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ISSUE:  Winter 1978

Just as our Bicentennial focused attention on American composers, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebration in England this past year provided an occasion for the rest of the world to sample the works of British composers whose names may be familiar, but whose music is not. One such individual is Herbert Howells (b.1892), who is best known in England for his liturgical music and his lyrical orchestral miniatures. Examples of both genres are now available here, with the first volume of Michael Nicholas’s complete set of organ music recordings appearing on Vista (VPS 1031), and HNH providing a collection of three small-scale works, including the puckish, folk song-inspired Merry Eye, played to perfection by Sir Adrian Boult and the New Philharmonia Orchestra (4005).

The powerful effects of the folk song genre are also evident in the works of E. J. Moeran (1894—1950), an individual who, though his catalogue is dotted with large-scale compositions, was, like Howells, primarily a miniaturist. Such influences and characteristics are readily apparent in his Symphony in G Minor (1937), a melodious work that favors the delineation of smaller musical ideas over the development of a symphonic-like cohesiveness. Conductor Boult gives the piece a strong sense of dynamic shape and elicits a convincing performance from the New Philharmonia Orchestra of London (H, NH 4014).

Orchestral miniatures by Sir Arnold Bax (1883—1953) turn up now and again in the United States, but as his seven symphonies seldom receive much attention here, either in concert or on recordings, Raymond Leppard’s issue of the Symphony No.7 with the London Philharmonic is a treat (HNH 4010). The Seventh is dedicated “To the People of America” and was premiered at the New York World’s Fair of 1939, though its influences and sympathies are anything but American. Opening with a Sibelian seascape, and closing with an English pastoral melody, the Seventh has breadth, beauty, and poetic imagination.

One of Bax’s piano works, the impressionistic Burlesque, is among a half dozen neglected early 20th-century English piano pieces expressively interpreted by Richard Deering on a Saga disc (5445) that also contains music by Eugene Goossens, York Bowen, and Cyril Scott, And rounding out this brief survey is “A Contemporary Elizabethan Concert,” a collection of ancient and modern works for solo and accompanied recorder, from “Green-sleeves” to Edmund Rubbra’s Meditazioni(1949). The inspired presentation is by the Early Music Consort of London, David Munrow directing (Angel S-37263).

“You have only to find a beautiful melody and then build an opera around it”, Umberto Giordano was fond of saying. Thus was Andrea Chenier brought forth in 1896, though the relative success of this work is certainly due as much to Luigi Illica’s intelligent libretto, which takes in the sweep of, the French Revolution, as to the melodic inventiveness of the score. Domingo, Scotto, and Milnes head up a first-rate cast that is well served by the brisk tempos and sense of momentum provided by James Levine and the National Philharmonic Orchestra (RCA ARL3—2046).

As if rigorous technical demands were not enough, Charles Ives peppered the score for his Piano Sonata No.2 with ambiguous marginalia which exhort performers to, in effect, ignore the printed page and follow their own instincts about the work, a set of four pieces depicting individuals associated with transcendentalism. Like John Kirkpatrick before him, Gilbert Kalish is a pianist who embodies the artistry and strong Ivesian instinct that are necessary to bring the “Concord” to life, as he demonstrates on a recent Nonesuch release which includes

A recording of Ives’s music that should have been better is Seiji Ozawa’s interpretation of the massive Symphony No.4(DG 2530 787), a complex work that demands the often conflicting elements of spontaneity and concentrated, controlled power to bring meaning and texture to its clangorous hodgepodge of sounds. Despite the fine playing of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the clean recorded sound, the result sprawls rather than coalesces as it should.Central Park in the Dark (1906), also heard here, fares better and is spookily atmospheric.

André Previn serves both as conductor and as soloist, with the Romanian-born Radu Lupu, in Mozart’s ebullient Two Piano Concerto (K.365), and the familiar, dark-hued D Minor Piano Concerto No.20(K.466), elegantly-shaped interpretations that are notable for their utter naturalness of line (Angel S-37291). Equally as well-crafted is David Zinman’s rendering of Tchaikovsky’s orchestrated sextet “Souvenir de Florence,” performed with stylish verve by the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra (Philips 9500 104). That verve is also evident in the NCO’s performance, under Kurt Redel, of four Vivaldi cello concertos featuring the talented young cellist Christine Walevska (Philips 9500 144). On another recommended disc, the Prague String Quartet’s combination of superlative playing and refined coordination of textures brings magic to their recording of Dvorak’s Quartets Nos.8 6- 10 (DG 2530 719).

As the recordings catalogue already contains Kiril Kondrashin’s excellent interpretations of Vassily Sergeievitch Kalinnikov’s two symphonies, one would think that Melodiya would undertake to make available the other major works of this late 19th-century Russian nationalist composer. Instead, we now have a second version of the Symphony No.1 (1895), with Yevgeny Svetlanov leading the State Academic Orchestra (Columbia/Melodiya M34523). The slower tempos and reduced dynamic variation heard here heighten the work’s essential lyricism, though it’s an effect that comes at the expense of the strong sense of flow, the excitement, and the Tchaikovskian opulence that characterize the earlier disc.

While we have recordings of Kalinnikov’s symphonies but not of his other major works, the opposite is true of Alexander Glazounov, whose ballet scores in particular are recordings catalogue staples in the West, but whose eight symphonies are virtually unknown here. Unfortunately, if his Symphony No.5 (1896) is any indication, there is good reason for this; for while the Fifth is long on pretty melodies, it is short on the kind of original musical ideas that would give the work shape and direction. The performance is by the Moscow Radio & Television Large Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Fedoseyev conducting (Columbia/Melodiya M-34522).

The recent recording of Dvorák’s Piano Quintet in A by Rudolf Firkusny and the Julliard Quartet (Columbia M-34515) is altogether masterful far better than the new Ax/Cleveland Quartet disc (RCA ARL1-2240), but not quite in the same league as the warmer, more naturally recorded Rubenstein/Guarneri effort, or the convincingly idiomatic version by Curzon and the Vienna Philharmonic Quartet. A favorable comparison may be made between Sir Charles Groves’s EMI recording of Dvorák’s Symphony No.6 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (HMV ASD-3169), and Erich Leinsdorf’s vivid interpretation of this work with the Boston Symphony, long deleted from the RCA lists. Vivid also describes the Ostrava JanaGek Philharmonic’s performance of Dvorák’s captivating symphonic poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, with Otakar Trhlik conducting (Supraphon 1 10 1889).

Berlioz’s lovely Christmas oratorio L’Enfance du Christ has typically fared well on disc, though such is regrettably not the case with Colin Davis’s new version for Philips (6700 106). The chief problems here are with Jules Bastin, whose portrayal of Herod is as unimaginative as it is undramatic, and with Janet Baker, whose uncharacteristic tonal harshness robs Mary of her requisite tenderness. Despite the exquisitely wrought choral work by the John Alldis Choir, and the superbly atmospheric conveyance of the inward-looking score by the London Philharmonic, the set is ultimately unsatisfying.

Davis’s earlier recording of Berlioz’s mixed genre Roméo et Juliette is still the best in the catalogue, though Seiji Ozawa’s recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (DG 2707 089) is a formidable contender, notable for its spirit, detail, and passionate conviction. Featured are Julia Hamari, Jean Dupouy, the New England Conservatory Chorus, and Jos6 van Dam, a standout in his powerful portrayal of Friar Lawrence.

Ozawa and the BSO are also heard in performances of a number of Ravel’s orchestral works on two DG discs (2530 752 & 753). If the tempos seem a shade too deliberate in Alborada del Gracioso, all is redeemed in the crystalline readings of the additional selections heard here, including Ma Mere l’Oye and Le Tombeau de Couperin, A Ravel rarity, unearthed just three years ago, is his first piano composition, Serenade Grotesque (1893). Its recorded premiere is effected by Turkish pianist Idil Beret, and while she plays it well, it is easily overshadowed by Les Cinq Doigts and the other Stravinsky pieces that fill out her programme (Finnadar SR 9013).

Two rarely performed concertos by Frederick Delius are heard on a recent Angel release (S-37262). The Violin Concerto (1919) is an effusive, rhapsodic work of one continuous movement, offering some of Delius’s most lyrically inspired music, effectively communicated by Yehudi Menuhin. The Double Concerto,written several years earlier, and also of one movement, has great warmth, but lacks much in the way of well-developed interplay between the soloists, in this case Menuhin and cellist Paul Tortelier. Understanding support is provided by Meredith Davies and the Royal Philharmonic.

A top drawer pairing of Bruckner’s Te Deum (1884) and Mozart’s “Coronation” Mass (K.317) is DG’s issue with von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus (2530 704). With its full use of orchestral forces, its harmonic richness, and its almost declamatory manner, the Te Deum is a commanding work that responds well to the kind of powerful performance that is von Karajan’s hallmark. Less successful, but only slightly, is the reading of the Mozart Mass, which would have benefited from a more intimate approach. Anna Tomowa-Sintow, José van Dam, and Peter Schreier are among the soloists.

The Fifth Canto of Dante’s Inferno has doubtless inspired composers to greater creative heights than those evidenced in Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini(1906), an opera that has remained firmly outside the Russian repertory despite several revivals. Too long by about a third, the work is, nonetheless, not without moments of broad-stroked theatrical effect, which its premiere recording (Columbia/ Melodiya M2—34577) realizes to the utmost. Vladimir Atlantov, the single familiar name among the Soviet singers, is in fine voice as Paolo, and the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra & Chorus perform efficiently under Mark Ermler.

A better bet is May Night (1878), one of 15 operas Rimsky-Korsakov wrote during his lifetime, most of which remain unfamiliar to Westerners. Based on an early Gogol story about Ukrainian life and folklore, it is a delightful blend of romance and fantasy, with plenty of tuneful choral work and an abundance of earthy charm. Vladimir Fedoseyev leads the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and a large Russian cast in an unfailingly enthusiastic performance (DG 2709 063).

The String Quartet No. 15, a work consisting of six adagios and a funeral march, is perhaps as close as Shostakovich came to composing his own Requiem in the months just prior to his death in 1975. Two recordings of this piece have now been issued, one by Russia’s Tanyev Quartet (Columbia/Melodiya M-34527), and a second by England’s Fitzwilliam Quartet (L’Oiseau Lyre OSLO-11). Both ensembles were associated with the composer during his final years, and both readings are persuasive personal statements, though it is the Fitzwilliam group that has the edge here, as theirs is an interpretation that goes beyond the obvious pessimism of the work to explore and convey its haunting senses of pathos and resignation.

An earlier, far different work by Shostakovich is his Piano Trio No. 2, an exuberant composition of great wit and charm written in 1944. It receives a bravura interpretation by Hans Palsson, Arve Tellefsen, and Frans Helmerson, Scandanavian performers whose sense of ensemble, attention to dynamics, and sprightly tempos make their recording one of special distinction (HNH 4007).

A dazzling addition to the Mahler discography is Claudio Abbado’s interpretation of the “Resurrection” Symphony No.2 (DG 2707 094), a performance characterized by well-judged tempos, an architectural wholeness, and a sumptuous sense of orchestral coloring provided by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, whose playing is alternately fierce and caressive, capturing at once the dramatic sweep, the pulse, and the mesmeric shimmer of this most accessible of Mahler’s ten symphonies. The soloists are Marilyn Home and Carol Neblett.

Although Schubert wrote in whole or in part some 17 operas, not one of them was a success, due mainly to the fact that his librettists were unable to provide much in the way of dramatic stage sense for the music the composer wrote to texts by Goethe, Schiller, and others. Nonetheless, a fertile hunting ground for minor gems exists within these failed works, and Philips has begun to work that ground with “Schubert on Stage” (9500 170), a collection of overtures, arias, and duets from Alfonso und Estrella, Die Bürgschaft, and five others. Edo de Waart and his Rotterdam Philharmonic players provide glorious settings for Elly Ameling, who sings with her usual charm and freshness, and Claes H. Ahnsjö, whose lyric tenor is the perfect instrument for the demands of this unabashedly romantic music.

Chronologically, Benjamin Britten’s Suite on English Folk Tunes (1975) belongs to that recent period in which the composer fought to overcome the effects of the heart condition that took his life late in 1976. Emotionally, however, the work extends deeply into Britten’s compositional and ancestral past. In its subtitle, “A Time There Was. . .”, taken from Thomas Hardy, and in its musical progression, from the heraldic brass and percussion opening to the plaintive final utterance of the strings, the work speaks eloquently of the bittersweet passage of time. Its premiere recording, by Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, lives up to Columbia’s billing of it as a “tribute” (M-34529).

A provocative rethinking of Dvorak’s introspective Symphony No.7 is provided by Carlo Maria Giulini and the London Symphony Orchestra in their almost lyrical interpretation which, though not without its own brand of dramatic strength, is a good deal lighter in texture than most. The result is surprisingly effective for what at first would appear to be a startling contradiction in terms (Angel S-37270).

More along traditional lines is a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 recorded in England by James Loughran and the Halle Orchestra, and now available here as an HNH import (Enigma VAR 1033). Enthusiastically received by European critics when it was released, the disc lives up to its reputation as a grandly idiomatic interpretation—complete with the first movement repeat—which can hold its own among the many fine recordings of the “Eroica” currently available.

Two other Beethoven recordings are worthy of note. Alfred Brendel has recorded the “Emperor” piano concerto for Philips (9500 243), and if something of the work’s heroic cast is missing here, there is no denying the appeal of the emotional warmth he develops by seeming to consider the score’s every conceivable nuance. Bernard Haitink leads the London Philharmonic in a style to match. Maurizio Pollini often gives the impression of being incapable of turning out a recording that is unsatisfactory in any measure. His unfailing technical skill, and the conviction of the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Bohm, make an unbeatable combination for the Piano Concerto No.4 on DG (2530 791).

Yehudi Menuhin used to say of Elgar’s Violin Concerto that above all, “it should be sung.” That singing quality, evident in Menuhin’s classic 1932 and 1966 recordings of the work, is also characteristic of a recent entry by Pinchas Zukerman, whose technical brilliance is matched by an obvious personal affinity for this late-Romantic masterpiece. In taking the tempos at an unusually slow rate here, English Chamber Orchestra conductor Daniel Barenboim provides a luxurious framework for his soloist, though never at the expense of momentum or a clear sense of direction (Columbia M-34517).

That Barenboim’s slow tempos don’t always work to such advantage is brought home by his tepid performances, with the ECO, of Haydn’s “Trauer” and “La Passione” symphonies (DG 2530 708). Equally as sluggish is Bernard Haitink’s idiosyncratic reading of Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony, which is so unvaried as to become nearly unbearable (Philips 9500 099). A lack of variation and drama also spoils recent reissues of historic recordings of Schubert’s Eighth by Paul Kletski and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra (Westminster Gold WG-8344) and Benjamin Britten and the ECO (London CS-6741), though the latter is recommended for its forceful account of Mozart’s “Prague” symphony.

For her return to recordings after a hiatus of several years, Anna Moffo probably could not have selected a better vehicle than Italo Montemezzi’s L’Amore dei Tre Rei (1913), a work that attained repertory status for a time but which has been out of circulation in recent years. In the role of Fiora, Miss Moffo is provided with a part that, though brief, is electrifyingly dramatic in its extreme mood shifts. And she handles it well, freely producing the high notes, and playing the pivotal strangulation scene with an unsettling realism. Placido Domingo, Pablo Elvira, and Cesare Siepi bring their respective strengths to the monarchical triumvirate, and Nello Santi coaxes an appropriately weighty sound from the London Symphony Orchestra (RCA ARL2—1945).

Lest we forget just how marvelous a work is Bruch’s First Violin Concerto, there is always the banal Violin Concerto No.2 to remind us. Heifetz, Menuhin, and now Perlman (Angel S-37210) have had their say with this piece, and if the latest entry is likely the most persuasive of the three, it is still much ado about nothing. The sound of the New Philharmonia Orchestra is rich but muddy under the baton of Spanish conductor Jesus L6pez-Cobos.

Crystal Records continues to turn up with pleasant surprises, the latest being a collection of percussion works by young American composers, played by a group calling itself the Sonic Boom Percussion Ensemble (S140). The music, much of it jazz-flavored, is lively and varied, the performances are polished, and the recorded sound couldn’t be better.

Several prime examples of opera bouffe are among the new releases. La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein, Offenbach’s satire on the military, was a smash success at its Paris Exhibition of 1867 premiere and went on to become one of the most internationally famous of Offenbach’s operettas. Its most recent recording is effectively cast and sung with great humor and affection by Régine Crespin, Alain Vanzo, Mady Mesple, and Robert Massard, with Michel Plasson leading the Toulouse Capitol Orchestra & Chorus (Columbia M2-34576). Equally as tuneful and engaging, if less well known here, is La Fille de Madame Angot (1872), Charles Lecocq’s one enduring work. Mady Mespl6 and Bernard Sinclair lead the cast, and the Paris OperaComique Orchestra generates plenty of excitement under Jean Doussard (Connoisseur CS2—2135).

Along with these come a number of releases of French concert classics. A reissue of a 1950 recording has Darius Milhaud conducting his Second Violin Concerto,with ardent soloist Louis Kaufman (Orion ORS 76250). The best current listing of Lalo’s Cello Concerto is undoubtedly Paul Tortelier’s collaboration with Louis Frémaux, now available here as a Capitol/ EMI direct import (HMV ASD-3209). With the Orchestre National de l’ORTF, Jean Martinon makes a persuasive case for Paul Dukas’s Symphony in C, and offers an appetite-whetting snippet of the rarely heard opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (Connoisseur CS-2134). As Jacques Ibert’s lilting Flute Concerto is more often performed than recorded, it is surprising that two new versions have materialized: John Solum’s on EMI (EMD-5526), and Peter-Lukas Graf’s on HNH (4015). Both are solid performances with few interpretive differences.

Paganini’s demanding Violin Concerto No. 1 is strikingly worked by Salvatore Accardo and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, under Charles Dutoit (DG 2530 714). There is power and attack to this reading, yet attention is also paid to the expressive, songlike character of the piece. The brief but sprightly Le Streghe fills out the disc.

Accardo, Dutoit, and the LPO are also featured in nicely proportioned readings of Mendelssohn’s two violin concertos (Philips 9500 154), while Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony Orchestra capture all of the warmth and exuberance of Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphony (Philips 9500 068) with a textural clarity that is missing in Ricardo Muti’s otherwise craftsman-like version with the New Philharmonia Orchestra (Angel S-37412). Presence and a keen sense of the works’ total architecture are the ingredients of the Tátrai Quartet’s intelligent interpretations of Haydn’s last two string quartets, op.77 (Hungaroton SLPX 11776).

To a catalogue already crowded with recordings of Mozart’s delightful flute concertos (K.313 & 314) come additions from James Galway, Eugenia Zukerman, and Julius Baker. Galway, master of the instrument though he is, disconcertingly veers off toward dreaminess during soft passages, which matches neither his aristocratic overall approach to the music nor the thin recorded sound of the Lucerne Festival Strings, lead by Rudolf Baumgartner (RCA ARL1—2159). In contrast, Miss Zukerman’s approach is always straight-forward, and if her versions don’t add any extra dimensions to the music, they are spirited in the right places and aptly supported by the English Chamber Orchestra, full-toned under the direction of Pinchas Zukerman (Columbia M-34520). The most musically sure performances of the lot belong to Baker, though they are undone by the variable playing of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and I Solisti di Zagreb (Vanguard SRV 364SD).

Traveling widely and to great acclaim in the United States between 1836 and 1842, Englishman Henry Russell was the proverbial one-man show: a versatile singer, pianist, and composer who set songs to the poetic texts of the day, and performed them in an eclectic style that borrowed liberally from the Italian opera stage and the English music hall. A number of works on the order of “Woodsman! Spare That Tree!” have been linked with spoken introductions of the type Russell used in actual performance, and are presented with great affection and stylistic congruence by Clifford Jackson and William Bolcom on a delightful oddity entitled “An Evening With Henry Russell” (Nonesuch H-71338).

A popular performer and a prolific recording artist in Europe, György Cziffra is represented here by a mere handful of discs, many of which show an unfortunate tendency to expend his considerable pianistic abilities in projecting a flamboyant performing style rather than in capturing something of the essential nature of the music presented. An exception to this is his Connoisseur set of the complete Liszt Années de Pèlerinage (CSQ 2141/43) in which style gives way to substance, resulting in a truly memorable group of performances that are gratifyingly free of the melodramatic mannerisms that mar his EMI Pathe recordings of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies (2C 167—14021—3).

One of the foremost interpreters of the music of Richard Strauss was Rudolf Kempe who, shortly before his death, recorded all of Strauss’s orchestral works. The latest release in this series (Angel S-37267) pairs two of Strauss’s earliest pieces, the rapturous Violin Concerto, and the formidably difficult Burlesque for Piano &• Orchestra, both seldom heard, and both offering a fascinating glimpse of the composer in the years before the strains of Mozart and Brahms in his music gave way to the influences of Wagner and Liszt. The matchless performances are by Ulf Hoelscher and Malcolm Frager, with the Staatskapelle Dresden, and are also available in an imported EMI boxed set of all the concertos (HMV SLS 5067).

Few contemporary oboists play with the assurance, sensitivity, and verve of Swissborn Heinz Holliger, whose recordings of neglected oboe works have been instrumental in restoring a number of them to the literature. A case in point is Bellini’s Concerto in E Flat, which receives its third recorded treatment by Holliger on a new Philips disc (9500 070) that also offers unfamiliar 19th-century concertos by Molique, Rietz, and Moscheles. The soloist’s estimable musical partners are Eliahu Inbal and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. Another recent issue features Holliger and I Musici in first-rate performances of four Vivaldi oboe concertos (Philips 9500 044).

Examples of early music are among the new issues. The Magnificat and a number of motets by Crist6bal del Morales have been recorded for Archive by the Pro Cantione Antiqua, London (2533 321). A contemporary of Dufay, 15th century composer Johannes Ockeghem’s oeuvre includes the two Masses and the chansons found on a Nonesuch disc (H-71336) featuring Alexander Blachly’s Pomerium Musices. Two excellent Saga collections with the self-explanatory titles of “Music for Merchants & Monarchs” (5420) and “Music of the Renaissance Virtuosi” (5438) feature the young American lutenist James Tyler, who also performs on the archlute, Baroque guitar, and mandora.

Sonata Teutonica, the late Virginia composer John Powell’s powerful celebration of 19th-century romantic idealism, appears not to have been performed more than a half dozen times since it was written in 1913. Most welcome, therefore, is Roy Hamlin Johnson’s effective interpretation of this pianistic rarity as part of CRI’s historical series (SD-368).


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