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Ionisation II - Pioneer Orchestral recordings: 1927-51
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)

Le Festin d l’Araignée; Ballet – Fragments Symphoniques (1913)
Orchestra/Albert Roussel, recorded 1929
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 0 in D minor – Scherzo (1869)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor – Scherzo (1865-66)
Symphony No. 2 - Scherzo (1871-72 rev. 1875-76)
Orchestra of the Staatsoper, Berlin/Fritz Zaun, recorded (1928?)
Symphony No. 3 – Scherzo (1873-77 rev. 188-89)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Anton Konrath, recorded (1928?)
Mark LOTHAR (1902-?)

Lord Spleen Overture, Ständchen, Fugue and Fox-Trot (1930)
Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Clemens Schmalstich, recorded 1930
Werner EGK (1901-1983)

Kleine Abraxas Suite (1926)
RIAS Symphony Orchestra/Ferenc Fricsay, recorded 1951
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910 rev. 1919)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini, recorded 1945
Charles IVES (1874-1954)

Barn Dance from a Symphony
In the Night; Third Movement of a set for theatre or chamber orchestra (1906-11)
Pan American Chamber Orchestra/Nicolas Slonimsky, recorded 1934
SYMPOSIUM 1258 [75.05]


Following their first Ionisation disc (inspired by the Varèse piece of the same name of course) we have volume No II, an equally diverting and eclectic brew. It certainly makes for diverting juxtapositions – I’m fairly sure this is the first time you will listen to four Bruckner Scherzi in a row (though doubtless that’s how Thomas Beecham preferred his Bruckner) and it’s not often that Toscanini’s surgingly frenzied Tallis Fantasia is programmed alongside the rare New Music Quarterly recordings that Nicolas Slonimsky made of various movements culled from Ives. If you fancy, in addition, hearing the Weimar banjoings of Mark Lothar or Egk’s impressionism-cum-Spanishry then this might be the disc for you. Those of a less lurid frame of mind or those whose wish to be battered by Bruckner Scherzi might be less pronounced might well want to start with Roussel’s recording of his own ballet Le Festin de l’Araignée.

Roussel’s 1929 recording, with a short "autographe vocal" - that’s to say a little speech appended (something the French record companies were keen to enshrine – and bravo to them for it) - allows one to hear a shorter than expected series of symphonic extracts. The uncredited orchestra, presumably a freelance affair, furnishes Roussel with crisp and incisive rhythm and a real sense of style (try the Rideau et Entrée des Fourmis) as well as a Waltz full of bustling and bright colour. The idiomatic winds shine in the fluttery Death of the Mayfly. Other recordings were made of the ballet around this time, by Staram and his orchestra on Columbia and by the Opéra-Comique under Fourestier on French Pathé but there is a real frisson listening to Roussel. The Bruckners were part of a drive to test the waters for fuller recordings. We have the Scherzi from No "0," 1, 2 and 3. Fritz Zaun (1893-1966) was a capable conductor – and a more than useful partner for soloists – but the most convincing performance is that of No. 3 by Anton Konrath whose extract was recorded in 1930. Mark Lothar was born in Berlin and studied there under Schreker, later pursuing composition lessons with Wolf-Ferrari. He wrote operas (Tyll in 1928, Lord Spleen in 1930, Münchausen in 1933 and on throughout the 1930s) and was a music director in Berlin and Munich. The brief extract here shows an agreeably frivolous turn of mind, with plantation style banjo and hints of a kind of Russo-Egyptian ethos. I’m not sure if these kinds of Weimar hijinks could survive long in his work – and it’s likely that the later operas conformed more to the dictates of state imposed Volksoper – it would be nice to know for sure.

Egk’s Kleine Abraxas Suite is by turns seething in impressionist nuance and then, come the second movement Dance, coloured by Spanish colour and the clack of the castanets. He was always a more subtle composer than history has allowed and the 1951 sound accorded Fricsay and his Berlin forces allows one to hear the orchestration and admire it. Toscanini’s eruptive Tallis dates from 1945 and we finish with Ives – his In the Night and a Barn Dance throbbing with warped Americana and scattershot quotation. Good especially to have these rare sides available.

Pioneer orchestral recordings is the subtitle of this disc and that’s no mistake though I prefer to see it as a reference disc that preserves some notable examples in otherwise unavailable form. Fine sound.

Jonathan Woolf



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