic, operas Eduard conducted. Incidentally, they included some by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), who was a close friend and thought highly of his music.
Subsequently, AE initiates a commanding recapitulation [06:54] with a melancholy afterthought [09:07]. It's succeeded by an explosive coda [10:11] that brings the movement to a stern conclusion.
A virtuosic Scherzo is next [T-2] with scampering, outer sections on either side of a lovely, lyrical trio [02:56-04:57], which suggests the mood of the upcoming "Andantino doloroso" ("Leisurely and sorrowful") [T-3]. The latter is an A-B-A-structured utterance with wistful "A"s wrapped around an anxious "B" [02:05], having a formidable violin cadenza [03:38-04:03].
Then Eduard serves up a spirited, virtuosic, "Allegro con fuoco" ("Fast with fire") rondo [T-4] with a thematic nexus of valiant, folk-song-like ideas (VF) [00:00] followed by a related, pensive thought [01:57]. These ideas are skillfully juggled about, and an emphatic, last reminder of VF [09:16] ends the Sonata exultantly.
The succeeding piece is a transcription for violin and piano of his Suite for Violin and Orchestra (Op. 60; 1896; currently unavailable on disc), which was probably done by the composer. In four movements, the first [T-5] opens "Molto moderato" ("Very moderate") with a subdued piano preface. Then there's an extended, lyrical melody for the violin (ML) [00:15] that bridges into an ML-tinged, songful number (MS) [02:56].
These ideas are food for some developmental variations [beginning at 03:56], after which MS returns [06:12], followed by scampering bits of ML [07:10]. These give way to memories of MS [08:30] and a closing, forte flourish [08:52], which ends the movement decisively.
The next one is a "Scherzo" [T-6] with busy, rhythmically insistent sections bookending an amative, lilting trio [01:54-02:54]. Then there's a comely, romantic, aria-like "Elegie" [T-7] with repeated notes, suggesting more of those Russian bells (see above).
After that, the composer conjures up a Slavic "Tarantella" [T-8], that's an animated conversation for the two performers with some fiddle-fireworks and hints of ML [01:49, 5:26 & 06:04]. The latter trigger a frenetic coda [07:01], which brings the work to a festive conclusion.
Filling out this winsome disc, there's Eduard's Four Pieces for Violin and Piano (Op. 64; 1898). It's an elegant set of tone miniatures, where the first "Nocturne" [T-9] seemingly starts in Russia with an appropriately dark thought for the violin [00:17]. This is followed by three, somewhat related ideas of sunnier disposition [01:26, 02:49 & 04:02].
Then a whimsical "Valse-Caprice" [T-10] gives way to a reserved, folk-sounding "Mélodie russe" [T-11]. And last but not least, a brisk "Scherzo espagnol" [T-12] ends the work and this copacetic CD presumably somewhere in Spain – shades of Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908; and another one of Ed's buddies) Capriccio espagnol (1887).
Slovenian violinist Lana Trotovšek and Bulgarian pianist Ludmil Angelov deliver first-rate performances of these little-known pieces by a legendary, Russian conductor, who as it turns out was also a gifted composer. They leave you anxious to hear Toccata's second volume of his chamber music -- Stay tuned!
The recordings were made in early November 2017 at Union Hall located in Maribor, Slovenia, some 120 miles south of Vienna. They present a narrow, centered sonic image in a warm venue, where there's a hint of echo. The overall sound is good with the piano well captured; however, the violin's upper registers seem a bit rolled off.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P201029)
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Reznicek: Stg Qts Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5 & 6; Minguet Qt [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
Most of Austrian composer Emil Niklaus von Reznicek's (1860-1945) works are either operatic or symphonic, and CPO has released a good sampling of the latter (see 4 October 2014, 30 November 2016 & 30 June 2019). Now they turn their attention to his chamber music and give us what are listed here as five of his six, numbered string quartets. These date from early in Emil's career (1882) to much later (1931) and represent a good cross-section of his stylistic development.
The composer's efforts in this format involved a mind-boggling, endless number of revisionary machinations, which are enumerated in the extensive, bewildering, occasionally inaccurate album notes. These also include a description of the missing 2nd Quartet (C♯ minor; 1906).
In the interest of saving time and space, we'll limit the commentary to some general observations about how the music sounds. Incidentally, the 1st Quartet appeared on a recording back in 1997, but as of this writing, these are the only ones of the other selections available on disc.
No. 1 (C minor, G-5; 1882) is in three movements and begins with a Beethoven-like "Allegro con fuoco" ("Fast with fire") [D-1, T-1] that's alternately agitated and singing. It's followed by an "Andante tranquillo" ("Tranquilly flowing") [D-1. T-2] with a Wagnerian midsection. Then there's a concluding "Presto ŕ la Hongroise" ("Fast and in Hungarian Style") [D-1, T-3] rondo, smacking of Mendelssohn's more pixilated moments.
After that we get No. 5 (E minor, G 81; 1925-30), but only the first and last of its four movements as the inner two are also the middle ones for his 6th Quartet (see below). The opening, sonata-form, 'Moderato, poco maestoso" ("Moderate, and a bit majestic") [D-1, T-4] has a couple of attractive, romantic themes that are skillfully manipulated. It's followed by an "Allegro ma non troppo" ("Lively, but not too fast") [D-1. T-5], where lyrical, contrapuntally spiced passages alternate with perky, playful ones, thereby bringing the work to a sunny conclusion.
Then this disc closes with the four-movement 6th (B♭ major, G-99; 1931) dedicated to Prussian, political activist Wilhelm Abegg (1876-1951). It's a finalized version of No. 2, which explains why that's not included here.
The opening, sonata-form, "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") [D-1, T-6] has an initial motif [00:00] whose notes (A-B-E♭-G-G) spell out the dedicatee's name. It's the basis for the two, spirited thoughts underlying this movement, as well as a "signature", closing coda [05:10].
Then there's a "Notturno -- Molto adagio" ("Nocturne -- Very slow") [D-1, T-7] and "Allegro con fuoco" ("Fast with fire") [D-1, T-8], which are the movements Reznicek borrowed from his preceding Quartet (see above). These take the form of an eventide contemplation and charming scherzo.
After that an "Andante con variationi" ("Slow with variations") [D-1, T-9] with a delightful, dainty, "Andante con moto" ("Slow with motion") main subject (DA) [00:00] parents several variants. The first two are respectively playful [00:39] and pensive [01:09]. Then there's an agitated third [03:21] wrapped around a coy one [04:07-04:26], after which a yearning treatment recalls DA [06:24] and brings the work to a charming conclusion.
Moving right along, the second CD begins with the four-movement 3rd Quartet [C♯ minor, G-39; 1921). This starts with a sonata-form, "Allegro" ("Fast") [D-2, T-1] having a pleading first idea (P1) that undergoes a fugal examination, and is succeeded by a folk-song-like tune. These are consummately developed and recapped with the movement ending in a P1-disposed coda.
Next, there's a ternary, intermezzo-like "Andante sostenuto" ("Slow and sustained") [D-2, T-2] containing comely, outer sections on either side of an anguished, inner one. It's offset by an "Allegro" ("Fast") scherzo [D-2, T-3] with perky, Beethoven-like passages bracketing a coquettish, Schubertian episode.
Then the Quartet ends with another "Andante sostenuto" ("Slow and sustained") [D-2, T-4]. This has a gruff, initial motif (GI), which gives way to three, oneiric themes. They're the lifeblood of a captivating rhapsody that brings the work to a nostalgic, GI-spiced conclusion.
And last but not least, there's the 4th Quartet (D minor, G 70; 1922), which the album notes claim is his most often performed. But beware of the movement markings listed in them as they're an erroneous reprint of those for the 3rd!
That said, the initial one [D-2, T-5] is a fetching, sonata-form "Allegro" ("Fast") with an urgent main idea (UM) [00:00], which brings to mind the Sandman's aria in Engelbert Humperdinck's (1854-1921) opera Hänsel und Gretel (1893). UM adjoins a related, lyrical thought (UL) [01:05], and both undergo a development [02:58] highlighted by a consummate, UM-based fugue [03:22]. Then a spirited recapitulation [04:13] invokes a commanding UM-UL-spiced coda [06:50] that ends the movement definitively.
The next one is a ternary, wistful, songlike "Adagio" ("Slow") [D-2, T-6] with an imitative central segment. Then there's a capricious, curt scherzo [D-2, T-7], which sets the mood for the closing "Presto" ("Very Fast") [D-2, T-8]. This is a sonata-rondo having a couple of UM-related ideas that are respectively flighty [00:00] and demure (UD) [00:48]. They play tag with each other, but in the end, UD wins out! It powers a commanding coda [06:48], which ends the Quartet and album with a decisive, "So there!" cadence [07:02].
Spanish author-musician Pablo Minguet (c. 1733-1801) sought in his writings to make the fine arts known to all his countrymen. Consequently, the members of our performing group named themselves after him as they take pride in doing the same for little-known, 19-20th century quartets. Based in Cologne, Germany, this foursome delivers technically accomplished, captivating performances of these undeservedly neglected works.
A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur (DLF), the recordings were made in the DLF's Kammermusiksaal (Chamber Music Hall), Cologne. Although they were done on four occasions between October 2015 and May 2018, they present an amazingly consistent, generous sonic image. The instruments are placed from left to right in order of the increasing size, and ideally captured as well as balanced against one another.
The string tone is as good as it gets on conventional discs. More specifically, the high end is natural sounding, while the rich midrange is complemented by clean lows, where there's no hint of any hangover in the cello's lower registers. That said, this album easily earns an "Audiophile" stripe, and come 2021, may well be one of the "Best Finds of Last Year".
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y201028)
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Weiner, Leó: Cpte Orch Wks V3 (Romance, Diverts 1 & 2, Pastorale..., Hungarian…); Soloists/Csányi/BudaMÁV SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Hungarian-born-and-trained Leó Weiner (1885-1960) makes a welcome return to these pages with this third installment from Naxos devoted to his complete orchestral works. Incidentally we told you about the first volume (see 31 March 2016), but somehow number two got by us (see Naxos-8573847).
Best remembered as a teacher, whose students included such great conductors as Fritz Reiner (1889-1963) and Georg Solti (1912-1997), he'd also leave a significant body of works. Like those of his colleagues Béla Bartók (1881-1945), Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) and László Lajtha (1892-1963; see 31 January 2016 & 30 November 2017), his pieces are riddled with Hungarian folk melodies. That's certainly true of the selections here, which include the world premiere recording of his Hungarian Nursery Rhymes and Folk Songs.
This release begins with his Romance (Op. 29; 1949). Based on an identically named piece for cello and piano (Op. 14; 1921), the one here is an arrangement with an accompaniment scored for harp and strings. It's a sonata-formish piece with two, attractive, pentatonic themes that are respectively folkish (PF) [00:05] and hymnlike (PH) [02:14]. They undergo a harp-embellished, spirited development [03:21] and PH-initiated recap [04:25] with reminders of PF [05:12] that end the work tranquilly in the same mood it began.
The album notes give detailed information about the four remaining selections. Consequently, we'll limit our commentary to some general observations about how the music sounds. That said, the two Divertimentos are the first of five numbered ones (see 31 December 2017). Respectively titled "After Old Hungarian Dances" (Op. 20; 1934) and "Hungarian Folk Melodies" (Op. 24; 1938), they're both scored for strings.
No. 1 is in five parts, the first two being a proud "Full-Bodied Csárdás" [T-18] and scampering "Fox Dance" [T-19]. Then there's a coy "Round Dance of Marosszék" [T-20], martial "Verbunkos" [T-21] as well as rustic "Transylvanian Barn Dance" [T-22].
The four-part No. 2 starts with a "Hungarian Wedding Dance" [T-2], having respectively strutting [00:00], flirtatious [01:33] and gallant [02:12] segments. Then there's "Teasing" [T-3], which is a scherzo with capricious, folksy, outer sections. They surround a flighty middle one [01:52-03:08], based on a ditty frequently played by Magyar swineherds on the duda. Incidentally, this ancient, bagpipe-like instrument is made from goatskins and often decorated with that animal's horns, which have in the past given it Satanic associations.
But returning to the work at hand, it ends in two more, song-based numbers, the first being a wistful, Hungarian-peasant tune titled "Lament" [T-4]. The other, called "Swineherd's Song" [T-5], is a arguably a demonic dance of death, where the devil leads sinners to the infernal regions -- shades of Berlioz (1803-1869) Damnation of Faust (1845-46) and Liszt's (1811-1886) A Faust Symphony (1854-57).
Written shortly after the First Divertimento, the next Pastorale, Fantasy and Fugue is a tripartite treat (Op.23; 1934), that opens with a pentatonic-peppered Pastorale [T-6]. Oddly enough this smacks of Frederick Delius' (1862-1934) bucolic excursions.
Be that as it may, the music waxes and wanes into a ternary, A-B-A structured Fantasy [T-7] with meditative "A"s on either side of a restless "B" [02:40-04:18]. Then a skillfully wrought, Fugue [T-8] brings this piece to a spirited conclusion.
And filling out this CD, there's the Hungarian Nursery Rhymes and Folk Songs mentioned above. Sans opus number, it's a 1955, orchestral arrangement of nine piano pieces Weiner wrote for children (see the album notes for details). Incidentally, the scoring includes a harp that seemingly takes the place of a cimbalom, which is typically found in Hungarian folk ensembles. And on that note, many will remember that Kodály included one of these colorful instruments in his Háry János Suite (1926-27).
The Weiner opens with a lachrymal "Thirty-three Branches of a Weeping Willow" [T-9], and speaking of Kodály, he uses this in his operatic folk-ballad Székelyfonó (The Spinning Room; 1924-32; not readily available on disc). Then there's a mocking "Through the Vineyard" [T-10], ever popular "The Spring Wind Blows" [T-11] and busy matchmaking "Oh, My Daughter [T-12].
Next, a high-stepping "Recruiting Dance" [T-13], cheery "What has the Girl Sent Me" (no readily available examples) [T-14], hymnlike "The River Tisza is Deep at the Edge" [T-15] as well as pensive "Before Me Stands a Flower" [T-16].
Then the work closes with "On the Way to Eger" (no readily available examples) [T-17]. This has an initially playful idea [00:00] that turns sequentially childlike [00:15], pensive [00:32], and antsy [01:04], after which it returns [01:22], ending things full circle.
The Budapest MÁV (Hungarian State Railways) Symphony Orchestra under Hungarian conductor Valéria Csányi delivers authoritative performances of these selections. Also, a big round of applause goes to her very talented, young, up-and-coming compatriots, cellist Ditta Rohmann and harpist Melinda Felletár for their superb playing in the Romance.
All these recordings were made in Budapest on the dates and at the locations shown in the table below:
As indicated above, they were done on several occasions at two different locations. They're generally good, and those made in Studio 22 project a somewhat larger, more realistic sonic image than the Rottenbiller ones.
That said, the overall instrumental timbre is characterized by an acceptable high end and lifelike midrange. As for the bass, with the conservative forces called for here, it's lean and clean with no hangover in lower string passages. While this release falls a tad short of an "Audiophile" rating, the program content makes it highly recommendable.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P201027)
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