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Highly Reviewed Recordings

February 6 - February 19, 2013

(Cedille: CDR90000-135)

AN ENGLISH FANCY This is the fourth and last volume in the Trio Settecento’s admirable chamber trip through Europe; previous volumes having taken us to Italy, France, and Germany. All are worthwhile, even exceptional, but I think that this latest is my favorite. It is certainly among the most tuneful, that particular trait having been an English specialty for ages past, reaching well back into the middle Ages and before. Even the instruments chosen, as Rachel Barton Pine is quick to point out, required no easy learning curve. She chose a modern copy of a Renaissance instrument which meant new concepts of balance, some breaking of good habits of the wrist in order to support the instrument, and finding her first notes were “the most out-of-tune I have played since my first Suzuki lessons at age three!” Indeed the music on this recording brings the Trio closest to the Renaissance of any of their previous discs, and Rachel’s efforts seem to have paid off in spades, despite the re-learning of things as basic as how to hold the violin (The Renaissance violin is held on the arm and not the shoulder).

The disc features what the Trio, rightly, considers the primary force of English musical chamber form, that of the Fantasy, or even fancy, a free form not always devoid of stricter formal elements but often serving as a springboard for all sorts of instrumental imaginary exploits like, as the notes so descriptively tell us, “melody, harmony, counterpoint, decoration, instrumental techniques, gestures, colors, combinations, and even spiritual exploration”. This last is something that should not go unnoticed as the music offered is exceptional in its fecund melody and sometimes heart-wrenching affectedness. The composers represented are the finest England has to offer during this time period of approximately 150 years, with some surprising pieces by Christopher Simpson and Matthew Locke (two of my favorites here) as well as tunes that are instantly recognizable if not associated with compositions that pop into mind.

The sound is terrific, as in all of the discs in this series, and the 80 minutes offered provide only moments of exquisite beauty and great interest, not one second letting the attention flag. Now that they have finished this particular series I can’t wait to see what comes next.

© 2013 Audiophile Audition

RIHM, W.: Violin and Piano Works (Tianwa Yang, Rimmer)
(Naxos: 8.572730)

RIHM, W.: Violin and Piano Works (Tianwa Yang, Rimmer) You could scarcely do better than this CD…Tianwa Yang and Nicholas Rimmer sound quite at home, even in the most difficult passages, and imbue these works with emotion, as well as meeting their technical challenges with aplomb…yet again, Naxos deserves praise for making contemporary music accessible at reasonable cost, and through excellent performances.

© 2013 BBC Music Magazine

GREENE, M.: Spenser's Amoretti (Hulett, Green, Pinardi)
(Naxos: 8.572891)

GREENE, M.: Spenser's Amoretti (Hulett, Green, Pinardi) The young English tenor Hulett has the ideal fresh voice to champion these neglected gems: 25 of Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti (sonnets charting the burgeoning love between the Elizabethan poet and his future wife) set by the early 18th-century composer Maurice Greene. The music is elegantly crafted rather than profound, but Greene’s melodic facility and response to the texts—whether joyous, wistful, hopeful or pensive—constantly delight. Occasionally some melting cadence or sighing phrase evokes Greene’s greater contemporary, Handel.

© 2013 The Times (London)

SGAMBATI, G.: Symphony No. 1 / Cola di Rienzo (Rome Symphony, La Vecchia)
(Naxos: 8.573007)

SGAMBATI, G.: Symphony No. 1 / Cola di Rienzo (Rome Symphony, La Vecchia) After the death of Paganini (1782–1840) opera dominated the Italian musical scene until the appearance of Giovanni Sgambati (1841–1914) and Giuseppe Martucci (1856–1909), whose chamber pieces, symphonies and concertos marked a resurgence of instrumental music in that country. We have conductor Francesco La Vecchia and the Rome Symphony Orchestra (RSO) to thank for investigating their works, two of which by Sgambati appear on this latest enterprising release from Naxos. As presented here, these are the only currently available recordings of either.

The disc begins with a recently discovered overture from some incidental music Sgambati wrote in 1866 for Pietro Cossa’s (1830–1880) drama about the great medieval Italian politician and leader Cola di Rienzo (1313–1354). And yes, he’s the same historical figure that inspired Wagner’s (1813–1883) opera Rienzi of 1840.

Lasting almost twenty minutes this hybrid concert-overture-tone-poem [track-1] shows the influence of the composer’s years in Germany, where he was a student of Liszt (1811–1886), and highly regarded by Wagner (1813–1883). The ominous beginning [00:02] introduces some cellular motifs that quickly come to a developmental boil [03:07] somewhat reminiscent of Weber’s (1786–1826) overture to Die Freischütz (1817–21). The music then transitions into a central episode [05:33] where a couple of attractive melodic passages alternate with more dramatic ones.

A Lisztian introspection characterizes the work’s final moments [12:37]. There is one short-lived joyful outburst [14:36], but this transitions into subdued passages that end the overture with nostalgic memories of its opening.

The first of Sgambati’s two symphonies dating from 1880–81 follows. Atypically in five movements, it’s an engaging combination of Italian wine in German bottles, and would become immediately popular with late nineteenth century European audiences. Championed by such great conductors of the day as Martucci and Toscanini (1867–1957), it would receive outstanding press from the likes of Grieg (1843–1907) as well as Saint-Saëns (1835–1921).

The opening allegro [track-2] begins with three brief ideas. These are subsequently developed in a modified version of sonata form that’s a series of thematic transformations like those found in Liszt’s symphonic poems. Highlights include a heroic variant [03:40] that adds a chauvinistic bent to the movement before it comes to a peaceful conclusion anticipating the following andante.

Here [track-3] mournful pleading outer sections bracket a lyrical beatific inner one where Italian avian twitters [03:35] decorate an underlying German chorale-like melody [03:57]. The overall effect is exceptionally moving, making this movement the symphony’s emotional hub.

It’s followed by a brilliantly scored scherzo [track-4] that owes a debt to Wagner, and presages young Richard Strauss’ (1864–1949) lighter symphonic moments. Then we get an aria-like serenata [track-5] which follows a sad-blithe-sad emotional schema. It’s a gorgeous piece of melodic writing with a lovely cantabile tune [03:06], and the most Latin-sounding part of the symphony.

The finale [track-6] begins with a boisterous fanfare followed by an ebullient valiant theme (EV) [00:26] that will become the main ingredient of this rondoesque conclusion. Here EV reappears in a variety of developmental guises interspersed with cyclic allusions to some of the work’s earlier more memorable moments. The symphony then ends with a thrilling militaristic-sounding coda based on EV.

As was the case with Maestro La Vecchia and the RSO’s earlier recordings of late-nineteen-early-twentieth-century Italian symphonic music recommended here (see 23 July 2010 and 17 August 2011), these performances are emotionally charged. There’s an enthusiasm tempered with attention to rhythmic and dynamic detail that gives this forgotten music a new lease on life. Hopefully a recording of the second symphony will be forthcoming.

Made on separate occasions at the Via Conciliazione Auditorium in Rome, the recordings are quite consistent and project a moderately wide but deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The orchestral timbre is generally musical, but there is some digital grain in massed violin passages.

© 2013 Classical Lost and Found

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