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38 discs and four books reviewed this month
Comparative Review (Individual reviews start here)
WILLIAM WALTON Symphony no 1 a comparative review: Previn, Haitink, Rattle, Gibson
Walton's first symphony did not exactly explode onto the musical scene; he was a very slow worker. Whilst living with the Sitwells he had come to notice with Façade (1923), followed by the resounding successes of the Viola Concerto (1928) and Belshazzar's Feast (1931). Façade and Belshazzar's Feast had demonstrated his ability to compose with great rhythmic drive and an element of barbarity. These were to emerge in the first symphony - but only after much labour. He struggled over it for three years with the first performance comprising only the first three movements because he was unable to complete the finale, even though the ending of the work was the first part to be composed; the third movement was the first to be completed. As only the first and third movements had been completed he missed the planned première with Sir Hamilton Harty who had wanted to perform it in March 1934 to complete his first season with the LSO. Harty re-scheduled it for December 1934 but the finale was still incomplete so Walton agreed to allow it to go ahead as it stood - to great acclaim - but this has allowed the suspicion that the last movement was a pale after-thought, which is most definitely not the case.. The beginning and the coda of the Finale were completed but he seemed unable to string them together. It was at this time that Imma von Doernberg abandoned him leaving him in emotional turmoil hardly conducive to symphonic problem solving, which then resolved itself through the special relationship he developed with Alice Wimborne who inspired him to complete the work, and a suggestion from Constant Lambert that the way out of his impasse was to use a fugue to join the two sections together.
The symphony may not have exploded onto the musical scene but André Previn's 1967 recording most certainly did. There were no other recordings currently available at the time although Sargent's recording appears to have been released in the same month. Recordings have come and gone but Previn's has always been highly rated and has usually been selected as first choice. My copy of the CD gives no recording details although I have always understood it was recorded in the UK by Decca engineers. I did not hear the Sargent recording until its re-release on Concert Classics and was struck by a very different viewpoint to Previn's, now reinforced by the first CD issue of Haitink's recording from 1982. This was an EMI digital recording which had only a short life on LP. I bought the chrome cassette at that time and have waited with ever greater impatience for a CD issue to appear. It is very similar in concept to Sargent concentrating on the dark underside of this score in contrast to the brilliance that Previn finds. It is a measure of the greatness of this symphony that it can withstand such diametrically opposed readings. The first CD issue of this symphony came from Gibson with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos, although this became superceded by Thomson from the same stable. The original CD issue was not a good transfer. Like the Haitink, the Gibson has now been reissued as a TWOfer CD set. My final comparison will be with the Rattle recording. I heard Rattle give a blistering performance live and I taped a broadcast that was similarly spectacular, but had to wait some considerable time for EMI to record it. This is not a Symphony Hall recording but the CBSO's earlier venue at the Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick University.
Previn's performance is renowned for its breathtaking speed. After an initial timpani-roll and held notes on horns the first movement is marked by a repeated rhythmic figure that occurs throughout most of the movement.
The cellos then introduce a five note motif that recurs throughout the movement. The performances can be immediately divided at this point. Previn almost skips away on this figure although the rhythm is very precise, rather like a gallop. Rattle is almost identical to Previn but Gibson is, unbelievably, even faster than Previn and loses the sharp delineation of the rhythmic pattern. Haitink is markedly slower which has the effect not of skipping but of a determined, dogged limp. I do not mean this in any derogatory sense as it is very effective and serves as a marker for the very different performance we are to hear. Haitink's performance is altogether slower than Previn's but this does not lead to any loss of tension; it increases in concentration as the darker undercurrents are revealed. There is pain in this symphony, of which I was totally unaware until I heard the Haitink performance; probably reflecting Walton's unrequited love affair. There are two ways of looking at this symphony just as there are with those of Malcolm Arnold. The oboe solo has a sense of desolation and resignation rather than brilliance. As the movement proceeds the motives circle through the woodwind, brass and strings like a huge flywheel building a massive structure culminating in the original five note cello motif resounding in the brass. Where Previn sounds exultant at this point Haitink sounds more like an unstoppable Leviathan.
After this great climax the mood relaxes with solo oboe [figure19 meno mosso]. With Previn this is a rather romantic interlude with this section of the score lasting 50 seconds [Rattle 51, Gibson a fast 40]. Haitink sees this differently - painfull, unrequited, poignant - taking 1'07". The only reading that does not sound valid is Gibson's.
The movement ends with a continuous terracing of ostinati leading to a huge climax (although no tam-tam or cymbals).With Previn it is like a huge incandescent pyrotechnic display leaving one feeling of wonderment and exhilaration and that it would not be possible to pile up any more tension. Haitink, as one might expect by now, is steadier but immensely powerful and one is left absolutely drained rather than exhilarated, as with many a Shostakovich climax.
The scherzo is marked Presto, con malizia (very fast, with malice); has this marking ever been used by any other composer and what does it mean? Music can certainly convey happiness, fun (Haydn can make me chuckle), sadness, tenderness, love, sorrow, anger; it can be frightening (first movement of Mahler 9) or excoriating (many a Shostakovich extended climax) but can it be malicious? My interpretation of this marking is that it is the orchestra who should be feeling malicious having fought their way through a powerful, dramatic first movement to find no reprieve in the next, which is very fast and rhythmically intricate. So I look for an incandescent anger in their playing. I really only find this with the Previn performance that rips through this movement with fury in a minute less than the other performers. In summary Previn: fleet and feisty; - a knockout; Rattle: fast, lithe but cool - no anger there; Gibson: rather woolly; Haitink: much steadier but totally dramatic - a threatening anger. When I am flipping between versions it has been Haitink that led me on way past the point where I intended to switch discs.
The slow movement is a wonderful achievement. Romantic in the grand sense - a voluptuous love story but with a poignant yearning that perhaps informs us of an unrequited love. With Previn the analogue tape hiss is most obvious in this movement. The timings vary from Gibson 10:10, Previn 11:19, Rattle 11:15 to Haitink 14:09. These look vastly different to the eye but not to the ear. The Gibson does not sound too fast and is as successfull as Previn or Rattle in unfolding this sublimely beautiful music. It is only in juxtaposition that differences are noted with Previn able to constantly urge accross the bar lines to provide an underlying restlessness in line with the rest of the symphony. Haitink, however, is true to his conception of this symphony and brings out not just the beauty but also sadness, or perhaps regret, sounding almost Elgarian at times. Again I find his performance most revealing and refreshing.
The finale opens with dramatic statements - slow and stately. I feel Gibson takes these a touch too fast. Rattle is again robbed of impact by his recording, Previn makes a bold statement and Haitink underlines his by being more deliberate with marked punctuation from the tympaninst. Walton then launches into a rapid-fire string section against brass interjections. Previn here uses his understanding of jazz inflections in finding just the right jaunty rhythmn, as does Rattle. Gibson shows less flexibility and I get a feeling of apprehensiveness from the strings although the brass are most forceful - and forceful is the correct term for Haitink's approach to the central fugue! It has to be admitted that the strings of the RSNO are shown up by those of the LSO, CBSO and Phiharmonia. The final climax is preceded by the last post on trumpet and then for the first time Walton uses cymbals and tam-tam. In Previn's analogue recording these are slightly obscured and are much clearer in the Rattle performance, although he indulges in a little agogic distortion in the Sibelian chords that close the symphony. To really hear their impact you have to turn to the earlier EMI recording for Haitink whose slightly slower approach allows each stroke of the tam-tam to swell most convincingly
The different approaches of Haitink and Previn have validity and both are immensely satisfying. The Gibson performance is very much the also-ran here. I had high expectations of Rattle from hearing him live but this is not fulfilled on this recording. I can hear what I am looking for, a very similar performance to Previn's, but I get nothing out of it; and this is due to the recording. I have seen the technical aspects of this recording praised and the disc highly recommended because of the coupling. There is no immediacy to the recording even though the dynamic range is wider than any of the others. The symphony opens at a low level, is recessed and fails to catch fire. I have exactly the same response to some other EMI Rattle recordings e.g Shostakovich 4th symphony where the live experience is not captured. With that recording I assumed it was a problem of inexperience recording in Symphony Hall but this is the Butterworth Hall at Warwick University where the engineers had plenty of experience. The Haitink is a perfectly balanced recording with every strand made clear but without the orchestra crowding the sound picture. The Previn recording is in much older, analogue sound with a touch of tape hiss. It is a close recording which gives it tremendous impact but a loss of subtlety. This is immediately obvious in the opening timpani rolls which are much closer than any other recording. But the full vigour and excitement come over with satisfying impact.
Purely on the basis of performance and recording I would choose Haitink and Previn as two valid, satisfying, alternative versions of this major work. The Haitink is well coupled and contains both symphonies, unlike the Chandos two-fer. I think I was very fortunate in hearing the second symphony before the first (by several years) so have never had the feeling that it was in any way inferior - and the conductor of the second symphony is Previn so you can end up with him in both symphonies for very reasonable outlay.
WILLIAM WALTON Symphony no 1 VAUGHAN WILLIAMS The Wasps: Overture London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn RCA GD87830 lower mid-price
NOTE: As the site went live I learned that this disc has been deleted. Look out for the re-issue!
WILLIAM WALTON Symphony no 1 [DDD] (a) Symphony No 2 (c) Cello Concerto (b) violin Concerto (d) Portsmouth Point (c) Scapino (c) Paul Tortelier (b), Ida Haendel (d), Philharmonia Orchestra (a), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (b & d), London Symphony Orchestra (c) conducted by Bernard Haitink (a), Paavo Berglund (b & d), André Previn (c) 2CD EMI double fforte CZS5 733712 two for the price of one
WILLIAM WALTON Symphony no 1 Cello Concerto Lyn Harrell, CBSO Simon Rattle EMI CDC7 54572 2 Full price
WILLIAM WALTON Symphony no 1 (a) Cello Concerto (a) Belshazzar's Feast (a & b), Coronation Te Deum (a & c) Coronation March: Crown Imperial (d) Anniversary Fanfare (d) Coronation March: Orb and Sceptre (d) Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus (b & c) Scottish Festival Brass bands (c) Royal Scottish National Orchestra (a & d) Philharmonia Orchestra (d) conducted by Alexander Gibson (a) David Willcocks (d) CHANDOS 2for1 CHAN 241-10
Philharmonia Walton HMV ALP 1027 2/53 EMI CHS5 65003 2 11/94
LPO Boult Pye Golden Guinea GSGC 14008 1/58 7/64
LSO Previn RCA SB6691 1/67 GL42707 1/79 GD87830 2/89
New Philharmonia Sargent HMV ASD2299 1/67 Concert Classics SXLP30138 4/72 CDM7 63692 2
RLPO Handley PRT/ASV K 53557 11/78 ACM 2006 CDQ 6093 1/94
Philharmonia Haitink HMV ASD4091 4/82 EMI double fforte CZS5 733712 5/99
SNO Gibson Chandos ABRD1095 7/84 CHAN 8313 CHAN 6570 5/94 CHAN 241-10 4/94
RPO Previn Telarc CD80125 8/87
LPO Slatkin Virgin VC7 90715 2 8/88 CUV5 61146 2
Bournemouth SO Handley EMI CDC7 49671 2 8/89
LPO Mackerras EMI CDEMX 2151 12/89
LPO Thomson Chandos CHAN 8862 7/91
CBSO Rattle EMI CDC7 54572 2 12/92
RPO Ashkenazy Decca 433 703 2 4/93
LSO Harty CDAX 8003 12/93
Bornemouth SO Litton 4143450 2 10/95
A listing does not denote availablility
BAROQUE ARIAS Volume 2. Works by: Handel, Ahle, Schutz, Buxtehude and Bach. Yoshikazu Mera: counter-tenor. Bach Collegium Japan Masaaki Suzuki. BIS CD-1029 74m DDD.
The silver smooth voice of Yoshikazu Mera is one of the wonders of today's baroque music stars in the firmament. His effortless projection and outstanding diction make this superbly recorded disc, a dreamworks of palpable emotional communication. I warmed immediately to his Handel which is both suitably stentorian and very powerful especially in 'He shall feed his flock', where the soprano voice is ideally mimicked. In fact, I was wont to think that a counter tenor is ideally suited to this music, after all most parts were written for the castrato in mind weren't they?
Mera's collaboration with Gerd Turk is also quite sublime, especially in the Magnificat a 7 by Ahle, an almost unknown composer who deserves wider currency on this evidence. Five arias by Buxtehude also warrant serious investigation, these short pieces find Mera in fabulous voice throughout. The remainder of the disc is handed over to Johann Sebastian Bach, and here Yoshikazu Mera shows off his credentials with superb vigour and the utmost panache. Out of the eight odd items selected from various cantatas, I would be plumped to choose 'Himmelskonig, sei wilkommen' for sheer panache and vocal fireworks.
In this eight-minute piece, Mera is quite inspired and handles Bach's extremely difficult vocal writing with relish, especially in the middle section of the work. It would be too finicky to list all the collaborators on this CD but John Elwes and Midori Suzuki must take pride of place for their excellent contributions. Masaaki Suzuki's Bach Collegium Japan is now rather legendary; they recently won a 'Soundings' award in Gramophone for their outstanding St John Passion, so this CD is obviously self-recommending. Watch out for Yoshikazu Mera, he will definitely be one of the finest counter tenors ever.
ENGLISH ORCHESTRAL SONGS: PARRY, STANFORD, FINZI, GURNEY Christopher Maltman (bar); BBC Scottish SO/Martyn Brabbins Hyperion CDA 67065 [72:09 ]
Christopher Maltman's pioneering programme of largely unfamiliar music for baritone and orchestra is remarkable, and we need to summarise the contents to appreciate the range of the programme. It consists of four orchestral songs by Stanford mostly totally unknown, including songs such as Prince Madoc's Farewell, Chieftain of Tyrconnell and Two Songs of Faith (from Op 97), plus the familiar song The Fairy Lough, usually heard with piano, once a Kathleen Ferrier lollipop. By Parry there is The North Wind and the ten-minute scena The Soldier's Tent, both also pretty well unknown. Then there is Finzi's orchestration of Gurney's Four Elizabethan Songs, and Finzi's own Shakepearian settings Let Us Garlands Bring. Finally two stunning Howells orchestrations of songs written in the trenches by his friend Ivor Gurney: In Flanders and By a Bierside.
On the face of it we should be celebrating this recording for the Stanford and Parry songs, and more about them below, but the Gurney/Howells songs are surely the plums here, a wonderful discovery, both of which find Maltman in ringing voice. With their evocative horn tone and touching string solos, Howells puts more fervour into these songs than Gurney, and Maltman responds with a perfect combination of restraint and all-out passion. The final climax of By a Bierside, with Maltman's magnificently sustained 'To die', is quite literally, hair raising, and in 1917 at the first performance must have been almost unbearable for many of those present including Howells and his master, Stanford, who conducted.
Mixed programmes devoted to British orchestral songs are few and far between, the only significant predecessor I can recall being Chandos's splendid survey of Quilter, Butterworth, Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Ireland which Stephen Varcoe recorded in 1989 (CHAN 8743). That programme also included Finzi's familiar cycle of Shakespearean settings Let Us Garlands Bring, the only duplication with Christopher Maltman's repertoire. I have compared the two and I must say I prefer Varcoe, partly for his slightly brighter voice but particularly for his more robust tempi. My stop-watch comparison (Varcoe second, in brackets) probably says it all:
1 'Come Away Death 3'33" (2'52")
2 'Who is Sylvia' 1'40" (1'21")
3 'Fear No More the Heat' 6'21" (4'14")
4 'O Mistress Mine' 1'57" (1'40")
5 'It was a Lover' 2'42" (2'25")
'Come Away Death' sets the approach for the whole sequence, but it is in 3 (not surprisingly) and 5, particularly, that Maltman sounds heavy and dragging in comparison to Varcoe. Yet in the context of his programme Maltman is persuasive and his 'Who is Sylvia' is engagingly turned.
The Stanford sequence includes the Two Songs of Faith, both totally new to me, setting words by Walt Whitman. As Jeremy Dibble explains in his superb and extended booklet notes (Hyperion exemplary, as usual, in the thoroughness of its documentation), Stanford first wrote his six Songs of Faith, Op 97, three each from Tennyson and Whitman, in 1906. The two that were orchestrated for the Norfolk, Connecticut, Music Festival in 1915, were those familiar Whitman words 'Darest Thou Now O Soul' also used by Vaughan Williams at much the same time, and 'Tears' also many times set by other composers. Dibble characterises Stanford's setting of 'Darest Thou Now O Soul' as a 'mystical drama of flexible melody and theatrical gestures' and in its orchestral dress it is vivid and exhilarating in its impact. Given a new stature, too, is the setting of 'The Faery Lough' from An Irish Idyll, always one of Stanford's most delightful and atmospheric songs. Indeed, all Stanford's songs which were orchestrated by the composer I find are to be preferred in their orchestral dress; I remember many years ago now at a Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra anniversary concert, Owen Brannigan sang the orchestral version of the cycle Cushendall, and despite the one or two rather twee numbers, it was particularly engaging in its orchestral setting.
With the editor's encouragement, I cannot resist suggesting repertoire for a second Hyperion CD, for there is plenty of rewarding and neglected material. Songs or scenas for solo voice and orchestra are not a medium composers tend to look at today, but there is some fine repertoire, as was made clear at last year's Three Choirs concert at St Matthew's Church, Cheltenham, from which Michael Hurd's cycle Shore Leave was such a discovery (19 August, see News No 80 pp 251-2). Of course, in days gone by this was the perfect format for 78s, and many songs with orchestral accompaniment by composers such as Eric Coates, Montague Phillips and Haydn Wood were popular favourites, but they have not all been revisited on CD.
A typical example would be Landon Ronald's extended scena The Lament of Shah Jehan, once recorded by Peter Dawson with orchestra (on HMV B 1723, is was reissued on LP by Pearl (GEM 144); there was also an acoustic 78 recording by Stewart Gardiner on 2480). Mention of Landon Ronald reminds me of a vocal score I have wondered about for many years, his extended setting of Adonais, Keats' celebrated elegy for Shelley.
This repertoire falls into three categories, first extended works for solo voice in a single span - a particularly persuasive example was Norman O'Neill's scena for baritone and orchestra setting La Belle Dame Sans Merci, sung at a Royal Academy of Music anniversary concert in May 1984. Conducted expansively by the late Maurice Handford, who gave it an engaging sweep and atmosphere it was a substantial sing at 10'34". Somewhat shorter, though no less affecting among the many works of Julius Harrison worth revisiting is the song or aria 'Rhapsody' a setting for baritone and orchestra of Whitman's 'On the Beach at Night Alone'.
ASV's recent recording of British light music (CD WHL 2113), exploring a range of pioneering repertoire, has brought us rewarding first recordings of music by Sir Malcolm Sargent, Clifton Parker, and a piece many have long waited for, Maurice Johnstone's delightful Path Across the Moors. All who relish the colour and atmosphere of that revival, will warm to Johnstone's dramatic wartime setting for baritone and orchestra of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, which instantly appealed to me when I heard it broadcast by the baritone Frederick Harvey in June 1958, while I was still at school. It gives away nothing to Samuel Barber's more familiar setting, and is still a favourite over forty years on (10'48").
Our second group includes many orchestral song cycles, today, of course, dominated by Britten's songs. It is surprising that given the popularity of the Britten his friend and contemporary Lennox Berkeley's lovely 4 Poems of St Theresa of Avila are not heard more often. They are for a woman's voice as are earlier examples as familiar as Elgar's Sea Pictures. It is good to know that the BBC have Thomas Dunhill's cycle of four Yeatsian baritone songs The Wind Among the Reeds in the can with the Ulster Orchestra. One or two of the individual songs are comparatively well known, sung by both men and women, but the orchestral version has not be heard since the war.
There are many good orchestral songs by Bantock, too, and well worth investigating after the success of the Sappho Songs. Probably the three cycles most worthy of attention are the large scale Five Gazals of Hafiz, once sung by Harold Williams, the Three Celtic Songs and the strange but powerful Four Pagan Chants. All are on the most expansive scale.
In the case of Parry and Stanford we should not forget the arias from the oratorios and operas. In the case of Parry, the Handelian aria 'God Breaketh the Battle', from Judith, has long been one of my favourite 78s, though recorded as long ago as 1921. It would be good to hear it sung again. Meantime, do investigate Christopher Maltman's splendid programme - a fine achievement.
(as usual with Hyperion there are 22 pages of texts and detailed notes by Jeremy Dibble - LM)
and another view from Gerald Fenech
Hyperion already provide a sure firewinner with the cover on this CD. A typically pastoral scene of magnificent beauty is just the right tonic to this well-filled disc of English orchestral songs, all rarities in their own field. I was taken by Parry after being exposed to Mathias Bamert's landmark recordings on Chandos in the early 90's and can confirm that his settings of 'The North Wind' and 'The Soldier's Tent' are profuse with lyrical beauty, especially as sung by the commendable Christopher Maltman. Sir Charles Stanford was another prolific song composer and he is extremely well represented on this CD.
Of the four items carried here, I would single out the 'Two Songs of Faith' for prophetic utterance and quite inspired melodic harmony. The orchestral accompaniment is beautifully vivid and Brabbins is quite obviously fully attuned with this highly charged outpouring of words and music. 'The Fairy Lough' and 'Prince Madoc's Farewell' reveal the composer's penchant for lyrical and adventurous legends set to rather conventional orchestration.
A tragedy of humanism, Ivor Gurney's life was one bitter poem of sorrow but his orchestral songs are masterpieces that rank amongst the finest elements of their genre. The 'Four Elizabethan Songs' are wonderfully evocative, here the deep lyrical passion of the composer's music matches perfectly with the ravishing texts. The same could be said of 'In Flanders', a graphic representation of one of Britain's worst sacrifices in the First World War.
The disc concludes with Gerald Finzi's mammoth setting of 'Let us garlands bring', an almost symphonic conception of great pastoral beauty, it is indeed a fitting epilogue to a wonderful project. Hyperion secure some amazingly vivid sound with an almost perfect balance between soloist and orchestra. An outstanding release, full of the usual Hyperion enterprise and a true gem of the repertoire.
THE FRENCH FLUTE (1920-1930) Music by Duruflé, Rhené-Baton, Hahn, Ropartz, Gallon Bent Larsen (flute), Lars Grunth (viola), Sverre Larsen (piano), rec Tivoli, Copenhagen, Denmark, 30-31 March 1996 , CLASSICO CLASSCD 160 [58.51]
The Duruflé Prélude, Récitatif and Variations, an early work, is for the complete trio. The sea seems to have played a strong part in its inspiration and a certain marine urgency infuses its pages. The uncannily Baxian viola part is strongly conveyed. A waywardly emotional tune is but one of the plums in this tripartite piece - intense and varied in mood. The finale has chattering harp arpeggiation; not at all a piece for languishing fauns!
Noel Gallon is a name completely unknown to me. His four movement suite comprises a Mediterranean Syrinx-like Sérénade (had the composer heard Rachmaninov's second symphony, I wonder?), a jauntily charming Vif, an easygoing Nocturne and an optimistic Danse. The whole suite is treasurable and well worth the recitalist's attention as well as Classic FM for excerpting purposes. Later comes his musingly sad Improvisation et Rondo for flute and piano.
There are two pieces by Rhené-Baton (1879-1940) better known as a conductor. Passacaille is a thoughtful meander in a style influenced by Ravel - very imaginative! The Bourrée is a country dance which relaxes into a contented bask in the sun; drowsing not sleeping.
Reynaldo Hahn is better known (if at all) for his songs and by some for his piano concerto recorded by Hyperion and EMI. His Romanesque is like a medieval chant, rippling and flowing attractively in antique style.
The last three tracks are given over to Ropartz's Sonatine. The Très Moderé is thoughtful, Très lent a brimming reflective rock pool and the final Assez vif is lively with its closing pages tumultuous with 'pealing bells'.
Larsen has recorded eight other flute CDs for ClassicO.
In common with the three ClassicO volumes of French orchestral CDs this one carries a surreal Dali-esque painting by the Antibes-based artist, Giovanni Pelliciolli. The leaflet, two pages of English-only notes translated by Mary Sorensen, give the bare bones of background on some of the pieces.
All but the Duruflé and Hahn (which add a viola to the usual duo) are for flute and piano.
This is a by no means bland collection with some unpredictable elements for those, like me, who had decided what this disc was going to sound like long before they heard it.
J.S. BACH: Four Orchestral Suites. HANDEL: Concerto Grosso in A minor. RAMEAU: Gavotte with 6 variations. GLUCK: 'Iphigenie en Aulide' - Overture. CHERUBINI: 'Anacreon' - Overture. Philhrmonia Orchestra/New Philharmonia Orchestra Otto Klemperer. Testament mono/stereo SBT2131 140m ADD. (Rec.: 1954-69)
Klemperer in Bach may seem to be a recipe for outdated, old-fashioned styles of performance, but the buoyant and bubbly effervescence of these early 1954 Suites may win over more studiously stuck-up converts. Although the full body of strings and occasionally over-plush phrasing may point to an older school of Bach performances, there is no denying the effect Klemperer gets out of his gifted players. These Suites are basically lengthy French overtures with short dance movements rounding off proceedings in the form of a ballet. Klemperer is sound and studious in the first overture and the clear recordings come up quite well for their vintage. Indeed one listens to wind and strings in perfect delineation whilst the delicate harpsichord is a constant though occasionally unnerving companion. The Second suite contains much similar music with a slightly longer overture, similarly scored for strings and winds without percussion.
The Philharmonia play with plush romantic sensitivity but the ultra-slow tempi sound a mite too ponderous here. However I enjoyed the Menuet and Badinerie that conclude the suite in typical Bachian fashion. With the Third and Fourth Suites we are on more pompous and grand ground, something which suited Klemperer's grave and portentous manner no end. The Overtures to theses works include timpani and they make a wonderfully celebratory sound, vindicating the use of modern instruments for Bach works. I have to take Klemperer to task for playing the Air at 6'08, but surely isn't he allowed a bit of a lingering over this lovely music?
Although the Fourth Suite is less well known, I would definitely place it at the top of the pile, as it is also a personal favorite. Grand manner dominates the imposing Overture whilst the shorter movements contain much that is pensive and beautiful. Klemperer's tortoise like-way with the music may not appeal to some, but as an expert Bachian, his interpretation is definitely one to savour. Alan Sanders mentions that Klemperer's reverence for Handel was of a much lesser degree than that lavished on Bach and it is understandable that this Concerto Grosso would be slightly unconvincing. It reminded me of Karl Richter's similarly old-fashioned accounts on Archiv and is thus included for curiosity purposes only. The indifferent early stereo EMI studio recording does not help matters either.
Another composer who occasionally featured in Klemperer's concerts was Jean Philippe Rameau, indeed the conductor had a marked preference for the Gavotte with 6 variations and he himself orchestrated it and recorded it in 1969, at the twilight of his life. This nostalgic and historical performance comes through with sentimental pangs of humorism and one marvels at the flair and wit of these variations.
Spirited performances of Gluck's 'Iphigenie en Aulide' and Cherubini's 'Anacreon' conclude this baroque package. The latter is an unpublished recording and thanks to some skilful editing a previous blemish has been removed, thus making the recording ripe for reissue! A mixed bag then but definitely worth investigating if you are on the curious side and have an affection for the past.
Collection: THE FRENCH TOUCH: Paul Dukas (1865-1935) - L' aprenti sorcier Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) - Le Rouet d'Omphale Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) - Ma mère l'Oye César Franck (1822-1890) - Le chasseur maudit Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra RCA VICTOR 09026 68978 2 [50:38]
This celebrated collection was originally issued by RCA as one of their Living Stereo LPs. The performances date from the late 1950s.
Charles Munch was a widely cultured conductor and was famed particularly for his interpretations of the music of France and Germany, inspired by his Alsatian heritage. Born in 1891 in Strasbourg, Munch commenced his career as a violinist, serving for several years as concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler. He rose to become director of the orchestra of the Paris Conservatoire. After appearing as guest conductor in Europe, the Near East, South America and the United States, he became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the retirement of Koussevitzky. In 1967 he became music director of the Orchestre de Paris created especially for him. He died while he was touring with that orchestra on November 6th 1968.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra was famed for its virtuoso players and fine ensemble playing. The performances, of these well-known orchestral showpieces crackle with vitality. They are striking evidence of the orchestra's well-drilled polish.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice has seldom sounded so thrilling; every detail is as sharply defined as a knats-kneecap; the visualisation of water slopping everywhere and buckets and brooms going berserk is so vivid. The wit and characterisation of this favourite fantasy is splendidly realised too, listen to how cowed and contrite the apprentice sounds in the final bars, for instance.
The sound of the Boston strings in excellent ensemble through the tortuous spinning rhythms of Omphale's's Spinning Wheel is a joy and Ravel's magic is splendidly conveyed in this Mother Goose interpretation. Munch luxuriates in all the oriental splendour of Laideronette yet his Fairy Garden and the beginning of Beauty and the Beast is delicate, dreamy, fragrant. César Franck's Accursed Huntsman is hair-raisingly exciting with horn calls that reach right out of the speakers at you.
The RCA sound which was great in its day is enhanced further in this new 20-bit remastering
GREAT AMERICAN COMPOSERS
HOWARD HANSON Symphony No. 2 Romantic (1930) - RCASO rec Dec 1967 c. 29 mins
AARON COPLAND Billy The Kid (five excerpts) c.10 mins; Rodeo - Hoe-Down. 3:08 RPO rec February 1962 5:45
CHARLES GRIFFES : The Pleasure-Dome of Kubla Khan 11:02; The White Peacock 5:45. rec March 1968 and April 1965 respectively.
MORTON GOULD Tropical RCASO rec Apr 1964 3:10 conductor: Charles Gerhardt CHESKY CD112 [62:15]
Going by these recordings from the 1960s it is a great pity for us that the late Charles Gerhardt did not go on to record more concert music. I recall an RCA album of French impressionist music but little else except more than ten of the groundbreaking RCA Classic Film Music albums amongst which those LPs devoted to Herrmann, Waxman and Korngold stand out.
Gerhardt's recent death (there is a rewarding obituary on Ian Lace's film music section) may too easily spell oblivion for this conductor's handful of recordings. I hope not. They deserve better and anyone who invests in this Chesky disc will quickly discover that there is nothing time-serving about these interpretations.
As an anthology it is unique in its varied mix. The Gould (granted not the strongest piece here!) is not available in any alternative recordings.
Copland's Billy the Kid is given with authentic elan which inspires admiration though (in my case) very little affection. The Gun Battle has a raw fury even if the gun-shots sound more like Browning Automatic Rifles than Colts. The Celebration Dance surprised me with its distinctly Weill-like decadence emphasised - a survivor from Vitebsk or Warsaw rather than Tucson! The final extract Open Prairie again made me reconsider. Brash though it is, it has the brawny power of Fanfare for the Common Man. Jerky, whipcrack energy bursts from every pore of the make-weight Rodeo episode.
Griffes' impressionistic White Peacock is the first of four Roman Sketches - a suite written for solo piano. Griffes orchestrated it for a ballet sequence premiered by the Philadelphians on 19 December 1919. The piano version was written in 1915-16. It shows not a shadow of the murderously tragic contemporary waste of life in Europe.
Peacock is a hesitant Faun-haunted essay. If Debussy is not far away, then neither is Bax's Spring Fire and Summer Music. The whole piece has a sunlit bosky enchantment which basks in the heat and boils to a Scriabin-like climax of molten ecstasy.
Griffes' magnum opus in the orchestral sphere is Pleasure-Dome. This is an orchestral poem which is sinuously impressionistic with a broader mood-range than Peacock. Like the Coleridge poem which inspired it the work bathes in orientalism. Eros swims languidly among the warm rockpools and Sheherazade sings her seduction again. The music sways and shimmers in fluorescent colours. Louis Aubert and Holst (Beni Mora) swim in similar waters but none can match Griffes tone painting. Hollywood and Hanson both owe Griffes a great deal. The strange tonalities of the closing pages also suggest a debt owed by Bernard Herrmann in the Rosebud sequence of Citizen Kane.
Tropical is a postcard of lush rumba, real jungle birds call and maraccas rattle in the best traditions of Hollywood big production numbers - Carmen Miranda could happily hang her fruity hat on this bough. Just think of Ketelbey's Bells Across the Meadow and transplant it across the Atlantic and you get some idea of the genre this skilful but ever so brief piece inhabits. Dates from 1934-42.
Next comes Hanson's Second Symphony, which with the Griffes pieces, is the reason for seeking out this golden disc in front of Hanson's own (Mercury - ageing sound), Montgomery's on Arte Nova, and the spanking 1990s Delos/Schwarz CDs. Gerhardt gives a simply great performance. How lamentable that he did not go on to record Hanson's Nordic Symphony and Lament for Beowulf. My, how this man and his orchestra (I recall them being called the National PO when the LP was issued on RCA Gold Seal LP in 1977) know how to pace this glorious piece. What I wouldn't have given for them also to have recorded a piece of similar glories: Louis Glass's Symphony No. 5. The recording quality here is excellent with many fine details emerging in polished and yet totally natural perspective. Especially noteworthy is the crisply patterned work of the harp, the burred horn section and the lushly buoyant strings led by Sidney Sax (this same pick-up orchestra also partnered Gerhardt in the Classic Film Music series).
The central movement was chosen by the BBC to represent Hanson in a US music themed programme on BBC Radio 3 one Sunday morning in 1972. It was through that broadcast of this Sibelian luminous eruption that I came to discover Hanson. I was immediately enthralled even if the lusty tune did sound like 'Born Free' (remember the Virginia Mackenna film and the song sung by Matt Munro?). Listen to those throaty tear-stained horns at 3:08 on track 9 and the answer of the honeyed string section! The miniature gales of sound conjured by the swirling strings in the finale were surely the inspiration for Alan Hovhaness's Majnun Symphony (recorded by the National Philharmonic during the early 1970s) having themselves been influenced by Respighi's Roman trilogy. Respighi .from whom Hanson always said he learnt the most, was Hanson's teacher in Rome (1921-24).
The rippling pizzicato energy at 2:59 in track 10 is brilliantly caught and I must wonder whether E J Moeran heard this work before writing his E minor symphony (1934) and Sinfonietta (1944). The crackling Waltonian energy of the last 2-3 minutes is brilliantly done.
If you do not know this work and enjoy music of forthright accessible emotion then do not hesitate.
The symphony might well be remembered as its big theme appeared at the end of the film Alien - the first film in the sequence of three.
These recordings were originally made by Ken Wilkinson (mostly I believe in the now-demolished Kingsway Hall, London) and were produced by the conductor. The Griffes and Hanson tracks sound wonderful and not just 'for their age'. They were made for the Readers Digest series which was, I seem to recall, a subscription series. Congratulations must obviously go to those who chose the repertoire and artists.
Decently full (English only) notes by Annette and David Chesky.
Warmly recommended. Though gaining some pleasure from part of the Billy score I feel that the Copland items are a missed opportunity despite the spirited performances.
(Hanson and Griffes)
RUSSIAN FUTURISM Russian Music of the 1920s: details below Music by:- Alexander MOSSOLOV (1900-1973) Alexander F GOEDICKE (1877-1957) Julian KREIN (1913-1996) Michail F GNESIN (1883-1957) Georg KIRKOR (1910-1980) Lev KNIPPER (1898-1974)
5 CD set - 3 volumes in card slip-case (issued as set in 1997)
The 3 vols are available separately.
Vol. 1 1 CD Mossolov - solo piano music (Daniele Lombardi) 74321 27793 2 [55.10] issued 1990 Buy here
Vol. 2 2 CDs Goedicke, Krein, Gnesin, Kirkor chamber & orchestral 74321 27793 2 [68.36]+[78.06] issued 1996 Buy here
Vol. 3 2 CDs Gnesin, Mossolov, Roslavets, Knipper chamber & orchestral - 74321 48722 2 [67.42]+[55.57] issued 1994-96 Buy here
ARTE NOVA CLASSICS 74321 48723 2 Super-bargain price.Buy here
Vol. 1 MOSSOLOV Piano Sonatas 4 (1927) and 5 (1925) and Turkmenian Nights (1935?) (Daniele Lombardi)
CD1 GOEDICKE Ouverture Dramatique; At War (Six Improvisations for orchestra); Horn Concerto in F (Gleb Karpushkin); Trumpet Concerto (Vladimir Gontcharov) (Russian PO/Konstantin Krimets).
CD2 music for cello and piano (Andrei Pisarev/Alexei Nesterenko): KREIN Sonata-Fantasy; Sonata-Poem, Dramatic Poem. GNESIN Three Characteristic Melodies; KIRKOR Cello Sonata.
CD1 GNESIN D'Apres Shelley - Symphonic Fragment; Requiem; Piano Trio; Songs of a Knight Errant; Adigeya; The Jewish Orchestra at the Ball of Nothingtown. (Russian PO/Konstantin Krimets; Moscow Solists Ensemble)
CD2 String Quartets (Novosibirsk Filarmonica String Quartet): MOSSOLOV No. 1 (1927); ROSLAVETZ Nos 1 and 3; KNIPPER No. 3.
The major record companies seem to come in for quite a bit of criticism if the rec.music.classical.recordings newsgroup is anything to go by. BMG has not been immune from that criticism: the 'dumbing down', the cross-over albums, the poorly researched notes, exploitation of back catalogue at high prices, ungenerous timings, poorly targeted reissue policy, glamour artist-orientated regurgitation of the standard classics. The list rolls on and on and some of this heat is justified - though not specifically or exclusively against BMG. However in all the vituperation and attacking of an industry that also delivers much of joy and boundless reward outstandingly valuable sets such as this can easily be lost from sight.
Let us be clear from the start. This set is well worth its modest price. Everything is a world premiere. The performances seem to be committed and certainly they communicate.
Sadly Gramophone do not appear to have reviewed any of the albums. This is typical of another malaise; the focus on the familiar or the recordings of the big name companies at premium price while a host of small labels such as Athene, Chesky, Metier, Pearl and others struggle for space against the big spenders in the advertising stakes. Gramophone may well have accorded it one of their notorious capsule reviews which rather defeat the purpose of buying Gramophone in the first place. I subscribe to Gramophone for expansive, informative reviews and the 'in brief' approach defeats the purpose pointing towards the short-breathed sound-byte reviews beloved of those magazines serving and encouraging short attention spans, odious simplistic star markings (yes, yes, I know we do it here and how I would like to drop the practice) and the industry-serving annual awards process.
I wonder if Fanfare have reviewed the set? Perhaps someone would enlighten me.
Futurism was, so the notes tell me (and remind others), launched by Filippo Marinetti's manifesto of 1909. The movement continued into the 1940s reaching its peak in the 1920s. In musical terms the movement identified with motors, machines, movement and sound. Bourgeois values were rejected and in Russia after the 1917 revolution and for a period of about fifteen years Futurist music and many other types flourished. As is clear from this selection Russian Futurism was to no specific formula. The music is not homogeneous and perhaps we should not get too wrapped up in the label. The music is varied and usually tuneful. There seems to have been no place for atonalism unless such music exists but has not been included in this set. Accessibility rather than elitism should have been popular with the authorities but in the mid-1930s a wave of Stalinism in the arts imposed a very formulaic cramp on music with a 300 page 'style guide' which dictated the acceptable and the rejected. Some of these composers suffered repression and others altered their style to bring them closer to the accepted norm. To what extent their work changed because of the proscription rather than making changes they might have made anyway we will never know.
Decca/London have made a great reputation even greater by their Entartete Musik series reviving many scores by composers killed, exiled, condemned or repressed by fascism. This set examines another form of oppression and I have no doubt that there is an extremely rich vein to be explored here: composers whose music was crushed by Stalinism and its successors. Music should surely transcend politics so perhaps the unthinkable will happen before too long and the work of those who throve under the Nazi or Stalinist regimes will be celebrated and recorded. When politics and uniforms mean less and music means more then perhaps we will hear the music of people like Hessenburg, Max Trapp and others who misguidedly supported or were lionised by regimes of contemptible ugliness and horror. For now we can expect people to condemn such music unheard as soulless, emptily patriotic, pandering to nationalism (oddly enough the latter a virtue in Vaughan Williams, Dvorák and Smetana). Yet this is as objectionable as condemning any music because the man who wrote it held views and did things we find objectionable and worse. We do not hold up a similar judgmental mirror to Wagner, Delius or any one of hundreds of other musicians whose political and moral views now cease to hold relevance in the light of the enjoyment and more which their music instils.
What of the music. Yes, about time I got to that.
MOSSOLOV's Piano Sonata No. 4 is a work of thunder, plate tectonics, great blocks of sound and exoticism all sonorously handled by Daniel Lombardi. It is slightly more challenging than the piano music of John Foulds but having parallels with Cowell and the mystical Szymanowski. There is a hieratic quality to the music which ends this sonata in misty splendour.
Turkmenian Nights is in three movements with a title promising helpings of Ippolitov-Ivanov or Borodin. Not at all! Instead we get stormy Lisztian bravura with recollections of the ubiquitous Dies Irae. In fact Totentanz comes to mind more than once. A hymn tune is held up to a distorting mirror and a wrong note clangour hangs over the scenery. The music conjures up images of fantastic automata but is not at all cerebral. If you appreciate the early piano music of Sorabji you should try this disc.
The Piano Sonata No. 5's first movement is dominated by the ticking of some infernal clockwork and the final movement explodes in hammering excitement. The work closes in a perfumed mixture of chant and bells.
GOEDICKE was a Muscovite. Ouverture Dramatique pour Grand Orchestra (a most unFuturist title!) has a cheery fanfare, stern strings and a dialogue between trumpet and flutes which shows that Goedicke had studied the scores of Tchaikovsky. Here he carries the standard of nationalism (not espoused by Tchaikovsky) mixing liturgical grandeur with a march of great romantic moment all exploding into a finale where Francesca meets 1812.
At War - Six Improvisations for Orchestra is also called From the Diary of a Dead Soldier. It comprises six movements playing for 24 mins. Toy fanfares, an ombrageous cello melody, an evocation of the gloomy life in the trenches, the tension of long hours of waiting for the attack. The music made me think of silent film, jerky characters on a dust bespattered screen and the Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin. The overall effect (not unpleasant) is of high class silent film music. I also recalled Josef Suk's brazenly effective Legend of Dead Victors. What a pity that the notes do not tell us more about the background to this piece.
The F minor Horn Concerto's liquid horn is straight out of the pages of Richard Strauss's First Horn Concerto. There is a dash of Brahms there as well plus a long and challenging cadenza. The horn keeps in character taking a very romantic and dreamy role. All in all quite a discovery!
The Trumpet Concerto starts in reflectively Griegian (The Last Spring) tones and passes through passages of Bachian purity and voluptuous bravura.
GNESIN - D'Après Shelley - Symphonic Fragment in D major is a slice of the moodiest mood music capturing a sense of Manfred's struggles and combining it with Miaskovsky's autumnally sombre lyricism. The Requiem is a 12 minute piano quintet with a compelling emotional ebb, flow and tidal pull. The music reminded me powerfully of Cyril Scott and Herbert Howells. Then comes the sheerly gorgeous Piano Trio 'dedicated to the memory of our lost children'. These represent nostalgic, scintillating dances, touching, pearly and evocative of Fauré. Songs of a Knight Errant are for harp quintet and are meltingly sentimental in a way which keeps suggesting Cyril Scott but without Scott's burgeoning profusion of ideas and over-decorated instrumental lines. Adigeya is an earnest incantatory sextet for violin, viola, cello, clarinet, horn and piano. The weirdly titled Jewish Orchestra at the Ball at Nothingtown is a suite of seven very short dance movements: a dream ball sequence which will warm the hearts of Russophiles, slavonic, clashing, sensitive, zigeuner, Klezmer and tartly harmonic.
KREIN Sonata-Fantasy is in three short (c. 5 min) movements and an initial 3 minute segment. It is romantic, tuneful, smacking of John Ireland. The Allegro drammatico is tense and nervy while the following andante is agreeably dreamy. The finale is an allegro deciso which reminded me of the tumult and energy of John Foulds' Cello Sonata (a masterwork recently recorded by the British Music Society). The whole work could easily have been a work of the British musical renaissance. The Sonata-Poem, with a title beloved of Khachaturyan, is Hebraic with dashes of impressionism. The Dramatic Poem is colourfully done with the example of Rachmaninov's music clearly in the air.
The GNESIN work based on Pushkin's Stone Guest (which inspired a middlingly famous opera by Dargomizhky) comprises three glintingly brief pictures of Don Juan, Donna Anna and Laura. The first is ardently exotic - oriental or Hispanic; the second thoughtful and the final segment calm and beautiful. What a superb quarry for encores! The KIRKOV is by turns flowingly Brahmsian and in its wandering wrong-notes just extreme enough to be tangy without frightening the horses. Anyone who appreciates the Frank Bridge cello sonata (perhaps in the Rostropovich/Britten Decca recording) will enjoy the Kirkov.
Krein, Gnesin and Kirkov remain otherwise largely or completely unrecorded. Goedicke has a piece for piano and orchestra included alongside Glazunov's two piano concertos in Hyperion's outstanding Romantic Piano Concerto series. Mossolov has been recorded from time to time notably for his most noted or notorious piece: Zavod (The Iron Foundry) and there is a complete collection on BMG-Melodiya which I hope to review 'ere long. Roslavetz is a fascinating character. A selection of his piano music has been recorded by Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion and there have been several other recordings.
MOSSOLOV's First String Quartet is in four movements. For me it points up the variety of works included in this album. The first movement is an andante agitato. The emphasis is on 'agitato'. Psychological dysfunction crawls from every pore. The music might easily be used as background to a German expressionist horror silent. Bats flit out of empty towers and ivy and cobweb-strewn mausoleums deck the landscape. The atmosphere is powerful and very accessible, always underpinned by some insistent tune or motif. This movement is a determinant of the whole work as it plays for 15.07 of its 23.08. A Rozsa-curving song of some mountain highlands, with sad fanfares ringing out over desolate battlefields, is sung by the solo violin at 10.07 but this gives way to a train-urgent pizzicato. Three miniatures (2.48 3.20 1.45) follow reflecting moods from the first movement like flickering sparks thrown off the main structure. II is hectic. III after an initial resolute rush finds relaxation. IV lasts not even two minutes and sings of a creepy solitude and ends with a few splashes of grafted-on determination.
ROSLAVETZ's two single movement quartets are similar in approach. They are full of restless movement and activity. The first has all this but in addition has an ardent tune which sings in Tippett-like passion and confidence at 3.04 and 8.03. The third is a surreal moderato.
The KNIPPER third quartet is in 4 movements, playing for 10.36. This recording seems to have a different balance or recording venue from the others. The Mossolov and Roslavetz works are recorded richly. The Knipper seems closer and with a sparer sound. It is a work of shards and episodes much more so than the other works on this disc - a mosaic of sketches. Rather like the Roslavetz works, Knipper's music often resorts to Russian folksong. It is rarely far away. The other common element is an image of devastated battlefields: try from 2:40 of the adagio last movement.
There was a certain familiarity about all the string quartets on this disc. At first I couldn't pin it down. Then the penny dropped. Frank Bridge. If you know and appreciate Bridge's string quartets (especially 3 and 4) you will warm to these.
The modernist cover art for each volume is taken from 1913/14 paintings by Gino Severini and Giacomo Balla.
The notes are the only weak link in this project. They are helpful as far as they go but rarely do they tell you enough about the specifics or background of each work. Dates of composition are more interesting and significant than opus numbers.
Pretty full discographic information is given.
Background on the Italian artistic futurist movement is repeated in each of the three sets.
In years to come I fully expect this set to become a collector's item of fabled note, spoken of in the same breath as the Paxton 10" LP of Granville Bantock's Celtic Symphony or the early LP of Balfour Gardiner's April etc. Get it now. Enjoy it now and push back the boundaries of your knowledge.
If the label 'futurism' worries you, be reassured. There is nothing (or very little) here to alarm or disconcert. Perhaps just enough in the case of Mossolov to lend a slightly exotic air to the proceedings.
This is a triumph for Arte Nova. I await further volumes. How about the orchestral works of Maximilian Steinberg?
Collection: MUSIC FOR STRINGS: Sibelius: Suite Champêtre/Canzonetta; Dvorák: Waltzes in A and Dflat minor/Nocturne in B/Humoresque in G flat; Elgar: Salut d'amour/Sospiri; Grieg: Two Melodies: The Goal; The First Meeting/Nordic Melodies: In FolkStyle; Cow Call; Peasant Dance/Two Elegiac Pieces: The Wounded Heart; Last Spring The Serenata of London/Barry Wilde IMP 30367 02492 [69:23]
This looks on paper to be an interesting and unusual collection of short works. But it doesn't work mainly because the majority of these pieces are so sad and melancholy. A more varied programme would have saved the day. In the heavy hands of this ensemble they sound even bleaker. By the time, for instance, one gets to the first piece with any signs of joy or even a tempo with any speed or real rhythm the players seem to exhausted to enjoy Dvorak's Humoresque. By the time I reached the final track 18 - Grieg's Last Spring I was beyond even despair.
I'm sorry I cannot summon up any enthusiasm to discuss this disc in detail and I cannot recommend it at all
ARTHUR BUTTERWORTH (1923-) Symphony No. 1 (1957) [40:09] RUTH GIPPS (1921-99) Symphony No. 2 (1945) [23:57] Munich SO/Douglas Bostock rec Arco Studios, München, 2-3 December 1998 ClassicO CLASSCD 274 [64:18]
These world premiere recordings of two British symphonies are a triumphant event!
The project is both national and European in emphasis. The works are performed by a south German orchestra and a British conductor (a Boult pupil) with a Czech recording engineer and issued through a Danish label.
The Butterworth work was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival, conducted by Barbirolli on 19 July 1957. It was given its London premiere at a Prom on 29 August 1958.
Butterworth's symphony is out there in the dark Northern wastes written in a mood and language that is an extension of the Sibelius Fourth Symphony and the Vaughan Williams Sixth Symphony. It is much influenced by bleak shores, the wilder reaches of Scotland and the winter of 1947 when icefloes appeared in the North Sea. There is a most impressive consistency of mood across its 40 minute span.
The allegro molto moderato (I) has the music bowling along with a figure out of the start of the Moeran symphony. The symphony is soon exhaustively exploring a stormy Tapiola, complete with Nielsen references, tempestuous brass and gloomy strings. The following lento molto continues in Tapiola-like wandering; meandering in a cold daze by the side of some desolate lake. At 11:23 there is an outburst from the strings which must surely have been inspired by Sibelius 7.
The third movement (allegretto con moto) speaks of pent energy with minatory rumblings and rollings from the kettle drum. The colours are half or even quarter lit with little in the way of facile brilliance. Even the harp touches are 'whispered' as if afraid to lift their head.
The finale is marked vivacissimo e furioso (not 'furiososo' as per the back of the jewel case) and by heck it is furious! This movement breaks the spell and casts it to the four wild winds with whirling Manichean violence. Whooping and careering horns and trombones evoke storm breaking over Suilven heights towards Cape Wrath. Screams and hoots roll ripely from the brass. At the close, bells up, the horns call out in visceral energy and resolve into a gong-stroke like the fatal shudders of some great dark creature in its awesome death throes. Incredible! My broadcast tapes give little impression of the ferocity of this finale.
[Full details of Arthur Butterworth's music and biography are to be found here]
Ruth Gipps recent death saddened us all. I particularly recall her kindness in providing me with tape copies of 4 of her 5 symphonies plus the piano concerto and the substantial choral/orchestral piece The Cat.
The second symphony is launched by a drummed fast heartbeat and then a great yearning filmic theme is unleashed on the strings returning again at track 7 (although written in a single movement ClassicO have considerately tracked 11 segments separately and these are keyed into Lewis Foreman's description of the work in the booklet). The work mixes a certain Canterbury Tales wartime pastoralism (note the solo violin passage), a Job-like calm, a toy march (echoing Dyson and Arnold) which works up a real lather of a climax, elements of folk tune, restrained soliloquising (adagio section ) carried over into the tranquillo (13) and finally a tart mixture of jollity and solemnity.
The CD is greatly enhanced by heart-warming photos of Ruth Gipps and a 1969 candid of Arthur conducting the Northern Sinfonia. The booklet is excellently designed and runs to a generous 24pp in English and German. Lewis Foreman wrote the notes and is artistic adviser to the project. Did he write the uncredited notes for the Bax 6 recording I wonder?
[David Wright's Biography of Ruth Gipps may be seen here]
What next? We know of the Holst Cotswold Symphony disc which will also include other Holst rarities. Can we hope for York Bowen Symphonies 1-4, Dunhill's symphony, Stanley Bate 1-4 (Bate's scorching wartime paean must surely be an early candidate and with their searing performance of the closing pages of Butterworth 1 the team have proven that they are eminently fitted to the task), Bainton's magically lit and phantasmal No. 3, William Baines' symphony, Fricker symphonies 3-5 (and who will reissue existing LP recordings on Louisville and EMI of Nos 1 and 2), the early Stills 1 and 2, Holbrooke's Apollo Symphony, even a selection of W T Gaze Cooper's symphonies. All of this is not to mention Gipps symphonies 1, 3-5 or Butterworth 2-4 (I hope there are to be more Arthur!).
The orchestra seem to have been recorded in a kinder ambience than that accorded to the recent ClassicO Bax 6.
This is a truly desirable project with the orchestra and recording team getting well into their stride in this cracker of a disc.
And another view from David Wright:
Volume 4 of Classico's recordings of British music is the best so far. It couples two splendid British symphonies and in performances that are extremely good.
It is never wise to compare composers as it can not only be wrong and misleading but hinder their reputation. Arthur Butterworth has stupidly been called the British Sibelius and his music described as Nordic. Of far greater import is his individuality and skill and nowhere it is displayed better than in his Symphony no l.
The performance of an impressive piece is matched by a fine account of the work and a splendid recording. The moods of the various movements are accurately captured and realises the composer's intentions faithfully. There is an excellent orchestral balance and clarity which feature is not only in the performance itself but in the composer's skill and understanding of the orchestra.
The long first movement follows in the line of great opening movements. It is serious and profound but never pompous or flippant; it contains memorable material and wonderful contrasts between exciting music, which is always in control, and mysterious quieter passages which are never dull. The movement, rooted in D minor, has an interesting colour and welcome orchestral solos. It has a logic and coherence and a grippingly satisfying structure. While one may say that nothing is perfect this movement comes close to perfection; it is beautifully written; there is neither exaggeration nor understatement; everything is balanced and convincingly effective. The final climax is electrifying and the final eight bars are both simple and beautiful. The Lento is mysterious and expectant music having a strange beauty. It is evocative. There are one or two minor blemishes ... The trumpet entry at bar 9 is not pppp but the viola solo at bar 15 with bass clarinet and oboe is very telling as are the ethereal high strings at bar 23. I do like the way Arthur does not dismiss the bassoon as the orchestral clown. There are occasional effective uses of the harp and how the oboe sings! The climax at bar 47 is staggering and there follows some lovely glowing music for strings. When the harp joins in at bar 83 the sound is simply ravishing. And so I could go on.
The movement is slightly too slow, I fear.
The Allegretto has a few small disappointments in that Bostock does not honour the long pauses (bar 2 and 4, for example). It is a sort of mysterious quiet scherzo and sometimes these movements are not the easiest to appreciate. Jascha Horenstein said the movement was superfluous.
The finale, Vivacissimo e furioso, is very exciting. What a start. It is wonderful virile music with whooping horns (the word whoop is used in the score). There are elegant woodwind solos and an impressive menace in the quieter sections ... and, of course, relentless string writing. The timpani thunders occasionally and the brass snarl. dramatically. The furiossissimo coda (bar 414 ff.) is gloriously wild at times.
And there are no variations in speed. The music keeps going. This is not a slow weak 'stop and start' allegro that is an annoying feature of one revered British composer but a stunning tour de force ... A real and brilliant allegro. And watch out for those stunning climaxes.
This is truly a very fine and special work.
Before I proceed to Ruth Gipps' Symphony no 2, I have to quietly complain that the sleeve note lists tracks five to fifteen concerning this piece thus perhaps implying that it is in eleven sections ranging from 42 seconds to 3 minutes 44 seconds in length. This is completely daft. The symphony is in one movement not fifteen episodes. If this policy is going to be taken up to show all changes of tempo then works like the popular Elgar Cello Concerto are going to have over 40 sections to indicate tempo changes.
As Ruth's biographer, and having known her for many years I can, and must, emphasise that this is a symphony in one movement. I have a copy of the score before me which actually states that.
The symphony, which is rooted in B minor begins with the timpani's heartbeats and lovely string writing; there are effective brass harmonies and, after the introduction, the allegro moderato is so effective because of its total simplicity. The themes are easily recalled; the solo violin (2 bars after figure B) is indeed grazioso but Bostock, or the recording engineers, get it wrong at the Pui mosso section at figure D where the percussion is not played quietly as the score instructs thus making it prominent and it sounds rather cheap. Ruth Gipps' own recording avoids this foolishness. There is a simply magnificent cor anglais solo accompanied by the harp ... the cor anglais was Ruth's second instrument; in an andante section (two bars before figure J) we have a sublime flute solo. The March is the sort of fife and drums march with prominent piccolos, that one associates with the American War of Independence. It gets closer and then dies away. The following adagio is scored for strings alone before a horn solo concludes this section. It is music of the simplest composition. If written for the piano it would not even be Grade 1 ... and yet is so effective. I am not at liberty to explain the tolling B flat bell but the heartbeats return and there is a climax and a brass section of non-pompous pageantry and the music is majestic at the end.
As with the Butterworth, Bostock's tempi in the slow sections are perhaps a little too slow. Butterworth takes 36' 53" for the symphony, Bryden Thomson 36' 40" whereas Bostock is 40' 09". Ruth Gipps takes 21' 35" for her symphony - Bostock takes 23' 57" and loses some of the tautness and continuity. Nonetheless the music is lovely and a good contrast to the serious drama of the Butterworth.
Perhaps some will take up these composer's other symphonies. Bryden Thomson greatly admired Butterworth's four symphonies particularly the Sinfonia Borealis and both Walton and Bliss praised Ruth's Symphony No 4 which is very fine indeed.
[Full details of Arthur Butterworth's music and biography are to be found here]
[David Wright's Biography of Ruth Gipps may be seen here]
CHOPIN. Peter Katin Plays Chopin, Volume One. Ballade No 4 in F Minor, Op 52; Three Mazurkas, Op 59; Piano Sonata in B Minor, Op 58; Barcarolle, Op 60; Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op 61. Peter Katin (piano) Olympia OCD186 DDD. [75' 00"].
Listening to this disc convinced me why I have hitherto not been particularly espoused to the music of Chopin and that is because his music is so badly played and by those who are revered as performers. His music is often played as sickly sentiment, mawkish slush and with ghastly rubatos and in frilly ways which leaves the music weak and effeminate. It is often degraded into a sort of cheap salon music ... pretty and tinkling, and how irritating that can sound. I have just heard a famous pianist play some of the waltzes and it sounded like inconsequential Johann Strauss ... simply, quite awful.
The image of Chopin's music being wispy as well as wishy-washy is a myth that must be countered. It does Chopin's reputation no good and my years of hearing his music vandalised has left a legacy of injustice. While he is not a barnstorming composer he should not be presented as an anaemic composer. If his music has strengths, and it does, we need robust and convincing performances or else his music merely degenerates into anaesthesia.
Katin avoids any cheapening or depreciating of Chopin in that he does not play his music as feathery dust or as if depicting fairyland.
That main work on this disc is the B Minor Sonata. The difficulty in performing this work, apart from the high level of technical skill required, is in the structure of the first movement which teems with invention ... so much so, that to hold it together as a whole calls for a feat of musical engineering. What is needed for a successful performance is a complete garment and not a patchwork quilt. What Katin gives us is a beautiful seamless garment. I listened to other performances and their stitching was showing, and, in some cases, there were some ghastly tears. The music was episodic as if several miniatures loosely tied together in a lucky dip.
This opening movement contains not only a rich plethora of contrasts but is often possessed of a satisfying beauty which Peter never allows to become mawkish. Thankfully, there are no lingering affectations or rubatos and, as a consequence, the music does not disintegrate. It is warm and glowing meeting the highest expectations.
The scherzo has a middle section that does not seem to 'belong' but the Vivace sparkles in the hands of this truly brilliant pianist.
The shadow of the death of Chopin's father may hang over the impressive Largo where Katin has a really amazing cantabile tone. The movement does become a trifle self-indulgent and introspective. It is a very private and personal piece whose secrets we may never penetrate but the wonderful variety of colour in this performance keeps the music vibrant. It is played with great sensitivity and tenderness. To enjoy it fully, you have to sit and listen attentively to all those well-judged nuances. After all, good music is not to be heard but listened to. The finale is a curious piece but all the more intriguing because of it. It has a strong theme and contrasts which Katin brings out with effortless clarity.
The Barcarolle, Op 60 is a sunny piece of great charm perhaps recalling Venice. It reminds me of Mendelssohn who, sadly, still remains the most abandoned of the 'romantics' and yet whose music has a craftsmanship and fecundity that is unequalled. This Barcarolle is an extended piece and, in this committed performance, is never trite or a mere fancy.
The Three Mazurkas are a varied group each played with a precision that is never cold and with detail that lifts these pieces out of any possible bottom drawer of banality. The Ballade No 4 may not contain Chopin's best music but the piece is beautifully and lovingly structured by Peter Katin.
The stunning revelation on this disc is the Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op 61 which is hardly one of Chopin's most popular works. In fact, it has its critics and yet it is a fascinating piece, full of shifting contrasts. Here is an example of the 'other' Chopin, the profound and mysterious Chopin. Here the 'ugly duckling' of this composer's oeuvre is given a makeover and treated with the respect it deserves. The unsurpassed performance is wonderfully thought-provoking and has a profundity which belies the usual accolade that Chopin's music is, at best, superficial. This is a work worthy of study.
Katin's performances are, as usual, exemplary as to technique, skill, interpretation, detail and pristine clarity.
Listening to this disc makes me realise not just how well Katin plays Chopin, setting standards that will hardly be exceeded, but it also reveals how badly Chopin is played by other famous names. Chopin needs revaluation; he is not just a composer of frills and trifles as this compelling disc testifies.
Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960) Suite in F sharp minor, The Veil of Pierrette, Variations on a Nursery Theme Howard Shelley (piano); BBC Philharmonic conducted by Matthias Bamert CHANDOS CHAN 9733 [69:52]
Dohnányi left only forty three opus numbers when he died at age 83. And he is really only remembered for his Nursery Theme Variations and the Wedding Waltz. He was, in fact, a greatly respected concert pianist (regarded, because of his impressive virtuosity, as the successor to Liszt), conductor and teacher.
The Veil of Pierrette (1908-09) is known only for its last movement. This, the Wedding Waltz, is music that everybody recognises as a light music favourite; the kind that one knows well, but never knows the title. The three preceding movements are receiving their premiere recording on this album and together they comprise a charming suite. The work opens with 'Pierrot's Love-lament', a sad little piece with sighing, lamenting lower strings - poor Pierrot is quite inconsolable in his grief although he shows brief flashes of anger and resentment at his predicament. The following movements are more joyful. The waltz-rondo is a charming parody of a Strauss waltz, while the Merry Funeral March a real contradiction, is a witty confection - perhaps the Commedia Dell'arte characters were getting up to their usual mischief? But the Wedding Waltz is all headlong gaiety - and, ah that tune!
The Suite in f sharp minor again shows off Dohnányi's gift for parody. The opening movement is a sparkling set of variations (a favourite musical form for the composer). The theme is rather Dvorak-like and the variations sunny and melodic. The woodwinds are given a lot of joyous material, they bubble and skip merrily away and often laugh at the pomposity of the heavier brass. There are some warm-hearted string tunes too. The second movement is a strong scherzo with a rousing central peroration. The third Romance: Andante poco moto movement is an exotic mix of styles a sort of Arabian Nights atmosphere - sensuous and languorous - rubs shoulders with more urgent Magyar rhythms and inflections. The Rondo finale begins sounding like Tchaikovsky and ends like Brahms. The music sparkles, flutters and flirts, rushing along headlong until the tempo relaxes for beauty and romance.
I will admit that Dohnányi's great musical send-up, his NurseryVariations has always been a favourite of mine. Who could resist the piano's coy tongue-in-cheek announcement of the 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star' theme after such a long, inflated, self-important peroration? Who could resist the lovely graceful, lilting waltzes that are Variations 3 and 7, so beguilingly shaped by Bamert, or the charm of the music box Variation. Then there is that too haunting rather nostalgic Alla Marcia with its echoing horns not to mention the grotesqueries of the Presto Variation 9 sounding like skeletons dancing and the grave dignity of the great Passacaglia Variation 10 with its wonderful noble melody full of Rachmaninov-like melancholic intensity. Although this performance cannot quite dispel the memory of the celebrated 1960 recording made by Julius Katchen and the LPO conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, it is nevertheless a very fine reading with Howard Shelley entering into the spirit of this satire with sensitivity and gusto.
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) 'Rediscovered works for violin' Marat Bisengaliev (violin); Benjamin Frith (piano). Black Box BBM1016 [67:57]
Romance Op. 1
Chanson de matin Op. 15 No.2
Chanson de nuit Op. 15 No. 1
La Capricieuse Op. 17
Salut d'amour Op. 12
Etude-Caprice (trans/arr. W.H. Reed)
In Hammersbach (from the Bavarian Highlands No.2)
(Five) Etudes Characteristiques for solo violin Op. 24
In his youth Elgar practised hard at the violin and actually cherished ambitions of becoming a professional virtuoso. He had his first lessons with his father and by the age of nine he was sitting next to his father in the second violins in the orchestra of the Worcester Glee Club. By the age of twelve, Elgar was also a proficient violist. In 1876, when he was nineteen he began a long arduous career as a violin teacher, an occupation he hated. In 1877 he travelled to London for a series of lessons with Adolphe Pollitzer who, like Joachim, Ernst and Auer, had studied with Joseph Böhm. This twelve-day visit cost Edward £7-15-9 of which £3-12-6 was spent on the rail fare. At one lesson Pollitzer asked Elgar which study he had prepared and was astonished when Edward replied - "All of them!"
"Do you compose?" asked Pollitzer. "I try", replied the budding composer.
Thereafter Pollitzer saw whatever Elgar had with him and in due course gave him an introduction to August Manns director of the orchestra at the Crystal Palace.
Pollitzer discerned exceptional musicianship in Elgar and pleaded with him to return for a full course of lessons. Elgar did so intermittently travelling up and down from Worcester, living on two bags of nuts a day. But finally, he came to realise that his tone was not full enough to realise his ambition of becoming a soloist and so he gave up the idea and therefore the lessons.
However, during his time with Pollitzer he composed solo violin studies himself to stretch his technique. In 1878 he composed the outline of an Étude-caprice (on this disc) which W.H. 'Billy' Reed completed over sixty years later. The same year Edward wrote his five Études Characteristiques for solo violin (that conclude this programme) and dedicated them to Pollitzer. They are less melodies than exercises for the violin: crossed strings, double-stopping and difficult arpeggios etc. They present almost insurmountable technical hurdles. In fact even Yehudi Menuhin whose interest was strong enough to request a copy of the music; baulked at the idea of performing them in public. On this album virtuoso Marat Bisengaliev throws them off with seemingly effortless ease.
Bisengaliev gives relaxed and polished silken performances of these charming tuneful little works; salon pieces which must have been immensely popular around the turn of the century. In fact Schotts made a fortune out of Salut d'Amour which Edward sold to them for perhaps £5. This little gem is also included (in a rather too cool reading) together with such other well-known favourites as Chanson de matin and Chanson de nuit. La Capricieuse was once a fairly popular repertoire piece, counting Heifetz among its champions. By 1901 Elgar's reputation secured him payments of 50 guineas for pieces like the delightful May Song. Carissima, written for small orchestra in 1913, soon appeared in his own arrangement for violin and piano and it was the first Elgar work that the great man conducted in a recording studio. Late in life, in 1932, he submitted the Adieu and Serenade to publishers Keith Prowse in sketch form. The publishers commissioned arrangements for violin and piano from Joseph Szigeti no less!
Elgar often disparaged the piano but his writing for the instrument as accompaniment to these violin pieces is equally assured as Benjamin Frith's sympathetic and unobtrusive, but beautifully controlled and phrased playing demonstrates.
The packaging for this CD is excellent - tasteful design and typography on beautiful substantial white art paper. Martin Anderson's notes are authoritative and entertaining.
John IRELAND (1879-1962) Piano Music Vol. II John Lenehan (piano) NAXOS 8.553889 [70:43]
The programme comprises:
The Towing Path
Two Pieces: April
Decorations: The Island Spell
The Scarlet Ceremonies
Leaves from a Child's Sketchbook: By the Mere
In the Meadows
The Hunt's Up
The Darkened Valley
Three Pastels: A Grecian Lad
The Boy Bishop
Two Pieces: February's Child
I have to say that I gave Mr Lenehan's first volume of Ireland's piano music a rather chilly review and I regret to say my reaction to his second Ireland collection is not much warmer.
I remember talking to Eric Parkin who has recorded Ireland's piano music and he told me that Ireland was most emphatic about not wanting his music to be hurried; he was very sensitive to the chordal movement and wanted every note to be heard (Ireland writes lots of notes in his music). Ireland's music is romantic and impressonistic; in fact he was very much influenced by the music of Debussy and Ravel (and Gershwin).
Lenehan tends to hurry too much to the detriment of the music. Listening to Eric Parkin's readings one is immediately impressed with how much more colour, rhythmic variety and potency, character and depth that Parkin brings to these charming little works. I compared the first three numbers on Mr Lenehan's programme with their Chandos equivalents (more warmly and more resonantly recorded). Parkin's Merry Andrew, (3:01) as opposed to Lenehan's (2:49) shows more pathos beneath the frenetic exuberance in fact Parkin reveals far more character facets. In The Towing Path, Parkin (3:49) has that extra delicacy and fragility and he suggests a nostalgia and a sad Delian transience as well as drawing just an idyllic portrait of Thameside village (Lenehan 3:40). Lenehan rushes through the Rhapsody (7:31) missing Parkin's finesse and fine line contrasts (8:17).
Lest I be thought too harsh, Lenehan is overall quite sympathetic and I warmed to some interpretations notably his evocative The Island Spell and Moon-Glade from Decorations and two of the Three Pastels: A Grecian Lad and The Boy Bishop. Against his trend he dawdles over By the Mere and the Moderato first movement of the Sonatina.
The Darkened Valley is erroneously grouped with Leaves from a Child's Sketchbook in the booklet.
I suggest that newcomers to John Ireland might sample this bargain album and then move up to the more satisfying Chandos recordings. Eric Parkin has a touch that is pure magic as afar as John Ireland is concerned.
FRANCIS JACKSON Daniel in Babylon. Monodrama with Music. Drama by John Stuart Anderson Francis Jackson, organ. John Stuart Anderson, narrator; St.Peter's Singers, directed by Simon Lindley Recorded in Leeds Parish Church by Martin J. Monkman. [76.06] Amphion CD PH1 145
Along with Britten's War Requiem, this work was written for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962. As Simon Lindley's informative notes tell us, it is built around a series of Old Testament stories including The Burning Fiery Furnace, Belshazzar's Feast, The Lion's Den and Susannah and the Elders, set against a musical backcloth of choral and organ music.
Bearing in mind even such fine works as Honegger's King David I must confess to doubts about recorded narration. Live performance, yes. But what about the verbal repeats in the living-room? I can only say that after three or four playings Daniel still grips my attention. It is a wonderful amalgam of well chosen texts, with appropriate and enhancing music, in a relationship that offers continual stimulation. A highlight for example is the appearance of Dr. Jackson's well-loved setting of the Benedicite. This occurs at the place where the Greek version of the Book of Daniel inserts that very canticle "The Song of the Three Young Men" who have been delivered from the furnace. The theme is used, not in choral form, but as organ music in a lyrical outpouring wholly appropriate to the Psalm 148-derived text. Benedicite becomes a musical benediction. Just one example from a score that is throughout consistently fresh and inventive.
The well-trained choir interpolates narrative reflections, written by John Stuart Anderson, which at times attain an almost Eliot-like splendour through their restraint "The Spirit of God, ascending still through desolation, pierces the darkness to live." Vocal textures are spare as befits their complementary role in the drama, though at least one might serve as a liturgical introit in its own right, "Rejoice....let us be glad and worthy to stand in His house". The choir deliver these pieces in natural style without 'making a meal of it'.
Belshazzar's Feast has a built-in vocal counterpoint for those of us who have played Walton's writing on the wall into the mat with a stylus. But such is the momentum of "Daniel" that I was deflected only briefly. Mr Anderson holds his listeners with a telling variety of delivery, modulating from a newscaster's matter-of-fact reporting to a Gielgud cadenza with well-judged ease.
The ending is visionary, with perhaps just a glance towards the cinema. And why not? The film industry has had its successes with biblical stories. Despotism, consumerism and corruption are still contemporary. This imaginative work, so well performed and recorded brings these old tales vividly to life. The score has just been published by Banks.
JOSEPH MARX (1882-1964) Romantic Piano Concerto in E major (1919) [36.39] ERICH KORNGOLD (1897-1957) Piano Concerto in C sharp for the left hand (1922) [27.35] Marc-André Hamelin (piano) BBC Scottish SO/Osmo Vänskä rec 19/20 June 1997 HYPERION CDA66990 [64:39]
The Marx Romantic Concerto delivers what its title promises. The upward surging exuberance of the open pages are a prelude to a scintillatingly confident work in which decorative virtuosity and romantic feeling meet. The atmosphere is Viennese rather than Russian. The harmonies are tart and these reminded me of the orchestral works of Franz Schmidt. The lebhaft first movement is the longest of the three at almost a quarter of an hour and is packed with Straussian incident and Lisztian bravura from the piano. The work lacks the distinctive creamy tunes you find in Korngold whose name is also suggested by hearing this concerto. Equally Marxs melodic invention is without the over-the-top sentimentality that occasionally invades Korngolds luscious tunes. The first movement has the isolated patch of piano noodling but, for the most part, variety, drive and strong thematic invention hold the concerto together well and the closing moments of the lebhaft are lambently wonderful. The central andante is suitably poetic with richly-imbued passion and reminded me of Saint-Saens piano concerto slow movements. Ardent joie-de-vivre return for the final Allegro molto. This is interrupted by a Brahmsian episode at 1:32 and even an oriental dance by a capering bassoon at 4.13. As the booklet note by Brendan Carroll points out the constantly shifting material also reminds the listener of Delius. The heroically piercing strings yearn dreamily to great effect and if the ending seems perfunctory so much before is memorable we leave the work with only a momentary sense of disappointment. The notes suggest that it had disappeared from the repertoire by the mid-1930s. This may well be true however as late as the 1980s Zubin Mehta conducted the NYPO in a performance which exists on tape. The pianist was the temperamental but brilliant Jorge Bolet.
Marxs Castelli Romani is probably a better work than the Romantic Concerto if an old tape I have is anything to go by. I rather hope that Hyperion will record the work. It deserves exposure and many will find it a rewarding discovery. I am still trying to track down tapes of the orchestral Natur-trilogie and the Marx Herbstsymphonie, both of which are likely to be strong works of great colour and distinction. I am also anxious to hear Marxs three string quartets and three piano quartets.
The Korngold work was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein (who else!). It has fine and archetypically Korngoldian melodies (e.g. Track 5 - 0.42) complete with lush string writing which the Scots despatch with creamy style. The work is much more varied than the Marx and Korngolds effervescent imagination is everywhere in evidence in a cornucopia of poetry and display. Track 7 represents Korngold in the doldrums of inspiration although even then there are flashes of novelty. Hamelins glittering diamond runs and trills are part of the glorious bouquet of the Korngold work. It is the presentation of the rose from Strausss Rosenkavalier that comes through strongly in track 8. A warlike atmosphere pervades track 12 and this gives place in the following (and final) track to a determined and affirmative vehemence.
No apologies for harping on about Marx at the expense of Korngold. EWK has been given great and deserved attention over the last 15 years. Marx has not. He is a singular figure and terribly neglected despite a crop of 150 songs from the early years of the century and a distinctive orchestral heritage from the 1920s. We must hear more of his music.
The booklet notes are in English (7pp), French and German.
This is the eighteenth in Hyperions The Romantic Piano Concerto series and is most sensitively and powerfully accomplished by Hamelin (whose Medtner sonata cycle is one of the jewels of the Hyperion - or any - catalogue), Vänskä and the BBC Scottish. The sound is all you might expect: natural and with plenty of depth and power. These are works and performances to which you will want to return.
See also Ian Lace's review
JON LEIFS Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, Pastoral Variations, Fine II, Dettifoss Iceland Symphony Orchestra En Shao BIS-CD-930 56m DDD
The incredible opening bars of Leif's majestic Organ Concerto have you imagining gigantic glaciers and devastating avalanches in the Norther latitudes as the orchestra thunders fortissimo through the music accompanied by the memorable sounds of the organ. This twenty-minute piece receives its premiere recording here and I doubt if it can sound any better with the Bis sound absolutely stunning in every respect. Bjorn Steinar Solbergsson plays like a man possessed and no technical difficulty is beyond him, double-stops, toccatas, fugues, he is in command of the whole lot.
En Shao's direction is also commendably vivid and involving especially in the heinously difficult central Passacaglia, which is the kernel of the work. After such breathtaking music, the simple Variations on Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony may seem small beer but the charming re-working of that memorable tune is beautifully done with the ISO strings particularly involved. 'Fine 2' is another curious piece which is scored for vibraphone and strings, thus creating a meditative atmosphere very far removed from the blustering Organ Concerto but still typically Nordic in its sense of glacial intensity.
Bis choose to end the disc with a shattering premiere of 'Dettifos', a choral work of great spiritual power and one that makes you stand up and take notice. It is not unlike Nielsen's 'Hymnus amoris' in its intensity but Leifs' style is far removed from anyone and his music contains contours that are very personal. Loftur Erlingsson is a masterly baritone and the Hallgrim Church Motet Choir is extremely involved throughout. Notes are detailed and informative and as already mentioned earlier, the sound is of demonstration quality. Fans of Scandinavian music should not hesitate to acquire this splendid disc; the only quibble is its short timing but that probably could not be helped!
F. LISZT: Grande Fantasie sur La Clochette and other first thoughts and second drafts. Leslie Howard (piano) Hyperion CDA67408/10 [221m] DDD.
Hyperion's magnificent and truly laudable Lisztcycle approaches the finishing line with this mammoth treasure trove of hidden delights that will enthuse all lovers of the piano. Indeed Leslie Howard waxes lyrical about most of the pieces in his scholarly notes, so if he is eager then why shouldn't we be so too? The Grande Fantasie that heralds the first disc is truly titanic, here Lisztmatches Paganini in his wizardry and it would be idiotic not to say that Howard's performance is masterly in every respect.
The short Waltzes and Polonaise are also brilliantly done although one must admit that most of these shorter works are rather trivial. However the 2nd Legend entitled, 'St Francis de Paule walks on water' is indeed pianistic impressionism at it's finest and contains much that is memorable and hauntingly beautiful. Other works which left a profound impression on me and that emanated from the first disc where the short but thoroughly charming 'Wallenstein's Lake' and the poetically haunting; 'The Cypresses of the Ville d'Este', an intoxicating tone poem of miraculous beauty. The short Variations on Paganini's Carnival in Venice' are also vintage Lisztwith devilish double-stops and glissandos, more than a match for Howard's scintillating virtuosity.
The second CD begins with a truly awesome pianistic rendition of the 9th Symphonic Poem, 'Hungaria'. This is one of the most static symphonic poems, but when heard in a pianistic guise it retains its formal heroic layout but adds to its virtuoso content. Howard's slow tempo clocks in at 22'37 but one cannot fail to appreciate what Lisztcould make out of orchestral pieces with his pianistic mind. The 'Rackockzy March' follows hot on the heels of that noble salute to Hungary and this piece is full of those typical rhythms that make Lizst's homeland so mysteriously romantic.
Once again, I was left awe-inspired at the guise the orchestra changes to when confronted with the keyboard version. Howard is also superb in the two excerpts from the oratorio, 'The Legend of St Elizabeth' which shows Lisztin his spiritual guise. The Valse Oubliee' and the Grand galop chromatique are also summarily dispatched whilst the Huldigungsmarsch concludes this second installment in true virtuoso fashion.
By the time I popped the third CD into my player, I was feeling slightly out of depth when confronted by such incredible genius. And if I thought there was going to be a letoff, I was sorely mistaken as Howard plunges tooth and nail into another Paganini variation, this time on 'La Clochette et Le Carnaval de Venice'. The pianist becomes literally possessed by his mentors devilish demands, at times it really seems that the piano would be about to disintegrate, such is the force of this music! A short Angelus provides the ideal interlude before the mammoth 'Historische ungarische Bildnisse', a veritable tone poem of piano genius.
This half-hour long work contains much that is virtuosic but there are also moments of deep solitude which are well characterized by Howard. Another version of the previous Angelus makes a welcome break before the grand finale', yet another Paganini set of variations. This titanic work makes a fitting conclusion to this incredible three-disc set of delightful rarities that takes its place amongst one of the finest issues in the series, primarily for collectability. Hyperion's recording is the usual model of clarity and as already mooted, the notes are first-class. As for the playing, well you can't imagine it if you haven't heard it can you? So just go out and buy this set!
MARK LOCKETT Hollowed Ground Wriggly Pig 001 [64.21] Available £10.00 inclusive of P&P within UK from 101 Summerfield Crescent, Birmingham B16 0EN, United Kingdom. firstname.lastname@example.org
This CD arrived out of the blue late last Autumn. I rather regret that my personal backlog has delayed a descriptive review until now.
This disc, which Mark Lockett is selling direct, is a 'cold as ice' example of new age meets minimalism. The foldout leaflet gives little information as if to say 'just listen to the music'. This is fair enough although a new name might well have advanced his interests further by providing some biographical background amongst all the design work and photos. Wriggly Pig do not stint on some artist information and from this we learn that the composer plays piano, keyboards, accordion and percussion. He is joined by various other instrumentalists including the bass, tabla, voice and a seven-strong gamelan ensemble. The whole was recorded in 1998 in Birmingham and Stockton-on-Tees.
Let's take the tracks one by one.
Kiva - 1: Gamelan sounds meet a Latin beat with ear-tickling wide stereo separation and a dash of Coltrane. The trochaic pattern reminded me of Nightride and Sunrise by Sibelius.
Alcatraz. 2: The sounds of the sea mix with the bubbles and squeaks which characterise the Barrons' score for the famous Walter Pidgeon 1950s sci-fi film Forbidden Planet. The music seems, probably unconsciously, to be illustrating the phantasmagorical world of C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet. Icy cathedrals slip in and out of focus in an atmosphere that contrives to be simultaneously warm and cold.
Mono Lake 1. 3. Wide-spanned piano chords suggest height and depth and the music has an Irish curve and lilt with splashes of Debussy and Satie.
Floating World. 4. The title evokes Hovhaness. The track is the longest at 8.10. This is the deftest gamelan playing; pleasing and mesmeric.
Suburbia Nocturne. 5. The rich broth includes a siren, Latin American beat, accordion and a decidedly Gallic (Claude Lelouch) atmosphere.
Sekar Gadung. 6. More gamelan.
Earthbow. 7. This track is dominated by jazzy material with maracas, piano, percussion and struck piano strings in a dynamic interlude which reminded me of Conlon Nancarrow's possessed 'prepared piano' studies.
Rejang Eyong. 8. The gamelan returns in all its tumultuous patterned life and contrasts with what sounds like a wobble-board.
Mono Lake II 9. This is a nice track drawing somewhat on Gershwin and the real or imagined Manhattan cocktail bar milieu.
The Ladder. 10. This is like an off-station radio signal with a voice cutting quietly and enigmatically through the miasma.
11. Back to Cocktail-hour Manhattan but with a side salad of Satie and Lelouch.
The Janitor's Tango. 12. Tango? Yes and with on-style accordion and ending in the cocooned neon-lit warmth of the big city. Perhaps a touch here of Herrmann's music for Taxidriver.
To summarise. This is pleasant, ear and mind-healing music. It does not challenge. No track is so long that its material outstays its welcome. As an essay in undemanding serenity it achieves its apparent aim without a shake or falter.
See also previous review by David Wright ()
EDWARD MACDOWELL (1860-1908) Fireside Tales (6) Woodland Sketches (10) New England Idylls (10). Gerard van der Laan (piano) LUCTOR-002 [71.00] available from Mr van der Laan at GerardJacobvanderLaan@euronet.nl phone - Nedlerlands 0598 468468
This is a special disc, clearly born of long study of these home-spun but effective mood-sketches. There is a special artistry in writing and interpreting these staples of the domestic piano stool. Gerard van der Laan in sympathetic domestic style evidently has a special love for these unassuming pieces of mood music.
The first set are the Fireside Tales. In From a German Forest there is some impressively light-fingered filigree caprice work (1:48). The Haunted House has some Baxian warbling in the lefthand part.
There is more vigour in the Woodland Sketches, telling of New World forests, trailing creepers, enchanted pools, abandoned farm houses overrun by nature, bright moments in the sun and darker mysteries threatening as in From an Indian Lodge. To A Wild Rose (the famous track) is haunted by the tune - Cherry Ripe. The mood is returned to in A Water Lily. In the more fanciful Will O' the Wisp the voices of Granados, Chopin and Mendelssohn's fairy music are heard in music which has more movement than the other pieces. In Autumn is bright and breezy as also is From Uncle Remus. The tale - Told At Sunset which concludes the set seems a pretty resolute tale with an unusual quota of conflict although tame by comparison with Medtner or Rachmaninov.
The final New England Idylls include much that is a return to Macdowell's accustomed mood of dreamy rhapsody. An Old Garden and Sweet Lavender are good examples. Midsummer seems to envision a scene in the shadow of the trees. Midwinter is a strong piece with lovely upwards runs seeming to point to gusts of wind and eddies of snow. In The Deep Woods is another strong track with a strong vein of heroic nobility and a few hints of raindrops falling from the forest ceiling. To An Old White Pine is rather Baxian and this should not surprise us. I recall that Colin Scott Sutherland's fine 1970s book on Bax drew parallels with Macdowell and even then stirred my interest in the American composer's four named piano sonatas. The sequence closes with the Glazunovian eagerness of The Joy Of Autumn.
Macdowell's are innocent not lascivious pleasures and van der Laan faithfully conveys this with better than serviceable technique where speed is concerned but without intrusive virtuoso brilliance. You get the impression that you are sitting in a drawing room listening to a fine domestic player saying 'listen isn't this good . Just listen to this!' and he is talking about the music not about how wonderful he is.
The disc comes with a 16 page booklet in Dutch only. The whole production is presented professionally with attention to fine details. The booklet contains poems; one for each of the 26 pieces and these are the handiwork of Judith Jonkman. It is my loss that I am not familiar with Dutch so I cannot comment. Just to reassure you; the poems are not read over the music. they are simply reproduced in the booklet.
It would be easy to overdose on these idylls, sketches and tales. Despite the similarity in titles with works by Medtner these are very different: more homespun but with immediately accessible charm. Gerard van der Laan seems closely in tune with this element and with the rarer darker moods as in From an Indian Lodge.
I would now like to hear Mr Van Der Laan in the four Macdowell piano sonatas. Meantime followers of Macdowell would do well to add these sincerely conceived and reflective performances to their collections.
The only real down-side is the recording. I am not sure whether it is the acoustic or the piano but the sound seems quite constrained; a little boxy. This rather robs the performances of a little of their telling effect.
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