August 16, 2014
Symphony No. 1 in F Major, op. 17 was first worked on in 1877 but took six years for Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900) to complete. Perhaps his personal life which was somewhat turbulent had something to do with the delay. For a first movement this one has to rank as a good effort as it is full of rich tonal color and good orchestration. The overall feeling is positive and upbeat. One can hear the influence of Schumann.
The first movement an Allegro begins with a pronounced tremolo lower register as the melody is introduced by the horns in the background. As the melody is developed you’ll hear it from the strings, flute(s), and the entire orchestra as an entire set of harmonic chords is developed around it.
The second movement the Scherzo with two parts both dancelike in nature and both structured. The woodwinds assume the major role with brass having a contributing role.
The third movement is the Adagio featuring a prominent part for the clarinet. The overall feeling is an emphasis on the romantic side.
The fourth movement begins with bars of urgent strings, a prelude to the upbeat festive theme from the brass. The tempo is allegro vivace. Throughout the movement we’re treated to update happy times. Towards the end of the movement Fibich recalls a brief but very distinct reference to the main theme of the movement from the horns. There is a climatic conclusion.
While many reviewers have not been kind to this recording I for one am not among them. I found it to be a charming recording that Stilec and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra perform well. It is nicely recorded with better than average high end and somewhat spacious in the separation of the instruments. I look forward to the new Naxos undertaking and encourage you to visit www.fibich.cz for more information.
Impressions from the Countryside op. 54 was written just prior to his third and final symphony being composed in 1897-98 when he had reunited with his former student Anezka Schulzova. They were to become lovers for the final three years of his life. This work could easily be classified as a symphonic tone poem.
- “Moonlit Night” is written for strings only. While not a fugue it does have the sound of one as well as a spiritual feeling.
- “Country Dance” is definitely a dance which makes one think of bow and curtsey as the work is a series of exchanges between strings and the rest of the orchestra.
- “Highlands Ho” does remind one of Scotland with the horns offering the theme and strings harmony. This type of style is quite a surprise coming from a Czech composer.
4.”Fireside Talk” is somewhat light in nature with an Italian sound this intermezzo shifts gears midway with the theme coming from a bassoon before returning to the opening idea. The two ideas come together at the end.
5.”Village Dance” is the concluding work and is a dance of sorts which is developed as a heavier sound which turns to a new theme midway through. A fitting conclusion to a fine work.
The two works on this CD give the listener an example of early and late Fibich sound like. It is an excellent starting point to hear what this forgotten composer sounds like.
SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN F MAJOR, OP. 17
- Allegro moderato (16:14)
- Scherzo: Allegro assai (5:45)
- Adagio non troppo (alla romanza) (5:10)
- Finale-Allegro con fuoco e vivace (9:33)
IMPRESSIONS FROM THE COUNTRYSIDE, OP. 54
- Moonlit Night (2:56)
- Country Dance (3:06)
- Highlands Ho (4:11)
- Fireside Talk (7:19)
- Village Dance (7:51)
August 12, 2014
Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900) wrote his second symphony in 1892 after the third revision of Bruckner’s fourth symphony. I tell you this because the opening chords of the second symphony make me ask the question that perhaps Fibich listened to this and took some of the ideas and adapted them to his own style. Both symphonies were written in E flat major and with the horns calling and introducing the happy upbeat melody it is sure to put you in a festive mood. This reviewer hears a similarity between the two works.
Fibich composed during the same time as Dvorak and Smetena yet his work is rarely performed by most major symphony orchestras outside of his native country. The fact that Naxos has taken on the task of recording all of his orchestral works is welcome to this reviewer. Currently there are three volumes with plans for seven more in the upcoming months.
Some of the themes for his second symphony have been taken from his piano pieces Moods, Impressions, and Reminiscences which he wrote for a former student Anezka Schulzova declaring his undying love for her. You could call it a musical diary of his thoughts and feelings.
The “Allegro moderato” previously discussed has two themes the first being more fully developed than the second. The solo clarinet is in the spotlight as it plays the theme. The second theme is performed by the strings before heading into a coda which brings together both themes for a rousing conclusion.
The “Adagio” has to rank with some of the better written ones as it depicts the sad and lonely existence. The yearning from the violins is turned up as one can picture a love lost. The gypsy violin solo is a prelude to a return of the opening music in a brief climax.
“Scherzo” my favorite movement in this symphony offers a bright vivacious theme that will uplift your spirits. It begins like the first movement with the calling of the horns which is quickly passed to the strings and then to solo flute and woodwinds.
The final movement an allegro energico also goes back to the first movement and is a summarizing of the work with the main theme being intertwined with additional ideas. It ends with a rousing conclusion.
At Twilight Op.39, according to opus numbers came right after the second symphony in 1893. According to letters written by Schulzova’s brother the work came about during long family walks. Each theme depicts a family member or close friend. The Wagner influence is evident as the idyll is unfolded. One can feel a sense of being at piece with nature. The beginning theme is repeated in the midsection of the piece and is part of the summation at the conclusion of the work.
Idyll in B flat major for Clarinet Op. 16 was composed fourteen years earlier and this work was as close Fibich ever came to writing a concerto. The work is rather brief but is written a similar fashion to At Twilight only in a much lighter vein for the majority of the work as there is a short melancholy section. There are no difficult passages for the clarinet and I would consider it as a work featuring the clarinet nicely performed by Irvin Venys.
This is yet another work to be explored by you the listener. The recording doesn’t stand out it is more than adequate and Stilec and the Czech National Symphony seem to have a good grasp of the material they performed.
SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN E FLAT MAJOR, OP. 38
- Allegro moderato (9:48)
- Adagio (8:11)
- Scherzo: Presto (9:53)
- Finale-Allegro energico (12:21)
- AT TWILIGHT-IDYLL FOR ORCHESTRA, OP. 39 (16:24)
- SELANKA-IDYLL IN B FLAT MAJOR FOR CLARINET OP. 16 (6:47)
Total Time is 63:35
August 9, 2014
LIMITED EDITION OF 1500 UNITS
Sometimes a first opinion especially when listening to soundtracks isn’t necessarily a good indication and a few listens are in order before you can say whether or not you’ll like the material. This at least for me was the case in my first listen to The In-Laws. I had it on in the background and nothing got my attention and it nearly ended up being filed without a further listen. Fortunately I put my Grado headphones on and listened to a straight feed thru my Rega headphone amp and I formed a very positive opinion one that will include the main title being included in a play list.
John Morris made a fine living in Hollywood writing comedic film scores for many of Mel Brooks’s films such as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein and the award winning film Elephant Man. He won Emmys for his music to the television series Coach, his last stint as a composer, retiring in 1996.
The In-Laws starring Alan Arkin (also executive producer) and Peter Falk is the story of stolen bank plates and all the intrigue involved along with a wedding to the conclude the screwball comedy.
“The Main Title” has a prelude of over a minute and a half which almost makes the theme anti-climatic. The slow buildup to a Mancini or Hefti like theme really prepares you. Morris uses a combination of electronics and conventional orchestra with nice harmony from the brass. The theme fits the film perfectly. It is one that I’ll include as an audio clip. This is a theme that you’ll hear in various styles on several of the tracks including the very next track “Siren to Dental Office” which begins with a teeth rattling low bass tone which segues first to rendition of the theme on the bassoon followed by the oboe and concluding with the full orchestra. “Bridal Chorus/Wedding/End Title” begins with arguably one of the best known themes from Wagner, The Bridal Chorus, before it shifts to a full treatment of the main theme with full orchestra.
“Orchestra Tune Up” is a bit unusual for a cue but this one is a little over a minute and I could see this being used as a prelude in a compilation for one of your favorite themes. Latin music is the order of the day in “Too Many Movies/Landing” and “Car Shimmies Away” with a comedic type style.
The recording is excellent with a nice crisp high end, teeth rattling bass, and overall a smooth easy to listen to sound. There are good liner notes from BSX writer Randall Larson who provides a track by track analysis who find this interesting. His insight on the making of the film and composer John Morris provide an excellent read.
Limited to 1500 copies I think this unit will sell out rather quickly so you should act sooner rather than later. It is a fun score to listen to albeit only 36+ minutes.
Total Duration: 00:34:21
August 4, 2014
Don Davis got his start at the age of 22 in Hollywood with composer Joe Harnell. What was the name of the work that impressed Joe. Send email with your answer to email@example.com. The winner will receive a signed copy of “Warriors of Virtue.” All correct answers will be selected by the use of a random generator. The contest will run through 8/12/14. One entry please. While at the site please read about the latest BSX release “Warriors of Virtue.”
August 3, 2014
Limited edition of 1000 units
Warriors of Virtue (1997) was a dream come true for the four Law brothers who had the money to fund a film of their dreams. They emigrated from Hong Kong to Colorado and produced a fantasy/wire-fu/comedy about five warriors who each carry one of nature’s elements in his staff: wood, earth, fire, water, metal. Directed by Ronnie Lu the film failed at the box office and has more or less disappeared. The important thing that remains is the Don Davis score, one filled with fantasy, adventure, and tension phrases that seem to be nonstop for the 72 minute soundtrack. Previously released over 15 years ago on the Prometheus label (PCD 144) it is long out of print thus this new BSX re-release of the material.
One of the things that the Lee brothers insisted upon was they wanted it to sound like a John Williams score. Davis began working on the project in 1995 as he was commissioned to do a piece for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. It was from this commissioned piece “Of the Illuminated” that the motifs for the characters were found. The five motifs are all represented in “Forces of Nature” and “The Force of Water” cues. Davis explained in the liner notes how grueling this was to do and when there was a scene that required counterpoint of all five themes it was hard to “integrate them all without it sounding like a big mush.
“Main Title” is the one that starts the recording off with a long eerie chord followed by an equally creepy statement from the brass and then the woodwinds everything in the lower register and one of the quieter parts of the soundtrack. There is a building of hope, a bit of magic before the ominous chords are yet repeated again. Overall a dark beginning to the film score. “Bootleg Left” is from the brass with strong statements of victory over the evil forces. It does sound like it’s a Star Wars statement but definitely in the style of Don Davis. “Ryan and the Tunnel of Temptation” offers Ryan’s theme simply stated from the flute/woodwinds that conveys the innocence of this main character. “Vortex and the Dare” gives us the first reference to the classics in a short motif of “A Night on Bald Mountain,” the first of many passages that are filled with the classical themes. It also appears in “Chained Melody.” These passages are cleverly disguised and not easy to pick up unless you’re quite familiar with the works. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is featured in scenes with Mudlap and is perfect for the character. It is easier to pick up in “The Mudlap Trap.” This work by Dukas, little known for anything else, has been used by the cartoon side of Hollywood for a long time.
The evil character Komodo used a variation of the famous Stravinsky piece The Firebird Suite to musically portray him. He also used a bit of Mussorgsky’s A Night On Bald Mountain.
There is plenty of action track material in such cues as “The Force of Water,” “Tunnel of Blades,” and “Planet of the Roo-Warriors.” There structured style seems to offer loud brass chords that make you want to turn your stereo down but don’t because in the next moment there is a softer passage. Remember the Lee brothers told Davis we want a John Williams type score.
There are plenty of positives for getting this album such as appeal to action scores, full symphonic offerings, and John Williams type music. The 70 plus minute score will be pleasing to your palette with the great melodies, nice color, and excellent orchestrations. Remember this is a limited edition of only 1000 units so take advantage before it sells out.
Total Duration: 01:10:57
August 1, 2014
Yet another new composer to me is Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900) born in Czechoslovakia and composed during the same time period as Dvorak (1841-1904) and Smetana (1824-1884). He is not nearly as well known as his fellow Czech’s but his music is as exciting as theirs, a true unsung composer who should be explored as I’m doing right now with this newer release from Naxos. Five tone poems Othello, Zaboj, Slavoj, and Ludek, Toman and the Wood Nymph, Boure, and Vesna are included in the 72 minute CD. They were written in the 1870-1880 time period when the three composers were all active. All five are in the 12-18 minute range somewhat a standard amount of time for this type of orchestral work. Othello op. 6 was the earliest of the five works written in 1871 and is based on the Shakespeare story of Othello, Desdemona, and Lago. Its premiere was conducted by Smetana in December of 1873. A majestic quite rousing fanfare from active brass opens this highly structured work which weaves through the waves of emotions quite nicely. The main theme is used for the majority of the work with percussion providing a bridge between different emotional motifs. I quite like the interpretation and plan on returning to this piece often as it will be included in an all evening compilation. I’ve included this selection as an audio clip but please keep in mind these are much lower quality and will only give you an idea of the sound and style not the sonics of a CD or 320MP3. Zaboj, Slavoj, and Ludek, op. 37 was written in 1875 and while similar in some ways has a more heroic feel to it with passages of tension building material. Harmony is strong in this one and requires a bit of concentration so you can everything that is going on in this fine work. Toman and the Wood Nymph, op. 49 was also written in 1875 but not performed until 1878 when it premiered in Prague. The basic plot has been told many times that of a youth fleeing his beloved to the arms of a nymph. The beginning and ending are understated with the main body of material being filled emotions of love and tragedy. Tempest op. 46 seems to be another Shakespeare work that many composers attempt to tackle and what better subject matter than the opening storm sequence followed by the fate of those who had been set apart. Nicely orchestrated. Spring op. 13 written much earlier than the premiere performance in Prague in 1881 it tells a story of all of the happenings of Spring and the connection it has with the earth. It begins quietly a wonderful calm from the winter. Birds are chirping and there is a feeling of happiness as the dancing and gaiety begin. Overall this is a pleasant experience of tone poems well played by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marek Stilec and recorded by CNSO Studios. Track Listing:
- Othello (16.59)
- Zaboj, Slavoj, and Ludek (17:52)
- Toman and the Wood Nymph (12:32)
- The Tempest (11:39)
- Spring (13:03)
Total Time is 72:27
July 25, 2014
AUDIO CLIP VENICE NOCTURNE OTHELLO
While I don’t have actual figures I have to guess that there have been more written about works of Shakespeare than anyone else. Just this week, in addition to this release I also received another Othello work composed by Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900), a Czech who never got the recognition of Dvorak or Smetena. Khachaturian (1903-1978) might also be put into a similar situation taking the back seat to Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich.
The two works represented on this CD were previously released from a Marco Polo CD recorded in June of 1992. Othello, written in 1956 was a color film done when the standards were relaxed but still watched carefully by the Soviet government.
“Prologue and Introduction” begins with a mysterious dark opening which sets the mood for an extended violin solo that is the complete opposite of what was heard earlier. This is to be the leitmotif of Othello proud and lyrical. It is playful with interplay between it and the woodwinds. The middle section of the movement is filled brass statements urgency from the strings and an overall feeling of turmoil. The final section returns to the Othello theme which is sandwiched around statements from the woodwinds. This is a very strong movement and one that I’ll include in a compilation playlist. Jana Valaskova, soprano, is featured in “Desdemona’s Arioso,” a cue of mostly upbeat material. Other tracks of interest are “Venice,” a nocturne, featuring an exquisite oboe solo enhanced by soft strings. I’ve include this selection as an audio clip for you to listen to. Please remember that the clips are much lower in quality than what you’ll hear on the CD.In my book this is another winner. “Finale,” features the Slovak Philharmonic Chorus in a very unhollywood conclusion to the film. There is a brief return to the violin motif of Othello.
Written seven years earlier in 1949 Battle of Stalingrad has the sound of what you would expect to hear at least in my opinion. If someone played this work for me and later told me it was Shostakovich I would have believed. It took a few listens before I was able to pick up on the Khachaturian sound which can be similar to Shostakovich but really completely different.
“A City on the Volga-The Invasion” is the first of this five part suite. It appropriately begins with a very Russian sounding hymnal march that sets the tone of what we’re going to hear for the duration of the 29 minutes. The second part features references to the hymn O’Tannebaum German Xmas theme that features strong staccato percussion with trumpets. A wonderful introduction.
“Stalingrad in Flames” depicts the anguish and depression of the war. This track offers nothing in the way of hope.
“The Enemy is Doomed,” the longest of the tracks is another track with heavy melancholy overtones. Again there seems to be no sign of hope.
“To Victory- There is a Cliff on the Volga” offers a triumphant victory march with the brass leading the way with their bright upbeat sound. The overall sound is very similar to the first track although each has their own unique themes.
This CD will be a welcome addition to your collection if you missed it the first time around and you’re a collector of the Russian soundtrack material. While the films are nothing more than a glorification of Stalin and quite boring the soundtracks are interesting. Recommended
Battle of Stalingrad (Suite 1949)
- A City on the Volga-The Invasion (5:18)
- Stalingrad in Flames (4:01)
- The Enemy is Doomed (7:34)
- For Our Motherland: To the Attack! – Eternal Glory to the Heroes (6:35)
- To Victory- There is a Cliff on the Volga (6:11)
Othello (Suite 1956)
- Prologue and Introduction (8:44)
- Desdemona’s Arioso (3:14)
- Vineyards (3:45)
- Venice (Nocturne) (2:39)
- Nocturnal Murder (Roderigo’s Death) (2:33)
- Othello’s Despair (2:03)
- A Fit of Jealousy (2:06)
- Othello’s Despair (2:03)
- The Striking of Desdemona (The Slap) (0:55)
- Othello’s Farewell From the Camp (2:01)
- Finale (3:39)
Total Time is 63:56