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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920)
The White Peacock (1915) [5.37]
Three Poems of Fiona McLeod: The Lament of Ian the Proud; The Dark Eyes to Mine; The Rose of the Night (1918) [10.33] *
Bacchanale (1912-1919) [3.59]
Clouds (1916-1919) [4.08]
Three Tone Pictures: The Lake at Evening; The Vale of Dreams; The Night Winds (1915) [8.27]
Poem for Flute and Orchestra (1918) [9.58] **
The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan (1912-16) [12.29]
Barbara Quintiliani (sop) *
Carol Wincenc (flute) **
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Kleinhans Music Hall. Buffalo, NY, Feb 2002.
NAXOS 8.559164 [56.08]

 

Griffes died young leaving behind him works of short duration but luxurious impressionistic imagination. Not for him the apparatus of 19th century symphonies. Instead he looked to the French exotic school. He can be seen as a pathfinder for Americans of the ilk of Loeffler, Farwell and Hill. Further afield the comparators will include Sam Hartley Braithwaite (a Brit awaiting discovery), the Belgian Adolphe Biarent, William Baines (who also died young with many miniatures to his name but also an early Symphony crying out for a first recording), Zemlinsky and Schrecker in Germany and the Breton, Paul Ladmirault.

Griffes was born in New York City, studied in Berlin and then in France where he became fascinated by the music of Debussy and Ravel. This shows throughout the present collection although nothing is quite that simple.

The Fiona McLeod song-cycle is an example of where above an impressionistic orchestral ‘wash’ the voice is given a quasi-operatic potency. This is well picked up by Ms Quintiliani who is good at the dramatics as well as at word articulation. In this regard she is to be preferred to Phyllis Bryn-Julson in a similar but not identical full price New World collection. These three songs remind me very strongly of Bantock in his Sappho Fragments and of Heather Harper in her glorious Chandos recording of Hamilton Harty's Ode to a Nightingale. The words are printed in full - a very nice touch from Naxos.

The Tone Pictures make a few more concessions to popular taste but otherwise inhabit the same exotic (some might say effete) world as The White Peacock. There is an assertive role for the solo piano. Each is fairly Baxian at least in Bax’s Symphonic Variations and Spring Fire phase - works contemporary with Griffes’ orchestral flowering. Other links can be made. Only recently I heard Roger Smalley's devoted orchestrations of ten piano poems by Scriabin. There are parallels with Griffes there too.

Wincenc's flute style leans towards the panpipes, breathy and with vibrato. The music is cool, often hooded and subdued in tone. This is by no means a pretty-pretty sketch. Rather the flute leads us through some dark realms. True it dances in Hovhaness mode (06.00) but there are threatening auguries too. Listen to the grippingly recorded shuddering of the double basses at 5.10 - almost as dark as the rumblings and portents in Sibelius's Lemminkainen in Tuonela. The horn at 4.50 sounds remarkably close to the horn in Britten's Serenade. The Rimskian Bacchanale is rather Russian and here Griffes plays the languid Eros at 3.20. In the delicate drift of Clouds the celesta and flute have solo roles. These two pieces and the luxuriant preening of The White Peacock remind me of William Baines’ orchestral poems: Thoughtdrift and Island of the Fey.

The touchstone of any Griffes collection is always going to be The Pleasure Dome. Most of us were introduced to it by Charles Gerhardt's National Philharmonic Reader's Digest recording. This is now on Chesky and is still well worth hearing. As with everything else in this collection the version from Buffalo cuts no corners and is suitably voluptuous and diaphanous. The Buffalo Phil maintrain high standards asserted by their Nonesuch recording of the Lemminkainen Legends (Lukas Foss) and the MTT/Sony/CBS collection of Gershwin overtures. There is no suggestion here of cut-down standards or humdrum session filling. The great slow swaying theme at 2.35 goes well although it does sound very slow with Falletta. Mic array placement brings the cello solo at 6.33 closer to us than ever before. The minatory brass could have benefited for a little more distance. In this respect the Ozawa version on New World and the superb analogue recording by Gerhardt are to be preferred. However it's a fine judgement and the Buffalo/Falletta version is never less than excellent in its own right.

A very strong contender at this or any price. There is no reason for paying for Ozawa’s full priced New World version … but if you chanced on the Gerhardt snap it up to supplement the Buffalo collection.

Rob Barnett



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