July 11, 2019
(++++) MUSICAL SOJOURNS
Hugo Alfvén: Symphony No. 3; Bergakungen Orkestersvit; Uppsala Rhapsody. Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Łukasz Borowicz. CPO. $16.99.
Weber: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings; Rózsa: Sonatina for Clarinet; Glazunov: Rêverie orientale; Erland von Koch: Monolog 3 for Solo Clarinet; Heinrich Joseph Baermann: Adagio for Clarinet and Strings; Willson Osborne: Rhapsody for Clarinet. Robert DiLutis, clarinet; Mellifera Quartet (Catherine Gerhiser and Christina Wensel, violins; Nicholas Hodges, viola; Benjamin Wensel, cello). Delos. $14.98.
Ravel: Shéhérazade; Debussy: Ariettes Oubliées; Fêtes Galantes; Maurice Delage: Quatre Poèmes Hindous; Poulenc: Deux Poèmes de Louis Aragon; Fiançailles pour Rire; Deux Poèmes d'Apollinaire (Montparnasse; Hyde Park). Raquel Camarinha, soprano; Yoan Héreau, piano. Naïve. $16.99.
John Knowles Paine: Piano Music. Christopher Atzinger, piano. Delos. $14.98.
Richard Carr: Places I’ve Walked. Ravello. $14.99.
Mendelssohn was scarcely the only composer to be inspired by Italy or, for that matter, the only one to write an “Italian” symphony. Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) created one as well, although he did not officially call it that. It is his Symphony No. 3, a work filled with Northern European enjoyment of sunny Mediterranean landscapes and the pleasures associated with them – extra pleasures in Alfvén’s case, since he visited Italy with his mistress (and, later, wife), Marie Triepcke Krøyer, who at the time was married to someone else. A new CPO recording – the second in a series that will eventually offer all five Alfvén symphonies – presents a well-paced, pleasantly upbeat reading of the Symphony No. 3 with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Łukasz Borowicz. This work has all the brightness expected from its E major home key, percolating along pleasantly through all four movements and concluding the first of them in a manner that can only be called cute (scarcely a common term in connection with symphonies!). Alfvén’s skill in orchestration is everywhere apparent, and if his sound in full-orchestra passages is strongly reminiscent of that of Richard Strauss, his themes and their development elsewhere have a Nordic sturdiness that, in the case of his Symphony No. 3, mixes surprisingly well with the bucolic strains that Alfvén associates with Italy. The composer’s instrumental adeptness is even more strongly in evidence in Bergakungen Orkestersvit (orchestral suite from “The Mountain King”), which includes four movements taken from one of the only two stage works written by Alfvén. The opening of the first piece, “Sorcery,” is highly dramatic, with some of the rhythmic impetus of a Stravinsky ballet but decidedly different thematic construction. “Dance of the Troll-Girl” is extended and moderately sensuous, while “Summer Rain” is an effective bit of scene-painting. The final movement of the suite, “Dance of the Herdmaiden,” includes some of Alfvén’s best-known music in its opening and closing pages, whose bright delicacy frames a well-constructed contrasting middle section. There is drama and charm aplenty in this suite. The CD concludes with Alfvén’s version of an academic festival overture, written for an occasion similar to the one that elicited Brahms’ and built along similar lines, featuring a variety of student songs. These Swedish tunes may be less-known to most listeners than the ones employed by Brahms, but they are no less hardy and enthusiastic, and Alfvén creates some amusing “down the hatch” instrumental imitations of a student game built around imbibing. This whole CD is upbeat and good-humored, showing that despite Alfvén’s more-serious and academic sides, he was also quite capable of producing pleasantly laid-back music that takes an audience skillfully to both Italy and Sweden.
Sweden is also one musical destination, a brief one, on a new Delos CD featuring clarinetist Robert DiLutis and the Mellifera Quartet. Erland von Koch (1910-2009) was a Swedish composer who included melodies from his country in his two-movement Monolog 3 for solo clarinet. The first movement begins and ends solemnly, while the second is considerably speedier and lighter, the two together creating a small suite along the lines of a sonatina. This disc also includes a work actually labeled as a sonatina, a 1951 piece – also in two movements – by Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995). Rózsa was Hungarian-American, and just as von Koch included Swedish elements in his solo-clarinet work, so Rózsa includes Hungarian ones in his. Best known as a film composer, Rózsa here, in the first of two works he wrote for solo clarinet, shows himself able both to create engaging tunes and to produce virtuosic and well-written material for a solo instrument. Even more engaging and significantly more substantial, Weber’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings is the longest piece on this disc and the most involving. Weber had a knack for delightful themes developed with high skill, and in this work he shows firm understanding both of the clarinet’s capabilities and of ways to involve it with a string quartet – sometimes interweaving, sometimes displaying like a soloist in front of an orchestra. DiLutis, whose skill in fingering and superb breath control are everywhere evident on this recording, is really at his best here, playing the quintet with tremendous polish and joie de vivre. It is an exhilarating reading. And the work has ties to another offering on the CD. Weber wrote it for clarinetist Heinrich Joseph Baermann (1784-1847) – whose Adagio for Clarinet and Strings DiLutis and the Mellifera Quartet play here. Formerly attributed to Richard Wagner, this short piece – actually the slow movement from Baermann’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 23 – is emotionally warm and sensitive, using the string ensemble as a group to set off the clarinet’s lyricism. The remaining two pieces on this CD offer brief travel-to-Asia experiences. Glazunov’s Rêverie orientale uses the imagined Orientalism included in much music of its time (1886) and gives it a feeling of tristesse in which the strings accentuate the clarinet’s melancholy. And the Rhapsody for Clarinet by Willson Osborne (1906-1979), which can also be played on bassoon, is a solo work that grows from a brief fragment of melody in an expansion that especially plumbs the clarinet’s emotional capabilities – with which DiLutis is particularly skilled.
Faux Orientalism lasted well past the time of Glazunov’s Rêverie orientale and was still much in evidence when Ravel wrote his song cycle Shéhérazade in 1903. Intended for mezzo-soprano or tenor and orchestra, the work gets a pretty but slightly “off” performance for soprano and piano on a new Naïve CD. Raquel Camarinha and Yoan Héreau are obviously comfortable performing together, and they handle their respective parts of the music with skill, especially the increasing intensity of the first and longest of the three songs, “Asie.” But much of the charm of this work, and much of its exoticism, comes from Ravel’s skillful orchestration, and the piano reduction is just that: it reduces the orchestral effects and turns this intended visit to the Orient into something closer to a nicely performed salon piece from France. Indeed, this entire (+++) CD is a French journey, largely one of rather fey Impressionism. Camarinha somewhat overdoes the swooning quality of Debussy’s Ariettes Oubliées, although the tone painting is more effectively conveyed in the composer’s Fêtes Galantes, where the pianism of Héreau tends to come to the fore more strongly. The Quatre Poèmes Hindous by Maurice Delage (1879-1961) were intended to use a chamber ensemble of two flutes, oboe or cor anglais, clarinet, bass clarinet, harp, and string quartet, and as in the three songs by Ravel, these four are designed to reflect the experience of a specific part of the world. In Delage’s case this is India, and the music partakes of both the time of the songs’ composition (1912-13) and some of the melodies and rhythms of Indian music. Camarinha sings these pieces particularly well, bringing forth their emotional landscapes just as much as their intended exoticism. The most-recent works on the CD are those by Poulenc, composed between 1939 and 1945, but Camarinha and Héreau seem especially interested in showing how they fit into the same earlier-20th-century atmosphere in which the other songs on the disc were created. Thus, in Deux Poèmes de Louis Aragon, the expressiveness of “C” seems more genuine than the somewhat forced-sounding “Fêtes Galantes.” The six songs of Fiançailles pour Rire proceed pleasantly enough and perhaps a touch over-delicately. And “Montparnasse” and “Hyde Park” – which constitute one of several Poulenc pairings of Apollinaire poems – come across, like the Aragon pair, as being of considerable sensitivity in the former setting but a somewhat forced brightness in the more-ebullient latter song. A pleasant enough song recital for listeners who want to be transported for a time to France, especially in the early 20th century, this disc will be a bit monochromatic for a wider audience.
The visit is to America, at a time when the United States was scarcely thought of as an important musical destination, on a new Delos recording of the piano music of John Knowles Paine (1839-1906). The 25 tracks here provide a generous sampling of the piano works of a composer best known for his orchestral compositions and his seminal importance in creating American classical music built on a substantial European framework but nevertheless reflecting the thinking of the New World. Having studied in Berlin, Paine naturally brought many influences from Germany back to the U.S. with him. These are apparent in some of the pieces heard here, such as the Brahmsian “Impromptu” from Four Characteristic Pieces, Op. 25; the Chopin-influenced Nocturne, Op. 45; and the early and distinctly Bachian Prelude in F-sharp Minor, Op. 15, No. 2. But Paine’s modification of European models into something more American shows here as well, notably in “Fuga Giocosa” from Three Piano Pieces, Op. 41, in which a popular late-19th-century baseball tune gets Bach-style fugal treatment. To be sure, most of the music here is salon-like and relatively inconsequential, which will make this a (+++) release for many listeners even though it will get a (++++) rating for those interested in 19th-century American piano music and in the development of the U.S. as a world musical center. Christopher Atzinger certainly conveys the impression that he both respects and enjoys Paine’s piano pieces: he captures all their moods, from the very serious (A Funeral March in Memory of President Lincoln, Op. 9) to the much more lighthearted (the aforementioned “Fuga Giocosa” and the other two pieces in the same set, A Spring Idyl and Birthday Impromptu). The longest work here by far, and the one that most constitutes a musical visit to Paine’s time and place, is In the Country: Ten Sketches for the Piano, Op. 26. These miniatures, most lasting less than two minutes and none as long as three, mix typical Romantic-era interests (“The Shepherd’s Lament,” “Gipsies”) with short, idyllic strolls and saunters through the American outdoors (“Woodnotes,” “Wayside Flowers,” “Rainy Day”), and eventually lead to a pair of genuinely impressive concluding pieces that extract emotion from their own simplicity: the gently melancholic “Farewell” and the brightly upbeat “Welcome Home.” Although Paine’s music provides a visit to what may be considered a single, limited place and time, this CD shows it exploring that location and era from many angles and with a great deal of sensitivity.
Another new CD, this one from Ravello, is intended to be far more wide-ranging. This (+++) release features Richard Carr as both composer and performer, promising listeners a tour of some of the many parts of the world to which he himself has traveled. This is an entirely personal journey: most of the tracks bear no discernible relationship to the locations to which they are supposed to transport an audience. Among those places are Fjordland (the South Island of New Zealand), Cordillera Blanca (the Andes in Peru), Jardin de Plantes (Paris), and Corridors of Light (Zanzibar). Carr divides his travels into four “parts,” grouping them that way to provide “resting places,” with Part 4 containing only a single piece that is a resting place of a different sort: Cementerio de la Recoleta, a necropolis in Buenos Aires. Carr plays a number of instruments here: violin and electric violin, viola, guitar, piano, keyboard, bowed and sampled strings, and more. For additional sound effects – many of the effects are more “sound” than “music” – he includes performances by other musicians on alto and tenor saxophone, fula flute and bansuri flute, harp, percussion, etc. And he uses the varying instrumental combinations to communicate not only outward journeys but also such inward ones as Both Sacred and Profane (which juxtaposes the sounds of a Moroccan street singer with those of a right-wing radio host) and Through Streams (intended to be streams of consciousness rather than water). Carr obviously is at pains to construct a substantial philosophical framework for Places I’ve Walked, but the question for listeners will be what sort of music comes into it. The answer is less imposing than Carr’s concept: the music simply sounds like much other chamber and enhanced-chamber music by contemporary composers, generally having a sort of minimalist feeling with overtones of gentle jazz and occasional inclusion of taped material from the real world (scarcely anything new: Respighi did it). It is certainly true that travelers bring themselves wherever they go, and that seems to be the message, intentional or not, in Places I’ve Walked: wherever Carr has gone in the world, wherever he has gone internally, he has come up with pretty much the same portrait of a place or a mode of thought or feeling, since everything reflects through him. The slightly more upbeat pieces here, such as Avenue C Rainstorm, bring brief but welcome respite from a journey that otherwise proceeds slowly and gently pretty much throughout. Whatever varied memories Carr has obtained from his many travels, what he offers to those who did not travel with him is a heaping helping of pretty much the same thing.