July 17, 2014
(++++) ROMANTICISM PLUS
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1; Bartók: Violin Concerto No. 1; Korngold: Violin Concerto; Williams: Theme from “Schindler’s List.” Glenn Dicterow, violin; New York Philharmonic conducted by Lorin Maazel (Bruch), Alan Gilbert (Bartók), David Robertson (Korngold) and John Williams (Williams). New York Philharmonic. $16.99.
Reinecke: Cello Concerto; John Tavener: Threnos, for cello solo; Schumann: Adagio and Allegro for Cello and Orchestra; Bloch: Suite No. 1 for cello solo; Osvaldo Golijov: Mariel, for cello and marimba. Michael Samis, cello; Eric Willie, marimba; Gateway Chamber Orchestra conducted by Gregory Wolynec. Delos. $16.99.
Fauré: Masques et bergamasques; Fantaisie for Flute; Pelléas et Mélisande Suite; Berceuse for Violin and Orchestra; Élégie for Cello and Orchestra; Dolly; Pavane. Demarre McGill, flute; Alexander Velinzon, violin; Efe Baltacigil, cello; Seattle Symphony Chorus; Seattle Symphony conducted by Ludovic Morlot. Seattle Symphony Media. $16.99.
Dohnányi: Symphony No. 2; Two Songs. Evan Thomas Jones, baritone; Florida State University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Jiménez. Naxos. $9.99.
Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie. Angela Hewitt, piano; Valérie Hartmann-Claverie, ondes Martenot; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu. Ondine. $16.99 (SACD).
The position of concertmaster is one about whose intricacies audiences know little. It carries considerable administrative leadership responsibility as well as a requirement that the individual have virtuoso-level talent that he or she is willing to subsume within the requirements of leading the violins and, in effect, the entire ensemble – no matter who may happen to be conducting at any given concert. Glenn Dicterow’s amazing 34-year tenure as New York Philharmonic concertmaster, the longest in the orchestra’s history, is therefore quite deserving of the celebration it receives in a new CD and handsome booklet on the orchestra’s own label. Dicterow’s solo-quality playing finally gets a chance to flourish for listeners at home, as he shows himself to be master of the Romantic and post-Romantic repertoire – playing four works under four different conductors with sure-handedness, interpretative solidity and great skill. The Bruch concerto was recorded in 2009, the Bartók concerto in 2012, Korngold’s concerto in 2008, and the short Schindler’s List encore in 2006, so none of these performances dates to the early years of Dicterow, for whom the 2013-14 season was his last. Now 65, Dicterow shows considerable maturity in all these readings, providing sumptuous tone, unfailingly careful integration with the orchestra he led for so many years, and sensitivity to the nuances of the four conductors with whom he works on this CD. It cannot be said that soloist or conductors bring any significant surprises to the performances or that Dicterow finds more in the music than others have discovered: these are essentially middle-of-the-road interpretations that explore the works’ beauties, emotions and structures without delving especially deeply into them. It is the sheer skill of Dicterow’s playing that is attractive here, more than any way in which he elicits specific meaning from the music. Yet he is at home quite as thoroughly in the better-known and less-known pieces, as comfortable with the Romanticism of Bruch as with the post-Romantic approach of Bartók. And perhaps that is what stands best as a tribute to Dicterow’s skill: of necessity, a concertmaster has to be adept at handling a huge number of works – far more than a typical virtuoso soloist must know – and has to be willing and able to sound good in a wide variety of styles, while accepting and enhancing each conductor’s individual handling of each piece of music. This is what Dicterow did so well for more than three decades; and if this tributary release shows only one aspect of his skill, it shows it to very fine effect indeed.
The solo-cello skill of Michael Samis is displayed more conventionally on a new Delos CD that gives Samis plenty of chances to show his virtuosic mettle. But this is an unusual disc, and a particularly enjoyable one, because of the works selected and the inclusion of solo pieces as well as ones for cello and orchestra. Furthermore, the CD provides a chance to explore some less-known corners of the cello repertoire. The 1864 concerto by Carl Reinecke (1824-1910), here receiving its world première recording, was written smack in the middle of Romanticism and early in Reinecke’s compositional life. Even today, Reinecke is far better known as a conductor, pianist and, most of all, teacher (of Bruch, Grieg, Stanford, Janáček, Albéniz and many others), than as a composer. This concerto indicates that a reconsideration may be in order: although it is very much of its time, it is elegantly crafted and highly sensitive to the cello’s capabilities, and has genuine musicality underlying its virtuoso requirements. It contrasts interestingly with the Schuman Adagio and Allegro – a slighter work of effective contrasts and pleasant sonorities, heard in an orchestration by Ernest Ansermet. Bloch’s suite and the very modern works by Tavener and Golijov give Samis chances to show his considerable abilities to produce lovely sounds while exploring the technical and emotional range of his instrument. The contrast between cello and marimba in Golijov’s work is particularly interesting from a sonic point of view, although the music itself does not have much to say. In all, this is a highly intriguing disc whose contrast between Romantic and much later music is only one of its attractions.
The quality is also quite high in the new Seattle Symphony CD on the orchestra’s own label, another disc showing the excellence that conductor Ludovic Morlot brings to French music, with which he has considerable affinity. Seventy minutes of Fauré may be more than most listeners are accustomed to hearing at one time, but the CD certainly shows the variety of the composer’s music, which became more personal from his early works to his late ones, the latter including jazz and somewhat atonal elements while the earlier ones were firmly in the Romantic tradition. Morlot misses an opportunity to present some of Fauré’s most interesting and unusual works, such as the complete eight-movement Masques et bergamasques rather than the much more often heard four-movement suite; actually, the 1887 Pavane, heard on this disc with the optional choral part, later became the eighth and final movement of Masques et bergamasques. Morlot explores each short piece here with delicacy and care – and in fact, every piece on the CD is short, if you look at Masques et bergamasques as four separate movements, the Pelléas et Mélisande Suite as another four, and Dolly (the 1894-97 suite for piano four hands, as orchestrated by Rabaud in 1906) as a set of six. Although Fauré was not a miniaturist per se, he had considerable skill in evoking a mood or particular form of expression within a brief period of time, and it is that skill that comes through most clearly on this CD. Fauré, like Reinecke, was a well-known and highly respected teacher – of Ravel, Enescu, Koechlin and Nadia Boulanger, among others – and this was a role in which his clear familiarity with instrumental capability surely stood him well. That comfort level is evident in the works for flute, violin and cello on this CD, and indeed, the disc as a whole shows Fauré to be highly accomplished in instrumental combinations of all sorts.
Fauré (1845-1924) was strongly imbued with Romantic sensibility, even when he moved beyond it, while Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960) embraced Romanticism as a technique without having lived through the period of its flourishing. The Two Songs on a new Naxos CD date to 1912 and show, in this world première recording, the vestiges of Romantic art-song settings: both Gott and Sonnensehnsucht (“Longing for the Sun”), using texts by Wilhelm Conrad Gomoll (1877-1951), are very much in the lieder tradition as interpreted and reconfigured by Mahler, although their sound is quite different from that of Mahler’s songs for voice and orchestra. Dohnányi’s Second Symphony is considerably later, written in 1945 and not put into final form until 1957, but its roots in Romanticism are apparent. It is passionate and intense, filled with struggle and intensity that seem to emerge from within rather than being, as might be expected in light of the work’s date, in some way connected to World War II – although there is an air of controlled militarism to some portions of the work. The longest and most complex movement is the finale, which harks back, in Brahmsian fashion, to Bach (although, again, without sounding like Brahms, any more than the songs sound like Mahler). The principal part of the last movement consists of variations and a fugue on Bach’s Komm Süsser Tod, which at the movement’s end is combined with the symphony’s opening theme to produce the work’s climax. The Florida State University Symphony Orchestra plays the music gamely under Alexander Jiménez, but it is not really an ideal ensemble for a work of this scale and scope, sounding somewhat thin and strained at various points. Jiménez himself is not the piece’s best advocate: the symphony tends to drag in spots and lacks an overall sense of scale and scope, and the molto con sentimento element of the second movement gets short shrift. This is thus a (+++) recording: the music has considerable interest that is not fully communicated in the performance.
Nor is the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, although a fine one in many ways, worthy of complete recommendation – although it certainly deserves a high (+++) rating. Hannu Lintu paces most of this huge work well, and Ondine’s SACD sound is quite helpful in elucidating the difficult piano part as well as the otherworldly impression of the ondes Martenot. Both solo instruments are played very well indeed. The difficulty with the music lies in keeping the 10-movement work flowing, finding a way for its disparate elements to coalesce around the theme of romantic love and death, which is the symphony’s central concern. It is here that this performance falls a bit short: the work sprawls a little too much for cohesiveness, and while individual elements are convincing, other specific parts (such as the sixth movement) are less so. The three primary recurring themes – love theme, flower theme, and intense and frightening “statue theme” – are not always brought forth clearly in their multiple guises, so the careful structural underpinnings of the music are less clear than they could be. Nevertheless, this Turangalîla-Symphonie interpretation has many salient points, with Lintu having a strong sense of the driving rhythms of the frenetic fifth movement and not shying away from the complexities of the entirely atonal seventh. The details of Lintu’s reading are pointed and careful; what the performance lacks is an overall feeling of connectedness – an admittedly difficult thing to achieve in a work that was originally intended to be in the conventional four movements (Nos. 1, 4, 6 and 10) and that grew by accretion to its 10-movement final structure. The transcendent quality of love – specifically the love of Tristan and Isolde – is the foundation of the Turangalîla-Symphonie, but Messiaen does not always make that love and its transformational-yet-frightening elements easy for the audience to perceive and explore. The symphony dates to 1946-48 – essentially the same time period as Dohnányi’s Second Symphony – and Lintu’s recording shows the care with which Messiaen built the symphony, but does not fully deliver its impact.