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ARTICLE Plain text for smartphones & printers

ASV returns courtesy of Presto Classical - a French, English and Italian walk-through
by Rob Barnett

Presto Classical custom-engineer any complete disc you may see listed on their site from the ASV catalogue. It's a service well worth delving into especially if you missed the golden age of ASV from the mid-late 1990s through to the early 2000s. Have a look at Presto's ASV page.
MÉHUL (1763-1817): Overtures - Orchestre de Bretagne/Stefan Sanderling PRESTO ASV CDDCA1140 [71:44] Buy here
GRÉTRY (1741-1813): Suites and Overtures - Orchestre de Bretagne/Stefan Sanderling PRESTO ASV  CDDCA1095 [70:20]  Buy here
MOERAN (1894-1950): Chamber Music - Vanbrugh Quartet PRESTO ASV CDDCA1045 [77:15] Buy here
SGAMBATI (1841-1914): Piano Concerto etc - Francesco Caramiello (piano) Nuremberg Philharmonic Orchestra/Fabrizio Ventura PRESTO ASV CDDCA1097 [70:19] Buy here

I have already looked at five distinctive Soviet music CDs. Now here is a group of two from France, one from England and another from Italy.

It is to the credit of Stefan Sanderling and the Orchestre de Bretagne that they worked with ASV to produce this 2002 disc of overture rarities from a too little celebrated French composer. His music caught Beecham's eye very early on and his shade owes much to 'Tommy' who kept a place for Beethoven contemporary, Méhul in his concerts. He discovered the composer during his Parisian tours of dusty libraries and antiquarian shops. There is a deleted Sony Beecham disc that includes some choice cuts of Méhul. More persuasive still is Nimbus's two disc set of his four symphonies - essential listening. More recently there is an all-Méhul disc on ATMA; eleven arrangements for wind ensemble.

Things do not work out perfectly here. My reservations relate to the too often repetitive use of themes and rhythmic units and the orchestra's at times less than sumptuous sound. The violins in particular have a razory searching tone. Still this is one of the few ways of getting to close quarters with a frequently delightfully inventive composer working in the early-mid Beethovenian idiom. Taking a few examples: there's the agreeable Mélidore et Phrosine which bristles with Beethovenian brio. Often the writing recalls Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony - track this from the peaceable Ariodant to the tense and pushy liveliness of Horatius Coclès. Only the last three tracks (Le Trésor Supposé, Les Deux Aveugles de Tolède and La Chasse du Jeune Henri) can lay even a fingernail hold on the active repertoire so here's one way in which your curiosity can be slaked and rewarded.

There's still room in the case of Méhul for one of those Neeme Järvi Chandos collections à la Offenbach but until then this will do well enough.

This disc was warmly received here in 2001. As for French composer Grétry - another Beethoven contemporary though less in his thrall - he too caught Beecham's twinkling eye (review review). There is plenty of twinkle in Grétry's suites and overtures and it is no wonder that Beecham fell for the music's charms. He broadcast the whole of Zémire et Azor for the BBC and Somm have issued that complete. The eager brightness, graceful elegance and bustle of his writing shows him a forerunner and even pattern for Bizet - just listen to the bounce and sparkle of Céphale and Procris, Zémire et Azor and L'Épreuve Villageoise. Mozart might well have been an influence for the Lucile Overture and Le Huron. On this evidence Grétry had a light and very pleasing musical touch.

Further excavation and appraisal can be made via a very generous Grétry survey on the Musique en Wallonie label. As for this very alluring ASV disc it is full of discoveries and although the steely tone of the strings is a feature already commented on for their part in the ASV Méhul disc it is a less prominent issue than it was there although it does rather come to the fore again in the Guillaume Tell overture. Comparing the two sets of overtures and suites Grétry is the more engaging and variegated companion. Méhul is however a strong entrant when it comes to his four very fine symphonies.

Moeran's by now means huge output of chamber music has with the exception of the Sonata for Two Violins done reasonably well although usually across composer-mixed recitals: Oboe Classics, Symposium, EMI, Divine Art, BMS-Naxos, Lyrita. This disc which is just as generously brim-loaded as ASV's Moeran solo piano music CD (review) is essential and it is very welcome that Presto have restored it to easy access. The Vanbrugh turn in performances of effervescent vitality and pulsating romantic muscularity. Despite its 1920s provenance the A minor quartet has enough of the full-blown green-leaf and ozone power of the Symphony and Sinfonietta to draw you in and hold you. Moeran's later tendency toward neo-classical desiccation (as in the Serenade) is not in evidence here.

The Second Quartet although published six years after the composer's death dates from 1918-20. In two movements and 16 minutes by comparison with the A minor's three and approaching 19 minutes the folksy E flat quartet bubbles, hums and surges with pastoral life. Each quartet has something of the Ravel quartet about it. Moeran really should have written a bipartite work using the same forces as Ravel's Introduction and Allegro. He was a magician when it came to writing for the harp. The compact 13 minute single movement Fantasy Quartet for oboe, violin, viola and cello is most tellingly done by Nicholas Daniel and members of the Vanbrugh. It's a work of poignant and dancing delights which floats and flies borne along by airy propulsion. It dates from 1946 so is a fully mature statement - expressively economical too.

The Piano Trio (1920-25) is in four movements approaching a half hour duration. It has more of heroic conflict and symphonic character than the other three works. Not to be missed but then you could say the same of the whole disc.

We should not forget the Naxos Moeran chamber disc which adds just the String Trio to the two quartets. It's at upper bargain price. Then there's the mid-price Chandos Moeran disc including the Violin Sonata, the A minor quartet and the Oboe Quartet. The present ASV is at premium price but in this company has not been topped in terms of performance, vibrant recording quality and generosity of prime-cut Moeran.

By the way don't overlook that you can download without charge the Two Violin Sonata (1930) from the Andrew Rose (he of Pristine Classics' fame) Worldwide Moeran Database. Try here.

Born in Rome, Sgambati was the very model of a nineteenth century composer whose old age and high maturity spilled over into the following century. He died in the very year when the Old Order came to an end across Europe. This friend of Wagner had been a pupil of Liszt and his music carried that composer's impress. Sgambati turned out to be one of the dynamos in Rome's musical life and he brought about premieres of such works as Liszt's Christus and Dante Symphony and Beethoven's Eroica.

His name may be familiar among the more determined repertoire collectors. No doubt there are other recordings but the LP and CD catalogues have found a place for him. You may recall Robert Commagère's Genesis label LPs which in the 1960s and 1970s were the home for many recordings of the late-romantic nineteenth century piano repertoire. Sgambati's Piano Concerto was issued on that label. The pianist was none other than Jorge Bolet during his wilderness years before he was taken up by Decca. The orchestra was the Nuremberg Symphony conducted by Stokowski protégé Ainslee Cox. That recording can still be had having been issued as a Genesis CD (review).

Add to this four volumes of the Sgambati music for solo piano from Pietro Spada and the Artes label (review). Tactus have a Caramiello that runs to three more CDs than Spada/Artes and take in some very creditable transcriptions, attributed works, fragments and in some cases completions by Caramiello. I found the 28 minute transcription of Liszt's tone poem Die Ideale longwinded but everything else is at least serviceable and often very enjoyable indeed.

There is also a Naxos disc of the First Symphony and overlapping the ASV disc the Cola di Rienzo overture. This is part of Naxos' revivals of the Italian orchestral repertoire from Orchestra Sinfonica da Roma and Francesco La Vecchia (review). An appealing coupling of the First Symphony and the Piano Concerto remains to be tracked down: Friedemann Layer/Orchestre National de Montpellier on that constantly rewarding yet low key French label, Actes Sud (AT20002). That was issued in 2003. Speaking of substantial works there is an unflamboyant and dignified Requiem recorded by Carus. Unrecorded so far as I know are a Symphony No. 2 in E flat (1883-5) and a Sinfonia Festosa. The latter can be heard in a four hands transcription in the Tactus series.

ASV were first in the field to revive latter-day Italian music that was not operatic. Their four Martucci discs (two piano concertos and two symphonies) are well worth seeking out even if Naxos covered similar territory five or so years ago. ASV collaborated with the pianist Francesco Caramiello in three Sgambati CDs. This one, which headlines the Sgambati Piano Concerto (1878-80), is difficult to resist but don't forget the two with Caramiello and the Ex-Novo Quartet: Piano Quintet No. 1 and words for violin and piano on Presto ASV - CD-DCA1029 and Piano Quintet No. 2 with the String Quartet in C sharp minor on Presto ASV - CDDCA1030. I hope to review those two discs separately. The chamber repertoire also features in a Brilliant Classics box (94813BR).

The Piano Concerto - championed by Jorge Bolet in the 1970s - is a vivacious thing: sturdy and sweepingly ambitious. The first movement runs to 23 minutes. It's highly virtuosic but with a grave Brahmsian mien rather than a dipsomaniac hurtle into display. If you enjoy the Stanford Second Piano Concerto then this should appeal despite its tendency to hold on too long to repetitions of figuration — listen to the last five minutes of the finale.

The Cola di rienzo overture from 1866 has a resonance with the Liszt tone poems and the Schumann concert overtures. It is more of a tone poem - one heck of an overture at 20:28. It is strong on curdled and curdling atmosphere and boasts some nice woodwind writing in the second half. Even so it lacks the kindling Tchaikoskian drama that sets alight the tone poems by Macdowell and William Wallace.

The Berceuse-Reverie was orchestrated by Massenet. It's an indulgent and caramel sweet thing which should surely have been discovered by Beecham — it's his sort of thing. The solo piano version of this short piece can be heard in the second CD in Caramiello's eight volume Tactus marathon. That series also includes this very same disc issued by Tactus as TC-841908.

The Piano Concerto is centre-stage on this very welcome Presto-ASV CD. The content of this disc is superbly performed and recorded: forthright sound and believable depth of field. Those in hot pursuit of the late-romantic piano concerto will find it unmissable.

Rob Barnett

Mélidore Et Phrosine
Joseph in Ägypten
Horatius Coclès
Le Jeune Sage Et Le Vieux Fou
Le Trésor Supposé
Les Deux Aveugles De Tolède
La Chasse Du Jeune Henri
Orchestre de Bretagne/Stefan Sanderling
PRESTO ASV - CDDCA1140 [71:00]

Céphale et Procris - Suite
Le Jugement de Midas - Overture
L'Épreuve Villageoise - Overture
Le Tableau Parlant - Overture
Le Huron - Overture
Lucile - Suite
Silvian - Overture
L'Amitié a L'épreuve - Overture
L'Ami de la Maison - Overture
Zémire et Azor - Suite
Le Magnifique - Overture
Guillaume Tell - Overture (Act 1, Scene 1)
Orchestre de Bretagne/Stefan Sanderling
PRESTO ASV - CDDCA1095 [69:00]

MOERAN: Chamber Music
Quartet for Strings in A minor (1921)
Quartet for Strings in E flat major (1918)
Fantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings (1946)
Piano Trio in D major (1925)
Nicholas Daniel (oboe); Joachim Trio; Vanbrugh Quartet
Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 15
Cola di Rienzo - overture
Berceuse-Rêverie, Op. 42 No. 2
Francesco Caramiello (piano)
Nuremberg Philharmonic Orchestra/Fabrizio Ventura



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