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BMG Melodiya Series
MILY BALAKIREV (1837-1910) Disc 1 Symphony No. 1 (1866/97) 40:08 rec 1974 Overture on Three Russian Themes (1858) 8:19 rec 1978 Russia - Symphonic Poem (1864) 13:41 rec 1976 Overture on a Spanish March Theme (1857) 13:21 rec 1985 Disc 2 Symphony No. 2 (1908) 35:37 rec 1977 Tamara - Symphonic Poem (1867-82) 21:09 rec 1977 In Bohemia - Symphonic Poem (1867-1905) 11:59 rec 1983 Islamey - Oriental Fantasia (orch Lyapunov) (1869) 8:01 rec live 1986 USSRSO/Evgeny Svetlanov BMG-Melodiya 74321 49608 2 TWOFER CD1 [75:56] CD2 [77:14] [153:10]
Couplings of the two Balakirev symphonies are not uncommon. Naxos and Hyperion are examples although no doubt there are others. This set, which in terms of musical playing time is amongst the most generous in the BMG-Melodiya series, includes both symphonies and six other works, three tone poems and three overtures. Balakirev's dedication to folk music and the exotic orient is well known. It puts in an appearance to greater or lesser extents in all these works.
The first symphony has attracted several celebrity recordings. I have Karajan's and Beecham's EMI discs in mind. These two (often reissued) have tended to discourage competition until comparatively recently. I know the Beecham and rate it highly. I have not heard the Karajan/Philharmonia. Beecham, with his Ballets Russes background sweeps the board but this Svetlanov is lingeringly seductive. The acid test is the oriental song of the third movement which foreshadows Rimsky's Antar and Sheherazade. The other movements are equally elastic and responsive to the strange poetry of the Eastern never-never land of a Thousand and One Nights.
The second symphony has some pleasing music and is worth getting to know but longer term it does not have the fresh strengths of the first symphony or Tamara. The first two of the four movements have some good moments where the imagination of the 70 year old composer glows scarlet when in the years of the first symphony it was white hot.
At over 21 minutes Tamara is both the most famous and most substantial of the six non-symphony works. The others play for between 8 and 13 minutes.
Tamara predictably attracted Leon Bakst for production as a ballet and has it all. It is death-centred with large helpings of seduction, deceit, violence and eroticism.
The work was written after three trips to the Caucasus: 1862, 1863 and 1868. It was finished in 1882. The storyline is based on the story by Mikhail Lermontov who depicts Tamara the temptress, half angel, half demon who seduces passing travellers and who after a night of orgiastic pleasure murders them and casts their bodies into the River Terek.
The violence is vivid, but most immediate in impact is the sensuous abandon in a gem of a main theme presented in swaying strings. Svetlanov gives free rein to every element of the fantasy - just listen to the side-drum accompanied dance. Bax was much influenced by this work and you can hear the young Bax in this revolutionary work of high romance. The work has a symphonic symmetry. It is not difficult to see it as a single movement symphony.
The Overture on Russian Themes is a skillfully presented sequence of songs of which two will probably be well known to many classical listeners. The second theme is immediately recognised from Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony and the finale uses the bustling Easter Fair theme later used by Stravinsky in Petrushka.
The symphonic poem Russia (Rus) is quite low key, more a Russian rhapsody than a symphonic conception. It has its moments.
The rarest work here is the Overture on a Spanish March Theme which reminded me more of Massenet (Le Cid) rather than Rimsky's Capriccio Espagnole. If it occasionally sounds rather like 'The Keel Row' this does no harm. In any event it is a pretty insubstantial piece even if it does seek to portray the expulsion of the Moors from Spain. There are many tawdry episodes and it is here as a generous and welcome curiosity rather than there being an implication that it is of the same stature as Tamara.
In Bohemia is a better and more enduring work than the Spanish overture. It is based on three Czech folk tunes although Balakirev gives each of them a decidedly Russian caste. The work is recognisable as the music of the same composer who wrote the Russian Folk Songs overture and Tamara. It is not at all like Dvorak but is a Russian 'take' on three tunes from a fellow Slav nation.
Lastly comes the hectic and febrile Islamey, a work better known as a fiendishly challenging piano piece here brought to orchestral colours by the composer's close friend Lyapunov. Lyapunov brings out the Rimsky (Antar and Sheherazade) echoes. This is a live performance - the only one in the set to feature the odd cough. The whole is performed with hectic speed and abandon (almost gabbled) but greeted with cheers from the normally inexpressive and taciturn Russian audiences.
The notes mention, in passing, Casella's orchestration of Islamey. I hope that some company will record that version.
Informatively useful notes by Sigrid Neef: English, German and French. The translations from the German are usually pretty lucid but there are lapses. A choice one is the following: 'Impressionistic tone painting of river, tower and countryside is interdigitated at the beginning with Tamara's themes.' There is also the occasional epic sentence almost lost in convolution. Try page 6, column 1, the sentence beginning 'instead'.
The Hyperion two CD set is now also at mid-price and is attractive with recordings dating from the early 1980s, Edward Garden's authoritative notes, the excellent Philharmonia conducted by Svetlanov but a certain languor has settled on the interpretations and the timings for all the works are longer than the timings for the Melodiya performances. Apart from losing out on the liquid tones of the Russian brass (you either love that tone or hate it - I love it) you also get only some of the smaller pieces. The pieces not included are In Bohemia, the Spanish March overture and the Islamey fantasy. Nevertheless the Hyperion represents first choice for those who must have excellent digital (DDD) recording quality. I have both sets and certainly prefer the Melodiya (ADD) versions.
Good artwork, nice choice of cover painting and tasteful design typical of the Twofer series. Space-economical single thickness CD case. Mid-price. Glowing performances of works of a magical fantasy. What more could you reasonably ask?
SERGEI RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Symphony No. 1 (1896) USSRSO [47:25] rec 1966 Symphony No. 2 (1907) Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra [53:49] rec 1964 Vocalise (1915) USSRSO [8:56] rec 1973 Symphony No. 3 (1936) USSR RTV Large SO [41:48] rec 1962 conductor: Evgeny Svetlanov BMG-Melodiya 74321 40064 2 CD1 [74:50] CD2 [77:35] [152:25]
These are veteran recordings which, over the LP years, were often licensed in the West - usually via EMI who issued them singly and also in a boxed collection with The Bells and Kondrashin's wildly resonant account of the Symphonic Dances. The second symphony has been much taken up by many conductors and there are excellent recordings available by Previn (the EMI 197 3 recording is still a top recommendation), Rozhdestvensky (IMP), Temirkanov and many others. These recordings of the Second are distinguished by being complete lasting circa 65 mins. The Svetlanov appears to have cuts although the notes do not refer to them.
Niels Høirup is responsible for the reissue concept and can certainly take a bow for this issue and many others in the valuable and rewarding Twofer series. The weakness in this volume is concerned with the decision to split the second symphony across two discs when there was another option.
As the notes point out the three symphonies mark out three stages in his career. The first work is a lively, courageous and ambitious work from his student years. The second which is now a popular concert item comes from his heyday maturity. The third and final symphony dates from his years in the USA at the end of his career.
After his death and during the 1950s and 1960s Rachmaninov's music was rather deprecated. He was an embarrassment among the cerebral music of those ties. Rachmaninov was an out and out romantic composer. This was equated with sloppiness and sentimentality. His second piano concerto and some of the piano music kept his reputation alive. The symphonies were definitely unfashionable. Although there were recordings made they were not numerous. His return to the fold began with Andre Previn's 1972 EMI recording of the complete second symphony. This classic of the catalogue has been issued and reissued time after time.
In the USSR in the 1960s the symphonic Rachmaninov (who spent so many years outside his homeland and who died in Beverley Hills) was attracting the attention of the big names including Kondrashin, Rozhdestvensky and Svetlanov. These three symphonies recorded at two yearly intervals from 1962 to 1966 are the fruit of that attention. Kondrashin's recordings of The Bells and the still unmatched Symphonic Dances are coupled on another BMG-Melodiya single CD. Though a different orchestra is used for each symphony Svetlanov is the constant unifying intelligence and emotion.
The First Symphony is, like the others, given an enthusiastically dedicated and unembarrassed performance such as must have contrasted with the disastrous premiere conducted by Glazunov. The work inhabits the steppes, oriental fantasy and gypsy campfires of Borodin and Rimsky-Korskaov. The crashing unanimity and pin-sharp focus of attack is characteristic of all three recordings but listen to the finale for an example of this quality. The recordings give every indication of being the pinnacle and culmination of a sequence of concert performances and radio broadcasts, but before the edge of spontaneity and invention had been blunted.
The Second Symphony is the best known of the three. It has a Korngoldian splendour and dazzling richness. This is a big symphony playing 54 minutes in this recording but here it is short by about nine minutes shorn from the middle movements. The lambent adagio is the main target for cuts.
The Third Symphony has a bubbling effervescently rough energy. Mercurial fantasy and colour light up this symphony. The canvas is narrower than the second symphony but the mood changes are quick and intense. The crashing Easter Fair atmosphere of the finale soon gives place to a determined military theme. The woodwind play in birdsong spasm erupting into a great wallowing theme. The dancing fugal strings (3:31 track 5) are a notable highlight in a symphony which often suggests a concerto for orchestra. It does not have the world-weary romantic epic drive of the Second Symphony. It is more a bloodbrother to the Symphonic Dances of a few years later. The recording is atmospheric although the oldest (approaching 40 years old) sounds the best.
The luxuriatingly languid Vocalise is in a version orchestrated by V. Kin.
The sound quality is fine; though not exactly subtle it is always exciting. Hiss is undetectable. The recordings, as for all in the Twofer series, is 20 Bit Digital with NoNOISE Remastering, Sonic Solutions Turbo-Bit Mapping.
It was sadly unavoidable that one of the three symphonies had to be split across two CDs. The pity is that the one to be interrupted (unless you have a multi CD changer) is the Second Symphony. For artistic reasons I would have selected the less coherent No. 1 and presented No. 2 complete on disc 1 preceded by Vocalise and followed by the first movement of No 1 making a disc of about 76 minutes and the second disc of about 75 minutes.
Informatively useful and thoughtful notes by Sigrid Neef in English, German and French. Good artwork and design characteristic of this Twofer series. A space-economical single thickness CD case is used. The set, as with all these twofers, is at mid-price.
Raw and lively recordings and performances. The cuts in the Second Symphony register hardly at all in face of such communicative splendour - a quality common to every precious minute on these two discs. Definitely worth getting. This will be a delightful saunter down memory lane for some and a trek of rewarding discoveries for those who have never heard these recordings.
NICOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) Symphony No. 1 (1861-65) rec 1977 Symphony No. 2 (Symphonic Suite) Antar (1868, rev 1875, 1897) rec 1983 Symphony No. 3 (1873) rec 1983 Symphonic Suite - Sheherazade (1888) rec 1969 USSRSO/Evgeny Svetlanov BMG-Melodiya Twofer 74321 40065 2 CD1: [76:18]; CD2: [74:41]
This generously timed set presents, in glowing performances and bruisingly vivid brazen sound, the symphonic legacy of one of the world's greatest orchestral colourists. It lacks only the Sinfonietta on Russian Themes (1880) to make it a complete canvas of Rimsky's symphonic oeuvre. As it is, the set offers four very substantial works across two well-filled discs.
In 1985 Svetlanov recorded most of the other orchestral works and these were well done on a now deleted pair of Olympia discs (OCD211, 227) which included the 'missing' Sinfonietta.
The only truly well-known work on offer is the concert favourite, Sheherazade. This has been recorded countless times by all manner of orchestras and conductors. Over the years I have heard several of the recordings most highly praised and have always counted the present one high in the poetry and drama stakes. Svetlanov's is the version which I for some years had on tape and through which I came to know the piece. I have never heard it in concert; still less have I heard live the other symphonic works here. I count Beecham's and Stokowski's RPO recordings to be among the best. Stokowski's resplendent last version (with the LSO) was very strong indeed but I am not sure if it is still available.
Svetlanov's orchestra is imposingly black-toned in the brass which play with a malevolent edge whenever the Sultan's music enters. The solo violinist in the USSRSO was Heinrich Friedheim when this recording was made in 1969. I would like to know more about him and how someone with such a German name came to be leader of the USSRSO. His tone is beguiling, allusive and sensual.
The attack by the strings is heavily accented with bows digging deep. The orchestral lines are underscored and etched. Highlights include a delectable dialogue between violin and flute at 8:01(track 1). Because the work became a concert war-horse we tend to forget the magnificence and generosity of Rimsky's melodies which seem to spin their silk and gold endlessly. The cobalt-black brass have great attack. The sound is of a grand orchestra in a richly reverberant acoustic but with sufficient damping to prevent textures becoming muddled.
Svetlanov can spin a sinuous serenade of the night with the best and has just the right sense of pacing, slowing and quickening - hesitancy and impetuousness. At 7:17 on track 3 Freidheim's bow can be heard scudding across strings. Friedheim colours the tone of his instrument hoarsely, perhaps suggesting that the eponymous heroine is beginning to lose her voice. He plays the role of the liberated woman animatrix to perfection. A great example of 'girl power' triumphant over the Sultan's male oppression. However as the composer warned us we should not become too fascinated by the plot and the titles of the movements. The music is grand in the amplitude of its imagination and in its potently exotic enchantment well caught in the closing bars as Friedheim evokes the long-eyelashed eyelids of the beautiful storyteller closing in sleep.The composer was 44 when he completed the work. It is the latest composition on these discs.
The first symphony is nowhere near so striking, though obviously an accomplished piece by a young composer (21) in awe of Schubert, Beethoven and Dvorak (the early symphonies). The middle movement seems to hint at the main theme in the middle movement of the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto. The final movement ends in sharply defined and burred brass fanfares. Overall though the symphony plays well in the charm league occupied by many of the works of Glazunov and Raff.
Antar is one of Rimsky's least appreciated works. It is a close cousin in spirit to Sheherazade and the slinky enchantress Gul-Nazar is a sister in spirit to the Arabian teller of tales ... marvellous tales. She is also not a long step away from Balakirev's deadly Tamara. The pacing by Svetlanov is elastic and pliant. He weights the liturgical and oriental tunes with an ear to curves and melodrama. Heart-breaking intensity, stuttering barbarous shouts from the trombones distinguish this masterful work as does a certain heroism. In the second movement horns can be heard calling away and resolving into a toe-tappingly compulsive 'trish trash' dance. The third movement's stamping dance literally lilts into a tune and then a great majestic dance with chirping wind in background. Track 3 at 5:54 is an illustration of how Svetlanov gloriously draws out the brass. The fourth movement has a long Tchaikovskian sobbing line hinted at by oboe the at first but soon developed without restraint by the orchestra. Let no-one underestimate the glories of this work and this performance. The Monteux is a highly-rated historic performance in sound to match. The Svetlanov Hyperion is highly thought of but is not generously coupled. There are also Chandos and DG versions.
The Symphony No. 3 opens in whispering snow and develops into a stertorously tramping dance. This becomes increasingly dashing. Rimsky has left behind orientalism now and follows cleaner classical lines. The work includes a great sledging hymn to winter - all icy pools and snow-hung trees rather like Tchaikovsky's 'Winter Daydreams' and Winter from Glazunov's 'Seasons'. This work is more appealing than the first symphony but you should not expect great tunes. The final movement is tender and coaxing not a million miles from Hollywood and Korngold.
Each disc offers a better known work with a lesser known work.
Recording quality is never less than respectable. It is vivid and clear. Refined it isn't. However this music benefits from a blend of opposites: wild abandon and a disciplined unanimity of attack. Both are in evidence in both technical and performance values.
The more you listen to this music the more apparent becomes the debt owed by Ravel, Stravinsky, Bax, Guridi, Debussy, Holst and a host of others.
Apart from its significance in the history of music of the romantic imagination these works, and especially Antar and Sheherazade, are loveable and carry a potent magic still. Recapture that magic with Svetlanov and these Russian musicians and recordings. If you are tired of smoothed and refined international edges in recordings and crave the peppery and imaginative in music these recordings are for you.
Good notes by Sigrid Neef.
There is no similarly coupled competition.
RODION SHCHEDRIN (b. 1932) Review of three of the BMG-Melodiya Authorized Shchedrin' CDs Two Symphonies and Three Piano Concertos Melodist of the 1950s; the Avant-Garde of the 1960s and 1970s.
1. Symphony No. 1 (1958) 2. Concerto No. 2 for full orchestra The Chimes (1968) 3. Maidens' Round Dance from 'The Humpbacked Horse' (1956) 4. Solemn Overture (1982) 5. The Execution of Pugachov (1981) 6. Concertino (1982)1-4 USSRSO/Evgeny Svetlanov 5-6 Moscow Conservatory Students' Chorus/Boris Tevlin 6 Boys' Choir Moscow Chorus College/Lev Kantorovic recorded 1-2, 5 May 1975 Moscow Conservatory; 3-4 Moscow 1987; 5-6 Moscow 18 October 1983 BMG Melodiya 74321 60121 2 [71:14]
Shchedrin's international reputation was founded on the success of his arrangement of Bizet's music for Carmen as a 40 minute ballet (1967). The style is supercharged and the orchestra is made up of a massed body of virtuoso strings with a generous percussion section. Since this was first recorded by Rozhdestvensky for Melodiya it has been repeated by other Western orchestras. The ballet was written for his wife, the ballerina Maya Plisetskaya. He also wrote for her The Hump-Backed Horse (1960), Anna Karenina (1972 after Tolstoy), The Seagull (1980 after Chekhov) and The Lady With the Lapdog (1985 after Chekhov). Including the two operas Not Love Alone (1961 rev 1972 after Sergei Antonov) and Dead Souls (1977 after Gogol - recorded as part of BMG's Russian Opera series) this makes seven of his works which have been premiered at the Bolshoi.
His latest opera is Lolita (after Vladimir Nabokov) which was premiered in Stockholm conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich.
Shchedrin is a Muscovite by birth, born into religious family. His grandfather was a priest. Rodion's father was a composer and a professional violinist. Rodion attended the Moscow Conservatory where he studied with Yuri Shaporin (now there's another composer whose music I would like to hear - wasn't there a cantata recorded once - something about the defence of the Russian homeland?) and pianist Yakov Flier. From 1973 to 1990 he was chairman of the Russian Union of Composers founded by Shostakovich. This union was a counterpoise to the other union which was effectively the 'house' union for Soviet composers.
The Symphony No. 1 is a glowingly accomplished work of his student years. It opens with a heartbeat rhythm on cymbals. The first movement is dark and sour-toned, modernish but basically tonal. It presents far less of a listening challenge than, say, Hartmann or Frankel. There is a loftienss about the music which suggests a Symphony of the stratosphere. The occasional chesty cough indicates a concert performance. The pessimism is offset by a recurrent theme which sounds like a phrase from Lehár's 'You are My Heart's Delight'. There is a touch of Sibelius 5 in the magnificently blaring horn section. Beefy sound throughout and a gem of a finale - a confidently unleashed, gloriously sustained long melody which grows in stature with every pace it takes. The work ends with a reminiscence of the 'Lehár' tune. If you were looking for a British counterpart for this wonderful work then think about Malcolm Arnold's fifth symphony. Well worth exploring.
The Chimes is his Second Concerto for full orchestra. It was written for, commissioned and premiered by Leonard Bernstein with the New York PO. It's a work not merely of 1960s modernistic tendencies but of complete commitment to modernism. It is a work of cacophonous noise or chasmal silence. It cackles, snaps, slams and barks, howls and shouts like the very best Penderecki or Ligeti of the 1960s or 1970s. It is deeply unappealing to my ears. This is a concert performance complete with some coughing but no applause (presumably edited out).
The Maiden's Round Dance is a quiet and tender brief pavane. One can almost see the corps de ballet in circles of six dancing elegantly in small circles. This and the somewhat vapid clamorous Solemn Overture (obviously an occasional piece written in an accessible style) contrast with the exuberant avant-garde techniques of The Chimes.
The two choral pieces each play for about ten minutes. The first is a varied and enjoyable piece (taken purely as sound) much shaped by Russian Orthodox chants. The grim text (describing an execution) is set out in full in the booklet. The four movement Concertino is a work of similar attractions. I caught myself several times thinking of the Swingle Singers recordings from 1979 of French and British choral pieces. The singing is precise and powerful and the final movement bell evocations are memorable and the 'jet take off' finale is a testament to the power and virtuosity of this choir.
If you cannot run to all three discs do buy this one.
Symphony No. 2 25 Preludes for full symphony orchestra * Stikhira (1987) ** USSR RTV Large SO/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky * USSR Ministry of Culture SO/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky ** recorded Moscow * 1965 ** 1989 BMG Melodiya 74321 60122 2 [77:15]
The 55 minute symphony is a determinedly modernistic work with a Bergian approach to lyricism blended with a typically Russian style of clamant brass writing in moments of high climax. The structure is unusual and comprises, as the title suggests, 25 preludes. The notes point out that that many of these begin before the previous prelude has finished.
The work is banded into five tracks. Each track offers a group of preludes. Preludes 1-6 explore the extremes of the dynamic range but the impression left is somewhat arid and washed out. The second sequence (7-9) is difficult and opens with an episode which sounds genuinely like tuning up though fragments of themes do emerge from the chaos. The Third movement (preludes 10-14) has dynamism and is more approachable with the sounds of flocks of birds at 10.30 and becomes assertively tuneful. Track 4 (preludes 15-18) opens with a high whistle and warbling old-style horns. This is very haunting, superimposing Sibelian rustling strings over a flute bleakly calling and the french horn's watery warbling. The strings turn and revolve in a way similar to observing a hurricane from high above the earth. Track 5 at 5:20 has Chopin-lke pianistic moments alternating with with crashing chords. The work ends in echoing peace and shrieks from the horns finally resolving into long-held chords and the tinkle of the triangle piacevole.
A Stikhira is a religious poem set to music. This 25-minute 1987 piece has a soul relationship to Arvo Pärt's Cantus but rises to more passionate heights while at all times remaining rooted in the clouds of Orthodox chant. The piece is relatively easy to come to appreciate. It also features the breathiest flute playing I have ever heard (presumably notated as such in the score?). Bell tolling meets brass choirs calling out in Scriabinesque turmoil. There is even a touch of Hovhaness. The vacant hand-stilled bell noises at 18:00 add a pre-historic aura to a strange and mersmerising work.
In my copy of the disc there were two momentary breaks in the recording within the first five minutes of the piece.
As you will have noticed these two works are conducted by Rozhdestvensky, a man who during his all too brief tenure of the BBC Symphony Orchestra during the 1980s injected unpredictability into the repertoire (his Delius Song of the High Hills and Lokshin Symphony No 3 Kipling settings were highlights) and the performance style. The look of innocent joy in his eyes during a TV relay of Prokofiev's Chout spoke volumes for his priorities in music - a commitment to communication, born of his own absorbed unself-conscious pleasure in music and its sharing.
For many years there was a rift between the composer and the conductor. There are signs that this rift may be healed. I hope so.
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1954) 23:16 Piano Concerto No. 2 (1966) 22:56 Piano Concerto No. 3 Variations and Theme (1973) 21:39 Rodion Shchedrin (piano) USSRSO/Evgeny Svetlanov Recorded live 5 May 1974, Grand Hall, Moscow Conservatoire BMG Melodiya 74321 36907-2 [68:06]
The present disc is taken from a landmark concert in Shchedrin's career. At this concert, later repeated in Leningrad and Kiev, he played all three concertos in sequence with brief interval between each. Three concertos ,of which the first is very accessible in a fresh-minted 'Rachmaninov-meets-Shostakovich' way. The other two are tougher meat and though alive with vitality and experiment are difficult nuts to crack. The first movement of No. 1 is wave-crashingly romantic, the second playful, the third moody like one of Bax's or Medtner's dark works for solo piano. The last movement is playful, a Gershwin-Rumba cocktail.
It is interesting that the composer seems almost apologetic about the first concerto the orchestral part of which he revised for this 1970s concert. The other two are as written in 1966 and 1971. They are atonal and, in the case of the third concerto, apparently use aleatory technique. The second and third were written against the tide of the times. That tide was not just a matter of fashion but one of dogma and political threat. The second emerged in the years when the Union of Soviet Composers condemned 12-tone music as an ideological problem rather than a legitimate choice available to composers. Shchedrin spoke out openly against the majority view at some risk to himself. Despite this the concerto was premiered by the composer with the Moscow RSO, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky conducting. Onik Sarkisov of Mravinsky's Leningrad PO was in the audience and, smitten with the work, it went with its composer as soloist on a world tour which took in Paris, Lyons, Geneva, Berne and Milan.
This international element has remained important. Shchedrin now divides his time between Moscow and Munich. In 1976 he became a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. The second concerto is densely atonal but interest is kept alive by some explosive and seethingly active textures. There is a splash of jazz in the last movement over which Shostakovich-like elements roll like a tank. The jazz re-emerges with moments of Lionel Hampton sophistication. The ticking of the celestial clockwork clicks away. The three movements of the concerto are Dialogues, Improvisations and Contrasts. The work should not be forgotten by anyone compiling a programme celebrating 'jazz-meets classical'.
The Third concerto, which opens with bird shrieks, is an eighteen-minute set of variations with the theme announced after the variations in a three-minute sequence. The theme is a reference to the Diabelli Variations. After the cataclysmic howls, shrieks, mutterings and hammerings of the variations the theme emerges as the composer says 'like a broken vase' to form a unified whole from the whirling fragments of the preceding 18 minutes. Metallic 'whiplashes' close the work.
Applause is included after each of the three concertos. Otherwise the audience are, surprisingly, very quiet indeed.
Sound quality excellent. Notes by the composer are full and authoritative. They do not suffer from the usual problems of composer notes of being either too technical or taciturn. Sigrid Neef's additional background notes are excellent.
With the exception of the first concerto which is a pleasing and fresh work well worth hearing and bidding fair to partner Shostakovich's second piano concerto this disc did not tempt me to return.
(for first piano concerto)
There are many more discs in the BMG Shchedrin authorized series and I hope to review others in due course. The 12-tone works leave me rather cold. The earlier works such as the first symphony and the first piano concerto are a different matter and I urge you to hear them. What a strange reversal. The freedom of the West during the 1960s and 1970s must have made the aleatory, atonal and 12 tone trends a 'forbidden fruit' attraction for the Russian composers. By the time they had secured some liberation and freedom from real threat the West had begun to cant back towards neo-romanticism of which minimalism is an aspect and which has bloomed in many more complex directions since then. Like all fashions and tastes things will change again.
As for Shchedrin, I feel convinced of his sincerity in writing music like the second symphony and the second and third piano concertos (there is a 4th now). It is my loss that I find much of them unyieldingly impregnable when it comes to delivering any enjoyment. Others will warm to them and they have been greeted with acclaim in many other quarters.
PIOTR TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93) Violin Concerto (1878) JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Violin Concerto (1905); Two Humoresques Op. 87 (1917). David Oistrakh (violin) Moscow PO/Rozhdestvensky rec 27 Sept 1968 USSR Radio Large SO/Rozhdestvensky rec 1965 Recordings made at Grand Hall, Moscow Conservatoire David Oistrakh Edition Vol. 1.BMG-Melodiya 74321 34178 2 [71:54]
Ardent fantasy and virtuosity totally at the service of freshly imagined and made-anew performances of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius Concertos by Oistrakh. Do not miss them amongst the synthetic bombardment of multi-take virtuosity and promotional hype of eugenically acceptable stars.
Until hearing this, my Tchaikovsky of choice was the EMI Kogan/Paris Conservatoire recording. This now takes pride of place. The recording sounds like the very best BBC Radio 3 live concert broadcast. Oistrakh is centre stage of course but not as far forward as Heifetz during his RCA years. He has and uses everything. There is everything from a hoarse whispering tone full of promise and threat. The broad melodies are played with a dense richness of tone and colour. His dynamics range from the slightest murmur to the full volume to be conjured from bow against violin string. Passion boils over, playful spiccato skips, climactic display, ardently amorous melodies are coaxed, driven and sent spinning and dancing. Rozhdestvensky and Oistrakh are like two dolphins swooping and turning at speed in front of the bow-wave of the music somehow driving it on to new heights of poetry and drama. This is a live concert performance with an audience making itself known by the occasional cough. Do not be put off by this. The performances smashes away all reservations. It is fashionable to say that such performances will not supplant someone's pet studio recording and that they should be kept as a complement to the studio artefact. This disc is one which can happily be taken as the only Tchaikovsky violin concerto recording you need and can be used as a reference against which other issues are measured.
The Sibelius is given with equal burning insight, restraint and vivid colouring. Listen to the hushed opening to get some impression of the sympathetic dedication of all involved. And when Oistrakh sings at the top of his voilin's voice at 3:40 we know that there is nothing of the sound-bite or pre-heated about this music-making. Detail after detail float and glitter in front of us.
Am I the only one to regret that Oistrakh never recorded the other four Humoresques?
Notes are by Dr Sigrid Neef and are a valuable complement to the music.
A glorious issue which is a compulsory purchase.
PIOTR TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Manfred (1885) 58:11 Romeo and Juliet (1869, rev 1880) 18:49 The Tempest (1875) 23:11 Serenade for Strings (1880) 33:08 Capriccio Italien (1880) 14:18 USSR SO/Evgeny Svetlanov recorded 1970 for all but Manfred (1967) BMG Melodiya 74321 34164 2 Twofer series CD1: [77:11] CD2 [70:54] [148:05]
These potent recordings date from pre-perestroika days and preserve a beefy big-band stereo sound. The Svetlanov discs have enjoyed various avatars on Western reissues, the most memorable being, during the days of the LP, the EMI Melodiya series. This Svetlanov Manfred became a mainstay of the catalogue. At the time it was first issued (at the end of the 1960s) the competition was not thick on the ground. Nowadays modern and historical recordings are much more easily available.
So, two unfamiliar works and three familiar ones.
The single major work is the Manfred Symphony written between Mazeppa and Sleeping Beauty, the 4th and 5th symphonies (11 years separate the two numbered symphonies). The Melodiya Svetlanov is now more than thirty years old but this presents few problems. The sound is just a little fevered and stressed but this matches the performance. Also I wondered at the possible pulling back of recording levels by the original engineers towards end of the first movement where saturation threatens distortion. The orchestra plays as if possessed. Listen to the vicious unison attack by the strings in the first movement. The doomed and balletic spirits are in contest in first movement but bleak hopeless heroism is the dominant partner. Certainly dance pervades the second where the woodwind writing provided the mulch for Sibelius's own woodwind style. The third movement is a rocking andante which uses a tune which recalls the Beatles song Norwegian Wood as well as providing a reference point back to the nationalist school from which Tchaikovsky can seem quite remote. There is the iron glitter of the harp in finale and a fiery furnace of strings at 16:00. The grandiose organ registers as a colossal presence. This is the most nationalist of the mature symphonies with cross-cuts to Borodin, Balakirev and Mussorgsky.
The Svetlanov recording has quite properly been highly esteemed in the classical music recording newsgroup. It is a 'sleeper' and we are the ones who should wake up to its high tension poetry and indomitable spirit.
Romeo and Juliet is given an urgent and plangently romantic performance outfaced only by the Stokowski Dell'Arte CD. The burred and closely-balanced harp swirls register with considerable drama as do the typically strident, stormy and heavens-clamant trumpets. I rather look forward to hearing Svetlanov's Francesca da Rimini.
The Tempest (inspired by Shakespeare) is not one of the better known tone poems. After an initial seascape suggested by high-breathing violins comes the first lashes of the cold wind of the storm then a blaring trumpet fanfare. The notes mention Rimsky's Sadko and there are many Rimskian moments in the orchestration. The whipping and stinging maelstrom of the strings at 7:30 is brilliantly handled by the violins. If you would like to take a less than obvious sample try The Tempest from about 10:00 to 11:42.
The Serenade for Strings is treated to a tautly disciplined performance which has great attack and unanimity and a pliant emotional surge and eddy. The movements remind us how influential Tchaikovsky was for the several generations who followed him. Sibelius was clearly deeply indebted especially in his earlier years. The balalaika evocations in the last and fleetest movement are especially memorable.
Italy was important to Tchaikovsky and although Capriccio Italien is often written off as a vulgar postcard Svetlanov does not sell it short or cheap from the fruitily abrasive bugle calls to the perky woodwind work and the almost caricatured rush of the closing bars. Pin-sharp attack is evident everywhere; try the example at 10:55.
Decent notes by Sigrid Neef: English, German and French.
Good artwork and design distinguish the whole of the BMG-Melodiya series.
One technical point. The stems on which the double CDs are mounted provide a secure home for each disc. They are however very tight and this makes it difficult to remove the discs. This is common to the entire 'twofer' BMG-Melodiya series. I do not really have a complaint about this as I prefer these stems to the fragile plastic petal versions which break very easily.
Compliments to BMG for using these single thickness CD cases.
Recommended recordings for anyone wanting to return to the wellspring of Russian inspiration and tired of the 'smooth' and international Tchaikovsky. I am very fond of various Rozhdestvensky recordings in this repertoire and of the Dorati Philips/Polygram collections but the Svetlanov taps directly into the intensity and drama of the music without being too indulgently lachrymose. A recommended and expansively-timed set, valuable for reverberantly recorded as well as emotionally unbridled interpretations. If the sound does not have the smooth virtues of the latest recordings from the big name orchestras and music directors they instead have a rough life and vigour which seems to have slipped between the fingers of most of the current generation.
PIOTR TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Suite No. 1 in D minor (1879) 40:51 Suite No. 2 in C major (1883) 38:38 Suite No. 3 in G major (1884) 42:10 Suite No. 4 in G major Mozartiana (1887) 28:24 USSR SO/Evgeny Svetlanov recorded Moscow, 1985 BMG Melodiya 74321 59054 2 Twofer series CD1: [79:48] CD2 [71:02] [150:50]
Another generous compilation from BMG-Melodiya. This also has the virtues of being an intégrale of a little considered and unfashionable corner of Tchaikovsky's orchestral music. In this sense the suites are to be bracketed with Brahms' serenades and Dvorák's and Liszt's symphonic poems.
Only the third of the four suites has enjoyed any real popularity and this has focused on the final 20 minute theme and variations. Mozartiana may be known as a name but the music remains in an obscurity shared also by the first two suites.
The suites date from the decade between the high drama of the fourth symphony and the balletic fantasy of the fifth. The first began to take shape in 1878. The suites follow a Mozartian pattern. Mozart was, of course, a pattern for Tchaikovsky. His dedication to opera was related to his reverence for Mozart's operas. The suites are not pastiches. All the Tchaikovsky hallmarks are there but the emotional temperature of the music leans towards the ballets rather than the symphonies although there are certain parallels with the first three symphonies.
There are six movements in the first suite, five in the second and four in the last two.
The first movement of the first is mournful and shadowy with moments of storm not fully unleashed. After a Brucknerian pause a grand fugue strides forward which, in its string writing, recalls the Serenade for Strings. Svetlanov deftly handles the varying dynamics providing some relief from a fugue which goes on a little too long for its own good. The following divertimento is just that but in the form of a dance. There is a degree more passion in the next (and again rather overlong) Intermezzo with its long-lined buoyant melody. The ensuing sprightly 'birdsong and tinkle' Marche miniature plays just over two minutes and in its toybox perfection could easily have come from Nutcracker. It seems that the composer wanted to omit this 'trashy' (composer's words) piece but in fact it had to be reprised at the premiere. The fifth movement is a playful scherzo, though again slightly too extended for its material. The finale is, as the notewriter points out, a counterpart for Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. It has an elegant charm, humour and a gleam in the eye.
The second suite's 'jeux de sons' is fitfully intense but it is still, as the title suggests, playful. The following valse points again forwards towards Prokofiev's grand symphonic waltzes. Play and vivacious colour mark out the scherzo. The childhood dreams of the fourth movement span almost a quarter of an hour. It is a miniature tone poem with some startling impressionistic effects e.g. at 9:02 and a quasi-symphonic atmosphere. This is one of the most graphic of the movements of all the suites and reason enough by itself to explore this music. In the final wild dance Tchaikovsky reaches towards the Russian nationalist school with which he was not particularly sympathetic. There are hints of Borodin and a crashing Cossack panache.
The last pair of suites are both in four movements and both end with a theme and variations.
The Third (almost three quarters of an hour long) is closer in mood to the symphonies, particularly the fifth. This would be a good place to start if you have enjoyed the symphonies and want to explore Tchaikovsky beyond the obvious. The Elégie is a sombre fantasy of increasing tension released in a long tune of an emotionally plush richness. The shadows and sense of foreboding continue into the melodically splendid valse mélancolique: classic Tchaikovsky. The strings razor sharp surge and flow around the bubbling woodwind. The busily chiff-chaffing Scherzo must surely have been known to Sibelius before he wrote his Kullervo symphony. The long final theme and variations take up almost half of the length of the suite and if you know any part of the suites you will recognise this. The variations include a portentous moment when the dies irae puts in an appearance. There is the obligatory fugue and a stamping nationalistic dance transformed into a tremulous cor anglais serenade and back into an intoxicatingly exciting shouted furiant. The solo violin intones a characterful serenade - a young girl with mercurial spirit. After a call to arms from an increasingly vehement brass the symphonic finale launches into a dervish dance of Mediterranean abandon - drum, tambourine and cymbal punctuated.
There was a rather good LP recording by Boult during the 1970s but this has not been reissued.
The fourth suite takes as its thematic 'food' a number of Mozart works, most of them little known. The whole suite has a delicate strength. In this work Tchaikovsky comes close to affectionate parody of Mozart and there is not the slightest hint of anything other than a love for the master from whom the Russian was separated by a century or more.
The recordings are refined though tending occasionally to an agreeable stridency. They have been done in a reverberant acoustic. The recordings are more recent (1985) than many of BMG's Melodiya series and if, for this misguided reason, you have avoided other issues in this series then you no longer have the excuse.
The competition (which is not numerous) includes Antal Dorati's Polygram set which I heard as LPs many years ago. Either set will provide satisfaction but those preferring the more impassioned Russian approach and instrumental style should lean towards the Svetlanov whose elastic and responsive pacing makes these performances irresistible.
More respectable and useful notes by Sigrid Neef: English, German and French. Full and precise details of premieres are given - usually a good sign as also is an avoidance of arid technicalities. Good artwork and design as is usual with this series. Space-economical single thickness CD case.
Rare and satisfying works which you are unlikely to hear in the concert hall. Recommended.
ARAM KHACHATURYAN (1903-1978)
CD1: 78:15 Symphony No. 1 in E minor (1935) Violin Concerto in D minor (1940) CD2: 70:23 Concerto Rhapsody for piano and orchestra (1967) Concerto Rhapsody for cello and orchestra (1963) Gayaneh excerpts (1942) Spartacus - Adagio (1955) USSRSO and USSR RTV Large SO conducted by Aram Khachaturyan BMG-Melodiya 74321 59056 2 two CDs - 148:38
These recordings were made between 1965 and 1979 and are in superior vivid Melodiya sound, slightly brazen but well-suited to the Bakst-style exoticism and grandeur of the music. Khachaturyan has been rather despised in some quarters where he has been associated with a certain shallowness, obvious ideas and a Hollywood-endowed musical style. This is grossly unfair as various recordings are now beginning to make clear. The ASV series with the Armenian Philharmonic conducted by Loris Tjeknavorian is testament to Khachaturyans strengths. And what about those strengths? He writes in full-blooded romantic style reaching back a generation to Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Balakirev. He is strong on the exotic and the mesmeric.
This generous and well-presented selection on a BMG-Twofer further bears out the Armenian composers strengths. It also gives us access to two of his rarer works: two of the three concert rhapsodies. From this point of view and many others the set stands as an example to others in adventurous programming of the familiar and attractively safe alongside enterprising repertoire to be discovered.
Not to be forgotten is the fact that all these recordings are conducted by the composer. Even in old age he lacks nothing in communicative vigour and a whirring imagination. The soloists are of world front-rank, usually the dedicatees.
The first symphony was premiered by Eugen Szenkar in Moscow on 23 April 1935. It is a dedicatedly tonal work of exotic caste. It is extremely colourful and tuneful. The Armenian sway of the themes is characteristic but there is another element too. He sounds in those first five minutes very much as if he had been studying alongside Miklos Rózsa. This is a big three movement work running 40:52. There is also a coincidental hint of Vaughan Williams (6:10 ). Invention sparkles and there is a definite rush of energy in this music comparable to the English composer E.J. Moeran in his 1937 symphony or for that matter in Kodalys 1959 symphony. Romance is not in short supply - listen to 9:25  for a resplendently glistening tune worthy of Borodin. This tune develops into a great set-piece. The work was written to celebrate 50 years of Soviet power but Khachaturyan was no apparatchik and his vision (not realised under the Soviets) was for a relief to Armenias suffering and a new and elevated dignity for his people. The music has echoes across the continents and the works of de Falla, Prokofiev and other leading composers do come to mind from time to time. The second movement occasionally attains a loftiness of ideal (8:20). The Finale is predominantly a spirited gallop - brash and rushing. This concert recording complete with applause does not displace the Tjeknavorian recording on ASV which exudes greater intensity. However the composer-conducted recording is extremely good and must have a greater claim to authenticity. This is one of those cases where the one movement is much stronger than the other two and certainly the last two movements seem rather pallid by comparison with the grand romantic gestures of the first.
The Violin Concerto has been recorded many times: at least four of them by the soloist here, David Oistrakh. There is a recording by Leonid Kogan (on Revelation) which has even more electricity and elan than the present version but its sound is fierce and a little unrelenting. There are virtuosic performances by various western orchestras with amongst others Ricci and Zukerman. None of these however, has the high-tension electric-shock of Kogan still less the clarity and barbaric edge of Oistrakhs zippy and poetic playing. The Melodiya version is a reliable and inspired version combining good sturdy sound with Russian temperament. There are many highlights but take one example and listen to the scorching evocation of what I always think of as licking tongues of flame in finale at 5:45 track 6.
The Piano Concerto-Rhapsody has been recorded before by Oxana Yablonskaya on Naxos. That too is a warmly energetic performance. However the redoubtable bravura technique of Nikolai Petrov conquers all in its path. The work was first written in 1955 but was specially revised in 1965 for Petrov who made this recording in 1975. Ivan March has been rather scathing of this piece. While it may be no world-shattering masterpiece it is a grippingly entertaining piece of display music with a soft and yielding centre. The insistently motoric fingerwork for the pianist conjures up memories of the Shostakovich second piano concerto but then the Shostakovich dates from 1957 and the present work from 1955.
As befits the instrument (and the title), the cello concerto-rhapsody is more waywardly rhapsodic. It opens with something which sounds suspiciously like the Fate motto from Tchaikovskys 4th symphony. Its themes lack the immediate distinctiveness and memorability of the Violin Concerto or indeed the piano concerto-rhapsody. It nevertheless receives a concentrated and obviously intense and deeply-felt performance from Karine Georgian. I certainly do not write off this cello work which I shall be tempted to return to again. It several times set me thinking of Blochs Schelomo for the same combination of instruments and much the same dreamy meandering spirit. Certainly both Bloch and Khachaturyan have a feeling for the strange and Hollywoodian exotic though here the Armenian composer has the edge.
The remaining six tracks are taken from a live concert in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1975. From the ballet Gayaneh we get the Awakening (complete with saxophone contribution) and Aishas Dance the latter clearly the quarry from which Basil Poledouris must have obtained at least some of his inspiration for his Conan film music. The Dance seems about to launch into a waltz but never quite manages it. It is in any event a sumptuous and substantial wallow recorded in gloriously immersive sound. The rather manic oompah jollity of Russian Dance wears a bit thin quite quickly. The black brass of Kurdish dance are commanding. The hammering and whirling dervish Prince Igor inflected festivities are brightly and garishly lit. The Sabre Dance won him world fame in the 1940s and is here hammered away for all it is worth - perhaps more. The trombones blurt and raspberry as if their lives depended on it. I wonder if the composer ever became tired of it.
The final track on disc 2 is the swooping and swooning adagio from Spartacus. This piece rose to fame in the UK and possibly abroad now, when it was featured as the signature tune for the BBCs Victorian sailing drama The Onedin Line. Here it is given with a fine combination of faltering innocence, bird-song and unbridled erotic (listen to the trumpets) romance. What strong piece this is! One slight cough is the only evidence of its concert-hall provenance.
It is not really possible to compare the whole set with anything else as there are no identical or even close couplings. Perhaps one good example is the Double Decca of Khachaturyan Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor and Masquerade with various Western orchestras conducted by Khachaturyan, Fruhbeck Frühbeck de Burgos, Fistoulari; and Stanley Black but the Melodiya selection is more adventurous, the performances generally more vivid and peppery and the Melodiya playing time is a couple of minutes longer.
Good notes by Sigrid Neef. These are also in French and German.
A recommended Twofer anthology.
I hope that there is another in the pipeline including Kachaturyan conducting Symphonies 2 and 3, the cello concerto, piano concerto and the violin concert rhapsody.
SERGEI PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) War and Peace - opera in 13 scenes after the novel by Leo Tolstoy (1941-42) Chorus and Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow conducted by Alexander Melik-Pashayev recorded Moscow 1961 BMG-Melodiya 74321 29350 2 CD1: 59:54 CD2:63:12 CD3: 63:15
In the summer of 1941 Prokofiev and his wife were living amidst the pine forests of Kratovo near Moscow. The news of the invasion of Russia by Germany came on 22 June and Prokofiev rushed over to the nearby house of Sergei Eisenstein to share and confirm the news. Rather like Vaughan Williams in England, Prokofiev wished to do his composerly duty for his country. He wrote some patriotic songs and a march but soon the circumstances brought to fruition an idea on which he had been brooding for some years - a massive operatic setting of Tolstoi's War and Peace.
He and various other composers and artists were transported to a colony at Nalchik in the Caucasus foothills. There he wrote his symphonic suite 1941 which was to form the basis for his film music for Partisans in the Ukrainian Steppes. He also completed the first six scenes of the opera. The remaining seven were completed in Tbilisi, the Armenian capital. Tbilisi was therefore the backdrop for the composition of the scenes most directly reflecting war and nations in conflict. The Nalchik scenes capture the more idyllic moments in the opera.
Prokofiev's flair for stagework and human drama still goes largely unrecognised. As a composer he occupies a strange hinterland between the modern greats such as Britten and Shostakovich and the deeper background occupied by Miaskovsky, Bax and Klami to take a few names at random. Although his popular successes of the Classical Symphony and Peter and the Wolf have guaranteed him a profile much of his music is little known.
His operas have been recorded and broadcast but they have made little headway in the popular repertoire or the CD catalogue. In this sense he is perhaps like Janacek whose operas enjoy occasional performances but who has not yet been accepted in the sense that Puccini has been embraced by the majority of the listening public.
War and Peace is a vast canvas across which to spread an evening's opera. In fact the work is longer than this recording suggests. The main competition for the present set comes from the Rostropovich-conducted Erato set of the complete opera. This complete version plays for over four hours but let it be said immediately that the performance, while accomplished and occasionally emotionally impressive, is not in the same league as this Melodiya set. The Erato is, of course, in better sound and with a more refined orchestra.
However refinement and digital sound are not everything as the Armenian conductor, Melik-Pashayev and Melodiya's 1961 engineers soon demonstrate.
You have to be an ambitious composer to attempt a setting of War and Peace. Prokofiev tempered ambition with practicality concentrating on two storylines and the counterpoint between them. There is the story of Natasha and Andrei - a love story without a happy ending but with ecstatic contentment along the way. There is also the wide vista of history: two nations in conflict; the aggressor France; the invaded Russia; Napoleon against Kutuzov. The Russian Winter against the Gallic Summer. The triumph of nature over Napoleon contrasts with the denial of happiness for the attractive but too easily swayed Natasha.
The present recording is a classic and I recall hearing about it (though never hearing it) during the 1960s when I started to buy Gramophone. From then onwards it became a fixture, often seen in London's Colletts, Farringdons and Record Hunter, as an expensive Melodiya box (with that strangely off-putting 'fragrance' that decorated Russian import LPs in those days). In the early 1970s it was issued on an EMI-Melodiya boxed set.
I had better declare my interest now. I like the Russian orchestral sound and the ring of sung and spoken Russian language. One of these days the Melodiya recording of Prokofiev's Eugene Onegin: music and sonorous narration, will be reissued; a treat in store. There is something in the brashness and the poetry of performances (braying French horns included) and recordings on many Melodiya issues which I find irresistible. Other recordings often seem bland by comparison.
Melik-Pashayev here directs a performance which captures and articulates summer evenings, doomed innocence, callous exploitation, brazen patriotism, heroic triumph and wintry negation. He is aided by a practically ideal cast strongly dominated by Vishnevskaya, Arkhipova, Kibkalo and Petrov. The men fare better than the women.Vishnevskaya is in young voice but there are still moments (very few) when her character comes over as more mature than the ideal Natasha. Perhaps the young Maggie Teyte or Netania Davrath would have been even better suited to the role.
The first disc opens the work in much the same spirit as it closes: with a dense-toned choir strenuously hymning Russia's pain and threatening any aggressor. Track 2 opens with serene strings recalling the delightful love music from the ballet Romeo and Juliet. The tenor's meltingly Delian tone (echoes of Once I Passed Through a Populace City) is memorable. The theme of summer and love dominates the first four tracks.
In the great ball scene emotional striving meets opulent grandeur amongst dazzling lights. The ball plays out Natasha's triumph against delightful choral singing, the inconsequential society banter of the aristocracy and a choral paean of praise (entry of Tsar Alexander I).
Prokofiev is a master of orchestral detail. The score has many moments of vocal splendour but the glistening and ever active orchestral tissue is what continues to hold the attention. Listen for example to the extraordinary upward striking coups of the orchestra in track 8
In track 9 a deliciously grandiloquent waltz launches out over a typically oompah figure. A confidently forward trumpet adds a touch of flaming ardour. The waltz may well be known to you from the Waltz Suite. A Prokofiev waltz is never simple. It is over-arched with strata of passion and tragedy.
In scene 3 the touching Natasha theme returns in plaintive beauty. Do not miss the singing of 'ne mozet byt' again set off with plenty of teeming detail from the band. In the next two scenes the characters seem racked with passion and the slightly nervy intoxicated theme is charged with the potential for exploding into the grand moment. At 1.10 [track 16] Vishnevskakaya catches well the fervent and febrile passion. She acts with her voice: both gutsy and warmly sensual.
Disc 2 opens with scene 5 which is ushered in with a jerky theme like clockwork running down and evolves into a 'Dance of Life' theme. In fact the love story and society aspects of this opera often recall the psychological dimensions of Edvard Munch's paintings. The banter between Anatol and Dolokhov also comes across vividly and leaves us despising the exploitative Anatol who sees Natasha as his next conquest. The accompanying orchestral mosaic is very Sibelian.
Scene 6 returns us to Natasha. Her growing torment is hinted at by a wayward little theme which begins with some discipline and then decays into wildness. The blithely eager pizzicato work in track 3 (2:30) is worth sampling. Speaking of highlights not to be missed do listen to 'iskal v romanticeskoj ljubvi' from Vladimir Petrov. His portrayal of Pierre is in fully passion-drenched voice.
From scene 8 onwards the opera becomes increasingly preoccupied with national conflict. In track 10 Denisovs stern iron-willed aria in defence of the Russian homeland is notably heroic. In Track 11 the Russian chorus vibrantly invokes warlike incitement which echoing contemporary events. We should not forget that the opera was written against the background of Russia's invasion by the Nazis. The words sung by the chorus seem more suitable to clanking Panzers than Napoleon's regiments: 'and in battle well crush the iron regiments / The enemys dark tracks are everywhere.'
This music recalls the bloodier psalms of David and Havergal Brians Symphony No. 4, reeking with death, merciless slaughter and devastation. Some respite is offered by the return (track 12) of the pliant love theme from the summery nights of the earlier scenes.
Andrei Kibkalo is in honey-toned voice. The love theme segues into the concert waltz recollecting happy days with Natasha.This does not last long. The barbarity in the fanfares and in the huzzas of the troops as Kutuzov enters the scene at track 15 is impressive. This contrasts with a faintly absurd panoply of Rossinian rushed fanfares and fife and drum hornpipes as the various regiments parade at the gallop in front of Kutuzov (track 16).
Speaking of Kutuzov, Alexei Krivchenya has a commandingy burred and rollingly powerful voice and the close of scene eight is noble and fatalistic with waves of ripe fanfares from the trumpets. The age of the recording tells noticeably at this point with some distortion, but it is nevertheless glorious. Prokofiev did not find any valiant glory in battle. The acrid sourness of death and of young lives blotted out is what comes across here. No doubt Prokofiev was touched by the horrendous losses suffered by the Russians during the years 1941-2 as surely all Russian families were touched.
The last disc brings us to scene 10 where darkly threatening French horns come to the fore and shards of marching figures provide a backdrop for Lisitsian's Napoleon. His victories of earlier years refuse to repeat themselves and frustration afflicts him. The burning of Moscow is conveyed by massed choirs and in track 9 some of the most impressive orchestral music in the opera lights up the sky in an apocalypse of flame.
The delirium of the dying Bolkonsky and return of the rose blossoming love theme is made the more telling by the choir singing 'piti piti piti' and whispered recollections of the happy days long gone recalled by the ball theme. This is another highlight worth sampling.
The final tracks carry the drifting defeat of snow storms gripping the hearts of the defeated Mediterranean French soldiers. Track 13 uncannily conjures up the snapping and blinding snow in drifts and flurries as the wind howls and whistles. The next track mixes wailing and heroic shouts with whistles of dismay and heroic exultation - a powerful cocktail. The defeat of Napoleon's legions is complete and the great opera ends with a panegyric of victory is which the chorus's shouted hurrahs have no trace of reserve or embarrassment.
When this production was mounted (1959) those singing would have lived through the war years and the sense of victory (only 15 years earlier) would have been vividly recaptured.
The orchestral details are rich and rewarding but the precision of the massed singing voices (both men and women) is extremely impressive. Nothing is slurred or fogged. The final chorus in particular is extremely emotional with an intoxicating sense of journeys-over confidence and a belief in the green hills of tomorrow stretching into the sun dappled distance. All in all this represents is a deeply moving experience.
The booklet is pleasingly designed in a rich pine green with a cover picture by Bilibin which in its commanding simplicity links with the art of the Finn, Akseli Gallen-Kalela whose artwork often features on the covers of Sibelius discs.
The libretto is in transliterated Russian, English, German and French. The English needs some attentive proof-reading.
The sound quality is clear with practically no hiss. The recording is in stereo but the dimension that really matters and to which there is the highest fidelity is the vibrant charge of the music - fully and faithfully captured.
Finally my only real complaint is that I wished that courage and state enterprise had produced a truly complete recording. This one lacks one hour of music by comparison with the Rostropovich Erato. By contrast however there is a intensity and identification with the musical and spiritual message that is only intermittently attained in the Erato. I have not heard the Valeri Gergiev Philips version although the only review I have seen was not complimentary.
A clear and cordial recommendation for this recording.
Prince Andrei Bolkonsky - Yevgeny Kibkalo
Natasha Rostova - Galina Vishnevskaya
Pierre Bezukhov - Vladimir Petrov
Helene Bezukhova - Irina Arkhipova
Anatol Kuragin - Alexei Maslennikov
Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimova - Yevgenia Verbitskaya
Field Marshal Kutuzov - Alexei Krivchenya
Napoleon - Pavel Lisitsian
THIS SITE IS SCHOECKED!
OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Cello Concerto Op 61 (1947) Sommernacht Op 58 (1945) Johnannes Goritzki (cello and conductor) Deutsche Kammerakademie Neuss Claves Digital CD 50-8502 recorded 1985 [55'42"]
The Cello Concerto is a late work dedicated to Pierre Fournier who premiered it on 10 February 1948 at the Zurich Tonhalle with Volkmar Andreae conducting. It is unusual in that the orchestra is for strings alone. In the violin concerto of more than 30 years previously he used a full orchestra. The cello was important to Schoeck. Some months before his death he heard a performance of the concerto and this inspired him to begin work on a cello sonata which lay incomplete when he died.
Rather as in the violin concerto the cello is in almost constant song. The musical ideas have a much sharper etched character than the earlier work. Schoecks string writing is very much his own style though, through the half-lights, you sometime catch a hint of Elgar as in the last movement of the 1945 suite for strings. The work would perhaps have benefited from the variety which comes from a full orchestra - after all a string instrument playing against the background of strings would be a challenge for most composers. For the most part Schoeck meets that challenge in this 4-movement work. The 17 minute first movement is overlong but not by a large margin. It ends with a satisfying crunch. The second movement Andante tranquillo is not far removed from the midsummer nights idyll of Sommernacht. The third movement is a brief Bach-like presto. The last movement Lento uses a gently rocking and cradling theme before the intense though quiet string writing again leads us back towards summer nights. In fact this atmosphere reminds me a little of the Scandinavian romantics attraction to the midnight sun. This predominantly elegiac nostalgic work runs to 40 concentrated minutes. The violin concerto is about 6 minutes shorter.
I have a great affection for the other work on this disc. Sommernacht is for strings alone. Summer Night was inspired by a poem of the same name by Gottfried Keller. All four stanzas of the poem are printed in the CD leaflet. The music does not attempt to follow the plot of the poem but to evoke its mood and atmosphere. The mood is warm, carefree, nocturnal and joyous. The young men of the village work through the night in addition to their other harvest duties to harvest the corn of a widow who has no menfolk to bring in the crop. The work is done in secret. The sickles swish, the harvesters speak in whispers, a gentle breeze cools the men, the sheaves are bundled and stacked and as dawn arrives the men leave for their ordinary days work. The scene is moonlit, silvery and the warmth of the previous day can still be felt. It is a magical piece which I first encountered on a Genesis LP (GS1010) on which the principal work was the Raff Piano Concerto. That fine performance, which introduced me to Schoeck, was conducted by Paul Kletzki with a Geneva studio orchestra. The present performance, pressing ahead marginally more than the Kletzki, is excellent with the music floating and drifting in a relaxed, dream-like enchantment. If you enjoy the Tippett Concerto for Double String orchestra, the Elgar Serenade and the Introduction and Allegro you will like this piece. In fact, keen Elgarians will probably find themselves very sympathetic to the cello concerto as well. Try the wonderful dream dance between orchestra and solo violin at 7:30. If you do not like this you are unlikely to warm to the instrumental Schoeck. For me Sommernacht is one of the treasures of the string repertoire.
This is short playing time but the recordings are of good sound quality though dating back to 1985 in the case of the concerto. Recommendable and recommended for the adventurous listener and also for the repertoire hunter looking for enterprising and rewarding ideas for programming string orchestra concerts.
OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Das Schloss Dürande (1939) EXCERPTS opera to words by Hermann Burte from novella by Eichendorff Berlin State Opera - singers: Peter Anders, Marta Fuchs, Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, Maria Cebotari, Josef Greindl. orch conducted by Robert Heger Recording of highlights - German Imperial Radio. April 1943. Besuch in Urach (from Das holde Bescheiden op 62) Hilde Schoeck (sop) composer (piano). Jecklin JD 692-2
Why do we not hear more about Chris Walton? He and Jecklin with the resources of the Schoeck Society have been a veritable industry in bringing out into the open Schoeck's very wide-ranging musical heritage. In this country we think of Lewis Foreman, Chandos and the Bax Trust who have a similar standing. How remarkable then that Mr Walton has achieved as much as he has. We can only hope for a translation into English of his German language Schoeck book. The present recording survived in the archives of Swiss Radio and came to them via Strasburg Radio. This is the only recording of a Schoeck operatic première to survive. In fact the recording is believed to have been compiled from takes from both the first and second performances. The sound quality is of course mono and is historic though better then you might guess or fear. Certainly you get a reasonable impression of the music. There are six substantial stretches of music (totalling about 45 mins) sandwiched between the atmospheric and dramatic readings and scene settings (in German) of the announcer who "acts" his words with some nice melodramatic touches.
The music is ripely late-romantic and is sung and played to the hilt. Opera fanciers and singer-followers will certainly want this disc and there are some famous names here and most are in fine voice.
The story has a potent mix of operatic elements: a brother and sister, the brother is a huntsman, a mysterious lover who turns out to be the young count Durande, an ancestral castle, Paris, woodland romance, Paris, the French Revolution, self-sacrifice by one lover to save the other, the death of the lover and a gunpowder explosion. The locale is the South of France and in Paris.
As Mr Walton points out we should not forget that almost rubbing shoulders with this exalted singing and music was a savage World War and that those attending this celebrated event would have included the cream of the Nazi elite. Burte himself was a devout National Socialist. Schoeck had his reservations about a Berlin première but such was the celebrity of the promised première he could not resist the temptation and travelled to Berlin to hear the premiere. After four performances its season was cancelled probably due to the intervention of Hermann Goering who had read the libretto and was truly appalled by it. Goering is better known in artistic circles for his quote "whenever I hear the word Culture I reach for my revolver."
The music is full-blooded and flowingly romantic. It is old-fashioned and anyone familiar with Puccini, Strauss (particularly of Rosenkavalier), Pfitzner and (I expect) Siegfried Wagner will be at home with this music. It is not original in its way of expressing ideas but it is certainly powerful.
The song (17:11) presents the longest song in his massive songbook completed in 1947 Das Holde Bescheiden. The recording was made on a sequence of 78s for friends and family. Such is the length of this sweetly nostalgic song of lost youth that it had to be spread across quite a few 78 sides. Schoeck made the transitions as painless as possible. As Chris Walton points out, the poem celebrates an area (Urach in Swabia) which Schoeck and Armin Rueger had walked in the long-gone innocent days of 1913 and before. Swabia was also the Heimat of many poets set by Schoeck including Hölderlin, Hesse, Mörike and Uhland.
The notes (55pp) by Mr Walton are in both German and English. The full text of the extracts and of the song is given in the sung German and in English.
So this historic CD is for Schoeck completists, singer followers, historians of German musical life during WWII, fans of Cebotari, Anders and Greindl.
A word of praise to Jecklin for their tasteful design of booklet and disc.
I hope that the other unrecorded operas will make it onto CD.
OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Violin Sonata in D major Op 16 (1908-9) Violin Sonata in D major WoO.22 (1905) Violin Sonata in E major Op 16 (1931) Albumblatt WoO.70 (1908) Paul Barritt violin Catherine Edwards piano Guild GMCD7142 [59:47]
Schoecks chamber and orchestral music should not be missed by anyone who enjoys late romantic music of the twentieth century. His profound lyricism (he was dubbed the Swiss Schubert) is no doubt a legacy of his devotion to the human voice as are his eight operas (three of which have been recorded) and his more than 300 songs.
This issue upholds Guilds high reputation in inspired choice of repertoire, artistic standards and technical excellence. Guild have previously issued very highly recommendable CDs of the two Goossens violin sonatas coupled with Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Ireland (Oliver Lewis/Jeremy Filsell). The sound is immediate and attractive. You feel as if you are seated three stalls back at the front of a small chamber concert hall.
Paul Barritt and Catherine Edwards give insightful performances catching the many moods in these sonatas. Both will be known for their previous recordings on Hyperion of the Howells and Ireland sonatas (both worth exploring if you enjoy the Schoeck pieces).
The 1909 sonata (17) is a flowing work of great charm and in the first of its three movements a great deal more. The first movement is a great lyrical outpouring without the congestion of sound which occasionally is to be found in works of high romanticism. The last two movements are perhaps rather conventional and Beethovenian but they are never less than enjoyable.
The 1931 sonata (21) is tougher and full of invention. I must not give the impression that Schoeck abandons lyricism. He seems quite unable to do that, thank heavens. However the music seems sparer and more of the sinews show through. The music has a fresh singing quality but is somehow more knowing. No doubt the Great War had swept away some of the happier illusions and innocence.
The two sonatas (1909, 1931) have been recorded previously (Jecklin LP?) by Ulrik Lehman and Charles Dobler though I do not recall seeing these on CD. In any event the sound on the Lehman is rather distanced though the performances are certainly sweet. Lehmann, by the way, had recorded the violin concerto and this was issued (coupled with the horn concerto) on the US Mace label during the 1970s. The recording on that LP was very upfront and oppressive.
Strangely enough, the 1905 sonata (here receiving its world première recording) sounds to my ears more individual than the 1909 work. - certainly than its last two movements. The confidently mercurial flow of the music is remarkable. A fine discovery.
The superb notes are by Chris Walton whose book (currently in German only) on Schoeck is THE authority on this composer. Not so long ago I saw racks of Jecklin Schoeck CDs being sold off cheap in London. I wish I had trusted my judgement then and bought them. The (trilingual) notes have a rewarding density of detail as well as a light hand when it comes to the technicalities of the music. From these emerges the twin stories of Schoeck and the violinist with whom he fell passionately in love, Stefi Geyer (1888-1956). Geyers beauty is clear from the photo in the Guild booklet. Her spirit and Schoecks love for her are deeply entwined in the Op 16 work and in the final charming 2 minute Albumblatt. Neither Schoeck nor Bartók were to have any amorous success with Geyer. She married first a Swiss lawyer and later an obscure Swiss composer Schulthess. Bartók dedicated his first violin concerto and the first of his Two Portraits to her and his passion for her is reflected in his first string quartet. Schoecks violin concerto is dedicated to her and she recorded it during World War 2 in Zurich. All the works on the Guild CD were played by her and the 1905 work, though written before Schoeck knew her, was premiered by her in its revised version in 1954.
The CD is entitled Swiss Romanticism I. I wonder what they have in store for the next volume? I do hope that there will be a German Romanticism series as well. I would like to nominate Joseph Marxs Fruhlingssonate and the 50 violin sonata in A major (1913) as candidates for a single CD.
This Schoeck CD is extremely valuable and desirable: music never less than enjoyable, performances sensitive; two world premieres; good sound and fine scholarly notes. Recommended.
OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) - Complete String Quartets String Quartet Op 37 in C major (1923) String Quartet Op 23 in D major (1913) Movement for String Quartet (1908) Minguet Quartett MDG Scene MDG 603 0665-2 [59:35]
Schoeck was dubbed the Swiss Schubert and hearing any of his works one can see why. Song and singable instrumental lines were central to his being.
The 1923 string quartet (No 2 in five movements!) stood in danger of seeming old-fashioned at that years Salzburg festival of the International Society of New Music. Perhaps it was by comparison with some of the music of that time. However the songful, yearning, romantic lines are presented in an involving and involved web of sound, dense with activity. Both in the rich interaction of the four instruments and in the tart, almost impressionist style of some of the melodies, Schoeck spoke out as a contemporary composer who could tap into high-romance (try 8:30 track 1). There are dance-like inspirations which momentarily suggest Viennese waltzes and simpler country dances amongst the general romantic melos. The ghost-like second movement has a typically long-limbed melody for the violin playing over an eerie scuttling accompaniment which moves increasingly into Elgar territory. This is not the first time I have heard this in Schoecks music. Did either composer hear the others music?. In any event the movement is not an Elgar clone. Schoecks writing is much more of this century than the British composers. The third pizzicato movement sounds like a very slightly sourer version of the Ravel quartet or the pizzicato movement from Tchaikovsky 4. It could just as easily serve as a gusty signature tune to some TV serial. Even when the other three members of the quartet are relaxing into another fine tune the second violin continues a mandolin pizzicato pulse which soon pulls the other instruments back to end the movement as it began. This is a tour-de-force. Why dont more quartets take up this movement perhaps as an encore? The lento fourth movement is a piercingly high lament ending with utmost tenderness. The presto fifth, last and shortest movement is in constantly busy activity without resisting Schoecks magnetic attraction to melody.
The very brief (3:35) and isolated Movement for String Quartet is pleasant and has some signs of the mature voice of Schoeck. The 1913 string quartet still speaks of a confident innocence soon to be punctured by the Great War. This is in a conventional three movements. There are aspects of Mozart and Beethoven in this music overlaid with his usual reliable gift for distinctive melody. The first movement is rather long-winded though undeniably sweet. The middle movement is slightly bucolic in feel - Schoeck was brought up in the country. The final movement continues the lyrical strain suggesting the mature Schoeck in the lie of its melodies and their treatment. This is a good work but conventional and not the equal of the second quartet.
All thanks then to MDG for this fine disc played with style and secure confidence by the very young Minguett Quartet. I wonder whose idea it was to tackle the Schoeck works. Whatever the answer we can be glad that we have these fine performances to return to again and again. I know that these works have been played and broadcast (BBC 1986-7) by the Medici and Endellion Quartets but it is difficult to understand why they are not played more widely. When were these last performed in the USA?
Useful notes in English, French and German. A recommended disc certain to be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys Schoeck or those who appreciate the quartets of Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven or . Zemlinsky. A late romantic par excellence Schoeck deserves to be more widely known and I urge you to get this release.
OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Massimilla Doni (1934-5) Hermann Winkler (Duke Cattaneo); Harald Stamm (Capraja); Josef Protschka (Memmi); Roland Hermann (Prince Vendramin); Massimilla Doni (Edith Mathis). Kölner RSO and Choir/Gerd Albrecht CD1: 56:05 CD2: 71:17 127:22 Recorded January 1986 Koch Schwann CD314 025 K3
Schoecks gloriously obsessive old-fashioned love affair with the human voice is becoming better known. There are eight stage works, a significant handful of song cycles with orchestra and 11 (yes, ask the Swiss CD company Jecklin-Disco; theyve recorded them all!) CDs worth of songs for voice and piano. As for the instrumental works there is little doubt that they are vocally inspired. Massimilla Doni is a German language opera in six scenes allocated in four acts. It is based on a novel by Balzac to a libretto by Schoecks literary collaborator, Armin Rueger. The plot is quite involved and I am not going to try to summarise it here. The sleeve-notes refer to the style of the opera as free-tonal. It is Schoecks penultimate opera.
This set must be an early CD issue. In fact it dates from 1986, three years after the launch of the CD. The project is one arrived at in co-operation with Köln Radio. The sleeve writer is NOT Christopher Walton who is now THE Schoeck scholar in much the same way that Lewis Foreman occupies a similar place with the life and work of Arnold Bax, but Othmar Fries. His useful notes are in German, English and French. Although there is a separate libretto book it is only in German with no translation. There is however an English language synopsis - a poor substitute.
Orchestral textures in the opera are often busy with detail - teeming with interest and springing the singing. The voice is the senior partner and the recording is balanced accordingly. This is not the slightly dreamy melancholic-ecstatic Schoeck of Sommernacht. Here he is perhaps less distinctive but still strongly engaging.
There is no overture as such. The only distinct orchestral 'bon-bon' is the orchesterwischenspiel to scene 3. Scene 1 begins in calm and peace. There is a jolly jogtrot to Caparaja's words Ihr fulte die liebe. A notable highlight is Emilio's ringingly heroic aria Endlich - ihr Narren. The act which is in a single scene plays out to Edith Mathis's Massimilla dreamily humming.
Scene 2 begins with a deliciously curveting and playful flute and indeed the flute is a leading player in the orchestral introductions to most of the acts. The glumly intense singing of the male singers can make some of this scene a bit of a trial.
Scene 3 offers a music box dance preceded by a grand romantic prelude in the manner of Glazunov and no trace of fustiness. There is a brightness and jollity here which I associate with Grainger. The string writing if very bright and Britten-like. The solo piano dances and slides in a very impressionistic episode sung over glorious Es lebe die tinti - which is immediately followed by a repeat of the music box gavotte, There is a charmingly Brahmsian duet between Tinti and the female chorus. Tinti delivers a series of dramatic high notes in entrancing Queen of the Night style. Schoeck can turn on the Grand Manner and towards the end of the scene seems intent on recapturing Verdis Lament of the Jewish slaves from Nabucco. The end of the scene is jolly. Highlights include the song Wie widerwartig dies der Zufall fugt with sumptuous hyper-romantic hyper singing both tender and powerful.
Baxian string textures underpin Es Gibt Ein Einmal. Would that young tenors would attempt this wonderful music but too often they are locked in Puccini and Verdi. A little variety when it is of this quality would not come amiss.
The influence of Mahler and Wagner can be felt from time to time. The voices receive excellent tactful orchestral support and only rarely does Schoeck call for massive orchestral volume. Time and again I thought of Korngold of Die tote Stadt and Violanta and of the Goldschmdt of Beatrice Cenci and Die Gewaltige Hahnrei. I am sure that Schoeck would have made another fine film music writer. The music often seems to trace its lineage back to the romantic operas of Weber. That said he is more progressive than in his musical Wolf-Ferrari.
The voices are not just beautiful voices. They are consistently engaging: combining acting and singing.
Just listen to the glorious upsurging ending of scene 5 for an example of the dynamic-heroic Schoeck. Scene 6 opens calmly. The aria Die Liebe Ist Die Liebe is full of ecstatic wonder. The Delius of the concert song Once I Passed through a Populace City came to mind. I wonder if Schoeck and Delius knew each other? There are certainly parallels with the operatic Delius. Massimilla ends as it began, sinking back into peace. The last two acts are meltingly wonder-struck with creamy high-lying singing from Edith Mathis.
Going by the German only libretto there are small cuts here and there e.g. In Lass Mich in scene 4.
Although the sound quality is just fine or better this is an old set of CDs dating from 1987. I had trouble playing each of the two discs on my 1990 Hitachi CD unit but they played without problems in my more recent Philips player. It might be worth checking any set first although going by my experience you are unlikely to have problems if your player is less than eight years old. I mention this because I have very rarely had problems with playing CDs. A failure on my old machine is very unusual.
It is interesting to note that the later operas have all been recorded and should (sometimes with some effort) be accessible to all. The gorgeously romantic Venus (1919-20) is on MGB, the charging and brassily metallic Penthesilea (1924-5) is on Orfeo, the ballad-like Vom Fischer und Syner Fru on Acanta, this Massimilla Doni (1934-5) and finally the backward looking manic-Gothick Schloss Durande (1937-39) in substantial historic excerpts on Jecklin.
The three early works await premiere recordings and (presumably) first performances in modern times. They are Erwin and Elmire (1911-16), Don Ranudo (1917-19) from which the Hispanic and castanet clicking serenade on CPO was extracted and the so-called pantomimic scene Das Wandbild.
Anyone who has enjoyed the emerging operatic world of Korngold, Schreker, Zemlinsky and Goldschmidt should explore - this golden opera.
OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Violin Concerto in B flat major - Quasi Una Fantasia Op 21 (1912) (rec 6 Feb 1947) * Horn Concerto Op 65 (1951) (rec 4 May 1956) ** * Stefi Geyer, Tonhalle Orchester Zurich / Volkmar Andreae ** Dennis Brain, Collegium Musicum/Paul Sacher archive mono recordings Jecklin Edition JD715-2 49:29
In the revival of interest in Schoecks music Jecklin have done the most. There are already eleven volumes of CDs devoted to his songs and Jecklin intend an edition which will record all of the songs. There are also three CDs of the orchestral song cycles and among much else in their rich catalogue the present CD issued last year but not reviewed anywhere as far as I can see. Did Fanfare review it?
The Violin Concerto has been recorded several times. This is the first recording originally issued on 78s. Ulrich Lehmans intense performance was available on a Mace LP (1970s), Emmy Verheys MGB account has been around since 1991. Ulf Hoelscher recorded it for Novalis (I have not heard this one) and Claves fine recording featuring Bettina Boller.
The concerto is played by the dedicatee Stefi Geyer with whom Schoeck fell in an unreturned love and Schoeck wrote this concerto for her as well as several works for violin and piano (see my review of the recent Guild CD). The concerto is an essay or poem in lyrical writing. The style (quite Brahmsian in a lightish way) is backward looking with the occasional injection of Elgar. When she recorded the work in 1947 Geyer was no longer the young goddess to whom Schoeck aspired. This performance however has no shortage of vibrant music through which the blood runs hotly. From the obvious depth of feeling evident in the playing one can feel Thomas Hardys throbbings at noontide still animating the playing and stirring memories. No doubt the composer was present at the Walter Legge directed recording sessions. It must have been an emotional experience for both soloist and composer.
The Horn Concerto comes from nearly forty years later. It was commissioned by an amateur horn player Willi Aebi. As I have mentioned before the composers assumed models are Mozart and Richard Strauss. The work has been recorded before on a Mace LP and on an MGB CD. Dennis Brain plays the work here and in a sound quality which is surprisingly good and a great advance on the by no means poor sound of the Geyer recording. Brains presence attests to the importance of this recording. Brain CDs are not numerous. The recording is surprisingly good for its vintage. This by the way is a radio tape rescued from Swiss Radio sound archives. The performance is very fine, bubbling, joyous and dramatic. The lightning and quicksilver performance by Bruno Schneider on CPO (especially) is also very fine. A lyrical work with a stronger vein of virtuosity and drama than the violin concerto, this work is a strong contender for return to the active horn repertoire.
Despite the lack of publicity about this album do seek it out. If you are looking for good modern stereo digital recordings then so far I would recommend the Boller on Claves (CD 50-9201) and for the horn concerto CPOs Schneider on CPO 999 337-2. This is both a Schoeck archive document and a live and living musical experience. I recommend it strongly. It is complemented by in-depth and informative notes from Schoeck expert Chris Walton (I hope his Schoeck book will be translated into English), tasteful and distinctive leaflet design and comprehensive discographic details. All very satisfying. © Rob Barnett
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OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Violin Concerto in B flat major - Quasi Una Fantasia Op 21 (1912) Suite from the opera Penthesilea Op. 39 (1925) (arr Andreas Delfs) Bettina Boller (violin) Swiss Youth SO/Andreas Delfs Claves Digital CD 50-9201 recorded 1991 [60'33"]
Schoecks trio of concertos stand aside from the Swiss composers devotion to the voice. On the other hand his concertos have strong vocal qualities. They are melodious works written in an enjoyable late-romantic though not overblown style.
The Violin Concerto has been recorded several times. Stefi Geyers 1940s 78s are now on a Jecklin CD, Ulrich Lehmans intense performance was available on a Mace LP (1970s), Emmy Verheys MGB account has been around since 1991 and Ulf Hoelscher recorded it for Novalis. I have heard the Lehman, Verhey and now the Boller. However good the Geyer, performed at the end of her career, it is a special case in historic mono sound.
It is dedicated to the violinist Stefi Geyer with whom Schoeck fell in obsessive love although it seems that his love for her was never reciprocated. Before she met Schoeck she had also been the dedicatee of Bartóks first violin concerto. The concerto is songful and occasionally Brahmsian. It receives an ardently committed performance from Bettina Boller who seemingly cherishes the concertos long undulating lines. The work has a few fireworks but it is predominantly a lyrical piece as might well have been expected from a composer who devoted his musical life to the human voice. The violin is in almost constant activity throughout the concerto.
Anyone who enjoys the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, the Brahms or the Bruch is likely to enjoy this concerto and find themselves whistling its themes. If you have already discovered even rarer though very rewarding concertos by de Boeck, Karlowicz, Ivanovs, Miaskovsky, Glazunov, Leroy Robertson, Borresen or Siegfried Wagner you are likely to enjoy this fine concerto. Who knows - one day Hyperion may think it worthwhile to launch a romantic violin concerto series as they have for the romantic piano concerto. If so the Schoeck will certainly deserve a place in the lists.
Penthesilea (to words by Heinrich von Kleist) was written in 1924/5 between two of his most famous song cycles: Elegie and Lebendig Begraben. It is the fifth of his eight operas and was premiered in Dresden in 1927. It was revived in full in Luzern in 1973 conducted by Zdenek Macal and recorded on LP in 1975 Harmonia Mundi/BASF 49 22485-6. I believe that this may have been reissued on CD. In addition there is a performance with the Austrian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra / Gerd Albrecht on Orfeo C364941B from 1982. I have not heard the Orfeo but it is reportedly a superior performance to the old Harmonia Mundi.
The opera is about 80 minutes duration. It is written in a very different, more jagged language than the violin concerto of only 10 years earlier. The two leading characters are set for the darker voices of mezzo and baritone. The orchestra leans on dark colours also: ten clarinets, two pianos, brass and percussion are prominent lightened by parts for four solo violins. The critic Hans Corrodi commented on its bronze sound. Schoeck did not make a suite and Andreas Delfs has stepped in to create one adapting Schoecks auburn and peppery orchestration to match the practicalities of a more conventionally outfitted orchestra. The suite apparently preserves the plot-line of the opera. Although it falls naturally into a series of sections these are played without break. The work opens in screaming impressive conflict - a mood to which it returns often. Bartók and Richard Strauss seem to have been influences on the Schoeck of Penthesilea. There are many pools of tranquillity (try 9:25) in this music when the romantic Schoeck is in his element. Sometimes a Mahlerian sunrise is evoked as in 12:00. Much of this music is sumptuous and whets the appetite to hear the whole opera. Warlike figures, conflict and aggression appear and reappear evoked by percussion, high shrieking woodwind and clamorous brass. Some of this takes us into Heldenleben territory. Ultimately the suite seems rather fragmentary but many of those fragments agreeably tickle and stimulate the ear.
Let fears be stilled so far as the youth orchestra is concerned. They give performances of secure intonation and utmost confidence. The sound gives the impression of a large concert hall without being too cavernous. The performance of the concerto is certainly the preferred one so far as I am concerned although I have not yet heard the Novalis or the Jecklin. It will not surprise me if the Schoeck concerto appears on Chandos before too long. After all Claves, MGB and Novalis discs are not exactly common fare. Notes: fine. Total play duration mildly disappointing. It would have been good if another work could have been accommodated.
Repertoire attractive and excellent performances. A highly recommended disc.
OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Prelude Op 48 (1932) Horn Concerto Op 65 (1951) Serenade for oboe, cor anglais and strings Op 27 (1930) Suite for Strings (1946) Bruno Schneider (horn) Silvia Zabarella (oboe) Martin Zurcher (English Horn) Musikkollegium Winterthur/Werner Andreas Albert CPO 999 337-2 [64'13"]
This collection conveniently groups the Concerto and Suite (works previously recorded) with the only recordings of the Prelude and the Serenade.
Schoeck is overwhelmingly a lieder composer with eight operas to his name (four of them on CD). The orchestral and chamber music is becoming better known - at least on disc. There are four CDs of the violin concerto. The two violin sonatas and string quartets are also available.
My introduction to Schoeck came with a BBC Radio 3 talk by Robert Layton and the Genesis LP of Raff's piano concerto which had the Schoeck Sommernacht for strings as a coupling. Sommernacht is an idyllically warm poem for string orchestra.
CPO are to be congratulated on using an orchestra Schoeck often conducted, and Albert (a champion of Korngold, Pfitzner, Hindemith and Frankel) displays great feeling and sympathy for the music as do his soloists.
The Prelude might as well be entitled 'Tragic Prelude'. There is a dense grandeur about it. The power and sombre atmosphere suggest the first movement of an earnest symphony. A commissioned work, Schoeck referred to it as an 'austere lullaby'. Austere ... yes but what baby would fall asleep to such an overcast lullaby?
The Horn Concerto is a late work, again written to a commission, this time from an amateur horn player Willi Aebi. Schoeck writes with the grain of the instrument. His models are Mozart with an heroic dash of Richard Strauss (first horn concerto and Don Juan). The work has been recorded before on a Mace LP and on an MGB CD. Dennis Brain played the work and his radio tape has been issued on Jecklin. CPO offer a very fine performance with virtuosity and melodious woodland romance aplenty. The first movement makes vigorous use of a sharply patterned figure. Schoeck's gift for melody makes the central movement a virtual song for horn and orchestra. The jollity of the testing final movement is well caught in a lightning and quicksilver performance by Bruno Schneider. Schneider previously recorded the work for MGB in a version conducted by Thierry Fischer. The concerto is still comparatively little known: an undeserved fate. Any young soloist wanting to make a coup in the BBC Young Musician of the Year contest would be well-advised to look out the score of this concerto instead of reaching for Mozart.
The Serenade acted as a replacement for the second act in a performance of Schoeck's opera Don Ranudo. This is a complete contrast with Schoeck's usual darkly or romantically painted music. A child of Ravel's Bolero and with strong elements of Spanish atmosphere it is a very attractive example to put alongside Chabrier's Espana, Berners' Caprice Peruvien, Ravel's Rhapsodie Espagnole and Bax's Mediterranean. It now joins Klami's Sea Pictures as one of those works which took Ravel's Bolero as its point of departure ... and arrival.
Putting Schoeck anywhere near a string orchestra produced romantic music. In the five movement suite written at the same time as Sommernacht (the influence of which can be heard in the suite) the mood is also elegiac although occasionally, as in the first movement, there is a certain thickness and academicism. The suite is not as immediately winning as the serenade or concerto but repeated listenings reveal a rich and distinctly Elgarian work.
The straightforward richly informative notes are by Schoeck expert Chris Walton. Has his study of the Swiss composer been translated into English yet? Thanks to CPO for this rewarding issue which mixes the immediately approachable with the longer term delights of the suite and prelude. With his operas Massimila Doni, Schloss Durande, Penthesilea and Venus all on CD I hope that CPO will be alert to record any accomplished concert revivals of his other operas.
This disc adds enjoyably and valuably to Schoeck's expanding discography and is recommended warmly.
OTHMAR SCHOECK Elegie op. 36 (1921-22) . Andreas Schmidt (bar) Musikkollegium Wintherthur/Werner Andreas Albert CPO 999 472-2 [58:19]
Yes yet another Schoeck review. I am quite unapologetic. Schoeck has been a major discovery for me.
This Elegie recording is not the first. There is another with the singer Arthur Loosli previously on LP but now reissued on CD from the Swiss company Jecklin-Disco. Jecklin have recorded all Schoecks songs on a series of 11 CDs. I have not heard the Loosli recording but it must in any event date from the 1960s so cannot hope to match the CPO in terms of recording quality alone.
The cycle sets poems in German by Nikolaus Lenau and Joseph von Eichendorff. The cycle is very substantial: 24 songs spanning just short of an hour. Schoecks music seemed untouched by the great war. The cycle was prompted by Schoecks love affair with the concert pianist Mary de Senger whom he first met in 1918. This is richly singable and listenable music though largely unvaried in tempo - mostly slow. Without a voice of character and chameleon colour such as Schmidts it could easily sound depressingly mournful. As it is Schmidt has a fresh and lively voice which he colours to catch the psychological drama of the individual poems and the overall progress of the cycle. Elegie is hardly at all violent or raging. There is an urgency behind some of the songs e.g. the slightly chilly Nachklang. Most however have Schoecks accustomed and utterly beguiling nostalgic musing sadness - something akin to Ivor Gurneys two Housman cycles for male voice and string quartet. Herbstklage is wonderfully judged - a sweetly joyous song. The notewriter identifies the cycle as Schoecks last diatonic and openly late-romantic work. For me it is difficult to draw this line as all of Schoeck works I have heard are late-Romantic. The opera Penthesilea with its strange and strained harmonic palette is an exception, being quite modernistic. In any event this cycle is a sombre, doleful, introspective work. The spirit of the work is not that far removed from Mahlers songs without the jauntiness or the desperation. Elegie must catch you in the right mood. When it does it casts a complete and hypnotic enchantment.
The full texts of the poems in both German and English are given in the CD booklet. The notes are in German, English and French. The notes are by Schoeck expert Christopher Walton. Altogether a most distinguished issue lovingly prepared, performed and recorded.
THREE WORKS FOR FRENCH HORN AND ORCHESTRA
OTHMAR SCHOECK (1886-1957) Horn Concerto (1951) 17:22
CHARLES KOECHLIN (1867-1950) Poeme (1927) 13:36
ETHEL SMYTH (1858-1944) Concerto for violin, horn and orchestra (1926) * 26:51 Marie Luise Neunecker (horn) Saschko Gawriloff (violin) * only Hannover NDR Radio PO/Uri Mayer Koch Schwann 3-6412-2 [57:49]
This is a unique and felicitous coupling performed with panache and nicely recorded in non-gimmicky sound. The works are late romantic and impressionistic in style. They are consistent with the natural style of the French horn.
The Schoeck Horn Concerto is a personal favourite of mine. I first discovered it on an ancient Mace LP in the very early 1980s. The work should long ago have been selected by an enterprising competitor in the Young Musician of the Year Competition. It makes a fresh air change from the Mozart and Strauss concertos. The work breathes a woodland romance and lightness of spirit. There is succulent playing from soloist and the orchestra. Schoeck's audio-visual mastery is apparent from the moonlit Sommernacht (another Schoeck work you really should hear) evocation in the second movement. Schoeck's lunar light string tone lulls us into sleep on Alpine haystack in high summer. The last movement is Mozartian and ends with a cheeky nod and a wink.
The Koechlin work is enigmatic. It opens with calls like those at the start of the Rossini William Tell overture rather like yodelling. The scene is one of serenity and is very well done in this recording. The work is much more impressionistic than the Schoeck. The atmosphere is too unvaried to make the work entirely successful but it is intriguing. Remarkable are the Mother Goose moments, the song of a Christmas hymn and music redolent of the high hills.
The Smyth (written a year before the Koechlin) opens with a grand Brahmsian curtains-up. It is a double concerto and the contrast in sound is strong with the vibrancy of the solo violin taking the female role contrasting with the masculine lines of the bluffer though inclined to reflection horn. The dialogue might even suggest that the composer saw herself as the male and some un-named lover as the female. The movement has a jogtrot pacing and charming 'chip-chip' with violin playfully echoed by horn and vice versa. The movement ends in a Viennese urbane cosmopolitan manner. The second movement has a leaning towards a more modern style. The finale is lively.
The recordings were made by Nord-Deutsches Rundfunk, Hannover in November 1995.
You may well do better in the Schoeck by going for the CPO recording. I do not know the Zuk performance of the Koechlin Poeme but in any event it is quite a rare work. As for the Smyth the preferred version is the one on Chandos but these are matters of fine preference. No-one is going to feel that the works are misrepresented by these recordings. They are executed with perception by artists who clearly care about the composer's message and are able to communicate to their audience.
Outstandingly good notes in German and English enhanced by fine photos of the three composers and the soloists. The photo of Schoeck conducting was new to me and well worth seeing. The documentation for this recording deserves an award.
A recommended collection for which this coupling has no competition. It would have rated an even firmer recommendation if the coupling had been more generous in timing - room for another concerto.
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