Gielen Conducts Zemlinsky

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It’s almost funny in a way; every time SWR Musik issues another boxed set in their Michael Gielen Edition, Orfeo counters with a single disc (or two) of formerly unissued Gielen performances in their archive, as if to say, “Hey, look, we’ve got some Michael Gielen recordings, too!” Thus we now have this 1989 performance of Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony coupled with a 1993 performance of his Prelude to a Drama.

But since the Lyric Symphony doesn’t get all that many recordings, another one is certainly welcome. Written in his earlier years, before his harmonies became more modern but beyond the period in which he was infatuated with Brahms, this is a piece that starts out sounding somewhat modern but by the two-minute mark settles into a more Romantic vein and stays there most of the time.

Comparing this recording to the more famous one by Christoph Eschenbach on Capriccio, I hear similar shaping and pacing of the music. The biggest difference is that with Gielen you hear a bit more inner detail, and this in itself makes it interesting, but even more so, Gielen attacks some of the more Romantic passages with the same gusto one heard in the opening, which makes it more dynamic.

One might say the same thing in regard to the singers. Matthias Goerne’s rich, plush baritone voice graces the Eschenbach recording, and he sings very beautifully indeed, but Roland Hermann with his brighter, more biting voice brings a much more dynamic perspective to the lyrics in this performance. Moreover, as the first movement progresses, one can hear Gielen sparking the music with an almost Mahlerian passion, which is perfect for this score. Comparing the timings on both, I wasn’t surprised to discover that Gielen is faster in every single movement, sometimes by a very considerable margin. His performance of the fourth movement, for instance, clocks in at 7:45, more than two minutes faster than Escenbach’s 9:56, and the last movement is played in 7:22 compared to Eschenbach’s 9:08. Quite a difference, and it especially helps in the fourth-movement violin-viola duet, which bogs down pretty badly in the Eschenbach version.

There is, however, one difference in which the edge goes to Eschenbach, and that is in his choice of soprano soloist. The great Christine Schäfer’s voice is much more beautiful than Karan Armstrong’s somewhat squally tones, and after a while Armstrong’s voice got on my nerves (I heard her once in person, as Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, and she sounded pretty much the same). Happily, she does improve after singing for about 10 minutes, and the overall performance is just so much better that I’ll learn to live with her singing.

And you should, too, because this is by far the most dynamic, exciting and overall fabulous performance of this symphony out there. As for the Prelude to a Drama, that’s also conducted very well, but it’s this performance of the Lyric Symphony that will grab your attention and hold it throughout.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Marfin Plays Messiaen

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MESSIAEN: Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jésus, Nos. I, XVI, XVII, XIII, XI. Catalogue d’oiseaux, Nos. VI, XIII, VIII, IX / Cassandre Marfin, pno / Soond SND21017

This CD features performances of two suites by Messiaen played by the young (b. 1993) Belgian pianist Cassandre Marfin. She has been playing the piano since the age of seven, studied at the Forest Academy in Brussels with Eugène Galand, and finished her training at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels with Eliane Reyes and Dominique Cornil.

Marfin is an artist whose musicality is far in advance of her years. This performance of the Vingt regards sur l’Enfant Jésus is nearly flawless in phrasing, touch, and musical style. She fully understands the meditative states that Messiaen was in when he composed his music, and translates these into sound. It is almost as if she had written the music herself. My sole complaint is that she only gives us five excerpts rather than the entire two-hour piece—possibly a constraint put upon her by the record label. Had she recorded the full suite, I would possibly prefer her interpretation to that of Martin Helmchen on Alpha, though Helmchen is very good in his own way. I just prefer Marfin’s strong contrasts between the soft and loud passages; she really gets a lot of sound out of her instrument on either end of the volume spectrum. She has a primarily lean piano tone, which works well in the rhythmic music, but can also elicit soft pastel shades from her instrument.

Since this is fairly well-known music, I don’t see a need to describe it. Those readers who know and appreciate Messiaen will know what I mean regarding Marfin’s performing skills. The sound quality is completely natural, with just enough space around the instrument to give it a nice sheen. An excellent album to introduce a first-rate artist.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Quilico Plays American Works

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LIEBERMANN: Apparitions. DEL TREDICI: Fantasy Pieces. RZEWSKI: The Turtle and the Crane. JAEGER: Quivi Sospiri. DAVIDOVSKY: Synchronisms. HUEBNER: Ocotillo / Christina Petrowska Quilico, pno / Navona NV6384 (live: recording dates not given)

Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico pays tribute to five American composers in this new album, scheduled for release on November 19, but to a certain extent I question the CD’s title, Vintage Americana simply because most of these works are by later-day American composers. Me, personally, I consider “vintage” American composers to be members of the Copland-Thomson-Barber era. I seriously doubt that anyone has collected the music of Lowell Liebermann, Mario Davidovsky and especially the late Frederic Rzewski on 1960s-era reel-to-reel tape recorders like the one pictured on the cover.

Quilico’s performance of the Liebermann Apparitions are even brisker and have more frisson in them than the composer’s own recordings of them (on a Steinway & Sons CD), particularly in the third piece, “Affretando misterioso,” which she plays brilliantly. In the slower pieces of this suite, i.e. “Supplichevole,” her taut phrasing gives shape to a piece that might otherwise sound rambling. She is an excellent musician, and to do all of these pieces in a “live” environment takes an enormous amount of concentration.

Del Tredici’s Fantasy Pieces are typical of this fine but often overlooked composer’s output, combining bitonality with lyricism in his own individual manner, and Quilico’s playing does the music full justice, juxtaposing these two complementary yet opposing elements. Note, for instance, the high-lying, sprinkled notes in the upper treble during “Largo, senza tempo” against the more relaxed melody line played in the middle of the keyboard.

Rzewski’s The Turtle and the Crane is typical of his eccentric style; the former host of the old NPR radio show St, Paul Sunday once referred to him as a “strange creature” when the chamber group eighth blackbird played his piece Les Moutons des Panurge back in the early 2000s. Consistent motor rhythms, constantly repeated musical patterns and then the unexpected shifts in this piece are all hallmarks of his quirky style. Then, suddenly, at around the 3:34 mark, he just stops the music and after a pause, resumes slowly at first before increasing (and decreasing) the tempo. And it keeps on changing and morphing as it goes along its nearly 17-minute length.

In David Jaeger’s Quivi Sospiri, Quilico plays an ominous dirge-like bitonal melodic line against a pre-recorded tape, creating an eerie effect. Since the composer intended this to represent “the Third Canto of Dante’s Inferno,” in which everything is in total darkness. I’d say he achieved his goal. And if anything, Mario Davidowsky’s Synchronisms, also played by piano and prepared tape, is even more atonal, yet somehow Quilico manages to find a lyrical thread in this piece which he follows brilliantly through the maze of sounds. The program concludes with Paul Huebner’s Ocotillo, yet another piece involving pre-recorded tape. In this work, the composer avoided what could have been a series of unrelated sounds by writing almost continuous trills for the pianist which somehow coalesce into a theme.

This is a recital after my own heart: interesting modern music, well programmed and expertly played, bringing out both the mood and the structure of each work. Lovers of modern piano music should not miss this one!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Daniël de Lange’s Strange “Requiem”

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DIEPENBROCK: Caelestis Urbs Jerusalem. DE LANGE: Requiem. RÖNTGEN: Wider den Frieden, Klage. Gleiewie die grünen Blätter auf. Kommy her zu mir, alle die ihr / Netherlands Chamber Choir; Uwe Gronostay, cond / Brilliant Classics 96016

This is a reissue if 1993-94 recordings by the Netherlands Chamber Choir on which, despite the presence of works by Alphons Diepenbrock and Julius Röntgen, its raison d’être is the very strange Requiem of Daniël de Lange (1841-1918), a Dutch composer little remembered today. Annotator Clemens Romijn calls it “without exaggeration…a monument of nineteenth century a cappella choral music,” set for two four-part choirs and two four-part solo ensembles of soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

Unfortunately, the recording leads off with the Diepenbrock Caelestis Urbs Jerusalem which is quite ordinary and unremarkable music, but as soon as we get into the de Lange Requiem we’re in an entirely different world. De Lange clearly had an acute ear for harmony and color; the intertwining lines and harmonies are quite sophisticated, even ethereal at times. In the opening “Requiem,” he uses space in the opening section in a quite unusual manner, and everything falls into place perfectly. By the 3:15 mark, we hear the two four-part solo ensembles playing against each other with superb and quite subtle intertwining of voices. Of particular interest is the manner in which de Lange spaces the voices, using wide intervals that were not really that common at the time.

The “Dies irae” is particularly interesting, using strong rhythms in the counterpoint between the different voices of the choir, then later on slowly increasing the tempo to a loud, minor-key climax, followed by a passage in which the harmony “falls” through the floor in a series of descending chromatics. Following this, de Lange doubles the tempo temporarily to create further tension, releasing it after a pause. The “Offertorium” swings along in a nice, relaxed 6/8 rhythm, the various voices (both collective and solo) intertw9ning quite nicely before he switches to a straight 4 at a somewhat faster clip for even more interesting vocal counterpoint—again, with interesting chromatic changes. The “Sanctus” starts out quite serenely, with quiet, lush chords sung by the full chorus before the two four-part vocal ensembles begin interweaving lines. But this is interrupted again by the full chorus before returning to them. De Lange continues to play with volume, harmony and different pacing as this section continues, although each section in this excellent piece has its own moments of interest.

The short motets that follow, by Röntgen, are also quite interesting in their use of rhythm and harmony. These were written near the end of his life, in 1929 (he was then 74 years old) and reflect at least in part some of the changes in music that had taken place since he began writing music many decades earlier. Here, too, we hear a lot of “falling chromatics” in the music, though of course these were far less unusual in 1929 than de Lange’s use of them in 1868. Nonetheless, the music is interesting, not least in his use of constantly shifting meter and, again, his use of rests in the music to create a feeling of tension.

An interesting CD, particularly for the de Lange Requiem.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Barone Plays Crumb

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CRUMB: Metamorphoses, Books I & II / Marcantonio Barone, pno / Bridge 9551

George Crumb is our modern-day Energizer Bunny of composers. At age 92—and how about this for coincidence, today is his 92nd birthday!—he just keeps writing his amazing celestial music, which he has been doing since the 1960s. From the era of Hippies to the era of Drippies, Crumb is a constant source of amazement and admiration, and this new release includes his most recent composition, Book II of his Metamorphoses, which he himself has likened to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

Book I received an excellent performance from Margaret Leng Tan on Mode 303, but of course Book II wasn’t finished by that time. Here we have both books played by Marcantonio Barone, a pianist who Crumb admires very much and who recorded, several years ago, what I and other critics consider to be the very best performances of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Barbara Govatos (Bridge 9389A/D).

For those keeping score at home, here is the complete list of paintings musically portrayed by Crumb in both Books:

Klee Ancient Sound

Klee: Ancient Sound, Abstract on Black

Black Prince (Paul Klee, 1927)
Goldfish (Paul Klee, 1925)
Crows Over the Wheatfield (Vincent van Gogh, 1890)
The Fiddler (Marc Chagall, 1912/13)
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Nocturne: Blue and Gold (James McNeill Whistler, 1872)
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Perilous Night (Jasper Johns, 1990)
Clowns at Night (Marc Chagall, 1957)
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Contes barbares (Paul Gaughin, 1902)
The Persistence of Memory (Salvador Dali, 1931)
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The Blue Rider (Wassily Kandinsky, 1903)
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Ancient Sound, Abstract on Black (Paul Klee, 1925)

Purple_Haze_grey

Dinnerstein: Purple Haze

Landscape with Yellow Birds (Paul Klee, 1923)
Christina’s World (Andrew Wyeth, 1948)
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Purple Haze (Simon Dinnerstein, 1991)
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (Gustav Klimt, 1907)
Spirit of the Dead Watcing (Paul Gaughin, 1892)
Guernica (Pablo Picasso, 1937)
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From the Faraway, Nearby (Georgia O’Keeffe, 1937)
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Easter (Marc Chagall, 1968)
Starry Night (Vincent van Gogh, 1889)
*

As you can see, nearly all of the artists are very well-known names, Simon Dinnerstein being less known than the others, and there are at least  nine of these paintings are iconic (asterisks in the list above). Barone’s recording of Book I was in fact previously issued by Bridge in June of last year, an album filled out with the Ten Fantasy Pieces. At that time, I compared his performances to those of Margaret Leng Tan on Mode 303, commenting that not only were Barone’s performances faster than Tan’s, sometimes by just a few seconds but a full minute longer in The Persistence of Memory, but that his instrument is recorded in a much closer acoustic, which makes the music sound a bit edgier throughout. There are pluses and minuses to this, the biggest advantage being that Barone’s tauter phrasing and brisker tempi bring out the structure of the music better, the biggest disadvantage being that there is a loss of atmosphere in the recording, and atmosphere is often what Crumb is all about. Yet the composer himself supervised Barone’s recording session, thus I must assume that he got exactly what he wanted.

Gaughin Spirit of the Dead

Gaughin: Spirit of the Dead Watching

All things considered, however, Barone’s approach probably matches Crumb’s mental images of these paintings better, since so many of them have dark themes. By and large, these are not happy paintings, Chagall being the rare exception. In fact, Crumb considers Gaughin’s Spirit of the Dead Watching to be one the artist’s most disturbing images, and of course we know that Christina’s World, Guernica and even Starry Night are not the kind of images that advertisers would want to use to promote their products. Even so, there are many moments in his performances of Book II where Barone pulls back a little on his strong approach, which I feel gives a better balance, at least to my ears and in this context, than his playing in Book I.

Not that Crumb’s music is consistently celestial in feeling…not at all, and this may be due to the fact that the paintings Crumb portrays musically in Book II are even more images of pain, fear or death than in Book I. Yet perhaps ironically, the music is often quieter—at least as Barone played and recorded it—and certainly closer to minor modes or keys. In Christina’s World, for instance, Crumb has the performer play a series of ominous-sounding ostinato notes in the left hand while the right eerily plucks the inner strings of the piano, later reducing the volume even further, almost to a whisper, as the right hand plays s slow series of soft notes while still occasionally, but much more quietly, plucking the inner strings. Purple Haze opens very slowly, and much to my surprise, the music has an almost bluesy rhythmic feel to it, something you don’t normally expect from Crumb. There is also a reference here to Jimi Hendrix’ piece of the same title. Only in Guernica is the music loud, explosive and a bit terrifying, as you might expect; here, Crumb even uses an ostinato marching beat, something exceptionally rare for him, before the music slowly trails off in tempo and volume, suggesting a field of death in the wake of the battle.

Chagall Easter

Chagall: Easter

Chagall’s Easter is in a rare quick tempo and louder volume, but since this painting isn’t really that much cheerier than most of the others, the music also has its dark side—in fact, more overtly menacing than Christine’s World or Purple Haze. At one point in this piece, Crumb sets of soft, slow trilling figures in the right hand against almost violently-attacked bass notes in the left. By contrast, Van Gogh’s Starry Night is soft and abstract, vintage Crumb, suggesting the off-and-on twinkling of stars. Crumb has described it as “slowly pulsating; desireless, with infinite calm.” It’s a perfect, quintessentially Crumb-like ending to his musical art gallery, and Barone plays it with a perfect lightness of touch.

I think that these performances of the Book II pieces, in particular, are going to be very hard for other pianists to equal, let alone surpass. There’s just something about the way Barone plays them that stays with you long after the record is finished. If you admire Crumb’s music as much as I do, this is a must-have recording.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Leonard Warren’s Greatest “Macbeth”

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VERDI: Macbeth / Leonard Warren, baritone (Macbeth); Leonie Rysanek, soprano (Lady Macbeth); Jerome Hines, bass (Banquo); Daniele Barioni, tenor (Macduff); William Olvis, tenor (Malcolm); Carlotta Odassy, mezzo-soprano (Lady-in-Waiting); Gerhard Pechner, bass (Physician); Carlo Tomanelli, bass (Servant); Osie Hawkins, bass (Assassin); Louis Sgarro, bass (Warrior); Teresa Stratas, soprano (Bloody Child); Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orch.; Erich Leinsdorf, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube (live: January 2, 1960)

Leonard Warren’s Macbeth was his crowning achievement as an artist, a role into which he poured his 20 years’ worth of vocal acting experience to create an unforgettable character, just as his great predecessor, Lawrence Tibbett, had done in 1939 with Simon Boccanegra. Warren had also sung Boccanegra, in the early 1950s, but although he was very good in it he didn’t penetrate the character as well as Tibbett had or as well as he later did with Macbeth.

For 60 years, however, the recording that has represented this achievement has been the RCA Victor studio recording from 1959, and although the cast as a whole is very good on it, Erich Leinsdorf’s conducting lacked tension and drama. His tempos and pacing of the music were fine, but far too often in crucial moments—even at the very beginning of the opera—the orchestra sounded as if it were just going through the paces…you might say a good rehearsal but not a real performance.

As a counterpart to the studio recording, Sony Classical also issued a broadcast performance of the opera with the same principals (Warren, Rysanek, Hines and Carlo Bergonzi) from 1959. This performance is better than the studio recording in many respects, but overall it’s still not as good as this broadcast from January 1960—as it turned out, Warren’s last broadcast performance. Here, his Macbeth takes on the dimensions of a great tragic figure; everything that sounded OK on the studio recording and rather better in the 1959 broadcast sounds natural, unforced, and amplified in this stunning performance. Only Ludovic Tézier, in the new French-language recording on Dynamic, surpasses Warren’s achievement in this role.

As for Rysanek, she is thrilling and dramatic if not, to my ears, really the conniving, frightening harridan that Shakespeare and Verdi envisioned. For that, you need to turn to Fiorenza Cossotto on the later RCA recording with Sherrill Milnes as an excellent (but not transcendent) Macbeth, or going back further, Maria Callas in her 1952 prime. Nonetheless, Rysanek’s “La luce langue” will pin you to the wall, and she does a very fine job in the famed “Sleepwalking scene” despite not being as scary as Callas, Cossotto, or Silvia Dalla Benetta in the new Dynamic recording. By way of compensation, however, we have here Jerome Hines, one of the greatest and most underrated singing actors of his time, as Banquo.

When this performance was first broadcast, music critic Robert Sabin had the following to say in Musical America:

Absolutely transcendent were Leonie Rysanek, as Lady Macbeth, and Leonard Warren, in the title role. With sensitive collaboration from Erich Leinsdorf and the orchestra, they not only sang their solo arias magnificently but made such duets as the “Fatal mia donna!” of Act I, Scene 2, incredibly gripping.

I do not think I have ever heard a more consummate control of dynamics and of dramatic emphasis conveyed through intricate vocal figures than in this duet. What good fortune that this was broadcast, so that millions throughout the land could know what great singing is being heard at the Metropolitan today…

Mr. Leinsdorf obtained equally admirable results from the stage and the pit. He has made some changes (mostly to the good) in this season’s production. Acts I and II remain the same. But in Act III, he omits the scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, in which she confronts him on the heath after his second encounter with the witches. This is replaced by the slow section of the ballet music, accompanying the appearance of Hecate, which is played as a prelude to Act IV, and eliminates the third intermission.

The silly basket shields and posies in the battle scene, Act IV, Scene 4, have been happily eliminated. The curtain closes while the orchestra plays the battle music. The combat between Macbeth and Macduff is omitted, and Macbeth dies alone on stage. Then the final choral passage with Macduff and Malcolm leads to the end.

Thus you have an idea of the cuts and changes to the score, which actually strengthens it both musically and dramatically—yet another reason to prefer this performance over the studio recording and the previous (1959) broadcast. And the frisson of it being a live performance worked wonders on the orchestra and chorus. Everything that strikes the ear as stiff or wrong in the studio recording comes to vivid life in this broadcast which, interestingly, also includes some of Milton Cross’ original announcements.

Apparently this performance was only issued once, on Bensar Records (whoever they may have been), but is now out of print. Happily, some generous soul has shared their copy of it on YouTube. I have no idea how long it will be available there. My recommendation is to grab it while you can. This really is a Macbeth to treasure, the last great broadcast of the greatest dramatic baritone voice America has ever produced.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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The Music of Steven Gerber

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GERBER: Sinfonietta No. 1 (Piano Quintet, arr. Hagen).1 String Sinfonia No. 1 (String Quartet No. 4, arr. Williams).2 2 Lyric Pieces for Violin & Strings.*2 String Sinfonia No. 2 (String Quartet No. 6, arr. Williams).2 Sinfonietta No. 2 (String Quartet No. 5, arr. Williams)1 / *Emily Davis, vln; 1English Symphony Orch.; 2English String Orch.; Kenneth Woods, cond / Nimbus Alliance NI6423

This CD presents the music of Steven R. Gerber (1948-2015), a composer who wrote in a style that straddled the divide between traditional and modern classical music. Judging from the opening selection on this CD, his modus operandi was to present a few kind-of-edgy chords at the outset, then quickly revert to jolly tunes in a mostly tonal style with occasional bitonal bites added here and there for seasoning. He clearly knew how to compose—none of his pieces are poorly written or without interest—but his desire to please the masses more than his own muse led to what I feel is a compromised situation.

Of course, it’s hard to judge how these works sounded in their original configuration since none of them except the 2 Lyric Pieces for Violin & Strings were actually written for a string orchestra. The others are all orchestral adaptations of Piano Quintets or String Quartets by another hand, and to be honest, when listening to the Sinfonietta No. 1 I didn’t hear a string quartet in any of the movements and had a difficult time imagining this music played by such a quartet at any given point, since so much of it sounds like what I would call “jolly British festival music.” Take, for instance, the third-movement “Presto” with its swirling, moto perpetuo figures, which sound so right played by an orchestra but, in my mind’s ear, just wouldn’t sound proper if played by a piano quintet. It’s just too lightweight and a bit trivial, although hugely entertaining. The only real gravitas in this piece comes in the slow fourth movement, and this is indeed an excellent piece of music that I could imagine being played by a piano quintet. The rapid fifth movement also sounds somewhat piano quintettish.

The String Sinfonia No. 1, which is actually his String Quartet No. 4, follows an opposite pattern, opening in a tonal style but constantly dipping into close chords and a bit of bitonality. Some of the slower middle section of the first movement bears some resemblance to early Benjamin Britten, while the second is somewhat near what Robert Simpson wrote, if not quite as complex or interesting.

There’s a certain amount of gravitas in his Lyric Pieces for violin and string orchestra that appealed to me because, for once, Gerber seemed to be able to settle on a consistent style throughout the entire piece despite being mostly tonal and rhythmically conventional. I think this is where his heart really was, but I could be wrong. If so, then he most certainly liked writing a Good Tune That the People Could Hum on their way out of the auditorium, and that’s not my idea of great music.

My overall impression of Gerber, judging by these specific pieces, is that he was a good, solid composer of music that straddled the divide between art and entertainment, but that he never seemed to decide which side of the fence he wanted to come down on once and for all. It’s a nice CD, and by no means without interest, but for me the music just doesn’t stick.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Masternak Plays “Parallels”

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MOZART: Violin Sonata in G, K. 301/293a. RAVEL: Posthumous Violin Sonata. ELSNER: Violin Sonata in F. SZYMANOWSKI: Dance from “Harnasie” for violin & Piano. TANSMAN: 5 Pieces for Violin & Piano or Small Orchestra / Oriana Masternak, vln; Justyna Danczowska, pno / Dux 1711

Polish violinist Oriana Masternak, in addition to being a solo player, is also a founding member of the Messages Quartet, which specializes in Polish music, as well as the member of a jury in international competitions. On this CD she includes the music of two of her countrymen, Karol Szymanowski and Alexandre Tansman, along with the old-timers Mozart, Elsner and Ravel.

One thing you have to say for her is that she is a pretty peppy player. After a really lovely legato opening, she attacks the Mozart sonata with gusto, and her pianist, Justyna Damczowska, is just as lively as she is. I was very impressed by the posthumous Ravel Violin Sonata, particularly when I learned that it was actually an early work from 1897, when he was only 22 years old. Masternak plays it with both conviction and the right style, bringing out its impressionistic qualities beautifully. The only real weakness with the piece is that Ravel repeats his themes too often, a flaw he would correct within the following decade.

The violin sonata by the little-known Jozef Elsner, written in 1805, is a good, solid piece but not a particularly adventurous one, though it does reflect a few ideas borrowed from Beethoven. Truthfully, I don’t know why Masternak wasted her time learning and recording this piece. It’s pretty much a big nothing.

Which, if course, makes the contrast between this piece and the Szymanowski “Dance from Harnasie” all the more striking. This is superb music, lying somewhere between Ravel and Stravinsky as Szymanowski so often does, and she plays it superbly…although the slow tempo of the first half doesn’t lead you to expect the almost violent rhythm of the dance when it appears.

I was especially delighted to hear the 5 Pieces for Violin & Piano by Tansman, particularly since the first of these is written in a sort of manic ragtime rhythm with asymmetric beats. The second piece, though mostly quite slow, suddenly perks up near the end and resembles the sound of a music box, while the third is a terrifying “perpetual motion” piece with some really tricky passages for the violinist. Yet it is the fifth piece, titled “Basso ostinato,” where Tansman really pulls out all the stops, creating a driving piece in straight, fast fours that hurtles both musicians to their conclusion.

Except for the Elsner piece, which is a waste of space on this CD (thought it will undoubtedly get air play on a lot of classical FM stations), this is an excellent and interesting recital, played with both style and energy. Brava, Oriana!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Mátyás Seiber’s Orchestral Music

HC21043.Booklet.Seiber.qxp_PH?????_Booklet_Gamben/Handel

SEIBER: Sinfonietta for String Orchestra (arr. Doráti). Besardo-Suite No. 2. Fantasia Concertante for Violin & String Orchestra. Violin Sonata. Concert Piece for Violin & Piano / Nina Karmon, vln; Oliver Triendl, pno; Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn; Levente Török, cond / Hänssler Classic CD HC 21043

Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960), once a name to be reckoned with in the music world, fell into obscurity less than a decade after his tragic death in an auto accident in September 1960. Though Hungarian by birth, he moved to Great Britain at the age of 33 (1935) and spent the rest of his life there.

Technically speaking, three of these works were not written by Seiber for orchestra: the Violin Sonata, Concert Piece for Violin & Piano, and the Sinfonietta, which is an arrangement by his friend Antal Doráti of his String Quartet No. 1. Nonetheless, without prior knowledge of the quartet, the Sinfonietta is a very effective piece. Written in 1923 when the composer was only 18 years old, it shows incredible maturity as well as a good concept of composition; he was evidently a very quick study, clearly under the spell of his teacher, Zoltan Kodály. What impressed me most about this piece was the way Seiber achieved a cohesive musical “flow”; his ideas were good to begin with, but they come across even better because he knew how to “connect the dots” with his phrases. I’ve heard far less imaginative works written by much more mature composers, then and now. The third-movement “Scherzo” uses a bitonal theme which Seiber relaxes in tempo towards the middle, only to gradually return to the almost manic pace of the opening.

The Besardo-Suite No. 2 was written nearly 20 years layer (1942), after Seibere had moved to England, and is based on the music of a 16th-17th century Burgindian composer, Jean-Baptiste Bésard. To my ears, this is an even more successful updating of old music than Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. You can tell that it’s music from the Middle Ages, yet Seiber holds your interest by means of his lively rhythms and ingenious orchestration.

With the Fantasia Concertante from 1944 is a thorny 12-tone work although the 12-tone system is not applied strictly. It was received with a sneer by the British critics when it premiered, yet it is, like Berg’s Violin Concerto, a very moving and highly original work with quite a few lyrical passages for the soloist. The liner notes also indicate that some passages in it resemble the work of the then-unknown György Ligeti, and that is true as well. From a performance standpoint, I must commend our soloist here, Nina Karmon, for giving an absolutely transcendent reading of this difficult score.

The Violin Sonata of 1960 and the Concert Piece of 1954 are also 12-tone works; one would never suspect that the composer of this kind of music would also be capable of collaborating with jazz saxist and bandleader Johnny Dankworth on the classical-jazz hybrid Improvisation for Jazz Band and Symphony Orchestra, also from 1960, but he was. Seiber simply had “big ears” and a need to push the envelope no matter what he wrote. When he visited his native Hungary for the last time, just before the 1956 revolution, the by-then-rising star Ligeti was very much taken with the Concert Piece and wrote a letter to Seiber expressing his admiration. I can hear why Ligeti would have been impressed; the music is very abstract, almost pointillistic, like an aural representation of a Jackson Pollack painting.

This is quite an excellent CD, presenting a wider range of music by this excellent but often-neglected composer that clearly deserves to be heard and studied.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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The Peter Warlock Songbook

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WARLOCK: The Everlasting Voices. Take, o Take These Lips Away (2 settings). Heraclitus. The Water Lily. Lullaby. The Bayley Herith the Bell Away. My Little Sweet Darling. Dedication. The Cloths of Heaven. The Singer. A Sad Song. Sleep. Autumn Twilight. Rest, Sweet Nymphs. Spring. To the Memory of a Great Singer. Consider. I Held Love’s Head. Pretty Ring Time. Robin Goodfellow. Ha’nacker Mill. The Night. The Lover’s Maze. Cradle Song. The Contented Lover. And Wilt Thou Leave Me Thus? Youth / Luci Briginshaw, sop; Eleanor Meynell, pno / Convivium Records CVID62

Peter Warlock, whose real name was Philip Heseltine, was a strange bird who wrote fairly modern music as well as a lot of modern-day versions of old English lute songs, and it is the latter which are featured in this new release.

Warlock’s muse was intermittent and, at age 36, left him completely. He spent his last days transcribing the music of British composer Cipriani Potter for the British Museum. Eight days before Christmas 1930, he locked all the doors and windows of his flat (apartment) and opened up the coal vents; the ensuing gas overcame him and he died, either accidentally or a suicide.

In a way, I think Warlock had some influence on Benjamin Britten, who also wrote modern harmonizations for old English songs, both lute songs and folk tunes. Like Britten, Warlock moved his harmony sideways rather than in a linear fashion, which straddled the divide between modern and traditional music, which didn’t please either camp very much although several recordings were made both before and after his death of some of the most popular of them.

This collection, however, focuses on some of his lesser known songs that are rarely performed or recorded. Soprano Luci Briginshaw has an absolutely lovely voice with good diction, an excellent legato and nice shading of dynamics, but she does lack a bit in interpretive qualities, singing every song in this collection in virtually the same way. Pianist Eleanor Meynell plays very nicely, but to my ears tends to underplay the unusual harmonies and doesn’t have much forward momentum.

Of the songs included here, I particularly liked his second version of Take, o Take Those Lips Away, Dedication and Consider. Because of the way she’s recorded (a bit distantly from the mic), some of Briginshaw’s words are not crystal clear, and of course the American listener has to make adjustments for the veddy British version of it, but for the most part she’s fine.

A nice little album, then, particularly for Warlock fanciers.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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