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Gernsheim:Violin Concertos [Linus Roth, Hamburger Symphoniker , Johannes Zurl] [CPO: 777861-2]
Gernsheim:Violin Concertos [Linus Roth, Hamburger Symphoniker , Johannes Zurl] [CPO: 777861-2]
Price: £13.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not always well defined structurally and melodically but still worthwhile., 15 Oct. 2015
Friedrich Gernsheim was a friend of Brahms who spent some of his career in Germany and then moved to Holland where he became known as the "Dutch Brahms". On his return to Germany Gernsheim settled in Berlin where he was appointed director of the Stern Choral Society. He died in 1916. Although Gernsheim had some success as a composer during his lifetime, his reactionary style and the fact that, unlike his contemporary Max Bruch for example, he had not produced a single indisputable masterpiece meant that his music was soon forgotten.

According to the booklet note ( which, in true CPO style, says much more about Gernsheim's life than it does about his music and virtually nothing about the works included on the disc) Gernsheim's "hallmark is his gift for beautiful, extensive melodies of Brahmsian character with a touch of Tchaikovsky". In fact, Gernsheim's tunes often don't blossom as you hope they will and tend to be rather short winded. This, together with, at times, a rather uncertain approach to form makes both these concertos quite difficult to grasp.

The First Concerto dates from 1880. Its opening movement uses an adapted version of sonata form and does open with an extended melody which, at the entry of the soloist, is repeated. Four more melodic elements are introduced in this unorthodox exposition, the most important of which (the proper second subject) is heard, firstly on the woodwind, at 4 mins 5 secs. All this material is lyrical in character and, instead of attempting to compose a dynamic development section based on it, as Brahms demonstrates can be done using thematic transformation techniques in the first movement of his Violin Concerto, Gernsheim dodges the issue by inserting a lengthy cadenza. The recapitulation begins at the reentry of the orchestra but it is severely curtailed, at 9 mins 27 secs the first tutti reintroducing the second subject earlier than expected. A coda muses on some of the material which was omitted from the recapitulation. All in all, this is an attractive but not a compelling movement.

The fine slow movement is essentially a ternary structure, the music's essentially gloomy character being relieved by a move to the major mode for the central section. After a cadenza the coda incorporates elements from both sections.

The finale, surely influenced by Bruch's great concerto, is a sonata structure. There are two subsidiary lyrical ideas, both attractive but not sufficiently characterful or extended to be really memorable. The music's melodic impulse is not always clear but, in general, the quality of Gernsheim's invention is high and this spirited movement keeps you entertained.

The Second Violin Concerto dates from 1912. Although only 8 minutes long, the first movement is a fairly convincing sonata allegro. The opening gives the impression that the 73 year old Gernsheim, though not having abandoned his essentially old-fashioned style, is attempting to move with the times and fashion music which is essentially motivic in character. The main idea is a simple three note rising figure. The lyrical second subject is attractive but soon runs out of steam. As in the First Violin Concerto, the recapitulation, which begins at 6 mins 26 secs, is shortened.

The slow movement follows without a break and is again a ternary structure. The melodies are not always clearly defined (repeated listening will help, of course) but the ecstatic writing for the soloist is attractive in itself.

The finale also follows immediately. It provides some of the best music in either concerto. This time the main theme does stick in the memory though the second subject, attractive though it is, is again short-winded. By the way, at the end of the concerto I would have been in grave danger if anyone armed with a feather had been nearby. The orchestration briefly features one of the most un-Brahmsian of instruments. It's a nice touch, though.

The disc also includes the "Fantasiestuck for Violin and Orchestra", Op. 33, a piece which essentially says the same thing twice. This is a lovely work, lyrical and beautifully sustained. I thought it was the disc's highlight.

All this music is splendidly played and very well recorded. Although Gernsheim did not have a distinctive style and his music sometimes lacks direction, if you enjoy all of Bruch's violin concertos (not just the famous one in G minor) you may wish to proceed to Gernsheim's. The best of his concertos, though, is surely the one for piano, Op. 16. Although it has never been commercially recorded, a performance is easily found online.


Siegfried Wagner: Sonnenflammen
Siegfried Wagner: Sonnenflammen
Price: £19.43

5.0 out of 5 stars A Thoroughly Entertaining Opera which gets Better and Better., 24 Sept. 2015
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What do Albert Einstein and Siegfried Wagner have in common? Answer: they were both great men, though in very different fields, who battled on in spite of an increasing sense of alienation. They poked their tongues out at the world to show how they felt and didn't mind being seen doing it. I am not speaking figuratively here. An internet image search will show what I mean. I imagine Einstein's gesture was, ultimately, aimed at Niels Bohr whose views on quantum mechanics he didn't share. As regards Wagner, he must have known that his own operas would inevitably be compared with his father's and be found wanting....and perhaps that gesture was also aimed, posthumously, at his wife, Winifred, who did all she could to prevent any performances of his music. In fact, on their own terms, Siegfried's operas are significant works. Certainly "Sonnenflammen" is a fine piece which I urge you to investigate.

The eighth of Siegfried's fourteen completed operas, "Sonnenflammen" was composed in 1912 and premiered in 1918 at Darmstadt. It begins with a magnificent overture, almost a miniature symphonic poem, in which some, but certainly not all, of the opera's melodic material is introduced. Act 1 tells the story of Fridolin, a knight whose love for Iris is unrequited because he has not kept his vow to fight in the crusades. Iris is the daughter of the court jester, Gomella. The Emperor, Alexios, wishes to have a child by Iris because his own son is sick. Gomella, having angered the emperor by accidentally breaking a vase, avoids punishment by agreeing to send Iris to him. However, he will substitute the prostitute Eunoe for her. This is the most Wagnerian of the opera's three acts (some of Gomella's music is reminiscent of Mime's) but the motifs are not difficult to assimilate and there are a number of lyrical solos.

In Act 2, Fridolin is wildly jealous because he believes Iris has feelings for Alexios. At a feast, Alexios mocks the Venetian ambassador. Fridolin, together with the Emperor's brother, attempt to assassinate him. The plot fails. Alexios humiliates Fridolin by making him his second court jester. Siegfried Wagner had studied with Humperdinck and this is very apparent in this act. Although he is not quite able to integrate the orchestral and vocal writing as seamlessly as does Humperdinck in "Hansel und Gretel", Wagner comes close. The motivic web is supplemented by fine lyrical solos and the melodic impulse rarely falters. If, at first, you want simply to listen to the music without following the libretto, I suggest you start here (in particular at the beginning of CD 2). You'll soon be hooked. Particular highlights include Iris's solo "O glich er doch den Recken" (CD2 Track 1) and the 15 minute feast scene itself (Track 6).

In Act 3, the Empress drowns herself and her child. Albrecht, Fridolin's father, comes to take Fridolin home. However, Gomella discloses that Fridolin is now a mere jester and Fridolin has to admit that he has broken his vow by not joining the crusade. During another feast, the dead empress appears and Alexios becomes aware that his liaison was not with Iris but with Eunoe. Fridolin stabs himself and, as the crusaders attack, Iris confesses her love as Fridolin dies. Again, the music is consistently inspired but particularly so are Albrecht's solo "Die Siegel schwellte der Hoffnung Weh'n" (part of Track 8) and, later in the same track, Gomella's waltz-time solo in which he relates how Fridolin became a jester. However, it is Fridolin's solo "Heimat, entruckte!" (Track 9) which provides the opera's lyrical highlight.

Siegfried Wagner does not invest his music with anything like the same gravitas as his father would have done. Fridolin's suicide is merely another event in what is now a very fast moving story and the surrounding dance music is so high-spirited that it detracts from the tragedy of the death scene. Wagner's particular strength was as a composer of fairy-tale operas and that is how you should regard "Sonnenflammen". As such, it is enormously entertaining and not far short of a masterpiece.

The performance is generally very good with no weak links in the cast. The recording is also good but places the voices too far forward. Don't let that put you off, though. The set comes with a full libretto in German and English and the booklet includes a most interesting essay which sheds light on the background to the opera's composition.


Pfitzner: Violin Concerto. Volkmann: Konzertstuck for Piano & Orchestra; Cello Concerto
Pfitzner: Violin Concerto. Volkmann: Konzertstuck for Piano & Orchestra; Cello Concerto

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine performance of one of Pfitzner's best works. Volkmann's 'Cello Concerto is also worthwhile., 18 Sept. 2015
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Pfitzner's Violin Concerto dates from 1923 and is one of his finest works although the authors of the essay in the booklet which comes with this disc, Bill and Gill Newman, don't pull their punches when accusing the work of a "lack of structure". "Pfitzner", they say, "wanders unconcernedly through an eclectic sound world with no apparent sense of purpose or direction whatsoever". This is unfair. It is true that the piece is less clearly structured than the slightly earlier Piano Concerto and it is also stylistically inconsistent but, after a few hearings, the music's logic becomes clear. I hope you don't mind if I now draw on my review of Juraj Cizmarovic's recording (I have changed the timings, of course).

The concerto is not an easy work to appreciate because it is structurally unconventional. It is also essentially motivic rather than melodic. It is this motivic working which unifies the concerto in spite of the diversity of styles employed. You will have to listen several times to follow the argument. At a first hearing, try to pick up the opening motif. Its rhythm (essentially a long note followed by two shorter ones and a long one, sometimes preceded by an upbeat and often heard in sequence) is of primary importance. Notice also the six note figure heard first at 1 min 5 secs which marks the beginning of what even the booklet (in Cizmarovic's recording) calls a "rambling melody". This melody is characterised by its exploration of the "extremes of the tonal range". It is not, then, a tune which you will ever whistle but it acts as a motivic reservoir for much of the ensuing music. Another six note motif first heard at 2 min 2 secs is also important.

This section of the concerto becomes easier to listen to as it proceeds, its next idea, clearly employing the concerto's main motif and first heard in its full form on the brass at 5 mins, being easily assimilated. A series of seven variations follows. Then comes a cadenza. The ensuing slow section (I am reluctant to use the word "movement"), during which the soloist is silent, employs the two six note motifs from the "rambling" melody. This is the concerto's romantic heart.

The next section (Track 2) also becomes easier to listen to as it proceeds. The music becomes gradually more lyrical until a short virtuoso cadenza introduces, at 3 mins 18 secs, a string tune which is to dominate much of the rest of the concerto. Again, Pfitzner employs variation techniques. Other motifs are introduced and there are two captivating lyrical interludes, one at 6 mins 37 secs and the other, an extended version of the same music, at 12 mins 30 secs. Gradually the concerto's opening motif begins to dominate and, at 14 mins 33 secs, there is a clear reference to the "rambling" melody. This fine and, ultimately, highly rewarding concerto ends in virtuoso fashion.

Susanne Lautenbacher made many discs for Vox/Turnabout in the late 1950s and afterwards and this was one of her best. (The disc is misleading in only quoting the reissue date: 1996). She employs far less vibrato than does Cizmarovic and her penetrating sound is particularly appropriate to the concerto's less "romantic" pages though, correspondingly, it is in those pages that Cizmarovic is more effective. The Philharmonia Hungarica plays very well for Gunter Wich and, as the recording is good, this is a disc which deserves an enthusiatic recommendation.

If you choose it, though, you will miss out on Siegfried Wagner's lovely concerto. Instead you will get a "Konzertstuck" for piano and orchestra and a 'Cello Concerto by Robert Volkmann (1815-1883). The Newmans describe the "Konzertstuck" as having "an unfortunate tendency to become stuck in the same lane for fifteen minutes at a stretch" and don't find it "interesting". (Jerome Rose must have wondered why he bothered!) It is, in fact, no better or worse than many virtuoso pieces of its type. The central section consists of a set of variations on a more elaborate tune than is usually the case. The piece ends in spectacular fashion, of course.

The 'Cello Concerto, however, is well worth getting to know. Alban Gerhardt included it in the second volume of Hyperion's "Romantic 'Cello Concerto" series and it was the best of the three concertos on that disc which weren't by Schumann. (I give a few more details on Volkmann's concerto in my review of that disc.) I expected the Hyperion disc to sweep the board but fact I rather preferred Blees's steadier performance; slower speeds resulted in the piece gaining in stature. The orchestral playing and recording are superior on the Hyperion disc though far from unsatisfactory on the Turnabout recording.

It is the Pfitzner concerto which is the most rewarding work here. Whether you choose Lautenbacher or Cizmarovic, don't miss it.


Pfitzner: Piano Concerto Op. 31
Pfitzner: Piano Concerto Op. 31
Offered by KAOZI168 Classical_ ''Dispatch within 1 day to the world ''
Price: £15.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine performance of this concerto...but with no couplings., 15 Sept. 2015
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I hope you don't mind if I quote in part from my review of Wolf Harden's recording of this concerto on Marco Polo. I have changed the timings:

Pfitzner's Piano Concerto was completed in 1922 and so just predates the Violin Concerto. It was first performed by Walter Gieseking in Dresden in March 1923 and, in fact, Gieseking liked the concerto so much that he retained it in his repertoire. The Piano Concerto is a more approachable work than the Violin Concerto being more conventional structurally though its somewhat uneven level of inspiration makes it less rewarding. As in the Violin Concerto Pfitzner explores various different styles and, as a result, you may feel that, ultimately, the concerto's total effect is less than the sum of its parts. Furthermore, the Piano Concerto is in four movements, largely thematically independent, while the Violin Concerto is in a single (though subdivided) thematically linked movement. In spite of the different styles employed, then, it seems more unified. There is, however, a lot of enjoyable music in the Piano Concerto, the scherzo in particular being a highlight.

The first movement, essentially a sonata structure, opens purposefully in E flat major. As in the Violin Concerto the music's motivic logic soon becomes apparent, the opening piano theme obviously related to the string tune heard at 55 secs. Disappointingly, though, the music soon loses momentum. At 4 mins 3 secs, the second subject is heard, at first on the strings. Again, the music's logic is inescapable even if the melodic material is not particularly interesting in itself. At 8 mins 8 secs the development section begins. It concerns itself almost exclusively with the first subject, in particular a six note motif extracted from it. The recapitulation begins at 11 mins 36 secs.(You won't miss these structural events;the piece is not difficult to follow.) The second subject is not formally recapitulated in the tonic but music derived from it acts as transitional material to the scherzo. All in all, this movement fails to live up to the promise of its striking opening.

The scherzo, on the other hand, is a splendid movement. This time, Pfitzner maintains momentum throughout. The chordal main idea is immediately attractive and sometimes even amusing in its persistence. The movement is essentially monothematic, the lyrical subsidiary idea being merely a rhythmically ironed out version of the principal tune. Extracted form the concerto, Litolff-like, this scherzo could even become popular.

The ternary slow movement is in stark contrast, creating a lovely romantic mood from the start. The main idea is stated by a solo horn. After a central ruminative section for the piano the strings reprise the main theme. Chordal music for the brass prefigures the finale's main theme. This movement is largely dominated by this theme though there are a number of subsidiary ideas, one of which is treated imitatively. A fugal cadenza, built on the movement's main theme, ingeniously incorporates music from elsewhere in the movement.

Judging from these performances only, Volker Banfeld is a more mercurial and imaginative pianist than Wolf Harden (compare them in the finale's big cadenza) and he is also far better at accompanying rather than obscuring important orchestral lines when that is his role. This is particularly noticeable in that irresistible scherzo which also benefits from being taken a little faster, as does the finale. The orchestral playing on the CPO disc is also superior and the recording considerably more refined and better balanced.

So, for the Piano Concerto the CPO disc is an outright winner. Unfortunately, the situation is complicated by the fact that CPO provides no coupling (the disc lasts for a little under 38 minutes) while Marco Polo include the overture to Pfitzner's early opera "Das Christelflein" and the "Liebsmelodie" from his much later music drama "Das Herz". Both these pieces are delightful and you may even think that they upstage the concerto. Furthermore, neither is easily available elsewhere except as part of a complete recording. Ultimately, you may have to get both discs then!

I should add that Tsimon Barto, bodybuilder and concert pianist, has also committed this concerto to disc, coupling it with music by Reger and Busoni. I have not heard that disc but Barto is something of a maverick and his performance is likely to be controversial.


Piano Concerto (Beissel, Slovak Radio So, Harden)
Piano Concerto (Beissel, Slovak Radio So, Harden)
Offered by worldcollectabilia
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The concerto is worthwhile though slightly let down by its first movement., 9 Sept. 2015
Pfitzner's Piano Concerto was completed in 1922 and so just predates the Violin Concerto. It was first performed by Walter Gieseking in Dresden in March 1923 and, in fact, Gieseking liked the concerto so much that he retained it in his repertoire. The Piano Concerto is a more approachable work than the Violin Concerto being more conventional structurally though its somewhat uneven level of inspiration makes it less rewarding. As in the Violin Concerto Pfitzner explores many different styles and, as a result, you may feel that, ultimately, the concerto's total effect is less than the sum of its parts. There is, however, a lot of enjoyable music along the way, the scherzo in particular being a highlight.

The first movement, essentially a sonata structure, opens purposefully in E flat major. As in the Violin Concerto the music's motivic logic soon becomes apparent, the opening piano theme obviously related to the string tune heard at 50 secs. Disappointingly, though, the music soon loses momentum. At 3 mins 43 secs, the second subject is heard, at first on the strings. Again, the music's logic is inescapable even if the melodic material is not particularly interesting in itself. At 7 mins 17 secs the development section begins. It concerns itself almost exclusively with the first subject, in particular a six note motif extracted from it. The recapitulation begins at 10 mins 20 secs. The second subject is not formally recapitulated in the tonic but music derived from it acts as transitional material to the scherzo. All in all, this movement fails to live up to the promise of its striking opening.

The scherzo, on the other hand, is a splendid movement. This time, Pfitzner maintains momentum throughout. The chordal main idea is immediately attractive and sometimes even amusing in its persistence. The movement is essentially monothematic, the lyrical subsidiary idea being merely a rhythmically ironed out version of the principal tune. Extracted form the concerto, Litolff-like, this scherzo could even become popular.

The ternary slow movement is in stark contrast, creating a lovely romantic mood from the start. The main idea is stated by a solo horn. After a central ruminative section for the piano the strings reprise the main theme. Chordal music for the brass prefigures the finale's main theme. This movement is largely dominated by this theme though there are a number of subsidiary ideas, one of which is treated imitatively. A fugal cadenza, built on the movement's main theme, ingeniously incorporates music from elsewhere in the movement.

"Das Christelflein", an early opera, has a delightful overture which you may feel upstages the concerto. It is wonderfully tuneful (and diatonically so) and often possesses an almost Mendelssohnian lightness of touch. Humperdinck's "Hansel und Gretel" is an obvious influence.

The "Liebesmelodie" from "Das Herz", a much later music drama, is also highly attractive. It has a simple melody which becomes particularly haunting when a simple flute line is added in counterpoint.

Although Wolf Harden is a fine soloist in the concerto, these performances are not the last word in refinement. The recording is also a little rough-and-ready; woodwind tone in particular is not always well caught. However, don't less this put you off exploring an uneven but often rewarding concerto. I should add that Volker Banfeld has also recorded the concerto for CPO and I hope to review that recording soon. Tsimon Barto, bodybuilder and concert pianist, has also committed this work to disc. Barto is something of a maverick and his performance is likely to be controversial.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2017 11:49 AM BST


Pfitzner: Violin Concerto; S Wagner: Concerto; Wagner, Traume
Pfitzner: Violin Concerto; S Wagner: Concerto; Wagner, Traume
Price: £17.32

5.0 out of 5 stars A superb disc of two unjustly neglected concertos., 2 Sept. 2015
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"Romantic Violin Concertos" turns out not be another Bruch/Mendelssohn coupling but a disc of rare works by Pfitzner and Siegfried Wagner. Both are fine pieces which are well worth getting to know.

Pfitzner's concerto dates from 1924. In the booklet note Thomas Jakobi quotes Wolfgang Rihm who felt that "Pfitzner is too progressive to simply be savored like Korngold, and he is too conservative to have influenced music with audible results like Schoenberg" and it is true that the violin concerto never really settles stylistically. At times the music suggests an awareness of neo-Classical trends while, at others, it evokes a full-blooded Romanticism which fully justifies the disc's title.

The concerto is not an easy work to appreciate because it is structurally unconventional. It is also essentially motivic rather than melodic. It is this motivic working which unifies the concerto in spite of the diversity of styles employed. You will have to listen several times to follow the argument. At a first hearing, try to pick up the opening motif. Its rhythm (essentially a long note followed by two shorter ones, sometimes preceded by an upbeat) is of primary importance. Notice also the six note figure heard first at 58 secs which marks the beginning of what even the booklet calls a "rambling melody". This melody is characterised by its exploration of the "extremes of the tonal range". It is not, then, a tune which you will ever whistle but it acts as a motivic reservoir for much of the ensuing music. Another six note motif first heard at 1 min 43 secs is also important.

This section of the concerto becomes easier to listen to as it proceeds, its next idea, clearly employing the concerto's main motif and first heard on the brass at 4 mins 21 secs, being easily assimilated. A series of seven variations follows. The ensuing slow section (I am reluctant to use the word "movement", as is Mr Jakobi), during which the soloist is silent, employs the two six note motifs from the "rambling" melody (Track 2). This is the concerto's romantic heart.

The next section (Track 3) also becomes easier to listen to as it proceeds. The music becomes gradually more lyrical until a short virtuoso cadenza introduces, at 2 mins 52 secs, a string tune which is to dominate much of the rest of the concerto. Again, Pfitzner
employs variation techniques. Other motifs are introduced and there are two captivating lyrical interludes, one at 7 mins 8 secs and the other, an extended version of the same music, at 12 mins 50 secs. Gradually the concerto's opening motif begins to dominate and, at 14 mins 50 secs, there is a clear reference to the "rambling" melody. This fine and, ultimately, highly rewarding concerto ends in virtuoso fashion.

Siegfried Wagner studied with Humperdinck and this is soon evident from his Violin Concerto which dates from 1915. It is lyrical
throughout, entirely Romantic in spirit and thoroughly captivating. Although the concerto is described as being for violin "with orchestral accompaniment", the soloist is very much "primus inter pares", the melodic line being as likely to be found in the orchestral writing (especially the woodwind) as in that for the violin. That is why you may find it a little difficult to follow at first.

The antithesis of the virtuoso showpiece, this concerto is again unconventional structurally. Indeed, Wagner described it as a "symphonic poem" as it employs music from and tells the story of his fairy tale opera "An allem ist Hutchen schuld" in abstract terms.

The concerto is in one movement but it can be divided into two sections. The opening section is built on three melodies, the first heard, after a short woodwind introduction, on the violin. The second, a melody associated with Katherlies, the opera's love interest, follows at 4 mins 19 secs. It is quite exquisite. A horn and then a flute prefigure the third melody which the soloist sings at 6 mins 6 secs. A more tonally and harmonically unstable "development" passage follows while what may be termed the "recapitulation" steals in at 8 mins 50 secs. The two other melodies are then recapitulated but in reverse order.

The tempo picks up for the second section. The music is dominated by its perky main theme. In general, Wagner wears his academic training lightly but at one point he introduces a brief fugato. The "diabolical chromatic motif" Mr Jakobi refers to does little to interrupt the music's lyrical flow and the "chaotic witches' dance" is hardly more chaotic than the dance celebrating the witch's demise at the end of "Hansel und Gretel". After the "chaos" dies down, the three melodies from the first section are briefly recapitulated before the concerto comes to a sprightly close.

The disc also includes Richard Wagner's version for violin and orchestra of "Traume" from the Wesendonck Lieder.

All this music is superbly played by the Slovakian violinist, Juraj Cizmarovic. The orchestra accompanies splendidly and the recording is notably well balanced...particularly important in Wagner's concerto... although Cizmarovic is positioned on the left. This disc is not to be missed.


Gloria
Gloria

2.0 out of 5 stars It's no contest. Go for Previtali., 28 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Gloria (Audio CD)
Cilea's last opera, "Gloria", has always had a bad press since it failed at its premiere at La Scala in April 1907. It was revised but the new version fared no better when it was first heard in 1937. However, the opera has been revived twice since then and both these performances are available on disc. I bought the recording conducted by Marco Pace some years ago, listened to it a couple of times and decided that the opera deserved its neglect. I was so uninterested that I didn't even get as far as discovering that Gloria is, in fact, the name of the main female character. I had assumed that it was a reference to the Latin Mass which featured in the story somehow. (Do you remember P.D.Q. Bach's setting from his Mass? "Gloria!....Gloria!....I once knew a girl called Gloria!")

However, urged on by Mr Moore and switching to the Previtali recording, I entered a totally different world and the opera came into focus. At once it became clear that "Gloria" did not deserve its neglect. Neither Cedolins nor Cupido on Pace's recording is well cast. Cedolins in particular is not a spinto and both she and Cupido force their voices to the extent that intonation frequently suffers. Both would be far better suited to the bel canto repertoire. Labo and Roberti, singing for Previtali, completely outclass them. The smaller parts are also better taken on that recording.

The most important difference between the two recordings, though, is in the conducting. Taking far faster speeds than Pace, Previtali transforms the opera so that it becomes a true dramatic experience. Furthermore, the melodies regain their shape. "Gloria" is not a long opera yet, astonishingly, Previtali knocks a full 24 minutes off Pace's performance.

Previtali's performance is less well recorded that Pace's and is in mono only but that makes not the slightest difference. Go for Previtali. There really is no contest.


Gloria-Complete Opera
Gloria-Complete Opera

2.0 out of 5 stars Go for Previtali's recording. There really is no contest., 28 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Gloria-Complete Opera (Audio CD)
Cilea's last opera, "Gloria", has always had a bad press since it failed at its premiere at La Scala in April 1907. It was revised but the new version fared no better when it was first heard in 1937. However, the opera has been revived twice since then and both these performances are available on disc. I bought the recording conducted by Marco Pace some years ago, listened to it a couple of times and decided that the opera deserved its neglect. I was so uninterested that I didn't even get as far as discovering that Gloria is, in fact, the name of the main female character. I had assumed that it was a reference to the Latin Mass which featured in the story somehow. (Do you remember P.D.Q. Bach's setting from his Mass? "Gloria!....Gloria!....I once knew a girl called Gloria!")

However, urged on by Mr Moore and switching to the Previtali recording, I entered a totally different world and the opera came into focus. At once it became clear that "Gloria" did not deserve its neglect. Neither Cedolins nor Cupido on Pace's recording is well cast. Cedolins in particular is not a spinto and both she and Cupido force their voices to the extent that intonation frequently suffers. Both would be far better suited to the bel canto repertoire. Labo and Roberti, singing for Previtali, completely outclass them. The smaller parts are also better taken on that recording.

The most important difference between the two recordings, though, is in the conducting. Taking far faster speeds than Pace, Previtali transforms the opera so that it becomes a true dramatic experience. Furthermore, the melodies regain their shape. "Gloria" is not a long opera yet, astonishingly, Previtali knocks a full 24 minutes off Pace's performance.

Previtali's recording is less well recorded than Pace's and is in mono only but that makes not the slightest difference. Go for Previtali. There really is no contest.


The Romantic Cello Concerto, Vol. 2  Volkmann, Dietrich, Gernsheim & Schumann
The Romantic Cello Concerto, Vol. 2 Volkmann, Dietrich, Gernsheim & Schumann
Price: £11.44

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Schumann overshadows the others but they include some enjoyable music., 14 Aug. 2015
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It is no surprise that Schumann's concerto overshadows the other three on this disc but Volkmann's and Gernsheim's concertos in particular are worth hearing. None of the three reveal any originality in musical syntax...thorough conservatory training tended to repress any tendency towards originality in German composers of the time... but there are some unusual structural features and some attractive melodic material.

Robert Volkmann's concerto dates from 1853-55. Although less than 15 minutes long it is not a miniature but is in a single movement using a modified version of sonata form. The opening idea, sung by the cello over a chugging accompaniment, is a real tune, easily assimilated. In his booklet note, the late Calum Macdonald says that Volkmann is "nowhere concerned with facile display" but there is a certain amount of virtuoso writing and the piece is rather episodic. A recitative-like passage links the exposition to the development section. The recapitulation is greatly strengthened by a most impressive developmental tutti episode positioned between the first theme and the transitional material. The concerto then follows the usual course. After a brief cadenza, a semiquaver variant of the main theme introduces the coda in which the energy of the music gradually dissipates.

Albert Dietrich's concerto dates from about 1876. This is a full-scale three movement work. The opening melody is rather difficult to grasp but the generous second subject which follows on the strings is at the music's heart and is easily picked up. Again, there is a certain amount of virtuoso writing not particularly well integrated into the surrounding music but the development section, based on the second subject, is most attractive. The recapitulation begins at 5 mins 25 secs and follows the usual course though there is no cadenza.

After a long introduction the 'cello sings the main melody of the ternary slow movement. Like the first theme of the first movement, it is not an easy tune to assimilate and, in general, the movement does not make a strong impression.

The finale is better, its highly rhythmical main theme, though less extended than you would like, being instantly memorable. This is another sonata allegro, tautly written and entertaining. The cadenza is by the concerto's dedicatee, Friedrich Grutzmacher. Unusually, it reintroduces the main theme of the slow movement. A brief coda brings the concerto to a crisp close.

By the way, I'll eat my hat if the photograph on the front of the booklet purporting to be of Dietrich really is of him. It looks nothing like other portraits and I'm not sure that such headgear (is it a fedora?) would have been commonly worn in Dietrich's day. (He died in 1909.)

Friedrich Gernsheim was a close friend of Brahms and Mr Macdonald says of the 14 minute 'Cello concerto that "the Brahmsian aspects of its language are immediately apparent to the ear". This is certainly true but there are passages which could not possibly be by Brahms. Gernsheim's use of a rippling harp accompaniment in parts of the first and last sections would be entirely alien to Brahms and the music's rather loose construction would also not be characteristic. The central section is a ternary structure. The last section recapitulates much of the music from the first part so the concerto again gives the effect of being in a single movement. All in all, this concerto is not unattractive melodically but it is somewhat unsubstantial and is certainly not a match for the fine Piano Concerto, a work which has never been commercially recorded but a performance of which is easily found online. At the time of writing (August 2015) CPO have announced that a recording of Gernsheim's two violin concertos is imminent. I hope to review it.

Alban Gerhardt's technique is second to none and, although it may be true that he does not wear his heart on his sleeve as other 'cellists do in Schumann's concerto (a work in which there really is no trace of virtuoso display), these are still first-rate performances. They have been beautifully recorded. I wouldn't say that this disc deserves an urgent recommendation but, if you fancy the idea of exploring three rare concertos, there is no reason to hesitate.


Zandonai - I Cavalieri di Ekebù
Zandonai - I Cavalieri di Ekebù

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine performance of this compelling opera., 11 Jun. 2015
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I hope you don't mind if I quote from my review of the Fonit Cetra recording of this opera:

""I Cavalieri di Ekebu" was the eighth of Zandonai's eleven completed operas and was first performed at La Scala on March 7th 1925. Toscanini conducted. According to the composer, speaking in a radio interview in 1937, the opera received a "respectable number of performances". Based on the Swedish author Selma Lagerlof's novel "Gosta Berling's Saga" "I Cavalieri di Ekebu" was particularly successful in that country where it was "repeated without interruption every year". However, after the Second World War it largely disappeared from view, the mantle of "realism" in the arts in Italy having fallen on a new generation of film makers. This recording was made in 1983 to mark the centenary of the composer's birth.

The opera tells the story of Franci, the Lady of the Castle of Ekeby, who has established a forge at her castle in order to occupy a group of men she refers to as her "knights". She is known as "La Comandante". The local economy is flourishing but "La Comandante"'s wealth is founded on a shameful secret...an adulterous affair she had many years earlier. She confides in Gosta Berling, a young priest defrocked because of alcoholism, and encourages him to join the knights. Gosta falls for Anna, the daughter of the evil Sintram who despises Gosta. When, with "La Comandante"'s collusion, the two lovers run away together, Sintram takes his revenge by telling "La Comandante"''s husband, Samzelius, and the knights about her inheritance through adultery. The knights revolt against "La Comandante" and drive her away. Within a year, in the absence of "La Comandante"'s authority, the knights have become drunkards and the forge is failing. Anna, stricken by guilt, has abandoned Gosta. "La Comandante" returns and is forgiven by the knights. She orders the forge to start work again and bequeaths her possessions to Anna and Gosta who are now reunited. As she dies "La Comandante" has the joy of knowing that good has triumphed over evil. Her death has atoned for the indolence of the knights and has saved them from Sintram's power.

Zandonai, like other veristic composers, was particularly concerned to generate an appropriate atmosphere in his operas and, in "I Cavalieri di Ekebu" he does this through modal writing and added-note harmonies. His language is essentially tonal, of course, but by inserting inessential dissonances he gives much of the music a feeling of unease. This is in contrast to the harmonic language of "Francesca da Rimini", Zandonai''s best known opera, which is much more Straussian both in its harmonies and textures. Perhaps the closest parallel amongst well-known operas would be with parts of Puccini's "Il Tabarro" and "La Fanciulla del West" (Act 2 in particular).

However, just as in Puccini's operas, there is no lack of lyrical melody. After the semitonal scene-setting oscillations of the first scene in the tavern, for example, the mood lightens as a group of passing girls, who include Anna, sing a tuneful and captivating Christmas song (Disc 1: Track 3) largely in E major though even here Zandonai's music is constantly switching between modes. Other highlights of Act 1 include Gosta's solo "Ma sulla terra tiepida che odora" which approaches Puccini in its melodic warmth and commitment and the knights' irresistibly catchy song "Vecchia terra di Ekebu" (Track 6). Another feature of this act and of the opera in general is the motivic and melodic wealth of the orchestral writing.

Act 2 is at a similar high level of inspiration. It consolidates much of the music of the preceding act. A play-within-a-play in which it becomes apparent to the crowd that Gosta's protestations of love towards Anna are genuine gives Zandonai a chance to build on the music of Gosta's solo from Act 1.

Act 3 may not reach the lyrical heights of Acts 1 and 2, its musical interest, at least after Liecrona's Christmas song, lying more in the orchestral than in the vocal writing but it is vivid and compelling, very much in the best tradition of veristic opera. Sintram is particularly well characterised musically.

Act 4 again is largely built on music from previous acts now, of course, becoming increasingly familiar. There is little real lyricism but there is never a dull moment and the opera closes, as you hope it will, with an extended version of the knights' song."

There isn't a lot to choose between the two recordings. Barbieri is a more lyrical Comandante than Cossotto. Both characterise excellently. Bartolini and Picchi as Gosta are first-rate as are Fiordaliso and Malatrasi as Anna. In general, there is a more lyrical feel to the Gala performance. I also preferred Simonetto's tauter conducting. If I had to choose one recording it would be his but the Fonit Cetra performance is far better recorded (the Gala discs, though well balanced, are bass heavy) and that, in itself, is enough to make it the primary recommendation, especially if you don't already know the opera. Whichever version you choose (you may eventually want both), do not miss "I Cavalieri di Ekebu". It is an addictive and compelling opera with more than its fair share of first-rate music.


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