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Charles Martin LOEFFLER (1861-1935)
Divertissement Espagnol for saxophone and orchestra (1900) [8:53]
La Villanelle du Diable op.9 (1901) [12:27]
Une Nuit de Mai for violin and orchestra (No.2 of Veillées de l’Ukraine (Evenings in the Ukraine)) (1891) [16:58]
Divertissement in A minor for violin and orchestra (1894) [29:25]
Amy Dickson (saxophone)
Lorraine McAslan (violin)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Johannes Wildner
rec. Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London, 2013
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX7313 [67:56]

While the music of American composer Charles Martin Loeffler escaped Karl Krueger's 1960s LP onslaught funded by the Society for the Promotion of the American Musical Heritage (SPAMH) it enjoyed other attention. His chamber music did well, including the Music for Four Stringed Instruments and his Two Rhapsodies for oboe, viola and piano. One orchestral work kept the flag flying: the suite Memories of my Childhood (In a Russian Village) which was recorded by Toscanini (review review) and Hanson. Pagan Poem was recorded by Stokowski. The same poem was included, with Evocation for women's voices and orchestra, by Maazel in the Cleveland Orchestra's concert programmes.

His representation in more recent times has not been lavish but there have been landmarks, including one chamber disc from Naxos and a sumptuous Edwardian extravaganza on New World 80332-2 (La Mort de Tintagiles and Five Irish Fantasies) from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Nelson. Dutton have concentrated on works they can source from Philadelphia's Fleisher Library. These happen to be products of the era 1894-1901.

Loeffler escaped the Leipzig-Berlin school as exemplified by Chadwick and Paine. His music was of a more liberated type with some Gallic-Russian-exotic aspects. There is not one work here that does not carry a French language title. The music can be broadly grouped with that of Farwell, Hill and Converse. There are also parallels with Bantock, whose poetic and imaginative work looked increasingly dated after 1918. Both composers were drawn to sultry topics and both found inspiration in Celtic subjects. Bax, who also had Celtic facets, also crosses territory favoured by Loeffler in terms of inspiration. Bax's Russian sympathies are tracked in his piano solo May Night in the Ukraine (1912) which was written within two decades of Loeffler's Veillées de l’Ukraine (1891). The same piece, but orchestrated by Graham Parlett, appears as the central element of Bax's Russian Suite.

Loeffler took a shine to the saxophone and gave it an exposed place in the spotlight in the nine-minute Hispanic Divertissement Espagnol. Its smoochily serenading ways are indulged. Star player Amy Dickson who has also worked for Dutton in the Holbrooke concerto (CDLX7277) is capable, confident and creamy of tone.

Lorraine McAslan also has the gifted resilience of a musician who is prepared to lend her name, inspiration, hard work and coruscating skills to neglected music. One of her finest forays was the Lyrita Coleridge Taylor Violin Concerto with Julius Harrison's Bredon Hill even if they did have to wait a very long time before being issued. She also gave us the Alwyn Concerto on Naxos. Dutton have worked with her on many occasions, including in concertos by Bowen, Brian, Sainsbury and Haydn Wood and Creith, Pitfield and Arnell. It's quite a track-record and we can hope that there is more to come.

The BBC Concert Orchestra are conducted by Johannes Wildner who has been their and Dutton's muse for the Braunfels series (review review). Everyone rises with conviction to best these unfamiliar challenges.

The florid show-piece, La Villanelle du Diable, in two movements, has points of comparison with early Florent Schmitt and with the Ravel of Boléro, lying way in the future. It's lusciously orchestrated, complete with concert organ, and its cholesterol count is lavish. It drifts perilously close to turgid in the second panel but when about to go over the edge saves itself at the last moment.

There's a caramel-sweet Bruch-like aspect to Loeffler's Nuit de Mai but it also sits comfortably alongside such works as Saint-Säens' Havanaise (when will someone issue the Kogan recording?) and Caprice Andalou (Hoelscher is excellent in this). The Loeffler work carries a dedication to Sarasate. Nuit de Mai is the second of four pieces from Veillées de l’Ukraine after Gogol's book. This score is a predecessor to the lighter confection that is Memories of my Childhood (Life in a Russian Village).

Much the same applies to the Divertissement - another work whose title does the music less than justice. It would have travelled further and its concert life endured longer had it been called Concert Parisien or Symphonie Francaise. It might then have done at least as well as Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole. As Lewis Foreman remarks, this is a half-hour Violin Concerto but one masquerading needlessly under a pseudonym. Its first two movements are opulently loquacious rather than craggily dramatic. That Spanish étincelante material is handled with silvery brilliance by McAslan who has all the eloquent resource of a Kogan or a Haendel. Drama makes few appearances in this score but returns complete with the Dies Irae in the 14-minute finale. True, the invention in this extended finale can become inert but there is plenty by way of compensation. This includes a subtle needle-sharp piece of valedictory lacework and delicate terpsichore. The solo violin dances like a pin-bright rapier into silence.

Lewis Foreman's English-only programme note touches on and delves into all the right bases and does not neglect factual essentials.

These are premiere recordings. Perhaps we can hope for other Loeffler works to be ushered out in our direction for appraisal. My own priorities would include his Evocations for women's voices and orchestra (1930), the Fantastic Concerto (cello) (1891), Clowns for jazz orchestra (1927) and Beat! Beat! Drums! for unison men's chorus, three saxophones, brass, drums and two pianos (1917). Beyond that there are other early-mid 20th century American works with potential for merit and magic. These include the tone poems Norge by Philip Greeley Clapp and The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Stillman Kelley, Farwell's mammoth, Brucknerian-scale Rudolph Gott Symphony and the Symphonies 3-5 and oratorio Saul of Tarsus by Cecil Effinger.

The Americans have been as neglectful and fame-myopic as the French and English. This Loeffler anthology is a delight and has done good work at redressing scales that need to be rebalanced. Thanks to Dutton and their collaborators for making recordings among works that for years people considered were mere encyclopedia entries.

Rob Barnett

 

 




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