CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 JANUARY 2018
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.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Vc Conc; Gál, H.: Vc Conc; Wallfisch/Milton/BerCnH O[CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Billed as "Voices in the Wilderness", this release gives us CPO's first installment in what should be a most rewarding new series, featuring renowned cellist Raphael Wallfisch. He'll be playing concertos by Jewish composers, who were forced to flee their native countries with the rise of the Third Reich (1933-45), and its anti-Semitism.
Besides the two selections on this disc, candidates for subsequent ones include those by the likes of Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984; see 31 July 2017), Franz Reizenstein (1911-1968; see 28 February 2012), Alezandre Tansman (1897-1986, see 30 June 2017), Ignatz Waghalter (1869-1961; see 7 November 2012) and Karl Weigl (1881-1949; see 30 November 2015).
In 1938, Fascist Italy promulgated racial laws that deprived all Jews of their basic rights. Accordingly, Mario Castenuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968; see 31 March 2016) left his native country the following year, immigrated to the United States, and finally wound up in Los Angeles, where he'd become a highly successful film composer.
However, he always considered his Hollywood efforts just a source of income, and in retrospect spent most of his creative time producing a substantial body of concert works. The one here, which was written in 1932-3 for the great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976; see 31 October 2009), is a world premiere recording.
In three movements, the initial "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately Fast") [T-4] is a theme and variations. It begins with the soloist playing a proud, martial, main subject (PM) [00:00] that's soon picked up by the tutti [00:59]. Mischievous [01:35], somber [04:56], rhapsodic [07:13] and jaunty [08:14] treatments follow, after which there's a demanding, extended cadenza [09:36-12:09]. Then the orchestra returns, and the music bridges into a spirited final coda [12:40] with a laid-back reminder of PM [12:58] that brings the movement to a tranquil conclusion.
The charming, brilliantly scored "Andante" [T-6] smacks of sunny Italy, and starts with a tintinnabular tutti preface [00:00]. It's succeeded by a couple of infectious, folklike ideas, the first being a coy, dance ditty intoned by the cello [00:09]. This is explored, and then the soloist goes on to play a Sephardic-tinged tune [01:47]. These undergo a consummate development that ends the movement with celestial touches of tuned-percussion.
Then a closing, rondo-like "Allegretto vivace e con spirito" ("Lively and Vivacious with Spirit") [T-6] opens excitedly with an explosive, rhythmic riff in the orchestra (ER) [00:00]. ER will be a pervasive force throughout the movement, and begins by triggering a lengthy cello cadenza [00:05]. Here the soloist soon plays an ER-sired, impetuous melody (EI) [00:44], and goes on to explore the foregoing material [01:18]. After that the tutti reappear [02:42], and we get more reminders of ER.
Soon an EI-related lyrical melody (EL) surfaces [02:55], bridging into a spirited, ER-EL-based, dance segment [03:21]. This makes a moody transition [04:57] into an ER-fueled, rhapsodic episode [05:25], followed by a couple of triumphant orchestral recaps of past ideas [06:56 & 09:19]. Then some virtuosic cello fireworks [beginning at 09:41] and an amalgam of ER, EI and EL [10:21] bring the concerto to a glorious conclusion.
Born and educated in Austria, Hans Gál (1890-1987; see 23 February 2011) had his musical career interrupted by World War I (1914-8), when he was drafted and served in the army. Then with the restoration of peace, Hans soon got a position teaching music theory in Vienna. He also began some scholarly endeavors, which lead to his meeting many notable musicians of the day.
These included such greats as Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954), and Fritz Busch (1891-1952; see 30 November 2015), all of whom helped him secure a highly distinguished academic appointment in Mainz, Germany. But the rise of Nazism in 1933 lead to his dismissal, and he returned to Vienna.
Unfortunately, things there went from bad to worse, culminating in the Nazi Anschluss of Austria in 1938. This forced him to leave the continent for England, where he soon met British musicologist-composer Sir Donald Tovey (1875-1940; see 30 November 2017). He helped Gál get a teaching position at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where Hans would spend the rest of his life. It was there in 1944 that he wrote the opening work on this disc. Curiously enough the oboe is featured extensively, almost making it a double concerto.
Like Mario's, it falls into three movements that even bear the same markings. Moreover, the opening "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately Fast") [T-1] begins with a soft, swaying orchestral preface [00:01], soon followed by the soloist [00:05] playing a graceful, rising-falling theme (GR) [00:05] with a brief assist from the oboe [00:14]. GR is then the subject of a reflective cadenza [01:10] that ends with the oboe playing a melancholy rendition of GR (GM) [02:12].
Next, GM introduces a powerful orchestral reminder of GR [02:57]. It wanes into a subdued afterthought for the cello [04:09] that includes a cheerful variant of GR (GC) [04:32]. Then that ubiquitous oboe joins in, giving rise to a lovely rhapsodic episode, which is suddenly interrupted by an aggressive GR-derived fugato (AGF) [06:04]. The latter initiates a glorious development, alluding to all the foregoing ideas, and falls away into a repeat of GR by the soloist [07:15].
After that there's an oboe reminder of GC [09:26], and subsequent peaceful episode cut short by another AGF [11:04]. The latter triggers a big tune version of GR for both tutti [11:20] and soloist [11:29], which effects a plucky coda [12:07] with some fancy fiddling and stabbing orchestral accents. But alas, it loses steam, ebbing into a chastened passage [13:25] that ends the movement resignedly.
The "Andante" [T-2] opens with a wistful theme for the oboe (WT) [00:00], which owes its heritage to Brahms’ (1833-1897) more subdued moments. WT is set to a compassionate accompaniment, and soon taken up by the cello in an exploratory segment [01:16] supported by strings and woodwinds. Then that inventive oboe spins out a yearning countermelody (YC) [03:45] seconded by the soloist [04:04] and flute [04:39]. This bridges via cello-dominated passages [05:13] into a moving epilogue, which ends the movement with tender tandem memories of WT [05:27] and YC [06:19] for oboe and cello respectively.
A series of tutti outbursts and subsequent descending phrases with an emotional intensity worthy of the last movement in Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Fate Symphony (No. 4, 1877-8), get the closing "Allegretto vivace e con spirito" ("Lively and Vivacious with Spirit") [T-3] off to a rip-roaring start. This is a rondoesque creation like Mario's closing movement, and the soloist soon enters playing a vaunting, wiry idea (VW) [00:11] set to a saucy accompaniment.
VW, which will recur throughout the work, is then picked up by the orchestra [00:20], and tossed about in cheeky fashion. After that our old friend the oboe introduces a VW-derived, lyrical melody (VL) [01:21]. This sparks a rhapsodic episode [01:31], which gives way to a brash VW-related segment [02:48]. The latter is followed by a contemplative cadenza [04:06], and the reappearance of VL in the tutti [06:21].
A subsequent, ascendant cello passage [06:47] and cymbal crash herald the excited return of VW [06:50], soon followed by VL in the oboe [07:48]. This engenders a nostalgic segment notable for hints of GR [08:17] that recall the work's opening, and bring it full circle. Then after a brief pause, light pizzicato strings plus winds [09:19] invoke VW. It powers a colorful climax that ends the concerto with some fancy cello passagework [beginning at 11:20], and a forte, orchestral grin.
Our soloist here, British cellist Raphael Wallfisch (b. 1953), was a student of Piatigorsky (see above). He delivers impeccable performances of these works, and is given superb support by the Berlin Concert House Orchestra (BCHO) under Australian conductor Nicholas Milton. They not only resurrect a heretofore neglected Castelnuovo-Tedesco gem, but give us the best CD rendition of the Gál that’s appeared to date. And in regard to the latter, the BCHO’s oboist, presumably Hungarian Szilvia Pápai, gets a big hand for her magnificent playing.
A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur, these recordings were made two years ago in the BCHO Großer Saal (Great Hall). They project a wide sonic image in pleasantly reverberant surroundings, with all of the solo instruments ideally captured and balanced against the orchestra.
The instrumental timbre is a bit on the bright side, particularly in massed violin passages, but the midrange is convincing. As for the bass, it's very clean and goes down to rock bottom in the more extensively scored Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Everything considered, this CD is a must for unabashed romantics, and should meet with the approval of any audiophiles among them, particularly those liking a wetter sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180131)
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Dyson: Sym "Psalm 107", St. Paul's Voyage to Melita; Soloists/Hill/Bach C & Bourn SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A decade's gone by since a disc with English composer Sir George Dyson's (1883-1964) music has graced these pages (see 15 February 2008). However, that's well made up for with this impressive, new Naxos release, which includes the world premiere recording of an early choral symphony written in 1910 as part of his doctoral studies at Oxford University. An eloquent setting of Old Testament Psalm 107 (see here), this was never performed during the composer's lifetime, and just discovered in 2014 by his biographer, British music authority Paul Spicer (b. 1952).
In four movements lasting forty-five minutes, and scored for soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra, it's a paean to God, commemorating his deliverance, and return of the Jewish people to their homeland after seventy years of captivity in Babylon. The work follows in the footsteps of Elgar's (1857-1934) oratorios (1889-1906), and shows George's amazing ability to write commanding, large-scale works very early on.
After an inordinately long lead-in, the first movement [T-1] begins with what the composer calls an overture (OV) [00:07] that previews important themes soon to come. These include a reverentially devout one (RD) [00:13] that's repeated, and followed by an RD-related, songlike countersubject (RS) [01:08]. Both are contemplated [01:40], after which RD becomes the subject of a spirited fugato. This initiates an impressive development [02:28], and exciting recap [04:39] that ends OV with ebbing remembrances of RS [07:22].
Then there's a brief pause, drumroll-reinforced orchestral chord [07:40], and the chorus enters singing "Oh give thanks unto the Lord". This is the opening phrase of the psalm's first three verses, which are set to RD with RS descants [beginning at 08:42]. They fill out this movement, beseeching thanks from those whom the Lord has redeemed and delivered from their enemy.
The next (verses 4-8) [T-2] begins with peripatetic passages for the orchestra [00:00], which is soon joined by the chorus [00:36], telling about the distraught wanderings of the Jews in the wilderness. The music becomes increasingly agitated reflecting their plight, but turns optimistic [03:56] as the Lord intervenes to the words "and he delivered them from their distress...".
Then after some angelic harp work [05:00], the soprano enters [05:50] with "O that men would therefore praise the Lord...", and extols his beneficence towards mankind. She's joined by the chorus in the final measures, where the music fades, closing with an "Amen-like" orchestral cadence.
The third movement marked "Largo" (verses 10-16) [T-3] starts with a sullen orchestral preface [00:00] followed by a stygian chorus that begins "Such as sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death" [01:37]. The latter goes on to recount man's rebellion against God, subsequent downfall, and cries for help. Then the music becomes consoling [06:53] as we hear "he delivered them out of their distress" [07:09], and even triumphant with the words "and break their bonds in sunder" [08:02].
And after that there's a rousing episode for mezzo, tenor, baritone and chorus, starting, "O that men would therefore praise the Lord..." [08:44]. It's a glorification of God for the wonders he performs on man's behalf, and builds to a thrilling orchestral climax, only to quietly fade away.
Then we get a splendid finale (verses 23-31, 35-37 & 43) [T-4] with an opening segment that the album notes aptly describe as a seascape. Moreover, it gets off to a surging orchestral start [00:00] a bit like the beginning of the third movement in Debussy's (1862-1918) La Mer (1903-5), followed by the chorus singing, "They that go down to the sea in ships..." [00:14]. Accordingly, Psalm 107 has become a favorite with mariners, and for many older listeners, the foregoing line will bring back memories of a similarly titled movie classic released in 1949.
All this builds to a rousing climax as the chorus describes the Lord creating a great tempest at sea, which causes those caught in it to implore him for help. Then the music fades into a lovely halcyon orchestral passage [03:59] that introduces a winsome soprano aria, beginning "For he maketh the storm to cease so that the waves thereof are still" [04:09].
It's followed by a repeat of "O that men would therefore praise the Lord…" (see above) for the chorus [05:32], and subsequent "He maketh the wilderness a standing water..." [07:20], which is a bountiful utterance about his giving man a land of plenty. Then the soprano and chorus return for a euphoric finale that begins "Whoso is wise will ponder these things..." [09:07]. This ends with the orchestra dying away into an anticipant pause, followed by a triumphant, closing, forte chord.
Filling out this release we have Dyson's St. Paul's Voyage to Melita (Malta) of 1933, which is a dramatic, brilliantly scored setting of New Testament Acts 27 (see here). By way of background, this picks up after Paul's arrest in Jerusalem for causing a riot, and consequent invocation of his right as a citizen of Rome to be judged there by the Emperor, who was then Nero (37-68 AD).
In a single, thirty-minute span, the work is scored for tenor (St. Paul), chorus (Narrator) and orchestra. It opens with portentous brass chords followed by a hushed choral recitative [00:18], where we learn Paul and other Roman prisoners have been put aboard a ship bound for Italy. Here puissant, swaying lower strings suggest mighty ocean swells [01:46], and piping woodwinds, cries of seabirds [02:01].
After that the narrative resumes [02:50], revealing they've been at sea many days, and set anchor for a considerable amount of time in the Cretan harbor known as Fair Havens. This lengthy stopover has taken them into the fall months, when winds make sailing in the Mediterranean dangerous. Accordingly, avian shrieks highlight a warning from Paul [05:09-05:27] that continuing the voyage will lead to disaster, and their possible loss at sea.
But to no avail, and after some ominous, halting passages [05:39] the chorus goes on to tell of the ship's weighing anchor [05:47], and soon encountering tempestuous winds [08:53]. It then undergoes all sorts of life-threatening troubles, causing Paul to chide everyone [13:02], in essence saying, "I told you so!" Then there’s an ensuing, impressive passage [13:21], where he exhorts them to be of good cheer for they’ll survive.
The remaining half of the work involves a variety of maritime machinations too numerous to mention. Suffice to say they're followed by an intriguing orchestral respite [23:02], and imposing final chorus [24:35], in which we learn all escape safely to land. Then the work ends definitively with a compelling orchestral afterthought.
Soprano Elizabeth Watts, mezzo-soprano Caitlin Hulcup, tenor Joshua Ellicott and baritone Roderick Williams are in fine form here. Williams, whose praises we've sung before (see 30 April 2015), appears briefly in the symphony's third movement [T-3, 08:44], while Ellicott delivers a powerful portrayal of St. Paul in the companion work.
The four soloists along with the London-based, 250-member Bach Choir, and Bournemouth Symphony represent an imposing assemblage of talent. Under British conductor David Hill they make this CD one of the most outstanding choral releases to appear in some time.
Made early last year in the Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center, Dorset, England, the recordings project an appropriately, spacious sonic image of the large forces involved in an enriching, reverberant acoustic. And on that note, the production staff is to be complimented for maintaining a good balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra.
The overall sound is characterized by pleasant highs with a hint of "digitalis" in massed forte passages, and a lifelike midrange. As for the bass, it's clean, and brings out all the subtleties of Dyson's immaculate scoring.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180130)
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Farkas, F.: Orch Wks V5 (Pno Conc, Planctus…, Sym Ov, etc; w Liszt); G.Farkas/Takács-Nagy/BudaMÁV SO [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Judging from the overwhelmingly positive reader response to the first four Toccata volumes of Hungarian composer Ferenc Farkas' (1905-2000) orchestral music, this fifth installment will be a welcome follow-on. While the previous releases have for the most part featured his lighter works (see 8 September 2014, 21 May 2015 and 30 April 2016), the six selections here are of greater emotional depth, and scored for larger forces. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
They include five by the composer as well as his impressive orchestration of a Liszt (1811-1886) piano piece. Three of the former again reveal Farkas’ propensity to borrow from his older works.
That certainly holds for the two openers. Moreover, they began life in a film score he wrote for the 1951 Hungarian movie Felszabadult föld (Liberated Land), and soon fashioned into his only attempt at a traditional symphony. Then after a couple of performances, he withdrew it, and retained only the first two of its four movements as the independent pieces presented here (see the informative album notes).
The initial Symphonic Overture (1952) [T-1] is in sonata form and a bellicose offering. Moreover, the music reflects its association with a celluloid epic that was about Hungary's liberation from Nazi occupying forces towards the end of World War II (1939-45).
This starts with a fateful, seven-note, bass-drum-accented motif (FS) [00:01] that’s contemplated, and soon succeeded by an FS-related, darting theme (FD) [01:15]. All of the foregoing is then explored [01:51], and followed by an FS-initiated development [04:17], which begins warily. It builds to a martial climax that fades into the return of FD [07:49], which announces a victorious recap, ending the work triumphantly.
The companion Elegia [T-2] is derived from sections of the score, characterizing hopes for better times to come. Consequently, unlike its pugnacious predecessor, this takes the form of a pensive passacaglia with a heavenly ostinato melody (HO) [00:01] that’s most appropriate.
Moreover, HO is borrowed from compatriot Zoltán Kodály's (1882-1967) Budavári Te Deum (Hungarian Te Deum, 1936), which was written to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Budapest's recapture from the Turks by Christian forces back in 1686. The melody accompanies a choral fugue set to the words "Pleni sunt coeli et terra majestatis gloriae tuae" ("Thy sovereign glory fills all heaven and earth"), which appears a little under two minutes [~01:50] into the work.
A couple of years ago we told you about Farkas' delightful Concertino for Harpsichord and String Orchestra (1949, see 30 April 2016). And now we get the parent Concertino for Piano and Orchestra of 1947.
In three movements, the opening allegro [T-3] gets off to a spirited, neoclassical start with the orchestra playing a Gallic-spiced, thematic nexus (GN) [00:00]. It brings to mind Francis Poulenc's (1899-1963) keyboard concertante pieces (1927-49), and is succeeded by a Hungarian-Gypsy-sounding riff (HG) [00:43]. After that, the soloist enters [00:59], examines the foregoing, and engages in a rascally dialogue with the tutti.
Then there’s a brief caesura, followed by a dramatic cadenza [01:59], curt pause, and return of GN in a minor key [02:58]. It makes an agitated transition into the major, and after some subsequent references to HG [beginning at 04:08], the piano and orchestra have a cheeky exchange, which ends the movement in chipper fashion.
The subsequent andante [T-4] starts with soft strings [00:00] that preface a rapturous Magyar melody (AM) [00:05] for clarinet and piano. AM is explored, and followed by a pregnant pause. Then the soloist plays AM in a higher key [02:19], and it becomes the subject of more effuse passages that bring the movement to a serene conclusion.
An angular, Hungarian-sounding, folkish dance ditty (AH) begins the concluding allegro [T-5], which is almost as long as the preceding movements in tandem. AH is soon followed by a related, lumbering idea (AL) [00:40], and the two become the subjects of rhythmically lurching passages [01:21]. These bridge into a contemplative episode [02:11] that has a couple of AH-derived, winsome themes [02:25 & 03:13], and ends with the orchestra reprising AL [03:53].
The latter heralds a big, demanding cadenza [04:14], alluding to the foregoing tunes. Then after a short pause, the piano launches into a sprightly version of AH [05:53] that becomes the subject of an excited fugue involving everyone. This transitions via passages ŕ la Bartók (1881-1945) into a reserved AH afterthought [06:56]. However, that's suddenly interrupted by the frenzied reappearance of the soloist, who's joined by the tutti, bringing the concertino to a resounding finish with a forte, AH fillip.
Like the first two selections, Farkas' 1974 orchestration of Liszt's Funérailles (Harmonies poétiques et religieuses for solo piano, S173, No. 7; 1845-52), has cinematic associations. To wit, it first appeared as a four-minute cue in Ferenc's score for a two-part, biographical film about the great Hungarian pianist-composer entitled Szerelmi álmok (Dreams of Love, 1970).
Done here in its entirety, the work takes on the aspect of a twelve-minute, dramatic tone poem, reflecting the circumstances that inspired Liszt's piece. Moreover, he wrote it to honor the death of his friend and colleague Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), as well as commemorate the disastrous Hungarian revolution of 1848 against the oppressive Austrian Empire then ruling the country.
Accordingly, it opens lugubriously [00:01] with sinister tam-tam and bass drum strokes, leading to agonized brass flourishes [01:39]. These die away, and after a short pause, there's a somber funeral march (SF) [02:17] that begins in the winds, and is picked by the whole orchestra.
This gradually subsides into another brief break, and we next get one of those marvelous Lisztian tunes of reconciliation (LR) [04:28]. LR waxes and wanes into an episode for agitated strings overlaid with brass fanfares (AF) [07:31]. Then SF returns [09:06], intensifies, and subsides into a dramatic break.
After that, LR reappears [10:26], only to be interrupted by more AF passages [11:07]. These end in a sudden, crashing forte chord, followed by four subdued ones that bring the work to a despondent conclusion.
The program continues with another piece having funereal as well as silver screen associations. Moreover, it was written in 1965 to commemorate the death of Ferenc's longstanding friend, Hungarian film director Paul Fejos (born Pál Fejös, 1897-1963), whom he'd met back in 1932.
That was just before Fejos started shooting Ítél a Balaton (The Verdict of Lake Balaton, 1933), at which time Paul discovered Ferenc had studied with one of their favorite composers, Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). This lead to his commissioning Farkas to write the film score, which was the first of many cinematic collaborations between them.
We should add that another Hungarian composer, Viktor Vaszy (1903-1979), was also involved in the Balaton... music. On that note, while Farkas is now well represented on CD, there are no Vaszy discs as of this writing. Maybe the adventurous Toccata folks will soon remedy that.
But returning to Ferenc's memorial to Fejos, it’s titled Planctus et consolationes (Lament and Consolations), and cast in a single movement. This lasts almost eighteen minutes, and is made up of eight, brief, conjoined sections with descriptive markings.
The first "Introduzione" [T-7] gets off to a distraught, agitated start, reflecting the moment when Farkas heard about his friend's death. This becomes a "Marcia funebre I" [T-8], which is a dirge that peaks and repines into a short pause. Then there's a "Consolatio I" [T-9], where things turn marginally brighter. But not for long as the mood soon darkens with an even more intense "Marcia funebre II" [T-10], having a strange, antic midsection [00:51-01:20] of unexplained significance.
It's immediately followed by "Consolatio II" [T11], which is a childlike, scherzoesque number, ostensibly with youthful connotations. And after a brief hiatus, we get "Consolatio III" [T-12], which begins with a serene idea (SI) for the cellos [00:00]. This will come as a big surprise! Moreover, Respighi fans will recognize it as a quote from his Fountains of Rome (1923-4), which appears in the fourth "La Fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto" ("The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset") just a little over thirteen minutes [~13:17] into the work.
SI underlies this entire, soothing section. However, composure turns to contention in the following "Furioso" [T-13], which opens with atonal, dissident passages that turn wistfully lethargic. The album notes call this a rebellion against fate, and go on to describe the final languid "Consolatio IV" [T-14] as ending the piece with sense of final consolation, resignation and acquiescence. All of this seems fair commentary for lack of any better documentation.
Back in 1964 Farkas wrote a romantic folk opera titled Vidróczki (1905; currently unavailable on disc) about a notorious outlaw named Márton Vidróczki (1837-1873), who hung out in the Mátra Hills of northern Hungary, around 50 miles east-northeast of Budapest. Then a couple of years later he extracted the suite that concludes this release.
Called Dances from the Mátra (1968), these lively, brilliantly scored, Magyar style numbers are all in ternary, A-B-A form. The first "Legényes" ("Young Men's Dance") [T-15], has proud, prancing outer sections surrounding a tender "B" [01:19-02:12], while the next Leánytánc ("Young Women's Dance") [T-16] features coy ones wrapped around an alluring come-hither segment [00:36-1:00]. And what better way to finish this Hungarian hoedown than with a wild "Cigánycsárdás" ("Gypsy Czardas") [T-17].
The Budapest MÁV (Hungarian State Railways) Symphony Orchestra under Gábor Takács-Nagy, who was its music director between 2010 and 2012, give superb accounts of this rare repertoire. They're joined by pianist Gábor Farkas (no relation to the composer) for the concerto, which he delivers in dazzling fashion.
The recordings were made on three occasions in June 2016 and April 2017 by Hungarian Radio at an unidentified location in Budapest. Like the ones on the three more recent Toccata releases (see above), they project consistently robust, well defined sonic images in warm, reverberantly enriching surroundings. The piano is well captured, and balanced against the orchestra, as are the other solo instruments.
The orchestral timbre is characterized by bright highs, a natural midrange, and rock-bottom, clean bass. Farkas fans will love this disc, and for those not knowing his music it's an ideal starting point to investigate some exceptional, romantic, Eastern European fare. What's more, audiophiles will find these expressively scored works a good test of their sound systems.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180129)
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Kakhidze, V. Pno Conc, Amazons Sym Ste (fm bal), Conjugations; V. & D. Kakidze/Tbilisi SO [Cugate Cl]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
This intriguing new release from Cugate Classics features a father-son team from Tbilisi, Georgia, namely Djansug (also spelled Jansug, 1935-2002) and Vakhtang (b. 1959) Kakhidze. Vakhtang composed all three selections included here between 1980 and 1989, when their country was still part of the Soviet Union, and both men appear as conductors.
In that regard, Djansug achieved great acclaim during his years on the podium, and became known as "the Georgian Karajan". Consequently, after Vakhtang graduated from the Moscow Conservatory (MC) in 1981, he went on to study conducting with his father, eventually succeeding him as Music Director of the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra (TSO) in 2002.
These are the only recordings of this music currently available on disc, and the program gets off to a lively start with his Concerto for Piano. A student piece written in 1980 at the MC, it would go on to win first prize at the 1981 Young Composer's Competition. He then reworked it in 1991, giving us the version presented here, which has him as soloist with Dad on the podium.
Although it's in the usual three movements, they're conjoined into a single fifteen-minute arch. This begins with a drumroll [00:01] and brass-reinforced ff preface having hints of the Dies Irae (DI) [00:08]. Maybe Vakhtang was taking a cue from another MC graduate, Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943), whose works (1891-1941) are riddled with the DI.
As the opening measures die away, the soloist enters contemplatively [00:51], and is soon joined by the tutti [01:23]. Then there’s a sudden eruption into a scampering segment [01:41], which becomes increasingly jazzy ŕ la Gershwin (1898-1937) with wisps of DI [beginning at 02:34].
This decelerates, and after a brief pause, the soloist begins the second movement playing a DI-related, winsome, aria-like melody (DW) to a warm orchestral accompaniment [05:29]. DW fathers a brilliantly scored, amorous episode [07:48] that builds to a moving crescendo, which wanes with descending piano passages set to caressing orchestral thoughts [10:19]. But these are curtly interrupted by stabbing tutti chords and frenetic keyboard work [11:11] that announce the concluding third movement.
It's even more jazzy than the first, and seemingly there's a reference in the piano [11:42] to Cole Porter's (1891-1964) tune for "I Get a Kick Out of You" that first appeared in his Broadway musical Anything Goes of 1934. This movement is a thrilling, finger-busting, rhythmically crazed creation with catchy riffs, some arrestive handclapping from the orchestra members [13:03-13:13], and more hints of DI [beginning at 14:42]. It ends the work with wild piano passages set to explosive orchestral chords [15;10], followed by a cheeky pause and final tutti sneeze.
The next piece titled Amazons Symphonic Suite dates from 1998, and is in thirteen sections the composer culled from his 1988-9 ballet of that name. Based on a libretto drawn from an eponymous movie script by Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze (1895-1937), it involves those brutal women warriors of Greek mythology. Unfortunately, as of this writing there are no readily available details about the work's underlying story.
Over and above that, all we have to go on are the section subtitles, which only hint at a scenario. Accordingly, we'll flesh one out in hopes of better describing the music. That said, Vakhtang calls for a large orchestra, and his familiarity as a conductor with a wide-range of scores seems to explain the eclectic, colorist nature of this one.
The "Introduction" [T-2] begins somberly with isolated chime strokes, and invokes images of a peaceful pastoral setting. Then all hell breaks loose in "Transformations into Amazons" [T-3], which is a rhythmically corybantic number, where these fierce females presumably first materialize. At one point [01:06] it brings to mind frenzied moments in Stravinsky's (1882-1971) early ballets (1910-3).
This section subsequently withers into a sustained pp note [02:19], immediately succeeded by soft string passages [T-4, 00:00]. These announce "Fema", who's probably the Greek Goddess of Fame known as "Pheme". Then those daunting damsels reappear in "Amazons" [T-5] to a bellicose, drum-brass-accented march that turns triumphant.
It's quickly followed by an enchanting, tintinnabular offering titled "Tomiranda" [T-6]. Judging by the pristine music, one wonders if this bears any relationship to the Miranda, who was the central, virtuous heroine in Shakespeare's (1564-1616) The Tempest (1610-11).
Be that as it may, we next get "Red Woman's Dance" [T-7] -- whoever she is -- that begins coquettishly [00:00], and builds to a rousing climax. This bridges via a ringing forte chord [T-8, 00:00] into "Menades", probably referring to the Maenads, who were the female followers of Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine. Legend has it that he'd ply them with drink, and get them into an intoxicated state of ecstasy, which seems reflected in this bacchanalian offering.
Turning to those male companions of his known as Satyrs, there's a scherzoesque, saucy "Satyr's Dance" [T-9]. This is followed by "Invitation to the Dance" [T-10], which is an impressionistic offering that anticipates a succeeding "Round Dance" [T-11]. The latter is a vibrant number, whose demeanor suggests it's done by the Amazons, and calls to mind wilder moments in Aram Khachaturian's (1903-1978) Gayne Ballet (1942-57).
After all that excitement, we get a soothing "Lullaby" [T-12] with an inviting Slavic theme (IS) reminiscent of ideas in Rimsky-Korsakov's operas (1878-1907). Then there’s a beautiful "Idyll" [T-13] introduced by a lovely melody (LM) [00:00] also of R-K persuasion (see 14 July 2014). Here LM is followed by the return of IS [01:33], and both undergo a moving exploration that ends nostalgically.
The final "Meeting" [T-14] begins in Amazonian fashion with insistent drums [00:00] soon joined by bursts of brass in passages similar to the above "Round Dance" [T-5]. There are also suggestions of those Maenads and Satyrs, implying this section is drawn from the ballet’s finale, which presumably features the entire cast. At one point, the music turns inexplicably giddy [01:26], but then regains its drive [02:22], ending the suite peremptorily.
Filling out this disc, there's Conjugations [T-15], which the composer began as a student at the MS, but didn't complete until 1986. The word ‘conjugation” has a variety of meanings. However, those having biological and linguistic associations, which reflect union and change respectively, would seem to apply here. In that regard, Vakhtang tells us the piece is meant to simultaneously combine and contrast different tonalities, themes, rhythms and groups of instruments.
In a single, fifteen-minute span, it falls into three conjoined sections, the first of which opens with a subdued, organ-augmented pedal point (SP) [00:01], having brass, ostinato embellishments [beginning at 01:05]. Next, the harp [03:14] ushers in strings playing a winsome descending motif (WD) [03:20], which hints at a subsequent cheerful tune for the woodwinds [03:59] and brass [04:35]. The foregoing thematic material then undergoes an increasingly strident, percussion-laced development with a nod to the finale of Stravinsky's (1882-1971) The Firebird (1910).
Three aggressive forte chords [06:50] bring this to a close, and as the last of them fades away, we hear another SP [07:05], which ushers in a dreamy, contemplative, central section. Here WD reappears [08:01], and initiates an excited, dramatic episode that wanes into a third SP [11:51]. This marks the start of the final section, which takes the form of a recap, thereby concluding the piece in the same spirit it began.
The TSO is featured throughout this release with Daddy Djansug as conductor for the Concerto and Conjugations. He elicits exhilarating renditions of both with his son delivering a blistering performance of the piano part in the former. And between them, young Kakhidze leads the TSO in a stunning account of Amazons.
Dating from 1995 (Concerto and Conjugations) and 1998 (Amazons), the recordings were done in the Kakhidze Music Center Hall. They present the large orchestral forces called for in these scores across a wide, deep soundstage in cavernous, reverberant surroundings. Incidentally, the earlier ones seem a bit more distant than their more recent companion, but all three should appeal to those liking a wetter sound.
The piano is well balanced, and perfectly captured with a percussive bite ideally suited to Vakhtang's music. As for the overall orchestral timbre, it’s characterized by frequent steely highs and a somewhat pinched midrange, but rock-bottom, clean bass, particularly in Amazons. On that note, audiophiles will find this disc a challenging test of their system's low end.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180128)
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Leistner-Mayer: Stg Qts 5, 6 "7 Unbrave Bagatelles" & 7 "Ariadne Quartet"; Sojka Qt [TYXArt]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Born in Kraslice, Czech Republic, about eighty miles east of Prague, Roland Leistner-Mayer’s (b. 1945) name is a welcome addition to CLOFO's ever growing list of new noteworthy composers. He studied at the University of Music and Performing Arts (Hochschule für Musik und Theater), Munich, Germany from 1968 to 1973, and now works as a freelance composer in Brannenburg, Germany, some forty miles south-southeast of there.
The winner of several prestigious European music awards, as of this writing he's composed a significant body of works mostly in the orchestral, vocal and chamber genres, Those dating from the early 1970s show the influence of Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), as well as such cutting-edge composers as Stockhausen (1928-2007) and Penderecki (b. 1933).
But since then he's abandoned the avant-garde in favor of a completely tonal, albeit highly chromatic, late-romantic style, emphasizing folk-inspired melodies and rhythms. In that regard, listening to this new TYXArt release with the last three of the seven string quartets he's written to date, the music of compatriots Leos Janácek (1854-1928) and Peter Eben (1920-2007, see 31 October 2017) comes to mind. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The program begins with the Fifth dating from 2013. In four movements, the first "Molto Adagio" ("Very Slowly") [T-1] opens with a rustling motif in the upper strings [00:01]. It's soon followed by a deliberate, sinuous theme in the lower ones (D1) [00:24], whose influence will be felt throughout the piece. Then both undergo an introspective exploration, after which there's a pause, and the music continues "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with Spirit") with an agitated, D1-related, rising-falling thematic nexus [02:47]. This is juggled about in a lively, combination development-recap [03:47], which ends the movement assertively.
A ternary "Scherzo" is next [T-2]. This starts with a D1-related, angular tune [00:00], which is the fuel for its scurrying outer sections. They surround a perky pizzicato-accompanied, central one [01:51-02:38], and close the movement in the same spirit it began.
A feeling of introspection characterizes the succeeding "Adagio molto" ("Very Slowly") [T-3]. Here we get a subdued, inquiring theme [00:00], followed by a D1 variant (D2) [01:28]. The two are then the subjects of an extensive, moody development [02:00] with some folkish, dance-like segments [02:27-03:08, 03:57-04:19 & 05:54-06:58]. This brings the movement to a tranquil conclusion with nostalgic hints of D2 [beginning at [7:18].
The final "Poco vivace" ("Somewhat Vivacious") [T-4] gets off to a fugato start with a D1-associated main idea (D3) [00:00]. A tuneful variation of D3 next appears [01:28], is explored, and becomes the subject of a captivating serenade [03:02]. The latter is then succeeded by a pause, two vibrant afterthoughts [05:12 & 05:25], and the quartet ends with a perfunctory, pizzicato plunk.
Leistner-Mayer's Sixth of 2014 bears the subtitle "7 Unbrave Bagatelles", and he says it's a counterpart to his earlier 7 Brave Pieces for Piano (2010; currently unavailable on disc). The bewildering album notes present both works as programmatic musical contemplations of far-out questions regarding mankind's origin and future.
Each of the quartet's seven movements have abstruse markings, the first being "Nachklang -- zwangsweise Vivo" ("Echo -- Compulsively Alive") [T-5]. We’re told this "grapples with the question whether events and occurrences should be brought back afterwards to echo and reverberate". Be that as it may, what we have here are respectively spiraling [00:01] and assertive [00:11] motifs, which alternate with one another, and bring the movement to an uneventful conclusion.
Moving right along, there's "Hinter dem Fenster -- Allegro moderato" ("Behind the Window -- Moderately Fast") [T-6], "Blick zum Berg -- Molto vivace" ("View of the Mountain -- Very Vivacious") [T-7], and "Blick zum Wassergraben -- Con brio" ("View of the Moat -- With Spirit") [T-8]. Reputedly these are characterizations of our daily thoughts. Suffice it to say the music in them is sequentially melancholy, headstrong, and whimsical.
Then the work closes with "Ricordanza -- Larghetto" ("Memorial -- Moderately Broad") [T-9], "Blick zum Torbogen" -- Com moto" ("View through the Gateway" -- With Moderation") [T-10], and "Passare in... -- Arioso allontanansi" ("Merging in... -- Departing Song") [T-11]. Here the tenebrous documentation suggests the initial one signifies insistent memories and feelings of helplessness. It then touts the other two as respectively associated with the inexorable march of time, and ultimate meaning of human existence.
That said, the first of these is a melancholy, and the second, fleeting with occasional tick-tock-like passages. Then things turn contemplative in the closing one, where there are two profound, conjoined, questioning episodes [00:01 & 02:22]. The last of them ends in medias res, leaving the answer(s) "blowin' in the wind".
Jumping ahead two years, we get the four-movement Seventh (2016), which is another programmatic musical contemplation. Subtitled the "Ariadne Quartet", it alludes to the Greek mythological legend about Theseus, who's given a ball of thread by Princess Ariadne, so he can find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth.
Apparently, the music is meant to reflect moments of unity and reconciliation as opposed to the disorienting vicissitudes of everyday life. Accordingly, the opening "Molto Adagio" ("Very Slowly") [T-12] has sedate passages interspersed with churning ones. The "Scherzo" marked "Molto Vivace" ("Very Vivacious") [T-13] features two ideas that are respectively agitated [00:00] and circumspect [00:37]. These confront each other, and end things uneventfully.
In modified sonata form, the third "Molto Moderato" ("Very Moderate") [T-14] is the longest movement. It gets off to a mellow, walking start (LW) [00:00], soon followed by a solemn hymnlike tune (SH) [00:06]. SH is the subject of a chromatic exploration [01:03] that bridges into an SH-related, funereal theme (SF) [03:39], which undergoes a troubled development. Then SF returns [05:21] succeeded by SH [06:07], initiating a recap that ends the movement in the same mood it began.
The final "Presto precipitando" ("Fast and Rushing") [T-15] is a virtuosically demanding, wild rondo, which starts with a scurrying thematic nexus [00:00] followed by a folklike ditty [00:55]. The two chase each other about, take on a variety of guises interspersed with tension-building pauses, and bring this selection to a frenetic conclusion.
Originally founded by students at the Academy of Performing Arts, Prague, the Sojka Quartet specializes in contemporary Czech music, and its members deliver brilliant accounts of all three works. On the basis of these performances, this chamber group is one of the finest to appear in recent years. Hopefully they'll introduce us to more Eastern European goodies in the not too distant future.
The recordings were made during 2016 at a banquet hall in Regensburg, Germany, seventy miles north-northeast of Munich. They project a wide sonic image of the Sojka in complementary surroundings, thereby bringing out its rich ensemble sound all the more. This disc is demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180127)
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