CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 SEPTEMBER 2021
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.
Boëllmann: Symphonie…, Variations symphoniques…, Quatre pièces brèves…; Demarquette/Davin/Mulhouse SO [Fuga Lib]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Fateful circumstances surround these recordings, which were made in 2018 by the Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra under its artistic director, Belgian-born-and-trained conductor Patrick Davin (1962-2020). Moreover, the company originally slated to issue them was no longer able to do so. And then on top of that, Maestro Davin suffered an untimely demise just last year!
Fortunately, the Belgian-based Fuga Libera label came to the rescue with this recent release of them. They represent the first installment in a series of recordings that Davin had planned to make, which were devoted to symphonic music by French organist-composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Alsatian Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897) is probably best remembered for his Suite Gothique (Op. 25; 1895), and particularly its closing "Toccata", which has since become a worldwide organ favorite. However, he wrote a substantial number of works in other genres that include the three orchestral selections presented here. Incidentally, the first and last of these are world premiere recordings.
This CD begins with the Symphonie en fa majeur, op. 24 (Symphony in F major, Op. 24), which was probably composed in 1894. It's dedicated to his older colleague Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) whose music he greatly admired.
As with the opening section of Camille's Organ Symphony (No.3 in C minor, Op. 78; 1886), Léon's [T-1] is a fast, initial movement adjoining a slow second. It has a gentle, allegro et lento (Fast and slow) introduction [00:02] with harp arpeggios and delicate woodwind passages. This hints at a subsequent, "sonata-formish", Allegro con fuoco (Fast with fire) part, which comes after a drum roll [01:40], and has a thematic nexus (TN) [01:45] containing three attractive ideas (see the album notes).
TN is the basis for a dramatic development and subsequent recapitulation with choralelike passages [09:34]. These become triumphant [09:58] and wane into remembrances of the opening measures [11:16], which bridge attacca into a lento (slow) marked, TN-related, funereal second movement [12:22]. It has a plaintive new thought introduced by the oboe [13:10] that engenders ominous reminders of TN [beginning at 14:18]. The latter then wane into subdued, lyrical passages [15:52], which end this first section on a hopeful note.
Instead of the usual scherzo, Boëllmann next serves up an Intermède varié (Varied interlude) [T-2] that's an allegro ben marcato (Fast and very precise) theme and variations. It begins with the strings playing a proud, delightful main subject (PD) [00:00], which the album notes aptly characterize as "based on the outline of a popular bourrée-like melody".
In regard to the variants, they're six of equal tempo and length, so it's their harmony, polyphony as well as scoring that's changed. These are sequentially commanding [00:25], coy [00:49], bucolic [01:14], wistful [01:39], avian [02:05] and martial [02:32]. The last then calls up a final coda [03:10], which is a PD-based, subdued afterthought that brings this movement to a tranquil conclusion.
The last one titled Récitative et Finale (Recitative and Finale) [T-3] is essentially a two-part, reworking of previous thematic material. And as there's a detailed analysis of it in the album notes, we'll just cover the high points.
That said, the Recitative is a yearning utterance featuring reminiscences of TN in the violins [00:00], PD-based horn calls [00:22] and more TN memories played by a clarinet [01:06]. These are followed by cadenza-like moments for a solo violin [beginning at 01:33] that call up impassioned passages for the rest of the orchestra [02:09 & 02:48], which end this section with a sudden forte chord [2:55].
Then it's on to the vivacious Finale [02:58]. This is a presto (very fast), "rondoesque", tarantella-like number with engaging developmental treatments of past ideas. It calls up an excited coda [08:36] with five, final forte chords for full orchestra [09:06] that bring the work to a brusque conclusion.
Next up, Léon's Variations symphoniques pour violincello et orchestra (Symphonic Variations for Cello and Orchestra), Op. 23 of 1892 [T-4]. The album notes tell us this was one of his most popular pieces and claim it's "divided into four main sections".
Going on that premise, the first one has a forceful introduction, featuring a valiant theme (V1) for the soloist [00:03]. V1 then transitions into a regal, two-part idea (R2) [02:16 & 02:26], which is repeated [02:37], explored and again appears [04:08].
Then after a brief pause, the second section begins with the cello playing a flighty version of R2 [04:38]. This makes a dramatic transition into a dazzling allegro (fast) third section [06:43]. Here a scampering V1 and R2 fuel a development [08:07], followed by recapitulative memories of R2 [08:21] and V1 [09:15].
Subsequently, another R2 [09:52] with V1 embellishments bridges into a big tune version of itself [10:15] that initiates a highly dramatic fourth section. This has a più mosso (more lively) coda [10:42] that ends the piece excitedly with some cello fireworks, and three fortissimo orchestral chords [10:55].
Back in Boëllmann's day the harmonium became a very popular instrument in European salons and smaller religious establishments. Consequently, he wrote over one hundred pieces for it, which appeared in two volumes titled Heures mystiques (Mystical Hours). These were published as his Op. 29 and 30 in 1896 (not readily available on disc).
Concurrently, Léon also penned the closing selection, Quatre pièces brèves pour instruments à archet extraites des Heures mystiques (Four Short Pieces for Strings from Mystical Hours, 1896). If nothing else, it would seem this could qualify for the Guinness Book or World Records as having classical music's longest title!
The first Allegro (Fast) in D minor [T-5] is based on the Offertoire (Offertory) No. 5, Op. 29. It's a jaunty tidbit with a folkish tune [00:00] and has a fugato-tinged midriff [00:46-02:08]. Then the Offertoire (Offertory) No. 2, Op. 29 is the inspiration for the following Moderato (Moderately) in C major [T-6]. This features a lovely cantabile melody (LC) [00:07] set to a captivating pizzicato accompaniment and brings the second Heure to a peaceful, pianissimo closure.
The pace quickens in the next Allegro (Fast in D minor [T-7], which is a spirited toccata. It draws on the Élevation (Elevation) No. 4, Op. 30, and ends with a vivacious coda [01:52] having one of those "So there!" cadences [02:12].
Then the composer borrows from his Sortie (Procession) No. 5, Op. 29 for the concluding Andantino (Leisurely) in B flat major [T-8]. Here the violins intone a devout thought [00:01] that inspires some prayerful passages, which bring the work and this extraordinary release to a serene musical signum crucis conclusion.
French-born-and-trained, internationally acclaimed cellist Henri Demarquette (b. 1970) delivers an ardent, virtuosic account of the Variations... It's all the more outstanding for the superb support he receives from l'Orchestre symphonique de Mulhouse (OSM), based some 300 miles east-southeast of Paris just west of the border between Germany and Switzerland.
Under conductor Patrick Davin (see above) the OSM musicians also give us highly welcome, winsome accounts of the other two selections. Hearing this disc makes Davin's sudden demise all the sadder as he'll no longer be resurrecting additional rare repertoire by other French organist-composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Félix Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911), Eugène Gigout (1844-1925), Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937), Louis Vierne (1870-1937) and Charles Tournemire (1870-1939).
The recordings were made during January of 2018 at La Filature Performance Hall, Mulhouse and present a somewhat narrow, distant sonic image in pleasant surroundings. The cello is centered a bit forward of the OSM and well captured as well as balanced against it. On the other hand, the overall orchestral timbre is characterized by those steely highs so typical of conventional CDs; however, the midrange is lifelike. As for the bass, it's clean but doesn't plumb the depths, seeing as these works are scored for conservative forces.
While this is not demonstration quality sound, we're lucky to have an invaluable sampling of Boëllmann's orchestral fare! Incidentally, at one point in the Variations..., Maestro Davin can be heard urging his OSM musicians on to greater things [T-4, 07:26-07:32].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P210930)
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Piston: Vars on a Theme by E.B.Hill, Divertimento..., Cl Conc, Conc for Orch; Norsworthy/Rose/BosMOP O [BMOP/s (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Over the past couple of years we've featured three composers with Yale University associations, namely An-lun Huang (b. 1949; see 30 June 2018, Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960; see 30 April 2018) and Christopher Theofanidis (b. 1967; see 28 February 2021). Now with this recent release from BMOP/sound it's time to give another Ivy League institution, Harvard its due.
It features four instrumental works by American-born Walter Piston (1894-1976). He began his musical education there in 1920, graduating summa cum laude, and went to Paris for two years of further studies (1924-26) with Paul Dukas (1865-1935) and Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979).
He then returned to the US in 1926 and taught at Harvard until his retirement in 1960. Incidentally, some of Piston's better-known pupils included Leroy Anderson (1908-1975), Irving Fine (1914-1962; see 30 June 2015), Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), Samuel Adler (b. 1928; see 7 August 2013), John Harbison (b. 1938; see 31 May 2015) and Mark DeVoto (b. 1940), who wrote the notes for this album.
In addition to his academic pursuits, Walter composed a considerable body of music, most of which is instrumental. This includes a number of orchestral works, which subsume eight symphonies (seven currently available on discs), several concertante pieces, as well as many others scored for chamber forces. The four selections here are a superb sampling of them, the opening and closing ones being world premiere recordings.
Things get underway with the Variations on a Theme by Edward Burlingame Hill [T-1] (1953), who taught Piston at Harvard and became one of his colleagues when he joined the faculty. The tune comes from an unpublished solo flute work Edward wrote for a student, who played that instrument.
With the marking Andantino (Leisurely), after a short orchestral preface, the flute enters with a pleasant meandering tune (PM) [00:11] based on Hill's melody. Subsequently, PM is subjected to a series of captivating, wily treatments, where there are three commanding orchestral ones [02:28, 05:32 & 07:13]. Then the music wanes, the flute recalls PM [08:19], and the work comes full circle, ending tranquilly.
Next up, the Divertimento for Nine Instruments dating from 1946. A nonet at heart for flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, 2 violins, viola, cello and double bass, the version presented here features an expanded string section. Generally speaking, this music brings to mind more animated moments in the 1920-30s music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Walter's Yale counterpart, Paul Hindemith (1895-1963).
More specifically, it's a three-movement, rhythmically restless, piece of pandiatonic persuasion. The Allegro (Fast) marked first [T-2] is scherzo-like with outer sections based on a spirited, playful tune [00:01]. They surround a somewhat introspective trio episode [01:13--02:11] and end this movement full circle.
The mood becomes contemplative in the Tranquillo (Tranquil) [T-3] that starts with sighing strings [00:01], over which the oboe plays a piquant, wistful melody (PW) [00:04]. PW is picked up by the other instruments and undergoes an exploration with a couple of climactic passages [beginning at 01:39 & 04:29].
The foregoing wanes into peaceful remembrances of PW that end this section in the same spirit it began. But then playtime resumes with the closing Vivo (Lively) [T-4]. Moreover, this bustling toccata-like utterance has chirping winds and excited strings that bring the work to a swift, spirited conclusion.
Moving ahead some twenty years, we next have the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra of 1967 [T-5], which is atypically in four movements adjoined by cadenzas for the soloist. Its opening one has a cheeky, Con Moto (With movement), knocks-on-blocks accented orchestral introductory motif (CM) [00:01].
This is followed by the clarinet playing three chromatic tunes that are sequentially flighty [00:15], lyrical [01:05] and sighing [01:41]. Then CM initiates an engaging development [02:05] succeeded by the first cadenza [03:10], which calls up a scherzo-like, second movement [03:34] having jazzy spots.
The latter gives way to a searching second cadenza [05:46] that sets the mood for an Assai lento (Very slow) third movement [06:26]. This is initially yearning, but ends with Allegro (Fast) dialogic passages [10:27] that trigger a highly demanding third cadenza [10:51].
It's quickly followed by a Vivo (Lively) marked, fourth movement [11:03] finale, which has a CM-based opening episode that struts about like Stravinsky's (1882-1971) "Dances of the Young Girls" in his Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring; 1911-13). This ends the piece flamboyantly with virtuosic clarinet flourishes, more Stravinskian orchestral moments and some insistent, final forte chords [12:31].
Our program concludes with Piston's three-movement Concerto for Orchestra (1933), which some have compared to that "Yalie" Hindemith's eponymous work (Op. 38; 1925). Granted, both are virtuosic exercises for solo as well as groups of instruments; however, stylistically speaking, they're quite different. More specifically, Walter's themes are generally diatonic in character and his harmony preponderantly triadic.
The ritornello-like Allegro moderato ma energico (Moderately fast, not too energetic") first movement [T-6] takes its que from the concerto grosso. And in that regard, the scoring calls for a solo piano, which like the harpsichord in Baroque times, serves as the continuo.
It begins with everyone playing a vivacious march tune (VM) [00:01]. This has busy woodwind passages [00:23-00:29] and bridges into a related, festive brass number (VF) [01:00] having a piano accompaniment. Then VM is repeated [01:35], explored and gives way to a string quartet [02:05] that along with the woodwinds and piano tweak VF. Subsequently, the brass forcefully restate VW [02:52], after which it becomes the basis for a rousing coda [03:15] that ends the movement in martial triumph.
The Allegro vivace (Fast and spirited) second [T-7] is a colorfully instrumented, scampering, "scherzoesque" piece (see DeVoto's detailed analysis). Suffice to say there are some sly retrograde passages [03:07] as well as a bizarre closing coda [03:31], which presages the last measures in the second movement of Piston's Sixth Symphony (1955). And by the way, that work's final fourth one begins with a robust theme, which became the signature tune for a very popular 1950s US news program.
As for the closing movement here [T-8], we again defer to DeVoto's perspicacious notes, which depict it as two movements for the price of one! Moreover, the initial Adagio (Slow) section is a passacaglia having an ostinato based on a lumbering, ursine theme (LU).
LU starts with a growling tuba [00:01] soon joined by the remaining brass, and builds into a sustained forte chord [01:50]. This wanes, giving way to the woodwinds, which introduce a serene idea [02:03]. However, that's suddenly interrupted by the strings playing an Allegro moderato (Moderately fast), four-voice fugue, whose opening subject is a high-stepping, march-like version of LU (LM) [03:17].
This is to quote the album notes "an unmarked fourth movement", highlights of which include a couple of Un poco più allegro (A little faster) canon-like episodes [04:35 & 05:14] and other contrapuntal machinations. Towards the end there are two prominent chords that are the same as one found in the third movement of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms (1930, rev. 1948). Its exact location there and whereabouts here are left as an exercise for fastidious listeners having these works' scores! That said, LU then returns in the brass [05:31] while the other instruments cavort about playing LM, all of which brings this music to a rousing conclusion.
Award-winning, American clarinetist Michael Norsworthy, who was at one time an artist in residence at Harvard, delivers a superb performance of the 1967 Concerto. He receives superb support from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) under its founder-conductor Gil Rose.
Maestro Rose and the BMOP then go on to give committed, eloquent accounts of the other three selections. Their renditions of these superbly crafted pieces by one of the US's finest music teachers, would have undoubtedly earned an "A+" from him. That said, let us hope they'll soon give us more of his music.
The recordings were made during 2014 and 2015 at three different locations. The Divertimento... was done in Boston-based WGBH-TV's Fraser Hall, while the venue for the first and last selections was that city's Jordan Hall. The Concerto for Clarinet... was laid down in Mechanics Hall, Worcester, some 50 miles west-southwest of there. And incidentally, WGBH's affiliate WCRB (99.5 FM) was your reviewer's "classical teething ring" when he was at school in that area.
Despite the different times and places, the recordings on this hybrid disc present a generous, amazingly consistent sonic image in uniformly warm, reverberantly enriching spaces. The overall instrumental timbre is excellent with pleasing highs, a rich midrange and clean bass that goes down to rockbottom with no hint of boom in the lower registers. As for the clarinet, it's placed midway in front of the orchestra and ideally captured as well as balanced against it. The string tone is good on conventional CD players and even better with Super Audio ones.
Those with home theater systems will find the multichannel mode adds a concert ambience that gives the listener a virtual, center-orchestra seat a few rows back from the BMOP. Everything considered, this release gets an "Audiophile" rating no matter how you play it. One little nitpick, pointy-eared listeners may notice some background rustling sounds in the Clarinet Concerto [T-5, 03:37].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y210929)
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Schelb: Orch Wks V2 (Cor Anglais Conc, Pno Conc, Va Conc No. 2); Wollenweber/Blome/Zickgraf/Bruns/BerKamSym [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Not long ago the adventurous Toccata label introduced us to some symphonic music by German composer Josef Schelb (1894-1977; see 31 March 2018). Now they give us a welcome follow-on release having a trine of his concertos, which are respectively for cor anglais, piano and viola. Each three-movement works with string orchestra accompaniments, the last two are world premiere recordings.
His son Albert, who's a musicologist, wrote the album notes, which provide a good summary of his father's background along with detailed analyses of these selections. Consequently, we'll limit this commentary to some basic observations about them.
Proceeding chronologically, the Piano Concerto (1949) is of neoclassical disposition. It may bring to mind later works in this genre by Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971).
The sonata-form-like first movement [T-1] starts Straff bewegt (Taut and busy) with a frenzied introduction for the strings [00:01] that wanes, hinting at a bustling idea (B1) soon heard on the piano [00:50]. Then B1 evokes a somewhat mystical, second theme (M2) [01:48], which leads to a spirited, conversational development of the foregoing thoughts [03:04].
This ebbs into an M1-based, contemplative segment for the soloist [05:04] that becomes quite agitated. Then there's a recap of the opening material for all [06:45]. It's succeeded by a B1-based, piano introduced, agitated coda-like episode [07:40], which ends the movement candidly.
The next one [T-2] begins Ruhige Achtel (Gentle quavers) with a somber, wistful notion (SW) [00:00] for the strings, who are soon joined by the soloist playing pianissimo, clocklike [00:59] as well as downward, arpeggiated [01:20] passages. These become more forceful with the addition of dramatic chords [01:45].
Subsequently, the music wanes into a melancholy episode for all [02:48]. This becomes increasingly commanding and then ebbs with memories of the opening measures [05:05] that end the movement tranquilly.
Sorrow turns to waggishness in the closing one [T-3], which opens with a perky orchestral introduction [00:00]. It anticipates a frisky Sehr lebhaft (Very lively), baroque-sounding ditty (FB) intoned by the piano [00:16]. This is taken up marcato by the orchestra [00:37], and becomes the main subject for a theme-with-variations-like caper.
Accordingly, FB is subjected to sequential treatments of varying temperament. They range from flighty [01:04] to headstrong [01:27], lyrical [01:35], somber [01:51], searching [02:04], mystical [03:07], agitated [04:01] and fleeting [05:04]. Then an allargando big-tune one [05:31] ends the piece triumphantly.
Moving ahead, we get the Viola Concerto No. 2 (1956), whose predecessor of 1947 is not currently available on disc. Its initial Allegro moderato (Moderately fast) [T-4] opens with a charming, dance-like theme for the strings (D1) [00:01] that's picked up by the soloist [00:22], who soon plays a yearning second idea (Y2) [01:15].
Y2 undergoes a giddy exploration [01:51], and D1 returns [03:28] initiating an increasingly dramatic development. This evokes a demanding, virtuosic viola cadenza [06:25-09:27], which the album notes tell us "is to be played in a 'calm, freely improvised' style". Then the orchestra triggers a D1-based, vivacious coda [09:28] that brings the movement to a hasty conclusion.
The middle Andante tranquillo (Tranquilly flowing) [T-5] starts with a warm, oneiric thought (WO) for all [00:00]. WO is repeated by the soloist [01:00] and becomes the subject of a rhapsodic development [01:48]. This waxes [beginning at 03:05] and wanes into halting reminders of WO [04:07], which except for a last emotional outburst [05:05-05:24], end things quietly.
After that, there's a Molto vivace (Very spirited) sonata-rondo-like finale [T-6], where the viola immediately spins out a droll, mischievous ditty (DM) [00:01] to a plucky accompaniment. It then plays a related, more casual thought (DC) [00:21], which is picked up by the orchestra.
The foregoing is material for some developmental treatments, the first being rather lyrical [00:55] with some fancy fiddling [01:28]. This ebbs into a wistful viola remembrance of DC [02:09] having nostalgic reminiscences of both tunes [02:35].
Then DM [03:56] and DC [04:16] evoke a DC-based, serenade-like episode [04:54]. But that irrepressible DM resurfaces [05:26] fueling a frenzied, recapitulative coda that ends the work flippantly.
Filling out this disc there's the Concerto for Cor Anglais of 1970. A sophisticated combination of chromatic, dodecaphonic and polyphonic elements, it makes for some highly enjoyable listening, and in that regard, you may find it the most appealing selection here.
The opening Allegretto (Lively) [T-7] opens with shimmering strings under which the violins gently intone a twelve-tone idea (TT) [00:04-00:32] that's briefly explored. This is succeeded by a short pause, and the strings play a curt preface [00:48], after which the cor anglais picks up on TT [00:52], toys with it and introduces a songlike version of same [01:41].
Subsequently the orchestra forcefully launches a spirited development based on the aforementioned [02:23]. This takes the form of a dialogue between itself and the soloist, in which there's some imitative mischief. Also, the violins introduce a twelve-tone, third thought [04:15] that's cause for more discourse.
Then a forceful orchestral statement of TT [05:57] triggers a recapitulation. Here there's some lively cor anglais commentary [06:12], all of which brings the movement to a no-frills conclusion.
Predominantly in C minor, there's an air of despair about the middle Lento (Slow) [T-8]. It begins with a lachrymose thought of rustic demeanor (LR) piquantly played by the soloist. This is all the more mournful for some two-note, marcato accents and sobbing outcries from the strings.
LR is food for some contemplative episodes [01:37, 02:11, 03:14, 04:21 & 05:02] as well as a subdued, funeral march [05:30]. The latter gives way to a slentando reminder of the opening measures that ends this movement tranquilly.
But gloom turns to glee in the scherzoesque Vivace (Sprited) [T-9]. Here a string introduction featuring a playful tune (PT) [00:00] hints at a jolly dance ditty (JD) soon introduced by the soloist [00:23].
These fuel a frolicsome development [00:39], where a gently swaying thought [01:01] and flighty stuttering one [02:45] are thrown in for good measure. Subsequently, there's a brief tranquillo bridge [03:29] into the return of PT [04:04] as well as JD [04:18]. They're tossed about by the orchestra and soloist, thereby ending the work in droll, sprightly fashion.
The three German-born-and trained soloists here -- pianist Tatjana Blome, violist Sarina Zickgraf and cor anglais soloist Dominik Wollenweber -- deliver virtuosically dazzling performances of their respective concertos. What's more they receive magnificent, sensitive support from the strings of the Kammersymphonie Berlin (Berlin Chamber Orchestra) under its founding artistic director and chief conductor Jürgen Bruns. Their renditions of these Schelb rarities will probably be the definitive recorded accounts of them for some time to come!
A coproduction of Toccata and Deutschlandfunk Kultur (DLFK), the recordings were made over three days during January 2021 in one of Germany's legendary venues, the Jesus-Christus-Kirche (Jesus Christ Church Dahlem), Berlin. They project a sonic image where the orchestra is spread across an ideally sized space with each of the soloists centered in front of it.
The string sound is as good as it gets on conventional discs, while the solo instruments are beautifully captured, highlighted and perfectly balanced against them. That said, this music is all the richer in surroundings such as these, thereby making for a release that easily earns an "Audiophile" rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y210928)
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