is a classic David Amos project: three composers and four totally
unknown or at least unplayed works. If we must find a common thread
then note that all three composers ended their days in the USA.
two compact piano concertos by Isidor
Achron are rare fare. Achron is
best known as half of the famed Heifetz-Achron
duo. Their friendship lasted many years
- the years of glittering prizes and
celebrity. Before that Isidor has studied
at the St Petersburg Conservatory with
Liadov and Steinberg. By the way Joseph
Achron whose orchestral music has been
recorded as part of the Milken Naxos
series (see review)
was Isidor's older brother .
single movement First Piano Concerto was premiered by the composer
with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1937 at Carnegie Hall.
It’s a grandiloquent piece torn emotionally between torment, tragedy
and triumph. The music is broadly in the constituencies of Rachmaninov
and Medtner. In 1940 the same artists gave the first performance
of the three movement Second Piano Concerto. This is in much
the same stonily romantic idiom as the First Concerto. After a
hectoring and almost over-insistent and melodramatic first movement
we get an Allegro Religoso which pours a slow-flowing balm to
establish a slightly clouded peace. There’s then a rhetorical
Allegro which uses material form the first movement. It is not
perhaps as inventive as the First Concerto but the quick-yearning
Tchaikovskian sighs at 6:23 are superbly done and the piece ends
in majestic spirits.
hardly known at all these days. He was
born near Odessa, studied with Rimsky
and Liadov in St Petersburg, was a leading
light in the musical life of Tiflis
until 1918 and then surfaced in Paris
in 1920. He moved to the USA and there
became a major player in the music industry
of New York. He wrote various operas
and opera-ballets. He died in Port Chester,
New York. There are five symphonies:
1. Of the Rivers (1914); 2. Of
the Summits (1918); 3. Of the
Seas (1924); 4. (1927); 5. City
of Solomon and Christ for chorus
and orchestra (1932) and there’s plenty
more including orchestral and choral
works. The Vow was rescued from
oblivion by Barry Goldsmith and had
it orchestrated by Abelardo Flores from
sketchy indications left by the composer.
It’s an enigmatic piece, not all dramatic.
In fact its hieratic elevated character
reminded me of a much larger-scale work:
Bax’s Symphonic Variations. If
the Saminsky had been called something
like The Temple, I would not
have been surprised.
was also something of
a pilgrim-gypsy-refugee and travelled widely. Loosely speaking
three works form a geographical trilogy:-
Symphony (1914) (reviews
- an Epic Rhapsody (1926)
- A Land of Mountains and its People (1929)
is descriptive of and a hymn to the land of Bloch’s birth. The
performance here conveys in the music of the opening and the close
a wonderful sense of the peace conferred by reflection in the
world’s high places. This magically sustained writing is not that
distant from Delius’s Song of the High Hills and Novák’s
In the Tatras. Horn-calls echo near and far from peak to
glacier to precipitous rock-face. This is punctuated with rustic
RVW-style dances (8:57). It might almost be Somerset or perhaps
the Auvergne. It still strikes me as a not quite completely resolved
piece. Its striking heavy-footed funereal march (13:40) develops
into rodomontade but there’s a regal climax worthy of Korngold.
At its peak Bloch’s writing has a Straussian exuberance. The piece
ends in an atmosphere of high hills serenity. It was composed
in San Francisco in 1929 and premiered by the redoubtable Frederick
Stock in Chicago in 1932.
is the only piece here
to have any competition. Lior Shambadal and l’Orchestre de la
Suisse Romande recorded the piece with two works for viola and
orchestra, the Suite and the Suite Hébraïque in
2002. Although the Cascavelle CD (RSR 6170) sounds somewhat richer
in the acoustic of the Victoria Hall, Geneva this rather discursive
piece benefits from the tauter pace set by David Amos.
is an extremely attractive disc for the adventurous listener.
It’s all the more satisfying for the contrasts at play amongst
the varied and accessible writing of Bloch, Saminsky and Achron.
More of the same please.