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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Robert KURKA (1921-1957)
The Good Soldier Schweik - Suite (1957) [18.58]
Peter MENNIN (1923-1983)

Cello Concerto (1956) [25.42]
Walter PISTON (1894-1976)

Symphony No. 1 (1937) [27.30]
Janos Starker (cello)
Louisville Orchestra/Robert Whitney (Kurka); Jorge Mester (Mennin; Piston)
rec. 11 Feb 1969, Memorial Auditorium (Mennin); 6 Jan 1978, Macauley Theatre (Piston) Louisville, Kentucky, ADD. no details for the Kurka.
American Archives Series
ALBANY TROY 044 [72.32]

 

Kurka’s Schweik, the wise and crafty fool, survives a war in which armies fight out causes in which Tommy Atkins and Doughboy archetypes have no zeal or dedication. Kurka's music has some rough parallels: Kije's satire, Weill's venom and the spirit of Klemperer's new age experience at the Kroll Opera. Rolling, raw and jazzy, the music squawks and thuds, bubbles in vitriol without being 'unduly' dissonant. Several of the movements are rather like Martinů (try the finale). If Cédille can be persuaded to issue the site with a review copy I am hoping to be able write about the full opera (completed by Kurka in his last year) at some point. Jaroslav Hasek's hero-anti-hero was given new life by Bertolt Brecht in the late 1940s in his play 'Schweik in World War Two' and Hanns Eisler wrote vivid incidental music for the production (heard on BBC Radio 3 during the 1980s).

The Mennin Cello Concerto is a Juilliard commission premiered in 1956 by Leonard Rose with Jean Morel conducting. This work sings unstintingly. It is not the headlong toboggan ride you may be expecting if you know the piano concerto (superb in the John Ogdon recording on the sadly defunct CRI label). This is a work fully at ease with the natural 'soul' of the cello. The language, which is of a burnished intensity, is close to that of Kodaly's unaccompanied cello sonata (of which Starker made the landmark recording) but with lyrical voices from William Schuman and even Walton (try the finale).

The Piston First Symphony was premiered by the Boston orchestra, the composer conducting, on 8 April 1938. There is nothing belligerent or caustically sour about this music; it makes a like-minded companion for the Mennin. Piston shows himself a romantic soul in the opening and conclusion of the first of three movements though at other times the relentlessly fugue-like patterning and the Bergian continuum of the high singing adagio can be dry. It needs a Bernstein or MTT to make such moments ring searingly true and poignant. The stinging barks and brass eruptions helped shape the language of contemporary William Schuman in such explosively dramatic works as the Third and Sixth Symphonies and the matchless Violin Concerto. In a year or two Piston was to produce the symphony's successor whose brilliance and memorable mastery are undeniable. This symphony reaches towards that peak.

Here are three substantial American orchestral works of the last century; Kurka dissentingly satirical, Mennin intensely lyrical and the Piston symphony dynamic, singing though without the indelible qualities of its five successors.

As with all Albanys the disc is very well documented and presented. Recording quality is good without being brilliant - something you could say of the entire Louisville tape legacy of most of the 1960s. We can but hope that the long-rumoured project under which the treasury of Whitney and Mester tapes will be systematically reissued will come to harvest. For now do not miss this opportunity to shake down three works of signal importance to the development of American music.

Rob Barnett

 



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