CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
6 JANUARY 2012
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.
Cordero, E.: Conc Fest... (gtr); Insula..., Conc Trop... (vn); P.Romero/Figueroa/ISoldiZag [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
An all-star cast consisting of guitarist Pepe Romero, violinist Guillermo Figueroa and the legendary I Solisti di Zagreb heads up these performances of three concertos by Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero (b. 1946). A graduate of the Madrid Royal Conservatory, you'll find each of these pieces an appealing paella with Caribbean seasoning.
The three-movement Concierto Festivo for guitar and strings (2003) is dedicated to Romero (b. 1944), whose commanding performance of it proves at age sixty-seven he’s still one of today's finest guitarists. The initial allegro opens with twitchy tango riffs and strummed passages that introduce a theme recalling Rodrigo's (1901-1999) efforts in this genre. Here virtuosic outer sections surround a poignant rhapsodic inner one that anticipates the following adagio.
This opens mysteriously with shimmering strings that usher in a romantically moving canción for the soloist. The movement is made all the more alluring with occasional flamenco flourishes, and ends regretfully on an unresolved guitar note.
The finale begins dramatically with quivers and eerie meows in the strings that give way to a stately theme. It’s energetically embroidered by the guitar, and subjected to a number of clever variations that include more feline murmurs, and a delicate cadenza. Towards the end there's an animated dialogue between soloist and tutti. Then the concerto concludes emphatically with some final guitar fireworks.
The two concertos for violin and strings filling out the disc are programmatic travelogues inspired by the landscape, flora, fauna and cultural elements found in Puerto Rico. The latter include Hispanic and African influences as well as those indigenous to the island.
The first work entitled Insula: Suite Concertante (2009) is in four sections and dedicated to our soloist, Guillermo Figueroa. The opening "Paisajes" ("Landscapes") begins with a soaring modal melody on the violin suggestive of mountains. There are also references to a Caribbean folk dance known as the Guajira.
The lithe "Jájome," named after a mountain range in the island's center, was according to the composer influenced by Satie's (1866-1925) Trois gymnopédies (1888). While "Las Indieras de Maricao" ("The Indian Settlements of Maricao") with its trills, glissandi, quarter tones and pentatonic melody is meant to typify the island's ancient Taíno people.
The concerto closes with a colorful "Fantasia salsera" ("Salsa Fantasy"). Highly syncopated and harmonically adventurous it characterizes the Caribbean dance music of African origin found in Puerto Rico.
Our tour of the island continues with the earlier three-movement Concertino Tropical (1998). Insistent rhythmic changes of gear and a spectacular cadenza in the opening allegro called "Yerba bruja" ("Witch Herb") immediately grab the listener's attention. It's followed by a serene arboreal adagio subtitled "Los caobos" ("The Mahogany Trees"), whose modally based motifs add a Renaissance air. The concerto ends spectacularly in an energetic finale inspired by "El colibri dorado" ("The Golden Hummingbird"), where the soloist takes flight in a breathtaking airborne moto perpetuo.
Founded in 1953 by renowned cellist and conductor Antonio Janigro (1918-1989), I Solisti di Zagreb is just as great as ever, delivering stunning support to our two soloists (see above). Exemplary performances by everyone make these concerti shine all the brighter. Cordero couldn't have better advocates!
Made on two separate occasions at the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall in Zagreb, Croatia, the recordings are good. They project a modest soundstage with the soloists well placed and balanced in a reverberant acoustic that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The guitar is beautifully captured, while the string sound is generally pleasant despite a touch of glare in upper registers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120106)
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Gaubert, P.: Au..., Vn Conc, Poème..., Cortège...; Graffin/Demarquette/Soustrot/Lux PO [Timpani]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Timpani's revival of French composer Philippe Gaubert's (1879-1941) orchestral music (see the newsletter of 27 July 2011) swells with this third volume featuring a rustic Basque diptych, violin concerto and a couple of symphonic poems. Readers familiar with the previous installments may feel it's the best yet, while those not knowing Gaubert couldn't find a better starting point.
The program begins with Au pays basque (In the Basque Country, 1930), which is a fetching folksy two-part suite. The first "Au matin dans la montagne" ("Morning on the Mountain") seems to paint a spectacular sunrise in the Pyrenees with the sound of a shepherd's horn, church bells and a rustic ditty in the background. Vincent d'Indy's (1851-1931) Jour d'été à la montagne (Summer Day on the Mountain, 1905; see the newsletter of 13 July 2009) could well have served as a model.
The suite ends with "Fête populaire à Saint-Jean-de-Luz" ("Saint-Jean-de-Luz Folk Festival"), which is in five subsections highlighted by a couple of rousing numbers including a majestic brass-reinforced sword dance. The final whirlwind fandango is of Jota aragonesa lineage (see the newsletter of 8 September 2008), and may bring Chabrier's (1841-1894) España (1883) to mind. There are some poignant piccolo passages recalling the Basque txistu, which is a variety of folk flute played with one hand while the musician beats a small drum with the other.
The violin concerto of 1928-29 is a pastoral rhapsody in three connected movements along the lines of Delius' (1862-1934) nature cameos. The violin sings some lovely extended melodies devoid of any virtuosic embellishments in the opening allegretto and adjoining lento. The latter transitions directly into the final allegro, which is an animated Gallic romp. Here Gaubert gives the soloist more of an opportunity to display his technical prowess without disturbing the work’s pastoral atmosphere.
In three attached movements like the foregoing, the Poème romanesque (Romanesque Poem) for cello and orchestra of 1931 is more of a concerto despite its name. The initial allegro contains some dramatic passages for the soloist, and ends in a virtuosic flurry announcing the slow movement.
This begins reverentially in the orchestra with the quaint addition of a tolling bell. The cello finally enters argumentatively, eventually spinning out a beautiful cantilena, and executing a cadenza that segues right into the concluding fast movement. Lasting only two and a half minutes, it's an infectious scurrying bravura postscript which ends this would-be concerto all too soon.
The program closes with Le Cortège d'Amphitrite (The Procession of Amphitrite, 1910) inspired by an Albert Samain (1858-1900) poem (see the album booklet for French and English texts). A lush opulent musical seascape, it's an undiscovered miniature masterpiece out of Wagner (1813-1883) headed towards Florent Schmitt (1870-1958, see the newsletter of 25 July 2007) via Chausson (1855-1899), Debussy (1862-1918, see the newsletter of 7 April 2007) and d'Indy (see the newsletter of 25 April 2010). Many may find this early effort of Gaubert's the most impressive piece here.
Just last spring we were singing the praises of violinist Phillipe Graffin (see the newsletter of 18 April 2011), who champions more rare repertoire here with a splendid performance of the Gaubert concerto. Cellist Henri Demarquette is the equally talented soloist for Poème romanesque, while conductor Marc Soustrot and the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra make them shine all the brighter with their zealous support. They also give us stirring accounts of the other two symphonic selections.
Made in Luxembourg Philharmonic Hall, there's a refreshing airiness and sparkle about these recordings. They project a generous soundstage in an ideally reverberant acoustic with both soloists convincingly captured and well balanced against the orchestra. Some may find the instrumental timbre a tad bright at times, but agreeably musical in the main. Romantics and audiophiles will be pleased.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120105)
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McKinley, W.T.: Concert Vars... (w Michal & Sackman); Dicterow/Dreyfus/St.Clair/WarNa PO [Navona]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD+)
With an eye-catching cover photo of the Grand Canyon, you’ll find the music on this new CD from Navona equally attractive to the ear. Entitled “Divergence – Modern Concerti for Strings,” it has three contemporary works by Americans William Thomas McKinley (b. 1938) and Scott Michal (birth date unknown.), in addition to Englishman Nicholas Sackman (b. 1950). As a bonus, computer weenies can put this in their disc drive for what’s billed as an exclusive interactive multimedia presentation.
Think of McKinley’s Concert Variations for violin and viola (1993) as a modern day mutation of Mozart’s (1756-1791) ever popular Sinfonia Concertante for the same solo instruments (K. 364/320d, 1779). It opens with a somber haunting main subject that’s subjected to eight disparate transformations. Highly dramatic, they’re laced with virtuosic passages for the soloists, and have some arresting percussive effects. The last variation is a bustling tour de force with an agonized finale that ends the work matter-of-factly.
Encomiums for violin and orchestra of 2009 by Scott Michal is in three movements, each honoring and named after one of classical music’s outstanding contrapuntists. The first, “Hindemith” (1895-1963), has the melodic expansiveness of his Mathis der Mahler Symphony (1934), while the second, “Bach” (1685-1750), is chorale-like with violin figurations. The final one, “Prokofiev” (1891-1953), is a delightful frolic with all the harmonic whimsicality of his Classical Symphony (No. 1, 1916-17).
The 2008 Concertino for Violin and Orchestra by Nicholas Sackman is in three closely linked movements, the first of which is a jazzy syncopated attention-getter. The bluesy second anticipates the virtuosic fidgety finale that includes some colorful percussion, and ends the concertino perfunctorily. Generally speaking there’s a dialecticism about this piece that brings Bernstein’s (1918-1990) Serenade After Plato’s Symposium (1954) to mind.
Violinist Glenn Dicterow and violist Karen Dreyfus along with the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra under Carl St.Clair give a wonderful account of the McKinley. And the same can be said for violinists Vit Muzík and Ondrej Lébr in the Michal and Sackman. They receive praiseworthy support from the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra under conductors Petr Vronský and Vit Micka respectively.
Made at different times and loctions over the past few of years, these recordings are clear and well focused, with the soundstage for the McKinley being the widest and in the liveliest venue. That for Sackman's piece lies somewhere between this and the more compact, less reverberant one associated with the Michal. All the soloists are well placed and balanced against their respective orchestras, whose instrumental timbres are consistently musical.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120104)
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Schumann, Geo.: Pno Trios 1 & 2; Mun Pno Trio [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
If anything this music by German composer Georg Schumann (1866-1952) outdoes that of his younger brother Camillo (1872-1946), which we sang the praises of last spring (see the newsletter of 10 March 2011). Musically precocious, Georg became a brilliant pianist at a very early age, and went on to study at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he often played chamber repertoire with his fellow students.
It was there he wrote a piano trio for them, which has long since been forgotten, but may have served as a model for the first of his two numbered ones presented here. Both are in four movements, and follow in the footsteps of Robert Schumann (1810-1856, no relation) and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). However, you’ll find Georg puts the piano and strings on a more equal footing, and has his own structural concepts, particularly when it comes to sonata form.
The earlier trio of 1899 begins with a lovely singing melody that’s dramatically developed in the opening allegro. An exceptional melodically sweeping andante follows, and then the mood changes with the next allegretto. Here outer lullaby-like sections surround a radiant episode with sweeping piano arpeggios. The finale starts with a simple idea that becomes increasingly kinetic in a movement pulsating with romantic energy. It builds to a stirring climax ending the trio in grand fashion.
The year 1916 saw the completion of the more harmonically adventurous second trio, which might be viewed as an extension of Richard Strauss’ (1864-1949) youthful chamber music. The opening allegro begins with a drop-dead gorgeous melody (DG) followed by a more forceful one of Brahmsian persuasion, and a third somewhat somber idea. These are masterfully developed, and after a lovely piano solo based on DG, worked into a recapitulation and final coda that ends this glorious movement exuberantly.
The next adagio is reverential with a chromaticism reflecting the influence of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), whom Schumann had heard during his studies in Leipzig. There are even hints of the "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde (1865), which provide the impetus for the hesitant first idea (HF) that begins the third movement.
An unconventional combination allegretto and scherzo, here Schumann alternates HF with a giddy country number, creating a charming lighthearted diversion. It sets the tone for the winsome finale, which begins with a perky angular ditty (PA). This is subjected to a sometimes ominous-sounding development, but the trio ends with a glorious final theme that’s an ingenious blend of PA and DG.
We have the Munich Piano Trio to thank for resurrecting these undeservedly forgotten pieces. Pianist Donald Sulzen is superb, and what violinist Michael Arlt and cellist Gerhard Zank may lack in technical refinement, they make up for with their enthusiastic playing of these wonderful works.
A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur, both trios are excellent studio recordings projecting an ideally proportioned soundstage in a warm acoustic. Romantic chamber music enthusiasts and audiophiles alike will not be disappointed.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120103)
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Weingartner: 4-5 Stg Chbr Wks Cpte V3 (Qts 2 & 4); Sarastro Qt [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
CPO concludes its intriguing survey of German conductor-composer Felix Weingartner's (1863-1942) chamber music for four and five strings (see the newsletter of 22 November 2010) with this third volume devoted to the second and fourth of his five quartets. Understandably there are stylistic elements common to both, but a degree of individuality that sets them considerably apart.
The second was initially too progressive for audiences of the day, but falls easily on the ear now. While despite a couple of kinky spots, there's a classical simplicity and directness about the fourth that makes it immediately appealing.
The four movement second of 1898 opens with an agitated allegro notable for a recurring four-note cry of anguish (FC) in the violins. A scherzo follows with pizzicato and sul-ponticello spiced outer sections surrounding a melodic core worthy of Schubert (1797-1828).
One of Weingartner's most heartfelt offerings, the slow movement is a gorgeous lingering fantasia with hints of FC, and the exact opposite of the vivace furioso marked finale. This is a thrilling bravura horse race with remembrances of past ideas that ends as all four participants dash under the wire, horsehair flying!
In 1917 he completed his fourth quartet, also in four movements. The initial allegro opens with a couple of loveable good-natured ideas, and contains a curious episode with some of those buzzing bees frequently found in Martinu’s string writing (1890-1959, see the newsletter of 30 August 2007). It’s quite whimsical, and in a modified sonata form peculiar to Weingartner, where he makes the recapitulation an extension of the development.
The elegie that's next is a theme and variations with a melancholy main subject. The composer's soothing manipulation of it makes this one of his most calmative creations. But the spell is broken by the bustling scherzo that follows. Here perky opening and closing sections with some catchy offbeat pizzicato bookend a winsome tuneful trio.
The closing vivace starts with a folkish ditty that could almost be from one of "Papa Haydn's" (1732-1809) cheekier quartet movements. It's the recurrent idea for an entertaining sonata-rondo ending the work with that same feeling of capriciousness which opened it.
This third album also features the Swiss-based Sarastro Quartet, whose members once again prove themselves devoted proponents of these scores. Their sensitive, dramatic interpretation of the fourth quartet is matched by the equally impressive lightness of touch and attention to detail which they bring to the second. An occasional intonational anomaly will most likely go unnoticed in the grand scheme of things.
A coproduction of CPO and Swiss Radio, the recordings, which were done at the Marthalen Church in Switzerland, are good. They project a soundstage commensurate with music of this scope in an accommodating venue. The strings are natural sounding except for some edginess in the violin upper registers.
And last but not least, the album notes contain more pearls of wisdom from that indefatigable, stream-of-consciousness musicologist Eckhardt van den Hoogen, who returns as commentator for the series (see the final paragraph of the recommendation for volume two). Can you imagine a music appreciation course with this guy!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120102)
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Widor: Pno Concs 1 & 2, Fant (pno & orch); Becker/Fischer/BBCWalNa O [Hyperion]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
French composer Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) is best remembered for his ten organ symphonies, and the ever popular toccata from the fifth in particular. But he also wrote a substantial amount of orchestral music including six symphonies (see the newsletter of 8 February 2010) and two piano concertos. The latter make a rare welcome appearance along with his fantasy for piano and orchestra on this fifty-fifth volume in Hyperion's continuing saga of the "Romantic Piano Concerto."
Composed about the same time as the Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) fourth, original Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) first (see the newsletter of 31 October 2009) and Dvorák (1841-1904) piano concerto (1875-76), Widor's initial effort was completed in 1876. In the usual three movements, the furrow-browed, finely honed opening allegro brings Robert Schuman (1810-1856) and Saint-Saëns to mind.
An exceptionally moving andante religioso follows, and has all the subtle depth of the finest slow movements in Widor's organ symphonies. While the concluding allegro is a lighthearted offering featuring an infectious prancing main theme. It ends the concerto with reminiscences of past ideas, and terminates the work in a swirl of bravura merriment.
The Fantaisie (1889-90) begins with a restrained extended melody (RE) that recalls Franck (1822-1890), but has a chromatic fluidity more typical of Widor. This is dramatically developed during the first half of the piece, and then a second nervous staccato idea (NS) surfaces. Another development in which RE and NS vie for center stage follows, with RE finally winning out in a heavenly bound peroration. The piece then ends in a virtuosic bash for soloist and orchestra.
Also in three movements, the second concerto of 1905 is shorter and more structurally compact than its predecessor. It begins with an austere but active allegro in the minor that augurs the "Dance of Fear" in Falla's (1876-1946) El amor brujo (Love the Magician, 1915-16), and at one point suggests the Dies Irae.
The succeeding reverent andante starts out darkly, gradually brightening with a lyrically hopeful theme. It's the subject of a cadenza and some lovely passagework for solo violin and piano that transitions directly into the restless finale. Sparkling and iridescent, this tuneful movement ends the concerto on a romantic high in the tradition of Liszt (1811-1886). Do you detect glimmers of the main theme from Franck's Symphonic Variations (1885)?
Once again we're pleased to welcome German pianist Markus Becker to these pages (see the newsletter of 15 April 2009) in stirring performances of all three pieces. He tempers his virtuosity with a sensitivity and commitment that make this revival of Widor's egregiously neglected orchestral music all the more compelling. Up-and-coming Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer elicits loving expansive performances from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in support of Herr Becker.
Done in Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales, the recordings are most welcome considering this recondite repertoire, however the soundstage seems somewhat compressed. The piano is well balanced against the orchestra, but there’s occasional digital grain in the upper registers. Unfortunately this is also true of the violins in louder passages. The good news is listeners will be so enthralled with these enjoyable pieces they'll soon forget any sonic shortcomings.
In conclusion, it would seem to be a feast or a famine as far as Widor's symphonic music is concerned, considering Dutton has just released an identically programmed disc. Unfortunately review copy restrictions on the part of their US distributor precluded requesting it. Consequently we'll leave the choice as to the better version with readers fortunate enough to have heard both. Please let us know what you think by clicking here, and we'll pass it along in a later newsletter.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120101)
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