CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 JULY 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.
Alwyn, W.: Stg Qts 6, 7, 8 & 9; 7 Irish Tunes for Stg Qt; Villiers Qt [Lyrita]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND F(1 CD)
British composer William Alwyn (1905-1985) has been a CLOFO regular ever since its inception some fifteen years ago. Now on the heels of six releases we most recently told you about (see 26 March 2010, 30 September 2010, 21 September 2011, 28 February 2017, 30 April 2017 and 30 June 2019), here's another, this time on England's time-honored Lyrita label.
Alwyn was a polymath when you consider he was not only a composer, but also talented writer, poet, artist and highly respected music educator-administrator. William left some three hundred concert works across all genres as well as nearly two hundred film scores. Those in the former category include sixteen string quartets, which was a format he had a particular liking for.
That said, there's a hiatus of almost twenty years between his first thirteen (1920-36) and last three (1953-84). We've already recommended five of the earlier ones (see 30 April 2017 and 30 June 2019), and here are four more of them (Nos. 6, 7, 8 & 9) along with another youthful piece, his Seven Irish Tunes for String Quartet written in 1923. These are the only readily available performances of them currently on disc.
The Sixth Quartet (E minor; 1927) is in four movements, the first being a sonata-form-like, Moderato (Moderately) [T-5]. It begins with a wistful, harried idea (WH) [00:01], which is explored, giving way to a related, romantic theme introduced by the first violin (WR) [02:03]. Then WH returns [02:55] with a pizzicato postscript [03:01], and initiates a yearning development [03:11]. Subsequently, a forceful contraction of WH fuels a fugato-introduced recap [04:37], where tender reminders of WR [05:56] bring the movement to a halcyon conclusion.
Next, a lovely, brief "Interlude" (Andante con moto or Slow with movement) [T-6] based on a whimsical, waltz-like theme [00:02] that seems distantly related to WH. It's followed attacca by a "Scherzo" (Allegro or Fast) [T-7]. This takes the form of a WH-reminiscent, bucolic dance (WB) [00:00), wrapped around a tiny, WB-derived, fugal trio [01:11-01:41].
The closing "Theme, Variations and Finale" (Allegretto or Lively) [T-8] is based on a WH-parented, sinuous, main subject (WS) [00:01] that's repeated [00:27] and undergoes several treatments. These range from anxious [00:57] to compassionate [01:44], scampering [02:47], sorrowful [03:17] and plaintive [05:09]. Then a whimsical one [05:44] with pizzicato underscoring plus some eerie snippets [06:08] is followed by a reverent bridge [06:44] into the hymnlike return of WS [07:03], WS adjoins shimmering passages [07:38], which call up three forte chords [07:51], ending the work definitively.
Two years would pass before Alwyn finished the Seventh Quartet (A; 1929), which is also in four movements and, has an Allegro (Fast) "Prelude" [T-1]. This consists of an initial, willful tune (IW) [00:03] that undergoes a diminutive development, which vanishes with a barely audible hint of IW.
Then it's on to a petite, Moderato (Moderately) "Passacaglia" [T-2]. Here an angular, sighing motif (AS) [00:01] is the ostinato subject of a discussion between the four instruments, which ends uneventfully.
The tempo changes to Allegro ma non troppo (Lively but not too fast) in the following "Rondo" [T-3]. This opens with an IW-derived, twitchy ditty (IT) [00:01] that powers a consummate fugue. It surrounds a couple of pensive, developmental treatments [01:30-02:29 & 03:37-04:00], and is succeeded by an agitated, two-part coda [04:03 & 04:24], which closes things jubilantly.
Subsequently, merriment turns to melancholy in the final Adagio e tranquillo (Slow and tranquil) "Retrospect" [T-4]. It gets off to a subdued, imitative start with a somber, hypnotic thought (SH) [00:01] that undergoes a contemplative examination [01:34]. This wanes into a lengthy pause [02:22], succeeded by subdued memories of AS [02:27].
Then there's another break, IW resurfaces [04:31], turns momentarily skittish [04:44], and gives way to the gloomy reappearance of SH [05:17]. The latter next makes a pause-ridden bridge [05:59] into a laid-back version of AS [06:48], engendering an imitative, nostalgic episode, which brings the work to a serene conclusion.
Moving right along, there's the Eighth Quartet (D minor; 1931). This is atypically a theme with variations plus a coda, all of which is organized into three, movement-like sections that become increasingly kinetic.
Moreover, the initial one [T-9] begins Adagio molto e tranquillo (Very slow and tranquil) with a sustained chord [00:04], over which the first violin plays a lilting, innocent, main subject (LI) [00:13]. LI is immediately followed by two variants. These are successively an Adagio ma non troppo (Slow but not overly so), wistful treatment [01:03] and a fugato-initiated, nervous Poco piu mosso (A little more lively) one [02:25].
Next, the mood turns more ambulatory in the midsection [T-10]. Here we get transformations that are respectively Andantino quasi allegretto (Flowing and somewhat joyful) wandering [00:01], Allegro moderato (Moderately lively) harried [01:03], and Andante con moto (Slow with movement) peripatetic [01:44].
Then there's a rousing "Allegro" ("Fast") third section [T-11], where variations come thick and fast. These include whimsical (LW) [00:01], rhapsodic (LR) [01:26] and songlike (LS) [02:02] ones, with the latter initiating a bridge [02:30], calling up an agitated, imitative episode [02:53].
The latter wanes into the reappearance of this selection's opening measures [03:15] and a substantial pause, making one think the work is over. But Alwyn surprises us with a thrilling LW-LR-LS-spiced, three-part, extended coda [04:16, 05:19 & 05:40] that ends things in spirited fashion.
Coming just four months after the Eighth Quartet, the Ninth (1931) is programmatic. Moreover, the composer prefaced his manuscript with the following quotation from Shakespeare's (1564-1616) Romeo and Juliet (1591-95):
These lines spoken by Romeo just before he drinks poison in the play's last act, set the mood for what amounts to a tiny tone-poem for string quartet. It's a musical depiction of thoughts he might have had while in Juliet's tomb, where he thinks she lies dead. However, as "Bard of Avon" devotees well know, she's only under the influence of a strong, sleeping potion. That said, even on a reduced scale like this, the music testifies to Alwyn's great skill as a film score composer.
The work is in one movement [T-15] that as performed here falls into three sections. The first gets off to reserved start with an Adagio molto e tranquillo (Very slow and tranquil) somber, apprehensive idea (SA) [00:01], having a repeated, ascending, three-note motif (ST) [00:04]. SA is seemingly indicative of Romeo's grief and undergoes a sorrowful development [01:20], followed by a moment of silence.
This gives way to a Poco agitato (Somewhat excited), second section [beginning at 03:31], presumably limning our hero's troubled state of mind. It invokes romantic passages [04:27], ostensibly recalling his infatuation with Juliet. These are cause for a deathly pause and despairing SA-reminiscent sigh [05:28-05:36].
Then the wistful return of SA [05:40] opens a third, grievous, Adagio (Slow) section that becomes troubled [07:06]. It conjures up images of a distraught Romeo and possibly reflects his unconsummated love for Juliet. That said, these die away into a tender, ST-tinged episode [beginning at 09:12], which with a little stretch of the imagination, could depict our legendary lover's thoughts of reuniting with her through his own death. Be that as it may, after another substantial break, subdued reminders of the opening measures [11:32] end the piece much like it began.
And filling out this delightful release, there's the composer's Seven Irish Tunes for String Quartet (1923). Many Alwyn fans will already be familiar with his 1936 reworking of this into an eponymous, orchestral suite, which we told you about in the CROCKS Newsletter of 21 September 2011. Now here's its progenitor!
The source material for both pieces is taken from The Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland published in 1855. As noted below, six of the tunes appearing in each work are respectively the same, but the remaining two differ.
Like the Suite, the Quartet features a tender, endearing "The Little Red Lark" [T-12, 00:02], "The Maiden Ray" [T-12, 02:04] and "The Gentle Maiden" [T-13, 00:40]. It also has an "Air" [T-12, 01:18] that's titled "Country Tune" in the later adaptation, as well as "The Ewe with the Crooked Horn", which is a reel [T-13, 00:01]. And then the same, unidentified "Jig" [T-14, 00:01] ends both of these delightful Hibernian colcannons in high-stepping fashion.
As for the differing tunes, there's a jolly "Who'll buy my Besoms" (a "Besom" being a rustic broom) in the Quartet version [T-13, 02:25]. However, the composer replaced it with a wistful ditty called "The Sigh", when he penned the Suite.
Named after a street in central London with strong musical associations, the Villiers Quartet (VQ) features first violinist James Dickenson, second violinist Tamaki Higashi, violist Carmen Flores and cellist Nick Stringfellow (what an appropriate agnomen). These musicians are all virtuosos and give technically immaculate, highly refined accounts of all five works. Generally speaking, they take a conservative approach to some music that could easily be overly dramatized, thereby assuring its continued appeal.
The recordings were done over four days in January 2019 at the Wyastone Estate Concert Hall near Monmouth, Wales, England. They present a wide sonic image in an affable venue with enriching reverberation. The instruments are generously spaced from left to right in order of increasing size and well balanced against one another.
The string tone is natural sounding if a tad veiled. Moreover, it's characterized by subtle highs, a pleasing midrange and clean low end with no hint of overhang in the cello's lower registers. Some may want to tweak their tone/equalization controls for a brighter sound. However, everything considered, this release deserves an "Audiophile" rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200731)
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Bretón: Stg Qts 1 & 3; Bretón Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Spanish-born and educated Tomás Bretón (1859-1923) is best remembered as an operatic composer, his time-honored La verbena de la Paloma (The Virgin of la Paloma; 1894) being one of the most popular zarzuelas ever written. But he would also later study in Rome, Milan, Vienna, as well as Paris (1881-84), and go on to write works in other genres, reflecting his three years there. The two featured here testify to his later academic pursuits and show strong German as well as French influences.
Both are in four movements, and the First Quartet (D major; 1904) begins with a sonata-form, "Allegro moderato non tanto" ("Moderately fast, but not too much so") [T-5]. It gets underway with an opening statement (O1) having an attractive, sighing theme (AS) [00:00], which bridges into a related, casual idea (AC) [01:29]. Then O1 is repeated [02:18], and bits of AS initiate a busy development [04:37], followed by a recapitulation [06:21]. The latter has an AS-invoked coda [09:08] that ends things with a smiling "So there!" cadence [09:18].
Next, a lovely "Andante" ("Slow") [T-6] based on a gorgeous, flowing melody [00:01], which could have folk roots. This winsome offering is offset by a subsequent "Allegro" ("Fast") marked "Scherzo" [T-7]. Here initial passages reminiscent of that Spanish dance known as the Jota aragonese (see example) alternate with waltzlike ideas [beginning at 02:26], and bring the movement to a spirited conclusion.
The final one [T-8] gets off to a "Grave" start with a wistful allusion [01:19] to an upcoming, perky thought. This soon appears [01:51] and fuels a consummate fugue, which ends the work in the finest tradition of those late-18th, early-19th-century string quartets by the likes of Haydn (1732-1809), Mozart (1756-1791) and Beethoven (1770-1827).
Bretón would write a Second in 1907, subtitled "Cuarteto dramático" (not available on disc as of this writing), and two years later, a melody-swept Third (E minor, 1909), that receives its world premiere recording here. Like the First, it also starts with a sonata-form movement [T-1]; however, this one is marked "Allegro cómodo" ("Moderately fast") [T-5].
The opening statement (O3) has three related, engaging themes, the initial one being a pixilated thought (EP) [00:00] that brings to mind Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42). The other two are respectively skipping, with some spicy pizzicato (ES) [01:34], and folkish (FF) [02:05]. Then O3 resurfaces [02:28], after which EP [04:55] calls up a captivating development [05:19].
Subsequently, there's an EP based, fughetta that initiates a recap [05:51] with nostalgic memories of all three O3 ideas [beginning at 07:12]. They wax and wane into a dramatic pause [09:44] and forceful reminder of EP's first three notes, which end this movement definitively.
A loving "Andante" ("Slow") [T-2] follows, where the viola introduces an amorous theme [00:00], soon sequentially reiterated by the first violin [00:26] and cello [00:55]. This is the subject of a yearning exploration [01:28], surrounding a dramatic episode [03:12] that ebbs, bringing things to a tranquil conclusion.
The next movement is an "Allegro no mucho" ("Not too fast") [T-3] scherzo, which the composer would later rework as the second, "Scherzo andaluz" ("Andalusian Scherzo") of his "Cuatro piezas espanolas" ("Four Spanish Pieces") for piano trio (1911). It has frisky, Iberian-colored passages [00:00] that alternate with FF-tinged ones [beginning at 00:28] and end this foot-tapping number cheerfully.
Then the work closes with a capricious "Allegro deciso" ("Decidedly fast") sonata-rondo [T-4], where a scampering, Mendelssohnian ditty (SM) [00:00] and FF-like melody [01:10] play a tuneful game of developmental tag. Virtuosic flourishes abound for everyone, with all of this ending in an SM-based, excited coda [04:09], which brings the Quartet to a spunky conclusion.
Named in honor of the composer, the Bretón String Quartet was formed in 2003. Its talented, up-and-coming musicians (first violinist Anne-Marie North, second violinist Antonio Cárdenas Plaza, violist Iván Martín Mateu & cellist John Stokes), share a passion for Spanish repertoire, and accordingly deliver superb accounts of both works that will probably be definitive for some time to come. Incidentally, the album notes infer they'll give us this composer's Second Quartet (see above) on an upcoming Naxos release.
The recordings were made between 20 and 26 July 2013 at the Musicstry Studios (no secure pictures currently available) located in Boadilla del Monte, Spain, some ten air miles west of Madrid. They project a suitably sized sonic image in warm, pleasant surroundings. The instruments are comfortably spaced from left to right in order of increasing size, and well balanced against one another.
The string tone is as good as it gets on conventional discs, but would probably have been even more lifelike in Super Audio. That said, the sound is characterized by pleasant highs, a musical midrange and clean bass with no muddiness in the cello's lower registers. Audiophiles will approve!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200730)
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Feld: Va Conc (with Flosman & Bodorová); Hosprová/Kučera/Rauner/Prag RSO [Supraphon]
AUDIOPHILE Best FIND (1 CD)
Compared to violin concertante works, those for viola are a rarity, let alone ones written in the 20th century. To quote our featured performer, Czech violist Jitka Hosprová (see the informative album notes), those in the former category are typically characterized by technically virtuosic displays and the melodic dominance of the soloist.
On the other hand, the three here contrast the viola's more inwardly expressive world against that of a brilliantly scored orchestra. These are the only new recordings of them currently available on disc.
The opener is by Prague-born Jindřich Feld (1925-2007). He'd leave a significant number of works across all genres (1949-2005), which include thirteen concertos. The first for flute (1954) would attain international recognition, while the last featuring the viola (J. 208; 2003-4) is what's presented here.
Commissioned by French violinist-violist Raphaël Oleg (b. 1959), this is fashioned on a grand-scale and recalls Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) masterful creation of 1945. The Feld has three, thematically connected movements and places even more demands on the soloist than that of his Hungarian counterpart.
Its outer ones, are both "Lento ma non troppo" ("Sustained but not too fast") marked, rhapsodic utterances [T-1 & T-3]. They surround a spiky "Allegro con spirito" ("Fast, with spirit") [T-2], having an extended, demanding cadenza [04:05-06:49], and end the piece with some poignant quarter-tone spicing.
The next selection is Oldřich Flosman's (1925-1998) single movement Visions of Michelangelo [T-4]. This was commissioned and written in 1975 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of that great, renaissance sculptor-painter-architect's (1475-1564) birth. The work is dedicated to Czech violist Lubomír Malý (b. 1938) and has ominous tutti, snare-drum-accented, opening passages [00:00].
These are followed by a related, wistful idea played by the soloist [01:56], which becomes the subject of a captivating dialog with the orchestra [02:40]. The latter contains a lengthy, pensive cadenza [08:44-11:33] and ends the piece much the same way it began.
Last but not least there's Sylvie Bodorová's (b. 1954) Planctus [T-5] (1980-81), whose title refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary's lamentations that took place at the foot of her son Jesus' cross, during his crucifixion. According to the album notes, it also expresses Bodorová's despondency over the Soviet-backed, Communist regime that ruled her country, when it was known as Czechoslovakia.
In a single, fifteen-minute span [T-5], this is mournful music that becomes progressively more lachrymose, giving way to a sobbing-viola cadenza [05:17]. Then the soloist is joined by the orchestra [06:17], after which eerie passages [beginning at 07:14] are followed by a brief pause and increasingly agitated ones [beginning at 09:26]. Here there are viola fireworks as well as reverential chimes [09:49] that wane into a despondent episode [11:43]. This has some spooky, percussion [12:50 & 13:01] and ends the work in quiet despair.
Czech violist Sylvie Hosprová delivers totally committed, highly sensitive readings of these three rarities, making them significant additions to those recordings featuring her instrument. She receives outstanding support from the Prague Radio Symphonie Orchestra (PRSO) under her fellow countrymen, conductors Jan Kučera (b. 1977; Feld & Bodorová) and Tomá Brauner (b. 1978; Flosman).
A coproduction of Supraphon and Czech Radio (ČRo), these recordings were made on three occasions, specifically April 2016 (Flosman), September 2017 (Feld) and April 2018 (Bodorová) at the ČRo's Studio 1 located in Prague. They project a modestly sized sonic image in pleasant, warm surroundings with the soloist centered in front of the PRSO. Her viola is well captured and balanced against the tutti,
As for the orchestral timbre, it's characterized by agreeably bright highs, a convincing midrange and clean, transient bass with some impressive bass drum thumps, which'll exercise your woofers. That said, those liking a spacious soundstage should try auditioning this release on headphones rather than speakers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200729)
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González-Medina: Concierto Barroco (vn, va, vc, pno & perc; w Ladrón de Guevara & Meza); Aurora Qt [Urtext]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Those who liked Urtext's recent release of contemporary concertos by Mexican composer Alexis Aranda (b. 1974; see 30 April 2020) are in for another treat with this delightful follow-on. It features three works scored for piano quartet, and then some in the case of the first one, each of which are by different, contemporary compatriots of Alexis (see the album notes regarding their backgrounds). These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
First a word of explanation about the opening Concierto Barroco (Baroque Concerto; 2002) by Enrique González-Medina (b. 1954). He took his inspiration for it from Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier's (1904-1980) fanciful, eponymous novel of 1974, which involves three, well-known Baroque composers, namely Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) and Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). The author imagines them as revelers at what's seemingly the annual Italian Carnival of Venice, where they come up with something the author describes as "the most fantastic concerto grosso that the centuries could have ever heard".
Consequently, Enrique's piece is a colorful, three-movement work with a lively opening "Toccata" [T-1]. It has initial, arresting wooden-block-knocks [00:00], courtesy of the violinist, followed by the quartet playing a catchy, Latin-rhythm-accented, dance tune [00:15]. This is spiced with maraca ticks [01:41] provided by the violist, and becomes somewhat coquettish [02:12]. It then gives way to a pause and related, sensual episode [03:03-04:59], after which the movement ends much like it began.
The next "Tango-Guigue" ("Tango-Jig") [T-2] is as advertised. Moreover, this has a seductive, laid-back number [00:00] wrapped around a "Mexicized" jig [02:38-04:24]. And then there's a fetching "Fandango" [T-3], which starts with a tender melody [00:00]. It powers a jolly dance ditty that ends this Baroque bibelot in fiery Flamenco fashion.
Moving right along, we get Gerardo Meza's (b. 1960) "Imágenes" ("Images"; no date given). According to the album notes, each of its three untitled movements has programmatic connotations. More specifically the first [T-4] characterizes a tropical region of Mexico known as Huasteca, which surrounds Tampico on the Caribbean coast, some 200 hundred air miles, north-northeast of Mexico City. Consequently, after an animated introduction [00:00}, the music smacks of the Huapango, which is a folk dance indigenous to that area (click to hear one).
The middle movement [T-5] is a tiny tone poem based on Oscar Wilde's (1854-1900) short story The Nightingale and the Rose (published 1888). It's a melancholy utterance, reflecting this sad tale of unrequited love.
But the mood turns more festive in the closing one [T-6], which the composer says, "is reminiscent of some medieval European dances." In that regard, after a flirtatious preface [00:00] we get a catchy tune that's a rhythmic cross between the Italian saltarello and gagliarda (galliard). It brings this chamber curio to a colorful conclusion.
The concert ends with music by the youngest composer represented here, Francisco Ladrón de Guevara (b. 1987), who like Meza is also a violinist. It's his Sonata for Piano, Violin, Viola and Violincello (no date given), which considering the scoring, bears a strange title. In that regard, the album notes infer the composer chose this name to emphasize he considers it absolute music with no underlying story. Be that as it may, structurally speaking, the piece is far from the conventional sonata.
Instead of the usual three or four movements, there're only two, both of which are bizarre creations. The first marked "Comódo" ("Easygoing") [T-7] gets off to a sonata-form-like start with two related, folkish ideas that are respectively songlike (FS) [00:00] and whimsical (FW) [01:20]. These are repeated [02:09], giving way to a chromatic development [04:23], succeeded by what begins like a recapitulation [06:21]. However, it becomes chromatically deranged, ending the movement in an unresolved state. According to the composer, this is meant to invoke feelings of boredom, desolation and sadness.
The next one is a musical happening [T-8], whose "Vals" ("Waltz") marked opening presents an FW-derived, graceful, but somewhat queasy theme (FG) [00:00] wrapped around a troubled treatment of itself [01:23-02:08]. This wanes into shimmering passages [03:07] that turn spooky and adjoin a FG-derived, aria-like episode [04:36].
It's interrupted by a strident tidbit [05:20], which suddenly turns "Muy lento" ("Very slow") with wisps of FS [05:31]. These bridge into an FS-derived, six-note motif [06:17], which is repeated along with some weeping as well as teardrop-suggestive passages for the cello [06:39 & 06:52]. The foregoing end the Sonata in a state of unresolved, tonal limbo.
Like the Austrian Constanze String Quartet featured last month (see 30 June 2020), the Mexican Piano Cuarteto Aurora (Aurora Quartet) is an all ladies group (violinist Vera Koulkova, violist Madalina Nicolescu, cellist Sona Poshotyan & pianist Camelia Goila). It specializes in contemporary music and promotes new works in this genre. These talented artists deliver technically accomplished, spirited accounts of all three selections.
Made during April 2017, the recordings took place at what's known as Estudio 13 (Studio 13), Mexican City, presumably in the Piano Room. They present a comfortably sized sonic image in a warm acoustic, where there's no feeling of that confinement frequently associated with venues such as this.
The strings are positioned from left to right in order of increasing instrument size, with the piano centered between them. All are beautifully captured and balanced against one another. What's more, the keyboard tone is well rounded and the strings are very lifelike, all of which qualifies this as an "Audiophile" release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y200728)
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Humă: Symphony-Concerto for Pno & Orch, Sym 1 "Carpatica"; Tuhuţiu/Petrie/BBCWalNa O [Guild]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Here's a businessman-diplomat who's a part-time composer, and on the evidence of this recent Guild release, a very good one! Born in Iaşi (pronounced "Yashee"), Romania, some 200 miles north-northeast of Bucharest, Călin Humă (pronounced "Culin Hoomah"; b. 1965) has written a small number of works, the most recent of which fall into the large, symphonic category. Two of the latter are included here, these being the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Humă received his early musical training at home, but in the late 1990s he was appointed Honorary Council to the United Kingdom, where he's since lived. Consequently, this man's music is a fascinating mixture of Eastern as well as Northern European influences.
The program begins with his Symphony-Concerto for Piano and Orchestra of 2018. In three unmarked movements, the first has initial, forte piano chords reminiscent of those opening that old chestnut, Rachmaninov's "Prélude in C sharp minor". Incidentally, this is the second of his five Morceaux de fantaisies (Fantasy Pieces, Op. 3; 1892), sometimes referred to as "The Bells of Moscow".
It's highly romantic music where, except for a brief, demanding cadenza [08:22-09:44], soloist and tutti consistently support one another. Unlike most concertos, there's no feeling of that competitiveness so aptly spoofed in Irving Berlin's (1888-1989) song "Anything you can do I can do better..." (1946). That said, some may find it brings to mind Polish composer Karol Szymanowski's (1882-1937) Symphony No. 4, which is a similarly scored work that's subtitled as a "Symphonie Concertante" (1932).
The slow, middle movement [T-2] is a dreamy utterance that owes allegiance to the later symphonic works of Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). This opens with echoing horn calls [00:03], which conjure images of the majestic Carpathian Mountains, some 120 miles west of Călin's hometown. Then the music grows, presumably emulating those soaring peaks, and the soloist enters pensively [02:26], calling up a gorgeous rhapsody.
It ebbs and flows with some interim piano thoughts [07:15-07:49] into more of those horn calls [10:33] that are followed attacca by the third movement [T-3]. This is a theme and variations, which begins with a hushed tutti preface [00:00] and the soloist hinting at a captivating, folksong-like, main subject (CF).
CF is soon heard on the piano [00:41] and undergoes several treatments, the first of which range from amorous [01:12] to waltzlike [02:19], whimsical [03:04] and searching [03:49]. Then skittering [05:14], joyous [05:43], as well as wistful ones [05:14, 05:43 & 06:44] are followed by an agitated coda [07:01] that ends the Concerto with an explosive hint of CF.
The next selection, is Humă's Symphony No. 1 (2015), subtitled "Carpatica" ("Carpathian"), which was apparently inspired by those mountains mentioned above. There's a prolix, tonal analysis of the work in the album notes, so we'll limit ourselves to some general comments about it. More specifically, each of the three movements are tone-poem-like creations, so we'll make up a story to the music as it goes along, in hopes of giving you a better idea of how all this sounds.
Its opening "Largo" ("Slow") [T-4] has an initial emphatic motif (IE) [00:00] and gently rolling, pastoral idea (RP) [00:04]. The forgoing limn jagged, rising peaks surrounded by a richly forested countryside, and trumpet-heralded, venatic passages [04:54-05:43] conjure images of a hunting party emerging from the woods.
Then rustic woodwinds [07:12] suggest a shepherd tending his flock. But afternoon breezes pick up [08:16] and storm clouds gather [08:16], giving rise to a brief thunderstorm [10:32]. However, skies clear [11:21], and the movement ends with what might represent a beautiful sunset [13:08], having twilight remembrances of the opening measures [14:39].
The middle "Largo" ("Slow") [T-5] is a theme-and-variations with initial, RP-IE-related passages (RE) [00:00], which bring to mind the opening of Sir Edward Elgar's (1837-1934) Enigma... (Op. 36; 1898-9). Variants of RE are the basis for a sylvan meditation that waxes and wanes.
One is a bagpipe-like treatment (RB) [00:34], probably inspired by the Romanian Cimpoi (click to see and hear). All of the foregoing might well represent a quaint village scene. Then somber memories of the opening measures [07:47] as well as RB [08:47] end the movement tranquilly.
There's a martial air about the concluding "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-6], which with a stretch of the imagination could suggest circumstances in the composer's homeland during World War II (1939-45). Moreover, it starts with a side-drum tattoo soon followed by a strutting, IE-prefaced [00:08] march tune (IS) [00:16]. Then IS undergoes a captivating development having thematic spinoffs of past ideas and scalic, connective material.
All this ebbs into a pause and keening episode [05:16] that might well reflect the ravages of war. Subsequently, there's a scampering, pizzicato-accented segment [06:56] with rousing, RB-based passages [07:47]. It invokes a victorious coda [08:16], which ends the Symphony in a blaze of glory.
The composer's fellow countryman, pianist Sergiu Tuhuţiu (pronounced "Sergiu Tuhutsiu"), delivers a dazzling, heartfelt account of the Symphony-Concerto. Young, German-born conductor, Christopher Petrie and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BNOW) give him strong support, and go on to deliver a rousing account of the companion piece. Maestro Petrie has been a strong advocate of Humă's music, and will hopefully soon give us the composer's Symphony No. 2 (2019), subtitled "Hampshire".
The recordings were done in November 2018 at BBC Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff, Wales. They project a withdrawn sonic image in spacious surroundings with the piano centered and well balanced against the BNOW. The orchestral timbre in both works is characterized by bright highs, particularly in massed violin passages, a lean midrange, and clean bass. Everything considered, the sound is serviceable, but won't win any "Audiophile" prizes. Those having tone and/or equalization controls may feel the need to tweak them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P200727)
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