Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
May 1999 (part 2)
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COMPETITION WIN a CD of your Choice
FRANK MARTIN (1890-1974) Le vin herbé (1938-41) Sopranos: Basica Resitchitzka, Nata Tuscher (Iseut), Adrienne Comte (Branghien).Altos: Helen Morath (Iseut aux Blanches Mains), M L de Montmellin (mere de Iseut), Veria Diakoff. Tenors: Oleg de Nyzanowskyi , Eric Tappy (Tristan), Hans Jonelli (Kaherdin). Baritones: Heinz Rehfuss (Roi Marke), André Vessières (Duc Hoel), Bass: Derrik Olsen. Composer (piano) Ensemble from Stadtorchester, Winterthur/Victor DesarzensJECKLIN DISCO JD581/2-2 2CD set: CD1: [57.01]; [CD2: 44.57] recorded in 1961 and first issued as LP set Westminster XWN-2232
Frank Martin was a Swiss composer whose first language was French. His major choral works include this piece, In Terra Pax, Requiem (also recorded on Jecklin), Golgotha and a substantial set of Rilke songs.
Frank Martin's notes with this set indicate that in 1938 when he was approached to write a piece of circa half an hour duration for chorus he had been much taken with Charles Morgan's novel 'Sparkenbroke'. This refers to, and is imbued with the spirit of, the Tristan story.
Robert Blum whose commission the choral piece was also agreed to Martin adding seven or eight instrumental parts. These are pairs of violins, violas, cellos, a double bass and a piano. So was born Part I of Martin's Le Vin Herbé (the drugged wine). After the premiere of Part I Martin added two more parts to round out and complete the tale.
On this CD (rather capaciously accommodated in an old style twin CD 'coffret') the first disc carries Parts 1 (6 tableaux) and 2 (5 tableaux). The third part (7 tableaux) (42 mins) and the 2.41 Epilogue comes on the second CD.
While the forces are not fully orchestral and cannot even claim to be a chamber orchestra the effect is quasi-orchestral. The singers, singing as a chorus, play a largely declamatory narrative role. The music has a touch of Les Noces about it.
The music is heavy on dynamism and a certain monumental muscularity but light on colour and short on ecstasy. The dark-tone of the male singers is quite commanding in a monochrome and monolithic way. Tableau 5 suggests chaos in a rushing piano part and urgently propulsive strings. That urgency is mixed with tempered passion and a harsh march. Over the foundation-solid voices of the choir a female voice rises in resolute stoicism defying an apocalyptic chaos.
The second part is all desolation, intensity, little passion and urgent impulse. Some of the etiolated dreaminess of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande is also evident. There is imaginative string writing but all in charcoal and white light.
Remarkable in Part 3 is the honey-glazed tone of the strings (CD2 track 2 1.55) and the bubbling piano dreamworld of Tableau 4. There is a sense of hearing a landscape in convulsion through the most vivid playing by the instrumental ensemble at 4.12 in track 3. In the sixth tableau Martin achieves a static monolithic effect with the solo violin crying out in concentrated soulfulness.
The text is given in French and English side by side in the case of the sung words. The notes are by the composer and appear in the original French and in English translation.
This work represents a sombrely intense experience. You will know if this work is for you. It is not at all a pinnacle of melodic emotionalism and you might have expected more passion from the story. It represents rather a book of woodprints with the pages turned as the story and the roles unfold in singing. It is beautifully done and is clearly authentic carrying the composer's imprimatur.
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) Tango Ballet; Concierto Del Angel; Tres Piezas Para Orquesta De Camara. Gidon Kremer (violin) with Per Arne Glorvigen (bandoneon); Alois Posch (double bass); Vadim Sakharov (piano); Marta Sudraba (cello) and Ula Zebriunaite (viola); and Kremer ATA Baltica. TELDEC 3984-22661-2 [53:52]
Astor Piazzolla studied with Alberto Ginastera and, in Paris, with Nadia Boulanger. It was she who persuaded him to devote himself to the tango rather than to classical music. Piazzolla interpreted the popular music of Argentina as Bartók, Stravinsky and Gershwin did the music of their countries. And the tango is Argentina! Piazzolla took the tango and produced classical music. Hearing the jazz musicians in Paris and being impressed with their swing and wealth of ideas, he decided to free the tango from its traditional patterns to give it more nuances and make it more complex.
In 1956 Piazzolla wrote Tango Ballet for a short film. His music was welcomed but not the film. It is a difficult work. It made big demands on the octet's musicians at the time, so much so that it was not performed again until 1989. In Tango Ballet classical music, tango and ballet all merge into a composition of unique originality. In this transcription, Gidon Kremer is featured together with his chamber ensemble Kremer ATA Baltica which consists of young musicians from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Kremer grasps the opportunity to show off his impressive virtuosity without compromising the essential spirit of the composition. There are six movements: Introduction - La Calle (The Street); Encuentro (Meeting); Cabaret; Soledad (Solitude) and Calle final. Cabaret - pure tango, has a particularly catchy tune; the mood of Soledad is, in contrast, darker and tinged with melancholy. Encuentro - Olvido has an engaging sexy sultriness, with a sense of mystery and danger.
In 1958, Piazzolla was inspired by the cool jazz of New York and he assembled his first quintet with an instrumentation of bandoneon, piano, double bass, electric guitar and vibraphone. Later, the vibraphone was replaced by a violin. Piazzolla was concerned to create tango music that would give voice to the concerns of the modern city of Buenos Aires since the city had a new rhythm and had become cosmopolitan. He brought the tango to a new audience: students, young workers, avant-garde artists, jazz and Bossa Nova fans. Among the numerous works of his fruitful 1960s was the 'Angel' series that revolved around the subject of an angel. Four of these are included in Concierto Del Angel for violin, bandoneon, double bass, piano and string orchestra. They are: Introducción al Angel; Milonga del Angel; La muerte del Angel and Resurrección del Angel. The music attracted great attention for it sounded new, unusual, evocative and sensitive. Introducción al Angel describes the mysterious path of the angel who appears in a block of flats in Buenos Aires in order to cleanse the souls of the inhabitants in music that is quietly mystical but also intensely passionate. La muerte del Angel begins with a three-part tango-fugue followed by a passage which depicts the desperate struggle between the villain and the angel whom he kills - the music here is again passionate with a strong melodic line. Milonga del Angel is more slow and sentimental while Resurrección is proud and haughty and rather Ravelian in character. Kremer and his players play with real power and conviction.
Finally, for piano and string orchestra, there is the three-movement Tres Piezas Para Orquesta De Camara. Preludio: Lento is an atmospheric piece that opens dramatically and menacingly before its brooding melts into a lovely romantic melody. Fuga:Allegro, one of the most captivating numbers on the album is a bouncy, vibrant fugue with a catchy melody. Finally the Divertimento: Allegro molto is a sunny jazz-inspired confection.
An inspiring tour of the tango in thrilling performances.
André PREVIN A Streetcar Named Desire - An opera based on the play by Tennessee Williams. Renée Fleming; Elizabeth Futral; Rodney Gilfrey; Anthony Dean Giffey.San Francisco Opera conducted by André Previn DG 459 366-2 [161:53]
Elia Kazan' film version of Tennessee William's play, A Streetcar Named Desire, was made in 1951. It captured Oscars for Vivien Leigh (Blanche) Kim Hunter (Stella) and Karl Malden (Mitch) and Oscar nominations for Tennessee Williams, himself as screenplay writer; director Kazan; and Marlon Brando (Stanley); and, of course, Alex North. Alex North's ground-breaking, jazz-based score is justly celebrated. Therefore, with André Previn's considerable experience of film music (he worked on more than 40 films between 1949 and 1973), this recording is of considerable interest to the serious student of film music. Commissioned by and for the San Francisco Opera, this is Previn's first opera. He has, however, accumulated considerable experience in writing music for the stage. In 1969, he wrote Coco - a musical for Broadway and, in 1974, another musical for the London stage, The Good Companions. He also wrote, in collaboration with Tom Stoppard, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, a work for actors and orchestra that was premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the London Symphony Orchestra in 1976. [Many film enthusiasts will recall that Claire Bloom made a memorable Blanche on the London stage.]
Previn's music is essentially more 'classical' than the score composed by Alex North but the jazz influences are nonetheless very apparent in creating the necessary atmosphere of hopeless degradation and sleazy madness. Previn says: "Everyone knows that I've played a lot of jazz in my lifetime, so people are bound to say that there is a jazz influence in the harmonies or the rhythmic patterns. I like to quote Aaron Copland who replied to questions about jazz in his work by saying, 'I didn't grow up in a vacuum.' I did not set out to write a jazz-influenced score, but I didn't set out not to do so either." Previn commented that he also decided to stick closely to the speech patterns. Many singers have noted the musicality of Tennessee Williams's writing.
The opera is, of course, dominated from the start by the character of Blanche DuBois, and Renée Fleming is very compelling. At the start of the opera, she arrives in New Orleans to stay with her younger sister, Stella, who lives in a cramped apartment with her brutal husband Stanley Kowalski (made famous by the moody magnificent Brando). Blanche berates Stella for living in such squalor, graphically portrayed in the orchestra. Later, putting on her airs and graces, Blanche sings of her former genteel existence that has been shattered by impoverishment caused by relations dying and leaving nothing. Previn's sleazy jazz figures and almost ghoulish accompaniment tells us a different story, however, one of depravity, sex and booze, that becomes only too clear in Act III. As Blanche gazes at herself in the mirror, Previn allows her some sympathy and pathos. When, in Act II, she sings 'Soft people have got to shimmer and glow', he protects her with soft-focus music that is almost Delius-like, warm and impressionistic, before a few intrusive concluding bars remind us of Blanche's self-delusion. Later in the same Act, as Blanche recalls the tragedy of her first love and marriage to a homosexual who later shot himself, the music becomes increasingly hysterical distorted and grotesque. Blanche only feels secure in her dream world as she tells Mitch in her ACT III aria "Real who wants real I want magic". As Previn says, "This aria is sultry and torpid and you can feel the heat and humidity, as well as understand Blanche's desperation and her special grace." In Act III after Stanley has raped her, off-stage, to a most gritty, evocative, three-minute Interlude, Blanche descends into madness. Her final, poignant aria 'I can smell the sea air' is very moving, as is her last line as she is led away by the doctor, 'Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.'
Rodney Gilfrey as Stanley cannot displace the Brando image, but that is not to say that Gilfrey fails to convey the complexities of his character: ignorant, insensitive and brutal but also tender and vulnerable. The scene in which he opens Stella's eyes to Blanche's delusions as he ransacks Blanche's trunk is sardonic and vicious enough he makes the Act III denouement with Blanche before he rapes her quite riveting. Anthony Dean Griffey is a sensitive Mitch, mother's boy and too weak to make a satisfactory saviour for Blanche. His Act II aria, 'I'm not a boy ' shows us his humble humanity but also his own romantic self-delusion. Self-delusion is a character trait that is shared by the otherwise sensible Stella, splendidly portrayed by Elizabeth Futral. Stella can forgive the beating that Stanley has inflicted on her and cradle him like a lost child afterwards when he has sobered sufficiently to be remorseful.
Not a brilliant success, the unrelenting decadent harrowing story and theme tend to grind the production down, but it is certainly a most dramatic and intensely musical experience.
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971) - Orchestral Works: Concerto for String Orchestra, Concertante pastorale for flute, horn and strings, Light music for strings, Suite for recorder and string orchestra, Elegiac rhapsody for string orchestra, Divertimento for chamber orchestra. Conrad Marshall (flute), Rebecca Goldberg (horn), John Turner (recorder), Northern Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd-Jones Naxos 8.553567 [63:36]
I have no caveats here. This is a maginficent disc and would be gladly welcomed were it to be on sale at premium price. At the ridiculously low Naxos price I urge everyone with an interest in British music to grab this recording immediately. It is a worthy successor to the violin concerti in the Naxos Rawsthorne stable. The Rawsthorne Trust and John Belcher have put their time and money into these recordings and are to be highly commended for doing so. The recording was made in the Victoria Hall, Bolton which I presume is the Town Hall, and is a bright, close, rich sound that is now becoming commonplace on Naxos British recordings. Once again the cover Art is a painting by Isabel, Rawsthorne's second wife, - stick men and fish in boxes which in no way resembles the glorious romantic music on the disc.
Concerto for string orchestra (1949) [21:27], in three movements, is an energetic exciting work in a similar vein to Britten's Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge and is to be recommended to anyone who likes that work. As for all the works recorded here John Belcher has usefully provided detailed technical notes. After a striking, striding opening, a solo violin produces a moment of quiet thoughfulness before a return of the tumultuous opening ideas, leading to a sudden conclusion. The slow movement has the gravity of a Bruckner adagio and manages to sound rather like one lending great weight to the work. Possibly a more accurate comparison would be with the Funeral March from the aforementioned Bridge variations. The allegro piacevole (tr. pleasing or agreeable) enters without a pause. A fugato lifts us back into the sunshine with a beautiful melody emerging from the violins leading to an energetic, uplifting ending.
Concertante pastorale (1951)[10.01] has the unusual combination of flute with horn and strings. This was a commission for a concert to be performed in the Hampton Court Orangery and a precondition was that the principal theme, heard on the horn, should be both sweet and lyrical. The horn is used expressively, promoting the theme, with the flute and strings adding a decorative commentary. It all works much better than I anticipated with the horn beautifully caught by engineer John Taylor in a well balanced recording.
Light music for strings (1938) is a short piece [3:58] using Catalan themes in sympathy with the Spanish Civil War. Those familiar with Holst's St Paul's Suite or Warlock's Capriol Suite will know what to expect.
Suite for recorder and orchestra [6:34] is the sort of title that will normally send me into cover. This was written around 1940 but the performance was prevented by the War and all that existed was a transcription for viola d'amore and piano which came into the Trust's possession in 1992. John McCabe has reorchestrated it for this recording. The suite consists of four short movements: Sarabande, Fantasia, Air and Jig incorporating folk material, and is composed in what John Belcher describes as an antique style.
Elegiac Rhapsody (1964) [10:14] is a real discovery and the most moving piece on the disc. It was written in memory of the poet and dramatist Louis MacNeice (1907-63). This is a very powerful work for string orchestra opening mysteriously and sorrowfully (c.f Holst's Egdon Heath) but soon turning to anger and ultimately despair. The work proceeds in alternating sections with the quiet sorrowful music becoming squeezed out by lengthening sections of white-hot protest and anger. Certainly a work of value and one to return to.
Divertimento for chamber orchestra (1962)[11:23] was written for Harry Blech and the London Mozart Players. The strings are joined by two flutes, two bassoons, two oboes and two horns. The movements are Rondo, Lullaby and Jig. In common with all the other works presented here, there is a solidity and purpose in Rawsthorne's writing and this disc has greatly enhanced my opinion of the composer which had already been revised with the Naxos issue of the two violin concertos.
A second opinion:
This latest CD released by Naxos brings together six works for Chamber Orchestra by Alan Rawsthorne. They are played by the Northern Chamber Orchestra, conductor David Lloyd-Jones, with the customary attention to detail that we have come to expect from this excellent group of musicians. The pieces were written between the years 1938 and 1964 and display every aspect of Rawsthorne's mastery of structure and instrumental colour.
Even on a first hearing of the Concerto for String Orchestra (1949) one is aware that Rawsthorne has an individual voice. The turn of phrase and string textures follow in the tradition of other composers using this genre without ever sounding remotely like them. It is a work to go back to many times in order to savour his distinctive voice.
The same could be said for the Concertante pastorale for Flute, Horn & Strings. (1951). The two wind instruments add that touch of evening melancholy that one associates with landscape painting of pastoral subjects.
It is good to have the Light Music for Strings (based on Catalan Tunes) (1938) once more in the catalogue. This short work should be in the repertoire of every amateur orchestra because it is such fun to play and acts as a useful stepping stone to more complex works in the same genre, like the Britten I Berkeley Mont Juic. Both works are a potent reminder of an important period in European history which has been celebrated in music by English composers.
The Suite for Recorder & String Orchestra arranged by John McCabe (c 1940s) is a gift for recorder players, either in its present form or the alternative with piano.* It reminds us that the songs and dances of the sixteenth century are an important part of our musical tradition, as is the recorder. The strange, almost sinister melody of Wooddy-Cock stays in the mind long after the sound has died away.
The Elegiac Rhapsody (1964) is a fitting tribute to the memory of the poet, Louis MacNeice, whose musical lines also linger in the memory. The string textures are most arresting, encouraging one to stop and go back over what has just been played. The moods change from anger to sad acceptance and are expressed in many descending phrases. It is reduced at times to a small handful of solo instruments in true chamber music tradition, the individual voice suggesting a kind of 'keening'.
The final piece is the Divertimento for Chamber Orchestra (1961/2) and once again the composer includes wind instruments. The colour of each is presented with total clarity always underlined by rhythmic vitality. The lines of melody wander in a controlled fashion, responding to that tug of the lead which brings them back to base. The bareness of the second movement Lullaby is a model of restraint, the deft touches of colour from the wind instruments enhance the melodic line. There is a truly 'get up and go' last movement in which the textures are similar to those found in the baroque concerto grosso; plenty of activity for every player. This is a most rewarding collection of pieces, another bargain from Naxos! Yet again David Lloyd-Jones has added another distinguished contribution to a major series of British music.
*Newly available in the collection for recorder and piano John & Peter's Whistling Book, Forsyth Brothers Ltd. Manchester 2 CDs FSOO1 1002
You can learn more about the composer from the Rawsthorne Web Site
If you purchase this disc, as you surely must, reduce your average postage by also purchasing the companion disc:
RAWSTHORNE Violin Concertos 1& 2, Fantasy Overture: Cortèges Rebecca Hirsch (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, cond. Lionel Friend Naxos 8554240
see review here
Naxos also lists a third disc which I have yet to hear:
RAWSTHORNE Quintet for Piano and Strings, Piano trio, Cello Sonata, Viola sonata, Concertante for Violin and Piano John McCabe (piano) Martin Outram (viola) Rogeri Trio Naxos 8.554352 buy here
Currently at a special low-midprice there is a recording of the Rawsthorne Clarinet Quartet coupled with two other British works:
RAWSTHORNE Clarinet Quartet, BLISS Clarinet Quintet, ROUTH Clarinet Quintet Nicholas Cox (clarinet) Nicholas Ward (violin) Peter Pople (violin) Ivo-Jan van der Werff (viola) Paul Marleyn (cello) Redcliffe RR010
Rawsthorne's symphonies are available on a Lyrita CD:
RAWSTHORNE Symphonies Symphony No.1 London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir John Pritchard Symphony No.2 (A Pastoral Symphony) Tracey Chadwell (soprano) London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite Symphony No.3 BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Norman del Mar Lyrita SRCD 291
RAWSTHORNE Violin Concertos 1& 2, Fantasy Overture: Cortèges Rebecca Hirsch (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, cond. Lionel Friend Naxos 8554240 [64.08] DDD
RAWSTHORNE Violin Concerto 1 Theo Olof New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult  Violin Concerto No. 2 Manoug Parikian, BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Schwarz  Impovisations on a theme by Constant Lambert BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Frank Shipway  Divertimento BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson  BBC Carlton Classics 15656 91952 [78min ADD]
see also earlier review of carlton recording
A brief comparative review of the Naxos and Carlton recording of Rawsthorne's Violin Concertos.
I have lived with the Naxos performances for about six months - since receiving a cassette of the master - and have come to know them well. Only since their release on CD have I returned to the 1997 Carlton version ; this has pointed up the differences very markedly.
As to the recorded sound the new BBC recording made for Naxos suffers from a homogeneous balance between soloist and orchestra, which, together with the studio acoustic, has a levelling effect. This tends to under-characterize the soloist and could leave her disadvantaged by both Olof and Parikian, who are spotlighted at the expense of added astringency and some coarseness, products of the age of the recordings. The Carlton recordings of the orchestral accompaniments are not wholly satisfactory. No.1 was recorded at a public performance in Cheltenham Town Hall in 1972 and has its abrasive moments. Regrettably the mode of recording did not provide for re-recording the fugato bassoon duo in the opening pages of the second movement, playing which goes sadly awry. The Maida Vale studio in which No.2 was recorded in 1968 has an acoustic which is over-resonant, and glaringly analytical.
The differences in the recorded sound heighten the contrast between the solo performances. Rebecca Hirsch may seem reticent by comparison, yet drama and attack are by no means lacking, they are tempered by the uniform balance between soloist and orchestra. Hence the First Concerto suffers some attenuation of the panache one expects from the soloist in a work cast in a romantically expansive mould.
The Second Concerto is more contemplative, with the soloist fulfilling a concertante-like role. In this regard the Hirsch performance suffers less from the recorded balance than is the case of the First.
The authority of Olof's performance of the first Concerto (he gave the first performance at Cheltenham in 1948) derives from Rawsthorne's immediate input and guidance. There is strong emotional content in his performance, a clue for which may be found in a letter in the OUP archive addressed by Olof to Rawsthorne's publisher. This relates to this memorial performance recorded eleven months after the death of the composer. Olof discloses the level of his sorrow at the composer's death and expresses a strong desire to pay tribute to Rawsthorne by performing the work on this occasion.
Parikian plays the Second Concerto with similar authority and with sanguine projection, grasping the few virtuoso opportunities the composer provides - unlike the first there is no cadenza. Its directness and conviction yield a very persuasive view of the work.
I was doubtful about Hirsch's opening statement in the First Concerto when I first heard it. She accords it a brooding, misterioso, character (not marked in the score). The validity of that approach emerges as the opening section unfolds, adding a dramatic and premonitory constituent which is echoed elsewhere in Rawsthorne's music - think of the opening of the 'Cello Sonata and the first of the Four Romantic Pieces for piano. Unexpected as this may be, it does establish an imaginative approach which finds a response in the conductor.
Hirsch is more at home in the Second Concerto. She comprehends the concertante element and accords it a thoughtful and contemplative mien, though meeting the demands of the dramatic moments when they arise.
Olof and Parikian are to be cherished for their clear and straight-forward interpretations: they are authentic reference points to return to. Rebecca Hirsch comes to the works with a fresh ear and establishes a new standard, so much so that her readings are not diminished by comparison. Each version has its own character and validity and can stand undiminished alongside its counterpart. Any listener who admires Rawsthorne will want both versions, at these prices it does not have to be a matter of either/or, but if only performance can be afforded, this new CD is the one to invest in. Hirsch consistently appreciates and reveals the lyrical essence which lies at the heart of much of Rawsthorne's writing.
The couplings on these CDs also make them complementary. Cortèges is a fine piece, well played and presented here with conviction, wit and drama. The performance of the Divertimento on the earlier CD is rather cursory, missing the subtleties of Rawsthorne's writing (wait for the forthcoming recording by the Northern Chamber Orchestra, conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, also on Naxos). The Improvisations on a Theme by Constant Lambert. also on the Carlton disc, is a valuable addition to the growing list of recorded works; it receives an adequate performance by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Frank Shipway.
Three cheers, then, for the accessibility which this bargain issue brings, for the promotion of Rawsthorne by a young performer and for the enterprise of Naxos. The recording was made with financial assistance from the Rawsthorne Trust.
Other Rawsthorne Recordings to consider
Visit the Alan Rawsthorne Web site
Albert RUBENSON (1826-1901) Drapa; Symphony in C-Major; Symphonic Intermezzo; Trois Pièces Symphoniques. Roy Goodman conducting the Umeå Symphony Orchestra STERLING CDS-1029-2 [61:23]
This is another enterprising album in Sterling's Swedish Romantic series. All four works are receiving their world première recordings.
Albert Rubenson belonged to an artistic and well-connected Jewish family in Stockholm. He studied in Leipzig - violin, harmony and counterpoint; and composition with Niels W. Gade. When he returned to Stockholm in 1850, Rubenson became a viola player with Hovkapellet (opera orchestra) before devoting himself to composition. He also served as a music critic on the Swedish New Musical Journal and was appointed Inspector of the Stockholm Conservatory of Music in 1872. In this post he became a fastidious civil servant whose musical opinions were conservative in the extreme, a marked turn-about from his more liberal ideas of earlier years when he had championed modern music. He preferred to compose for orchestra although the demand was for smaller scale works and songs.
Drapa (Ode), the short overture that begins the programme, was composed in 1866. Drapa is the term for an ancient Icelandic poem of praise. The work is rather ceremonial in nature and speaks of chivalry and heroism but with an occasional melancholic tinge.
Pleasant melodies are scattered throughout all four of these works but none of them are particularly memorable. The Symphony in C major was written in 1847 when Rubenson was a student in Leipzig.
It is an interesting work, for a 21 year-old, with some novel attributes. It is full of youthful enthusiasm. The influence of Schumann and Mendelssohn is very apparent. The first movement is lively with a distinct spring in its step; the interest lies in a rhythmic diversity that the booklet aptly describes as often capricious. The movement is also rich in unusual modulations. The second movement is unconventional too: Alegretto moderato- Allegro- Tempo primo- Allegro-Lento-Tempo primo. The breezy Allegro is enlivened by refreshingly displaced accents. The slow movement is lyrical and slightly melancholic. An extraordinary trumpet call announces the start of the finale which is rousing and jubilant with a pastoral quality too.
In the Symphonic Intermezzo (composed 1860; first performed 1868), Rubenson develops his use of folk-song material. The first movement feels somewhat Brahmsian and it mixes the homely with the heroic/dramatic. The second movement has a rather hymn-like solemnity before this mood is rudely interrupted by boisterous, catchy folk-song material. The final movement is energetic with vital rhythms and syncopations.
For me, the most attractive and entertaining work on the disc is the Trois Pièces Symphoniques (1871). This is really light music; a delightful mix of folk and salon music. The first movement, marked Allegretto quasi Allegro might be rather stilted but it is an appealing confection. I was reminded of Eric Coates and the salon music of Elgar. The Vivace is a quick and spirited scherzo - very brief at just over two minutes duration; and the concluding Allegro ma non troppo ends on a more serious and introspective note.
Roy Goodman and his Umeå players deliver spirited and committed performances. As an aside I was struck by the booklet's front cover picture (reproduced above). It has such a disturbing and haunting quality. The note inside gives only its title in Swedish with no indiction about what it depicts.
JEAN SIBELIUS Symphony No. 2 (1902) Royal PO/John Barbirolli CHESKY RECORDS CD-3 [43:54] recorded Walthamstow Town Hall England From RCA GL25011 (10/76)
Imagine discovering this, one of the most snowily romantic of works, in an overwhelming performance and recording. That, in short, is what you have here. I would certainly recommend this recording with the live Beecham and Szell as representatives of the best traditions (and there are different approaches to this symphony). Oh you will find more refined sound and more generous couplings however the chances of bettering this musical event are weighed against you.
The symphony belongs in a group of works which includes the under-rated Kullervo, the first two symphonies, the Lemminkainen Legends and En Saga. Tchaikovsky and Balakirev ( in the third movement track 3 at 8.20 listen for echoes of Tamara).
Barbirolli, renowned for pacing ideas and energy, brings to the proceedings a febrile intensity and plans climaxes into the overall structure extracting every ounce of drama. This is no anonymous performance. Instead it exudes an almost Stokowski-like individuality. The orchestra (not Barbirolli's usual partner) seem totally engaged. There is a Tchaikovskian brilliance in the pizzicato in the first movement (2.40) and an imposing string entry at 6.19
The second movement's (andante ma rubato) steadily fluttering woodwind are memorable for its slow motion butterfly movement. Playing of great poetic eminence is drawn from everyone and this is aided by Charles Gerhardt's recording which was made at Walthamstow Town Hall in the 1960s as part of the Readers' Digest classical music series.
Barbirolli time and again evinces a grand feeling for dynamic terracing. He is a grandee of the whirlwind and a master romancer. The crowning glory of full-throated fanfares in the finale is rivalled only by Beecham in his shout-spurred BBCSO Colston Hall performance (for years available on a World Records Club LP). There is a great deliberation about the Allegro Moderato finale but no feeling of lassitude. The last pages tremble with intensity (18.24 ) and all unforgettable majesty of a fanfare-crowned finale.
As for the rest, this is a platinum performance played with explosive rips and tugs of energy. It deserves permanence in the catalogue
I am not sure about playing times but Barbirolli's later recording of this symphony (HMV) is not as fleet or as intense.
There are superb and specific (English only) notes.
SIBELIUS: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5. Philharmonia Orchestra Herbert von Karajan EMI Karajan Edition CDM 566599 2 [77m] ADD
Karajan's penchant for Sibelius' unique symphonies was one of the finest characteristics of this often criticized conductor and these magnificent Philharmonia testimonials are a shining light in the history of Sibelius landmarks. It was obvious that by now, Karajan and Legge had turned the Philharmonia into a top-quality ensemble, one that was able to respond to every subtle nuance and dynamic shaping with alacrity and aplomb. This warm Kingsway Hall rendering of the Second is to my mind superior to the more famous Berlin account of sixteen years later.
There is a certain craggy grandeur about the opening movement and those glorious Philharmonia strings have that unique sense of character which is so essential to the brooding sweeps of the music. The First movement is on the slow side, but it never falters although one may notice that Karajan is occasionally wayward in his over-romantic treatment of the fragmentary themes. There is a cold, brooding almost 'Tuonela' like atmosphere in the Second movement and those fabled strings are quite Nordic in their corporate intensity.
Karajan whips everything up for the Third movement, the staccatos at the beginning of the piece are hammered out with vintage Philharmonia force. Then there is the transition to the Finale which is so superbly handled that you wouldn't even notice that they are two separate movements. The sense of heroic endeavor is impressive, although Anthony Collins' legendary Decca account is even more exciting. The lumbering tempo for the coda is impressive and the final bars are majestic and exemplary in their orific grandeur. An emotionally draining experience.
Karajan had already recorded a superb mono Fifth with the Philharmonia in 1953 and this stereo remake suffers from some indifferent playing, although critics have favoured this version to his later 1976 BPO account for structural integrity. The mystery of the First movement is an exercise in discipline although the conductor lingers over some selected key passages, robbing the natural flow of this wonderful music. Comparing this vintage Philharmonia to Rattle's superb 1982 account with the same orchestra was instructive but you cannot fail to have gremlins in that magnificent Second movement, an incredible tone-poem of stately and majestic beauty.
Karajan was always at his best in his recordings of the Fifth and this Finale is no exception. It has the orchestra bounding over glaciers and fjords with assured mastery and a sense of tranquil soliloquy, and when we reach the top of the mountain, the hammer blows are swift and enthralling, a glorious end to a majestic pillar of artistry. I fail to understand EMI's shabby treatment of the booklet, a short synopsis by Richard Osborne and sketchy descriptions of the works are all that are included. But that does not detract from the excitement and individuality of the enterprise and it is definitely one of the finest Sibelius issues of all time.
SIBELIUS: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5, Finlandia. Philharmonia Orchestra Herbert von Karajan. EMI Karajan Edition CDM 566600 2 [78m] ADD (Recorded: 1952/53).
Once again, we marvel at the icy and barren declamation that permeates Karajan's classic Philharmonia account of the Fourth Symphony. Walter Legge's experience in recording this difficult work ( he recorded it with Beecham in 1939) obviously paid great dividends and Douglas Larter's studiously balanced recording is a model of its kind. Sir Anthony Collins' contemporaneous Decca account sounds almost pallid by comparison.
Most collectors would think that EMI are sorely mistaken in pairing this classic account with an earlier mono version of the Fifth that is besotted by technical problems. This is indeed one of the major finds in the Karajan Edition as it is palpably superior to the 1960 remake which sounds too mannered and cold-hearted. There is a sense of awe and power about this great music and the mono recording is fascinating in its crystal clarity although some rumble has found its way into the mastertape, but that is a small price to play for such buried treasure.
'Finlandia' was always a major Karajan showpiece and in this 1952 Philharmonia recording it shines out like some majestic sunrise in the Northern latitudes. I might be a little too enthusiastic about these classic recordings but sample the playing on this reissue and you will understand what I'm raving about!
Richard STRAUSS Elektra Resnik, Nilsson, Collier, Stolze, Krause, Vienna Philharmonic, Solti remastered Decca 417 345 2 (2CDs Full price)
Sophocles' tragedy is believed to have been performed between 410 and 411BC. Briefly, its eponymous heroine (sic) Elektra mourns her murdered father Agamemnon. She tries to persuade her sister Chrysothemis to help her wreak revenge upon the perpetrators, which include her mother Klytemnestra. She in turn, is plagued by nightmares and fears, but derives some satisfaction in news of the death of Elektra's absent brother Orest. On her own, Elektra begins to dig up the axe that had slain Agamemnon, but is then interrupted by a stranger in the courtyard. To her delight, it is her brother Orest; not dead as was feared, but has now returned in secret. After some persuasion by his sister, he enters the palace and kills Klytemnestra. When Klytemnestra's lover Aegisth appears, Elektra leads him into the palace and to his own murder. She dances in triumph, and collapses dead.
This one act opera by Richard Strauss has as its librettist Hugo von Hofmanstal, after his own play based on the Sophocles drama and was first performed in 1909 in Dresden.
This recording comes from those operatically fruitful years whilst John Culshaw was with Decca, a period that which began in 1956 and came to an end in 1967, and included the entire Ring cycle by Wagner. Elektra could well have been his last production with the company. It was Culshaw's realisation that the advent of stereo offered a unique opportunity to attempt to create aurally what the listener missed from not actually being at a stage performance. To this day there are many, this reviewer included, that regard his productions for Decca as definitive performances on record. Elektra is no exception, with the principal role sung by Birgit Nilsson at the height of her powers. There are no longeurs in Elektra, it is riveting drama from start to finish. Newcomers to this recording should begin with Elektra's great aria near the beginning, when she sings of her loneliness and her passionate desire for revenge (CD1, band 2). This 9-minute aria is a tour de force and at the very moment she sings of the love for her dead father, Strauss' music suddenly takes on an almost unbearable lyricism. One is reminded of Salome's final aria when she sings to the head of Jochannaan in his other one-act opera, "Salome". Another sequence illustrating Culshaw's technique of creating a vivid aural image is during the scene when Klytemnestra is hacked to death in a rear room of the palace (CD2 band 10). Solti's conducting of the Vienna Philharmonic creates enormous tension as the moment approaches about 8 minutes from the end, when Elektra waits to hear of the death of her mother at the hand of Orest. Then, from somewhere in the rear of the sound stage, comes a bloodcurdling scream. Elektra declaims "Strike again!" and this is followed by a dull moan that is undeniably terminal. Only a superb understanding of what can be achieved by stereo techniques, can the oppressive atmosphere of this remarkable drama be conveyed to the listener. This re-issue, which takes advantage of the variety of modern methods for removing such artefacts as hiss, emphasise if one were needed, that this is the version all Strauss lovers should have. It certainly belies its 32 years.
Norwich Music Society
For a technical review of the remastering of this disc see here
VINTAGE BEECHAM. HANDEL: "Solomon': The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. DVORAK: Legend Op. 59 No. 3. OFFENBACH: Suite from: 'Tales of Hoffmann'. BIZET: 'Carmen'-Suite. DELIUS: 'La Calinda' from: 'Koanga'. MENDELSSOHN: Music from 'A Midsummer's Night Dream'. STRAUSS: Voices of Spring. BORODIN: Prince Igor - Excerpts. London Philharmonic Orchestra Sir Thomas Beecham Dutton Laboratories CDEA5022 [73m] ADD.
Listening to these types of CD's makes one forget the primitive and limited sound, only to gorge oneself onto music making that is no longer with us. This CD is indeed 'Vintage Beecham' as it enshrines some of the most popular lollipops that were to make this conductor's concerts such special occasions over the years. 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' bristles with life with the seductive LPO woodwinds in full flight like a team of birds! On the contrary the plain wistful melody of the Dvorak legend has the orchestra in clearly meditative mood.
The excerpts from Offenbach's 'Tales of Hofmann' are also winningly done with a suitable hustle and bustle about the Barcarolle, one of the finest moments in Beecham's recorded legacy. The conductor's 'Carmen' Suite was also a similar show-stopper and the lazy Iberian evocations come to such vivid life in his hands, that one is almost tempted to take a trip to Spain in virtual terms. This 1939 recording is one of the best in the collection with ultra smooth surfaces and occasionally quite impressive bass and midrange frequencies.
Delius could never fail to appear in any serious Beecham program and this early 'La Calinda' dances along with much greater presence than the later more famous stereo account. Another favorite Beecham composer was Mendelssohn who was a regular feature in most concerts conducted by the aging conductor. These 'Midsummer' excerpts are full of silk and gossamer, an ethereal nocturne, an earthbound Scherzo and finally a suitably swaggering Wedding March that transcends the sixty odd years of the recording! The same goes for Strauss' characteristic 'Voices of Spring', a rare item in Beecham's recording career.
The programme could not have ended with a better item, Borodin's 'Polovtsian Dances', a tribute to the diversity and eclectic temperament of this charismatic conductor. It is also captivating to note that Dutton have retained Lyndon Jenkins' original essay in this reissue, an unmissable portrait of this genial man. A true treasure and now available at budget price, an added incentive to harder-up collectors to sample the Beecham magic!
TOSCHA SEIDEL - the RCA Victor Recordings: César FRANCK Sonata in A, Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD Much Ado About Nothing Suite, Dimitri TIOMKIN arrangements of Strauss Waltzes plus music by Mozart; Wagner and Brahms etc. Erich Wolfgang Korngold (piano); Toscha Seidel (violin) and other artists . BIDDULPH LAB 138 [73:31]
Korngold, himself, at the piano playing his own Much Ado About Nothing Suite, in collaboration with the renowned viloinist Toscha Seidel, is the highlight of this wonderful album. This twelve-minute, or so, Much Ado Suite consists of four movements. There are the lovely romantic 'Bridal Morning', and 'Intermezzo (Garden Scene)' movements with their beguiling melodies. Dogberry and Verges (March of the Watch) anticipates the jolly bombast of the Sherwood Forest music from The Adventures of Robin Hood; and the suite concludes with the merry Masquerade (Hornpipe). Sheer magic.
Toscha Seidel was born in Odessa in 1899. He settled in California in the 1930s and made his career in Hollywood. He led the MGM studio orchestra for many years and featured in the soundtrack for the Ingrid Bergman and Leslie Howard film, Intermezzo. Provost's Intermezzo (one of those tunes we all know but cannot put a name to) was the film's title track and it is included in this collection.
Seidel had studied with Max Fiedelmann before joining Leopold Auer's violin class at the St Petersburg Conservatory. Jascha Heifetz, already in Auer's class, had been dubbed the "Angel of the violin" but Toscha Seidel was soon to be called "Devil of the Violin" due to his intensely vibrant sound and impassioned style - ideal for the world of film music.
Film music connections are prevalent throughout this collection. Bakaleinikoff's Brahmsiana concoction was performed in the RKO film Melody for Three. But the other highlight on this disc has to be the sparkling arrangements by Dimitri Tiomkin (with words by Oscar Hammerstein II) of three Strauss Waltzes featured in The Great Waltz, MGM's 1938 biopic of Johann Strauss Jnr. Here Seidel accompanies the glamorous coloratura soprano, Miliza Korjus.
These recordings vividly capture Seidel's glorious tone and reveal a mastery of the instrument and sensitive musicality. There are his amazing trills in the Mozart Minuet in D, for instance, and his ravishing reading (with pianist Harry Kaufmann) of Cesar Franck's Violin Sonata in A. This is a complete performance and it is the most substantial work in this generously filled compilation. It was recorded in the early 1950s for Impressario Records).
Seidel may be little remembered today but in the period before the Second World War he was regarded as one of the most gifted violinists of his day. George Gershwin immortalised him as one of the four brilliant 'oriental' fiddlers in the Gershwin song "Mischa, Jascha, Toscha, Sascha. " This is an album to treasure
Anna RUSSELL Anna Russell - Again? More musical spoofs SONY SFK 60317 [77:43]
Anna Russell, the female equivalent of Gerard Hoffnung, here gives us a hilarious send-up of many types of music, pop as well as classical - and the advertising industry.
Her programme begins with 'A Practical Banana Promotion.' Anna is engaged to give a recital to delegates at a fruit promotion conference - but then decides her recital should enter into the spirit of the conference which has the theme 88 - 88 being the number of calories in a medium sized banana! Well, what she does with her bananas is for your delectation! We are told that marketing should make the banana over to suit us or if that is not possible we should be made over to suit the banana. After a dissertation on the history of advertising including the tale of the ancient advertising agency, J Walter Belshazzar who put the 'Writing on the Wall,' she sings some typical commercial jingles. For the concert-goer, for example, she suggests the soft sell with the image of a grand piano because it has a connection with the product - the banana has 88 calories and the piano keyboard has 88 keys. So, when the audience hears a piano duo they will have a craving for babana splits! For those who resist advertising, she recommends subliminal advertising - by inserting commercials between each line of a lieder so that when the listener hears - 'I knew you loved me ' they also hear subliminally - 'in my Maidenform bra!'
We then proceed to the section A Square Talk on Popular Music or The Decline and Fall of the Popular Song. Anna begins: 'People in the Pop world take an interest in classical music - for instance they have taken Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and made it into 'Tonight We Love' so I don't see why I shouldn't, from my point of view, louse up popular singing. After all, we mustn't be chauvenistic must we? First of all, you have to use a microphone because the popular singer does not believe in developing the voice because that in turn develops other things and you have to be, above all, a dish if you're a popular singer. And then it distorts the sound and the more your vice sounds anything but human the more popular it's liable to become.' Anna then proceeds, with relish to demolish eight forms of popular song.
Finally, she also manages to deflate the mannerisms of singing from Madrigals to Modern opera. A hilarious 77 minutes and warmly recommended.
Ian Lace .
BOOK REVIEW: BOULT ON MUSIC Foreword by Vernon Handley and Bernard Shore Published by Toccata Press ISBN 0 907689 03 57 £9.95
Always an extremely modest and highly charismatic figure, Sir Adrian Boult seems to hold that aura of invincibility about him. He was not invincible in a ruthless way, a' la' Karajan, but rather in his own docile and honest to goodness disposition, he was still tantamount to mesmerize anyone who came in contact with him. This fascinating recollection of essays, radio talks, speeches and other narratives shows him at the best of his highly objective literary talents. 'On Conducting' is a marvellous chapter, full of extremely interesting anecdotes and recollections that make one yearn for those far-off days. The association with Elgar is also highly readable with Boult's unashamed adoration of his great mentor poured into every sentence. The associations with Vaughan Williams and Holst are also important testimonies of Boult's spotless and tireless championing of British music in general. However, the conductor speaks with earnest and apparent loyalty about German and other music, so he cannot be class-bracketed into a provincial slob. The sterling work with the BBC orchestra is one of the salient points of the book. In his curiously matter-of-fact way, Boult has us believe that he just did a normal job but the accolades and adventures of his writings reveal the real heroic nature of the actual history of the orchestra. The sincere tributes and haunting radio talks on the death of great musical figures also make for some highly poignant reading, I particularly enjoyed the one on Vaughan Williams written on the day after the composers' death. Boult was a conductor through and through and when he spoke of his rivals or mentors it was always with a great sense of fairness and affection. The Toscanini passage is a constant flow of admiration for that gigantic figure and the accounts of those famous mid-30's BBC rehearsals makes the mouth (and ears!) water, such is their exciting subject. The accounts dedicated to Arthur Nikisch and Bruno Walter are also essential reading, primarily for their incomparable study of technique and the conductors' 'power of suggestion'. Two of the most important and essential parts of the book must be the dissertations dedicated to Elgar's 2nd Symphony and the Schubert 'Great' Symphony. Both were works for which Boult preserved special affection, indeed his recordings of the former work have more than reached cult status. Articles devoted to Vaughan Williams' 'London' Symphony and 'Job' are also indispensable reading to learn and gather knowledge about the enigmatic fundamentals that lie behind their origins. The articles on Bach and Brian are also highly informative as are the numerous small anecdotes and appreciations dedicated to performing artists such as Yehudi Menuhin and Pablo Casals. Boult's debt to Sir Henry Wood is also evident in his sincerely heartfelt appreciation of the Maker of the Proms. Another highlight is the general essay, 'On Music', a profound delivery of a master to all us students. Indeed, one of the finest books in the Musicians on Music series and a tower of strength for the continued revival in Boult's vast and magnificent series of recordings.
and another view from the composer Arthur Butterworth
Compiled by two distinguished musicians, both of whom worked closely with Sir Adrian Boult, this is a collection of a lifetime's reminiscences and observations by one of the greatest figures in British twentieth century music. Bernard Shore, himself the author of a celebrated 1930's book on the orchestra, was Boult's principal viola in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, while to Vernon Handley has fallen the mantle of advocate and champion of British, or even more particularly English, orchestral music of the kind that most appealed to Sir Adrian.
To a generation who, apart from listening to definitive recordings of Elgar or Vaughan Williams, made towards the end of his long career, but who otherwise could never have had the opportunity to hear him speak or observe the familiar figure on the rostrum, this book night not have quite the impact it undoubtedly has on others who remember him in the flesh, As Vernon Handley warns, a miscellany of this sort might appear a trifle disconnected. However, to all who knew him in his day, listeners, students, young conductors, composers, and perhaps most of all orchestral players, his words and precepts were familiar indeed and they are all recounted here most vividly. This reviewer first played for Boult in 1942 at a war-time concert in the Royal Albert Hall, a first impression that has remained vivid ever since, and which is reinforced by reading the many anecdotes and observations that Boult made in radio talks. His rehearsing method was consistent, and at least to British orchestral players, logical insomuch as he exhorted his players to sense the architectural shape of the music first of all rather than fuss over tiny technical flaws that could safely be left to the individual to sort out for himself. Boult's comments on a multitude of topics are revealing, especially as might be expected on the art and craft of conducting. He obviously had personal preferences and enthusiasms, particularly the reverence he felt for Arthur Nikisch, his own mentor as a young conductor. His courteous, gentlemanly manner was legendary, although sometimes reading this book, the impression might be that he was too polite and uncritical; but this would be a mistake, for he could be aroused, if not to towering rages, certainly to much displeasure and annoyance when irked by the occasional awkward uncooperativeness of a player. There is also a quality, perhaps not to be fully savoured by today's reader, of a certain refined "BBC speak" of the 1930's, redolent of the cultured style of a BBC announcer of those days. His choice of topics also reflects to a large extent the people - conductors, soloists or composers - whom he was especially drawn to; quite often these were persons not all that well-known to present day or younger readers: Casals, Kreisler, Sammons, the Busch brothers or Eric Blom. His practical advice and comments to young orchestral players themselves aspiring to be conductors, was generous and encouraging; while to the relatively unknown composer whose work he was conducting for the first time, he was patient and indulgent towards their requirements. He once remarked .... "Ah! a little mistake in the parts, his copyist has let him down!"... not letting on to the orchestra that it was really the composer's own slip of the pen, and thereby saving the composer himself acute embarrassment in front of all the players.
This is really a bedside book, to dip into as the whim takes one, rather than an earnest dissertation or manual of learning to be studied in great depth. Its charm lies in its engaging tone of pleasant reminiscence, although some readers night wish for more in-depth comment about certain things, perhaps especially an assessment of some of the other conductors of the times or observations about composers such as Bax, Bliss, Walton, Moeran; or composer-conductors of distinction, like Hindemith. The book is a comprehensive survey of English music of the period. A teasing caricature of Boult, by Gerard Hoffnung, once showed him on the rostrum, shackled by hand-cuffs and a ball-and-chain, as if to imply that Boult lacked passion and energy. But this was wholly misleading, for his distinction came not from such outward displays of showmanship (such as characterised Bernstein's circus-master tricks) but through profound and serious musicianship and the rejection of empty outward show. Orchestral players never had a bad word for him - and that is saying something.
(Sir Adrian Boult conducted the first performance of Butterworth's Second Symphony)
Visit the Arthur Butterworth web-site
BOOK REVIEW: LUIGI DALLAPICCOLA. On Opera. With a foreword by Antal Dorati. Published by Toccata Press ISBN 0 907689 09 4 £15.00
I was surprised at the appearance of this book. Dallapiccola was not that interested in opera; his appreciation of it was rather limited; his conversation on this subject with both myself and my friend, Professor Reginald Smith Brindle, was meagre. To add to this, Dallapiccola was not an orchestral composer. When an American orchestra asked him for a new orchestral work he produced his Variations which were an arrangement of piano pieces for his daughter which he had written two years earlier in 1952 with the title Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera. I often wondered what became of Annalibera; she was particularly interested in archeology at the time.
The most interesting thing about this book is the autobiographical content. Although Italian, Dallapiccola was born in that part of the country which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It was transferred to Italy in 1918 and is now part of Yugoslavia. A year earlier the family had been forcibly transferred to Graz as Luigi's father was deemed to be a dangerous nationalistic agitator. Hence the boy lived in a state of confusion and all his life had this fixation about imprisonment as shown in his Canti di Prigionia (Songs of Imprisonment) (1938 - 41) and his outstanding opera Il Prigioniéro.
Because of his unhappy childhood, he was limited in many other ways. In the 1930s he joined the Cherubini Conservatoire where he had studied some ten years earlier with Frazzi. As a professor, Dallapiccola only taught grade 3 piano but obstinately stuck at this limited task. By now he was steeped in German philosophy and was also a classics scholar. His mind was preoccupied with Greek myths which explains his last opera Ulisse which was completed in 1968.
He was a stiff, rigid authoritarian and not an easy man to deal with. He was a great intellectual but always uncertain of his direction and, as in the case of Elgar, he had a wife who was a major influence upon him although Dallapiccola did not become either a toady or pompous. Mrs Dallapiccola had a strange protective attentiveness towards her husband.
His early work has three admirable qualities and all of Italian descent. First, there was a hint of Puccini's verismo and a clear melodic line; second, his vocal works were almost like Gregorian chant and, third, his choral works had a retrospective renaissance feel about them. These Italian trends are seen in his best work.
Then there came the time when he embraced serialism and he thought he knew all about twelve-note music but, when studying Webern, he realised that he was very limited. His work fell into great decline and, again, he was a prisoner of personal failure. He was not a great composer as Webern was. It takes a real genius to successfully write music in small cells. Instead his music is sparse and skeletal and not very inspiring. To add to this, he suffered from another serious handicap experienced by composers, namely the blight of politics. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs but when it soils their artistic output one has to question the whole concept of politics in music.
And yet putting Dallapiccola into a music context he was a fascinating man, a man of great compassion. He did not suffer from Edwardian arrogance or post-war avant-garde superiority. And, yet, in this welcome book, he writes with great enthusiasm about his operatic works but with less interest about Mozart or Verdi. But what comes through is a personal identity crisis. It is almost as if he is a tragic displaced musician and one can only muse as to what he could have been. History and circumstances can kill the creative ability as can fashion and prejudice.
BOOK REVIEW: HOLMBOE, Vagn. Experiencing Music, a composer's notes, translated, edited and introduced by Paul Rapoport with a foreword by Robert Simpson. Published by Toccata Press ISBN 0 907689 15 9 £9.95
This is a book for serious and genuine music lovers since it treats of a composer who was that himself. As Robert Simpson points out, Holmboe was also a genius.
He had a healthy interest in life. He observed the growing of plants and trees, natural processes and such discipline is found in his music. Trees grow quietly without pomposity and hype, confident in their purpose and function. So it is with quality music. The author speaks of music as art in the sense of skill and technique which evolves naturally; he speaks of it as culture and states that a country without a serious music culture is a dead country. He quotes from Niels Steenson and applies the quote to great music, "by far the most beautiful things are those we do not comprehend." There is in music literature some works that are so beautiful and skilful that words can never express them and we will never comprehend why they are so beautiful; it is incomprehensively so. Berlioz found this so when he distressed himself because of his failure to describe the beauty of the slow movement of Beethoven's Symphony No 4; the slow movement of Bruckner's Symphony No 8 is another case in point as Simpson once pointed out.
Holmboe reminds us that human development depends on thought and culture and the reward comes when we are involved with our minds. He continues, "Music is part of our culture and it demands effort." Superficial enjoyment results in passive stagnation. People who use music as a background are not attending to it; those who fuss about it being theoretical, mathematical, formal or historical are missing the point. Examining boards fuss over students' correct playing of musical ornaments and there is such a palaver about authenticity and how Bach would have played it. Does it matter? Music is an expression of the soul, not how many notes to play in a trill. As Holmboe says, music must have a direct experience; it must have its lifeless building blocks and they must be of quality and assembled with thought and care.
When Holmboe talks about the skill of composing he makes the valid point that composing is of the will. If it is merely feelings you may write some good tunes and many composers have done so and little else ... no structure, no form and no logic. The author states that composing is a "self-forgetting state where any objectives and desires, hopes and ambitions disappear. You are no longer conscious of yourself ..."
Many will take issue on this but read his exegesis. He is absolutely right in what he says, music intentionally written for fame and fortune will always be cheap in some way or another. If you consider the greatest music, little is dedicated to royalty or is self-indulgent. Consider the masterworks of Mozart, Beethoven and Bartók for example ... they were written to be music and music alone.
The author deals with musical thinking. If you are a musician you have the capacity to be able to accurately think about music. However, if I have never driven a car, I cannot possibly think like a car-driver and you would hesitate about me driving your car.
Just as the real composer must and does compose merely for music's sake, so the performer must also follow the composer's intentions ... if he alters them he is setting himself above the composer. As Holmboe writes, "The composer does not want to be the victim of misinterpretation or outrageous distortion." And yet, there are performers and conductors who are guilty of musical slander and libel and are still fawned over. To my mind, such conductors are frauds but I had better not mention any names or proven cases here. A performer has not only to have the skill and technique but the understanding of the music. Interpretation is not how I think it should go but how the composer wants it to go.
An interesting chapter follows on listening to music ... note, not hearing it ... and how a bad performance can deter a listener from a piece for ever. I heard a famous youngish British conductor in Birmingham perform Sibelius' Symphony No 5. It was simply awful and this was clearly the conductor's fault. My companion vowed never to hear the piece again. "We can have a different effect each time we hear a piece," says Holmboe. But it is equally true that some works, however often you hear them, always command attention. The author rightly says that pop music is entertainment but real music meets emotional and intellectual needs. The real music lover is not out to be entertained but to be inspired.
We proceed to the problem of modern music and how many so-called music lovers are uninterested, disapproving and sometimes rancorous about it. Some display a vicious attitude. They want music to be something to hug your comfort blanket to and suck your thumb to. But music, of whatever age, has to be assessed as to its skill and not its security of 'pretty tunes'. The unfamiliar or unusual causes prejudicial distress and people long for the safety of the shores of predictability. "Culture will die if there are no new challenges," writes Holmboe.
I have written enough to encourage you, I hope, to buy this book but beware, it may raise some questions you do not want to answer. It may change your thinking and cause you to look at music differently but with greater rewards at the end.
The book also contains an interesting essay on Carl Nielsen.
BOOK REVIEW: THE MUSIC OF E.J.MOERAN - Geoffrey Self Published by Toccata Press ISBN 0 907689 17 5 £15.00
Famous composers, of whatever period of musical history, have never been neglected by writers. They have been the subject of critical assessment from every conceivable angle: purely musical, social, political, personal or whatever other aspect of their creativity has appealed to writers through the ages. Their music has provided material for students and intellectuals to research in the pursuit of doctorates or other academic endeavour. Much of this tends inevitably to be repetitive; later researchers quoting from earlier investigators. On the other hand the lesser or almost totally unknown composer is sometimes championed by an over-enthusiastic admirer who, seeking to redress the general neglect of his chosen subject, is often inclined to lack perceptive insight and thus present an ill-balanced, uncritical eulogy. It is particularly welcome therefore, to have such a book as this about a composer who is little known, yet written in a way that does not irritate or antagonise the reader by a too-effusive or gushing enthusiasm for its subject that can all-too-easily arouse a suspicion of incredulity or disbelief.
Geoffrey Self's book does not fall into any such trap as this. It is thoroughly researched and most lucidly presented. It recognises the shortcomings of Moeran; the personal problem he apparently had had with alcohol, and as the author points out, the probable cause of this, the head wound he had suffered during the First World War.
It had never been this commentator's good fortune to meet Moeran, but certainly remembers being impressed by reading a "Musical Times" article which reviewed in great detail the Symphony in G minor shortly after its first performance in l938. As a schoolboy at that time, I did not by any means understand much of that long article but became sufficiently aware of the fact that it must be a great work. A personal interest was thus kindled; occasional radio performances could be heard during the war years - one such was indeed memorable, heard in an army barrack-room in Hanover (when most of the other lads were out on the town!) in late 1945. From that moment on it became a quest to hear it again, but it was not until the Festival of Britain in 1951 that a chance came to take part in a performance of it at the newly-opened Royal Festival Hall. The Scottish National Orchestra under Walter Susskind, rehearsed it several times in the previous weeks, but curiously only ever gave this one performance. Since then I have never heard another live performance by a professional orchestra, but have conducted it with a good amateur orchestra during a summer week-end orchestral course. About this time, however, the early 1950's, some of Moeran's other music was performed by the SNO, notably the "Overture for a Masque".
The book makes an exhaustive examination of the music, and this is most revealing of all when it comes to examining the G minor Symphony and what might have lain beyond the notes themselves: the notion that - perhaps - it was in some oblique way, a personal requiem for the horrors of the First World War that had had such a profound effect on the composer himself. Every listener of course, will have his or her own inner mental vision of what such music might mean, but the last movement of the Moeran Symphony has for me a certain, quite indescribable,"Irish", legendary quality which calls to mind those lines quoted by Bax about a not dissimilar work of his own:..... 'Legends that once were told or sung, by many a fireside nook,
Of Iceland in the ancient day, by wandering Saga-man or Scald" .....
Could such subtleties of personal musical analogy suggest yet again the existence of those indefinable, yet tantalising traits of unmistakable musical meaning we all recognise? This book by Geoffrey Self underlines this so cunningly and it is surely one of the things that makes it a truly great book of musical scholarship. The final chapter discusses the question of Moeran's originality. Few composers have ever been, in one sense, truly original; for we all take over from our predecessors the essence of a universal musical language. Some composers do indeed invent a musical language and grammar of their own, and in the long run such new means of communication often takes root and are eventually understood by those who want to follow. In the main however, a large majority of composers, and probably even an even larger majority of performers and listeners respond more positively to a language that is universal in its syntax so that in this way very few of us, perhaps none, can be said to be truly original. What we do is take existing musical language and mould it to our own personal way of expression. Avant gardistes tend to be contemptuous of this approach, demanding absolute originality at all costs. Moeran would not claim to be original in this sense - why should he - but his utterances within the lingua franca of English music are personal and, to the listener willing to explore, quite unmistakably reveal a voice that is his own. The analogy has often been made with finger prints; each one of us is unique in this respect, yet the apparent surface pattern or design of finger-prints looks pretty universal at first sight: they are all of the same kind; only careful comparison reveals they are each one different.
A notable feature of Moeran's harmonic language is the way in which a sunny phrase can suddenly become darkened, as if it were the musical equivalent of a chill dark cloud so suddenly occluding the warm sunlight of a moment before.
The beginning of this review remarked that many such books, no less the subsequent critical commentary that is often made about them, can often be a bit too laudatory to be truly believed. It needs to be said then, that if this book has any shortcomings at all, it concerns some of the photographs, which are not all that well reproduced, more especially the reproductions of Moeran's own manuscripts and pencilled sketches. Surely with modern reprography these could have been more clearly illustrated. The music examples are not all that well done either; they betray a certain lack of musical-typographical 'style". But these are small flaws in what is after all a splendid, and essential book for any musician at all concerned with a proper awareness of the English music in the present century
BOOK REVIEW: STRAVINSKY SEEN AND HEARD by Hans Keller and Milein Cosman Published by Toccata Press ISBN 0 907689 02 7£2.95
This is the first Toccata Press publication to come my way - a superbly produced book of real substance at this price: how do they do it? In content it is a 50/50 job: half, intellectual, Keller; the other half, his visually perceptive wife. Stravinsky 'seen' consists of drawings done at BBC rehearsals from 1958-61 (including some of Cocteau as Speaker in Oedipus Rex), topped and tailed by two splendid etchings of the composer. A pleasure to look at, they bring another dimension to bear on the attempt to understand this enigmatic figure.
Hans Keller's main interest, as might be guessed, is with Stravinsky's 'conversion' to serialism. This he partly attributes to a psychological role-playing after the death of Schonberg; but he also notes the use of basic serial techniques in the 1930 masterpiece, Symphony of Psalms. Keller writes eloquently here of Stravinsky's 'suppressionist' rather than 'expressionist' tendencies.
There is a clear and comprehensive note row analysis of the Dylan Thomas song setting "Do not go gentle into that good night", which has sent me scurrying to the CD catalogue. Such is the compelling power of Keller's writing.
Some lines of thinking may leave the general reader rather cold e.g., "apart from Stravinsky himself, Webern is the only great sado-masochistic figure in the history of music": but others provoke deep reflection - "Stravinsky is, of course, our age's conservative genius par excellence". Well, perhaps, in one sense, yes.
If the prose can at times seem somewhat indigestible there is much food for thought here. I see myself returning to the book often, and with profit. Warmly recommended.
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