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CLASSICAL  CDs

Pt. 3 of 3  June 2003



TCHAIKOVSKY: The Queen of Spades ballet - Orchestra of the Grandes Ballets Canadiens de Montreal/Jacque Lacombe - Analekta AN 2 8816:

Just the ticket for a music lover who prefers ballet to opera, this skilled adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s vocal version to the dance stage preserves much of the composer’s music. However, editing had to be done by arranger Gabriel Thibaudeau since the original is over three hours and the ballet is 80 minutes. There are some interesting departures from the orchestrations of the opera: an accordion fits into some Russian folk themes in two spots, and a duet between a solo cello and orchestral bells is heard in Scene Six. The original Pushkin story about a Countess with a gambling secret which is desired by a young man. In the ballet the story is transferred to 1938 and the young man is a Russian soldier. There are descriptive titles for the seven scenes, but that is the only guide to the stage action. In addition to the folk themes, Tchaikovsky used Orthodox chants and even some Mozart quotes in his opera. These elements also occur in the ballet, and the adaptor reveals that he was inspired for the final scene by the music of Prokofiev - whose ballet scores are the epitome of modern Russian ballet. Purchase Here

- John Sunier


SIR ARNOLD BAX: London Pageant; Concertante for Three Wind Instruments and orchestra; Suite from Tamara; Cathaleen-ni-Hoolihan - BBC Philharmonic/Martyn Brabbins - Chandos CHAN 9879:

All four of these works are seeing their recording premieres here, part of a continuing attention to Bax paid by Chandos as well as other British labels. The Concertante is the most sizeable of the works. Dating from l948 it is in four movements, with the first three each highlighting one of the three instruments: English horn, clarinet and French horn. Bax indicated to a friend that the English horn movement was really a “Lament for Tragic Lovers.” The Tamara ballet was an early Bax work based on the same Russian legend as Balakirev’s Thamar. The composer was a great fan of Russian ballet in general and had even hoped of having his ballet performed in Russia. London Pageant is a sort of cross between a concert march and a tone poem - it concludes with some typical British pomp a la Elgar. Purchase Here

"Standards" = SINGELEE: Premier Quatuor; DESENCLOS: Quatuor (1962); DEL BORGO: Quartet for Saxophones; BOB MINTZER: Quartet No. 1 in 3 Movements; MICHAEL TORKE: July 1995 - The New Century Saxophone Quartet - Channel Classics CCS 17998:

The saxophone quartet as a musical institution has now been around almost 150 years, and in some conservatories and university music departments is as common as string quartets. It just hasn’t received many recordings. There is also a large amount of repertory for the ensemble but it suffers by not having anything in it from the many great standard composers who lived before Adolph Sax did his thing. Some works have received many performances and have become “standard repertory” - at least in the eyes of this American sax quartet which has been around for two decades now.

The Desenclos appears on more of my small classical sax quartet collection than any of the others. The French composer worked in the style of Faure and Franck with an affection for Bach. His substantial three movement work pays homage to Ravel and Debussy with impressionistic devices. A strongly syncopated theme comes forward in the finale, reminding one of the instrument’s more familiar role in the jazz world. Woodwinds master and composer Bob Mintzer records jazz for the DMP label and is a member of Yellowjackets. His quartet was his first try at the form but not his first work in the classical genre. He feels his jazz background has contributed what he calls a subtle “groove” to the three movement work. Acclaimed American composer Michael Torke built his July upon the drum track from a recording of a pop tune, but assigned to the baritone sax. No one would know what the original tune was, but this seven-minute piece also has a very definite “groove.” Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Our thanks to labels such as CPO who bring collectors obscure but fascinating music such as these two CDs - composers the major labels would never touch anymore...

ERNST BOEHE: Tragic Overture; From Odysseus’ Voyages (Three Episodes for Large Orchestra) - Rhineland-Palatinate State Philharmonic/Werner Andreas Albert - CPO 999 875-2:

Boehe’s orchestral works were at one time performed frequently on both sides of the Atlantic and he was also active as a conductor. He lived until 1938 (a very good time to get out of Germany if you were a composer who didn’t ape the Wagnerian style, even if you weren’t Jewish). All of his works were for full orchestra and the 55-minute Odysseus suite is highly programmatic, with its three movements titled Departure and Shipwreck, The Island of Circe, and The Lament of Nausicaa. There is actually a fourth episode, but it is as long as the other three and will have to wait for a sequel CD to hopefully complete the work. A fairly conservative Germanic style with French influences, characterized by imaginative orchestration, would be a good summary of Boehe’s approach. He wrote extensive program notes depicting various actions described in the music, similar to a ballet scenario. Richard Strauss, who was a close personal friend, was surely a model in his tone poems for Boehe. The musical depiction of the sorceress Circe was for my ears the most interesting section of the work. Purchase Here

KURT ATTERBERG: Symphony No. 2 in F Major; Symphony No. 5 in D Minor - Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ari Rasilainen - CPO 999 565-2:

Atterberg gained international prominence and notoriety in l928 with his Sixth Symphony, which won a worldwide symphony competition and soon became known as The Dollar Symphony. He was also a conductor, piano soloist and reviewer and lived until 1974, having composed nine symphonies in all. Atterberg regarded his style as a “national classicist” and the Nordic folk influences in many of his works added an attractive exoticism for other European and American audiences. His 41-minute Second Symphony dates from 1912. The Adagio second movement is the longest of the work and has echos of both Wagner and Mahler. The Fifth Symphony is of a more gloomy mein; Atterberg prefacing the work with a quotation from Oscar Wilde: “For each man kills the things he loves.” The three movements flow into one another without a break, and the central Lento movement is a weighty funeral march. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Most collectors will be introduced to the music of two accessible contemporary composers via the next pair of CDs...

DAN LOCKLAIR: Orchestral Music = Hues; Dayspring; In the Autumn Days; Creation’s Seeing Order; Ere long we shall see...; When Morning Stars - Slovak Radio Sym. Orch./Kirk Trevor - Albany TROY517:

A native of North Carolina, Locklair began a career in music as a professional church organist at age 14. He has since made significant contributions to symphonic as well as liturgical music. He writes in a generally accessible tonal style with an emphasis on striking tone colors. In fact his three brief tone poems titles Hues is a musical reflection on the three words that are the titles of the pieces: Cloudburst, Moonshine, and Sunburst. In the Autumn Days is a five-movement continuous symphony for chamber orchestra in which a solo flute plays a prominent part. Ere long is an example of Locklair’s many works for organ. The closing orchestral When Morning Stars takes its title from a pentatonic Southern folk tune and other hymn tunes are also heard in the work. Purchase Here

WILLIAM WALLACE: Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra; Dance Suite; Symphonic Variations; Giga!; Introduction and Passacaglia; Epilogue for String Orchestra - Olga Dudnik, p./Slovak Radio orch./Kirk Trevor (and in last two selections: London Sym.Boris Brott; Warsaw Ch. Orch./Marek Sewen) - Albany TROY557:

William Wallace holds both Canadian and U.S. Citizenship and lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. His works are widely performed and broadcast, and this sampling of six of them, as played by excellent music ensembles outside of North America due to the tremendous cost restrictions to recording here. Wallace’s style is conservative, tuneful and eminently accessible. The piano concerto is the featured work and opens the CD. Ukrainian pianist Olga Dudnik is the soloist . The concerto opens with a fugue and the central of the three movements has an almost pop quality to it. The four-movement Dance Suite brings together four dance forms meant to be listened to rather than danced. I found the Introduction and Passacaglia to be my favorite work on the CD - a chordal introduction leads to a lovely passacaglia theme that invites repeated listening. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Bassoon Power = David Breidenthal, bassoon/Gloria Cheng, piano - Works by DUTILLEUX, CHIHARA, PERSICHETTI, SESTAK, TANSMAN & WOLFGANG - Crystal Records CD842:

This is another in an extensive series of CDs from the small label spotlighting various woodwind and brass soloists. The bassoon is one of those symphonic instruments which is not thought of by most listeners as a solo vehicle or with simple piano accompaniment as heard here. As with some other unexpected instruments (the tuba comes to mind), there turns out to be a sizeable repertory for it in existence, plus transcriptions from other music. All of the works in this collection were composed especially for the bassoon and demonstrate its great range and expressive powers. Paul Chihara’s two works here illustrate the composer’s imaginative impressionistic streak. His work The Beauty of the Rose is in its Passing places the bassoon in a larger ensemble consisting of two horns, harp and percussion. Gernot Wolfgang had the spirit of jazz in mind - not the psychedelic rock group - when he wrote Moody Blues. Its vacillation between chamber music and jazz is a key to its musical interest. Prominent composer Alexander Tansman composed two works for bassoon and piano, and his three-movement suite presented here is one of them. I found this one of the most listenable solo instrument recital (other than piano) that I have heard in some time. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

HARRY PARTCH: The Wayward = Barstow; San Francisco; The Letter; U.S. Highball - Newband/Dean Drummond, with Stephen Kalm, baritone and Robert Osborne, bass-baritone - Wergo WER 6638 2:

Partch, who died in l974, went entirely his own way in music without any regard to the music establishment. He didn’t just buck the international academic serial style of composing - he didn’t even want professional musicians to play his music - preferring people without any musical background who he could train in his alternate approach to music. He forged not only a new style which attempted to better integrate the elements of speech and music, but created an entirely new musical scale of 43 tones to the octave and designed more than two dozen new instruments and adaptations of existing instruments in order to play his new music. The original Partch-built instruments have been preserved at Monclair State University and some new copies have been created. Some of them look like modern sculptural works and their names are legend with Partch aficionados: among them the Chromelodeon, Kithara, Harmonic Canons, Diamond Marimba, Bamboo Marimba, Cloud Chamber Bowls and Spoils of War. The largest marimba has such long resonators the player has to stand on a ladder or platform to play it.

The Wayward consists of four separate pieces, all of which used texts Partch collected during his time as a hobo, which coincided with the Great Depression. The songs and declamations range from tragic to hilarious, covering riding the trains, how to find people who gave out food, hitchhiking, and other such topics. The concluding U.S. Highball is a musical account of a transcontinental Hobo Trip. Partch himself called it the most creative piece of work he had ever done. Scored for the largest ensemble of his instruments and for both of the male voices, it abounds in both humor and pathos and is a true gritty slice of unique Americana. By the way, audio buffs will find the variety of percussion sounds here a sonic cornucopia. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

American and French music for the flute is featured on this pair of recent CDs...

Jeffrey Khaner - American Flute Music by COPLAND, LIEBERMANN, PISTON, BURTON, RUBINSTEIN & HIGDON - with Hugh Sung, piano - AVIE AV 0004:

Canadian Jeffrey Khaner is principal flute of the Philadelphia Orchestra, having moved there from the same chair at the Cleveland Orchestra. The six works in this recital are mostly three-movement sonatas or sonatinas. Burton’s Sonatina opens the program with a Spanish flavor in its last movement, but the second work - Copland’s Duo - brings things solidly into the Americana theme. It should be mentioned that this Rubinstein is Beryl Rubinstein - not the Russian pianist. Georgia (U.S.)-born Rubinstein lived to l952 and his light-hearted flue sonata was penned in l941. Liebermann’s Sonata dates from l988 and is a dynamic, tightly-knit virtuoso piece that has taken a place in the modern flute repertory. Purchase Here

Chamber Music for Flute by JEAN RIVIER - Leone Buyse, flute; Logan Skelton, piano; and ensemble - Crystal Records CD319:

Rivier, who lived until l987, was an important French composer, and like many of his countrymen wrote among his over 200 works a number of them featuring the flute. A factor may have been that his father was an amateur flutist. His generally impressionistic music played with many 20th century techniques such as modality, polychords, quartal harmonies, and extremes of dynamics and moods. However, he refused to embrace the international serial style that soon took over the academic music world, and his music was less often heard. Today that sad state of affairs is past and we can appreciate Rivier’s lyrical and often witty music anew. Which is what’s going on in this very satisfying recital program. The opening four-movement Capriccio is for woodwind quintet, his Vocalise for mezzo voice and flute has a haunting little melody, and Affettuoso a Jocando is a two-contrasting-movements work featuring the highly distinctive sound of four flutes. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

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