CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 DECEMBER 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.
Henry, P.: La dixième symphonie "Hommage á Beethoven"; Various Cndctrs/RFr C&PO/Paris ConO & Jeune C [Alpha Cl]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
French composer Pierre Henry (1927-2017) began studying music at the early age of seven. He then attended the Conservatoire de Paris (Paris Conservatory) from 1937 through 1947, where his teachers included Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) and Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992).
Subsequently, Henry became one of the founding fathers of musique concrète. This along with a great love for Ludwig van Beethoven's (1770-1827) music resulted in his creating taped, electroacoustic homages to him in 1970, 1988 and 1998, which were tapestries of cleverly intertwined motifs from his nine symphonies (1799-1824).
Then Pierre began reworking these into a combinative, orchestral mélange that he called La dixième symphonie "Hommage á Beethoven" (The Tenth Symphony "Homage to Beethoven"). This was never performed during his lifetime. However, a year ago the adventurous French premiered a reconstructed version with eight of his originally planned twelve movements. Lasting some seventy-five minutes, it took place in Paris and is documented on this recent Alpha Classics release, which couldn't be more timely, considering 16 December 2020 was the 250th anniversary of Ludwig's birth.
An enormous undertaking, it involved massive forces that included the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre Du Conservatoire de Paris, Choeur de Radio France and Le Jeune Choeur de Paris. These were divided into three groups on separate stages with the audience between as well as in front of them (see photo). What's more, each had its own conductor -- shades of Charles Ives' (1874-1954) Symphony No. 4 (1910-25).
Generally speaking, each of Henry's movements synthesize ideas from ones of similar temperament in the Beethoven Symphonies. The opening "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with spirit") [T-1] gets off to a questioning start, but becomes increasingly self-assured and ends with some thrilling last thoughts.
Then the music becomes mercurial in the following "Scherzo" [T-2], which is a series of capricious moments. It sets the mood for a jittery "Allegro molto" ("Very fast") [T-3] that has a droll case of symphonic hiccups [03:07-03:43]. However, the pace slows with a searching "Andante" ("Slow") [T-4], where there's an overall feeling of introspection, which makes Beethoven more of a bystander.
Next, a "Rondo" [T-5] with a number of dashing, Ludwig ditties that could well represent children at play. Here a couple of ideas from the Choral Symphony's (No. 9 in D minor, Op.125; 1822-24) second movement leave things dangling in midair.
But a new group of sprightly tunes populate a subsequent "Presto" ("Fast") [T-6], where it would seem those youngsters return for a game of thematic hide-and-seek. However, this movement suddenly quits, and after a perplexing pause, we get one called "Comme une fantasie" ("Like a Fantasy") [T-7].
The title suggests a programmatic piece with an underlying story, so in hopes of giving you a better feeling for the music, we'll make one up. More specifically, agitated opening passages [00:00] conjure images of some valiant knight [00:20] on his way to rescue a lovely princess [00:51], who's tied to a stake in front of a cave guarded by a terrifying monster [01:47]. Having arrived on the scene, our hero brandishes his "terrible swift sword", kills the beast [08:15], and carries her off [09:01]. Then in fairy tale fashion, they live happily ever after [10:53].
An affecting "Finale" [T-8] brings this singular, Beethoven extravaganza to a rousing conclusion. This gets off to a dramatic start, followed by a pregnant pause and jubilant episode [05:52]. The latter has a brief, vocal interlude [06:41-07:42], where soloists and chorus invoke German poet Friedrich Schiller's (1759-1805) "Ode to Joy" from the above mentioned Choral Symphony's last movement (see album notes for text).
After that the music makes an increasingly ominous transition into subdued passages for the chorus [10:24-10:46], succeeded by a brief caesura. Then there's a closing segment [10:48] drawn from the Seventh Symphony's second movement, which is a funeral march in all but name. It brings Monsieur Henry's musical eulogy for one of the world's greatest composers to a reverent ending.
Those extensive French forces named above deliver a superb, totally committed, performance of a most unusual work. Their attention to phrasing, careful dynamic shadings and well-judged tempos make this Beethoven bouillabaisse all the more delectable.
The recording was made in November 2019 at the Cité de la Musique ("City of Music") complex's Philharmonie de Paris Concert Hall. It presents an amazingly well-defined sonic image in reverberant surroundings, for which the sound is all the richer. More specifically, the instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a rich midrange and clean, lean bass. As for the vocalists, they're ideally captured and balanced with respect to the orchestras. Those liking a wetter sound will love this disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y201231)
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Leshnoff: Four Dances (stg qt), Stg Qt 3 "Miller-Kahn" & Stg Qt 4; Carpe Diem Qt [MSR Cl]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
American-born and trained Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973) is one of the most promising composers in the United States, who's aptly been described by The New York Times as "a leader of contemporary American lyricism". He's produced a distinguished oeuvre, and not long ago we lauded a CD featuring his orchestral fare (see 31 July 2019).
Now, MSR Classics gives us an album with the Carpe Diem String Quartet (CDSQ) performing some of Jonathan's chamber music. This includes a piece entitled Four Dances, as well as the last two of his four, numbered string quartets. Incidentally, these are all world premiere recordings.
The set of Four Dances (2014), was written in response to a commission from an acquaintance of the composer for a piece honoring a mutual friend, who's a big CDSQ fan. It begins with a "Waltz" [T-1] featuring respectively delicate [00:02] and pensive [01:09] ideas. Then there's a "Pavane" [T-2], having wistful outer sections based on an Eastern-tinged theme [00:17 & 03:21]. They bracket a more optimistic episode [01:20-03:20], and give way to what Jonathan calls a "Chas Tanz" [T-3], which is a dance whose title references the nickname of CDSQ-first-violinist Charles Weatherbee.
Be that as it may, this spirited number has klezmer overtones like those found in the composer's Quartet No. 2 (2008). It sets the stage for a frenetic, final "Furlana" [T-4], which ends the work with foot-tapping suggestions of old Italy.
The Quartet No. 3 (2011) was commissioned by longtime supporters of the arts Harris Miller and his wife Deborah Kahn. Consequently, Leshnoff calls it "The Miller-Khan Quartet". In three movements, the initial "Grave" ("Serious") [T-5] opens with an eight-note, anguished motif (EA) [00:00], which the composer refers to as the work's "kernal idea".
EA is the subject of a captivating, grief-stricken contemplation that brings to mind sorrowful moments in Beethoven's (1770-1827) late quartets (Nos. 11-16; 1810-1826). But the music becomes whimsical in a subsequent "Romance" [T-6] based on a waltzlike variant of EA [00:04].
Then the mood turns antsy in a closing, "Allegro with spirit" ("Fast with spirit"), rondoesque cavort [T-7]. Here EA buzzes about like a busy bee, and there's an excited coda [06:32] with a commanding final cadence [06:53] that ends the work triumphantly.
Also written in 2011, the Quartet No. 4 was commissioned by the CDSQ and has five movements. The outer two [T-8 & T-12} are both "Largo, rubato" (Slow, syncopated") marked, pensive offerings. They lie on either side of a "Fast", highly agitated second [T-9] and fourth [T-11], where the latter flows attacca from a "Slow and pure" third [T-10]. Incidentally, the composer tells us the middle movement was inspired by some recorder music he heard his daughter play at one of her school recitals.
With this release, the CDSQ continues their survey of Leshnoff's works for string quartet (see Naxos-8559398 & 8559721). And once again, they give us technically accomplished, stunning renditions of the ones here. Their attention to dynamics, phrasing and rhythmic detail make a strong case for his music.
The recording dates and venues along with their geographic locations are given in the table below.
Despite the different locations, these recordings present amazingly consistent, generously sized, sonic images in warm, enrichingly reverberant surroundings. The musicians are comfortably positioned from left to right in order of increasing instrument size, and well balanced against one another. The overall string tone is characterized by bright but pleasant highs, a glowing midrange and clean bass with no hint of hangover in the cello's lower registers. Pointy-eared listeners won't be disappointed!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y201230)
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Moszkowski: Orch Wks V2 (Suites 2 & 3): Hobson/SinfaVars [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Polish-born, German-trained Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) moved to Paris in his early forties (1897), where he initially had a successful teaching as well as creative career. But declining health plus mounting financial problems made his final years read like a tragedy (see the informative album notes).
Best remembered for his solo piano music, he also wrote a significant amount of tuneful, colorfully scored, symphonic pieces. However, up until a year ago, only five of them were readily available on disc (see Naxos-8553989 and Hyperion-67389, 68109).
Then 2020 saw the adventurous Toccata Classics label begin exploring his orchestral works with the first of a highly welcome series of CDs (see 28 February 2020). Now, here's the next installment, which has the last two of his three orchestral suites, these being the only readily available, modern day recordings of them on disc.
Dedicated to the great German conductor Hans von Bülow (1830-1894), the Deuxième Suite d'Orchestre (No. 2, Op. 47; 1890) has six movements, and is scored for large forces that include harp and organ. Its opening, "Lento" ("Slow") marked "Preludio" [T-1] begins with a somber, eight-bar, woodwind motif (SE) [00:02], followed by a wistful, chromatic theme (WC) for the orchestra [00:27].
WC undergoes an exploration reminiscent of dramatic, symphonic moments in Richard Wagner's (1833-1883) late operas, and builds to a climactic D-major chord [04:13]. Then after an anticipatory pause, there's a cadenza-like episode for the harp [04:26]. It gives way to tender passages intoned by a solo violin [05:19] that's shortly joined by other strings as well as the organ [06:35], which soon plays a hushed, drum-roll-underlined, sustained note.
This makes an attacca transition into an "Un pocchino più animato" ("A little more animated"), orchestral "Fuga" ("Fugue") [T-2] with a WC-related, busy subject (WB) [00:01]. Here the music becomes increasingly excited, revealing what a skilled contrapuntist Moritz was. Then the organ joins in [04:56], and the movement comes to a rousing conclusion.
After that there's a "Molto vivace" ("Very vivacious") "Scherzo" [T-3], having a restive, descending motif (RD) [00:02], which alternates with a related, chorale-like idea [01:25]. These chase each other about, but RD prevails, triggering a coda [05:01] that ends things in jittery fashion.
Next, a "Larghetto" ("Rather slow") [T-4], which is one of the composer's finest creations, and arguably the work's high point. Here Richard Wagner's (1833-1883) more transcendent moments in Tristan und Isolde (1857-9) and Parsifal (1877-82) come to mind, as well as the music of Joachim Raff (1822-1882; see 30 March 2015). That said, there's a through-composed sublimity about this piece akin to Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Metamorphosen for 23 Strings of 55 years later (TrV 290, AV 142; 1944-45).
Stylistically, the Suite's last two movements are of English rather than German disposition. Moreover, the penultimate "Allegretto con moto" ("Lively with movement"), staccato-spiced "Intermezzo" [T-5] is a minuet with a coy trio [01:42-04:51], and brings to mind British composer Edward German's (1862-1936) works (see 31 May 2012) such as Merrie England.
Then the concluding "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with spirit") "Marcia" [T-6] has martial moments reminiscent of Sir Edward Elgar's (1857-1934; see 30 June 2016) Cockaigne Overture (Op. 40; 1900-01). It begins with a cinematic drumroll [00:04], introducing a WC-related, heroic number (WH) [00:05], followed by a flowing countersubject (EF) [01:38].
Both ideas are subsequently developed [02:46], after which EF returns [04:01], takes on big-tune proportions [04:47], and is followed by skittering, WH-laced passages [05:15]. These bridge into a trumpet-heralded, thrilling coda [05:54], which ends the work exultantly.
Written during Moszkowski's happier years in Paris, the Troisième Suite d'Orchestre (No. 3, A♭ major, Op. 79; 1908) finds him in a Gallic, easy-going frame of mind, and inhabits the world of Jules Massenet's (1842-1912) seven works in this genre (1865-82). Its four movements, call for a sizeable orchestra that again includes a harp, but no organ.
The opening "Allegro" ("Lively") [T-7] begins with winds asserting a pert, dotted-rhythm-accented riff (PD) [00:01]. This is explored, and gives birth to a tender tune (PT) [01:00] that's examined. Then the foregoing ideas are dramatically developed [01:45], after which PD triggers a recap [03:45]. Here reminders of PT [04:45] wax and wane into scampering remembrances of PD [06:14]. These are succeeded by a PT-based, capricious coda [07:32] that ends the movement with a saucy, "So there!" cadence [07:46].
A French horn gets the subsequent "Molto moderato" ("Very moderate") [T-8] underway with a mellow theme [00:00]. It's delicately underlined by the harp playing repeated C-notes [00:16], which were cause for Moritz to nickname this movement "La note obstinée" ("The persistent note"). Then the rest of the orchestra joins in [00:18], and all play a lovely, extended countermelody. The latter engenders a winsome serenade that closes tranquilly [04:27] with nostalgic memories of the foregoing.
The charm and refinement suffusing Moritz' keyboard music characterize the next "Tempo di Valse, non troppo allegro" ("Waltz speed, but not too fast") [T-9]. One of his best pieces, this is of late 19th century persuasion, and starts with a short preface [00:02]. Then there's a delightful, gliding number (DG) [00:15] followed by a songlike one [01:10]. These undergo an engaging examination [02:05], and DG returns [04:19] to end this captivating movement full circle.
The Suite concludes with a sparkling sonata-form "Allegro deciso" ("Fast with determination") [T-10]. It begins with a flighty brass fanfare [00:00] hinting at a fetching, boisterous ditty (FB) that's soon heard [00:28] and followed by a related, confident thought (FC) [00:52]. Then these undergo a spirited development [01:56], after which FC initiates a two-part recapitulation [03:04 & 04:24], calling up a triumphal remembrance of our old friend PD [05:41].
This is cause for a questioning pause [05:55] and an initially subdued FC-FB-PD-tinged coda [05:57] that becomes jubilant [beginning at 06:19]. It quickly builds into a drum-roll-pounding, full-orchestral climax [06:44], which ends the work and CD exultantly.
As on Toccata's first release in this series (see 28 February 2020), English conductor Ian Hobson leads the Warsaw-based Sinfonia Varsovia (SV). Together they give outstanding performances of these two, forgotten Moszkowski works. Maestro Hobson once again serves up more music by a romantic composer, who deserves much wider exposure. Incidentally, violinist Jakub Haufa, harpist Zuzanna Elster, and organist Damian Skowroński get a big hand for their superb support.
Done on three occasions in October and November of last year at Polish Radio's Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio, Warsaw, the recordings project a wide, somewhat recessed sonic image in considerably reverberant, but affable surroundings. While the highs are a bit grainy, the midrange is good, and bass, lean but clean, making for a disc that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. It'll leave ardent romanticists anxiously awaiting Toccata's third volume in this series.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P201229)
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Rott: Orch Wks V1 (Hamlet Ov, Ste in B♭, Ste in E, Prel in E, "Julius..." Prel, Pastoral Prel); Ward/GürOCol [Capriccio]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Since 1993 there have been several discs featuring Austrian composer Hans Rott's (1858-1884) Symphony No. 1 in E major (1878-80). This is not surprising as many music critics consider it the equal, if not even greater than his compatriot Gustav Mahler's (1860-1911) first effort in the genre (D major "Titan"; 1888-96).
However, Hans' musical career was cut short when the composer was committed to a Viennese psychiatric ward in 1881 and died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five (see the album notes). Consequently, Rott left only a small number of works. Six in the symphonic realm fill out this welcome Capriccio release, the first five of which are the only readily available recordings currently on CD.
The program opens with his Hamlet Overture of 1876 [T-1]. Half of this existed in orchestral draft form, and the remainder as a piano score; however, those fragments have been meticulously reconstructed by Rott authority, German musicologist Johannes Volker Schmidt (b. 1976), giving us what's presented here. That said, the work is probably best described as a Germanic cross between Franz Liszt's (1811-1886) eponymous tone poem (S 104; 1858) and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) symphonic fantasia by that name (Op. 67; 1888).
A sonata-form-like creation, it gets off to an ominous starts with a woeful, theme [00:01] that's examined, and followed by a related, animated idea [2:02]. Then the foregoing undergo an extended development [02:53], which ebbs and flows with heroic moments [03:09, 05:52 & 06:17] into the return of the opening passages [06:49]. These evoke an increasingly downcast ending [07:43] that brings the work to a tragic conclusion.
During his student years (1874-78) at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wein (GMW, Society of Friends of Music in Vienna), Hans wrote a couple of orchestral suites as exercises. These were probably four-movement works, but only parts of them have come down to us.
The Suite in B♭ major, dating from 1877, is survived by a "Scherzo" [T-6] and "Finale" [T-7]. While the former has prancing outer sections on either side of a related, tuneful trio [01:04-02:29], the latter marked "Sehr schnell" ("Very fast") [T-7] is a skittering tidbit. It may well have been the introduction to a subsequent fugue, which Hans apparently never got around to writing.
A "Préludium" ("Prelude") [T-2] and "Nicht zu Langsam" ("Not too slow") [T-3] are all that remain of his later Suite in E major (1878). There's a Mahlerian, contemplative feel about the first selection, and then the other takes up where it left off, building to a heroic climax [02:51]. This ebbs and flows, eventually making a forceful return [04:30], which ends things triumphantly.
Rott's brief Orchestral Prelude in E major of 1876 [T-5], was probably a forerunner of the preceding Suites as there's a great similarity between their thematic material. Be that as it may, this piece again shows what a talented youngster he was, which is also borne out by his Prelude to "Julius Caesar" of 1877 [T-4].
Here the composer's love of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is quite apparent. This is not that surprising, when you consider one of Hans' teachers at the GMW was Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), who was very much a Wagnerian. Incidentally, Anton's disdain for Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was also picked up by Rott, and eventually reached psychotic proportions (see the album notes).
That said, the piece gets off to a gallant start reminiscent of Richard's heroic, symphonic moments. The music then makes a pensive transition [00:38] into a lovely theme [02:05], which fuels two dramatic episodes [02:58 & 03:50] as well as a striking, fugal afterthought [04:08]. The latter wanes [05:08], only to be followed by a tragic climax [05:37] that slowly fades away [beginning at 06:20] and ends the work with a couple of perfunctory, pizzicato plunks.
This CD of discovery closes with Pastoral Prelude in F major (Pastorales Vorspiel... ; 1877-1880) [T-8], which like Hans' Symphony mentioned above, spanned his productive years, and has also previously appeared on disc (see CPO-999854). But now Capriccio gives us what's presumably a more up-to-date version made under the aegis of Herr Doktor Schmidt (see above).
Stylistically this is the most sophisticated work here and portends Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) tone poems. Moreover, it's easy to imagine there's some underlying story, so we'll make one up in hopes of giving you a better feel for the music.
The opening measures could well limn some idyllic forest scene as hunters emerge from the woods, calling to each other with horns [00:06]. Subsequently, we hear morning songbirds [02:46] -- shades of Beethoven's (1770-1827) Pastoral Symphony (No. 6, Op. 68, 1808) -- after which those hunters begin searching for game [03:57].
Then there's a pregnant pause [07:36], and the music hesitantly resumes [07:41] triggering a terrific fugue [09:04]. The latter shows the composer at the height of his creative powers and might well represent a dramatic sunset. In any case, it brings this magnificent work and CD to a thrilling conclusion.
The Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne, Germany, under English conductor Christopher Ward makes a strong case for some little-known pieces by a promising composer, who came to an untimely, tragic demise. These superb performances make one anxious to hear their second volume in this series, scheduled for release early next year (Capriccio-5414).
Made over a three-day period last January at Studio Stolberger Straße, Cologne, these recordings project a wide, recessed sonic image in a pleasant venue. The orchestral timbre is characterized by steely highs but an acceptable midrange. As for the low end, it's clean with some pants-flapping bass drum strokes at the end of the Pastoral... [T-8, 13:14].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P201228)
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