July 15, 2021


Bruckner: Symphony No. 1, transcribed for organ by Erwin Horn; Three Pieces for Orchestra and March in D minor, transcribed for organ by Erwin Horn; Oscar Jockel: Bruckner Window II. Hansjörg Albrecht, organ. Oehms. $14.99.

Imre Széchényi: Waltzes and Hungarian Marches. István Kassai and György Lázár, piano. Naxos. $11.99.

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Ástor Piazzolla: Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas. Nikki Chooi and Tessa Lark, violin; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Beau Fleuve. $15.

     The wholly unjustifiable but nevertheless fascinating notion of transcribing Bruckner’s symphonies for organ and then performing them on the instrument to which Bruckner himself was committed as a performer (but not as a composer) continues with a new Oehms recording of Erwin Horn’s very fine version of Symphony No. 1. What also continues here, inadvertently, is the sort of numbering confusion to which Bruckner’s work is constantly subjected: this is designated “Vol. 1” of the symphonies-on-the-organ series but is actually the second volume, the first having included Symphony No. “0” and being duly designated “Vol. 0.” Since Symphony No. “0” was written after No. 1, matters are even more confusing, but so it goes when it comes to Bruckner. Actually, Symphony No. “0” represents a compositional direction different from the one Bruckner followed from No. 1 to No. 2 and beyond, so it is understandable that the composer, after finishing No. “0,” declined to number it as part of the standard numeric sequence; but matters like this certainly do complicate scholarship and musicianship when it comes to Bruckner’s works. Happily, though, they do not complicate the listening experience – and neither does the fact that these organ transcriptions have no reason for being other than the fact that it is possible to make them, and the symphonies’ organ-like elements seem to invite the use of the grandest wind instrument of all. Hansjörg Albrecht has a very fine sense of Bruckner’s style as well as considerable performance capabilities, and his playing of Symphony No. 1 is fascinating to hear and in its own way is revelatory of Bruckner’s symphonic thinking: the organ sound brings out elements of Bruckner’s scoring, for those who know the symphony already, in much the same way that the orchestration makes listeners think of the organ. The result is a very intriguing cross-pollination even though, objectively speaking, there is no reason for it. Here as in the previous release, Albrecht offers some non-symphonic tidbits to go with the major work. The early Three Pieces for Orchestra and March in D minor sound just fine in Horn’s organ versions, with the jaunty March bearing no relationship to Bruckner’s later marchlike compositions but being particularly enjoyable in its own right. In addition, the recording includes the second of what will be 10 newly created contemporary compositions collectively called “Bruckner Windows,” each by a different 21st-century composer and each planned to accompany the symphony with which it is paired. The one by Oscar Jockel is fascinating, being essentially a very extended crescendo that is about as different from the one underlying Ravel’s Bolero as it is possible to be. Jockel starts in near-inaudibility and progresses through 11 minutes of steadily increasing sound, with Albrecht’s numerous well-chosen stop combinations altering sound layers and the overall feeling of the music even as the sheer sonic wave progresses from ripple to tidal size before it eventually fades away. The piece is somewhat exhausting to hear and is only coincidentally (and perhaps philosophically) related to Bruckner’s First, but it is an intriguing experience in its own right. Its placement midway through the CD makes for a very interesting experience: first heard are the early Bruckner works that are in a sense “proto-Brucknerian” in terms of what would later come to be known as Bruckner’s identifiable style; then the Jockel, which is distinctly post-Brucknerian except insofar as its use of the organ has some parallels with the organ sounds that Bruckner elicited from the orchestra; and then the transcription of the symphony, as if to indicate that here at last is the work that experientially joins the Three Pieces for Orchestra and March in D minor to Jockel’s Bruckner Window II. The Jockel, incidentally, bears the unwieldy title Denn er hatte noch eine dringende Verabredung mit den drei Eichen und den zwei Bächen am Fuß des goldenen Berges (“For he still had a most urgent appointment with the three oaks and the two rivers at the foot of the golden mountain” – a reference to, among other things, Bruckner’s fondness for two-against-three rhythmic structures). There is something pleasantly quixotic in this entire Bruckner-symphonies-on-the-organ series, and Bruckner fanciers will find a great deal to enjoy in it – and that enjoyment is, perhaps, all the justification that the whole production requires.

     Enjoyment of a different and much lighter sort is very much present on a new Naxos CD featuring two-hand and four-hand piano music by Count Imre Széchényi of Sárvár-Felsővidék (1825-1898), an important diplomat in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and an almost exact contemporary of his friend Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899). Not much of Széchényi’s music has survived: there are no orchestral waltzes left by him, for example, even though he wrote quite a few and they were found attractive not only by Strauss but also by Liszt. Indeed, Széchényi was an assured stylist in the light music of this time, and this new recording of his piano works proves that – with all the pieces except one (the first of a set of three waltzes) receiving world première recordings. The works were written as early as 1853 and as late as 1894. The earliest waltz, called Le Château de Celles, dates to 1854, while the latest, Unser letzter Walzer, is in fact the latest Széchényi composition still known. The disc, however, is rather confusingly arranged and far from chronological. Furthermore, the 11 pieces are not gathered by type: the sequence is waltz, march, waltz, another waltz, a very Lisztian csárdás, waltz, galop (which is the piece from 1853), the three-waltz grouping, march, waltz, march. Related works are, for some reason, separated: a Hungarian March appears second on the CD, while Liszt’s expansion and rearrangement of the work – which Liszt dedicated to Széchényi – appears as the final piece on the disc. Despite the confusion of presentation, however, the CD is a very worthwhile and genuinely interesting experience, showing Széchényi’s skill in encapsulating moods, producing neatly danceable waltzes, and evoking a variety of scenes and experiences (for instance, in Wintermärchen Walzer, “Winter Fairy-Tale Waltz”). Pianists István Kassai and György Lázár are fine advocates for this music, getting the rhythms just right and showcasing, in the four-hand works, the skill with which the pieces make use of the two players’ portions of the keyboard. Széchényi was certainly not a great composer, but it is easy to hear in these works the reasons that both Strauss and Liszt liked his light music: everything is well-crafted, expressive (often with enjoyable touches of humor), and very much “in vogue” in terms of the light music of the time. Fans of 19th-century dance music will find a great deal to enjoy here, and will likely hope for more Széchényi material in the future to complement this CD and an earlier Naxos one that presented his complete dances for orchestra.

     Speaking of orchestras, the Buffalo Philharmonic is an increasingly worthy one, being continuously honed by music director JoAnn Falletta into a strong, well-balanced, fine-sounding and polished ensemble – as is shown by the recordings released on the orchestra’s own Beau Fleuve label. The latest of those is not quite as interesting as some earlier ones, simply because the repertoire is not very unusual and Falletta is not a disciple of historical performance practices. This Vivaldi/Piazzolla disc is nevertheless a solid (+++) offering that features fine orchestral playing, two high-quality violin soloists, and a pleasant juxtaposition of very different works that have some obvious ties to each other. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (Op. 8, Nos. 1-4) are eternally popular in all sorts of versions and arrangements, from those including the accompanying sonnets and offered with original instruments and in historically accurate performance practice to those, such as Falletta’s, utilizing the resources of a modern symphony orchestra and making no particular attempt to duplicate the works’ sound as Vivaldi would have heard it. The pieces are successful in pretty much any way they are presented, and will be comfortably familiar to listeners no matter how they are offered. The readings featuring Nikki Chooi are straightforward, pleasantly bouncy, nicely rhythmic, and generally well-considered, with the orchestra’s accompaniment suitably expressive of the works’ scene-setting and their plethora of evocative sounds. There is nothing especially distinctive in the performance, but certainly nothing about which to carp. The juxtaposition with Piazzolla’s Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,” the word porteñas referring to “those born in the port city”) is nothing new or particularly unusual, and neither is the performance by a full orchestra: Piazzolla wrote the pieces for a quintet of violin or viola, piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneón, but unfortunately they are rarely heard in that very interesting instrumental complement. What is a bit unusual in Falletta’s performance is the pattern of the pieces. Piazzolla arranged them in the order of Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer, and they are sometimes played in the sequence in which they were written – Summer (1965), Winter (1969), Spring (1970), Autumn (also 1970). Here, though, they are heard in the order Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring, which means they end with a sense of renewal – scarcely a bad idea in light of their being recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic (in October 2020, a month after the Vivaldi recording). Tessa Lark is the soloist, and again the performance is very well-played, the balance between violin and orchestra handled skillfully, and the overall effect quite pleasant. The programming on this CD is not as innovative as on some other Falletta/Buffalo Philharmonic offerings, but it offers further testimony to the very high quality of this orchestra and conductor, and their ability to excel in music by a number of very different composers from a variety of time periods.

No comments:

Post a Comment