September 05, 2013


Marcel Tyberg: Symphony No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 2. Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta; Fabio Bidini, piano. Naxos. $9.99.

Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny: Le Roi et le fermier. Thomas Michael Allen, William Sharp, Dominique Labelle, Thomas Dolié, Jeffrey Thompson, Delores Ziegler, Yulia Van Doren, David Newman, Tony Boutté; Opera Lafayette Orchestra conducted by Ryan Brown. Naxos. $9.99.

Cimarosa: Opera Overtures, Volume 3—Le astuzie femminili Nos. 1 and 2; Artemisia, regina di Caria; Il mercato di Malmantile; Cajo Mario; I due baroni di Roccazzura; Le stravaganze d’amore; I nemici generosi; L’eroe cinese. Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä conducted by Patrick Gallois. Naxos. $9.99.

     Uncovering little-known music can be a worthwhile and pleasant endeavor even if the music itself turns out not to be of absolute top quality. JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic are in the forefront of discovering and rediscovering quite a bit of “misplaced” music, and particularly that of Marcel Tyberg (1893-1944), who died during the Holocaust but whose music remained in the hands of a Buffalo family that eventually brought it to Falletta’s attention. This was fortuitous, since Falletta has both the passion and the wherewithal to devote time and energy to bringing Tyberg’s work into the concert hall and onto recordings. Having previously recorded his Third Symphony for Naxos, she now turns to his Second, a work from 1927 that in parts sounds remarkably like the symphonies of Bruckner, for better or worse. The striding opening of the symphony’s first movement, much of its third-movement Scherzo, and some parts of its finale clearly resemble the work of Bruckner, who had died in 1896 – although there is no indication that these are deliberate homages. Tyberg was no innovator: he used the orchestra effectively and brought sensitivity to his emotional expression, but his work tends to sound like a memoir of an age gone by rather than a product of a unique voice. The bucolic and rhapsodic elements of his Second Symphony coexist rather well, and the first three movements certainly seem to build toward an effective final argument. But the finale is odd, a Preludium und Fuge that harks back more than adequately to Baroque models but does not fit very well with what has gone before – and then includes an unexpected scherzo section that seems out of place. Even when as well-played as it is here, Tyberg’s Second is more of an intriguing work than a thoroughly convincing one. As for the second of his two piano sonatas, which dates to 1934, it is a large-scale piece (lasting more than half an hour) that alternates urgency and lyricism within, once again, what is essentially a 19th-century framework, here with hints of Wagnerian rather than Brucknerian influence. An intermezzo-like section within the Scherzo is a highlight, and here the finale is genuinely climactic, thanks in part to the intense concentration that Fabio Bidini brings to the entire performance. Tyberg’s music is certainly worth reviving, although it would be overstating things to describe it as in any sense groundbreaking.

     On the other hand, Le Roi et le fermier, a 1762 opera by the long-lived Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny (1729-1817), did break some new ground in its time; and just as Tyberg has a strong advocate in Falletta, so Monsigny and other neglected composers of early French opera have strong and effective proponents in Ryan Brown and the singers of Opera Lafayette. Le Roi et le fermier is a comedy, with serious overtones, about a Sherwood Forest encounter between a king and a farmer. It mixes a certain amount of social consciousness and mild questioning of class stratification with more-straightforward comic incidents that involve mistaken identities and standard punishment for a standard stage villain. What is not standard is the music, which in parts looks ahead toward the Romantic era, notably in a storm scene that concludes the first act and helps bridge the way to a very different setting for Act II. There are a number of interesting elements in the opera, such as separate songs praising country living by the farmer and his beloved – followed by an aria in which the king, who at this point is thought to be only a member of the king’s court, sings of a ruler attaining happiness by giving to his subjects all that is expected of him. The opera contains some well-considered stage business – a gunshot, a hunt that is well-portrayed in Monsigny’s music – and a number of engaging arias, all of which the Opera Lafayette performers deliver with enthusiasm and skill. It is easy to see why the attractive tunes and subtly subversive libretto of Le Roi et le fermier made it popular in its time. If its theme of royalty and country folk is dated today, its bubbly music is certainly not, and the well-played and nicely sung Opera Lafayette performance – the troupe’s ninth recording for Naxos – gives Monsigny his due, and will undoubtedly encourage listeners to wonder what other gems of early French opera remain to be brought to the modern stage by this fine ensemble.

     Naxos has an unusually strong commitment to out-of-the-ordinary musical sequences – not only Tyberg’s music and the productions of Opera Lafayette, but also a series such as the opera overtures of Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801). And the Cimarosa releases to date are unusual even among Naxos projects, since each of the them has been performed by a different orchestra and conductor. The first volume offered the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia under Alessandro Amoretti; the second, the Toronto Chamber Orchestra under Kevin Mallon; and the third comes from Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä conducted by Patrick Gallois. These are all fine chamber groups with skillful conductors, and Naxos may plan to have even more such ensembles participate in this project, since Cimarosa wrote more than 65 operas and sometimes created more than one overture for the same work (as is the case with Le astuzie femminili on the new CD). Unfortunately, the good playing, skilled conducting and generally top-notch ensemble work of the performers cannot conceal the fact that Cimarosa’s overtures tend to blend together. Rossini is sometimes accused of writing nearly indistinguishable overtures, but that is generally untrue – especially given the fact that many of his overtures include themes from the operas they introduce. The charge makes far more sense when leveled at Cimarosa, whose overtures were all pure curtain-raisers, unrelated to the music of the operas to which they were attached – and Cimarosa, like Rossini, was not above using the same overture for several stage works or cannibalizing one overture in creating another. The result of all this is that the pleasant overtures heard on this CD, like the ones on the two prior discs, are just that – pleasant. But they are not particularly distinguished musically or from each other, for all that they are very well-constructed and handle the orchestra with sure skill (although not a great deal of innovation). The careful listener will detect differences of form and structure among the pieces – and any listener will notice the difference in length, with pieces on the current CD ranging from four minutes to 12. But whether an opera is comic or serious, whether it is relatively early Cimarosa or relatively late, its overture tends to sound a great deal like every other one. There is certainly a recognizable “Cimarosa sound,” but this composer’s overtures offer insufficient variety to make this Naxos series an enjoyable acquisition for anyone but listeners who particularly enjoy well-formed short-form 18th-century orchestral pieces.

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