Jansons’ Great Shostakovich Seventh

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WP 2019 - 2SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7, “Leningrad” / Bavarian Radio Symphony Orch.; Mariss Jansons, cond / BR Klassik BRK900184 (live: Munich, February 11-12, 2016)

As I mentioned in my review of Mariss Jansons’ outstanding recording of the Schubert Ninth, he is a conductor who blows hot and cold. Some of his recorded performances are outstanding while others are pretty mediocre (especially, for some odd reason, his Mahler), and you really can’t tell from one disc to the next. Happily, he seems to have a good rapport with this work, which he has conducted on a number of occasions: there are two earlier recordings, with the Leningrad Philharmonic from 1988 and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from 2006, a live performance with this same Bavarian Radio Orchestra from 2005, and another live performance with the New York Philharmonic from April 2016, two months after this one. All are good, but in many small details this one, scheduled for release in October, struck me as superior.

One such are his tempi, which in all four movements are somewhat faster than his recording with the Concertgebouw. Another comes from his decisions in acceleration and deceleration of said tempi. His first movement, believe it or not, is nearly two minutes slower than Toscanini’s performance—although if you check the score, Toscanini’s tempo is dead on the money—yet except for the acceleration near the end of the soldiers’ march section, none of it sounds rushed, and this acceleration gives one the feeling of an unstoppable force. Interestingly enough, at that exact same spot in his performance, Toscanini slows down, and this, in its own way, also gives a feeling of inevitability to the onslaught. So don’t come crying to me that Toscanini always conducted things too fast!

In the second movement, Jansons is a bit slower than Toscanini, by 35 seconds (over a movement that lasts about 12 minutes), but Jansons doesn’t “feel” slow and Toscanini doesn’t “feel” fast, the reason being that the Italian conductor took Shostakovich’s pace literally while Jansons introduces some moments of rubato, albeit tasteful ones that enhance the moment rather than making it drag. He also played the opening melodic line just a hair slower than Toscanini.

In general, what I particularly liked about Jansons’ reading was that he made very effective dynamic contrasts throughout the symphony, paying particular attention to all the little crescendos and decrescendos in the score. In the quieter, slower sections, Jansons suspended time and made these passages “float” where Toscanini ever-so-slightly nudged them forward with a “singing” cantilena. The Italian conductor was also much slower than Jansons in the third movement, but in the fourth it worked the other way around. This was the one movement that Toscanini conducted quicker than score tempo in order to press the matter home more forcefully, and thus the one portion of this performance that Shostakovich complained about; but when Leopold Stokowski finally got around to conducting it, Shostakovich didn’t like his interpretation at all!

Jansons’ slower tempi in the last movement gives the music excellent gravitas, but to be fair, Toscanini imbued the whole movement with a beautiful cantilena feel—perhaps too Italianate for Shostakovich, but effective when heard on its own without an A/B comparison. Yet another detail that goes by quickly but is better than in previous readings is the stronger accent that Jansons gives to the basses when they enter near the beginning of the movement. Of course, sonics also play a part in our emotional response to such a work. Toscanini’s recording, though greatly enhanced by Urania in their recent pressing, suffered from the claustrophobic sonics of Studio 8-H, and RCA’s engineers “flattened out” his dynamics changes because, if they set them to the loudest moments, the quietest would not be inaudible on the recording, and if they set them to the softest the loud passages would make the needle jump off the record. This was a constant problem with Toscanini’s RCA recordings, and Urania, alas, did not fix the extreme changes in dynamics marked in the score (but I have in my own copy, which you can listen to HERE).

As to the Jansons recording, the sound is much “airier” here than in his Concertgebouw version, just as the Concertgebouw recording was airier than the one with the Leningrad Philharmonic. You can hear samples of both on YouTube if you’d like to check (as I did). Yet even with more air around the orchestra, Jansons elicits a slightly grittier sound in the loud passages here than he did in 2006, and this is better for the symphony.

Of course, you are free to disagree with me if you tend to prefer the Concertgebouw recording to this one, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the best stereo/digital performance of this symphony.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Richard Blackford’s “Kalon”

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BLACKFORD: Kalon. Beklemmt. Stile Concilato / Albion Qrt; Czech Philharmonic Orch.; Jirí Rožeň, cond / Signum SIGCD568

From the publicity blurb for this recording:

The Ancient Greek word Kalon was used by philosophers to describe perfect physical and moral beauty. In this recording, the Albion Quartet and the Czech Philharmonic explore the different aspects of Kalon through the context in which beauty can exist in ugliness and darkness. This record is the result of Richard Blackford’s doctorate at the University of Bristol, which investigates the use of polytempo. The recording is a way of applying the findings of his doctorate in a range of musical contexts. Kalon is unique as it explores the use of polytempo in the context of extended tonality and modality, which could be said surpasses the complexity posed by serialist works of a similar nature, such as Stockhausen’s Gruppen or Carré.

Pretty complex academic doublespeak, no?

Fortunately, the music is very interesting (I say that because the majority of modern academic classical music I’ve heard is anything but). After a solo violin introduction, the orchestra enters, playing stiff rhythms against that set up by the violinist. Then we have fun with tempo changes, during which time Blackford develops his music somewhat tonally (well, modally at least). There are brief violin solos here and there as the rhythm relaxes for a slower section, after which the tempo picks up once again. By and large, the music reminds me of some of the experiments of the 1960s using polyrhythms (he certainly isn’t the first composer to do so), but at least his music is interesting and well written.

Beklemmt opens with the orchestra, after which the violinist comes in playing high, edgy figures against it, but this quickly settles into a slow, moody series of themes with the basses prominent playing a low drone beneath. The string quartet as a unit then enters, playing music typical of the sort written for such a combination in the modern style, sounding a bit like Janáček, before the harmony becomes thornier and the polytempi work their way in. By the time we reach the halfway mark, the string quartet is playing some surprisingly late-Romantic figures, but the basses, and then the rest of the orchestra, muscle their way in with lumbering figures. Things become complex when the quartet re-enters and both groups play rhythmically complex figures against each other, but then the music becomes ever slower, almost coming to a standstill at one point, with the lower strings of the orchestra playing figures that sound like waves. Then it ends.

The third and last piece, Stile Concilato, again begins with the orchestra, this time with the violas playing tremolos and the celli playing pizzicato figures. Edgy running figures played by the rest of the strings are then heard, after which the basses play their own tremolos while the violins play pizzicato against them. Edgy string figures continue to appear in polytempo, then the orchestra stops, allowing the string quartet to enter playing a more lyrical theme. This continues for a while with the orchestra’s strings interjecting swooping figures into the mix, then the edgy orchestral string figures return in a new permutation. Like the others, this is an interesting piece.

Unfortunately, that’s all there is! The entire CD is only 23 minutes and 22 seconds long. As good as the music is, that’s a bit of a ripoff. I suggest trying to find an inexpensive download of the music files and album cover, then supplementing it with Blackford’s excellent violin concerto Niobe as played by Tamsin Waley-Cohen with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Ben Gernon, which you can find HERE. You’ll be glad you did.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Geoffrey Simon’s Debussy CDs

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DEBUSSY: La Cathédrale Engloutie (arr. Stokowski). L’Isle Joyeuse (arr. Bernardo Molinari). Deux Arabesques (arr. Mouton). La Mer. Bruyères (arr. Percy Grainger). Danse (Tarantelle Styrienne) (arr. Ravel). Children’s Corner (arr. André Caplet) / Philharmonia Orch.; Geoffrey Simon, cond / Signum SIGCD2092

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DEBUSSY: Estampes No. 2: La soirée dans Granada (arr. Stokowski). Clair de lune (orch. Caplet). Estampes No. 1: Pagodes (orch. Grainger). La fille aux cheveux de lin (orch. Gleichmann). Nocturnes.* Première rapsodie for Clarinet & Orchestra.+ Petite Suite (orch. Henri Büsser) / Philharmonia Orch. *& Chorus; +James Campbell, cl; Geoffrey Simon, cond / Signum SIGCD2093

My regular readers know that I am normally no fan of transcriptions of classical music, whether it’s a violin sonata transcribed for bassoon or oboe or an orchestration of a piano piece or chamber music, but once in a while such things work well. Claude Debussy’s music has long been fodder for such transcriptions, dating back to the composer’s own lifetime, and the list of names given here of the transcribers include such well-known composers as Percy Grainger and Maurice Ravel as well as such lesser-known ones as André Caplet, who spent much of his career transcribing Debussy for orchestra, Italian conductor Bernardo Molinari and Henri Büsser, the French conductor best known for having made the first complete electrical recording of Gounod’s Faust in 1930 (with legendary bass Marcel Journet as Mephistopheles).

Of course, this list also includes Leopold Stokowski, the “Technicolor Maestro” who spent a lifetime trying his damnedest to make classical pieces sound like movie music (and did pretty well at it, too). Stokie’s orchestration of La Cathédrale Engloutie is a typical effort, turning one of the most imaginative and original of all piano pieces into an M-G-M or J. Arthur Rank spectacular. However—and this is key—Geoffrey Simon’s conducting is so good that he transforms it into a mini-masterpiece. He has exactly the right touch for this music, combining its opaque qualities with a bit of muscle, just as Debussy wanted in his music. I should also add that to the usual Debussy opaqueness, Simon also brings out (when the scores allow it) tremendous clarity of texture and a bit of backbone, which Debussy also appreciated in interpreters of his music. Add to this some of the most spectacular sonics I’ve ever heard, and you have two CDs of music that will absolutely captivate you and hold your attention.

Of course, I judge any Debussy conductor by his genuine orchestral masterpieces, and Simon has included two of the big three on here, La Mer and the Nocturnes, omitting only the three Images pour orchestre as well as the authentic Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra. Following the Engulfed Cathedral, Simon gives us a spirited reading of L’Isle Joyeuse that will pin you to the wall, and his performance of the Deux Arabesques (arranged by someone named Mouton, whose first name I could not discover online) is also very fine.

Ah, but then we encounter La Mer, and this is a hard-driven performance indeed—believe it or not, faster than the recording Arturo Toscanini made with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and far more brusque in phrasing. Simon drives the second movement as if it were a Beethoven Scherzo, which I didn’t care for at all.

Yet when he continues with the smaller pieces (Bruyères, Tarantelle Styrienne and especially the Children’s Corner), all is fine.

The second CD begins with Stokowski’s orchestration of Evening in Granada, which Simon also conducts well, followed by a very fine Clair de lune. Grainger’s orchestration of Pagodes is superb, using light percussion to create an Eastern atmosphere, and Simon handles it well. Someone named Gleichmann orchestrated The Girl With the Flaxen Hair, also a very sensitive transcription, and here Simon is atmospheric indeed.

Then we get the complete Nocturnes. These are also Toscanini-like in terms of clarity of texture and slightly quicker tempi, but not, to my ears, as insensitive as his La Mer. In fact, I would have to say that this is now my favorite modern/digital recording of these pieces. Simon’s performance of the clarinet Rhapsody is also excellent.

I also liked Büsser’s arrangement of the Petite Suite, so that makes the second disc a winner from start to finish. If only Simon’s La Mer had been a bit slower and more sensitive, both of these discs would have been outstanding. But even as it is, the performances here, by and large, are extremely well played and fantastically recorded.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Donizetti’s Excellent “Requiem”

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DONIZETTI: Messa de Requiem, “To the Memory of Vincenzo Bellini” / Leyla Gencer, sop; Mirna Pecile, mezzo-soprano; Ennio Carlo Buoso, ten; Alessandro Cassis, bar; Agostino Ferrin, bs; Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro d Milano della RAI; Gianadrea Gavazzeni, cond / Archipel ARPCD0475 (live: Milan, March 26, 1971)

I was poking around on the Naxos website for reviewers, trying to see what recordings were available with soprano Leyla Gencer, when I tripped across this release. At first I thought it was a misprint: a Requiem Mass by Donizetti? Surely they were wrong. But they weren’t.

Where they were wrong, however, was in the identification of the tenor, listing one Armando Moretti instead of Ennio Buoso; the elimination of the fifth soloist, bass Agostino Ferrin, who sings on two numbers; and the year of the performance, giving 1971 instead of 1961. I found the correct listing of the soloists and the correct date on a posting of this recording on YouTube, and checked it out. Ennio Buoso does have one other posting on YouTube, singing “Vengo à stringerti, dolce mia vita,” and by making a careful comparison I determined that his was, indeed, the tenor voice on this recording, thus I also accepted the later date. Another reason I believed the later date was that soprano Leyla Gencer’s voice has here that unusual flutter which she only picked up around 1965 or so. If you listen to Gencer’s earlier recordings, such as the video of Il Trovatore with Mario del Monaco or the 1960 Don Giovanni which I reviewed earlier on this blog, you will discover that she did not have that flutter in the late 1950s/early ‘60s. But Archipel is a small Italian label of indefinite origin with only three major outlets, Naxos, Presto Classical and Berkshire Record Outlet, and I’m only too familiar with how often the Italians get things wrong.

Requiem

I doubt that many opera lovers will know (I sure didn’t!) that Gaetano Donizetti wrote more than 100 sacred works, most of them unpublished, although the majority of these are short occasional works and academic exercises penned when he was being tutored by Simone Mayr. After 1824 he wrote only a few such works, a Miserere for voices and orchestra, an Ave Maria, and this Requiem. It was the last of his sacred pieces, begun in 1835 in memory of the death of Vincenzo Bellini, his friend and rival in the opera houses. It was finished by December, when it was to be performed, but for some unknown reason the plans for it fell through. It was finally premiered in 1870, 22 years after Donizetti’s death, in a performance heavily criticized by the Italian press for being weak. And that was the end of its performance history in Italy until this performance was given a century and one year later.

The work is often claimed to be “operatic,” but the vocal writing bears only a small resemblance to Donizetti’s operas. The choral and orchestral passages are richly detailed and quite dramatic, including some rigorous counterpoint in the Kyrie and Lacrimosa. Another interesting aspect is that the soprano and mezzo get very little to sing in this work except in a few ensemble passages; most of the solo vocal writing is given to the tenor and first bass (baritone), with a second, lower bass voice added in two selections, the “Tuba mirum” and the “Confutatis maledictus.” Because Gavazzeni hired the famous soprano Gencer for this performance, and she wanted a solo to sing, he gave her the tenor’s “Ingemisco,” a much slower, quieter and more lyrical piece than the one by Verdi. (This may also have been conditioned by the fact that the tenor in this performance, Ennio Carlo Buoso, was a “crossover” artist of his time, like Kenneth MacKellar in the U.K. and Sergio Franchi in the U.S.)

Although this Requiem is not quite on the same exalted level as those of Cherubini, which preceded it, or Verdi, which followed it (and which was clearly influenced by Donizetti’s, particularly in the “Dies irae,” it shares with the Requiems of those two composers the fact that it is the greatest work that those three composers wrote. The Cherubini Requiem is also little known, mostly because it has no solo singers but only a chorus, yet as Toscanini’s recording proved it is a masterpiece, and every opera lover worth his or her salt knows that the Verdi Requiem is superb from start to finish.

Indeed, as you go through this work you will continually discover outstanding passages. Although much of the music is lyrical, none of it is banal. Donizetti avoids giving the singers high notes or even melodic lines that resemble arias. Moreover, one can tell that this piece was really written from the heart; at times, it is deeply moving.

There are two other recordings of this Requiem commercially available, a live performance on Dynamic and a studio recording from 1988 on Orfeo. The first of these has a rather weak conductor and defective singers, and adds a one minute and nine-second prelude played by an organ that I found superfluous. The second of these features some outstanding singers, particularly soprano Cheryl Studer and first bass Jan Hendrik Rootering, but this edition adds much music that Donizetti meant to be cut from the finished work and the conducting is so lackluster as to make an “Adagio” of the entire piece, robbing it of energy and vitality. That leaves only this one as really good representative of the Requiem. Gavazzeni conducts it almost with the energy of a Cantelli or Toscanini; both the orchestra and chorus give a much better account of themselves than was usual for Italian forces of that era. Occasionally, one of the solo voices seems to be a little off-mic: Ferrin is just barely audible in the “Confutatis maledictus,” which may be what gave Archipel the idea that there was only one bass in the performance.

Regardless of the caveats mentioned earlier, this is a piece, and a performance, that all music lovers should hear. It will give you an entirely different perspective on the composer of such tripe as the “Queen Trilogy” operas.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Philip Grange’s Chamber Music

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WP 2019 - 2GRANGE: Tiers of Time.1-4 Elegy.3 Piano Trio: Homage to Chagall.1,3,4 Shifting Thresholds1-5 / 1Carolyn Balding, vln; 2Rose Redgrave, vla; 3Sophie Harris, cel; 4Aleksander Szram, pno; 5Ileana Ruhemann, fl; 5Catriona Scott, cl; 5Joby Burgess, perc; 5Ian Mitchell, cond / Métier MSV 28591

Philip Grange (b. 1956) studied composition with Peter Maxwell Davies, then entered York University where he studied with David Blake. His works have been performed by many leading exponents of contemporary music and commissioned and featured at many leading festivals in the UK and overseas.

The opening piece, Tiers of Time, is clearly very Maxwell Davies-ish in form, structure and sonority. Like his teacher, Grange writes music that is edgy but goes somewhere, a factor that too many of our modern-day composers, particularly American but also British, seem not to understand. It is written for piano quartet, but it is scarcely scored like a conventional piece for such a combination; rather, it pits the violin and viola against the cello and all three string instruments against the piano, creating a weird yet haunting environment of sound in which both thematic development and atmosphere are held in equal balance. At about 4:14 Grange wrote a brief viola-piano duet passage that is really interesting, and throughout the piano nudges the three strings along when it is not playing a solo commentary. At the 5:40 mark, the violin plays a high, fluttering passage that sounds for all the world like early Leif Segerstam. Indeed, as the piece continued I heard a bit more Segerstam than Maxwell Davies, which is not a bad thing.

Elegy for solo cello exploits both the rhythmic and melodic capabilities of the instrument, somewhat in the manner of a Bach Cello Suite except more modern in both harmony and rhythm. Sophie Harris maintains a fine balance between these two elements, playing with both sensitivity and a good sense of forward momentum. One thing that impressed me was that Grange seems to be able to write technical effects into his music that do not sound superfluous or just thrown in for effect. The music, despite its title, is not particularly elegiac in tone or feeling, but rather starts out moodily and becomes edgier as it moves along. At the 7:30 mark, the music becomes more emotional, combining rhythmic angularity with greater depth of feeling.

The Piano Trio, subtitled “Homage to Chagall,” is even edgier in dissonance and rhythmic bite than Tiers of Time. Here, the three instruments are well and truly pitted against one another: the cello grumbling in the depths, the piano banging out notes seemingly at random (but not really) and the violin playing alternately lyrical phrases and edgy tremolos. When things begin to come together, it is the violin that leads the way, slowly pulling the cello and then the piano into its orbit. This is a fairly long work (21:40) in four movements marked “Moderato,” “Scherzo: Sempre leggiermente,” “Adagio” and “Con fuoco,” but even the opening “Moderato” sounds pretty “Con fuoco” to my ears despite a few lyrical moments. The “Scherzo” begins lightly, with little violin figures that set the pace for the rest of the movement, and here, despite the dissonance, Grange is indeed playful in his approach. The “Adagio” is mysterious and a bit eerie, again opening with the violin, with the piano and cello just adding a few sprinkled notes here and there until a broad cello theme rides over the contrabass notes on the keyboard while the violin adds its own mysterious commentary above. Grange’s odd theme is developed oddly but still moves forward with a purpose. The final movement opens with a similarly grumbling motif played by the cello, only now at a much faster pace, while the piano plays trills and serrated figures and the violin plays its own serrated figures up above. Eventually, Grange pulls these serrated figures together as part of the development section—what a wonderfully clear mind he has for structure and detail! The piece ends on a diminuendo piano chord.

Shifting Thresholds is written for the odd combination of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion and a conductor—surely an odd requirement for a chamber work—but when you hear how complex this music is, you realize that having a conductor was a pretty good idea. This music is more fragmented in nature than the preceding works; some of it resembles George Crumb in its aura, particularly due to the percussionist playing what sounds like either a marimba or vibes. By 4:35 into the first movement, the music sounds very fragmented indeed, but this is only the result of the development being played in hocket style (one note per instrument which goes to make up a line of music), and again, in Grange’s hands it sounds like a natural development and not something that is “forced” or artificial.

The second movement, marked “in shifting tempi,” is again mysterious and, also again, sort of Segerstam-like. This is another thing I like about Grange: he doesn’t have just one “voice,” but can vary his approach depending on his mood and what he’s trying to convey. And once again he uses hocket style in his development, which is far more complex here than in the first movement. He also creates some interesting textures by having the clarinetist play in her low or chalumeau register while the violin and flute play edgy figures up high; then a full stop before we reach the “Coda,” marked as a separate movement, which opens with a broad cello solo. The movement then morphs into a series of what appear to be randomly sprinkled notes that actually make up a slow but discernible development section. This mood continues into the fourth and last movement, also written “in shifting tempi” and again developed in hocket style, this time with some very odd high-register playing by the violin and flute while the piano stays for a long while in its mid and upper ranges. Then the music increases in tempo and volume as things become ever more complex, but always clearly delineated because of its extremely transparent texture. The music then slows down again as Grange gives the musicians some gently undulating figures to play, except for the marimba which adds its own shimmering commentary. Near the end, the music slows down to a crawl as the cello plays portamento figures and the music ends in the middle of nowhere.

This is an extraordinary CD and a composer to watch!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Bane, Belliveau & O’Rourke Present Baritone Madness

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WP 2019 - 2BARITONE MADNESS / MINGUS: Moanin’. BELLIVEAU: Remembering the Aramo. The C.B. Shuffle. O’ROURKE: I-Yor. Port NOLA. Turbulent Trane. June. WICKENHEISER: Requested. FRAGOS-BAKER-GASPARRE: I Hear a Rhapsody. BANE: A Long Time Coming. The Angels’ Share. J. SMITH: Ready and Able / Keith O’Rourke, Pat Belliveau, Gareth Bane, bar-sax; Kodi Hutchinson, bs; Tyler Hornby, dm / Chronograph CRO78

Here’s something different: a band made up of three baritone saxes with rhythm, playing a program of mostly original pieces with one pop standard (I Hear a Rhapsody) and one piece by Charles Mingus (Moanin’). The band comes from Alberta, Canada, and really knows how to kick butt.

All three of our saxists—Keith O’Rourke, Pat Belliveau and Gareth Bane—really swing and play with gusto as well as with good imagination. Moanin’ only has one solo, by O’Rourke, although two of the three saxists improvise against one another while the third plays the repeating bass line in the last two choruses. Belliveau’s original, Remember the Aramo, sports a Latin beat and features some creamy playing by the trio as a unit in addition to excellent solos by all three: first Belliveau, then O’Rourke and then Bane.

O’Rourke’s I-Yor is an old-fashioned slow swinger, a modern-day cousin of the Pink Panther theme, and on this one especially you can admire the tight coordination yet loose swing of Kodi Hutchinson on bass and Tyler Hornby on drums. The loose, creative interplay of the three horns tells you that they’re used to playing with one another, as they have great rapport. Port NOLA has a kind of modern-day New Orleans beat (think of Professor Longhair or the Dirty Dozen Brass Band), and the principal theme is an attractive one. O’Rourke’s solo here has a distinctly R&B feel to it, yet it is also creative, forming an entirely new melody over the changes.

Turbulent Trane channels the spirit of the late, renowned tenor saxist without copying him. Indeed, this one, too, has a strong R&B feel to the opening theme, with more interesting changes saved for the middle four. O’Rourke’s solo, however, is completely original in style, not trying in any way to emulate Trane’s “sheets of sound,” and Bane’s solo sounds closer in style to Sonny Rollins. Requested has a sort of a Caribbean rhythm, the simple tune well developed by Belliveau and O’Rourke, but again it’s their playing together as a unit that captures your attention. It’s such a pleasure to hear three such talented jazz musicians really listening to one another!

The famous ballad I Hear a Rhapsody is transformed into a sort of Latin swinger, with a really outstanding solo by O’Rourke. The somewhat “heavy blues” feel of A Long Time Coming brings out the best in Bane, with Belliveau following him and surprising solos by bassist Hutchinson and drummer Hornby. The unison chorus by the three saxists is beautifully played as well.

The C.B. Shuffle has a really quirky beat, funky and with an odd pause near the end of each chorus. Bane and Belliveau are the soloists here, although Hornby has some wonderful drum breaks. The looseness of the beat allows the saxists to play sparse lines interspersed with quick little figures. The Angels’ Share, on the other hand, has a slow melodic line played against a double-time bass figure at the outset, mezzo-piano by our sax trio. Bane’s solo maintains this relaxed feeling while Hutchinson’s bass plays angular figures beneath him, then he takes his own solo, continuing both the musical content and the mood that Bane set up. He then follows this by playing one repeated note while the trio of saxes play above him, with another solo by Bane in between the ensemble passages.

June opens with a repeated lick that moves up and down harmonically, following which the other two saxes join him in a melodic theme. This, too, is taken at a medium tempo, with Bane and O’Rourke crafting lovely solos. The album ends with Ready and Able, an uptempo swinger that starts with the three baritones in unison, playing a fast bop lick—they almost sound like an all-baritone version of the old band Supersax. Belliveau is the first soloist up, playing brilliantly as usual, then Bane with a completely contrasting style and finally drummer Hornby playing breaks. A good time is had by all.

This is a wonderful album of straightahead jazz played with imagination and very high creativity.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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A Surprisingly Excellent 1960 “Don Giovanni”

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WP 2019 - 2MOZART: Don Giovanni / Mario Petri, bar (Don Giovanni); Sesto Bruscantini, bar (Leporello); Teresa Stich-Randall, sop (Donna Anna); Leyla Gencer, sop (Donna Elvira); Luigi Alva, ten (Don Ottavio); Heinz Borst, bass (Commendatore); Graziella Sciutti, sop (Zerlina); Renato Cesari, bar (Masetto); RAI Milan Chorus & Symphony Orchestra; Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond (live: Milan, April 26, 1960) also available as a DVD on VAI 4314

Bonus tracks on CD only: MOZART: Idomeneo: Solitudini amiche, aure amorose / Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, sop; RAI Turin Symphony Orch.; Mario Rossi, cond / Le nozze di Figaro: Non più andrai / Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, bass; RAI Milan Symphony Orch.; Angelo Questa, cond / Porgi amor / Lisa Della Casa, sop; RAI Milan Symphony Orch.; Franco Mannino, cond / Dove sono / Teresa Stich-Randall, sop; RAI Rome Symphony Orch.; Mario Rossi, cond / Aprite un pó quegli occhi / Tito Gobbi, bar; RAI Milan Symphony Orch.; Alfredo Simonetto, cond / Deh’ vieni non tardar / Sena Jurinac, sop; RAI Rome Symphony Orch.; Mario Rossi, cond / Don Giovanni: Madamina / Boris Christoff, bass; RAI Turin Symphony Orch.; Mario Rossi, cond / Batti, batti o bel Masetto / Alda Noni, sop; RAI Turin Symphony Orch.; Nino Sanzogno, cond / Il mio tesoro / Cesare Valletti, ten; RAI Rome Symphony Orch.; Bruno Rigacci, cond / Cosí fan tutte: Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo / Italo Tajo, bass; RAI Turin Symphony Orch.; Mario Rossi, cond / Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Martern aller arten (in Italian) / Leyla Gencer, sop; RAI Milan Symphony Orch.; Alfredo Simonetto, cond / Datum DAT 12321 (live: dates and locations not listed)

coverThis splendid Don Giovanni was apparently first issued on CDs by Opera d’Oro in 2003, followed as a DVD from VAI in 2005 (since it originates from Milan television). Datum apparently also issued it earlier, since I found an alternate cover online, but this particular incarnation came out two years ago with all of the live bonus tracks used to fill out the third CD (the performance runs just 23 minutes too long to fit onto two CDs). Somehow, I missed all of these other releases, however; the major classical magazine I wrote for was much too busy sending me recordings of Chopin (which generally turns me off) and Liszt (with whom I became well over-saturated…he wasn’t that great of a composer) to review.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. It’s mono broadcast sound, and occasionally, as in the overture, the orchestra can sound a trifle scrappy. Teresa Stich-Randall’s laser-focused, virtually non-vibrato voice is not to everyone’s taste (which I was stunned to discover, since I’ve always loved her, and she would surely be a major star in today’s HIP Mozart performances), and openly dramatic singing never was her forte, but I find her much more exciting here than on the Hans Rosbaud performance (more on that below). Leyla Gencer also tends to underplay Donna Elvira a bit; she’s not the firebrand here that one heard in her performances of Il Trovatore or La Vestale. But that’s about all you can say to criticize it. Considering its time and place, the conducting is surprisingly brisk; only “Il mio tesoro” is slowed down a bit, and that was probably because tenor Luigi Alva couldn’t sing his runs and divisions at the quicker tempo. In many ways, this recording surpasses Rosbaud’s famous recording with Stich-Randall as Anna, a performance that suffered from the simply awful singing of Antonio Campo as Don Giovanni and Marcello Cortis as Leporello. The reason why the Rosbaud performance is more famous is partly due to the his high reputation, especially in Europe, as a great architectural conductor, and partly due to the much more glamorous names (and voices) of Suzanne Danco as Donna Elvira, Anna Moffo as Zerlina and Nicolai Gedda as Don Ottavio—but Danco wasn’t any more dramatic than Gencer, and Gedda also slowed down “Il mio tesoro” and had a terrible time with the runs.

Here, everyone is in good or great voice; Petri is not only a much better singer than Campo but a first-rate vocal actor; Bruscantini leans towards humor as Leporello but doesn’t ham it up; and more importantly is the way all the voices line up. What I mean by that is that every singer here has a “lean” timbre, tightly focused and projected like laser beams, which makes all the different lines in the fast-faced ensembles “sound” clearly and cleanly. You just don’t get that in recordings where the singers have rich, creamy voices, because rich, creamy voices have overtones that often overlap the other singers. Even in Riccardo Muti’s recording of the opera, which I consider to be a great one, you have such rich vocalists as Cheryl Studer (Donna Anna), Suzanne Mentzer (Zerlina) and Samuel Ramey (Leporello), and such voices, when singing together with others, create a blend and not a separation of sound in one’s ear. In many operas, particularly Italian and German operas of the mid-19th century, such a blend is not only welcome but preferred, but in Mozart it can sometimes obscure the fine filigree of the vocal writing. Listening to this performance is, to quote Arturo Toscanini, “like reading the score,” if you know what I mean, and that in itself makes this a truly valuable performance, especially for musicians and those of us who treasure clarity in Mozart’s vocal ensembles. Indeed, the singers’ perfect diction allows Molinari-Pradelli to take “Giovinette che fate all’amore” and “Ho capito, Signor, si!” at a very brisk pace, similar to what we hear nowadays from many HIP performances, except with much better string tone and better voices. The only cast member I’ve never heard of before is Heinz Borst as the Commendatore, and although he’s not the darkest or most dramatic singer I’ve heard in the role, he’s sinister enough in the final scene to get by.

It also helps that most of the cast, excepting Stich-Randall, Gencer and bass Heinz Borst as the Commendatore, are of Italian descent—and that includes Luigi Alva who, though born in Peru, had Italian parents and grew up speaking Italian. This also makes a difference, since Italian-speaking singers have much more perfect diction in that language and can make the words “tell” with greater force. I can’t even recall seeing another Don Giovanni with so many Italians in the cast, though I admit that I haven’t heard every single performance floating around.

The orchestra is just a mite heavier than we’re used to hearing it today, although by 1960 musicians had learned that you shouldn’t use a full symphony orchestra to play Mozart. With that being said, it’s the orchestra more so than the singers that suffers most from the mono TV sound, but it’s reproduced well enough here that it’s not a consistent problem.

One thing that surprised me was how firm Leyla Gencer’s voice sounds here. I’ve gotten so used to hearing her with that unusual flutter in the voice, not quite a wobble but still noticeable, that I didn’t realize that she could sing with a firmly solid tone. Although this was a televised broadcast, there was no audience present, thus you will listen in vain for bursts of applause after the arias and duets.

As for the conducting, Molinari-Pradelli actually takes much of the opera at quicker tempi than Rosbaud did, all to the music’s benefit. The only exception is “Il mio tesoro,” which Luigi Alva was used to taking at a somewhat relaxed tempo because he could just barely get through the runs at that speed without messing them up.

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Leyla Gencer, Mario Petri, Luigi Alva & Teresa Stich-Randall

Probably the most surprising casting choice in this performance will be, for many listeners, that of comic baritone, Sesto Bruscantini, as Leporello. Although several baritones have sung this role, they have all been ones with richer voices, such as Giuseppe Taddei on the 1959 Giulini recording. Most of the time it is sung by basso cantates; earlier generations were used to Salvatore Baccaloni, audiences around the time of this performance were used to Fernando Corena, and in later years it was sung by Wladimiro Ganzarolli, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Samuel Ramey, all of whom had richer voices. Bruscantini manages the part pretty well, but the attentive listener will note that he just barely gets most of his low notes, and at least once during “Madamina” he sings an alternate higher note. But you surely can’t complain that you can’t distinguish between the voices of the Don and his servant—they surely sound entirely different, and he certainly sounds like a servant. Moreover, in those massed ensembles Bruscantini’s brightly-focused voice helps us hear the various lines of the music more clearly. (As an historical footnote, one should remember that, in the 18th century, baritones were considered to be a species of bass, since basso roles in operas didn’t often go down as low as those of Osmin or Sarastro, and baritones seldom went up to a high A, usually stopping at G or Ab.) There’s also a bit of luxury casting here with the excellent baritone Renato Cesari, who often sang leading roles, as Masetto. Petri, excellent throughout, sings the most seductive performances of “La cì darem la mano” and “Deh’ vieni alla finestra” I’ve ever heard.

The natural reverb of the empty theater also greatly helps the voices of Alva and Graziella Sciutti, which often sounded shrill and nasty on records. Here, you realize that Alva had a very nice-sounding tenor voice and Sciutti, though still penny-bright, was not as naggingly brittle as she sometimes sounded on discs, which goes to prove that records sometimes lie to you.

As for the bonus tracks, most of them are very good and all are extremely interesting. We start with Lizzie Schwarzkopf singing an aria from Idomeneo, and she’s in excellent voice, displaying a nice trill and without the annoying mannerisms that later crept into her singing (I don’t know the year of the performance; my download had no booklet). Nicola Rossi-Lemeni singing “Non più andrai” was a real surprise, but he does a very fine job with it, and Angelo Questa’s conducting is alert and lively. Lisa Della Casa sings a fine “Porgi amore,” but the conductor, one Franco Mannino, gives new meaning to the word “lugubrious.” Stich-Randall’s “Dove sono” is beautiful as expected, and Mario Rossi gives her a better tempo than Mannino did for Della Casa. Stich-Randall does sneak a couple of little catch breaths in, but gives the illusion of singing it in one continuous line. Absolutely stupendous. Tito Gobbi sounds like his usual self singing “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi,” which is a little snarly but still rhythmically alert and enjoying himself. But nearly all of these tracks are interesting and revealing of the different artists involved, the only disappointment being the in-one-ear-and-out-the-other Alda Noni. The most unusual performances are Boris Christoff singing Leporello’s catalogue aria (much livelier than on his studio recording ofit) and Gencer singing “Martern aller arten” in Italian. Except for the fact that she only sang one trill (near the end), she did a good job with it.

Bottom line: except for the sometimes scrappy sound of the orchestra, which unfortunately can’t be fixed (I’ve read online that the DVD has even poorer sound than this CD incarnation), this is a Don Giovanni for the ages. It is now my historical performance of preference, even over the Busch, Krips and Giulini recordings, the latter of which I always felt was over-hyped. I highly recommend it.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Angelo Questa’s Superb “Mefistofele”

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BOITO: Mefistofele / Giulio Neri, bass (Mefistofele); Marcella Pobbe, sop (Margherita); Ferruccio Tagliavini, tenor (Faust); Ebe Ticozzi, mez (Marta); Armando Benzi, tenor (Wagner/Nereo); Disma de Cecco, sop (Helen of Troy); Ede Marietti Gandolfo, alto (Pantalis); Teatro Regio di Turin Chorus; Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI; Angelo Questa, cond / Warner Classics 0927 43550-2 or Urania WS 121.290

Before we begin this review proper, a bit of history for those who may not know (which is probably most opera-lovers under the age of 50).

Cetra Records was an Italian label founded in the 1930s. One of their very first releases was the first complete recording of Puccini’s Turandot, with Gina Cigna, Magda Olivero and Francesco Merli. The conducting was a bit on the sluggish side but no one could fault the singing, even today. They soon followed this up with a complete Norma featuring Cigna and, a few years later, an excellent Lucia di Lammermoor starring American expatriate soprano Lina Pagliughi, then an excellent La Forza del Destino in which they swiped EMI’s star Italian soprano, Maria Caniglia, adding the excellent tenor Galliano Masini and the then-young baritone Carlo Tagliabue. After the war, around 1951, they again began issuing complete operas starring some of the biggest names then singing in Italy, among them sopranos Caterina Mancini and Maria Callas (the latter on both La Traviata and La Gioconda), tenors Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Gianni Poggi and Ferruccio Tagliavini, baritones Giuseppe Taddei and Paolo Silveri, basso Giulio Neri, and several good conductors including Antonino Votto and Angelo Questa. They seem to have stopped around 1956, the year of this Mefistofele, meaning that they just missed the years of all-stereo recordings, but resumed again around 1959 with a new batch of Italian talent such as the young soprano Renata Scotto and baritone Ettore Bastianini.

Then, sometime in the early 1960s, all of their older mono opera recordings were bought out by Sam Weiler, the owner of Everest Records in the U.S. Everest was a weird label, starting out as a premium classical label that produced some of the most stunning stereo classical recordings of all time. These were made not by using conventional reel-to-reel tape but rather 35mm film, producing the same kind of stunning stereo sound you’d hear in a movie theater. But for whatever reason—probably expense—Weiler stopped making the 35mm stereo recordings in the early 1960s, and it was about this time that he bought the rights to reissue not only the old Cetra opera catalog but also the old mono recordings of the New York Pro Musica and particularly their star countertenor, Russell Oberlin, that were made for Lyrichord and Experiences Anonymes. But Weiler wasn’t content to reissue them in their original mono sound. Oh, no; he just had to release them as electronically “enhanced” stereo, and the results were absolutely horrific. The muddiness of the original mono LPs was retained, but he put them through some kind of weird filtering, in some of which he would delay one of the channels to produce a reverb that never existed in nature. The result was that all of these singers I mentioned above sounded weird or worse; and Weiler then boosted the treble on some of them to make the sopranos and tenors scream in your ear as their electronically modified voices bounced off the walls. Poor opera lovers bought them because they were cheap (normally around $1.50 per LP, sometimes cheaper if San Goody’s was having a sale). But you got what you paid for, and Weiler didn’t care that his product sounded like shit. He got the rights for a song and was raking the money in without having to pay no stinkin’ royalties.

As a result of all this, however, most serious opera lovers made a point of ignoring all the Cetra complete operas except for the two by Callas, and with time they were relegated to the scrap-heap of obscurity…until Warner Classics bought the rights to the original tapes a few years ago, and began reissuing them on CD in their original mono incarnations.

Not all of the Cetra complete operas are as good as this one, but make no mistake: this is the best performance of Mefistofele taken from a studio recording. In June of last year I gave great praise—excepting Mario del Monaco’s brutish, overloud Faust—to the early stereo recording of this opera conducted by Tullio Serafin. But this one is better in every way except sonics; in fact, better than any of the stereo or digital recordings of this work.

Giulio Neri

Giulio Neri

I’ll grant you that Giulio Neri’s Mefistofele is not as finely detailed or as subtle as Cesare Siepi’s, but then again, neither is anyone else’s. Neri had a huge, dark, black-sounding bass, the finest of its kind from Italy since the days of Francesco Navarini (look him up), and while he’s not as subtle as Siepi he doesn’t snarl all the time as Samuel Ramey did. His only flaw is that he does not do the whistling in “Son lo spirito che nega”; don’t ask me why. I would assume that perhaps Neri couldn’t whistle, but why not just dub in a Professional Whistler? I also admit that Marcella Pobbe, an outstanding lyric soprano whose voice sounded like a slightly more mature version of Mirella Freni, does not get under the skin of “L’altra notte” as well as Renata Tebaldi did under Serafin, but again, neither does anyone else, and Pobbe’s contribution is just fine.

But what sets this recording apart from all the others are the meltingly beautiful Faust of Ferruccio Tagliavini and the excellent conducting of Angelo Questa, both of them better than del Monaco or Serafin on the old Decca set, and when you add it all together this is unquestionably a great performance…particularly more convincing in the Helen of Troy sequence than anyone else’s, among other wonderful things.

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as the saying goes, and since this recording was made in the empty halls of Radio Turin you naturally have more natural reverb than in the later stereo studio recordings, but in a certain sense this actually helps enhance the mythical atmosphere of Goethe’s story, just as the similar reverb on the 1937 Turandot helped that as well.

Choosing between the Warner Classics and Urania version of this release is like deciding if you like your toast buttered on the near side or the far side. There’s no real difference. The Warner cover, a copy of the original Cetra release, is considerably more garish but in my opinion way cooler than the blah Urania cover with a picture of Nobody the Woman on it. Either way, this is now my genuinely preferred version of Mefistofele. Go for it!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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The Pleyel Ensemble Revisits Cooke

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WP 2019 - 2COOKE: Piano Trio. Piano Quartet.2 Piano Quintet1,2 / Pleyel Ensemble: Sarah Ewins, 1Benedict Holland, vln; 2Susie Mészáros, vla; Heather Bills, cel; Harvey Davies, pno / MPR 105

As a follow-up to their earlier album of Arnold Cooke’s violin sonatas which I reviewed, the Pleyel Ensemble in their entirely here tackles the same composer’s Piano Trio, Quartet and Quintet. The first two were written in the 1940s (1941-44 and 1948-49 respectively) while the third was composed in 1969.

As in the case of the other Cooke music I’ve heard, these pieces are lyrical with a modern bent, showing the influence of his great teacher Paul Hindemith, though in the end they sound very different from Hindemith’s scores. The Piano Trio in particular has a real late-Romantic sweep and feel about it but is more tightly constructed and contains more interesting stepwise and chromatic key changes than the usual Romantic piano trio. I should reiterate, as I said in reviewing Cooke’s violin sonatas and symphonies, that his music is not only well constructed and formally interesting but passionate and deeply felt. This was surely a good composer who doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. The second movement is particularly interesting in this respect, with arpeggiated melodic lines written over stepwise and chromatic descending piano accompaniment. The third movement also “moves around” in a similar manner, alternating between major and minor with impunity, whole tone scales and a few harmonic cracks in between.

The Quartet is cut from the same cloth, with rising chromatics and lyrical, rather tonal melodies that at times sound like American Indian themes, swirling around. The second-movement “Scherzo” consists of swirling figures with odd and unexpected pauses here and there. After the obligatory slow movement, Cooke returns to playfulness in a medium-fast finale in which he employs a rhythm, but not a melodic line, similar to Brahms’ first Piano Quartet.

Surprisingly, the Quintet begins very misterioso with the piano playing diatonic figures against long-held chords by the four strings. Then it takes off with an “Allegro” theme that’s very unusual and not so easy to follow—possibly Cooke’s reaction to the criticism that his music sounded “old-fashioned.” There’s a particularly odd passage in which the music moves up one tone at a time and the harmony similarly shifts with each note. Cooke continues to play this game with movement of the harmony throughout the movement. In the second, a very rapid “Scherzo,” he plays a similar game with whole tones in chromatic movement. Not too surprisingly, the slow movement is more harmonically consonant but no less original in its form, while the last movement is one of his most modern-sounding pieces, opening with edgy string figures which set the rhythm before moving into somewhat more melodic territory, but still with that bitonal edge. It almost has a Shostakovich-like feel about it. Just before the end, the music pauses and when the quintet comes back in it is at a slower pace but they then gradually accelerate to the original tempo for the brusque finale.

This is yet another outstanding recording of Cooke’s music, not to be missed!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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Trio Khnopff Plays Weinberg

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WP 2019 - 2WEINBERG: Piano Trio. Cello Sonata No. 1. 2 Songs Without Words. Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, Op. 47 no. 3 / Trio Khnopff: Sadie Fields, vln; Roman Dhainaut, cel; Stéphanie Salmin, pno / Pavane ADW7590

This is the latest entry of those CDs issued to celebrate Mieczysław Weinberg’s 100th anniversary, an anniversary, sadly, not shared by the commercial classical world at large. No, they’re too busy whooping it up about Leonard Bernstein and probably some tired old 17th or 18th-century composer whose music goes in one ear and out the other, rather than celebrate one of the most original and creative musical minds of the 20th century. But hey, that’s life in the classical music biz, right?

The Cello Sonata No. 1 and the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes are, ironically, two of his pieces that have sort of stuck in the repertoire of many chamber musicians, thus they’d had a few other recordings, but the large Piano Trio of 1945 is still a virtual rarity and this is the first-ever recording of his Songs Without Words. What struck me immediately about the Piano Trio was not how much it sounded like other early scores of his but, rather, how much it sounds like mature Weinberg, particularly the first-movement “Prelude and Aria” with its sad but not treacly theme, redolent of the pain he felt inside from the destruction of his family in the recently-concluded World War. And in the second movement, Weinberg almost explodes with rage at the senselessness of it all—but please note, young composers, he knew how to construct music logically. Like Debussy, he just broke some of the rules in creating entirely new forms around the basic structure; he wasn’t just throwing out aimless, noisy shards of notes.

Khnopff The Supreme Vice

Fernand Khnopff, “The Supreme Vice,” 1885

The young Trio Khnopff, named after Belgian painter Fernand Khnopff, have apparently made a specialty of this piece. In the liner notes, the trio’s musicians make it very clear that this work has been a staple of their repertoire since its founding: “The huge emotional spectrum, the quality and originality of the writing, the instrumental challenge…all comes together in this Trio to create a work that resonates deeply with us and has been something of a constant companion.” And you can tell that it is. Their performance is as deep and touching as the notes on the page themselves, much like Mirga Gražinyté-Tyla’s stupendous performance of Weinberg’s Symphony No. 22 which I reviewed elsewhere on this blog. The slowly arching melody and gradual crescendo in the long third movement is so deeply and intensely played that it will bring you to tears. It did so for me. This is clearly one of Weinberg’s great masterpieces, created when he was only 26 years old. Absolutely amazing.

As is so often the case in Weinberg’s music, he undermines our expectations of what a “finale” should sound like. Although this one is indeed taken at a quick pace, its Eastern European harmonies and minor-key bias make it sound like a resignation of the world, as if he is just so hurt by it all that he needs to get some of his negative feelings out in music. But again, there is no whining, no bathos, no breast-beating, and he does not forget how to write fugues and canons in this finale. He just had a different way of looking at music. Violinist Sadie Fields, in particular, tears into this music as if her very life depended on it, her instrument screaming in protest against the injustice of broken and prematurely ended lives. If this performance doesn’t move you, you have no soul. At the 6:15 mark the music suddenly pulls back from the abyss, giving us slow, quiet, sad themes which take us to the end—another way of upsetting our expectations.

The group’s cellist, Roman Dhainaut, plays the first Cello Sonata with as deep feeling as the group as a whole played the trio. I like this performance even better than that of Andrew Yee on the Calliope label, though that is a good one as well. Cut from the same cloth as the Trio, it was written in one week during April 1945 but not given its first public performance until 1962. I would be remiss if I did not also praise pianist Stéphanie Salmin, whose rich, deep-in-the-keys tone and equally deep feeling acts as an under-cushion for the music on this CD. It’s difficult to describe Weinberg’s music as “modern” despite his use of whole tone scales and chromatic harmonies; a better description would simply be “unusual and timeless.” It seems to inhabit a sound world entirely of its own. His scores don’t even resemble those of his close friend Shostakovich, but it is exactly this “unusualness” that kept them out of the Soviet repertoire as a rule and also keeps them from being appreciated by the wider public today. He was the Berlioz or the Mahler of the late 20th century, a man whose music was too unusual for its time. It exerts a strange and almost indescribable emotional strain on the listener. You can’t always describe or even “follow” his music in conventional terms, yet it affects you so deeply that you can’t pull away from it.

The Songs Without Words are among Weinberg’s unpublished pieces from the same period, only recently resurfacing in the archives, thus this is its first recording. The first is a lyrical “Andantino” written in the manner of Prokofiev while the second, a “Larghetto,” is a transcription of his 1942 Aria for String Quartet. This latter piece, say the notes, is “a Slavonic cousin to Fauré’s famous Aprês un rêve.” They are gently pastoral pieces, lacking the angst of much of Weinberg’s other music from this time.

We end with the famous Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes, written in 1949 in order to comply with Stalin’s dictum against “formalism” in music, demanding that composers write music based on folk tunes that could appeal to The People.

All in all, then, a truly great CD, particularly in the case of the Piano Trio and the rare Songs Without Words.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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