CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 MARCH 2020
The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.
Grädener: Orch Wks V1: Vn Conc 1 (rlz Rabl), Vn Conc 2; Pollick/Rabl/Ukr NSO [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Hermann Grädener (also spelled Graedener, 1844-1929) was born to musical parents in Kiel, Germany, on the southwestern Baltic Sea coast, about 60 miles north of Hamburg. A wunderkind, Hermann was first schooled at home and had begun composing by age seven.
He then studied at what was known as the Vienna Conservatory, and consequently spent the rest of his life in that great city. Grädener would first make his living as an organist and violinist, but went on to teach at his alma mater. There he became good friends with fellow instructor Robert Fuchs (1847-1927), who's a regular in these pages (see 31 March 2018). Incidentally, one of their pupils was Austrian composer Karl Weigl (1881-1949), two of whose Six Symphonies are recommended below.
Hermann would also conduct and write a large number of works across all genres. Unfortunately, like those of his Polish colleague Moritz Moskowski (1854-1924; see 28 February 2020), they disappeared from concert programs during the early 1900s.
Now he makes a triumphant return on this recent Toccata CD, which has the world premiere recordings of his two Violin Concertos. Both three movement works, Brahms' (1833-1897) influence is very apparent, and you'll find extensive coverage in the album notes regarding what critics of Hermann's day thought of them.
The First dating from 1890, which was premiered that same year along with the final revision of his older colleague Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) "Wagner Symphony" (No. 3, WAB 103, 1889), has come down to us via circuitous means. Moreover, the published score and parts were lost during World War II (1939-1945). However, using a copyist's manuscript, one of Grädener's fellow countryman and our conductor here, Gottfried Rabl, has managed to realize this performing version.
Things get underway with a sonata form "Allegro Moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-1], whose opening statement (O1) begins with the horn playing an elegant first idea (E1), which is followed by some thoughts for the soloist [00:19]. Then the foregoing is repeated [00:32], giving way to a flighty variant of E1 in the winds [01:29]. Subsequently, the violin plays a melancholy countersubject (M2) [02:10], and the return of E1 [02:32] engenders a tutti-initiated, prodigious development [03:36].
Here the foregoing material undergoes several treatments, ranging from pensive [04:35] to commanding [07:15], agitated [08:04], resigned [09:15] and searching [10:09]. Then a rapturous recap of O1 [11:13] triggers a consummate, highly demanding cadenza [14:05-18:01], after which, soloist and orchestra play a somber reminder of E1 [18:09]. This is cause for a violin-fireworks-filled coda that ends the movement in a blaze of glory.
Next, there's a solemn, ternary, A-B-A structured "Larghetto" ("Somewhat slow") [T-2]. The "A"s [00:00 & 05:34] are based on a winsome tune set to a delicate pizzicato accompaniment [00:07] and recall Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) more mellow moments. They surround a keening "B" [03:24], having a "Con anima cantabile e sonore" ("With a sonorous songlike feeling") melody, and bring things to a rueful conclusion.
Then the "Finale" [T-3] begins with a deceptively minacious, "Allegro non tanto" ("Lively, but not too fast") recitative portending an "Allegro capriccioso" ("Fast and whimsical") ditty (FW) that soon follows [00:40]. FW is the recurring subject for some delightful, rondoesque, off-the-wall variations, where it takes on a variety of guises.
These range from haughty [01:40] to songlike [02:30], antsy [03:32], scampering [04:33] and amorous [05:20]. Then there are convoluted [06:21] as well as frenzied [07:15] ones replete with fancy fiddling, after which the orchestra ends the work with a succinct, forte "So there!" cadence.
Some fifteen years later the composer wrote a Second Violin Concerto (circa 1905) that he dedicated to his friend, Czech violinist František Ondříček (1857-1922), who premiered it. This has a sonata-rondo, "Allegro non troppo" ("Fast but not too quickly") opening movement [T-4], whose exposition starts with rising tutti phrases and a strutting, forceful theme (SF) for the soloist [00:04].
SF is picked up by the orchestra [00:11] and examined, giving way to a related, lofty second thought (SL) for all [01:35]. Then SL is explored with virtuosic violin flourishes and bridges into a third idea that's an extended, dreamy variant of SF (SD) [03:00].
SD calls up an agitated development [04:55] of the foregoing, succeeded by an SL-initiated recap [06:15]. It has reworked remembrances of past ideas, the last being SD, which invokes some further development [08:37] and another recap [09:45]. The latter culminates in an audacious, killer cadenza [14:16-17:53] written by Ondříček (see above), and a violin-bravura-decorated coda that ends the movement definitively.
Like the First Concerto, this one has a slow, ternary, middle movement [T-5]. Marked "Andante" [T-5], there are gorgeous, Mendelssohnian "A"s [00:00 & 05:45] based on a winsome, tender theme introduced by the violin [00:09]. They embrace a spirited "B" [03:14], which is of "Sturm und Drang" demeanor (see the album notes), and bring the music full circle.
The "Finale" [T-6] is a delightful "Rondo capriccioso" [T-6], having a tutti preface with a heroic, three-note moto for the winds (TM) [00:01]. It's followed by a TM-fostered, scampering violin tune (TS) [00:20] that's picked up by the orchestra [00:48] and undergoes several treatments of varying temperament. The first three are sequentially lackadaisical (TL) [02:16], flighty (TF) [03:06] and venatic with hunting calls (TV) [04:12].
Then there's a yearning fourth [05:23] with subsequent recollections of TL [06:30], TF [07:18] and TV [08:01] that call up a thrilling, TS-riddled coda [09:20]. This has ostentatious violin flourishes plus wisps of TF [09:44] and closes the Concerto with an emphatic orchestral cadence.
Our soloist here, American violinist Karen Bentley Pollick, and Maestro Rabl (see above) resurrected these long-forgotten concertante gems about fifteen years ago. Now with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, they make a strong case for this music. Both works place considerable demands on Ms. Pollick, who despite a couple of intonationally queasy spots, gives sensational accounts of them.
Dating from June of 2018, the recordings were made in Kiev, Ukraine, at what the album notes refer to as the "House of Records" (no further information readily available). They present a generous sonic image in pleasant surroundings with the soloist positioned left of the conductor. Ms. Pollick's violin is well captured and balanced against the tutti.
The overall orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, having an occasional bright spot, and a lifelike midrange. As for the bass, it's clean but doesn't plumb the depths, seeing as both works are scored for conservative forces. Incidentally, pointy-eared listeners may notice an awkward edit in the First Concerto's "Larghetto" [T-2, 06:48], and is that a sneeze in the Second's "Allegro non troppo" [T-4, 10:30]? Be that as it may, aside from these nitpicks, this adventurous release deserves an "Audiophile" rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200331)
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Hancock, S.: Vars on a Heroic Theme (vn & orch). Vn Conc, "Raptures" Orch Ste; Liebeck/Parikian/BBCCon O [Orchid]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Hailing from Chigwell, England, twelve miles north-northwest of London, Stuart Hancock (b. 1975) was first drawn to music as a five-year-old, when his older brother began learning the guitar. Intrigued by all those strange symbols on bro's music lessons, he began picking out tunes on it and attempted to write them down.
The lad was an accomplished pianist by age nine, and it wouldn't be long before he'd write the music for a school stage production as well as play viola in a nearby, student orchestra. He then attended Downing College, Cambridge, where he got a BA in Geography. But more importantly, Hancock was the first recipient of a year's scholarship at Pomona College, California, thirty miles east of Los Angeles, where he developed a keen interest in composition. He'd also pen his first score for the silver screen.
Stuart then attended the London College of Music, and took a post-graduate course in writing music for films and television. This has led to a highly successful career in that field and his becoming an award-winning composer of more serious fare for the concert hall. Hancock's efforts in the latter category are well demonstrated on this recent, enterprising release from Orchid Classics.
A great fan of such movie-music moguls as Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004), Alan Silvestri (b. 1950) and John Williams (b. 1932), the latter's influence is apparent in the succinct Variations on a Heroic Theme (2006-07) [T-1]. Moreover, after an initial flighty flourish [00:00] hinting at what's to come, Hancock serves up a valiant main subject (VM) [00:07]. This smacks of the curtain-raiser for the first Star Wars film (A New Hope, 1977). Curiously enough, the spirit of VM also pervades the upcoming Concerto.
VM is immediately followed by several variations, the first three being sequentially resolute [00:43], waltzlike [01:14] and whimsical [01:37]. Then a rhapsodic fourth [02:06] has a dramatic crescendo [03:20], which wanes into a scherzoesque treatment [03:55] that invokes martial passages [04:22]. These conjure up a triumphant, big-tune version of VM [04:55], where it's easy to imagine rebel forces triumphing over the "Evil Galactic Empire"!
Next, we get the composer's Violin Concerto of 2005. Scored for large forces, the first of its three movements begins "Andante maestoso" ("Slow and majestic") [T-2] with a drumroll, tam-tam-reinforced orchestral introduction. Here there are opening hints of a confident motif, which we'll call VC as it bears a strong resemblance to VM above.
VC is then stated in full [00:22] and explored. Then the music turns "Andante semplice" ("Slow and simple") as the violinist enters playing a VC-related, plaintive idea (VP) [01:41], which undergoes a captivating, episodic development [02:20]. This waxes and wanes with impassioned moments for the soloist, into dramatic tutti recollections of VC [09:06].
These are followed by a lengthy, demanding cadenza [10:34] that calls up troubled fragments of VC from the orchestra [12:55], which ebb into nostalgic reminders of VC [13:45] and VP [13:53]. Then there's an anticipatory pause, and shimmering, ethereal strings end the movement blissfully.
The middle one is another "Andante" [T-3], but this time of a more contemplative nature. It begins with a VC-colored, yearning theme (VY) first heard on the cor anglais (English horn) [00:01], after which the violin enters [01:51] and explores VY to an initially subdued orchestral accompaniment. This builds into a towering episode with insistent memories of VY [05:35] as well as some fancy fiddling.
However, the foregoing suddenly abates, giving way to the return of VY [06:23], where there are suggestions of VC [06:45]. These become quite dramatic and fade with some delicate solo work into a long pause. Then the violin calls up a VY-tinged, subdued afterthought [09:21], which brings the movement to a tranquil conclusion.
The "Finale: Allegro eroica" ("Finale: Lively and heroic") [T-4] is a sonata-rondo, whose opening statement starts with the soloist spinning out a VC-like, audacious ditty (VA) [00:00]. It's enthusiastically seconded by the tutti [00:33] and undergoes several treatments, the first three ranging from antsy [00:54] to spasmodic [01:17] and waltzlike [01:51].
The latter is full of virtuosic violin work, and bridges with some interim, arresting, pizzicato-spiced passages [beginning at 02:43] into a version of VY that's of sweeping, romantic proportions (VR) [03:07]. Subsequently, a spirited, repeat of VA [03:35] by the orchestra triggers a development with an initial, curious, hee-haw-like episode [03:59].
But the music suddenly shifts gears, and there's a masterful, VA-based, fugue [04:36] with a lovely, VY-reminiscent descant for the soloist [04:58], all of which surges into a moving reminder of VA [05:30]. Then pounding timpani, some fancy fiddling and a bash on the tam-tam unleash a big-tune return of VR [05:42] that brings to mind regal moments in the music of Stuart's fellow countryman, Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934).
This invokes a glorious recap with an imposing reminiscence of VY [06:15]. But lest things turn into a romantic wallow, there's a dramatic pause, succeeded by flighty passages for the soloist [06:29] and tutti [06:43]. Then a thrilling coda for everyone [06:56] ends the work exultantly, making this a real find -- Bravo!
The release closes with Hancock's orchestral suite titled Raptures (2019), which is a set of five, brief tone-scenes that began life as a Quartet for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello (date unknown and currently unavailable on disc). They're based on ideas the composer got back in his school days, when he read a collection of poetry by American-born, writer Sylvia Plath (1932-1963). Incidentally, she spent her last four years in England and having been clinically depressed for most of her adult life, would die tragically by her own hand at the age of thirty.
The opening "Fathom" [T-5], which bears the marking "slow and tranquil, like smooth ripples of water", is in ternary, A-B-A form. The "A" sections have a gentle, periodic motif [00:38], which invokes images of a beautiful, bucolic lake, but are tinged with what sounds like that foreboding chant known as the Dies Irae [beginning at 01:07]. They surround a longing "B" [02:08-03:24] and end the piece in the same spirit it began.
Subsequently, there's another ternary one called "Rush" [T-6] that has scampering "A"s on either side of a pensive "B" [01:36-02:44]. Here the closing "A" falls exhausted to the ground and is followed by a callow "Lullaby" [T-7]. This starts with sighing phrases and tubular chimes ostensibly mimicking distant church bells. Then we get a tender, rustic minuet based on a pizzicato-accompanied, innocent, childlike tune (IC) [00:30].
After that, things turn anfractuous with "Serpent" [T-8], where the composer tells us his viper is alive and not dead like Ms. Plath's. What's more, he goes on to say it has a disposition akin to Rudyard Kipling's (1835-1936) powerful python Kaa in his The Jungle Book stories (1894 & 1895).
This fourth tone-scene's opening is marked "slow and seductive" and starts with a sinuous bassoon tune (SB) accompanied by serpentine, tongue-flickering passages for the other instruments, which then explore SB. Here there are premonitions of an SB-derived waltz (SW) [02:15 & 02:46], which soon makes a grand appearance [03:09] and seems a macabre take on Ravel's (1875-1937) Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911), or even his La valse (1920). SW then ebbs with some bizarre death throes into SB, and the scene ends with a sudden jerk.
The composer calls the closing one "Rapture' [T-9]. Marked "fast and ecstatic", the album notes refer to his description of its mood as "stupidly happy... jumping-in-puddles happiness". Accordingly, this takes the form of a rollicking rondo with an IC-like, joyous, recurring tune (IJ) heard at the outset. IJ is followed by a hymnlike countermelody [00:29], and the two ideas are bandied about. Then there's a dramatic caesura, and the low strings play a mournful version of IJ [02:34]. But this blossoms, giving way to an anticipatory pause and the return of IJ [03:27], which ends the work exultantly.
The Concerto was commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for our soloist, English violinist Jack Liebeck, who delivers a splendid performance of it. He receives superb support from the BBC Concert Orchestra under British conductor Levon Parikian, who go on to serve up spirited performances of the other two selections. All together these artists make a strong case for some concert hall fare of a composer who's heretofore been associated with film music.
Made last June at the Colosseum in Watford, England, some 20 miles north-northwest of London, the recordings project a distant sonic image in cavernous surroundings. Mr. Liebeck is placed just left of Maestro Parikian, and his violin is well captured and balanced against the orchestra. As for the overall instrumental timbre, it's characterized by whistling highs, a somewhat lean midrange and clean but sparse bass.
This release won't win any audiophile awards. However, Orchid gets a big vote of thanks for introducing us to some highly engaging contemporary works. These appealing selections will soon make you forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P200330)
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Offenbach: Orch Excs fm Orphée aux Enfers (5; see Binder, Carl); Griffiths/DSOBerlin [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
French composer Jacques Offenbach's (1819-1880) comic opera Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) was completed and first performed in Paris during 1858. Based on a libretto by the composer's compatriots, playwrights Hector-Jonathan Crémieux (1828-1893) and Ludovic Halévy (1834-1908) -- the latter of Carmen fame -- it parodies the ancient Greek legend about Orpheus and Eurydice. What's more the gods' outlandish behavior ostensibly satirizes the French court and government of the day (see the rambling album notes).
This early version was in two acts, each having a couple of scenes, and started with a short, orchestral preface followed by an introductory monologue. But when the work was performed in Vienna (1860), where opera audiences expected impressive overtures, Austrian composer-conductor Carl Binder (1816-1860) fashioned its main themes into the time-honored, classic that remains popular to this day.
As of 1862 Orphée... had received 400 performances, and its fame continued to the point, where 1874 saw the composer rework the original scenes into a more substantial, four-act Opéra féerie. His expanded version included three, new, balletic diversions, the most substantial being a thirty-minute one at the end of Act III. This was titled "L'Atlantide" ("Atlantis"), or "Le Royaume de Neptune" ("Neptune's Kingdom"), and just recently discovered by French musicologist, conductor, Offenbach-authority Jean-Christophe Keck (b. 1964).
All three of these are included here, this being the world premiere recording of "L'Atlantide", and the disc is filled out with Binder's overture as well as a later one by the composer. Incidentally, as of 1878 the opera had been done a thousand times, and is still going strong!
The program starts with what the album booklet's title page calls an Ouverture, which is presumably what the notes later refer to as Promenade autour d'Orphée (Promenade around Orpheus). In any case, it seems the composer added this to introduce the opera's enlarged first act.
Apparently written in the same spirit as the preface mentioned above, the music here is on a grander scale. Moreover, it previews the opera's upcoming themes, beginning with a lovely, lullaby-like idea (LL) [00:02]. This is succeeded by a somber, wistful melody [00:47] that will sound familiar to most. And then there's a delightful, flighty tune (DF) [02:03] coupled with a vivacious countermelody (DV) [02:41], both of which are explored. All this gives way to a folk-song-like version of LL (LF) [03:48] and related, perky dance ditty [04:43].
Subsequently, there's a repeat of LF [05:11], and hints of that legendary "Galop infernal" (GI) [05:35 & 05:57], which was adopted in the late 1890s by the renowned, Parisian Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergère cabarets for their can-can dance numbers. Then DF resurfaces [05:48], and Jacques serves up martial versions of DV [06:10 & 06:33] that bridge [06:53] into a scampering treatment of DF [07:27]. This triggers a frantic, high-stepping coda [08:04], having exuberant outbursts of GI [08:32 & 08:59] that end the overture elatedly.
Next, we get Le Royaume de Neptune (Neptune's Kingdom; see above), which in Offenbach's day was a superbly choreographed ballet with beautiful costumes and amazing stage effects. This finds Eurydice on the shore of that mythical island Atlantis, where Neptune, who's the Roman counterpart of the Greek sea god Poseidon, has invited her into his underwater realm.
Its eleven scenes begin with one marked "L'Orage" ("Tempest") [T-2], where swelling passages depict water engulfing our heroine. These wax into thunderstorm music [00:29] that wanes as something called a "grotto of the crustaceans" appears [02:37].
Then there's a "Scherzando" [T-3], where twelve children dressed as toads [sic] come on stage, leading a seal atop a humongous lobster. And then Offenbach serves up a whimsical "Pas de trois" [T-4], in which two crabs quibble over the affections of a carp.
This is followed by some dreamy "Transformation" music [T-5] as the grotto morphs into the bottom of the ocean and a submerged Atlantis. Here Neptune is surrounded by his palaces, temples and attendants, who engage in a perky "March" [T-6].
These thalassic escapades continue with a captivating "Valse" sequence [T-7], in which fish-suited dancers "romp around the rocks and sunken ruins", to quote the album notes. During this, the goddess Amphitrite, who's Neptune's consort and queen of the sea, appears giving rise to what might best be called a "freestyle", sportive "Polka" [T-8] for all.
After that, the mood turns dramatic with "La Naissance de la perle" ("The Birth of a Pearl") [T-9]. Its climactic opening seemingly connotes Neptune and the materialization of a pearl associated with Eurydice. She presumably then enters to some demure music [00:55], which turns into a triumphant motif ostensibly celebrating her presence (TE) [03:18].
This is succeeded by "Variations" [T-10] that's a concatenation of three charming dance numbers [00:00, 01:14 & 01:58], where the scene reverts back to the "grotto" (see above). It's followed by a triumphant "Finale" [T-11] honoring Neptune, and a TE-based, glorious "Apothéose" [T-12], ending the ballet with last thoughts of Eurydice.
Then it's on to Ballet pastoral (Pastoral Ballet), which the composer inserted into Act I. This has four parts, the first and last being orchestrations of two earlier solo piano pieces. Incidentally, these are from a collection of ten titled Décaméron dramatique (IJO 22, 1854-55; currently unavailable on disc), each of which Jacques dedicated to a famous actress of his time.
The opening "Entrée des bergers" ("Entrance of the Shepherds") [T-13] is based on his "Polka villageoise" (IJO 22, No. 3) for Madeleine Brohan (1833-1900). It gets things off to a jolly start, and is followed by a "Petite marche" ("Small March") [T-14] that turns into a delightful, "Très modéré" ("Very modest"), minuet-like number [00:44].
In the next "Les Faunes" [T-15], small forest animals presumably dance about. Then there's an infectious "Final" [T-16], which is a colorfully scored version of the composer's "Polka-trilby" (IJO 22, No. 8) for actress Elisa Denain (dates not readily available).
His balletic addendum to the second act called "Divertissement des songes at des heures" ("Ballet of Dreams and Hours") involves more gods and is presumably set on Mount Olympus. Having seven sections, it begins with a tiptoe "Allegro moderato" [should be T-17 on back album cover] as three gods enter, joining several other dozing deities. Then Morpheus, the god of dreams, appears and conjures up five delightful oneiric images, each named for successive, wee hours of the morning.
These include a soporific "Première heure" ("First hour") [T-18], dicey "Deuxième..." [T-19], waltzlike "Troisième..." [T-20], GI-reminiscent "Quatrième..." [T-21] and an imposing "Cinqième" [T-22]. The last ostensibly depicts the rising sun and invokes "L'Aurora" ("Aurora") [T-23], the goddess of dawn.
She's appropriately characterized by a rosy, lyrical idea (RL), succeeded by a can-can-like second [00:48] that sets the tone for an agitated version of RL. The latter seemingly closes the work, but then makes a surprise return, bringing this choreographic curio to a convivial conclusion.
For the grand finale, we get Binder's ever popular addition to the opera (see above), which is listed here as an Ouverture de concert (Concert Overture) [should be T-24 on back album cover]. It begins where Offenbach's Ouverture [T-1] left off, namely with a spirited, GI-reminiscent episode. Then there's a placid, woodwind bridge [00:55] that elicits an LF-related, rapturous theme (LR) [02:05].
LR engenders a lovely serenade, which wanes with harp decorations into a pause. But the music makes a ferocious return [03:57], giving way to a violin solo [04:19]. This evokes an LL-derived, amorous idea (LA) from the orchestra. [04:52] that's one of those timeless tunes everyone knows.
Then LA fuels a thrilling exploration [05:44] and makes a big-tune appearance [06:15], which wanes into an anticipatory pause. It's followed by a GI-based coda, where those cabaret girls kick up a storm, and this Binder turns into a "Bender", calling for another bottle of Beaujolais!
British conductor Howard Griffiths is known for unearthing undeservedly forgotten, orchestral rarities (see 31 October 2019), and now he gives us some that will strike a more familiar note. Monsieur Offenbach is in good hands with Maestro Griffiths, who elicits brisk, toe-tapping performances from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (DSO). Clarinetist Stephan Mörth, first-cellist Valentin Radutiu and concertmistress Hande Küden get a big round of applause for their superb solo work, particularly in the Binder [T-24; 00:55, 02:05 & 04:19 respectively].
A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur, these recordings were made a year ago in the Berlin Broadcast House Großer Sendesaal (Great Hall). They project a consistently generous soundstage in pleasant, reverberant surroundings.
The instrumental timbre is a mixed bag with bright highs, having some steely violin spots, a rich midrange and very clean bass, which goes down to rock bottom. However, with these conventionally scored works, don't expect it to plumb the depths of the best sound systems. And in closing, while this release doesn't quite earn an "Audiophile" stripe, it'll have great appeal for those liking wetter sonics.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P200329)
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Röntgen: Pno Concs 3, 6 & 7; Triendl/Bäumer/Krist SO [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The great Röntgen (1855-1932) revival rolls on (see 31 May 2017) with this new CPO release, having three more of his seven piano concertos. Like those on their previous CD (Nos. 2 & 4; see 22 November 2011), these are the only versions currently available on disc.
Our program begins with the Third (1887-88), and while those to either side of it are each in three movements, this has four. The opening, sonata-form-like "Allegro" [T-1] begins with a binary thought (S1), having an emboldened first part (SE) [00:01] and cantering second (SC) [00:41]. Then there are two more ideas that are respectively retiring (S2) [01:14] and waltzlike (S3) [01:46].
After that, SE initiates a dramatic development [02:54] of the foregoing, and subsequent recap [05:05] with the return of S2 [05:50] as well as S3 [06:21]. The latter wanes into an SC-triggered coda [07:42], having valiant hints of SE [08:16] succeeded by a robust reminder of it [9:03] that ends the movement definitively.
An A-B-A-B-A structured, scherzoesque "Allegretto con grazia" ("Gracefully fast") [T-2] is next. It has playful "A"s [00:01, 02:50 & 04:50] interspersed with folk-song-like "B"s [01:25 & 04:16], and concludes in the same spirit it began. Incidentally, there's a pervasive geniality present that's reminiscent of Dvořák's (1841-1904) lighter moments.
The third movement is a "Romanze" [T-3] with a subdued orchestral preface, featuring a lovely, wistful idea (LW). Then as LW ends, the soloist creeps in "on little cat feet" [02:37], evoking a moving, rhapsodic meditation, which brings to mind the third "Andante" movement of Brahms' (1833-1897) Second Piano Concerto (Op. 83, 1878-81).
Subsequently, decorative, closing keyboard passages are followed attacca by a sonata-rondo "Finale" [T-4] that starts with upbeat horn flourishes. These invoke an LW-reminiscent opening statement (LO) with two ideas that are respectively jolly (LJ) [00:42] and folk-song-like (LF) [01:04]. These undergo four, pairs of developmental treatments of varying temperament, the first one having an anxious LJ [01:33] coupled with a retiring LF [02:24].
Next, a martial LJ [03:27] and berceuse-like LF [05:06] give way to respectively triumphant [06:07] and flighty variants [06:40]. Then a rollicking LJ [07:30] adjoins a hymnlike LF [08:30], bringing the Concerto to a fervent conclusion highlighted by an exultant, last reminder of LJ [09:23].
Julius began writing his last two Concertos sometime during December 1929, and in a burst of creative energy, completed both by early January 1930. With each half as long as the Third, apparently the composer thought of the one-movement Sixth as a fantasy that prepared the way for the three-movement Seventh (see the album notes).
In that regard, he called them "Siamese twins", but this is misleading from the stylistic standpoint as they're certainly not "conjoined" in that respect. To wit, the Sixth marked "Moderato e sostenuto" ("Moderate and sustained") [T-5] is more progressive and shows the influence of the composer's fellow countryman Willem Pijper (1894-1947) as well as his German colleague Paul Hindemith (1895-1963).
Like the last movement of the Third, it's a sonata-rondo, where Röntgen's thematic wizardry is again much in evidence! Here, a chromatically searching, opening statement (CO) fathers a pair of thematic components that are rhythmically angular (CA) [00:00] and songlike (CS) [00:50].
They're material for several, moody developmental episodes whose highlights include an amorous CA [01:16], tender CS [02:50], whimsical CA [03:56] and searching CS [07:31]. Then a harried CA [09:20] and CS [09:55] conjure up an impulsive cadenza [12:28]. This has an anticipatory pause followed by a nostalgic return of CO for the soloist [13:58] and tutti [14:49], thereby ending the concerto tranquilly.
Then it's on to the "Siamese twin" Seventh! This has an "Allegro festivo" ("Fast and festive") first movement [T-6], starting with rising scalar passages, which usher in a busy, baroque-like idea (BB) [00:06]. BB is reminiscent of the opening theme for Vivaldi's (1678-1741) "Spring" ("La Primavera") Violin Concerto (RV 269, c. 1725). And by way of reminder, that's the first of twelve called "The Contest between Harmony and Invention" ("Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione", Op. 8, c. 1725), the initial four of which comprise that old familiar grouping known as "The Four Seasons" ("Le quattro stagioni").
But returning to the work at hand, BB is next explored and succeeded by a related, flowing countersubject (BF) [01:12], which recalls the composer's penchant for borrowing Dutch folk tunes (see 31 May 2016). Then the foregoing is repeated, and BF engenders a festive development [02:21], after which it begins a glorious recap [03:54]. This concludes the movement with another of those forte "So there!" cadences (see the Grädener First Concerto above).
The middle one is marked "Andante elegiaco" ("Slow and doleful") [T-7] and not "Allegretto con grazia" ("Gracefully fast") as indicated on the album booklet title page. It's a melancholy movement that's a heartfelt reverie, with a moving, folklike melody (MF) introduced by the cello [00:05], and serves as a prelude to the attacca, closing one.
This is a vivacious, "Allegro deciso" ("Fast and resolute") rondo [T-8], which is not a "Romanze" as indicated on the album booklet title page. It has an MF-derived, bounding main subject (MB) heard at the outset. And like S1 in the Third Concerto (see above), MB is a binary thought, whose components are subjected to multiple transformations, the first of which range from scampering [00:48] to grandiose [01:19], and hopping [01:55].
Then a repeat of MB [02:32] turns sentimental [02:55] and makes a flighty bridge [03:48] into an airy variant [04:15] with cantankerous [04:29] as well as waltzlike [05:18 & 06:13] subsections. Consequently, there's a transition into a flamboyant, BB flashback [06:51], after which MB resurfaces [07:06], ending this movement and the last of Röntgen's seven piano concertos full circle.
Our old friend German pianist Oliver Triendl is once again in top form, and delivers superb performances of these three rarities that seem to have slipped under Hyperion’s "Romantic Piano Concerto" radar. He receives outstanding support from his compatriot, Maestro Hermann Bäumer, who elicits terrific performances from the young musicians of Norway's Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra (KSO). Julius couldn't be better represented!
The recordings took place during June of 2017 at the Kilden Performing Arts Center Concert Hall in the KSO's hometown, located some 150 miles southwest of Oslo. They present a consistently wide soundstage in a warm, reverberant venue with Herr Triendl centered in front of the tutti. The piano is ideally captured with an invigorating touch of percussive bite and well balanced against a conventionally sized, romantic orchestra.
The instrumental timbre is characterized by lifelike highs, a rich midrange and clean bass, which goes down as low as one might expect from forces of these proportions. Accordingly, this release earns an "Audiophile" stripe, and those preferring large venues will feel right at home.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200328)
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Weigl, K.I.: Syms 4 & 6; Bruns/RheinPfSt P [Capriccio]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Austrian composer Karl Weigl (1881-1949), who became a US citizen in 1943, wrote six symphonies (1908-47), and last year Capriccio released a superb CD that included his First (see 31 August 2019). Now, they give us this world premiere recording of his Fourth as well as a more recent version of the Sixth. With an older account of the Fifth still available (see BIS-1077), that makes four down and two to go (Nos. 2 & 3), which will hopefully be forthcoming in the not too distant future!
Born of Jewish parents, young Karl studied at what was then known as the Vienna Conservatory, where his teachers included the renowned Robert Fuchs (1847-1927; see 31 March 2018) as well as Hermann Grädener (1844-1929; see above). Consequently, it's not surprising these symphonies are magnificently structured works.
The three-movement Fourth of 1936 dates from the composer's years in Austria and is of anxious disposition. Ostensibly, it reflects his growing concerns over the rise of Nazism, subsequent spread of its anti-Semitic policies in Vienna, and ever-increasing threat of World War II (1939-45).
The initial "Allegro Moderato" [T-1] brings to mind Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, 1894-95), inspired by the escapades of that German, tragicomic folk hero. Moreover, it opens apprehensively with fractious thoughts (AF) [00:00], which conjure up optimistic, hopeful ones (OH) [03:19]. Then the foregoing ideas undergo a consummate, extended development with martial overtones [04:31].
This ends in an AF-initiated, excited episode [10:11], having nostalgic wisps of OH [11:56] that inspire a lovely afterthought [12:25] and an AF-tinged, skittering episode [13:39]. Subsequently, the latter waxes and wanes into increasingly belligerent passages [16:07], thereby ending the movement on a wartime footing.
Next, there's an "Allegro molto" scherzo [T-2], which is a delightful, colorfully orchestrated cavort based on an initial, capricious nexus of dance tidbits (CT). It provides a brief respite before the wistful, final "Adagio" [T-3] that begins with an OH-related, introspective theme (OI). This is explored and sprinkled with bits of CT [02:50].
They call up an OI-inspired, moving developmental serenade [03:35], which ebbs and flows into a big-tune, vainglorious version of OH (OV) [07:43]. OV then evokes passages containing bits of the work's past ideas, the last being melancholy wisps of OI [09:46]. These are cause for a moving eulogy [10:11] that brings the Symphony to a peaceful, halcyon conclusion.
Written in 1947, after Karl had moved to America (1938), the Sixth is in the usual four movements. A more morose creation, there are stygian moments right from the start of its opening "Andante mosso" ("Slow and troubled") [T-4]. These bring to mind despondent passages in Gustav Mahler's (1860-1911) identically numbered Symphony (1903-06), which conductor Bruno Walter (1876-1962) said the composer referred to as his "Tragische" ("Tragic").
Weigl's begins with an ambulant, lugubrious subject (AL) that gradually becomes a sanguine variant of itself (AS) [02:13]. These two ideas fuel an increasingly tragic development [04:36], which wanes into memories of AS [10:00], ending the movement in quiet despair.
But grief turns to ebullience in the following scherzoesque "Allegro" [T-5]! This begins with boisterous, brass-reinforced, forte outbursts that invoke a saucy ditty [00:13], which alternates with an AL-derived, lyrical tune [00:45, 01:48 & 03:20]. Then the movement comes to a cacophonous conclusion akin to wilder moments in Till... (see above).
Next, there's an "Adagio" [T-6], where an evasive, songlike theme (ES) heard at the outset is the subject of a Mahlerian contemplation. It seemingly ends with a quiet drum roll [08:24] and the subtle return of ES [08:33]. However, ES is followed attacca by an arresting trumpet motif (AT) [T-7, 00:00], announcing the final "Allegro".
The music here takes the form of a pugnacious sonata-fantasy based on a couple of AT-related ideas. While the first is march-like (AM) [01:04], the second could be the melody for a folk ballad (AF) [02:11]. Both undergo a bellicose, AT-spiked, contrapuntally seasoned exploration [02:57], which ebbs and flows episodically into a thrilling, AM-AF-amalgamated coda [09:07]. This ends the Symphony with a succinct, three-note, forte cadence [09:25].
Having given us a magnificent account of Karl's First Symphony (1908; see 31 August 2019), the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic (RPSP) and German conductor Jürgen Bruns now deliver superb readings of these two. Incidentally, their performance of the Sixth is more enthusiastic than the only other currently extant version of it on CD (see BIS-1167). What's more, the one here is less expensive! And speaking of Weigl discs, make sure you've seen those recommended in the CROCKS Newsletter of 30 November 2015, as well as those dated 31 May and 31 October 2019.
A Capriccio, RPSP and Deutschlandradio Kultur coproduction, the recordings were made last May by the identical production staff and at the same location as those for the First Symphony (see 31 August 2019). Compared to that, these seem somewhat brighter with occasional steely highs and a leaner midrange. As for the bass, once again it's clean but without any pants-flapping lows as both works are scored for conservative forces.
While the overall sound is certainly serviceable, this time around it falls a tad short of demonstration quality. In that regard, pointy-eared listeners will detect an awkward edit in the Fourth Symphony's last movement [T-3, 07:43]. However, with consummately written works such as these, you'll soon forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P200327)
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