Holst Orchestral Works

September 22, 2016

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CLASSIC CHANDOS SERIES

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There are many of us who believe that Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was only known for The Planets and nothing else. He was a one and done composer like Dukas and Sorcerers Apprentice, Borodin and his Prince Igor along with many other composers. This is not true and this re-release will show you some of the wonderful music that he has to offer.In this recording Holst wrote about the  barren land of Egdon Heath, the business of Hammersmith, a movement of an unfinished symphony, and an overture to an opera.

“Fugal Overture,” written in 1922 was an overture of the opera The Perfect Fool, performed in 1923. Written in a neoclassicism style Holst originally titled this a Fugal Ballet. Holst makes effective use of the glockenspiel giving it a sparkle which changes into an overpowering brass motif. “A Somerset Rhapsody” was written in 1907 and is a trio of folksongs that are eventually combined and performed using different color orchestrations. The three folksongs are “It’s A Rosebud in June” features the oboe which is tranquil and peaceful and transmits love and peace. The middle selection “High Germany” a rousing march filled with a robust brass fanfare which is filled with melody and counterpoint. The transition between the first and the second is flawless and you don’t realize it until you listen for it. The final tune is “The Lovers Farewell followed by the combing of the tunes.

“Scherzo” was the only completed movement of his unfinished Choral Symphony from 1925. After his death it was released and performed in 1935 with Adrian Boult conducting. The liner note writer Lewis Foreman (excellent notes) gave it the title ‘great might-have-beens.’ If your looking for something loud and uplifting this is the track for you. “Egdon Heath” based on the writings of Thomas Hardy in his novel Return of the Native which Hardy was aware of what Holst was doing. Holst used the Hardy words to inspire his writing. “A place perfectly accordant with mans nature-neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly: neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame: but, like man, slighted and enduring: and withal singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony.” The theme in a minor key is offered by the brass section which leads us into a section of dissonance and despair. The string section continues the theme primarily in the wind section with harmony from the brass (a forte of Holst). Overall this 16+ minute work is one that will sway your emotions. Well done by Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra. “Hammersmith” is written for band originally but Holst re-orchestrated it for symphony orchestra and it was conducted by Boult in 1931. The piece is based on the bustle of the city Hammersmith along with the slow flowing motion of the river. A rather dissonant piece with a nice melody I’ve not heard it for concert band but would certainly like to do so  The final selection is a piece that Holst was commissioned to write when he was lecturing at Harvard for concert band for a radio concert which never came off. Holst called it his jazz band piece which it was really not. His daughter arranged the lively piece which has now become a standard in his recorded offerings.

Hickox is a master interpreter of Holst and there are other offerings in the vast choices from Naxos and Chandos. He isn’t just about Planets and these 6 offerings are an outstanding example of what he has to offer.

Look forward to 4 new releases in 2017 in the Hickox series including the Double Concerto from Holst, Light of Life from Elgar, The Black Knight from Elgar, and The Bear from Walton. Chandos is truly a major player in the classical world.

 

Vaughan Williams Film Music

September 17, 2016

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I’ve always had the greatest fondness for the Naxos film music classics series of some of the films of the 40’s and 50’s including this latest offering of Vaughan Williams film music, something that the average listener was not aware that he wrote quite nicely in this genre. Who better to write about British war dramas than Vaughan Williams? This previously released recording in 1995 on Marco Polo was recorded in Dublin in November of 1993.

Don’t expect to hear a Hollywood type score with lots of brass, a bit of loudness, and memorable marching type themes. This is still Vaughan Williams and a wonderful addition to your collection. If there is a bit of agitation and excitement, it can be found in Coastal Command (1942). It was a documentary depicting real wartime happenings and the leading actors were in fact RAF members. When it was seen in 1944 by the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, he had little positive to say about it. I on the other hand found it to be an interesting film as I learned from a historical aspect and the highlight for me was the score by Williams.

49th Parallel (1940-1941) has the honor of the most melodic and memorable of the four suites. It is a proud majestic theme that will remain with you for a long time. The longest of the four is The Story of a Flemish Farm (1943) which plays out like a tone poem or orchestral suite which has 7 different movements. For the most part it is well laid back like many British composers and is my favorite of the four works.”The Flag Flutters in the Wind” sets the background for what kind of story this is going be. Majestic theme for the flag is followed by a danger mysterious section and it ends with the the major key melody. “Night By The Sea” continues withe eerie  music followed by a short motif “Farewell to the Flag.” “Dawn in the Barn-The Parting of the Lovers” “Dead Man’s Kit” offers a  wonderful flute solo backed by the reeds complete with flutterings and an ominous background. “The Wanderings of the Flag” ends the score with proud majestic material worthy of the flag.

Completing the CD is Three Portraits from the England of Elizabeth (1955). The opening track of the three is “Explorers gets us off to arousing start with music that could be the opening of a Korngold scored film with material that is rousing and warms the blood. “Poet” is completely the opposite as you’ll hear music from the court, a dance delicate in nature which conjures up courtly dancing. “Queen” as you can gather from the title is a majestic coronation type track that bestows honor on the queen.

Vaughan Williams had the unique ability to use classical music and whatever situation the film dictated to achieve the correct material. While these are considered more propaganda minor films this is not true of the music. The 67 minute could stand proud and tall with his symphonies. It is well recorded and a treat to have in my collection.

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REFERENCE RECORDINGS- RR-138

With a release date of September 9th 2016 Reference Recording was nice enough to send out an advance copy for review. Fairly unknown, except by the most advanced classical listener, this CD has turned out for me to be a real treat. Included in the release are 4 works that are making their premiere release on recording media.

Anyone who is familiar with Reference Recordings knows that the recording in 24-Bit is a step above in quality and finer equipment will capture all of the clarity and transparency that are a trademark of Prof. Johnson and his excellent team.

The enhanced 65 piece orchestra from their original 49 core members produced a fine sound under the direction of Martin West. As a result of the ballet performing “From Foreign Lands” West, intrigued, began to find more of his material and we now have a 73 minute CD of some of his orchestral works.

The beginning selection, a world premiere, “Torch Dance,” begins as a coronation march with the brass offering a major part in the cue while the strings remain active with the harmony provided by the calls of the brass section which is 13 pieces strong and a big part of the orchestrating. The next 7 cues are devoted to “Foreign Lands.” The opening piece, a Russian selection reminds me of something that Glazunov might have done in a dreamy way. I find track no. 4 to be my favorite selection on the CD. The remainder of the tracks include an Italian fandango, a fast Polish dance, a Hungarian  Csardas, an Italian tarantella, a very stately German dance. The 26 minute work offers a variety of styles, tempos and dances from the 6 countries represented. A nice addition to your collection.

“Habanera,” is a Spanish Dance contradanza haberna, and the lovely melody is enhanced by the staccato type rhythm along with the delicacy of the harp playing in the background. This is a world premiere recording. The best way to describe it is it has a sound of Resphigi. “By the Cradle” is not a lullaby but part of an 8 piece set for 4 piano hands. The first recording was on a 78 rpm and this CD is the second. It has a sound that is peaceful and easy to follow the melody line. The original composition was called sorrows and smiles and this one certainly falls into the smile category. Another world premiere is “Six Airs De Ballet,” which is based on the Grabbes Don Juan and Faust. The six movements are marked Entr’acte , Intermezzo, Fantasmagorie, Minuetto, Sarabande, and Passepied. Many of them sound like Mozart. The actual ballet written in 1829 didn’t prove to be particularly successful although another attempt was made in 1950. Gondoliera based on a poem written by Geibel it was a good example of what one can do in 5 minutes. This is another world premiere making one wonder of course why hasn’t he been recorded before. The final 5 tracks are Spanish Dances  orchestrated Philipp Scharwenka and Valentin Frank as he wrote it for piano, four hands. This is his most popular work and financially his money maker so to speak.

If you’re anything like me and you’ve discovered something new you’ll want to have this in your collection. This is a very easy piece to listen to and I recommend it.

 

 

Cutthroat Island

August 17, 2016

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One of the best surprises I received was another  package consisting of many CD’s from La-La-La Land Records which included one of my favorite scores “Cutthroat Island” by composer John Debney who orchestrated a masterful soundtrack combining Wagner, Strauss, Korngold and John Williams. The two CD set (LLLCD 1387) is nearly 2 1/2 hours of suspense, romance, swashbuckling entertainment that is not to be missed. I hope that all of the wonderful Jeff Bond liner notes will someday be in the form of a book. Everything about the bomb of a film except of course for the score is detailed in the extensive notes he has provided to the listeners.

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The latest release from MSM is somewhat of a departure from the soundtracks and some really nice well played chamber music featuring four different films that were adapted to classical music. The program varies from soundtrack (4total) so each listening experience is special. It will bring your emotions up and down. So let’s start talking about what I hear.

The “Ronin Suite” begins in a minor key on the piano with the violin offering a death march which switches to a tension dissonant passage followed by a change to the major key.

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PRELUDE TO JANE EYRE

Jane Eyre(1943) starred Orson Welles as Rochester, Joan Fontaine as Eyre, Margaret O’Brien as Adele Varens, Peggy Ann Garner as Jane Eyre as a child, Henry Daniell as Henry Brocklehurst, Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Reed and Elizabeth Taylor in an uncredited role.  Directed by Robert Stevenson, a long time veteran, who might be best known for Mary Poppins, he began directing in 1932 and didn’t stop for 50 years. If you’re familiar with Orson Welles you’ll certainly see his influence in this 20th Century Fox high budget (1.7 million) film. With the tagline of “a love story every woman would die a thousand deaths to live” the often used obnoxious slogan chick flick applies.

Jane Eyre was the fourth film for Herrmann with his first three being Citizen Kane (1941), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). It was also the beginning of a long relationship with 20th Century Fox that lasted for many years. However, this was a case where Herrmann was the second choice to do the film with the first being Igor Stravinsky who turned down the assignment. All of the mentioned films were written at a time when classical music was also part of Herrmann’s life. He had written a symphony in 1941 and had also completed his opera “Wuthering Heights” during this time period. What you’ll hear is a very classical score to this gothic romantic film. If you’re a fan of Herrmann you’ll hear many cues from other films that germinated from this soundtrack.

Highlights include the “Prelude” (audio clip included) which offers two of the major themes that you’ll hear throughout the course of this soundtrack. The ominous horns begin the serious main title. The theme is quickly picked up by the strings and it is carried in a heavy Germanic style. Then with little warning there is the theme for Jane offered by the sad oboe that instantly recognizes the Herrmann sound. “Jane’s Departure” begins with a new theme from the horns which is quite sad and mellow concentrating in the lower register. It ends with her carriage ride which is from a short section of “Swing Your Partners” from The Devil and Daniel Webster. You’ll also hear this theme briefly in “The Wedding-The Wife” which goes from happy and carefree with church bells to dark and ominous with a fugue from the organ. This 2:27 cue runs the entire gamut of emotions! “Thornfield Hall-Valse Bluette” reveals the Rochester theme in a brooding dissonant rendition. It is a far more complex theme than the Prelude or Jane themes. The “Valse Bluette” is a musical box theme created with a synthesizer for this recording. The Rochester theme is also featured on “Rochester’s Past” as first a sad variation which changes to a dissonant very difficult passage to play. It reveals both sides of an extremely complex bipolar character. The prelude theme is performed again but this time as depressing as Herrmann can muster. “Finale” is another variation of the prelude theme followed by a major key uplifting of the Jane theme and a bold happy ending crescendo.

Some consider this to be Herrmann’s finest score and while I don’t agree it is very nice and a keeper in my collection. Bruce Kimmel, owner of Kritzerland, was kind enough to send me a review copy that will go right next to the Naxos recording. I recommend that you have both in your collection. The newer digitally recorded is nice but the OST is great also. It’s nice to have both and enjoy the amazing talent of BH.