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Joseph Jongen: Melodies avec orchestre; Triptyque For Orchestra, Op. 103.
Joseph Jongen: Melodies avec orchestre; Triptyque For Orchestra, Op. 103.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent performances and sound quality make for a rewarding introduction to Jongen's orchestral songs, 23 Feb. 2013
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It was a recording of Jongen's Belgian Prix de Rome cantata 'Comala'* that motivated me to try this disc of his orchestral songs, my only other previous experience of his music being some of his chamber works. The full-blooded musical language of 'Comala', an apprentice-work I suppose one might say, was firmly rooted in the Romantic period and somewhat in thrall of Wagner at times - the idiom here is rather different, more Gallic in its outlook and the stylistic journey provided by this disc moves from Romanticism to a post-Romantic (though still melodic and tonal) sensibility that incorporates elements of both Debussy's and Ravel's music at times.

The liner notes mention similarities between the songs of Duparc and the earliest pieces on this recording (which presents its material in chronological order): I've never heard any of Duparc's music, although maybe that is an oversight I need to correct on the evidence of Jongen's music here, so I can't vouch for the validity of that statement; the first four tracks are very lovely though, that I can vouch for - deftly and delicately orchestrated, they display a sensitivity towards word-setting and mood that makes for very rewarding listening. With the cycle 'Les Fêtes Rouges', however, there is a distinct change in tone - the songs were written as a response to the First World War and the emotional charge here is deeper, the range broader. The first three poems, written by Franz Hellens, are heavy with religious allusions; 'Le Carnaval des tranchées' is particularly striking for its mixture of grim irony and apocalyptic imagery, to which Jongen responds with a appropriately vivid and dramatic setting that makes full use of the orchestra - yet the orchestra is judiciously balanced with the voice too and never overwhelms the singer. The final two songs contrast with the preceding ones markedly, quieter and more reflective (an effect increased in ' Release' by the reduction of the accompaniment to strings only) though there is still a quasi-mystical sense of fervor in some of the vocal lines.

The disc is completed with a purely orchestral work, the 'Triptyque pour orchestre' of 1938. According to the liner notes it is an attempt on Jongen's part to reconcile the differences between the styles of Debussy and Ravel. Two slow movements frame a vibrant - sprightly even, at times - march; it is, I should say, a lovely work throughout - melodious, beautifully scored and harmonically refined - but it is also a rather curious one once you get to the final movement. Even now, having listened to it more than a few times I am not sure what to make of this nine-minute homage to Ravel - at least, I assume that's what it is intended to be; at times practically a paraphrase of the 'Lever du jour' scene from the French composer's 'Daphnis et Chloé', even down to the principal melody, for all its own inherent beauties it is very difficult not to feel sometimes that you are hearing a pale copy of Ravel's rapturous dawn music. I can't say I don't enjoy the listening experience per se but it is a strange one, without a doubt, and the differences (including the return of material from earlier in the work) Jongen introduces aren't sufficient to entirely shake off that heavy dependence on the Ravel.

The soprano Mariette Kemmer is not a singer I have heard before, I think: she has an attractive voice with a light vibrato and consistently displays sensitivity to the texts Jongen sets; having heard the first few songs I wondered how her voice would sound under pressure and with the abrupt change of tone in 'Les Fêtes Rouges' I didn't have to wait long to find out - happily she rises to the challenge very well indeed, in music that cannot always be easy to sing, and captures the distinctive mixture of rage and exultation that the most dramatic of these songs contain. Pierre Bartholomée is a conductor whom I have come across before and by whom I have been impressed. That's no less the case here and he elicits marvellous performances from the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, all of which are captured in excellent sound quality. There is an interesting essay in the accompanying booklet, in English as well as several other languages, but the texts are supplied in French only, requiring a little internet research or use of an online translator for non-Francophone listeners.

A rewarding disc then and one that can be safely and warmly recommended to anyone interested in orchestral songs or in the composer.

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* Jongen - Rome Cantata Comala; Claire de Lune


British Opera Overtures
British Opera Overtures
Price: £11.84

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enterprising release that is as fascinating as it is enjoyable, 20 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: British Opera Overtures (Audio CD)
This really is a delightful - and, I have to say, fascinating - release. Victorian Opera Northwest have already given listeners interested in the development of British music during the nineteenth century cause for celebration with their Naxos recordings of operas by William Vincent Wallace and George Macfarren*: as far as I am aware the orchestra is not a permanent set-up but a semi-professional outfit of enthusiasts who come together to foster performances and recordings of the sort of neglected repertoire on this disc; Richard Bonynge is their patron. I know that some reviewers were a little dissatisfied by the quality of playing and the size of the orchestra in the opera sets I just referred to, and occasionally their criticisms were not unfounded, but given the choice between hearing those works in generally skillful and most definitely enthusiastic performances and not hearing them at all, I tend towards the view that a couple of small compromises in quality now and then are worth accepting. Happily, unless you expect every orchestra to be the equivalent of the Vienna Philharmonic or its ilk, few - if any - such reservations come into play here and Bonynge elicits excellent responses from the musicians under his baton; indeed, I have heard recordings by professional orchestras whose standards are lamentably lower than those on display here.

The music covers a period of around sixty years, pretty much the Victorian period give or take a year or two at the beginning and end, and is unfailingly melodious and spirited. Contrary to the myth that the British Isles were parochial and isolationist from a musical point of view during this time, all these works to some degree bear witness to a keen awareness of musical fashions on the continent and also, though perhaps to a lesser degree, musical innovations; several of these composers studied and worked in Europe, plus London (not to mention other cities) had a lively and bustling music scene that was frequented by the most celebrated composers and performers of the day. The influence of Weber is not just apparent in the rich scoring and harmonies of Barnett's 'The Mountain Sylph' and Loder's 'The Night Dancers' (which latter also contains some very Mendelssohnian "fairy music" in the strings too) but also in their subject matter; other works nod in the direction of the French and Italian schools (the latter a dominant force in London's opera houses), particularly the music of William Balfe. I wouldn't say that there is anything strikingly original or profound about any of the music here but while it may not challenge the listener today any more than it did the listeners of the nineteenth century, it is all beautifully written and colourfully orchestrated. Possibly not all the operas represented here merit revival in their entirety to the same degree but I feel sure the works of Barnett and Loder, from what I have read about their importance of their output to the development of British opera and after having now actually heard the quality of their music, deserve modern recordings at the very least; Macfarren's overture to 'She Stoops To Conquer' also offers a promising and tantalisingly foretaste of a potentially highly enjoyable score.

The sound quality is generally very good and Somm's production values are excellent: the booklet notes (in English only) offer a discussion of British opera during the period, biographical information on the composers featured and brief synopses of the operas from which these overtures and preludes derive; there are also several colour and monochrome reproductions of composer portraits and illustrations from contemporary publications relating to the music here, all drawn from Richard Bonynge's private collection. This is an important recording, I think, and hopefully one that will prompt reappraisal of this period in British music - recordings of music by Stanford and Parry (among others) have shown that the so-called renaissance in British music did not spring fully-formed like Minerva from Elgar's pen and now perhaps it is time to devote proper attention to the music of the early and mid Romantic periods that preceded them. Who knows what treasures, and not just operatic, still lie hidden and forgotten in archives and libraries?

Very warmly recommended.

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* Wallace: Lurline and Macfarren: Robin Hood


Mendelssohn Anth. IV:Mendelssohn und seine Zeit 3
Mendelssohn Anth. IV:Mendelssohn und seine Zeit 3
Price: £13.94

4.0 out of 5 stars A varied and well-performed selection of music by Mendelssohn and his friends, 19 Feb. 2013
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This is the third in a series of four discs* German label Querstand dedicated to music of composers who were associated with Mendelssohn, either professionally or as friends (or, indeed, both): although it contains rarities by Mendelssohn and Schumann, the remainder of the composers represented here were once highly respected but have since slipped into obscurity, although Niels W. Gade's music and some of Moscheles' output have experienced something of a renaissance on disc in the past couple of decades. None of the music here, even that by Mendelssohn and Schumann, is familiar fare then so this varied compilation provides a fascinating glimpse of the musical milieu in which those two composers worked and socialised.

Short pieces have been chosen to represent Mendelssohn himself, Schumann, Moscheles and Gade, several of them works for male vocal ensemble, a sign of the burgeoning interest in such music across Germany (and other countries) during their lifetimes, perhaps - the Gade chorus, "Gondelfarht" from his Op.26 collection is particularly sonorous and charming. The most interesting rarity of Mendelssohn's in this collection is perhaps "O lasst mich einen Augenblick", a fragment of a concert aria for bass and orchestra that was left unfinished at his death; here the music of the brief orchestral introduction is appended to the end of the piece to form a musically satisfying conclusion where Mendelssohn's setting of Goethe's words breaks off. That work aside, all of these pieces are attractive miniatures, selected to reflect the ties between the composers featured - the "Kindermarchen" for piano by Moscheles was warmly reviewed by Schumann, for example, and Schumann's own works here are dedicated to Gade (the second, "Auf wiedersehn" using the letters of Gade's name as the melodic basis for a musical pun: G-A-D-E, A-D-E corresponding to the phrase, "Gade, ade!" - "Gade, farewell!").

In turn, Gade's second sonata for violin and piano in D minor was dedicated to Schumann. It is one of three more substantial, extended works that - for me, at least - make this release so fascinating; Gade's attractive sonata has been recorded before but as far as I am aware Julius Rietz's Concert Overture, Op.7, and Ferdinand David's String Sextet, Op.38, are both premiere recordings - and welcome additions to the catalogue they are too. Like the 'Hero and Leander' Overture to be found on volume four of this series*, it is a work of engaging crafstmanship rather than one of any great originality or profundity but, its conventionality aside, it has spirit and displays a knack for orchestration, both of which might account for its long life in the concert hall (being played no less than 23 times at the Leipzig Gewandhaus between 1840 and 1877). The String Sextet is the real find here, though, I would say: like so many of Mendelssohn's chamber works it respects traditional Classical forms but there is a Romantic ardour to much of the music, especially in the deeply felt 'Adagio ma non troppo' and in the surprisingly intense finale, marked 'Allegro agitato ed appasionato' in the score; the talent for writing appealing and memorable melodic material that was to be found on Hyperion's recent recording of two of David's violin concertos** is similarly in evidence here and the elan of the witty scherzo is a real delight.

All four discs in Querstand "Mendelssohn und seine Zeit" series have been consistent in terms of excellent performances and sound quality, this third release no less than any of the others; production values are equally praiseworthy. This is a very enterprising venture and my only regret about Querstand's survey is that it is not continuing beyond the fourth volume. Of course, it is of interest to revive the now-forgotten music that was current in Mendelssohn's time and thus place him and his work in context historically but some of the music here is worthy of revival in its own right (such as David's sextet) and all of it makes for enjoyable listening at some level. This sort of repertoire won't appeal to everyone I imagine but if it does intrigue you, you can be assured that Querstand do the music justice and on that basis it comes warmly recommended.

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* Confusingly, this is volume three of the 'Mendelssohn und seine Zeit' series but also simultaneously titled volume four in Querstand's 'Mendelssohn Anthology', in relation to which it forms a kind of series-within-a-series.

** David: Violin Concertos Nos.4/ 5 andante and Scherzo Capriccioso


Mendelssohn Anth. V:Mendelssohn und seine Zeit 4
Mendelssohn Anth. V:Mendelssohn und seine Zeit 4
Price: £13.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable collection of works - orchestral, vocal and chamber - from Mendelssohn's circle of friends, 19 Feb. 2013
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There are some real gems in the Querstand catalogue I recently discovered and their four-volume series, "Mendelssohn and his time" (itself part of a larger multi-issue Mendelssohn anthology) ranks highly within that treasure trove, particularly if - like me - you have an abiding interest in music of the early-to-mid Romantic period. For many people, and I am one, this collection offers the welcome opportunity to hear for the first time the music of figures in the Mendelssohn (and, indeed, Schumann) circle who were well known and respected in their day but whose works have slipped into total obscurity: Gade and Moscheles have, of course, received attention from the record labels in recent years but names like Julius Rietz, Moritz Hauptmann and even Ferdinand David are more familiar now only as passing characters in musical history books or in biographies of their more celebrated peers.*

I won't claim that there are any forgotten masterpieces here - indeed, some of the works like Hauptmann's Three Easy Sonatinas for violin and piano, despite going through multiple printed editions in the nineteenth century, were surely not written with an eye to earning their composer a place in the canon of great artists; and though they don't make for a resounding "finale" to the programme, they are pleasant enough listening nontheless and display at the very least a talent for writing charming melodic material. More substantial fare comes in the shape of the 'Hero and Leander' Overture of Julius Rietz and the Funeral March (written on the premature death of the promising composer, Norbert Burgmüller) by Mendelssohn himself. Apart from a few figures in the lower strings during its imposing introduction that might at a stretch be thought to represent the waves of the Hellespont, the title of Rietz's overture strikes me as a rather redundant one but it is a solidly crafted, melodious and often quite inventive piece that sustains its seventeen minute length reasonably well - on the one hand, its lack of originality makes its disappearance from the repertoire entirely understandable but it was a success with contemporary audiences and with Robert Schumann (wearing his critic's hat) and I do find it enjoyable listening so I am glad to make its acquaintance. The Funeral March by Mendelssohn is reasonably substantial too: originally scored for winds, the provenance of this orchestral version remains unknown; it is a dignified piece of music, an occasional work to be sure, but a welcome addition to the composer's discography.

The majority of the remaining works here are vocal, some of them psalm settings; a couple are for one voice and piano, others for multiple vocalists. Ferdinand David's duet for two sopranos, "Mein Aug' erheb' ich zu den Bergen", struck me as quite lovely as did Schumann's chorus for male voices, "Der Rose stand im Tau" (Op.65, No.1) but all these vocal pieces are gratefully written for the voice and what they might lack in profundity they repay in melodic appeal.

All the performances, presumably drawn from various sources so varied is the programme, are very good and the sound quality too is surprisingly consistent and very good also. In terms of production values, the discs in this series are handsomely packaged - a regular plastic CD case inside a cardboard slipcase - with excellent notes in the illustrated accompanying booklet.

This may be a niche disc in some respects but its contents do have more going for them than just their historical curiosity value - there is some very attractive music here and it is invariably well-performed. For those interested in music of the Early Romantic period, if the repertoire appeals to you this is a very recommendable release.

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* Though an excellent recording of two of Ferdinand David's violin concertos was recently released by Hyperion: David: Violin Concertos Nos.4/ 5 andante and Scherzo Capriccioso


Lekeu: Symphonic Works
Lekeu: Symphonic Works

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine performances and fascinating music make for a tantalising glimpse of what might have been, 18 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Lekeu: Symphonic Works (Audio CD)
Sadly this disc hasn't survived in the catalogues nor does it appear to be available on Amazon as an MP3 (though other volumes in Ricercar's valuable 1990s survey of his music do still seem to be listed for download). If you have enjoyed Lekeu's piano trio or his - unfinished, though still substantial - piano quartet, you may well find much of interest here. In a sense, of course, all of Lekeu's surving works are early ones due to his untimely death but despite there being occasional evidence of his lack of practical experience and the fact that some of the influences on his developing personal voice are apparent (namely Wagner and Cesar Franck), there is a lot of rewarding and interesting music here that repays repeated listening.

The second Etude Symphonique, two movements of a projected three-part cycle inspired by 'Hamlet', is a good example: the first part is a brooding character portrait of Shakespeare's eponymous hero and sustains its thirteen minute length well, with some finely conceived and atmospheric orchestration; the second is a musical portrayal of Ophelia and its tenderness contrasts well with the movement that has preceded it. The never-written third movement was planned to take the form of a funeral march, which no doubt would have tied the whole work together, but the two pieces we are left with work well as an orchestral diptych, even if the second part is considerably shorter than the first (there is an alternative version of his portrayal of Ophelia, which concludes more emphatically and was conceived to lead into the funeral march but I personally prefer the more poetic ending that is played here). Something of the sweet tone of 'Ophelia' is evident in the 'Barberine' Prelude, a remarkably accomplished piece for being practically one of his first orchestral efforts, beautifully scored and often quite moving. The first Etude Symphonique seems to date from around the same time as 'Barberine', though one would hardly guess so - subtitled "Chant de triomphale délivrance", this is for me the weakest work here, being more than a little repetitive and containing what appears to be some passages of undigested academic counterpoint; even the scoring, apparently a strength of Lekeu's from the start, is solid and not particularly imaginative.

The remaining pieces here are "later" ones and testament to how Lekeu's skill and imagination was proceeding in leaps and bounds; the 'Fantaisie sur Deux Airs Populaires Angevins' is his last completed orchestral work and a real delight; more capriccio than a formal set of variations, it is consistently engaging and forms a refreshing contrast to the more "deeply felt" (or, in the case of the first Etude Symphonique', more ponderous) works that make up the rest of the programme. The disc concludes with the very beautiful and quite original 'Adagio pour quatuor d'orchestre', notable for its striking writing for the strings. Perhaps more than any work here that last one most of all proves what a loss to music his premature death was.

The orchestral responses under the baton of Pierre Batholomee are uniformly excellent, I have to say, resulting in performances of sensitivity and sympathy. Happily they are captured in very good, warm and natural sound too. If you are curious about Lekeu's small orchestral output and can find a decently priced Marketplace copy of this (or if it appears as an MP3 download in the future), this is the disc to get, I think; there is a second volume, which contains pieces of a rather more occasional and, perhaps, less accomplished nature - certainly, aside from the alternative version of the 'Ophelia' study, nothing on there compares to the best of the music recorded here.

Warmly recommended.


Fodor; Schmitt; Wilms: Dutch Piano Concertos (Concertos néerlandais pour piano) /Schoonderwoerd · Ensemble Cristofori
Fodor; Schmitt; Wilms: Dutch Piano Concertos (Concertos néerlandais pour piano) /Schoonderwoerd · Ensemble Cristofori
Price: £13.67

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rare repertoire but for some there may be issues regarding these period instrument performances, 15 Feb. 2013
This is a curious disc and, in several respects, one I find quite unsatisfying. None of the composers featured in this recording are actually Dutch composers, all three having been born elsewhere and having settled in Amsterdam at some point during their careers, though all three works here seem to have been written during their residency in the Netherlands so I suppose they may be considered "honorary" Dutch concertos - except that the work in central position here, by Joseph Schmitt, is not in fact a concerto but a quartet for keyboard, flute, violin and cello. In matters of style, it is a simpler and smaller scale piece of music than the two concertos and one that looks backwards stylistically, at least in relation to those two works - it is not a great discovery, I think, and it hasn't in the years I've owned this recording ever prompted me to seek out any more of his oeuvre but it makes for pleasant listening nonetheless.

The difference in scale is not as striking when heard here as one might imagine, however, as Cristofori are a small period instrument ensemble - basically a string quintet (two violins, a viola, a cello and a bass) with a flute, two oboes and two horns joining in as required by the score, plus "Turkish" percussion in the finale of Fodor's concerto. I have no quibbles at all about the quality of playing this talented group bring to the music - they are incisive, sensitive and in all respects seem to be technically adroit; indeed the same can be said for pianist, Arthur Schoonderwoerd, who dispatches the keyboard writing with aplomb. I usually have no truck with debates about whether composer X or Y would have preferred an orchestra of 30 musicians or 100 musicians, as they seem to me entirely academic and how the performance sounds is the key issue in whether the size of ensemble works or not; but that said, I really can't imagine that either Wilms or Fodor would have viewed the extremely small forces gathered here as ideal for performances of their concertos - all too often these sound like ill-balanced chamber works and all too often the period horns instead of cutting through the string textures simply dominate the soundstage and drown out the other instruments. It is a shame, I think, when the performances have obviously been prepared with great care, that such rarely heard music should be flawed by a doctrinaire approach to what performing conditions might or might not have been in late eighteenth century Amsterdam. While not an issue for me, I should also perhaps note here for potential purchasers that of the two instruments used by Schoonderwoerd, that in the Wilms and Schmitt pieces is a modern recreation of a tangent piano from around c.1770 - in sound it comes across as something of a hybrid between harpsichord and fortepiano; in the Fodor concerto, an actual fortepiano of 1795 is used (as far as I can tell from the booklet it is not a modern recreation) - both are attractive-toned instruments, though the 1795 fortepiano sounds a little brighter and clearer.

I bought the disc on the back of hearing Concerto Köln's excellent recording of Wilms' last two symphonies* but the concerto hails from much earlier in Wilm's career than either of those two invigorating works; in fact, it displays no individuality at all to speak of and is very much a generic piece of Classical writing; things pick up in terms of quality perhaps in the slow movement and the chirpy finale but the opening 'Allegro' I don't find either interesting or memorable and it is stymied in particular by a lot of empty scales in the piano part. The Fodor concerto is much more rewarding - strikingly "Sturm und Drang" (Mozart's mature minor key concertos evidently made their mark on the composer), it is by a long chalk the best thing about this disc; Schoonderwoerd and Cristofori really bring out the drama in the intense opening 'Allegro con fuoco' and the 'alla Turca' finale, if not perhaps very profound, is most definitely a crowd pleaser and full of charm. I'd very much like to hear this work in a scaled up performance, I have to say - its revival here is certainly merited.

This disc is worth hearing perhaps for Fodor's G minor concerto and for the undoubted artistry of the performers, but I don't find the other rarities here make for very compelling listening and the size of the ensemble used (one can hardly call it an orchestra) in the concertos will be an important point for some, especially those wary of period performances in this sort of repertoire; in fact, I'm not sure whether I can recommend this or not - personal taste in terms of the HIP approach used here will inform so many potential listeners' decisions so I think I will just leave this review open-ended with the qualifications I have discussed there for each individual to consider.

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* Wilms - Symphonies 6 & 7


Beethoven: Sinfonica Eroica, Op. 55 arr. for Piano Quartet; Piano Quartet, Op. 16
Beethoven: Sinfonica Eroica, Op. 55 arr. for Piano Quartet; Piano Quartet, Op. 16
Price: £13.55

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and surprisingly enjoyable arrangements of Beethoven scores, 13 Feb. 2013
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Purists may baulk at the idea of this recording and, though I wouldn't class myself as purist or pedantic, I have to confess that I am not a great fan of arrangements or re-workings of original musical works but I was actually quite surprised at how much I have enjoyed these two piano quartets. From the point of view of "authenticity", we are on safer ground with the re-casting of Beethoven's piano and wind quintet, Op.16, for piano quartet than we are with the arrangement of the Eroica symphony as the composer himself was responsible for the alternative version heard here; Ferdinand Ries' adaptation of the third symphony dates from well after Beethoven's death, by contrast.

Inevitably the loss of scale and orchestral colour makes for quite disconcerting listening on first hearing and, in the opening 'Allegro con brio', I was uncertain (and remain so) of the benefits of hearing the music in this new, reduced guise: undoubtedly, the clarity of texture and rhythm makes for fascinating and sometimes rewarding listening but at key moments - the grinding climax in the development section (from around the seven minute mark onwards in this performance), for instance, or the expansive coda - the chamber forces here really can't sufficiently convey the scope of Beethoven's conception or imagination. However, that said, I do find that once past the opening movement I miss the orchestra less and less as the music goes on. Credit should go to Ries for his skillful redaction of the score, of course - it's perhaps salutary to remember that, in a pre-recording age, for many people such an arrangement might well be their only opportunity to hear Beethoven's symphony; that there was a continuing market for these re-workings of the orchestral repertoire is attested to by the fact that the transcription was first printed by Simrock in 1857, almost thirty years after Ries' death and some half a century after the symphony's premiere. The 'Marcia funebre' comes across particularly well here, I think - it is a broad performance, slower perhaps than we have come to expect from HIP recordings of the full score, but it is deeply felt and, with the reduced instrumental complement really opening up the textures, there is no sense of sluggishness or, indeed, over-sentimentalising the music; as you might imagine the increased clarity of line reaps dividends in Beethoven's contrapuntal writing here. Ries was, of course, well regarded in his time as a pianist (his highly acclaimed public debut was in Beethoven's third piano concerto) and also the distinguished composer of a large body of chamber music with and without piano: this practical experience really comes across in the last two movements, I think - indeed, if you didn't know the music's provenance, you might not suspect that the scherzo wasn't originally conceived for this combination of instruments, and some of the earlier variations in the finale are a real joy to listen to; only the coda, perhaps unsurprisingly, recalls parts of the first movement in the way the quartet struggles slightly to realise the breadth of Beethoven's original thoughts.

Beethoven's own arrangement of the piano and winds quintet for the forces used here seems (according to the liner notes) to have been solely motivated by the number of spuriously attributed arrangements of his music being brought out by unscrupulous Viennese publishers of the day. But even if the idea behind it wasn't the composer's decision that it would benefit from different scoring, I have to say I think it works very well in this alternative realisation; certainly the strings strike me as more expressive than the wind instruments are generally (though, of course, personal taste informs that entirely subjective judgement) and this is particularly effective in the 'Andante cantabile'. In re-casting this work, the changes necessitated are naturally fewer; the piano part remains the same so listeners will, I am sure, find this a much less challenging proposition than the "symphony" and it is a welcome addition to the Beethoven discography, particularly for those who - like me - enjoy the genres of piano quartet and piano quintet (incidentally, it was while browsing under the search term "piano quartet" that I came across this disc).

The Mozart Piano Quartet play all the music here beautifully; these really are superb, sensitively judged and technically adroit performances and the sound quality is as warm, natural and clear as I have come to expect from MDG releases. The booklet contains an interesting discussion of Beethoven's attitude to musical arrangements and their place in the musical milieu of the time, and includes some interesting quotations. All in all, this is a consistently interesting and frequently - far more often than not, in fact - rewarding release, sure to appeal to many Beethoven devotees and chamber music admirers alike. Warmly recommended.


Tovey - Chamber Works, Vol 1
Tovey - Chamber Works, Vol 1
Price: £14.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive release that has made for a intriguing and rewarding introduction to Tovey the composer, 12 Feb. 2013
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Although it possibly wasn't how he preferred to see himself, in his lifetime Donald Tovey was of course more famous as a writer on music than as a composer of it - I remember (all too many years ago now!) poring over his Essays in Musical Analysis in my local library after school, other more pressing academic requirements easily and gladly put to one side; sadly, those remarkable and erudite studies seem to be no longer in print but Toccata Classics' ongoing (?) survey of his musical oeuvre is hopefully bringing his creative talents to a new audience. I have to admit these two trios are the first of his original compositions that I've heard - though their merits will now spur me on to investigate other recordings - so I can't say whether the idiom is atypical or unformed in relation to his later music; one thing is certain to my mind, however - that nothing here sounds like the product of a mere twenty year old.

Both works are pretty substantial and beautifully argued from a structural point of view; I was constantly surprised at the sophistication of Tovey's discourse, even here when he cannot have had many years of practical or theoretical experience behind him - his own detailed step-by-step analysis of the B minor trio is reprinted in the excellent booklet essay, a nice and very useful touch that is typical of the thoughtfulness Toccata Classics always seem to bring to their enterprising releases. As well as technical assurance, there is a fine - and sometimes innovative - creative imagination at work here too: Tovey was evidently blessed with a gift for memorable and attractive melodic writing: the second movement of the B minor trio is a good illustration of when all those qualities come together - effectively a slow movement, its originality marked by it being written in the form of a minuet, it really is beautiful in its poise and atmosphere; this is pointed up all the more by the violent eruption of the third movement 'Rhapsodia' (designated 'feroce' in the score) that follows its poetic closing bars. For all the turbulence that informs the work in that movement and in stretches of the ensuing finale, something of the minuet's poetry returns at the very end of the piece, which dies away with a poignant air of quiet melancholy. The second trio, again in the minor - C minor this time and also bearing the title "Style tragique" - was originally written in 1895 as well; its first incarnation was scored for piano, clarinet and horn rather than the traditional instrumentation found on this recording, which was an alternative version prepared for its publication in 1910. It shares all the same virtues as the first trio and, indeed, much the same mood ("Style tragique", for all the seriousness of expression here strikes me as something of an overstatement, perhaps one added by the publisher to foster more interest): sophisticated musical discourse, a real feeling of momentum - both tonally and rhythmically - and, of course, Tovey's fine lyrical gifts.

Although I've obviously never heard any rival performances, the London Piano Trio are wonderful advocates for this music, indeed it's hard to imagine these recordings being bettered; the sound quality is no less impressive, natural and beautifully balanced. As I have already suggested, the booklet essay lives up to the high production standards I have come to expect from Toccata Classics, all of which combined makes this a highly recommendable disc and not just for devotees of British music - these are works of substance, very much the discourse of three rational (and passionate, I might add) people, if you'll pardon the adaptation of Goethe's words about the string quartet, and they would, I feel sure, provide rewarding listening to anyone who enjoys chamber music of the Late Romantic period.


Jongen - Rome Cantata Comala; Claire de Lune
Jongen - Rome Cantata Comala; Claire de Lune

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and enjoyable Prix de Rome cantata, beautifully performed and recorded, 11 Feb. 2013
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This is disc that is both highly enjoyable and slightly frustrating at the same time, though I should point out straight away that the latter is in no way related to the quality of either Jongen's music or the performances. 'Comala' is an early work, his submission for the Belgian 'Prix de Rome' competition (modelled on the famous French version), which it won unanimously. Although designated a "cantata", Jongen's music sounds like extracts from a grand, fin de siècle opera and marvellously full-blooded it is too. Jongen was only required to set the first two scenes of the libretto selected for the 1897 competition so the work ends rather in mid-air from a dramatic point of view, an effect exacerbated by the fact that the second scene concludes not with Jongen's beautiful setting of Comala's grief-stricken response to Fingal's reported death but somewhat incongruously with a rousing chorus of returning warriors (described in the libretto as "heard in the distance", that is not the effect here though I suspect their sudden and robust presence is due to the composer wanting to conclude the piece on a resolute note rather than to any miscalculation on the part of the artists or sound engineers).

So much for the quibbles then: leaving aside issues with the dramaturgy for which Jongen cannot be held responsible, the music itself provides a tantalising glimpse of what a Jongen opera might sound like - and certainly whets the appetite for hearing more of his vocal and theatrical output. What is astonishing, given his youth and relative inexperience, is his mastery of the orchestra - this is a beautifully and richly scored piece, in which echoes of Wagner and, at least according to the booklet essay, Richard Strauss, may be easily forgiven when they result in orchestration of such sophistication and colour. The chorus of the warriors departing for battle (and of their startling return at the end) makes particularly impressive use of the brass but there is much here that is more subtle and really quite beautiful: the haunting orchestral introduction to the second scene, for instance, murmuring strings evoking the twilight atmosphere in a very individual way. That second act, indeed the work as a whole, could almost be considered a massive scena for the soprano since, although she interacts with other characters and the chorus along the way, Comala bears the weight of the piece dramatically and has by far some of the most intense and moving music (though there is an very fine extended "aria" - I use the term very loosely, as the music here is through-composed - for the tenor role of Hidallan in the first scene); although not perhaps easily extracted from the score, her rapturous paean to the night that opens part two and her later response to the reports of Fingal's death, which moves from "savage exaltation" (as the libretto puts it) to grief, both deserve to be more widely known and would surely win the composer more admirers were they to crop up occasionally in operatic recitals.

All the soloists acquit themselves well here, Sophie Marin-Degor very impressive in the role of Comala and Marc Laho an ardent Hidallan; the orchestral and choral performances are absolutely top notch and captured in exceptionally good sound of real clarity and impressive depth.

I make no claims for the music here being that of an undiscovered masterpiece nor does it represent Jongen's mature style but it is an extremely enjoyable work and one that contains many beauties; if you are a fan of Late Romantic opera, I am sure you will respond to much of this score and perhaps, like me, wish that Jongen had used his competition entry as the starting point for a more extensive treatment of the subject. As it is, the score lasts around 40 minutes so - even with the addition of two extra works ('Clair de lune' for violin and piano from 1908 and a lovely 1915 orchestration of the same piece, with echoes of Ravel's 'Daphnis et Chloe') - the disc is quite short measure at 55 minutes total playing time. With minor qualifications taken into account, however, this disc still comes warmly recommended.


Rosetti - Jesus in Gethsemane
Rosetti - Jesus in Gethsemane
Price: £27.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent performances and production values in this welcome revival of Rosetti's vocal music, 11 Feb. 2013
The music of Anton Rosetti, an almost exact contemporary of Mozart, has seen something of a revival on disc over the past decade or so; recordings so far have concentrated primarily on his orchestral output so this CPO release containing two large scale works somewhere between cantata and oratorio provides a very welcome opportunity to hear some of his vocal music. And it doesn't disappoint - many of the stylistic fingerprints that were so notable in Concerto Köln's survey of his symphonies* are to be found here also: imaginative scoring, harmonic resourcefulness and a gift for appealing and memorable melodic lines.

Both works are products of the 'Empfindsamkeit' movement, eschewing a dramatic approach in favour of a more contemplative one, in which the music attempts to evoke an emotional response in the listener appropriate to the content of the text; the opening chorus of 'Jesus in Gethsemane' provides a good example of how Rosetti achieves that, particularly in his imaginative and atmospheric scoring - the latter a feature throughout both cantatas. The meditative nature of much of the music does not, it should be said, preclude movements of both animation (even vigour, sometimes, as in the striking chorus "O Fleisch, wie bist du mir verhasst" from 'Jesus in Gethsemane') and grandeur: by dint of its text, the 'Halleluja' is of course more predisposed to 'outgoing' or celebratory music, including some imposing choral movements that make full use of brass and timpani (the final chorus is wonderfully uplifting), but both works also contain an extended and virtuoso aria for soprano solo, replete with the coloratura that contemporary audiences would expect; there are also particularly fine arias (sometimes designated "arietta" in the score) for the alto and tenor parts, usually preceded by recitativo accompagnato that stands testament to Rosetti's skill at word setting, and though fewer in number the ensembles for multiple soloists are beautifully written. The choral writing is for the most part homophonic with less use of grand fugal statements than one might expect, perhaps reflecting the fact that these works were written for a Protestant court and audience after the Catholic Rosetti had taken up employment at Ludwiglust in 1789; indeed, the libretti were prepared by a Lutheran minister, Heinrich Tode, and both works incorporate chorales based on traditional Protestant melodies. As a kind of pendant to the main works here, CPO also provide four early settings of the 'Salve Regina' by Rosetti, which do not represent his mature style but which are a very attractive bonus.

In terms of performance, the soloists, NDR Choir and Mecklenburg Barockorchester are uniformly excellent - with clean lines and crisp articulation in his forces, Johannes Moesus presents the music in the best possible light. The recorded sound is equally fine, well balanced and capturing the fine nuances of Rosetti's scoring. Production values match this, the accompanying booklet containing a well written essay and the sung texts in German and in English.

This really is an exceptionally good recording and a very worthy one too that not only adds to our appreciation of Rosetti himself but also to the high standard of German sacred music in the latter years of the Classical era. Highly recommended.

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* Rosetti : 8 Symphonies - Apex


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