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Massenet: Thérèse
Massenet: Thérèse
Price: £15.27

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A full-on performance of one of Massenet's best operas., 21 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Massenet: Thérèse (Audio CD)
I hope you don't mind if I quote from my review of the Canal Grande recording of this opera:

"Massenet was an enormously successful composer commercially and it is amusing to see how his operas so often showed the influence of popular successes of the time. "La Navarraise" was obviously an attempt to cash in on "Carmen", "Cendrillon" followed "Hansel und Gretel" and I have recently been struck by obvious parallels between Kienzl's 1895 opera "Der Evangelimann" and Massenet's "Le Jongleur de Notre Dame", premiered in 1902. "Therese" dates from 1907. Giordano's enormously successful French Revolution opera, "Andrea Chenier", had first been performed in 1896.

"Therese", then, is probably the most Italianate of Massenet's operas. It is in two highly concentrated acts and is very much in the veristic style although the composer's superior technique lends it a musical sophistication which puts it in a different class from, say, "Cavalleria Rusticana" or "I Pagliacci". There are no extended arias to hold up the action but that is not meant to imply that the opera is without melody. On the contrary, it is one of Massenet's richest scores with one wonderfully lyrical tune after another and the intervening orchestral music derived from them. I must also mention an enormously catchy slow minuet, first heard on the harpsichord (or, in the Orfeo recording, on the strings) and again, at the beginning of Act 2, as a "menuet d'amour". Massenet called "Therese" a "music drama" and the closest parallel, I would say, is with Puccini's 1912 opera "La Fanciulla del West", also very much a music drama. Like so much Puccini, the music of "Therese" is so strong that you can, if you wish, listen to it without concerning yourself with the drama at all. "Therese" is a compelling work, then, which I can confidently recommend.

Andre, son of the steward of a chateau, has grown up with Armand, an aristocrat who has now been forced to flee the Revolution. Andre, then, is torn between his duty to the Revolution and his loyalty to his friend. Andre is married to Therese who, unknown to him, formerly loved Armand. Andre hides his friend in his house. Therese begs him to grant Armand safe conduct and, as the mob outside becomes increasingly vocal, Andre gives him his own papers. Andre is arrested and mounts the tumbril on his way to the guillotine. Choosing not to escape with Armand, Therese embraces her husband's destiny. "Vive le Roi" she cries and joins her husband in death.

"Therese"'s quality has been recognized in recent years and there are now three recordings to choose from and a fourth due soon. "Therese" will also feature in a double bill with "La Navarraise" at Wexford later this year (2013)."

The Orfeo recording, made in 1981 but only issued in 1996, is, on balance, the best sung of the three. Baltsa as Therese has a less distinctive voice than Tourangeau's dark mezzo on Decca but she sings and characterises superbly as does George Fortune as Andre. Araiza is the best Armand on disc, Ryland Davies not being well cast on the Decca recording. You will have to grit your teeth at the beginning of the opera, however, as neither the first nor second soldier is well sung.

If you know this opera from Bonynge's Decca recording you will soon be struck by Gerd Albrecht's very different conception of the piece. Albrecht's speeds are almost always slower (he takes 10 1/2 minutes longer than Bonynge) and he puts far more emphasis on orchestral colour and intensity of expression than do his rivals. This is a very Italianate performance, then. It would probably be less compelling in the theatre but, on disc, it works well. Only occasionally, as, for instance, at Armand's arrival in Act 1, did I feel that the music really needed to be moved on.

"Therese" is one of Massenet's best operas and both Bonynge and Albrecht's recordings can be confidently recommended. For a more intense and emotionally involving experience, I would choose the Orfeo recording but Bonynge's recording, with its faster speeds, is undeniably thrilling. The Canal Grande recording is not well enough sung to be a viable alternative. I haven't heard the new Montpellier recording but, purely judging from its 70 minute timing, I expect that it will be closer in concept to Bonynge's recording than Albrecht's.

The Orfeo recording includes a full French/English/German libretto.


Therese
Therese
Offered by rbmbooks
Price: £15.18

4.0 out of 5 stars A Four Star performance of a Five Star opera., 15 May 2013
This review is from: Therese (Audio CD)
Massenet was an enormously successful composer commercially and it is amusing to see how his operas so often showed the influence of popular successes of the time. "La Navarraise" was obviously an attempt to cash in on "Carmen", "Cendrillon" followed "Hansel und Gretel" and I have recently been struck by obvious parallels between Kienzl's 1895 opera "Der Evangelimann" and Massenet's "Le Jongleur de Notre Dame", premiered in 1902. "Therese" dates from 1907. Giordano's enormously successful French Revolution opera, "Andrea Chenier", had first been performed in 1896.

"Therese", then, is probably the most Italianate of Massenet's operas. It is in two highly concentrated acts and is very much in the veristic style although the composer's superior technique lends it a musical sophistication which puts it in a different class from, say, "Cavalleria Rusticana" or "I Pagliacci". There are no extended arias to hold up the action but that is not meant to imply that the opera is without melody. On the contrary, it is one of Massenet's richest scores with one wonderfully lyrical tune after another and the intervening orchestral music derived from them. I must also mention an enormously catchy slow minuet, first heard on the harpsichord and again, at the beginning of Act 2, as a "menuet d'amour". Massenet called "Therese" a "music drama" and the closest parallel, I would say, is with Puccini's 1912 opera "La Fanciulla del West", also very much a music drama. Like so much Puccini, the music of "Therese" is so strong that you can, if you wish, listen to it without concerning yourself with the drama at all. "Therese" is a compelling work, then, which I can confidently recommend.

Andre, son of the steward of a chateau, has grown up with Armand, an aristocrat who has now been forced to flee the Revolution. Andre, then, is torn between his duty to the Revolution and his loyalty to his friend. Andre is married to Therese who, unknown to him, formerly loved Armand. Andre hides his friend in his house. Therese begs him to grant Armand safe conduct and, as the mob outside becomes increasingly vocal, Andre gives him his own papers. Andre is arrested and mounts the tumbril on his way to the guillotine. Choosing not to escape with Armand, Therese embraces her husband's destiny. "Vive le Roi" she cries and joins her husband in death.

"Therese"'s quality has been recognized in recent years and there are now three recordings to choose from and a fourth due soon. "Therese" will also feature in a double bill with "La Navarraise" at Wexford later this year (2013). This Dutch recording is notably well conducted but, in richness of tone, Jeanne Piland as Therese cannot compete with Huguette Tourangeau on the pioneering Decca recording. Her technique is also less assured. Similarly, Charles van Tassel is not a match for Louis Quilico. However, you may prefer Howard Haskin as Andre to Ryland Davies. Davies sings musically but his very English (well... Welsh) sounding voice is simply too small for the role and, in ensemble passages, although he has no trouble being heard, he sounds mismatched. Haskin, on the other hand, although not ideally steady and sometimes showing evidence of strain, is the best of the principals on the Dutch recording. The smaller roles are better taken on the Decca disc.

Neither performance is ideal, then, but my choice would remain with the Decca recording in spite of a glaring instance of miscasting and even if Bonynge is arguably a little too urgent in some of the lyrical music. A further advantage of the Decca recording is that it includes a full libretto in French and English whereas the Canal Grande libretto is in French only and is printed as a single long paragraph. I hope to review the Orfeo recording soon.


Der Evangelimann
Der Evangelimann

4.0 out of 5 stars An uneven opera but one worth investigating., 8 May 2013
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This review is from: Der Evangelimann (Audio CD)
Wilhelm Kienzl (1857-1941) was a German composer who is remembered now almost exclusively for his opera "Der Evangelimann", premiered in Berlin in 1895. It was enormously successful and enabled its composer to retire from regular employment and devote himself to composition. Of his later operas the most successful was "Der Kuhreigen" but this has not had a modern recording. An operatic version of the "Don Quixote" story has been recorded by CPO and is well worth investigating.

"Der Evangelimann" is based on true events which happened in the Austrian Benedictine monastery of Gottweig. Two brothers, Matthias and Johannes, are courting Martha, the niece of the monastery administrator. Martha favours the younger brother, Matthias. Johannes takes his revenge by setting a fire. Matthias is blamed and sentenced to twenty years in prison. Upon his release he learns that Martha, in her despair, drowned herself. Matthias becomes an evangelist and arrives at his brother's house. Johannes, on his death bed, is consumed with guilt. He hears Matthias's voice through the window and confesses his crime to his brother. After a great inner struggle, Matthias forgives him.

"Der Evangelimann" was written in the wake of Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci". Its straightforward plot is taken from real life, as was often the case in Italian verismo. Kienzl takes great care not to allow the orchestra to submerge the voices and, as a result, the story is easily followed. The music is largely in the German tradition although, at climactic moments such as the passage when Matthias is banished form the monastery (end of Track 5), an Italianate passion and lyricism is apparent. Wagner's influence is, of course, evident, especially in the monologues, but Kienzl's harmonic language is usually simpler. Another prominent influence is that of popular folk music. The bowling scene in Act 1, full of dance rhythms, is most enjoyable and acts as a splendid foil to the drama of the preceding scene. This First Act is, then, intensely dramatic and, if you don't know German, with libretto in hand, it is a compelling listen. The main problem is that Kienzl's lyrical invention is simply not strong enough to be truly striking. There is an almost Wagnerian passion to the music of the love duet, for instance, but it is the dance tunes from the bowling scene which will lodge themselves in your memory.

Act 2 is less compelling since, by now, the story is largely over. With the arrival of Matthias, now an evangelist, the music often adopts a sanctimonious tone and its main melodic interest lies in diatonic chorale-like tunes. The most famous of these is "Selig sind, die Verfolgung leiden", a setting of part of the Beatitudes, which Matthias sings and then teaches to the boys' choir. (Massenet must have had this passage in mind when he wrote a similar scene in the second act of his 1902 opera "Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame".) It is a good tune of its type but of no more interest than the average hymn. Another important recurring idea is the long-breathed melody first heard on the strings near the beginning of the opera and, above all, the dotted note theme from the first scene between Johannes and the administrator, Martha's father, first heard in its full form at Track 3, 3 mins 10 secs (Disc 1). It is Matthias's famous aria which has the last word, however. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake", sing the children, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Compare this with the ending of Massenet's opera. Kienzl got there first!

"Der Evangelimann" is not always a compelling listen, then. Kienzl's melodic material can be plain and he is inclined to rely on bluster when screwing up tension. There is, though, enough good music, especially in Act 1, to warrant a recommendation. I cannot imagine a finer performance than this one. Everyone is fully inside their roles. The recording is full and well balanced.


Kienzl: Der Evangelimann op. 45
Kienzl: Der Evangelimann op. 45
Offered by music_by_mail_uk
Price: £24.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An uneven opera but one worth investigating., 8 May 2013
Wilhelm Kienzl (1857-1941) was a German composer who is remembered now almost exclusively for his opera "Der Evangelimann", premiered in Berlin in 1895. It was enormously successful and enabled its composer to retire from regular employment and devote himself to composition. Of his later operas the most successful was "Der Kuhreigen" but this has not had a modern recording. An operatic version of the "Don Quixote" story has been recorded by CPO and is well worth investigating.

"Der Evangelimann" is based on true events which happened in the Austrian Benedictine monastery of Gottweig. Two brothers, Matthias and Johannes, are courting Martha, the niece of the monastery administrator. Martha favours the younger brother, Matthias. Johannes takes his revenge by setting a fire. Matthias is blamed and sentenced to twenty years in prison. Upon his release he learns that Martha, in her despair, drowned herself. Matthias becomes an evangelist and arrives at his brother's house. Johannes, on his death bed, is consumed with guilt. He hears Matthias's voice through the window and confesses his crime to his brother. After a great inner struggle, Matthias forgives him.

"Der Evangelimann" was written in the wake of Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci". Its straightforward plot is taken from real life, as was often the case in Italian verismo. Kienzl takes great care not to allow the orchestra to submerge the voices and, as a result, the story is easily followed. The music is largely in the German tradition although, at climactic moments such as the passage when Matthias is banished form the monastery (end of Track 5), an Italianate passion and lyricism is apparent. Wagner's influence is, of course, evident, especially in the monologues, but Kienzl's harmonic language is usually simpler. Another prominent influence is that of popular folk music. The bowling scene in Act 1, full of dance rhythms, is most enjoyable and acts as a splendid foil to the drama of the preceding scene. This First Act is, then, intensely dramatic and, if you don't know German, with libretto in hand, it is a compelling listen. The main problem is that Kienzl's lyrical invention is simply not strong enough to be truly striking. There is an almost Wagnerian passion to the music of the love duet, for instance, but it is the dance tunes from the bowling scene which will lodge themselves in your memory.

Act 2 is less compelling since, by now, the story is largely over. With the arrival of Matthias, now an evangelist, the music often adopts a sanctimonious tone and its main melodic interest lies in diatonic chorale-like tunes. The most famous of these is "Selig sind, die Verfolgung leiden", a setting of part of the Beatitudes, which Matthias sings and then teaches to the boys' choir. (Massenet must have had this passage in mind when he wrote a similar scene in the second act of his 1902 opera "Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame".) It is a good tune of its type but of no more interest than the average hymn. Another important recurring idea is the long-breathed melody first heard on the strings near the beginning of the opera and, above all, the dotted note theme from the first scene between Johannes and the administrator, Martha's father, first heard in its full form at Track 3, 3 mins 10 secs (Disc 1). It is Matthias's famous aria which has the last word, however. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake", sing the children, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Compare this with the ending of Massenet's opera. Kienzl got there first!

"Der Evangelimann" is not always a compelling listen, then. Kienzl's melodic material can be plain and he is inclined to rely on bluster when screwing up tension. There is, though, enough good music, especially in Act 1, to warrant a recommendation. I cannot imagine a finer performance than this one. Everyone is fully inside their roles. The recording is full and well balanced.


Symphony No. 4
Symphony No. 4
Price: £7.18

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two fine works from a contemporary Romantic., 2 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Symphony No. 4 (Audio CD)
Thomas Schmidt-Kowalski was a German composer born in Oldenburg in 1949. During the course of his studies he chose to abandon the avant-garde and to write in a traditional vein. From the late 1970s he worked as a freelance composer, mainly writing commissioned works. His output included all genres except opera and film music but with a particular emphasis on chamber and orchestral music. Schmidt-Kowalski died, aged only 63, at the beginning of this year (2013).

S-K's style is entirely tonal and rooted in late Romantic German music, not the "New Music" of Wagner and Liszt but the Brahmsian tradition. There is no suggestion of the influence of any Twentieth Century harmonic trends. S-K uses familiar forms but he thinks in paragraphs, the music evolving organically as it progresses, so that structural divisions are not always immediately apparent. Orchestral colours are blended rather than highlighted. A minor criticism of S-K's music is that he has a tendency to over-orchestrate; sometimes internal brass parts mask the melodic line.

The Second Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 100 dates from 2005. The first movement is built on two strong and easily assimilated lyrical tunes both first introduced by the soloist. I heard the development section as being in two parts, the second consisting of an extended cadenza built on a variant of the main theme. Then follows a shortened inverted recapitulation. The second subject has the last word, however.

The slow movement is a clear ternary structure, the lovely theme of its outer sections being contrasted with a more passionate central section.

The finale's main theme, taking its cue from Brahms and Bruch, is almost entirely in double stops. Although designated a rondo, the second half of the movement is dominated by a lyrical melody from one of the episodes. This melody is, however, closely related to the main theme.

The Fourth of S-K's five symphonies dates from 2003. The first movement begins with a long slow introduction. It is to reappear at key structural points. The ensuing perky woodwind tune is not distinguished in itself but the music is impressively sustained as it builds to a brassy climax. Then comes the impassioned string-led second subject. The introductory music ushers in the development section, largely built on the first theme, and also the recapitulation which is again inverted.

The ternary slow movement's grave main theme is announced by the strings. A second theme is given to solo strings and a third, introducing the central section, to the wind. A fine climax ushers in a return to the opening. This time the second theme is given to a solo oboe and a clarinet. The movement concludes by referring to its main theme.

The third movement is a very clearly structured intermezzo/scherzo and trio.

Unexpectedly, the finale is an "Andante Maestoso". It is not as clear-cut thematically as the other movements and will need several hearings before its logic becomes clear. Both the opening string line and the ensuing dotted note brass idea are important. The other main element is the tune first heard on the flute at 3 mins 44 secs. This is another sonata form movement, the recapitulation beginning at 6 mins 38 secs. There is a brief coda at a faster tempo.

Not all of S-K's ideas have quality (I was particularly aware of this in parts of the symphony's scherzo) but he was capable of writing lovely extended melodies as the first movement of the violin concerto and the second subject of the symphony's first movement demonstrate. He was also capable of sustained symphonic thinking as in the finale of the symphony.

Performances and recordings are excellent and I can give this disc a confident recommendation. Start with the concerto.


Charles-Marie Widor Volume 2 Cello Concerto & Symphony no.2
Charles-Marie Widor Volume 2 Cello Concerto & Symphony no.2
Offered by Vocalion/Dutton Epoch Direct (Crazygreen8)
Price: £10.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly enjoyable, lyrical 'Cello Concerto but the outstanding work is the Symphony, 24 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Although best known as a composer for the organ, in particular the ubiquitous "Toccata", the French composer Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) also wrote a substantial body of orchestral, chamber and stage music.

This disc is the second of a series devoted to Widor's music. The first contained the two piano concertos and the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra. The earliest work on the new disc, dating from 1878, is the 'Cello Concerto. Discreetly orchestrated so that the soloist can always be heard, this highly attractive work begins with a clearly structured sonata form movement. Its two themes, the second of which is first heard in the dominant rather than the relative major, are lyrical and memorable though the repeated note linking material is less distinctive. The fine development section is again lyrical. It is largely based on the first theme. A rhythmical coda contributes to the success of a very well sustained movement.

The rest of the concerto is not quite as impressive. The slow movement, a clear ternary structure, is not unattractive melodically but doesn't amount to very much while the 13 minute finale is too loosely constructed to be completely satisfying. Its two principal ideas are the main theme of the first movement and a fine, swinging, string-led tune. If you want to give this movement a structural label, it comes closest to being a sonata rondo.(A brief development section begins at 6 mins 22 secs.) Towards the end, Widor introduces a passionate new idea (just as Saint-Saens does in both his 'cello concertos) but the music ends quietly, the soloist accompanied by a rippling harp.

The Second Symphony dates from 1882 and is a very fine work indeed. Concise, tightly argued and built on strong, epigrammatic material it is a real symphony. The booklet suggests that, after the disastrous French defeat in the 1870-1871 war with Prussia, Widor's symphony was written as part of an attempt to establish a distinctly French tradition in instrumental music. Until then, French music had been dominated by frivolous operettas and vocal music (Offenbach was the main culprit, of course) which were now seen as symptomatic of cultural decay.

There is no trace of Brahms's influence in this symphony, then, but, ironically, the music's incisiveness and strength may remind you of Beethoven. Whatever the booklet says, the 6 1/2 minute first movement, marked "Allegro vivace", opens with more than a flourish. This is the most important idea in the movement; it generates much of the movement's thematic material and recurs in the finale. The sweeping second theme, first heard on the oboe and, in the recapitulation, on the strings, is not allowed to interrupt the music's headlong rush for a moment. This superb movement is characterized by crystal-clear orchestration and clean, imitative writing. Not a note is wasted.

The highly imaginative 4 minute second movement, built on a catchy woodwind idea, although marked "Moderato", is the symphony's scherzo. There is no proper trio but a more lyrical theme for the strings contrasts with the main idea.

The well sustained slow movement is dominated by a strong melody, heard after a short introduction. There are a number of other ideas but the central climax is dominated by the movement's main theme.

The finale is lighter in tone and has three tempo indications ("Vivace...Scherzando...Allegro con brio".) I found it difficult to differentiate between the different sections, however. Certainly the music is as well sustained as is that of the previous movements. This finale opens by referring to material from the first movement. That movement's lyrical subsidiary theme is now transformed into a jaunty march for the bassoon and then the strings and woodwind announce what is to be the ensuing allegro's second theme. The main theme of this movement is a joyful march tune, often decorated by rushing downward chromatic scales in the manner of "Tannhauser". The music is lithe and exciting and reaches a resounding conclusion.

The disc also includes three orchestral preludes from Widor's 1905 opera "Les Pecheurs de Saint-Jean". Wagner's ( and even Strauss's) influence is clearly apparent in this music although the booklet suggest that the opera itself is in the style of a "drama lyrique". The overture is clearly intended to suggest the turbulence of the sea but there is a consoling subsidiary theme which, when it returns, is given a Wagnerian murmuring string accompaniment.

The second piece, "Le Calme de la Mer", creates an appropriate mood by interweaving lyrical lines for the strings and various woodwind soloists. Later there is a poetic violin solo. A three-note horn motif acts binds the music together.

The last piece is an irresistibly catchy Christmas march, complete with side-drum accompaniment.

All this music is very well played and recorded. The only minor reservation you may have is that the upper strings do sound a little thin in the operatic excerpts. A slightly more ample acoustic would have benefited this music. Don't let this tiny reservation put you off investigating an excellent issue of music which is not otherwise available, however. The symphony in particular should not be missed.


Romantic Piano Concerto Vol.59 [Jonathan Plowright, Lukasz Borowicz ] [Hyperion: CDA67958]
Romantic Piano Concerto Vol.59 [Jonathan Plowright, Lukasz Borowicz ] [Hyperion: CDA67958]
Price: £13.17

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Largely uninspiring. The "Grande Polonaise" accounts for the fourth star., 17 April 2013
Wladyslaw Zelenski was a Polish composer and music educator, born in 1837, who helped establish the Cracow Conservatory in 1881 and served as its director until his death in 1921. Not many of his works survive. The piano concerto dates from 1903 and was dedicated to and first performed by Ignacy Friedman.

More in the tradition of the Russian than the German Romantics, Zelenski's music puts more emphasis on highlighting than blending orchestral colour. There are no extended orchestral tuttis. The piano writing is extremely virtuosic. Sometimes, as often at the ends of cadenzas, it is ostentatiously so. The first movement uses a modified version of sonata form. Its opening idea is march-like (the movement is actually in triple time) and is soon repeated by the piano. The lyrical second theme arrives at 3 mins 6 secs in the expected key. It has a distinctive opening shape but doesn't really blossom as you hope it will. After a short tutti, a development section begins. It is largely based on the second theme though short interludes built on the "march" function as links. A lengthy cadenza, again largely built on the second theme, arrives before you know it. Oddly, the ensuing recapitulation shortens the restatement of the second theme and the result is a movement which is out of proportion. The real problem with this movement, however, is that its melodic material is just not memorable enough to sustain it.

The second movement is an improvement. It is a set of five variations in alternating slow and fast tempi on a simple folk-like tune. This form seems to suit Zelenski better and, although there is little that is truly memorable, there is evidence of a lively musical imagination at work. Very much the highlight of the movement is the final lyrical variation, beginning at 7 mins 34 secs.

The finale's main theme is a speeded-up version of the main theme of the previous movement so it is almost as though this finale constitutes a final extended variation, especially as it concludes with a contrapuntal passage as variations so often do. The episodes are not striking melodically, however, and this movement (indeed, the whole concerto) is urgently in need of a really strong, lyrical melody. Just one would have made all the difference!

Aleksander Zarzycki was also a composer and musical educator. He became the first director of the Warsaw Music Society in 1871 but, in 1879, he moved to the Music Institute where one of the teachers he employed was Paderewski. Earlier he had studied in Paris and both the Piano Concerto in A flat and the "Grande Polonaise" were premiered there in 1860.

Dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein, the concerto has only two movements, there being no opening sonata allegro. The ternary "Andante" is not distinctive melodically but does create a warmly romantic mood, the soloist often being required to arpeggiate his chords. Don't expect, though, any Chopinesque poetry.

The following movement, marked "Allegro non troppo" is a sonata structure. Again, neither of its themes is striking and you get the impression that the first was chosen largely because it lends itself to sequential development. The second theme almost creates a poetic mood but its plain rhythms count against it. Overall, this is quite an entertaining movement although there is, as in so many concertos of the time, rather too much vapid virtuoso writing.

The "Grande Polonaise" is a winner. It is a much less pretentious work than the concerto and, as result, it is far more enjoyable. The main tune is a strong one and the episodes are also attractively tuneful.

The booklet includes photographs of Jonathan Plowright and Lukasz Borowicz which suggest a fundamentally different approach to music-making but they obviously worked well together on the day for all the music on this disc is superbly performed. A particular strength of Plowright's technique is his staccato touch. The recording is excellent.

I cannot give this disc an urgent recommendation, then, but, if you do invest in it, at least you won't have trouble knowing where to file it. Under Z for Zzzzzz...!


Grieg: Cello Concerto
Grieg: Cello Concerto
Offered by crucialmusic
Price: £14.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A successful orchestration of the 'Cello Sonata., 10 April 2013
This review is from: Grieg: Cello Concerto (Audio CD)
Grieg, of course, didn't write a 'cello concerto. The concerto on this disc is an orchestration, by Joseph Horovitz and Benjamin Wallfisch, of the 'Cello Sonata in A minor, Op. 36. This is Grieg's largest chamber work and there are a number of passages, the piano statements of the first movement's main theme and that movement's central climax for example, where the music seems just too large for two instruments. Orchestral weight, then, is particularly telling at those points. The drawback is that you will, of course, miss a sense of two fine musicians spontaneously interacting. (I've just been listening to a wonderfully volatile performance of the sonata version by Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich.) The first movement is marked "Allegro Agitato" but you would not guess this from the orchestral version. Don't, then, think that an orchestral version of this sonata must be all gain.

The orchestration cannot, of course, disguise Grieg's rather ramshackle approach to structure, especially in the finale. He was not really an organic thinker and the seams in this sonata are easy to spot. Grieg's episodic development sections, relying too much on naive melodic transformations and changes of mode, make it clear that he was not really in his element writing in the larger forms. Counterpoint is notably absent. Nevertheless, Grieg's characteristic melodic freshness is always apparent and is more than enough compensation.

As if to demonstrate that Grieg was essentially a miniaturist, the rest of this disc consists of eight arrangements for 'cello and orchestra of some of his best known lyrical melodies. This is Classic F.M. territory. They are lovely tunes but you may not want to listen to them all at once however beautifully they are played.

According to the back of the jewel case, by inserting this disc into the CD drive of your computer, you will be transported to a website devoted to this disc but those days are over, I'm afraid. I got a "Oops!" message.

This is a fine disc, then, and it has been beautifully recorded. However, it should be regarded as a supplement and not a substitute for a recording of the sonata. I see that it has now been reissued on the ASV label.


Fibich: Spring; The Romance of Spring: At twilight: A Night at Karlstein
Fibich: Spring; The Romance of Spring: At twilight: A Night at Karlstein

5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of attractive undemanding music here., 2 April 2013
"At Twilight", Fibich's last symphonic poem, includes his best-known tune, one which had been included, as No. 139, in a collection of no fewer than 376 pieces he dedicated to his lover, Anna Schulzova. These pieces he called "Moods, Impressions and Reminiscences". The tune was later arranged by Jan Kubelik as a "Poem" in Db major for violin and piano and, not surprisingly, became very popular. "At Twilight" includes another attractive tune, some woodwind twitterings and a fine 'cello solo.

"Spring" was Fibich's penultimate symphonic poem and is again strong melodically, although a certain squareness to the melodic writing, one of Fibich's weaknesses, is apparent in the first section. The second section is a lively polka. Fibich's use of the harp adds colour here. Later, Fibich deftly combines the tunes. There is a coda built on a speeded-up version of the main idea which, in its original form, returns at the end. Dvorak's influence is apparent in this piece, especially in the way in which decorative high violin or flute lines interact.

Dvorak's influence is also apparent in the enjoyable overture to Jaroslav Vrchlicky's play "A Night at Karlstein". The music includes syncopated rhythms in the manner of the "Slavonic Dances" and the lyrical second subject sounds as though it has stepped straight out of the Eighth Symphony. This is a sonata structure, easy to follow even at a first hearing largely because of the distinctive rhythm of its main theme.

The disc also includes Fibich's cantata "The Romance Of Spring" for soprano and bass soloists, chorus and orchestra. The words are by Vrchlicky. The chorus, telling the story, sings homophonically while the bass represents winter and the soprano spring. The music becomes more lyrical as spring approaches and culminates in an orchestral statement of the main theme from the symphonic poem "Spring".

"The Romance of Spring" is not as romantic as you hope it will be (it's really more concerned with the death of winter) and is not particularly memorable melodically but the rest of the music on this disc is well worth getting to know. These are vintage Supraphon recordings dating from 1983, the orchestral woodwind and the vocal soloists sounding authentically Czech. The recording could be a little more expansive but is well balanced and clear.


Hurlstone - Piano Concerto; Fantasie-Variations; Piano Trio; Piano Quartet
Hurlstone - Piano Concerto; Fantasie-Variations; Piano Trio; Piano Quartet
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of fine music here. You may fall for the concerto in particular!, 21 Mar. 2013
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William Hurlstone was born in London in 1876. His musical talent was evident from an early age and, at 18, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. There he studied piano with Algernon Ashton and composition with Stanford who declared him his best pupil. When he left the college, Hurlstone was forced to support his family by teaching, hack arranging and conducting but still found time to compose, producing a substantial quantity of work. He died aged only 30 in 1906, a victim of the bronchial asthma which had plagued him all his life. (It's odd that the photograph on the front of the booklet shows him holding a pipe.)

The earliest work on this disc is the piano concerto, a work which, I am sure, Stanford approved of. It dates from 1895. The concerto is a highly attractive, lyrical work which makes a welcome change from the usual barnstorming concertos of the period. Indeed, the entry of the soloist could hardly be more unassuming. The first movement of this four movement concerto is built on two lyrical melodies (the second of which, oddly for a concerto whose tonic is D, is in Bb major) and a couple of brief linking ideas which become prominent in the development section. The recapitulation simply omits the linking ideas.

The ensuing scherzo is unusual in having two trios, both mildly syncopated and equally melodious. The brief slow movement (or is it an introduction to the finale?) is for piano alone and is largely built on the first theme of the first movement. The main theme of the finale, a sonata structure, is also related to the concerto's opening idea. Its second theme is yet another lovely melody. The movement is then regularly structured. After a brief cadenza Hurlstone manages a quicker coda and the work ends as a Romantic concerto should. Although he is not absolutely note-perfect, Parkin's performance could hardly be more sympathetic.

The "Fantasie-Variations on a Swedish Air" date from 1903, just a few years after Elgar's "Enigma Variations", and is another fine work though, at least at a first hearing, it is less attractive than the concerto. It begins with a long introduction which presents recitative-like material. This will be combined with the Swedish tune in the variations. The tune uses the Aeolian mode and is easily assimilated. The first few variations are clearly related to the theme but it is not long before each variation's relationship with the tune is less clear. Harold Truscott, in the notes which come with these discs, describes this work as "what amounts to a one-movement symphony in the guise of variations" but there is still a sectional feel to the music and there is no real suggestion of extended passages corresponding to symphonic movements. The "Variations" lack the melodic richness and memorability of the concerto but do suggest that, had he lived, Hurlstone could have become a fine symphonist.

The Piano Trio dates from 1901. (The notes suggest that it was written shortly after the Piano Quartet but I think this is unlikely; it certainly sounds earlier.) It is as clearly structured as the concerto and almost as attractive melodically. The first movement is the usual sonata structure. The exposition is repeated. As in the concerto, the first movement's development section makes considerable use of transitional material. The slow movement is dominated by the opening piano melody, soon taken up and extended by the 'cello and later given to the violin. The scherzo is straightforward and includes a typically melodious trio while the finale is unusual in that it begins and ends in the tonic minor. Its splendid development section includes some impressive contrapuntal writing featuring both of the movement's main themes.

The Piano Quartet is a more elaborate work tonally as its opening, veering at once into the relative major, demonstrates. This is totally unlike the opening pages of either the concerto or the trio. There is, however, a lyrical second subject, in the unexpected key of Eb major. Again transitional material (in this case, a "scotch snap" figure) features prominently in the development section. The slow movement is built on another of Hurlstone's lovely lyrical melodies while the scherzo's syncopated main idea is also typical of the composer. The return of the scherzo deftly combines it with music from the trio. The finale opens by referring to the first movement's main idea but the contemplative mood is soon dispelled by the perky main theme. The quartet's dark opening idea is never far away but the work ends optimistically.

Because of its melodic richness it is the concerto I most often return to but all the works on these discs are worth getting to know. The performances are fine as is the recording.
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