Classical CD Reviews
14 Classical Standard CD Reviews Part 2
Published on April 1, 2005
April 2005 Pt. 2 of 2 [Pt. 1]
Felix Mottl Plays WAGNER – The Complete Welte Piano Rolls – Lohengrin Introduction, Parsifal Introduction, Tristan und Isolde Introduction, Lohengrin: Bridal Chorus & Elsa’s Dream, Parsifal Good Friday Music, Tristan und Isolde Act II Duet, Mastersingers of Nuremberg: The Quieter Hearth at Winter, Quintet, Parsifal Transformation Music & Entry of the Knights of the Holy Grail – Tacet 135, 88:43 (2 discs) ****:
This is the latest CD in the new series Tacet is presenting of the most advanced and SOTA mechanical reproducing piano ever developed. You can read more about the Welte-Mignon system in our first review of this series Here.
Unlike the Telarc CDs of Rachmaninoff piano rolls, which transferred the holes in the rolls to digital data which was then cleaned up in a computer and output to a Bosendorfer Reproducing Piano, the Tacet project uses the original Welte “vorsetzer” unit which rolls up to the keyboard of any grand piano and contacts its keys with 88 little wooden fingers. It has been meticulously adjusted and enhanced as only a German technician could probably do, and the result is perhaps even a bit better than the Telarcs (because they used DuoArt rolls originally rather than the more advanced Welte-Mignon).
The note booklet writer points out how Wagner orchestral recordings of this period – (1907!) and even later until the electrical era – had the reduced band crowded around the acoustic recording horn and were limited by the four-minute time limit of the 12-inch 78, which caused huge edits in the music and breakneck tempos to get everything into the short space of time. These piano rolls were cut by a conductor and pianist who was the right-hand assistant to Cosima Wagner – who ran the Bayreuth Festival with an iron hand. He feels the piano transcriptions convey a much more accurate impression of the performing style at the Wagner Mecca than did any of the orchestral 78s. I even enjoyed them and I admit to being an anti-Wagnerite. The intro to Lohengrin and the duet from Tristan and Isolde were especially lovely. There is little feeling that this is a mechanical contrivance, as with most piano roll recordings. Plus very little noise of the mechanism’s operation. The vorsetzer was rolled up to a Steinway concert grand. The note booklet has details on the Welte process that are of much interest. It turns out there were two different-sized rolls used, so two refurbished Welte players had to be used for this project. We look forward to more “windows back into time” via these recordings of the amazing machines which were light years ahead of the primitive gramophones of the time.
– John Sunier
Lovely Off-the-Beaten-Track Accessible Music of two underappreciated composers…
JOSEPH MARX: Old Vienna Serenades; Partita in Modo Antico for String Orchestra; Sinfonia in Modo Classico for String Orchestra – Bochum Symphony Orchestra/Steven Sloane – ASV DCA 1158, 76:45 ****:
Marx, who lived until l964, was unknown to me, but in l952 he was called the “leading force of Austrian music” by none other than Wilhelm Furtwangler. He had a charismatic personality and was celebrated by his contemporaries during his career. As a young man he was fascinated by the harmony in works of Scriabin, Debussy and Reger. He later researched psychological aspects of tonality and wrote dissertations on music theory. Marx was an impressionist who called himself a Romantic. His Serenades are for large orchestra but sound almost like chamber music. The second movement adapts Austrian folk music and the final is a musical portrait of Vienna. The Partita departs from the lush and chromatic Romantic style of most of Marx’s works and attempts to use the string orchestra in a purist polyphonic style akin to the choral music of Palestrina or di Lasso. I found it the most beautiful work on the CD. The Sinfonia receives here its recording premiere. Like the Partita it was originally written for string quartet and is in late Romantic style, though with a classical clarity. Thus it shows the composer’s continual effort to bring together the new with the old traditions. Sonics are good, and one gets almost maximum length on this disc. If Marx hits the mark with you, there are three other CDs on ASV of his music.
ERNO DOHNANYI: Concertino for Harp and Chamber Orchestra; Sextet in C Major; Six Pieces for Piano – American Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein; Sara Cutler, harp/Todd Crow, piano – Bridge 9160, 63:33 ****:
Dohnanyi, who was roughly contemporaneous with Marx, had a central role in Hungarian music much as did Marx in Vienna. He left Hungary at age 67 and eventually started a new life as a professor of music in Tallahassee, Florida. Brahms was at the center of Dohnanyi’s musical universe, though his Harp Concerto is in lush post-Romantic style. The Sextet pits lyrical themes against a strong tritone gesture thruout the work, although the last and syncopated portion of the third movement sounds like a parody of jazz. Five of the piano pieces are lighthearted in character but the last is a dirge inspired by the composer hearing that one of his sons had died in a Russian prison camp. The other, who lived in Berlin, was executed by the Nazis for his role in an anti-Hitler conspiracy. If you are not familiar with Dohnanyi’s delightfully Variations on a Nursery Tune, you should pick up that witty piano concerto.
A variety of keyboards in our next several CDs…
J. S. BACH: The Goldberg Variations – Mika Väyrynen, accordion – Alba Records ABCD 191, 75:37 ****:
Classical accordion is more popular in Eastern Europe and Russia than in the West. Finnish virtuoso accordionist Vayrynen studied at the Sibelius Academy and was one of the first accordionists to obtain his doctorate there. He has had many works for his instrument dedicated to him by various Finnish and other composers. He plays a Russian-made button accordion.Many transcriptions have been made of Bach’s original Goldberg Variations for double-manual harpsichord. Just performing them on a single-keyboard grand piano is in a way a transcription and quite a feat. There are transcriptions for two pianos, for string orchestra, for brass quintet, for saxophones, for pipe organ, even a wild improvisation on the Goldberg recorded by jazz pianist Uri Caine in 2002 for Winter & Winter. Vaytynen’s version for the button accordion restores the work to a double-manual situation where they started. The ability of the accordion to change the volume of notes and to change registers brings us new views on Bach’s great work. This transcription is really not a stretch at all but a very solid and worthwhile addition to the various interpretations of the Goldberg.
– John Sunisd
GIOVANNI PAISIELLO: The Complete Piano Concertos – Nos. 1 thru 8 – Pietro Spada, piano & conductor/Santa Cecilia Chamber Orchestra – Arts Music 47740-2 ( 2 discs), 72:12, 74:08 (2 hours 26 minutes) ****:
Italian pianist Spada writes a short introduction to these concertos in the note booklet provided by the Italian classical label. He identifies Paisiello as one of those many contemporaries of Mozart but composing predominantly operas rather than the wide spectrum of diverse works of Mozart. (His dates were 1740-1816.) He perfected his style while serving in the Russian court at St. Petersburg, but these concertos were written in Italy. Spada feels that in these eight concertos – among the composer’s few instrumental works – Paisiello bears more resemblance to Haydn’s concertos than to Mozart’s. A Thematic Catalog of the composer’s works was only published in l991, and these recordings were made the next year, so these concertos received their world premiere recordings in this set. (The CD set has dates of both 1994 and 2004, so that really makes this a reissue again…oh boy…)
The concertos differ considerably from one another. Nos. 1 & 4 are similar in length to those of Mozart, while No. 3 in A Major is only 12 1/2 minutes long. In it’s brief length No. 3 has three continuous movements, with the last being a Minuet in variations form. No. 4 in G Minor is probably the most substantial of the bunch, almost Beethovenian in character and feeling. Paisiello’s own cadenzas for the first two concertos still exist and are used here, and Spada created the cadenzas for the others. Arts Music has high sonic standards but once again the piano sounds way too wide.
– John Sunier
CHRISTOPH GRAUPNER: Partitas for Harpsichord Vol. 3: in C Minor, G Major and D Major – Genevieve Soly, harpsichord – Analekta fl – FL 2 3181, 62:39 **** (Distr. by Albany Records):
This is the fifth CD for Analekta by Soly, one of Quebec’s leading figures in the performance of music of the Baroque. She is largely responsible for rediscovering the harpsichord works of Graupner, who was a contemporary of J.S. Bach. She has been performing his works widely and is involved in a new edition of his harpsichord music. He had been Bach’s predecessor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, having to quit only because he was struck with total blindess. He had nevertheless turned out some 2000 compositions, of which these partitas are special because they were written for sheer pleasure rather than out of obligation to a patron or schedule of church observances. They show great inventiveness technically and stylistically.
The first Partita has a serious nature and may thus remind the listener of Bach. Its Prelude has a musical idea that sounds like a bird song. The second work is from a collection of 12 pieces which carry the Latin names of the 12 months of the year. This one is titled Februarius, and it is made up of similar dance movements or airs to the Partitas. The D Major Partita passes thru a variety of musical styles and different techniques during its eight short movements. There are Rigoudons and Rondeaux seldom found in other harpsichord suites, and the French influence found in much of Graupner’s music seems even stronger here. Genevieve Soly plays a Hubbard & Broekmman l998 double-manual instrument based on a design of the 1730s. Anlekta’s micing is distant enough to minimize mechanical noises and to pick up the wide range of the harpsichord’s timbre.
Harpsichord Alive: New York City Music – Elaine Comparone & The Queen’s Chamber Band – BACH-COMPARONE: Prelude in C; CHARLES SIBIRSKY: Mood Food; ELODIE LAUTEN: The Architect; KENJI BUNCH: Hobgobllinry; PETER SUSSER: Stanzas; MARSHAL COLD: Duo Fantasia; ROBERT BAKSA: Duo Concertante; STEPHEN KEMP: Octet – Capstone Records CPS-8733, 69:40 **** (www.capstonerecords.org):
Harpsichordist Elaine Comparone believes that the color, sparkle and character of the harpsichord make it a viable contemporary instrument, and she founded Harpsichord Unlimited for the purpose of stimulating interest in the instrument, teaching audiences about it, and commissioning and presenting new music for the harpsichord along with the usual early music. This CD is a collection of works specially commissioned by Harpsichord Unlimited.
Charles Sibersky is both a jazz pianist and harpsichordist; his work puts the two together. The Architect is a setting for countertenor and chamber ensemble of a poem by Carl Karas about the nature of Architecture. Portland, Oregon composer Kenji Bunch wrote his Hobgoblinry inspired by the artwork of Swiss artist Henry Fuselli, whose drawings of goblins, ghosts and fairies presaged modern-day comics and horror movies. The next three works are all duos with the harpsichord, featuring in order: oboe d’amore, violin and guitar. The closing Octet is from a double-duty composer/physician who played harpsichord while in medical school and has several recordings of his works on the MMC label. While varied in sound and import, this entire program is fairly accessible and should do more to achieve the goals of Harpsichord Unlimited than some of the “difficult” new music featuring harpsichord that I have been hearing.
– John Sunier