Romantic & Post-Romantic Music
From Schumann to Contemporary
Media Review / Listening Diary 2012-07-30
2012-07-30 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-08-01 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-03 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2015-10-03 — Added reference to LP recording with Ulf Hoelscher and Michel Béroff
2016-06-27 — Brushed up for better readability
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Variations opp. 34, 35 (“Eroica”), 76
Robert Schumann: Novelletten Nr.2, 4, and 8 from op.21
Alto / Amazon MP3-download (230 – 238 kbps)
The Beethoven variations on this CD will be discussed in separate postings; this is just about the Novelletten Nr.2, 4, and 8 from op.21 by Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856). I did not know these pieces before: the original recording on LP (from 1970) only featured the Beethoven variations — the Schumann Novelletten (note the typo on the cover image!) were only added for the CD and download releases (the CD has been unavailable for a while, the download version only became available just now).
Svjatoslav Richter‘s interpretation of these pieces—a live recording—is great. He makes them sound “natural, just right”, does not try to show off virtuosity (although these compositions are considerable challenges to the pianist!); his emphasis is on the big phrases / evolutions. There is a brilliant, even spectacular recording of the Novellette Nr.2 with Grigory Sokolov on YouTube (also live, of course) that is quite different from Richter’s: Sokolov uses less legato, focuses on clarity, transparency — his articulation is often as clear as Horowitz’ Scarlatti (and Sokolov’s own interpretation of Couperin’s “Le Tic-Toc-Choc” comes to mind!): the two interpretations are rather different, but both are very valid approaches, fascinating interpretations, and I like the music!
Vladimir Spivakov & Sergei Bezrodnyi
César Franck, Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss: Violin Sonatas
Vladimir Spivakov & Sergei Bezrodnyi
Capriccio 10 895 (CD, stereo); ℗ 2001
Ulf Hoelscher & Michel Béroff (LP only)
César Franck, Richard Strauss: Violin Sonatas
EMI 1C 065-02 995 Q (LP, stereo); ℗ 1978
Booklet: (LP cover)
LP only, currently not available
Itzhak Perlman, Martha Argerich
Beethoven: Sonatas for Violin & Piano op.47; Franck: Violin Sonata in A major
EMI Classics 7243 5 56815 2 2 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1999
Steven Isserlis & Stephen Hough
Sergej Rachmaninoff: Cello Sonata in G minor, op.19; 2 Pieces for Cello and Piano op.2
César Franck: Cello Sonata in A; 2 Lieder (*) “Le Sylphe” and “Panis Angelicus”
Hyperion CDA67376 (CD, stereo); ℗ 2003
Truls Mørk & Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Sergej Rachmaninoff: Cello Sonata in G minor, op.19; 2 pieces for cello and piano, op.2
Nikolai Myaskovsky: Cello Sonata Nr.1 in D, op.12
Virgin classics 5 45119 2 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1996
The motivation for this post section was a concert at Wigmore Hall in London that I attended (together with my wife & my daughter) in April this year, see my posting “Han-Na Chang & Finghin Collins, 2012-04-28“), where Rachmaninoff’s cello sonata caught my attention, so I was screening Amazon for good interpretations of that composition (so far not featured in my collection). Han-Na Chang hasn’t recorded this yet, unfortunately — would have been nice to compare her playing with established contenders! At least, I found two viable / promising, relatively recent recordings, Isserlis / Hough, and Mørk / Thibaudet. As the Rachmaninoff sonata is not long enough to fill en entire CD, both these recordings also feature additional compositions, some of which I already had in my collection, hence the additional CDs listed above:
Truls Mørk & Jean-Yves Thibaudet added the cello sonata Nr.1 in D major, op.12, by Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881 – 1950), featuring two movements (attacca), almost 20 minutes of post-romantic music — very nice and expressive (maybe with the exception of a few moments / passages that I found slightly superficial), and all well-played by the two artists.
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Vocalise from the 14 Songs, op.34
Steven Isserlis & Stephen Hough added Rachmaninoff’s famous Vocalise from the 14 Songs, op.34, in a version for cello and piano, which I heard played by Han-Na Chang & Finghin Collins as opening of their concert — confirming my reservations towards Han-Na Chang’s excessively soft articulation at the beginning of the piece. On the other hand, Truls Mørk‘s vibrato is often rather fast and strong, which for me does not express sentiment and expression: I would have preferred an articulation that (more) closely imitates the human voice (and in my memory Han-Na Chang did better in that respect!).
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, op.19
In a quick comparison of the main composition on these CDs, Rachmaninoff’s sonata for cello and piano in G minor, op.19, I definitely prefer the interpretation by Steven Isserlis & Stephen Hough (my rating: 4.5 / 5) which is better balanced and dynamically much more differentiated than Truls Mørk & Jean-Yves Thibaudet‘s interpretation (rating: 3.8 / 5): Truls Mørk completely dominates the recording with his dense, vibrato-rich tone (reminds me of the way in which Artur Grumiaux dominates over Clara Haskil in their recording of the Beethoven violin sonatas!), barely leaving room for differentiation on the piano. Thibaudet is playing well, but he only excels in a few forte passages.
The recording by Steven Isserlis & Stephen Hough is much more differentiated, more intimate, more expressive (unless one takes dense, vibrato-rich and loud for expressive!), more transparent, more subtle — though less spectacular! Some of the deficiencies in Truls Mørk‘s recording may be attributed to the sound engineer, but what counts is the end result.
Both recordings also feature Rachmaninoff’s two pieces for cello and piano, op.2: the above comments also apply here (my ratings: 4.5 and 3 out of 5, respectively).
Finally, César Franck’s sonata for cello and piano in A: this is commonly known as sonata for violin and piano, but according to Isserlis‘ comment, there are indications that the composer initially wrote this composition for the cello, and only later changed his mind in order to present it to his friend Eugène Ysaÿe as wedding present. Whether that’s true or not, I can only say: this works — very well, indeed!
Overall, I actually prefer the interpretation by Isserlis and Hough (rating: 4.0 / 5) over the ones for violin and piano by Perlman & Argerich (rating: 3.2 / 5) and by Spivakov & Bezrodnyi (rating: 2.5 / 5). Sure, the violin offers more brilliance, intensity (maybe) and drama — the cello on the other hand gives more intimacy, subtlety (at least in the interpretation by Isserlis & Hough). I also prefer Isserlis over Perlman because of the latter’s strong & dominant vibrato; this is even more of a problem with Spivakov who is featuring an extremely fast, trembling vibrato along with trills that are too rapid and too mechanic.
I also have a recording of this sonata on LP, played by Ulf Hoelscher and Michel Béroff (see above), but this is no longer available (never made it to CD, apparently), and I’m not set up to listen to LPs, so I’ll not discuss this here. On the recording with Isserlis & Hough, the Franck sonata is surrounded by two songs “Le Sylphe” and “Panis Angelicus” by the same composer, in a good interpretation by Rebecca Evans, accompanied by cello and piano; I particularly like “Le Sylphe” — more than “Panis Angelicus”, but that’s maybe because the latter melody is known too well?
Vocal Music by Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten: “A Boy Was Born”
Collins 12862 (CD, stereo, ℗ / © 1992
Benjamin Britten: Hymn to St. Cecilia
Benjamin Britten: Hymn to St. Cecilia; works by various composers
Thomas Tschuor, Chorensemble Cantalea Uster; Blockflötenquartett
Private recording, live, April 1997 (CD, stereo)
The reason for me to have a recording of some of Britten’s vocal works is that in 1997 I was singing in a local choir (that used to be my wife’s choir, hence its name “Cantalea”). We were performing — among other works — Benjamin Britten‘s “Hymn to St. Cecilia“, so I purchased Harry Christopher’s recording with his choir “The Sixteen” as reference.
The “Hymn to St. Cecilia” as a Composition
The Hymn to St. Cecilia is a nice composition (and Christopher’s rendering is definitely good!), though not my favorite one by Britten. While re-listening this CD after many years, my clear favorite were the Choral Dances from “Gloriana” for Tenor, Harp, and Chorus (with Ian Partridge, tenor, and Helen Turnstall, harp). Some may state they were composed in popular, maybe overly tonal style. I found them to be almost addictive: I could listen to these over and over again!
A “Local CD”
The second CD shown here is not commercially available, merely a personal “piece of memory”. It serves as reminiscence of the time when I was singing in my wife’s choir “Chorensemble Cantalea Uster“, then directed by Thomas Tschuor (music teacher at a high school in Zurich-Oerlikon). In that concert we not only performed Britten’s “Hymn to St. Cecilia”, but also other choral works. In the same concert, my wife Lea was performing in a recorder quartet, playing baroque works (Bach and Walther), as well as works by modern composers such as Ryohei Hirose (1930 – 2008), and Stefan Thomas (* 1968).
Certainly, our Britten could not compete with Harry Christopher’s performance — we were an ensemble of non-professionals, after all. But I should mention that Thomas Tschuor had a talent to locate / dig out interesting, small works of newer, unknown composers. In this concert performance, I particularly liked re-listening to the two Psalms (Psalm 109, “Dixit Dominus”, and Psalm 111 “Beatus vir”) by the Polish composer Józef Swider (*1930), composed in 1990 — we liked these pieces (not all that easy to keep the intonation clean), and the performance on this CD is not all that bad, after all!
Franz Tischhauser: “Die Hampeloper”
Franz Tischhauser: “Die Hampeloper” or “Joggeli söll ga Birli schüttle!”; “Omaggi a Mälzel”; Kassation für neun Instrumente
Räto Tschupp, Singkreis Zürich, Camerata Zürich
MGB CD 6094 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1997
I have had this CD with music by the Swiss composer Franz Tischhauser (1921 – 2016) for a couple of years. The only reason for this purchase was that in the very last performance of my wife’s little choir “Chorensemble Cantalea Uster” we were invited to sing the choral part of Franz Tischhauser’s “Hampeloper” under the direction of the late Räto Tschupp, who had also directed the piece’s world première in Zurich, recorded on this CD.
The “Hampel Opera” as a Composition, “Libretto”
As the second title indicates, it’s a piece sung in Swiss German. The text is that of a children’s book (call it an “early comic”!) that already my father had as a child, and I definitely remember how my grandparents showed and told it to me as well. By now, the booklet is probably on its way to oblivion.
It’s a simple story: the peasant sends out Joggeli (little Jacob in Swiss German, pronounced like “yagghely”) to pick the pears from a tree. Joggeli does not want to pick the pears, the pears don’t want to fall. So the master sends out the dog, to bite Joggeli. The dog doesn’t want to bite … in the end there’s a butcher who doesn’t want to stab a calf which doesn’t want to lick water which doesn’t want to extinguish a fire that doesn’t want to burn a stick that doesn’t want to beat a dog that doesn’t want to bite Joggeli who doesn’t want to pick the pears which don’t want to fall — and finally the master resolves this mess by taking things into his own hands …
It’s a nice little story — and in principle also a nice little piece of music with eight soloists and a choir in three groups, depicting the three trees in the orchard. For sure, this is the only recording in existence of this piece: basically a nice performance — with one big, unfortunate exception: the role of Joggeli is written for coloratura soprano, and the person in that role was severely overstraining her diaphragm, resulting in an extreme, strong vibrato of about 10 Hz — hard to listen to!
The Other Pieces on the CD
The other pieces on this CD are purely instrumental: “Omaggi a Mälzel” (Mälzel as the inventor of the metronome) is the more interesting of the two. It’s a sequence of pieces, fast and slow, all using the same basic beat (ca. 70 bpm): ritardandi and tempo changes are all “written out”, using hemioles, syncopated rhythms, rhythmic shifting. It’s nice, entertaining music, easy to hear, tonal, with jazzy elements. Tischhauser worked for the Swiss Radio in Zurich, composing was a hobby for him — he only created a handful of works (a total of about 6 hours of music), often citing popular melodies by other composers, or folk songs, humorous almost throughout.
The “Kassation” for 9 instruments is perhaps the weakest of the works on this CD, even though it has elements that remind of some of György Ligeti’s 6 Bagatelles for wind quintet. One could also claim that some of these pieces remind of jingles used as musical separators in radio features, or as accompaniment for radio features for children in the 80’s/90’s (Tischhauser was working for the radio, after all!). I suspect that this CD is hard to get anywhere by now, if at all.
Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet Nr.14 op.131; Brooklyn Rider: Seven Steps;
Christopher Tignor: Together Into This Unknowable Night
Brooklyn Rider, Christopher Tignor
In a Circle Records IRC005 (CD, stereo); © 2012
I bought this CD in order to include Brooklyn Rider’s interpretation of Beethoven’s string quartet op.131 in my upcoming review. The CD includes a piece composed and performed by the artists (Brooklyn Rider, i.e., Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen, Nicholas Cords, and Eric Jacobsen), as well as a piece by Christopher Tignor, “Together Into This Unknowable Night”, performed by Brooklyn Rider and the composer (AM radio, electronic live sampling and percussion).
So far, I have only listened to this latter piece (apart from short online previews of the Beethoven quartet) — and I quite like it! To me, it sounds like an interesting mix of minimal music, musique concrète, post-modern elements, sometimes alluding to Indian music, meditative, post-modern, “dissonant, yet harmonic” — I actually like the piece!
Other, ongoing projects:
- Beethoven, 15 Variations and Fugue in E♭ about a theme from “Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus”, op.35 (“Eroica Variations”)
- Beethoven, String Quartets — op.131