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Three Catalan recordings
CATALAN CONCERTOS (1967-1995) SALVADOR BROTONS (1959-) Trombone Concerto (1995) (Ricardo Casero - trombone) 23:54 XAVIER MONTSALVATGE (1912-) Concerto Capriccio (1975) (Magdalena Barrera - harp) 25:55 Serenade for Lydia de Cadaques (1973) (Magdalena Martinez - flute) 10:19 LLUÍS BENEJAM (1914-68) Saxophone Concerto (1967) (John Harle - saxophone) 15:11 Barcelona SO/Lawrence Foster recorded in Barcelona, 14-18 June 1997 CLAVES CD 50-9808 [75:33]
Claves have not registered all that strongly on the international stage. This Swiss, Thun-based, company has a rich catalogue with a number of adventurous entries in the rare repertoire lists. Their Basque series is notable and the highly attractive Guridi and Usandizaga discs are worth seeking out if you appreciate lyrical nationalistic impressionism.
To date the Basque series has centred largely on orchestral works from the turn of the century. The present disc brings us four contemporary Catalan concerto-format works. While the Basque discs are agreeably blazoned with the logos of those sponsoring the recordings there are no signs betraying sponsorship for this disc.
Three composers are represented. There are four works. Montsalvatge has two: the others one each. The flanking works are extremely approachable; surprisingly the Montsalvatge ones have their challenging moments though nothing of Boulezian or Cage-ian negation.
Montsalvatge is likely to be known to an audience outside Catalonia and outside Spain. Montsalvatge has had various international successes and recordings. By two years he is the elder statesman amongst the trio. Montsalvatge's 'Cinco Canciones Negras' (1946) have carried his name across the world. He has however written far more than this including concertos, symphonies and operas. He is also still alive whereas Benejam died thirty years ago. Benejam's Saxophone concerto dates from the year before his death. All four works can lay claim to being modern.
Brotons begins positively - very driven and threatening. This relaxes into a lyrical episode with the warbling trombone as the romantic singer rather like the middle movement of the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto. The style is approachably raucous, - populist film music; a touch of Malcolm Arnold, perhaps. The realism of the recording is startling with every burr and raspberry registering strongly and unusual effects like the nasally snarling caprice at 4.40 (track 1) conveying not only an inventive approach to the instrument and the virtuoso skills of Casero but also an unsuspected warm cantilena from this usually blurting, bullying and belligerent instrument. The following lento espressivo sings quietly with just a little work for the trombone. The following allegro mixes the influences of Weill and Shostakovich with a wailing song for the soloist. The presto brillante ends in fireworks but there is time for a romantic aria or two; sentiment and not sentimentality. A work well worthy of the company of the Jacob or Sandstrom concertos and refreshingly unobsessed by coaxing outlandish noises from this stentorian singer.
Montsalvatge's two works are from the 1970s. The Concerto-Capriccio is of the 'plink-plunk' modern school but the harp remains the singer. The serene atmosphere is redolent of the royal court of some elfin queen. In the long andante, delicacy and swirling veils of sound suggest the court both in its heyday and many years later while walking among cobwebbed decay and dust. A cadenza for solo harp ushers in the final allegretto which at first chatters and shouts loudly before providing some silence for the pearly display of the harp. The work should be well attended to by harpists and listeners alike not least for the dream-fiesta which develops and blooms into a raucous finale.
The brief serenade for Lydia de Cadaqués was written for Jean Pierre Rampal. It is not typical flute idyll material though you cannot for long hold back the natural tendency to sing long lines. The piece holds a few violent surprises. This Lydia must have been an unpredictable woman of some character. There are some grimly atonal moments mixed into the tonal portrait.
Finally saxophone fanciers get the chance to hear Benejam's quarter hour concerto played by the world's leading saxophonist. The work is in explosive and sinuously romantic song from the first moment. Galvanic percussion and brass explosions punctuate this song of the Catalans. The orchestration is excitingly Coplandian and with enough typically Hispanic ticks and tricks to orientate the listener. The Andante is a moody song of shimmering afternoons where the solo is predominantly accompanied by the strings and harp. The final allegro appassionato opens with a gust of activity but soon settles into a fast serenade with more hammered spasms from full orchestra.
The notes are in five languages (Catalan, Spanish, English, French, German) and the orchestra is more properly known as Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya.
The music, booklet, cover and the whole ensemble are pleasingly presented as well as being informative. Recording is powerful and refined. Generous timing. Considerable thought has gone into all aspects of this production. More please. Recommended.
JESUS GURIDI - HIS ORCHESTRAL WORKS: DIEZ MELODIAS VASCAS (1941) for Orchestra, HOMENAJE A WALT DISNEY (1956) for Piano and Orchestra, UNA AVENTURA DE DON QUIJOTE (1916) Symphonic Poem, EUZKO IRUDIAK (1922) for choir and orchestra Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa (Basque National Orchestra); Orfeon Donostiarra, choir; Ricardo Requejo, piano; Miguel A. Gomez Martinez, conductor With funding from Eusko Jaurlaritza (Gobierno Vasco), Mondragon Corporacion Cooperativa and Gasnalsa. CLAVES RECORDS CD 50-9709
JESUS GURIDI (1886-1961)
Basque composer. Born in Vitoria in Northern Spain. Studied with DIndy in Paris. Moved to Bilbao until a further move in 1939, this time to Madrid. Wrote operas, zarzuelas, orchestral works, chamber music, piano music, film and choral music. Died Madrid 1961.
INTRODUCTION This is a beautifully presented CD. Generous selection at more than 70 minutes of music. Excellent recording and as far as one can tell with such rare works: authentic and faithful performances. Tuneful, imaginative music with a very strong and distinctive flavour. Nice open natural acoustic with plenty of detail in the recording. There is a 52 page booklet in five languages starting off with Basque.
DIEZ MELODIAS VASCAS (1941) FOR ORCHESTRA Of this suite of ten Basque melodies, Grove V says: this is his most popular work which is full of varied tunes and rhythms profoundly Basque in tone and richly scored for modern orchestra. It comes as no surprise that Grove claims he was more successful in this music than in works of symphonic aspiration though I would like to be the judge of that especially in relation to his Sinfonia Pirenaica. None of the movements is longer than four minutes of this work and most are about 2 minutes. Just occasionally there is a hint of the rich orchestration of the Canteloube Chants de lAuvergne.
Narrativa - A strongly rhythmic fast dance like a saltarello. The use of toughly punctuating brass and woodwind has some overtones of Grainger; Amorosa - A dreamy tender serenade for strings; Religiosa - A Warlockian pavane for full orchestra richly used complete with a closing harp flourish; Epitalámica - A calm tentative faltering song for woodwind and strings; De Ronda - Again the raucously disciplined celebratory Grainger element comes out but everything is somehow freer. Quite a brash dance. Brass and percussion are heavily in evidence; Amorosa has a long singing line. It is predominantly quiet and romantic for strings and harp. Oddly reminiscent of Richard Rodney Bennetts film music. The theme is given a full chance to expand. At almost 4 minutes this Amorosa is the longest piece in the suite. It ends in magical quiet. De Ronda - Here we return to what is for most listeners a Purcellian, slightly portentous, atmosphere. Danza - An antique dance in spirit of Walton of Henry V. Elegiaca - This is a serenade which opens with solo violin. Festiva - This begins in almost silence but soon glows high in celebration. Irresistibly projected on the strings then developed through chattering woodwind and finally in full orchestra. A grand effect. A wonderfully fantastic end to a colourfully varied suite.
HOMENAJE A WALT DISNEY (1956) FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA There is nothing of Hollywood glitz or shallowness about this piece nor does it use Disney songs. The sadness is that the title may have held the work back. This is a substantial concert piece which opens in grey mists like the oceans of rolling fog I recall cloaking the valley from my campsite high above Barcelona in the early 1970s. The piano enters with a tune of Celtic inflection - calm and with some of the simple splendour of Moeran. Not long after this Bax is evoked in the filigree work for the piano and in the tune itself. After a long mysterious introduction at 4:20 the piano chaffs away in a Baxian figure. At 5.20 there is a more martial episode with barking horns. At 6:17 the merest hint of a plantation song. At 8:00 we have a decisive fanfare dissolving into the shards of a that Baxian Celtic tune again. Clearly Disneys films touched off something deep in Guridi. At 9:45 there is humorous passage for piano, woodwind and percussion which, for the first time, leans into the world of Mickey Mouse or perhaps LApprenti Sorcier but everything here is beautifully balanced and delineated. At 11:00 the mystery of the opening returns transforming into a slightly creepy interlude. At 12:00 a chiming dance. At 14:00 a warm-as-toast romantic tune enters dissolving into calm. Guridi is never afraid of using instruments to create points of light. There are many impressionistic touches. At 17:00 Stravinskian woodwind emerge and the piano, never far away, enters with a complex slightly atonal figure. At 18:28 the orchestra is in glorious song and how beautifully propelled this is by every instrument. From 20:00 onwards Guridi resorts to a broad Rachmaninovian passage melting into a jazzy drumbeat driven rush. Things conclude with a return to that Celtic tune played out in sharply delineated steps and ending amid colourful splendour and complete with a trombone raspberry!
UNA AVENTURA DE DON QUIJOTE (1916) Symphonic Poem. There is nothing of Richard Strauss here. While this was being written the Great War raged in France but there is little or no tragedy here. Its reference points for a British audience include Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony. The atmosphere and some of the passages are familiar from the Ten Basque Melodies. At 3:10 there is a charging string-driven passage worthy of Moeran. The brass contribute with a certain unihibited brashness (a mark of Guridi). Just occasionally I wondered if he was a counterpart to the lighter British figures like Coates but Guridi is his own man. His approach here is certainly light and brightly colourful. From 11:00 onwards there is a more serious air ending in an affirmative punch from the orchestra.
EUZKO IRUDIAK (1922) for chorus and orchestra By the time you have heard the other pieces the first movement of these three Basque Images seems extremely familiar and welcome. The first scene has the boats pulling to sea with a wonderful fanfare topping off the movement at 4:02. The choir enter unison - momentarily pianissimo. Guridi has clearly heard de Falla. Scene two depicts the violent sea with a much greater contribution from the choir with antiphonal effects. A quieter section features a hymn-like song and here a British listener is bound to think of Welsh choirs. It must be accepted that this is not terribly dark or sharp. The last movement has that carefree atmosphere of the Basque Melodies. A pipe and tabor dance enters and above it the unison voices of the women of Orfeon Donastaria sing joyously of the safe homecoming of the fishermen. Guridi: the unihibited, sincere, sentimentalist with a tear in his eye.
From now on I will not think of Guridi as just a name I vaguely associate with Zarzuela. He has a definite profile and is a treasurable melodist and colourist in the Celtic vein which reaches from Sibelius to Klami to Bax, to Moeran, to Ropartz to Cras to Guridi. The Disney work would make a fine disc-mate for de Fallas Noches en las Jardines de Espana. There are four string quartets as well! I now want to hear his orchestral Sinfonia Pirenaica and the Estampas Vascas (Basque Sketches) for chorus and orchestra.
You will really like this disc if you enjoy tonal music with a distinctive nationalist flavour and with primary colours. I can imagine anyone who enjoys Uuno Klami, Malcolm Arnold, Ravel, Bax, Moeran or Coates taking very well to this music. Claves are to be thanked for embarking on recording this repertoire. I definitely want to hear more orchestral Guridi and Basque orchestral music generally. The next CD in the series will be of music by Jose Maria Usandizaga, born in Bilbao and who died of TB at the age of 28 in 1915. In the case of Usandizaga there are three operas, some symphonic overtures and two string quartets; the latter would almost certainly make a fine coupling for some of the Guridi quartets. I cant wait.
Congratulations then to the people of the Basque lands for this fine disc and for the music of a composer whose bright-eyed nationalism deserves as much exposure as possible. We would do well not to bracket this music as Spanish/Castilian. It is fiercely special and separate like the Basque language. In days when a deadening pan-nationalism has devastated the rich flavours of music across the world Guridis stands as an example of someone who drew something very distinctive from his homeland and offers it to the world.
JOSE MARIA USANDIZAGA (1887-1915) orchestral music (1904-12) Dans la Mer - Poema Sinfónico (1904) Fantasía para Violoncello y Orquesta (1908) (with Asier Polo - vc) Hassan y Melihah: Fantasía Danza (1912) Irurak Bat: Rapsodia sobre 3 cantos populares (1906) Obertura Sinfonica sobre un Tema de Canto Llano (1904) Suite en La (1904)Euskadiko Orkestra Sinfonikoa (Basque National Orchestra)/Gabriel Chmura recorded San Sebastian 7-9 September 1998 Volume 2 Basque Orchestral Music. CLAVES RECORDS CD 50-9814 [60:38]
Nationalistic tendencies in politics can also throw up artistic bonuses. The assertion of national/regional identity may well bring about a renaissance in music and a reassessment of composers who have fallen into neglect. Take a parallel case. The growing number of recordings over the last ten years of Scottish composers' works has coincided with Scotland's growing pride in its nationhood and its commitment to a Scottish Parliament with a measure of devolved powers.
This patriotic movement has been seen in many countries: France with Brittany and Spain with the Basque and Catalan peoples. Extremists have sadly accompanied such a drive with violence but where music is concerned the world's listeners have been the beneficiaries. The international attraction of the CD and the availability over the internet of CDs which in years gone by would have languished as local products has made this music far better known.
Dans La Mer (note the French title) opens in whispered mystery from the violins. Shadows of storm and passion cross the scenery. The imprint of Rimsky, Debussy and perhaps D'Indy (with whom Usandizaga studied) also register. The brass chorale which arches over the chanting strings sounds quite Russian. The atmosphere reminded me of Bax's Garden of Fand and Spring Fire.
The Cello Fantasía , although just short of quarter of an hour, is a more substantial piece. It is an impassioned essay which in its tinkling theme reminded me of Ketèlbey of all people. Asier Polo plays the piece without hesitancy, forthright and ardent.
The Hassan piece contains reminders of the Islamic insurgency of the peninsula although it is about as exotic as Holst's Beni Mora perhaps a little less so. The Irurak Bat rhapsody is a pleasant sequence of predominantly string-textured tunes presented without complexity. Not riveting.
The Symphonic Overture dates from the same year as Dans la Mer. Usandizaga the singer and writer of Zarzuelas is to the fore. The woodwind, both unison and solo, are a delight in an open Debussian way with unknowing pre-echoes of Finzi and some intense Tchaikovskian touches.
The four movement suite is about the same duration as the Fantasía . The first movement has a caressing theme which reminded me a little of Mozart and more often of Dvorák and a little of the acres of British light orchestral music produced during the first two decades of the century. The reflective Sarabande reminds me of the views looking down from the heights above San Sebastian into the high hills and mountain ranges which march back from the coast. The final Gigue is playfully adept light music suggesting nothing so much as a dance on a very British village green.
It is a pity that another Usandizaga piece could not have been added. There was space.
The orchestra is well directed and enthusiastic. Their string section could do with a deeper tone but is vivid. The sound quality, which is very upfront and bright is of the very best.
I look forward to the next instalments and hope that if Claves do not plan another Guridi volume they will give us an anthology of Basque symphonies which must, most urgently, include Guridi's Sinfonia Pirenaica.
While we are on the subject of nationalistic tendencies I hope Claves will record Josef Marx's lyrical and brightly imagined Herbstsymphonie and his Castelli Romana (piano and orchestra). I have not heard the symphony but know the piece for piano and orchestra.
The booklet is pleasingly designed in every aspect. The notes are supportive as they need to be with music of this obscurity. They are in Basque, Spanish, English, German, French.
Another recommended disc although the quality of the music is not up to the Guridi selection. Still very well worth having such piquantly nationalistic and enjoyable music.
ARNOLD BAX Symphony No 6 (1934) Tintagel (1920) Overture to Adventure (1937) Munich SO/Douglas Bostock ClassicO CLASSCD 254 63:08
Of the cordillera of Baxs seven symphonies the sixth is the undoubted peak. Including this one there have been only three commercial recordings: Norman Del Mars Lyrita from 1965 never transferred to CD and Bryden Thomsons. Del Mars still stunning account remains un-available and would be a strong contender despite its vintage and the oddly spot-lit recording. The Thomson on Chandos is a modern recording but is afflicted with a strange lassitude. Baxs symphonies tempt a certain Delian meandering but benefit from a strong forward pulse even in the most lyrical moments.
Bostock (a Thomson pupil) captures the spirit of fantasy and adventure so well in an account drenched in a potent blend of magic and violence. He does not allow proceedings to descend into an invertebrate dream but injects a sense of urgency and conflict and keeps things moving. He is clearly sensitive also to Baxs love affair with beauty just out of reach and suggests this in the sense of joy lost and a peaceful but enchanted resignation of the closing pages.
Tintagel is given the best performance I have heard bar only the original Eugene Goossens set of 78s from the 1920s. Bostock and his German orchestra are concentrated and passionate projecting a sea-spattered and urgently romantic canvas. This vies only with the early Decca Boult recording and is of course a much better recording than the Decca. Lastly we have a recording premiere in the brightly swashbuckling Overture to Adventure written for Dan Godfreys successor at Bournemouth, Richard Austin.
The orchestra is enthusiastic and accomplished lacking only the last ounce of sumptuous tone in the strings by comparison with Del Mars mid-sixties Philharmonia. The overture is in the spirit of many British overtures of the 1930s and 1940s having something in common with Moerans ENSA-commissioned Overture to a Masque.
Fine recording. Good notes though anonymous. A very strong cross-section and a recommended collection featuring the key masterwork in the Bax output. Confidently recommended.
and another point of view from David Wright
Bax is both an interesting and important composer. He may not be a great composer and his music does lack rhythmic invention and yet contains an equalled atmosphere. He has often been called the composer of 'music of Celtic twilight' whereas his music also inhabits the world of glowing sunlight. His orchestration often shows a delicate palette and yet he can produce moments of controlled pageantry.
The Symphony No 6, which dates from 1934, is a very likeable piece, although, possibly, a little overlong, and this performance is warmly recommended. It brings out clearly the shifting tonalities, the wonderful harmonies and the clear textures indicating that Bax was a fine orchestrator. His symphonies are rarely performed and so we are grateful that this loving account is available.
Bax often employed a worrying sense of form or structure. There is far more satisfaction in movements being complete and separate entities in themselves. In this symphony, the finalé consists of four elements - an introduction, a scherzo, a trio and an epilogue and, to my mind it does not work.
There is a quality to Bax's music which is easy to admire yet hard to define. It has a very human face, a warmth and tenderness that is devoid of sickliness. His use of the woodwind is exemplary.
Douglas Bostock understands this beautiful score and the playing he secures from the Munich Symphony Orchestra is admirable. The sound and balance is very good as well.
The performance of Tintagel serves to remind me of how similar this score is to Debussy's La Mer completed over a decade earlier. This performance is lacking in the drama and excitement that exists in both the Boult and Thomson versions but there is much orchestral detail to admire.
The Overture to an Adventure was performed early in 1937 and, among other things, includes an introspective melody for the strings which may qualify Bax to be a 'late romantic'. The music 'stops and starts' which is a weakness inherent in some composers and undermines any work's sense of continuity or momentum. This is more a tone poem in the Sibelius mode than an overture but in this genre, Bax is no Sibelius!
The disc should please many. The Del Mar reading of the Sixth Symphony is in many ways preferable and Tintagel is far more expressive elsewhere. But there is much to admire in this recording.
Visit the Arnold Bax web site
DEREK BELL · Variations and Musical Quotations Come on Northern Ireland, Come On for mezzo. chorus and orchestra (19) 14:04 · Divertissement Variations on a Tune kindly contributed by Dr Paddy Moloney (19) 15:28 · Toccata Burlesca for oboe and piano (1958) 3:44 · Symphony No 2 The Violet Flame, Comte de Saint Germain (1990) 30:33 BEINSA DOUNO 1864-1944 (8:36) · Izgyava slunteseto (arr Barnaby Brown) for flute and harp · Vehadi for tenor and harp · Kiamen Zenu (arr Derek Bell) for tenor and harp · Gospodi. kolko te obicham (arr Barnaby Brown) for solo harp Vratza Philharmonic Orchestra/Bulgarian National Philharmonic Choir cond Valeri Vatchev - various Bulgarian soloists Derek Bell appears as harpist in the Douno pieces and in the symphony and variations. He is the pianist in the Toccata. MINERVA Athene ATH CD14 73:52
Most of the music on the disc is by Derek Bell, playing for a total of 63:49 by comparison with Beinsa Dunsos 8:36. Bell is the harpist of the world-famous group The Chieftains. He is also a fine pianist, cimbalom and dulcimer player. He has three piano sonatas and two symphonies to his name along with much else. After hearing the second I am extremely interested in hearing the first and indeed his other works. The style he adopts is not difficult or overly modernistic.
The Variations and Musical Quotations (1985) are difficult to approach. Not that the music is at all challenging. It is a strange confection which I find unsatisfactory though you can applaud the exhortation to the positive forward-looking direction of Northern Ireland. The piece quotes extensively from Schumanns Symphony No. 4. The drums: bodhran and Lambeg representing the contrasting Irish cultures also feature. This is an occasional piece and this track is valuable as a memento of the occasion rather than something I personally would want to return to very often.
The cheeky, chummy and slightly boozy Divertissement (1977) sounds like a cross between Mozart, Dvorák and Malcolm Arnold. Good companionable occasional music. A work which any ensemble looking to ring the changes would do well to look out.
The Toccata Burlesca (1958) for oboe and piano is determinedly busy at first but from the first entry of the oboe the atmosphere changes to a plaintive serenade. Sometimes it suggested a French twentieth century romantic ballet. The overtones of Malcolm Arnold are also there again.
The symphony is a major edifice deploying large orchestra, organ, piano, mixed chorus and harp. It is in five sections. The first opens with a grim set to the jaw but at 1:05 relaxes into a serenade-like song. The notes indicate an inspiration linked deeply into Rosicrucian mysticism. However the French atmosphere is what predominates with hints of Dvorák again but with a dash of Boieldieu (Harp Concerto), Arnold, William Alwyn (Lyra Angelica) and Schubert. The second movement (Invocation of Pan) uses the solo harp very prominently and attractively. There is a sense of lofty emotions, joy and attainment in the choral finale but the music is not as striking as the avowed programme. This work is heavily programmed with grand themes which sound worthy of Scriabin at his most mystical and ambitious. The music would have benefited from the notes being less explicit. The listener would perhaps do well to hear the music without the possible distraction of the notes.
The final clutch of four little compositions by Douno are pleasing but have not struck me as more than that.
The booklet is in English only and contain full notes on the music and the people involved in this fascinating production.
The profits of sale are being donated by Athene to support and encourage children in Bulgaria.
There is much to enjoy here but the pleasures are low key. Nevertheless there is something about that symphony which intrigues me and I would very much like to hear more by Bell who is not afraid to write in an idiom which suits him rather than seeks after originality or the shock of yesterdays avant-garde.
Leonard BERNSTEIN - Reaching for the note - his life in music Compilation of excerpts DG 459-552-2 [155 mins]
This 2CD album of DG recordings made by Bernstein later in his career (he had previously recorded for RCA and CBS), supports the PBS-TV documentary, Leonard Bernstein - Reaching for the Note (it was screened on British TV over the Christmas period). It is also a very useful accompaniment to Paul Myers's book on the composer, published by Phaidon Press, recently reviewed on this site; and a valuable introduction, for young listeners to the art and music of Leonard Bernstein. It is a superb collection of Bernstein's work as conductor, composer and pianist.
The first CD opens with a passionate and thrilling reading of Schumann's "Manfred" Overture. This is the first time that this recording has appeared on CD. Next we have Bernstein's view of Aaron Copland's El Salon Mexico which crackles with life and vitality. Lenny then plays George Gershwin's blues-based Prelude for Piano No. 2. The remaining tracks are devoted to Leonard Bernstein's own compositions. There are two high-spirited songs from the 1993 live recording of On the Town, made by Bernstein's protégé, Michael Tilson Thomas: "New York, New York", and "Carried Away". (On the Town was filmed, brilliantly, in 1949, with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin with Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Anne Miller.) From Leonard Bernstein's only original film music for On the Waterfront, we hear the beautiful Love Theme which is followed by the exuberant Candide Overture and June Anderson showing incredible vocal agility in her aria Glitter and be Gay from that opera. From West Side Story (the 1985 recording with Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras), we have the Prologue, "Tonight", "America", and "Somewhere." The CD closes with "more difficult" Leonard Bernstein: The Prologue from his Symphony No. 2 "The Age of Anxiety"; and the Postlude to Act I of A Quiet Place.
CD2 opens with Kaddish 2 from Leonard Bernstein's moving Symphony No 3 "Kaddish", for orchestra, mixed chorus, boy's choir, speaker and soprano. The equally engaging and colourfully-dramatic, advanced rhythms of Psalm 23 from the Chichester Psalms follows for mixed choir, boy soloist and orchestra. We now turn to Leonard Bernstein as conductor of his beloved Mahler: first, the enchanting "Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht" from Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with Thomas Hampson and the Wiener Philharmoniker, then a live recording with Barbara Hendricks and Christa Ludwig with the New York Philharmonic in two glorious excerpts from Mahler's Symphony No 2 in C minor "Resurrection"; and, finally, the famous Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony No 5 in C sharp minor. In contrast, we next hear the more strident and primitive dance rhythms from Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Three works by Leonard Bernstein follow: "To What You Said..." from his Songfest - a cycle of American Poems for six singers and orchestra; "A Simple Song" from the Mass sung by Cheryl Studer with the London Symphony Orchestra; and the Waltz from Bernstein's Divertimento for Orchestra. The programme ends with excerpts from two works by Beethoven: the Allegretto from Symphony No.7 in A major; and the final chorus - "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Choral Symphony No 9 in D minor, associated in everybody's hearts and minds with the tearing-down of the Berlin Wall.
Needless to say all these performances are dazzling and all are recorded in superb sound.
HAVERGAL BRIAN (1876-1972) The Complete Piano Music Raymond Clarke (piano) Esther King (mezzo) Tessa Spong (speaker) Recorded at Potton Hall, Dunwich 19-20 June 1997 Minerva Athene ATH CD12 recording sponsored by the Havergal Brian Society 76:34
Let me declare my interest from the outset. I am a member of the Havergal Brian Society and have been a far from indiscriminate supporter of Brians music since I first encountered the sixth symphony in 1975.
This is not the first commercial recording of Havergal Brians piano music. In 1982 (just before the dawn of the compact disc) the Northern British music shop Gough and Davey (Hull) issued an LP comprising the major pieces featured here. However that LP is long gone and although Peter Hills performances were remarkable and the recording was an early digital effort, my impression (and it is some years since I heard the Hill LP) is that Clarkes concentration, patterned intellect and passion sweep the day. If you wish to sample a single track to get a feeling for the music try No. 7 (Prelude and Fugue in C minor).
Anyone who enjoys say the music of Medtner, Sorabji, Foulds, Szymanowski or Reger owes it to themselves to get this disc. It is not that Brian sounds entirely like any of these composers but there are aspects of each of their styles in Brians piano works.
Havergal Brian is known for writing the massive Gothic Symphony which can now be heard in a Marco Polo recording. In addition there are 31 other symphonies as well as a generous clutch of operas (The Cenci was premiered in 1997), concertos for violin and cello (one each), miscellaneous orchestral pieces and the lost giant masterwork Prometheus Unbound (soli, chorus and orchestra) for which only a vocal score exists. If anyone knows where the full score is please contact me. People perhaps may be surprised to be confronted with a whole disc of Brians piano music.
The Prelude - John Dowlands Fancy was suggested to Brian by Granville Bantock who himself had written an antique English Suite which has been recorded alongside The Bantock Hebridean Symphony (Marco Polo). This one is a tart and serious confection sounding quite distinctive but recalling similar exercises by Grainger and Warlock.
The Double Fugue in E flat opens in a torrential fugue in which Clarke maintains crystalline clarity without compromising cascading power. This Regerian piece resolves, most surprisingly, into the quietest raindrop impressionism without ever abandoning the heights-scaling nature of the fugue. A dark lightning strike of a figure closes the work in a violent confidence.
The Four Miniatures are elfin, strange, moonlit Pierrot sketches. There is nothing of the knockabout here. The second piece is quite substantial. It sounds fugal but its seriousness is interspersed with little stamping sections. The other pieces indicate a Sorabjian impressionism and the final offering, gamely gambolling and awkwardly hopping, suggests Deliuss Beggars of Baghdad (Hassan).
Prelude and Fugue in C minor has a nobly galloping and rolling theme of romantic long-limbed power. It reminded me of the piano music of Danish composer Rued Langgaard and of the Cello Sonata of John Foulds. The work achieves a striking grandeur which decays into quiet resignation and pellucid clarity
The three songs are sung by Esther King (mezzo). They are: The Land of Dreams; The Birds; The Defiled Sanctuary. The Land of Dreams is in Cyril Scott and Frank Bridge territory. All three are sung with nice clarity and a slightly dissonant tartness. They often seem to inhabit the same Pierrot world as the Four Miniatures. I also thought of the less securely tonal songs of Lambert (Li Tai Po), Warlock and Bernard Van Dieren. The Defiled Sanctuary is a tough song which ultimately I did not find attractive but I was left with a strong sense of awe in the presence of its sheer power.
Prelude and Fugue in D minor/major has a Bachian purity and continuous flow undisturbed by tempo changes. There is a touch of Gerald Finzis Grand Fantasia and Fugue. The swing of the sea is heard at 1:30: a grand swell and the crash and backwash of the waves against the cliffs. All the time you are conscious of great discipline, a great steady striding tread and of starry nights.
The slightly dotty and humorous Three Illuminations are sung in two versions. Version 1 - piano and speaker; Version 2: piano solo. This seems to belong in the world of the music hall and concert party where during the 1890s to 1930s recitations with music were very popular. Joseph Holbrooke (Brians lifelong friend) was inspired to write a whole sequence of tone poems and related works by hearing a recitation of a poem by Edgar Alan Poe set to music by Stanley Hawley. Brians works and the words of the accompanying are out of the same loony stable as his satirical opera
Bournemouth born pianist Raymond Clarke contributed the valuable notes. The only black mark in that direction is that no texts are provided. There is a good photo of Brian inside with a face which speaks of intellect and humanity. The CD cover features a detail from John Goldblatts much used photo of the elderly Brian.
As a sequel to his recording on Hyperion of the complete solo piano music by Robert Simpson, Clarke will soon record Simpsons piano concerto with Vernon Handley conducting. This will compete with the IMP/Carlton/BBC Recording (now deleted) of John Ogdons concert performance. The Simpson piano concerto was performed by Piers Lane at the Proms in 1998.
Clarke is by no means a specialist in the off-beat and neglected. He has performed the complete sonatas of Mozart, Beethoven, Prokofiev and Schubert. His active repertoire includes all four Tippett sonatas and the three by Boulez alongside the solo piano music of Shostakovich and Copland. His Minerva Athene CD of the piano sonatas of William Mathias and John Pickard is also reviewed at this site.
The Havergal Brian Society can be contacted at 5 Eastbury Road, Watford WD1 4PT, UK. They publish Brians complete piano music in a single volume at a cost of £11 post free anywhere in the world. The e- mail address is available from me.
This is very impressive music with a power, poetry and swing which should guarantee it a great deal of attention. The music is warmly rewarding to the attentive listener. Congratulations to Athene for securing the recording.
ELEGY - 20th CENTURY BRITISH GUITAR MUSIC. JONATHAN RICHARDS Divine Art 25008
Richards. Mini-Preludes. No.1 - 5. Interludes. No.1 - 2. Primitive Rites. Nocturnes. No.1 - 2.
Tommis. Mel Wefus. (Prelude No.5)
Williamson. Mosaics. No.1. (Lament) No.2. (Breathless) No.3. (Mockery)
Biberian. Haiku. No.1.& No.6.
Harrison. Nova Antiqua. The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships
Croucher. Six Preludes. The Little Boat. Elegy.
A complete disc of 20th century guitar music is a very ambitious programme and British 20th century guitar music unusual fare indeed. Although the inlay notes state that Jonathan Richards has recorded before, his name is unfamiliar to me, as are five of the composers represented here . Tavener, Rawsthorne and Biberian are familiar, the latter two through their guitar compositions and, although Tavener has become very popular recently, this is his first venture into writing for the guitar.
For the most part, Jonathan Richards,comes across as a precise, sensitive player being selective in the use of his tonal pallete, a wise move given the short duration of some of the pieces. His overall tone is good (if at times a little thin on the first string) and seems to be in control as long as he doesn't force the sound too much as he does in his Nocturne No. 2 and Primitive Rites where the tone becomes a little 'naily'. His forté is definitely the more lyrical moments.
With the exception of Tavener and Rawsthorne the programme mainly consists of groups of small pieces, some lasting only a few seconds. Jonathan Richards' own compositions, although interesting, are the least effective and I feel would have worked better if they had been interspersed throughout the programme rather than grouped together at the opening of the disc. However, with Collin Tommis' Mel Wefus we seem to enter a different musical landscape and Richards seems to be more at home with this piece (even more so than with his own compositions), treating us to some lovely growling bass at the opening. It is a pity that more of this composer is not included here; his is a name I will look out for.
Mosaics by John Williamson held less appeal (does a piece lasting only 45 seconds require a subtitle after to indicate it's meaning)? Gilbert Biberian's Haiku Nos, 1 and 6 (and why not include Nos, 2-5?) shows an accomplished guitar composer at his best, totally in control of the medium and, here, inspired by Japanese poetry. The two Timothy Harrison pieces, Nova Antiqua and The Face that launched a Thousand Ships, does conjure up the past, Nova Antiqua certainly retaining an early music feel regardless of the liberal use of subtle modern harmonies. Chant by John Tavener is, at just over 11 minutes, the longest of the programme and gives a feeling of spaciousness that Richards' playing intensifies by focusing the attention and drawing one into the music; for me a high point of this disc.
The Six Preludes of Terence Croucher (the longest only 57 seconds) I liked very much, the last giving a nod of recognition to Villa-Lobos. The Little Boat does evoke images of the title and Elegy, a much weightier piece, shows us that there could be more strong compositions from this composer. The closing work, Elegy by Alan Rawsthorne, was the only piece familiar to me. The dedicatee, Julian Bream, recorded it in 1973 and such a strong personality as Bream's cannot be ignored so comparisons are inevitable, Jonathan Richards takes over a minute longer (9 minutes 9 seconds as opposed to Breams 7 minutes 45 seconds) but maintains the intensity of this powerful work most successfully.
A very enjoyable disc that will definitely be worth revisiting; the guitarist conveys his own personality, the overall quality of the recording is good and on the whole the material presented is a breath of fresh air.
and another view from Andrew Seivewright
Any CD supported by the Rawsthorne Trust must surely be of general interest to viwers of this site; they will certainly find reward in this fine guitar collection, which concludes with Alan Rawsthornes last opus, the Elegy, commissioned and completed by Julian Bream. An appropriately sombre and disturbing work, this piece suggested to me Dylan Thomass celebrated couplet:
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
A work to repay repeated hearings.
A shorter Elegy by Terence Croucher precedes the Rawsthorne, the last of a series of eight pieces by this composer. Six Preludes briefly explore a variety of musical ideas: the final item is a real winner, as also is the enchanting The Little Boat.
The first ten tracks feature Richardss own compositions: five MiniPreludes, two Interludes, a piece called Primitive Rites, and two Nocturnes. Colouristic contrast, and an impressive array of well-executed effects characterise this attractive sequence. Two of the Preludes find transatlantic inspiration both north and south of the Border and are delightfully easy on the ear. But Stravinskyan dynamism is also present here, in a recording that throughout catches every tonal nuance of the instrument.
Colin Tommis, the prolific J.R. Williamson, Gilbert Biberian and Timothy Harrison are other composers featured in this showcase of British talent: all have something to offer.
Lastly, a big name, John Tavener whose 11-minute Chant is designed to conjure up his beloved Greek landscape. Daringly economical in texture, it is perhaps not vintage Tavener, but is certainly atmospheric and evocative.
On all counts - content, recording and performance - this 65-minute CD is highly recommended.
MANUEL DE FALLA (1876-1946) Atlantida - a scenic cantata in a prologue and three parts (1927-1946).(completed byErnesto Halffter in 1960)Performers detailed below recorded Oct 1992, Valencia AUVIDIS VALOIS V4685 82:48 CD1 35:45 CD2 47:03
Coral Universitat de less Illes Balears
Coro Polifonico Universitario de la Laguna
Orfeon Navarra Reverter
Orfeon Universitario Simon Bolivar
Pequenos Cantores de Valencia
Joven Orquesta Nacional de España/Edmon Colomer
In common with Elgar's Third Symphony, Scriabin's Universe Symphony and Borodin's Third Symphony, Manuel de Falla's Atlantida (or Atlantis) is a work completed by someone else. All these works were left incomplete on the composer's death. All required substantial work to bring them to a performable state.
The compulsion to 'complete' Atlantida was made all the stronger because it was a work on which the composer had been labouring for the last twenty years of his life. Half of that time was spent in Civil War-torn Spain and the other half in exile from Franco's fascist regime in Argentina in his unmarried sister's house in Alta Gracia.
'Atlantis', as Atlantida is translated in the 80 page booklet, is a musical tapestry, part cantata and part oratorio. It is based on the poem by Jacint Verdaguer and was to be illustrated with painted decorations by Josep Ma Cert. Although performed in one of the world's great operatic houses (La Scala, Milan, 1962, cond by Thomas Schippers and at the Berlin Opera, 1962, Eugen Jochum and in 1963 at Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires) it was not intended as an opera.
At the time of de Falla's death only 20 minutes of fully viable full score existed. The rest comprised sections which were musically complete (without instrumentation) and, by far the largest proportion, wisps of ideas, outlines, sketches and fragments. Clearly Halffter had a great deal of work to do. He was equipped to do this through being a pupil of de Falla. Accounts by Ansermet (who directed performances in the USA and Switzerland), Igor Markevich and others suggest that the end result is successful.
The work is dedicated to the cities in which de Falla enjoyed his greatest contentments and successes: Barcelona, Granada, Sevilla and Cadiz.
The orchestral prologue might be subtitled 'centuries in the chasm'. The massed choruses soon enter with a great shout. The gloom parts and the choirs present a balmy bright theme with some exaltation. The choir sing of the marvels of Atlantis and of its destruction. Then follows a brief Spanish Hymn  sung with fierce devotion by the choir.
The justly renowned Simon Estes (whose Spanish pronunciation is not perfect), in firm and basalt voice, matches the fiery fervour of the choir in the vision of the Pyrenees in fire and volcanic confusion . A great dance of Holstian abandonment rends the heavens.
Teresa Berganza's Song of the Pyrenees is sung delightfully and with hardly a trace of squall or vibrato. She also acts the words - listen to the way she colours the word 'Expiro' [track 4 4:01]. The spirit of choral high achievement and lofty ideals returns for the ringingly confident and expansive Hymn to Barcelona  This hymn brings Part 1 to an end.
The great fiesta drums last heard in The Three Cornered Hat inaugurate Part 2 . The following choral writing in the Hymn of the Hesperides reminded me very strongly of Holst's Choral Symphony. Falla returns to playfulness in track 2 as well as reaching towards a Delian idiom.
In its impassoned devotion the singing on track 6 inevitably recalled the Veruju from Janacek's Glagolytic Mass. The variety of the tapestry is confirmed again by the reversion to archaic courtly dance music . Maria Bayo's young-sounding voice has spring morning clarity emphasised by the duet  with boy soprano and the resonant harp accompaniment. The Caravels is a brief bustling sea-picture which has a bluff quality recalling similar moments in Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony. The work ends  with the choir singing in an atmosphere of recessed and fervent prayer
In the face of this fresh and vernal recording, the mid-price EMI Matrix reissue of the 1976 EMI recording by Raphael Fruhbeck de Burgos does not offer great competition. This is certainly the recording of choice. You need have no reservations about the youth orchestra. Documentation is excellent.
Zdenek FIBICH (1850-1900) The complete symphonies Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi CHANDOS CHAN 9682 (2 CD) [105:33]
Fibich is the lesser known of the nationalist Czech composers writing in the latter part of the 19th Century yet his music is as colourful, melodic and passionate as any works by his compatriots Dvorák and Smetana. It is full of joie-de -vivre. Fibich was a generation younger than Smetana and nine years younger than Dvorák. His music is neither firmly Germanic or overtly nationalistic Czech, but it embraces both influences in equal measure.
Composition of the First Symphony in F Major commenced while the composer was still at Leipzig Conservatory in 1877 but it was not performed until 1883. The work is genial and brims with sparkling melodies. One quickly notices that Fibich prefers to write faster music and Maestro Järvi propels the music strongly forward. The first movement is considerable, lasting some 15 minutes. Another Fibich device that one soon notices is his predilection for sequences (favoured also by Elgar - and in places, in these symphonies, Fibich's music does sound very Elgarian). The music is also very well constructed and balanced so that one's ears are captivated by the sheer elegance of its ebb and flow. There is a fresh out-of-doors feel about it too - one can imagine Alpine pastures (the CD booklet cover illustration is therefore apt) and village celebrations with folk dancing. The fast and furious second movement continues this celebration with lively folk music spiced with quasi-fugal elements. The third Adagio movement begins as though it is a dignified and refined minuet before there are darker musings in the lower strings with self-important commentary by the brass. This is a more deeply felt movement, contrapuntally rich with impressive writing for divided strings and passionate climaxes. The finale returns to faster material but more moods are explored. The music is strong, confident, assertive; and there is more of a feeling of national pride. Some of the material echoes folk melodies used by Smetana and Dvorák.
Fibich's Second and Third Symphonies are amongst his finest works and both were written at the time of his affair with one of his pupils - the talented but headstrong Anezka Schulzová, and the music seems to celebrate the union. Earlier, Fibich's first wife had died and he married one of her sister's only to abandon her and his children in favour of Schulzová. From 1892 to 1899 he kept a musical diary charting his affair in the form of piano Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences (a selection of which is available on CHANDOS 9381). Melodies from this huge collection informed much of the music of Fibich's last years. Some of these melodies are heard in the Symphony No 2 in E flat major which begins in a grand sweeping, almost Brucknerian manner before the music swells passionately and becomes rather more Brahmsian. Gentler music follows which is juxtapositioned with more relentless cantering figures that suggest a hunting scene - Fibich pursuing his ideal? The prevailing mood is of elation and good humour. The early part of the Adagio is very beautiful - reminiscent of both Brahms and, very strongly, of Elgar with particularly appealing mid-lower string writing. The central section of the movement returns to folk material - contrasting the hesitant with the emphatic; darker material adding a wider perspective. Trumpets herald the Scherzo and & Trio: Presto movement - another light-hearted, high spirited piece pausing midway for a more introspective slow dance but in the main it just bounces and bubbles along. The finale opens vigorously with a very infectious melody, and it dances along but pauses to include slower, more graceful, feminine material and ardent, yearningly romantic themes along the way. Heart-on-sleeve music devotees will wallow in this symphony.
The Symphony No 3 in E minor is written from the heart too but instead of treating it as a thematically unified cycle, Fibich progresses from minor to major - from (relative) darkness to light. Indeed the music, this time, has a Mahlerian feel about it. It begins mysteriously and a little menacingly but it is impossible to repress Fibich for long and the music soon bubbles along. Happier, swiftly paced, dotted rhythms usher in more lyrical and warmly romantic material yet small clouds persist in the background. Larger, grander, more nationalistic issues are also covered. The second Allegro movement has another stately opening and a dialogue between dictatorial strings and pleading woodwinds ensues. There is the beginnings of what one feels would have been a glorious Brahmsian heart-felt theme which is left frustratingly undeveloped. Again Elgar's nobilmente writing comes to mind in this lovely movement. Once more, I was taken with the wonderfully balanced polytonal writing and beautifully symmetrical structure. The Scherzo & Trio: Vivo e grazioso third movement is an untroubled and sunny Mendelssohnian dance with some interesting effects. The finale returns to the mood of the first movement with another dark, eerie, brooding opening but again Fibich soon asserts more optimistic and heroic material. There are surging romantic melodies aplenty and this marvellous cycle of symphonies ends in glorious affirmation.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra give virtuoso readings of all three symphonies which are recorded in Chandos's best sound.
JANIS IVANOVS Baltic Violin Concertos: by Ivanovs, Sibelius and Sallinen Valdis Zarins/Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Vassily Sinaisky Campion Cameo - Cameo CD 2004
Symphonies 2 and 3 Latvian National SO/Dmitry Yablonsky Marco Polo 8.223331
Symphonies 5 and 12 Latvian National SO/Dmitry Yablonsky Marco Polo 8.223332
JANIS IVANOVS - A COMPOSER WORTH EXPLORING
A REVIEW OF THREE COMPACT DISCS
IVANOVS - WHO IS HE?
Latvian composer. Born 1906 East Latvia. Died Riga 1983. Doyen of Latvian serious music. Style: tuneful and approachable. Usually not bland. Discursive style - at least in works I have heard. Output includes 21 symphonies, concertos for piano, violin, cello, string quartets and piano music. Music much taken up with dreaminess, melancholia and foreboding. Echoes of Sibelius, Bax, Vaughan Williams, Miaskovsky.
IVANOVS Violin Concerto (1951)
This romantic virtuoso concerto is written in language everyone will recognise. This is declared from the very opening bars. There is an occasional Miaskovskian darkness about it but a brilliant light as well. The Tchaikovsky concerto may have been a pattern as also may be the Glazunov. In any event the impact of this music is immediate and winning. The first movement drives forward with a busy moto perpetuo figure with a Sibelian accent. The soloist is adept at colouring and dynamic and he has a wide expressive palette which is used to great effect. The joyous main quicksilver melody in the first movement is hummable. The reflective bit with solo violin occasionally drifts into Rimsky-Korsakovs Sheherazade .. and none the worse for that. I defy you not to smile as the solo violin takes to flight again at 11.00.
The second movement opens with the strings gently intoning its main theme - the gem of the whole work. The solo violinist gently unwinds the theme in front of us and develops it. Falteringly and then with greater confidence the music is changed passing through country dance style variations but without a moment of tweeness. The music is played with great concentration and an attractive inward quality. Waking at 4:40 into further more active country interludes - it is dance that is invoked without preciousness but with open-hearted and unselfconscious joy. The Russian style horns at 6:01 are wonderfully apt here. The movement ends with the violin high in the stratosphere.
The final movement open busily and sounds momentarily like the start of Rachmaninovs Symphony No. 1. The violin is soon in full flight. Again Tchaikovsky comes briefly to mind from time to time. If this movement lacks the substance of the other two it is exciting and has its glowing romantic moments.
If you have enjoyed the Sibelius, Tchaikovsky or Glazunov violin concertos and you have an open mind then you will like this piece. This work inhabits the richly romantic world of the neglected violin concerto. If you have enjoyed the violin concertos by Bax, Moeran, Walton, Barber, Miaskovsky (a brother to the Ivanovs Concerto), De Boeck, Manuel Ponce, Othmar Schoeck and Menotti. The language of this work may be old fashioned but the message is compelling.
The sound quality is rich without a hint of shrillness. The fireworks are impressive but the poetry is what burns the work into the memory. Above all it is that slow movement which will draw you back to play the disc again and again. I can imagine some classical radio station hosts being tempted to play that movement by itself. I hope they do anything to get this work a wider hearing. Most people encountering this concerto for the first time will wonder where on earth to go from here. After all Ivanovs has written rather a lot. However the point is that they will want to explore Ivanovs. I have heard a tape of the old Melodiya LP recording (C-01475-6) of the concerto with the Latvian RSO conducted by Edgars Tons and the soloist Juris Shvolkovskis. This is a game recording and performance but is no match in sound quality for the Campion CD.
The couplings are rewarding. I first came to hear Aulis Sallinen through his impressive First and Third Symphonies. The short (17 minute) Sallinen Violin Concerto (rec 1991) may take more sustained and repeated listening than the Ivanovs but it is an approachable piece in a slightly oblique language. The violinist is fully occupied but the score is rich with myriad orchestral details and highlights. Sometimes this leaves the impression of a rather fragmented piece. The textures and incidents have plenty of action for the percussion and the violence occasionally infects the violin part and once or twice I thought about the William Schuman Violin Concerto. The work has, I believe, also been recorded on a BIS CD although I have not heard that performance. This is an early work in Sallinens history - it dates from 1968.
The Sibelius Violin Concerto (rec 1989) is a respectable bright-eyed performance with much dreamy tenderness on show as well as the customary glittering storms of the solo part. Valdis Zarins and Vassily Sinaisky will not banish memories of the David Oistrakh/Rozhdestvensky disc but anyone coming to know the concerto through this recording is unlikely to be disappointed.
However it is the Ivanovs Concerto which makes this CD special. The rest is a bonus. Our thanks then to Campion, the artists and to Latvijas Radio.
IVANOVS SYMPHONIES 2, 3, 5 and 12
Here on 2 CDs is a sample (leaning towards the 1930s and 40s) of Ivanovs symphonic output. It is perhaps part of a continuing series - it would be nice to know, Marco Polo, so please tell us.
Quite apart from undoubted musical merits the first CD is very valuable for Ivanovs completists. Symphonies 2 and 3 were sadly absent from the otherwise almost complete run of Ivanovs symphonies which were issued on Melodiya LPs in the 60s and 70s. A gap is well and truly filled.
Symphony 2 (1937) announces itself out of the gloom with an urgent forward-moving theme rather like Scriabin in his first symphony. This then shifts into one of those beautiful, long-limbed, subtle, Slavonic tunes that is to recur throughout the movement - a fine inspiration. Upwardly aspiring Russian trumpets cry out to the heavens. The central calm adagio is the longest movement and deploys an epic yearning theme which rises out of the depths on the brass in a number of climactic moments. The theme sounds uncannily like the sort which Constant Lambert wrote for Music for Orchestra and Summers Last Will and Testament but this is a passing impression. The final andante starts with an imposing although slightly vacuous theme on the brass. The performance could perhaps do with a bit more snap and electricity. The last movement is not the equal of the others. The symphony ends with some characteristic Sibelian crashes but not before we hear music which often reminds me of another acolyte of Sibelius - Granville Bantock! There is certainly a Tchaikovskian atmosphere in this symphony but this is more often the Tchaikovsky of the four suites than of the seven symphonies. Altogether a very attractive symphony to put alongside the symphonies by Balakirev, Miaskovsky, Borodin and Scriabin although the last movement is a disappointment.
Symphony 3 (1938) - Again Tchaikovskys shadow is present in this four movement work as is Prokofievs. The horns have that trademark liquid Russian quality and it is used to good effect. There is gentle charm here which reminds me of Rachmaninovs Symphonic Dances. The carolling dialogue between strings and horns at 8:30 is quite magical. The Andante has a gem of a melody which veers towards Rimsky and the Tchaikovsky Manfred symphony. Well worth hearing. Good andantes seem to be an Ivanovs speciality. The Allegro 3rd movement is a brief, colourful Tarantella including skirling piccolo and a Baxian tuba - a gem even if the composer almost catches himself quoting The Firebird at one point. The final moderato again leans on Rimskian sounds. There are also touches of Rachmaninov (third piano concerto). Once again however Ivanovs has difficulty locating a completely convincing ending
Symphony No. 5 (1945) - The symphony opens with a movement which sounds a little like George Lloyd in reflective mood. The second shows the influence of Shostakovich. It soon pitches into a boozy dance. A contemplative interlude momentarily glances in the direction of Vaughan Williams. The third movement is full of energy. The incantatory trumpet passage at 2:39 is notably attractive. A tentative Prokofievian waltz launches out and we find ourselves in some haunted ballroom. A fine adagio unwinds in the manner of Spartacus. The last movement has a big yearning tune alternating with jerky rhythmic passages. The final movement seems rather fragmented.
Symphony No 12 Sinfonia Energica (late 1960s) - This is in a different idiom - dissonant though still basically lyrical. Textures are busy and there is much clashing. The second movement features intense work for the strings. The third movement has a fine flowing feel to it. The finale lapses into all-purpose dissonance. The style is rather monumental with great cliffs of sound jutting high into the air. Comparing 5 and 12 with their previous Melodiya recordings by different artists I had the impression that the Yampolsky performances would have benefited from more intensity.
The recording on these Marco Polos is clear but perhaps a little under-stated - a natural sound.
I do not know what Marco Polo intend but Campion are planning to release a series of Ivanovs orchestral works. They have access to Latvian radio tapes. Their next release is already out. It features his 1941 Symphony No. 4 Atlantida (yes, thats right, the same title as the de Falla cantata) for chorus and orchestra. However dont expect a full-blown choral symphony. The contribution of the chorus (which I have heard in this work previously on the old Melodiya recording D-025011-2) is pretty brief. The role they play is largely as a subtle additional musical instrument. This is from time to time quite an impressionistic score - well worth exploring. On the same disc is the symphonic poem Rainbow. The performances in this series are conducted by Sinaisky who in the early 1990s gave us a fine set of Russian CDs of the Sibelius tone poems. I have been trying to find that set ever since. Anyway it seems that Campion will keep us well plied with Ivanovs over the next few years. Perhaps between Campion and Marco Polo we will get a complete set.
Campion have confirmed that future release will include the lost first symphony!
Summary: Get the Ivanovs Violin Concerto as a priority. Symphonies 2/3 on Marco Polo recommended. Symphonies 5 and 12 for Ivanovs completists! Keep your eyes peeled for future Campions.
GORDON JACOB (1895-1984) Symphony No 2 in C major (1944/45) 31'22" A Little Symphony (1957) 20'11" A Festival Overture (1963) 6'49" Munich Symphony Orchestra/Douglas Bostock. ClassicO CLASSCD 204 [58:22]
This CD declares itself as volume 1 of The British Symphonic Collection. It also arrives on the scene out of the blue. Usually you get to hear in advance about something as rare as this. There is also the implicit promise of something declaring itself as Volume 1. I discovered its existence when I happened to browse through Records Internationals on-line catalogues.
Gordon Jacob wrote a great deal of music in all media except opera. His wind band and brass band music was and remains very popular. He was a classic journeyman composer writing to commission and to inspiration as necessary. Strangely he developed a somewhat monochrome image amongst the British music establishment. He was a reliable but low key producer of satisfying music. People forgot works of the calibre of the Second Symphony and who knows what else remains to be heard.
The disc comprises a set of recording premières. I knew the second symphony from an off-air tape (CBCSO/Eric Wild) and the Little Symphony from a dim and distant tape of a performance (possibly the première) by BBC Scottish conducted by the very young Colin Davis. I had never heard the Festival Overture in any form.
The symphony is one of Jacobs war symphonies (there are only two) although the first movement gives the impression of being busy and vigorous rather than racked with the extremes of turmoil and conflict. This is a more restrained statement than (for example) Arthur Benjamins or Hubert Cliffords 1940s symphonies. The first symphony, which I suspect is also worth a recording, dates from the early 1920s and is dedicated to his brother Anstey who was killed in the Great War. Both symphonies (there is no third - at least not numbered as such - though there are at least two sinfoniettas, a symphony for strings and a sinfonia brevis) are therefore prompted by the two world wars which racked this pre-Millennial century.
The second movement adagio has a slow-moving, Bach-like majesty - grieving and high-minded, entering at times into a modernised Elgarian grandeur. Deeply moving and well-worth getting to know. The third movement scherzo skitters and glitters, occasionally exploding in Beethovenian grandeur. Some of this exuberance reminds me of Walton in his mock medieval moments in the Henry V film music. A grand sauntering long melody unwinds at 2:30 in track 3 and there are engaging exchanges between violins and woodwind. There is a dignified sadness about all this music which, by the way, also sounds extremely well orchestrated with every strand coming through a transparent web of sound. The string writing occasionally boils in that peculiarly intense lyricism which I associate with Gerald Finzi. The symphony ends in a dramatically heavy display and with thunderous hammer blows.
The Little Symphony is only little in the sense than it runs just over 20 minutes. It was premiered in Berlin in 1957 conducted by Leo Blech. Vaughan Williams string-writing in all its yearning is recalled at 1:11 but this is mixed with passages which might have been written by the Sibelius of the Fourth Symphony. The second movement is lithe and athletic with a touch of Malcolm Arnolds chirping flutes. The adagio is densely and sombrely written for strings with interjections by the winds. The last movement return to a vigorous muscular allegro (essentially light-hearted) seeming to step from the same world as the Wiren Serenade for Strings. Heart-easing and sincere music, beautifully constructed.
A Festival Overture is another cracking British concert overture which would be happy in any anthology. In fact a dedicated record company could easily assemble a whole CD of Jacob overtures of this type. It is interesting to recall that this overture was premièred at the Proms (London) conducted by the composer in an atmosphere already chilling towards this type of music. Someone has claimed that the overture sounds like Malcolm Arnold. I dont see it. There is certainly a touch or two of E J Moeran and perhaps Reizenstein in this but Arnold would have been even more over the top and raucous.
The Munich Orchestra and Douglas Bostock seem greatly at ease in the idiom and are never less than convincing.
Apparently Lyrita (always glacially slow at releasing their material) have already recorded one of the two symphonies and plan in due course to issue a CD containing both works.
The programme notes (German and English) are written by Eric Wetherell whose Thames book on Jacob is THE reference on this enigmatically ignored and exposed composer.
The playing time of just short of an hour is shortish measure but forgivable given the rarity and quality of the music.
Very warmly recommended.
ANDRZEJ KORZYNSKI Music to the films of Andrzej Wajda (1969-81) OST orchestras conducted by composer OLYMPIA OCD601 [77:28]
So much attention is focused on Hollywood's film music that we can easily forget the work of composers elsewhere. This is particularly true of the Eastern Bloc countries as they used to be known. Cultural and political barriers exacerbated the ignorance of these films and music although they travelled more freely from the early 1970s onwards and were increasingly seen in art-house cinemas and found their metièr on Channel 4 and BBC2.
As for Wajda's films I can in fairness recall seeing his grim war-time epics such as Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds in afternoon matinees on BBC during the 1960s. These were and remain granitically dark impressive films. They are lodged deeply in my consciousness. I was not greatly aware of the music and am not all clear as to who the composer(s) was although I seem to remember the name of the conductor Jan Krenz. I hope one day to hear the music for this series in a CD reissue and to review it here. Can anyone advise me of a source and catalogue numbers?
Man of Iron (1981 - 9 tracks - 26:58). The first two tracks are affecting string serenades on a single very strong theme. They occasionally veer towards Mantovani schmaltz but nothing seriously worrying. Track 3 is a horror with the theme taken by a Hammond organ and with a dreadfully seventies pop beat in the background. The fourth and fifth tracks are more restrained: like some grand pavane for strings. Tracks 6 and 7 have space age synthesised warblings mixed with 1970s USA TV music. All very dated and feeble now. The Funeral Music  returns to the strings for a sombrely meandering November-morning essay. The last track for the film is a starkly guitar accompanied song. It sounds like a bitterly spat-out folk-song - all hoarsely shouted.
Man of Marble (1977 - 8 tracks - 25:00). If the music for Man of Iron suffers from a dated trendiness then Man of Marble has it in spades. Electric guitars, processed choral singing, tinkling percussion and bongos dominate tracks 10-14. Track 15 (In the Shipyard) deploys a string orchestra in a sleepy evocative essay but even then the composer cannot resist a few burbles from the Hammond Organ and a 'get-on-down' guitar contribution. The Katowice Ironworks track sounds like a cross between Procul Harum, the Swingle Singers and the music for British Television's Countdown. The final track The Striptease has a breathy processed female breathing as an ostinato and over it a jazzy harmonica contribution. This is commercially appalling stuff.
The Birchwood (1970 - 3 tracks - 7:35) is a uplifting contrast to Man of Marble. A scorching violin solo (a sort of Lark Descending) against close-up strings and woodwind sings affectingly. A harpsichord adds to the atmosphere of this exotic aubade. This music might have come from some dream of Sheherazade. I am impressed with the quality of sound extracted by Olympia. The music resonates with that of Alan Hovhaness and Korzynski's countryman Szymanowski.
Hunting Flies (1969 - 7 tracks - 17:48) is dated. Imagine a cross between Swingle Singers cool, bossa nova, The Shadow of Your Smile, Claude Lelouch's Un Homme et Une Femme and you have the picture. Track 22 is dated pop. Track 23 is like the chase music from a Benny Hill TV show with an insufferable then hilarious Hammond organ. Track 24 again deploys a prominent and prominently awful Hammond. A Country Landscape  and The Wonderful House  takes us back to the attractive, palely Eastern and natural music of The Birchwood. The last track Trying to Catch a Fly is a deliberately reversed orchestral track (pity I cannot find a way of re-reversing it) which in its twitterings and swoopings ends the disc in the surreal.
Olympia's valiant series merits closest attention. There is great variety on this disc. Korzynski can clearly write music of striking mood magic as well as music of appalling date-stamped trendiness. There is too little of the former here. This is a well-filled disc which includes some extremely fine concert music (tracks 1, 2, 18-20, 25) as well as much that does not bear a second listen. It would be a great pity for you to miss the music on the listed tracks. It is amongst the most original and attractive I have heard in a long time.
The disc was issued as long ago as 1993 and received little critical attention at the time. I hope that you will try to track it down and explore its strengths as well as discovering some of its awesomely awful weaknesses. The notes are typically (for Olympia) excellent.
The low star rating reflects the majority of the tracks. The other tracks listed above merit at least four stars.
ROBERT LAMB The Children of Lir . Fiona Shaw - narrator National SO of Ireland/composer Naxos 8.554407 [73:23]
All credit to Naxos for recording at bargain price a new work and one which is tuneful, with some lasting fibre and instantly accessible.
Robert Lambs music is not desperately original in its style and accents. The language has elements of Walton, Tippett and perhaps Peter Maxwell Davies. To my shame I had never heard of Lamb before this recording was issued. He was born in Cork in 1931 and is a well-known trombonist in Eire and in the UK, especially in the jazz world. By the way there are no obvious jazz influences in the Lamb work.
The whole genre of melodrama I find extremely attractive. There is something potent about clearly spoken words over a rich orchestral canvas. I am a great admirer of Blisss Morning Heroes, RVWs Oxford Elegy, Fibichs Hippodamia trilogy, Coplands Lincoln Portrait and a number of other works of this type.
This is not the first time the tragic Lir legend has attracted composers. Hamilton Hartys 1940 tone poem with vocalising soprano (Heather Harper) exists for everyone to discover on Chandos - a bejewelled work which suffers only by comparison with its coupling, the ineffable Harty setting of Ode to a Nightingale. More recently the David Cassidy setting complete with a male narrator, full orchestra and gigantic chorus was broadcast on TV. This used a strange mix of massive Handelian-style choruses given a suitable Eireannachd edge by the now ubiquitous uillean pipes (trendy since River Dance and the markedly superior Granuaile!). This too is very effective but so different from the much more impressionist twentieth century score of Robert Lamb.
The story recounts how King Lir has four children (three boys and a girl) by Eva. When Eva dies Lir is persuaded by his father in law to marry Eves sister Eva. Eva uses her great beauty and sensuality to win the Kings heart. For a while they are contentedly happy. Then jealousy enters Evas heart. She sees the three children as an obstacle between herself and Lir and using her magic powers turns them into swans for 900 years. Lir is revenged on Eva. After many trials the swan children are transformed back to humanity as Christianity comes to Ireland but, now 900 years old, they are hideously withered and quickly die after they are baptised.
The score is touching and almost filmic in its vivid portrayal of incident and emotion. The great swelling melody which accompanies Evas sensual dance rises ecstatically to a great climax and Lir is then completely enthralled by Eva. A great part of the magic of this large-scale score is down to Fiona Shaws impassioned performance. Often quiet, she has great reserves of communicable emotion and these are used to grand histrionic effect. Not for Ms Shaw great howling and shouting; her whispers can be just as devastating. She gives a very fine performance. I rather hope that she was with the orchestra when the recording was made rather than dubbing her voice onto a pre-recorded track. Whatever the process the end-result is extremely affecting. Not earth-shattering music-making but certainly a work with a high mountain range of emotion. A satisfying companion for a long car journey.
HELP! Years ago I recall seeing an LP of someones setting of the Lir Legend. It was some time in the 1960s. Does anyone remember the LP or can anyone tell me who the composer was. I always wished I had bought that secondhand LP just for curiosity. This was definitely not the Harty work.
RONAN MAGILL Titanic 10th-15th April 1912 - An Atmospheric Poem in five pictures for solo piano - plus five other pieces Ronan Magill (piano) Recorded at Potton Hall, Dunwich 20th June 1997 MINERVA ATHENE ATH CD 13 [62:13 ]
The Titanic has attracted a considerable number of musical pictures and other commemorations. There is something hypnotically attractive about the mixture of tragedy, the ultimately unequal battle between natural forces and the heights of human endeavour represented by this giant amongst liners. The film and the Celtic-inflected score by Jerry Goldsmith has attracted considerable popular attention. Also notable were the 1950s film A Night To Remember (with a score by William Alwyn). Since those innocent days when people felt no embarrassment about calling ships Titanic, Irresistible and Indefatigable we have become more realistically cautious about naming things.
This giant 5-movement poem may well interest those made curious by the current media surge about the Titanic phenomenon. Magill was born in Sheffield in 1954. Britten was his musical mentor but his music does not bear any real sign of Brittens voice. He studied with David Parkhouse (piano) and Philip Cannon (composition) He wrote this piece, in five pictures, in 1988.
The first piece is dark and rumbling - setting off deep vibrations. It is entitled Lamentation for the Dead and was originally inspired by a the death of a friend killed in a boating accident in Brittany. The second picture is The Departure which opens in swirling cascades of notes to the accompaniment of deeper bass figures signifying the vessel and a siren. The rumbling colossal power of the vessel is strongly evoked.
The third picture is The Voyage. This is subdivided into 10 episodes. By this time we know that the music is suggestive rather than epic-melodic. The voices of Ravel, Debussy, Sorabji and Szymanowski are the nearest parallels I can come up with. The piano work is imaginative in its presentation of textures, echoes, rumblings and moods glimpsed rather than confronted. An exception is the Chopin-like and delicate Waltz (in picture 10) dedicated to William Hartley and his band all of whom were drowned. The Fourth picture is a portentous depiction of the iceberg in starry bright and ice-cold angular figures and clusters of notes. All the time the left-hand notes suggest depth and massive implacable scale.
There are five other related pieces on the disc. Archibald Joyces charming salon pieces, Remembrance and Songe dAutomne are played in Magills arrangements. Magill also arranged the touching and fragile Irish melody The Lass of Aughrim and dedicated it to the 50 Irish victims of the iceberg. Magills really rather fine The Titanic Waltz returns to close the disc in affectingly grand style.
Aficionados of Titanic culture should seek out this disc. Also anyone at all interested in contemporary piano literature would do well to track it down. For the more general listener I can only suggest that you sample this. Certainly if you enjoy the music of the composers I have mentioned (and perhaps I should add Medtner as well) then you will want this disc.
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