November 27, 2019


Beethoven: Octet for Winds; Sextet for Winds; March for Wind Sextet; Rondino for Wind Sextet. David Shifrin and Paul Wonjin Cho, clarinets; Frank Morelli and Marissa Olegario, bassoons; William Purvis and Lauren Hunt, horns; Stephen Taylor and Hsuan-Fong Chen, oboes. Naxos. $12.99.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Flute Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Twelve Pieces for Flute and Orchestra; Five Pieces for Flute and Piano. Claudia Stein, flute; Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Robert Coleman; Elisaveta Blumina, piano. Naxos. $12.99.

Eugène Bozza: Trois pièces pour une musique de nuit; Frank Bridge: Divertimenti; Jean Françaix: Quatuor; Richard Rodney Bennett: Travel Notes 2; Jacques Ibert: Deux Mouvements MCMXXII; Claude Arrieu: Suite en Quatre. London Myriad (Julie Groves. Flute; Fiona Joyce Myall, oboe; Nadia Wilson, clarinet; Ashley Myall, bassoon). Métier. $17.99.

     Winds tended to be a source of light entertainment in the 18th century, used for serenades and such. Yes, Mozart employed them to more-serious purposes and was largely responsible for making the clarinet, in particular, an instrument worthy of symphonic solidity and concerto treatment. But even for him, and after his death, composers tended to produce the “light music” of the time for wind groupings. Even Beethoven did this, and did it to fine effect, too, as shown on a new Naxos CD featuring wind music he composed before the age of 30. "Light" is rarely an adjective applied to Beethoven, and "perky" even less so, but the first piece on this disc, a march in B-flat for wind sextet, dating to 1798-98, certainly deserves that description: it zips by in less than 90 seconds and is as frothily entertaining as can be. The more-extended works here are also somewhat more serious, although not really deep. The octet dates to 1792 and could easily be mistaken for a lesser work by Haydn: it is well-balanced, very well written for the instruments, features a Haydnesque Scherzo as its third movement (although the movement is labeled Menuetto), and makes for an enjoyable and unchallenging listening experience. The slightly later sextet (1796), which omits the oboes, begins in somewhat more-serious mode with an Adagio introduction to a first movement that is as long as the remaining three put together. But the rest of the movement, marked Allegro, is much lighter, and the second movement proper, which is another Adagio, is slow but scarcely deep. Here as in the octet, the instruments are quite well balanced, and there is an overall feeling of camaraderie rather than significant virtuosity at play. Both the octet and the sextet are pleasantries rather than works of any major significance, and it is actually rather reassuring to know that Beethoven wrote music of this type as well as his more-familiar, more-intense works. Yet there is one piece on the CD that seems like more-familiar Beethoven in its contemplative mood and the original plan for its use: the Rondino in E-flat, which dates to the same year as the wind octet and was originally intended as that work's finale. Although the piece adheres to rondo form, it is twice as long as the Presto that Beethoven substituted for it to conclude the octet, and it is slow-paced and rather crepuscular. It is certainly not tragic, but is by no means in line with what would be expected as the finale of a lighter, serenade-like woodwind piece. It is heard at the end of the disc and becomes a thoughtful conclusion to a CD that is, in the main, bright and lighthearted in sound.

     Although written in a much later harmonic idiom, the first flute concerto by Mieczysław Weinberg partakes of some of the lightness of wind usage of a time that was long past when the work was written in 1961. A new Naxos disc featuring all of Weinberg’s accompanied-flute music shows this to be a good-humored, genial piece filled with pleasantries of style and even a degree of sly amusement. The work is somewhat mercurial in temperament, a fact that Claudia Stein and the Szczecin Philharmonic Orchestra under David Robert Coleman handle with aplomb, but it is basically upbeat and good-humored, with the flute playing in its most-comfortable range and at tempos that allow Stein to be suitably expressive without needing to search for anything particularly trenchant. The second concerto, from 1987, requires Stein and Coleman to take quite a different approach, which they do adeptly. This is a much more inward-focused work and is generally more expressive than the earlier concerto. Some of the material has a kind of fragility about it, notably in the central Largo, as if Weinberg is expressing a somewhat dark thoughtfulness through the music without ever making it sound tragic. Perhaps he was contemplating the music of the past when he wrote this concerto, since the finale specifically quotes the famous Badinerie from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 and also pays direct tribute to the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Weinberg’s close friend Shostakovich, who had died in 1975, similarly used quotations in his final symphony (No. 15), and perhaps Weinberg too felt an urge, in this piece, to meld modern harmonies and techniques with the music of earlier times. The seriousness of Weinberg’s second concerto is quickly dispelled on this disc by the other two works on it. The Twelve Pieces for Flute and Orchestra, dating originally to 1947 but here heard in a string-orchestra arrangement from 1983, are very light fare indeed: only one piece lasts as much as two minutes, and several are done in less than 60 seconds. Opening with an extended flute cadenza – the strings enter only at the end of this first item, suitably titled “Improvisation” – these character pieces are tiny dabs of specific styles, including a capriccio, nocturne, waltz, barcarolle and more. The seventh piece, “Ode,” has more warmth and eloquence than the others, and the final pairing of “Intermezzo” and “Pastorale” offers appealing melodies and a pleasant overall conclusion to the set. This is minor music, to be sure, but nicely balanced and well-constructed. The Five Pieces for Flute and Piano, also from 1947, prove less enjoyable. They include three dances, an Adagio and a Larghetto, but everything here seems rather pedantic and, in the central and longest movement (which is the second dance), even somewhat forced. Although Stein is ably backed up here by pianist Elisaveta Blumina, this work never really takes flight and remains rather unconvincing. The rest of the pieces on the CD, however, show yet again that the comparative neglect of Weinberg’s music is overdue for correction.   

     The six works performed by the ensemble called London Myriad on a new Métier CD are also neglected and also considerably better than that neglect would indicate. Trois pièces pour une musique de nuit by Eugène Bozza (1905-1991) sandwiches a rather puckish central Allegro vivo between two more moderately paced movements. The four Divertimenti by Frank Bridge (1879-1941) are light and generally upbeat, although the second, “Nocturne,” paints a suitable nighttime scene. The four movements of Quatuor by Jean Françaix (1912-1997) are first propulsive, then quietly rocking, then excited, and finally amusingly bouncy, resulting in an especially enjoyable totality. Travel Notes 2 by Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012) consists of four very short impressionistic pieces, each barely more than a minute long, portraying travel by hot-air balloon, helicopter, “a bath-chair” (apparently a very relaxing experience), and during a “car-chase” (as speedy and hectic as would be expected). Deux Mouvements MCMXXII by Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) showcases the ever-present wit and elegance of this underrated composer. And the four-movement Suite en Quatre by Claude Arrieu (1903-1990) completes the disc with a work whose very varied moods neatly encapsulate many of the sounds and feelings explored by the other composers. There is nothing particularly profound on this CD, but everything on it is remarkably pleasant to hear and showcases the individual styles of the composers – some of whom are far better known than others – to a considerable degree. The London Myriad players do a simply splendid job with all these infrequently heard works, never overplaying them or making them seem more significant than they are, but by the same token never underplaying them or turning them into throwaways. This is a truly delightful potpourri of music that is a pleasure to hear from start to finish.

No comments:

Post a Comment