Reconsidering Bartók: The Orchestral Works

BARTÓK: Kossuth. Four Pieces for OrchestraBudapest Symphony Orchestra (in Kossuth) and Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra (in Four Pieces) conducted by Arpad Joó. SEFEL SEFD-5005 (digital), produced by Brian Culverhouse.

BARTÓK: Suite No. 1. Two Portraits.Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arpad Joó. SEFEL SEFD-5006 (digital), produced by Brian Culverhouse.

BARTÓK: Suite No. 2. Two PicturesBudapest Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Arpad Joó. SEFEL SEFD-5007 (digital), produced by Brian Culverhouse.

BARTÓK: Miraculous Mandarin– Suite. Dance Suite. Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Arpad Joó. SEFEL SEFD-5008 (digital), produced by Brian Culverhouse.

BARTÓK: Concerto for OrchestraBudapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arpad Joó. SEFELSEFD-5009 (digital), produced by Brian Culverhouse.

BARTÓK: Rhapsody for Piano and OrchestraTwo Portraits. Dance Suite. Concertos Nos. 1-3 for Piano and Orchestra. Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste. Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. Divertimento for String OrchestraConcerto for OrchestraGéza Anda, piano. Tibor Varga, violin; Berlin Radio Orchestra (in Concerto for Orchestraand works with piano); RIAS Symiphony Orchestra Berlin (in Portraits, Music, Divertimento, Dance Suite); Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (in Violin Concerto) conductedby Ferenc Fric­say. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 2740 233 (five discs), produced by Wolfgang Lohse and Otto Gerdes.

The two sets under consideration here are but a few of the many recordings issued in honor of the 100th anniversary of Bela Bartók’s birth. The first of the two sets is an ambitious group of releases sponsored by Joseph Sefel, a Hungarian businessman now living in Canada. A sizable portion of Bartók’s orchestral music is included on these deluxe digital re­cordings, in performances conducted by Arpad Joó. Joó (pronounced like you), who is in his early 30s, was also born in Hungary, and now conducts the Calgary Philharmonic in Canada. Messrs. Sefel and Joó returned to their native land to record these works with Hungary’s two leading orchestras.

The DG set is a reissue of 10 performances done between the years 1951 and 1960 under the direction of Ferenc Fricsay, the Hungarian conductor who pursued a distin­guished career in Berlin until his premature death in 1963, when he was 49. Fricsay was a staunch proponent of Bartók’s music, as is reflected both in his sympathetic and perceptive commentary included with the set and in the performances themselves, which exhibit the conviction of one who has confidence in the music and in his own ability to project its mean­ing. These performances are limited only by the deficiencies of the respective orchestras and by the state of recording technology at the time—all are monaural except the four works for piano and orchestra.

The Sefel set offers an unusual emphasis on music written during the years 1903-05, a period that precedes any of Bartók’s works that are generally well-known. Several works of considerable length and ambition date from this time, however: the patriotic symphonic poem Kossuth (1903) and the two Suites for orchestra (composed mostly in 1905). Included on Fricsay’s set is the Rhapsodyfor piano and orchestra, which also dates from this period (1904). Those unfamiliar with any of these works are likely to be quite surprised by their adherence to a conventional 19th-century idiom, in which a chief ingredient is the ersatz Hungarian gypsy style familiar from Liszt and Brahms, inflated by a florid instrumental style borrowed from Strauss. Unlike the early works of many well-known composers, these pieces have little distinctive merit in their own right.

Kossuth, Bartók’s first completed orchestral work, was written to commemorate-a re­vered Hungarian revolutionary leader. The work brought tremendous success to the young composer—more for nationalistic than for musical reasons. Today Kossuth retains a certain historical interest, and its episodic succession of heroic and tragic bombast is not more or less effective than dozens of other commemorative pieces of this kind. There are some curi­ous moments suggestive of the opening of Mahler’s Third Symphony, some attractive har­monic touches, and some credible excitement. But the work is basically on the order of the 1812 Overture.

Kossuth is also available as part of Hungaroton’s complete Bartók series, in a perfor­mance featuring György Lehel and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra (LPX 11517)—the same orchestra that maestro Joó leads on the new Sefel recording. The latter is vastly superior in every way: the orchestra, while still not of truly virtuoso caliber, has improved greatly over the intervening years; Joó offers a much tauter, more dynamic interpretation, which supports the structure of the work considerably; and there is simply no comparison between the rather drab Hungaroton recording and the stunning sonics of the new Sefel recording.

The Rhapsody for piano and orchestra is a far less interesting piece altogether— a seemingly interminable stream of tedious prattling next to which Liszt’s Hungarian Rhap­sodies appear to be masterpieces of structure. Neither Anda nor Fricsay can be held responsible. 

The Suite No. 1 for orchestra is essentially a serenade, akin to the Brahms orchestral serenades: lightweight, generally lyrical or dance-like, with relaxed, prolix, and digressive formal attitudes. The listener with modest expectations may find the Suite No. 1, with its exo­tic touches, somewhat refreshing as background music. But there is no denying its predo­minantly banal content. The Suite No. 2 is darker, more introspective, and generally more ambitious than its predecessor. Interestingly, during the time of its composition, a period elapsed during which the composer made several discoveries that were to exert a consider­able influence on his music: one concerned the music of Debussy, and the other, a more au­thentic form of Hungarian folk music. These influences began to appear in the final move­ment of the Second Suite. For many years, Bartók continued to revise the work, whose hybrid style might be mentioned as an interesting analogue to Schoenberg’s contemporaneous String Quartet No. 2. At one point Bartók transformed the work into the Suite for Two Pianos; the final orchestral version was made in 1943. As it stands, the Suite No. 2does not show its mixed ancestry that obviously. Most noticeable in the fourth movement is a tightening of the structural flabbiness that had weakened all of Bartók’s music thus far. Joó’s performances of these suites are quite good—again, far superior to the Hungaroton recordings. The weakest aspect of the Hungarian orchestras is their woodwind playing: tone quality tends to be wildly uncontrolled. At times this is quite obtrusive on the Hungaroton recordings, but on the new Sefel releases it is not noticeable very often. Of course, London 7120 offers Antal Dorati leading the Detroit Symphony in a fine performance of the Suite No. 1, backed by the Two Pictures.

The Two Portraits(1907) represent another stage in Bartók’s development, in which he shed the overinflated Germanic rhetoric in favor of a more poignant, intimate type of expres­sion. This is also an early example of the composer’s effort to reconcile the perennial conflict between unity and diversity—an issue that Bartók was never able to resolve successfully in his abstract works. In Two Portraitsthe problem is solved through the juxtaposition of two diametrically opposed treatments (“Ideal” and “Grotesque”) of one theme. Here this tactic is quite successful, despite the apparent absence of balance between the two sections. In the first, a lyrical statement gradually soars to a gorgeous apotheosis that is justly responsible for its popularity with listeners who “hate modern music.” The second, while far less imposing, has a raucous brilliance of admirable brevity.
The Two Pictures and Four Pieces (and also Bluebeard’s Castle), written during 1910-­1912, carry this development further. Some listeners find this to be Bartók’s most rewarding period, although many commentators dismiss these works as written in the shadow of De­bussy. However, with greater familiarity their own very personal language is revealed—a lan­guage that has been touched by Debussy, perhaps, but one that is far apart psychologically, dramatically, ethnically, and even harmonically. Bartók seemed to be developing a personal expressive vehicle infused with the inflections of Eastern European melos, but capable of achieving a truly universal vision. The Two Picturesare again built on the principle of com­plementary structure, but here the interrelationships between the two sections are more complex. The first, “In Full Flower,” belies its title, evoking the same haunting visage of gloom and desolation that permeates Bluebeard’s Castle. The second, “Village Dance,” suggests a Rumanian folk dance, elaborated through the use of classical forms. Cross references between the two help to unite the sections, but the question arises: “Why do these two sections belong together?” Nevertheless, the piece succeeds by virtue of its brevity and modesty of aspiration.

In Four Pieces for Orchestra Bartók pursued his preoccupation with the highly evoca­tive, yet nominally abstract, brief symphonic poem. The dark mood of despair still pervades, at times giving way to the demoniacal. But the matter of balance is again a problem. Without an obvious structural aid, the attempt at consistency leads to monotony. The orchestration (not completed until 1921) is expert, the harmonic palette is highly nuanced, and the mood is conveyed with great skill. But the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts. Moreover, the music suffers for want of a melodic focus, without which it is only background music in search of a scene to accompany. In fact, one begins to suspect that it was Bartók’s own rec­ognition of his inability to develop this mainstream musical language in an autonomous, abstract direction that led him to rely so extensively on the phraseology of folk music for his thematic source material. It is no coincidence that Bluebeard’s Castle, The Wooden Prince, and The Miraculous Mandarin—three stage works with their own structural coherence—are the most successful works from this period—and, indeed, among the most fully realized works of his entire career.

Joó’s performance of the Two Portraits on Sefel is excellent, and beautifully recorded. Unfortunately, Hungaroton LPX-1302, which contains the ideal grouping of Two Portraits, Two Pictures, and Four Pieces on one disc, offers less refined performances and suffers from a noticeable wow on one side. The Joó performances of the Two Pictures and Four Pieces are also quite good, if a trifle sluggish and heavy-footed in the fast sections. It is a pity that Sefel did not group these three key works on one disc. Fricsay’s 1952 performance of the Two Portraits is good, if a bit overly melodramatic. The most compelling f performance of the Two Pictures, however, can be found on DG 2E31 269, together with a superb performance of the Concerto for Orchestra, played by the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Lorin Maazel.

There is no shortage of stunning recordings of the Miraculous Mandarin. Although its primitive passions, gruesome brutality, and even more literal connections suggested it as Bartók’s answer to Le Sacre, it has developed a great appeal of its own over the years. In fact, like Le Sacre, the score exploits the propulsive rhythmic drive and brittle orchestral bril­liance that tend to constitute an orchestral showpiece for the late-20th-century listener. Hence the number of recordings of this exciting ballet and the suite drawn from it. However, what with two fine versions of the complete ballet currently available—Boulez’s (CBS M­31368) and Dorati’s (Mercury 77012)—recordings of the suite, which omits some important music, are of questionable value. Nevertheless, Joó does provide a thrilling reading of the suite—as does Skrowaczewski, on the budget-priced Candide 31097. In fact, as fine as Dorati’s and Boulez’s versions are, neither has quite the kinetic impact of these two recordings of the suite.

In the Dance Suite of 1923, the folk dance element is wholly to the fore. In a sense, its sophisticated formal treatment of folk-style materials represents a further development of the “Village Dance” from the Two Pictures. What preserves its aesthetic integrity from the incon­gruities of later works is the primacy granted to the natural spontaneity of the material. Hence, its entertaining, if impersonal, quality is not at odds with its structure. In fact, its generous thematic material is so cleverly integrated that there are none of the jarringly obvious transitional schemes usually endemic to what is essentially a folk rhapsody. No other such work achieves this sophistication without sacrificing the natural exuberance of its material. But what is sacrificed is the element of personal vision, which, though beside the point in the Dance Suite, is a significant loss in later, more ambitious works.

Again, it is not surprising to encounter many stunning renditions of a piece like this. As one might expect, Sir Georg Solti offers the most thrilling performance of the Dance Suite, as its self-evident virtues are not jeopardized by Solti’s utter mindlessness as an interpreter, and the brilliant orchestral fireworks he generates are well captured on London’s digital pro­duction (LDR-71036). There is simply no competition for a recording like this, and as hard as Joó tries to achieve the same sort of sizzling effect, the Budapest Philharmonic simply can­not play with the razor-sharp precision of the Chicago Symphony. Skrowaczewski and Fric­say also offer well-conceived, more thoughtful performances, without sacrificing the neces­sary excitement, but their respective orchestras, the Minnesota and, to a greater extent, the RIAS Orchestra of Berlin, are forced to scramble, in trying to keep up. Again, both Boulez and Dorati are surprisingly restrained—a bit inappropriate for this piece. Yet these are all fine performances—the least of them is still a pleasure.

In Bartók’s three piano concertos and the Second Violin Concerto, the conflicting de­mands implicit in the terse directness of folk-style material, the prolonged, sophisticated or­namentation of the concerto format, and the composer’s desire to write “important” music undermine each other, with very uninteresting results. In these works, aggressive virtuosity and an exotic dialect serve as smoke-screens to conceal the absence of any truly substantial content and a retreat from the degree of personal artistic commitment suggested during the 1910s. Amidst the empty activity of these concertos, even the much-vaunted “night music” movements appear to have more significance than they really do. Again, they are mere backgrounds, in need of a foreground, and soon become tiresome. The Concerto No. 3 is a pallid reiteration of the kind of piece Bartók had done many times before. Although many lis­teners seem to feel otherwise, I find its restraint more symptomatic of exhausted creativity than of serenity and reconciliation.

Far more successful in this vein is the 1939 Divertimento for string orchestra, in which the folk spirit and the humanistic undertones are somewhat better balanced and, like the Dance Suite, united within more modest pretensions. Fricsay offers a warmly sympathetic performance, presenting the work in a most advantageous light.

Géza Anda’s 1959-60 performances of the piano concertos, while adequate, have been surpassed by more recent entries. Anda fares best with the Third Concerto, where he seems better suited to its suaveness and gentility. But he fails to supply the brittle, almost mechani­cal power that the first two concertos require. A recording that captures the spirit of these works features Maurizio Pollini with the Chicago Symphony under Abbado on DG 2530 901. Vladimir Ashkenazy’s recording of the Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 with the London Philharmonic under Solti on London 7167 admirably portrays their better qualities.

Tibor Varga’s recording of the Violin Concerto No. 2 is one of the least satisfactory efforts of the Fricsay set. The performance itself is not bad, but it is unrefined, with quite a few rough edges. Worse, though, is a boosting of the high frequencies of this 1951 recording so that the result is strident and unnatural.

Unfortunately, limitations of space prevent a sufficiently elaborate, balanced discussion of the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste and the Concerto for Orchestra.However, a key issue is Bartók’s difficulty in achieving sufficient variety and contrast without producing such a heterogeneous result that an underlying unity of spirit is lost. Of course, some struc­tures are looser and less demanding than others, and no work need reflect more discipline than is dictated by its own self-definition. In other words, suites and serenades may tolerate more heterogeneity than sonatas and symphonies. But it is more than simply a matter of nomenclature: the sound of the work itself communicates how it is to be taken. But both the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste and the Concerto for Orchestra promise more than they deliver, with the result that neither achieves a clear definition of its artistic purpose. This is partly because Bartók relied too heavily on the folk ethos to provide him with material he could not supply himself, and these sources were more limited than he realized. This is a more serious problem in the Music than in the Concerto, which is undeniably successful as an orchestral tour de force. But these works, regarded throughout the music establishment as “masterpieces,” ought to be held accountable to the highest criteria.

Fricsay, in his program notes, makes a valiant effort to provide a convincing programmatic raison d’être for the Concerto for Orchestra. His conviction is appealing, and reflected also in his intensely communicative performances of this work and the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste. Those interested in supplementary performances of these works may be drawn to these virtues, in spite of orchestral playing that is decidedly unimpressive.

Of the many available recordings of the Concerto for Orchestra, two loom as superior: One is the venerable performance by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, still available on RCA AGL1-2909. This interpretation has a straightforward vigor and vitality missed by many others who try to read more into the work than there is. The other preferred recording is Lorin Maazel’s recent release with the Berlin Philharmonic, mentioned earlier in connection with the Two Pictures. While the first movement is a bit fussy and studied, the remainder of the performance displays a disciplined flexibility that permits an unusually intelligent, sensi­tive interpretation. Moreover, the Berlin Philharmonic plays with great polish and refinement, and is given a brilliant showcase by DG’s engineers. In this company, Arpad Joó’s effort with the Budapest Symphony may be viewed as a nice try. To put it bluntly, the Concerto for Orchestra is primarily a showpiece for a virtuoso ensemble, which the Budapest Symphony is not. Thus, despite its shattering climaxes, attempts at fast tempos, and appropriate vigor, this is one of those cases in which there is no need to settle for second-best. To comment briefly on some of the other notable performances: Szell/Cleveland is bafflingly uneven, with some meticulous moments and some surprising disappointments, not to mention the notori­ous cut in the fifth movement; Skrowaczewski/Minnesota is uncharacteristically dull, stolid, and perfunctory; Boulez/New York is excellent, but too expansive and reflective during the first two movements; Solti/Chicago is woodenly and insensitively interpreted, but brilliantly played and stunningly recorded.

The discs in the imposing new Sefel set are lavishly packaged in sturdily reinforced jac­kets. Unfortunately, the effort expended in creating a truly patrician production is somewhat undermined by a few minor but annoying commercial gaucheries. One is the use of the slo­gan “Bartók Perfected” as a caption for the series, which is ludicrous and offensive; second are the awkward and confused program notes, which appear to have been compiled by someone not fluent in either English or music; and finally, there is the total absence of a single picture of Bartók himself, although the jackets are adorned copiously with a series of pre­cious full-color poses of Arpad Joó. But, in general, the performances are laudable and beautifully-recorded. Surfaces on this set and the DG set were impeccable.

The late Alexander Tcherepnin is said to have remarked that although Bartók was a sorely underrated composer during his own lifetime, he became a greatly overrated one after his death. The almost universal respect that Bartók has been accorded during the past three and a half decades among a lay and professional public barely familiar with the body of his output is largely a reflection of the musical community’s willingness to simplify reality into the polarized extremes of “greatness” and “worthlessness.” In this they have been aided by a powerful and surprisingly large generation of Hungarian musicians, unembarrassed by ethnic pride. A couple of works with crowd-pleasing qualities have spread his name to the general public.

But I mean no great disparagement of Bartók. This phenomenon reveals more about the public and its need for easy absolutes than it does about Barkók. He was a fine composer who produced many outstanding works, and a few great ones as well. But he also wrote much mediocre music, and some of his less-esteemed contemporaries wrote better music. The wholesale canonization of composers entails much distortion, oversimplification, and downright white-washing and serves no one concerned with understanding and preserving what is valuable in our musical life.

The Piano Sonatas of Scriabin: Laredo Returns. Additional selections played by Gavrilov.

With the exception of Beethoven’s 32, probably no other cycle of piano sonatas captures and distills the metamorphosis of a brilliantly original, psychologically unique, and consistently engrossing musical world-view as successfully as do Scriabin’s 10. These sonatas chronicle the composer’s spiritual odyssey and the psychic realms he charted, moving gradually from the conventional world toward an ever more rarefied personal vision. Spanning a period of only about 20 years (straddling the year 1900), the sonatas begin by fully embracing the Romantic piano language of Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt, while imbuing it with features of Scriabin’s own personality—in particular, a languid sensuality and breathless impetuosity that join in reaching toward the ecstatic. As time passed, his works shed their conventional syntax, moving through a less symmetrical, idiosyncratically Wagnerian opulence, in search of formal structures purer and more organically wedded to the ideas and feelings that consumed him. By the time of his death at age 43, Scriabin had arrived at a virtually atonal language of twittering trills, spasmodic pulsations, and brittle sound fragments that conjure an almost Strindbergian nightmare world of demonic spells, ghostly processions, and other febrile hallucinations.

Scriabin’s blatantly delirious revelry can easily be misunderstood as the incoherent effluence of uncontrolled egoism. Yet the genius of Scriabin lies in the clarity with which this spiritual metamorphosis is documented. While acknowledging that not all the sonatas reach quite the same high level of achievement, one is consistently struck by their lucid, well-integrated formal designs, by their comprehensive exploitation of the contrapuntal, textural, and timbral possibilities of the piano, and by the instinctive musicality that pervades them. This music is as much the result of rational planning, clear thinking, and thorough technical understanding as it is the fruit of intuition and inspiration.

Ruth Laredo’s traversal of Scriabin’s sonatas appeared on the Connoisseur Society label around 1970. Not only was the composer’s centenary then approaching, but his visions of mind-expanding artistic experiences and synergistic fusions of the arts were echoed in the modern culture of psychedelia (short-lived as it proved to be). There was a flurry of Scriabin recordings, many of them hasty, ill-conceived, and utterly oblivious to the music’s artistic demands. At the time Laredo’s series of recordings loomed as the most musically profound and pianistically competent of those available, while offering extremely fine sonic reproduction as well. Their disappearance from the catalog was a real loss, although I always felt they were too good to disappear for long. In the meantime some of the better-known pianists of Laredo’s generation—no longer youngsters—have tackled Scriabin’s music, as have some of the new generation of pianists, for whom Scriabin is viewed as somewhat less of a mystery. Hence the welcome opportunity for reassessment provided by Nonesuch’s reissue of the Laredo performances.

Overall her readings remain impressive. Among her strong points is the way she savors the sensuousness of the music without sacrificing either textural or rhythmic clarity. An even more important virtue is her ability to maintain a continuous, coherently flowing linear thrust throughout the later, more complex sonatas. While many pianists tend to alternate between unrelated extremes of languor and nervous frenzy, it is necessary as Laredo does, to bring these two tendencies into one integrated gestalt. Her approach is most successful in what are probably the two finest of the sonatas, i.e., those that convey the most intense insights and develop them most fully, concisely, and convincingly: the Sonatas Nos. 5 and 9. Some of the other sonatas seem not to interest her so much, resulting in interpretations that are superficial and indifferent.

The Sonata No. 1 of 1891 is probably the weakest work of the cycle. Almost obscured by the shadows of Chopin and Liszt, most of its developmental activity entails matters of piano figuration. The thematic material, while recognizable as Scriabin’s does not draw much atten­tion. Its most interesting features are the funeral march which serves as finale and the opportunity the work provides of witnessing Scriabin’s compositional sophistication and stylistic frame of reference at age 19, as represented in a large form. Laredo does little, however, to kindle any sense of spontaneity or vitality in the work, nor does any other pianist I have heard.

For the next six years, Scriabin worked intermittently on his Sonata No. 2. “Sonata-Fantasy.” Despite its rather tortured period of gestation, it is articulated with remarkable freedom and a natural sense of assurance. From the start this two-movement sonata proclaims itself the work of no other creative personality but Scriabin, despite the fact that it too accepts an in­herited melodic-harmonic syntax. One of the least often played sonatas, it is quite lovely—memorable melodically and sophisticated pianistically. Only about 12 minutes long, it deserves much wider exposure. Both Laredo and Ashkenazy (London CS-7087; not currently in print) have given fine performances, although Ashkenazy seems a little stiff and forced, in comparison with Laredo’s smooth, spontaneous reading.

With the Sonata No. 3 of 1898, Scriabin returned to a large, four-movement format for the last time. This may be considered the culminating work of his early period. Again there are aspects, especially in the first two movements, that are a bit too conventional in phraseology (unlike the Sonata No. 2), but fanciers of mainstream 19th-century piano music should have no problem with it. In fact, I am surprised that it is not played more often (but then again, the piano repertoire is perpetuated more by precedent and habit than by anything resembling ac­tive musical discrimination). The third movement leaps out as the most striking, displaying Scriabin’s gift for gorgeous, long-lined melody—the first truly distinctive feature of his style to proclaim itself. Horowitz’s recording from the mid-1950s (RCA LM-2005) was exciting enough, in his manner, but Ashkenazy’s (London CS-6920; still in print) is positively brilliant. Not only does he play the fiery, dramatic portions with utter conviction, but he caresses the lyrical, poetic aspects with excruciating sensitivity. Laredo is quite a disappointment in this sonata. Although she too plays the slow movement with sensitivity, the rest of the work seems not to interest her at all, making the result utterly prosaic. One of the work’s most striking moments is the final coda, in which a triumphant apotheosis is suddenly transformed into a wild flight of terror. This part seemed to enflame Horowitz’s imagination, and Ashkenazy renders it brilliantly as well, but Laredo misses the point altogether. I would not be surprised if she learned the work in undue haste.

By the time Scriabin turned to his Sonata No. 4, in 1903, he had completed two symphonies and was ready now to reach beyond the conventional Romantic language, which no longer met his needs. A transitional work, this sonata aims toward a more limpid, mercurial sort of expression, much less harmonically stable—one in which sheer sensuousness becomes a prominent element. As the Third Sonata may be viewed as successor to the First, so the Fourth may be regarded as successor to the Second, with its two-section, slow-fast design.

Andrei Gavrilov is a 30-year-old Russian pianist who won the Tchaikovsky Competition at 19. His performances of the Fourth Sonata and of 24 early preludes (drawn from Opp. 9, 11, 13, 15, and 16), dating mostly from the period of the Second Sonata, approach the music pri­marily as studies in piano coloration. While he highlights the delicate and sensuous aspects beautifully, Gavrilov seems oblivious to its deeper emotional dimensions. This is not such a loss in the preludes, in which the challenge to a pianist’s command of touch, color, and articu­lation is primary. But there is quite a bit more even to these early preludes—poems that reflect succinctly on the issues of mood, style, and emotion that concerned Scriabin in his larger works. In this light I find Gavrilov quite superficial and cosmetic. In the Fourth Sonata, he offers a lovely surface, but misses aspects revealed in many other performances. Of the versions I checked, Ashkenazy (CS-6920) again surpasses the others with a magnificent reading. Hilda Somer (Mercury SR-90500; not in print) is also fine, but badly recorded; Kuerti (Monitor MCS-2134) is rather somber and dogged, missing the more mercurial and flamboyant aspects; Laredo is acceptable, but a little earthbound in this one.

Gavrilov also offers the Étude, Op. 42, No. 5, the best-known of this group of eight. Composed about the same time as the Divine Poem, these études are marvelously imaginative and inventive in their use of the piano’s resources, while brilliant as vignettes revealing the stylistic transformations of Scriabin’s middle period. Op. 42, No. 5, by far the most striking of the set, is particularly difficult, as its dark, restless turbulence, relieved by a characteristically soar­ing melody, is built upon continuous figurations that must be clear while remaining in the background. Gavrilov is O.K., but the nuances missing from his interpretation can be found in Laredo’s. The inclusion of the entire set of Op. 42 Études, played with penetrating insight, is one of the bonuses of the Laredo set.

The Sonata No. 5 dates from 1907, the same year as the Poem of Ecstasy, to which it is a kindred work, leading from Scriabin’s middle period into his final phase. The main connection between the two works, aside from the composer’s own attempts to link them, is found in their quest for a state of transcendent euphoria. But the sonata has none of the grandiloquence of the orchestral work. Instead, its brilliance lies in the rhythmic fluidity through which he creates that irrepressible, agitated sense of delight that is another unique feature of Scriabin’s matu­rity—an expression captured more successfully in this work than in any other. A revealing comparison is provided by Vladimir Horowitz (RCA ARL1-1766), Sviatoslav Richter (DG SLPM-138 849), Ashkenazy (CS-6920), and Laredo. While Horowitz is quite comfortable with Scriabin’s earlier style, the later pieces elude him completely. Approaching them primarily as technical challenges, he offers only the most shallow, two-dimensional readings. Music for which a performance tradition has yet to be carved in stone is, of course, the real test of a per­former’s mettle. Horowitz is clearly over his head in this music, attempting to dazzle with only his massive sound and ferocious virtuosity. Richter’s No. 5, from a 1962 concert, is even worse—angular, disjointed, and ugly. Listen to either of them side by side against Laredo and hear for yourself the combination of coherence and spontaneity that is her particular distinction in this music. Her performance of the Fifth Sonata is superior to any I have heard—including Ashkenazy’s. As noted with regard to the Second Sonata, Ashkenazy sometimes displays a slightly rigid, over-driven quality most noticeable alongside the fluency of Laredo’s better performances.

The five sonatas from Scriabin’s late period all date from the years 1911-13. Here are found the notoriously fragmented gestures, in which trills and dissonant chord figurations play important motivic roles, the disintegration of tonal and rhythmic stability, and the exploration of a personal harmonic language much more complex and demanding than before. Scriabin was now entering the realm of the most innovative and experimental voices of his time. Yet the structure of these late works is usually adapted from sonata form, with its motivic continuity in a developmental context; thus a coherent thread is always evident. But while Scriabin’s music is in many ways more formally responsible than that of many of his contemporaries, his personal and verbal extravagance created the very opposite impression—that of some wild-eyed, drooling lunatic, banging away at the piano in an onanistic frenzy—an impression that remains in the minds of some listeners, discrediting the legitimate importance and artistic merit of much that he accomplished.

The five late sonatas are quite complex, expressively as well as structurally. Though commentators—notably, biographer Faubion Bowers, who provides entertaining program notes for the Laredo set—have sought to characterize them verbally, taking the composer’s own fanciful descriptions as points of departure, such efforts tend to be hopelessly subjective, sometimes misleading, and generally of little value in providing insight into the music. As long as I have known these works and as fond as I am of them, I am hesitant to commit myself to distinct characterizations beyond the most general terms. I will, however, go so far as to observe that the late sonatas reflect a new concern with expressions of evil, danger, and terror, counter­balancing the preoccupation with ecstasy that had hitherto dominated the music. There is a strikingly ominous quality to the Sonata No. 6, for example, not found in any previous sonata. Laredo captures this essence most effectively, as does Kuerti, on Monitor. The darkness and mystery of this work seem to suit him much better than the lighter-toned Fourth Sonata.

The Sonata No. 7, sometimes called the “White Mass,” is perhaps the most elusive, intuitive, and complex of all the sonatas. With a much attenuated motivic coherence, it is the hardest to characterize and the most difficult to project in performance. Ashkenazy (CS-7087) is a little smoother and more meticulous in this one than is Laredo, but both are excellent.

The Sonata No. 8 has a more distinctive motivic profile, somewhat reminiscent of the Fifth, making it easier to grasp than the Seventh. Yet it has all the textural entanglements of the other late works. Why it seems to receive the least attention of the late sonatas I do not know. Laredo’s performance is very well shaped, although no other performance was available for comparison.

The Sonata No. 9 is known as the “Black Mass,” and is one of Scriabin’s most demoniacal works, yet at the same time the most lucid major work from his later period. In fact, it may be the greatest of all the sonatas, epitomizing the dark side of Scriabin as the Fifth Sonata epito­mizes the ardent, ecstatic side. Despite its strange content—portents of doom, a wild ghost-march, and a violent climax—the Ninth has such a clear structural profile that it is the ideal starting point for an understanding of the late works. As mentioned earlier, Laredo surpasses all others in this work, including Ashkenazy and Horowitz, who exhibit the same shortcomings cited in the discussion of the Fifth Sonata.

The Sonata No. 10 is highly regarded by many, often described (predictably) as the culmination of Scriabin’s mastery in integrating form and content within the genre of the piano sonata. While its ideas are more fragmentary and idiosyncratic than in the previous sonatas (and hence more “advanced”), I find it structurally simpler than the Seventh and far less tightly drawn than the Ninth. I don’t mean to denigrate it, because it is a fascinating work, no less than Nos. 6, 7, or 8, but only to put it in perspective. Instead of unfolding in a long develop­mental line, it returns to material episodically, as if continually running out of steam. This tends to make it diffuse and especially difficult to bring off effectively. Laredo is surprisingly inadequate in this sonata. As penetrating and fluent as she is in the Ninth, she is shallow, unfocused, and careless in this one. Horowitz (CBS M2S-757) is not too bad, although he doesn’t have the delicacy of textural nuance for this music. Ashkenazy (CS-7087) is truly extraordinary, giving the most carefully and sensitively articulated performance of the Tenth I have heard. Also quite fine is a recording I reviewed glowingly some years back (Fanfare IV:1, pp. 141-2) featuring the German-born, American-trained pianist Volker Banfield (Wergo WER-60081). The ensuing years have not diminished my enthusiasm over that unusual recording.

The Laredo set is augmented by some other incidental pieces, in addition to the Études, Op. 42. There is the soulful Étude in C#t minor, Op. 2, No. 1, also known in a Stokowski or­chestration; the two Preludes, Op. 57–“Desir” and “Caress Dansee”; and the totally bizarre Vers la Flamme, Op. 72. Laredo’s readings of the Op. 57 pieces are both ethereal and sensuous, befitting the music, although a radically different account may be found on the Glenn Gould Silver Jubilee Album (CBS M2X-35914). Gould treats the music in a predictably Germanic manner, with great deliberation, so that the pieces sound like somber afterthoughts on the Berg Sonata. Op. 1. The miniature masterpiece, Vers la Flamme, one of Scriabin’s last and most imagistic works, is like a musical nightmare built on a simple motif of two notes, a semi­tone apart. As always with Scriabin, there is a tremendous challenge to the pianist to control the articulation of the primary material relative to secondary textures, which became more and more complex as Scriabin grew older. I have heard many pianists fail to project the work effectively, and Laredo is only partially successful. I would love to hear both Banfield and Ashkenazy do it. Hilda Somer (on her Mercury disc) gave quite a compelling rendition.

There are more Scriabin recordings than circumstances have allowed me to sample in this overview. My comparison of those versions available to me renews my admiration for Laredo’s excellent readings. Despite occasional lapses there is a high order of pianism and a much more consistent level of understanding than one usually encounters in performances of Scriabin. Her superb playing of Sonatas Nos. 5 and 9, as well as perfectly acceptable performances of Nos. 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8, together with the brilliant readings of the Op. 42 Études, make this a very strong entry in the Scriabin discography. Listeners who, for one reason or another, have yet to fully embrace this music, but are ready for a sample, are urged to grab the earlier Ashkenazy disc (London CS-6920) containing the Sonatas Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 9-probably the best one-disc Scriabin record available.

SCRIABIN: The Ten Piano Sonatas. Eight Etudes, Op. 42. Etude in C# minor, Op. 2, No. 1. Two Preludes, Op. 57. Vers la Flamme, Op. 72. Ruth Laredo, piano. NONESUCH 73035 (three discs), produced by E. Alan Silver.

SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 4. Preludes: Op. 9, No. 1; Op. 11, Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24; Op. 13, Nos. 1-3; Op. 15, Nos. 1, 5; Op. 16, Nos. 2, 4. Étude, Op. 42, No. 5. Andrei Gavrilov, piano. ANGEL DS-38161 (digital), produced by John Mordler.

David Amos conducts Modern Masters

David Amos conducts Modern Masters

Harmonia Mundi is inaugurating a new series of recordings under the heading “Modern Masters,” and the first three releases have just arrived. A varied selection of repertoire is eatured–primarily accessible works of the 20th century–in performances by three London groups, led by the American conductor, David Amos.

Amos is becoming an increasingly familiar name on the iInternational recording scene, with more than a dozen Recordings — mostly of just this sort of repertoire — on a variety of different labels. These recordings have been highly praised, for the most part, by Fanfare as well as by other reviewing media. During the past year alone, Amos has conducted seven new compact discs, featuring 26 works, 15 of them first recordings — a pretty impressive total, especially for a conductor who does not have a permanent orchestral post.

David Amos is based in San Diego, where he heads the International Musicians’ Recording Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering recordings of worthy but neglected music, mostly of the 20th century. So he is certainly an appropriate figure to collaborate with Harmonia Mundi on a project of this kind.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Maestro Amos, on the occasion of the release of these three new recordings, when he was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts and aspirations regardinq the “Modern Masters” project.


WS: This is a pretty imposing set of initial releases: thirteen pieces for orchestra, many of them first recordings. How did the Modern Masters series come about?

DA: Originally, I approached Harmonia Mundi with the idea. Knowing of my track record of promoting music of lesser-known composers and talented young artists, the Harmonia Mundi executives were pretty receptive to my proposal. 50 together we conceived the idea of a series called “Modern Masters,” which would present music that has never been recorded, as well as some other pieces that may have been available during the 1950s but have long been out of circulation. You know, there are a lot of pieces like that — wonderful pieces that haven’t been available for years. Libraries and radio stations are always clamoring for new copies to replace their old, worn-out ones. 50 we decided to do some of these as well, with modern sound and modern orchestras.

WS: That’s great. Do you expect the series to continue?

DA: I have every indication that there is an interest in continuing. Of course, the success of these first releases will be an important factor.

WS: How did you determine the initial repertoire?

DA: Basically, I do music that I enjoy and respect. 1’malso open to suggestions from experts who are knowledgable about 20th-century orchestral music and are aware of which works are most deserving of exposure. This has seemed to work very well, because the music I have recorded has elicited tremendous enthusiasm from listeners. I was just speaking with the music director of New York City’s public radio station earlier today, and he happened to mention that Hovhaness’ Concerto No. 8 for Orchestra and some of the Rosner pieces have prompted an unbelievable number of phone calls.

WS: Yes, I notice that Hovhaness, Rosner, and Creston seem to be favorites of yours.

DA: That’s right. You know, contrary to the conventional myths, there’s a great deal of 20th-century music that’s quite melodious and enjoyable, even at first hearing.

WS: That’s right. For a brief period — during the 1940s and early 5Os — this kind of music was being heard in America. Then — except for people like Copland and Barber — it disappeared. Now, thanks to the efforts of conductors like Leonard Slatkin, Gerard Schwarz, and you, this music has begun to re-enter the repertoire.

DA: Yes, I’m very excited about this. Since it appears that 12-tone music, serial music, and most of the other avant-garde music of the 1960s and 70s has not fulfilled the claims made for it by its defenders, many soloists and conductors are looking for new allegiances. A lot of them seem to be turning to some of the older composers whose music was ignored when it was first composed: people like Creston, Dello Joio, and Morton Gould, who are definitely high-quality composers whose excellent craftsmanship and artistry are now being recognized.

WS: Would you like to have a permanent orchestral position at some point?

DA: Well, what I would really like is to have a position as principal guest conductor with one of the better orchestras — one that has the same beliefs and interests that I do. You see, even though I love the standard repertoire and enjoy conducting it, I find there are plenty of fine conductors who do only that and duplicate each other’s efforts. I much prefer to pursue what I feel is a personal crusade and bring some of this wonderful unfamiliar repertoire to audiences, while interspersing it with standard pieces that they all know and love.

WS: Do you find conducting for recordings very different from conducting in concert?

DA: It is, in many ways. Standing up in front of an English or European orchestra to do a first recording requires some very specialized skills that I’ve had the opportunity to develop: It’s usually the first time that the orchestral players look at the music, in many cases it’s the first time the conductor conducts it, the music is generally far more difficult in concept and technique than standard repertory, and it all has to fall into place right there in the recording session — no real rehearsals, just a run-through or two, a few comments, and then the tape starts rolling. So conductor, soloist, and orchestra have to develop a unified style almost immediately. There’s no time to correct tempos or change interpretation — you must know exactly what you want right from the start. In order to accomplish this, of course, the orchestra must consist of superb and experienced readers, able to adjust instantly to the motions, style, and demands of the conductor on the podium. Most orchestras that do only standard repertoire cannot handle such a pressured situation. That’s why it was such a pleasure recording Modern Masters in England, with absolutely the finest reading musicians any place in the world.


This conversation with David Amos certainly whetted my appetite for the three new releases at hand. Having listened to each several times, I can summarize my impressions as follows: Each CD contains one work — listed first in the headnotes below — that, if not justifying the acquisition of each release, makes it worthy of serious consideration by the listener who favors this sort of music.

Volume I, which presents music for full orchestra, features the first recording, as far as I know, of Tripartita, a substantial, three-movement work written in 1972 by Miklos Rozsa. Considering the state of health of the 84-year old composer, it is probably his final major orchestral piece. Tripartita is a terse, powerful, brilliantly orchestrated work, considerably more angular and hard-bitten than the film music for which Rozsa is famous. Drawing upon a language rather reminiscent of Bartok’s Dance SuiteTripartita is sure to interest and gratify the composer’s many admirers.

The other pieces on Volume I are highly accessible and generally diverting in character. Some listeners may prefer a deeper, more challenging program, but others will enjoy the selections, I am sure. Menotti’s Triple Concerto a Tre is a genial, concertante-style work composed in 1970, featuring three instrumental trios in soloistic roles. The slow movement displays a lovely, Finzi-like lyricism and poignancy that would be ideal in a movie; the outer movements each have an infectious, slightly neo-Baroque, Pulcinella-like quality that reminds one of the overture to an opera buffa. Morton Gould’s three-movement Folk Suite dates from 1938, and displays the composer’s characteristic treatment of American-flavored subject matter. I find that in such pieces, Gould subjects exceedingly banal material to such excessively complex elaboration that the results lack the naturalness, spontaneity, and grace achieved by Copland, for example. Latvian-born Marc Lavry composed the 16-minute symphonic poem Emek in 1936, one year after he immigrated to Palestine. A homage to the early settlers of Israel, the work is simply conceived with broad, heroic gestures and exotic colorations.

Modern Masters II features the Partita for flute, violin, and strings, composed by Paul Creston in 1937. This is a delightful five-movement neo-Baroque dance suite, infused with the composer’s warmth and exuberant good humor. Though the Partita does not aspire to “the power and intensity of Creston’s more serious-toned works, it has been a favorite among listeners, ever since its early-1950s recording on the American Recording Society label, which was later reissued on Desto. I always found that performance and recording pretty drab, so the high-spirited vitality of this rendition, captured within a sonic context of crystalline transparency, represents a most welcome improvement.

The remainder of this disc presents a varied program of music for chamber orchestra. David Ward-Steinman was born in Louisiana in 1936 and is now composer-in-residence at San Diego State University. His music has evolved during the years, incorporating many of the trends and fashions that have come and gone. The Concerto No. 2 was composed during the early 1960s and is a representative example of the sort of American neoclassicism that often appeared on Robert Whitney’s Louisville Orchestra recordings from exactly that period. Ward-Steinman’s contribution is skillful in its lively, exhilarating way. Norman Dello Joio is a composer whose music has rarely impressed me at all, despite my great fondness for the generation of composers to which he belongs. His Lyric Fantasies is a relatively recent (1975) work for viola and strings whose genial, if somewhat dry, urbanity calls William Walton to mind. Something of a human composing machine, Henry Cowell composed his five-minute Hymn on the spur-of-the-moment one day in 1946. It is a warmly euphonious example of his distinctive neo-early-American vein, with its hearty modal polyphony, and deliberate crudities of voice-leading. Paul Turok is probably better known as a critic than as a composer. (He used to write for Fanfare, among other publications, and now has his own journal, Turok’s Choice.) His brief Threnody dates from 1979 and, to my ears, suffers from a lack of distinctive personality. Britten-cum-Hindemith is the general flavor.

The highlight of Modern Masters III is Responses, Hosanna, and Fuque, by Arnold Rosner (see interview/discography in last issue). This is a 20-minute work for string orchestra and harp, composed in 1977. Inhabiting an expressive realm initially charted by Vaughan Williams in his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, and further mined by Alan Hovhaness in many of his works, Rosner’s piece more than holds its own in this company. Of course, the presence of two Hovhaness works on this CD makes a comparison inevitable, especially when one recalls that Rosner is the author of the entry on Hovhaness in The New Grove and one notes that the works featured here by the two reveal the aspect of each composer closest in style to the other. In my view, the comparison favors Rosner, whose work — here and elsewhere — displays greater depth, expressive range, melodic appeal, harmonic interest, and sense of formal direction. While perhaps a trifle over-extended relative to its substance, Responses, Hosanna, and Fugue is a work whose spiritual fervor will certainly appeal to admirers of both composers.

The two Hovhaness works appear to be first recordings also. Psalm and Fuque is scored for string orchestra and dates from the early 1940s, when the composer was concentrating on modal polyphony, ecclesiastical in character and without the middle-eastern exoticism that soon appeared in his work. Like Alleluia and Fuque, composed about the same time (and recorded by Amos on Crystal CD810), Psalm and Fuque evokes a slightly mournful, yet warmly devotional mood. Shepherd of Israel appeared about a decade later, when Armenian religious and folk elements had entered Hovhaness’ creative palette. Somewhat reminiscent of Avak the Healer, with thematic similarities to Talin, Shepherd of Israel comprises six short movements in which the string orchestra is augmented variously by a flute, a cantorial singer, and a trumpet. The middle-eastern melos, the Hebrew language, and the title of the work give it an appropriately Israeli quality (it was written to commemorate the founding of Israel), although the music itself is standard early-1950s Hovhaness.

And finally, there is DelIo Joio’s Meditations on Ecclesiastes, rounding out a CD that seems to be unified by spiritual concerns. This half-hour work for strings was composed in 1956 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize the following year. It was recorded for CRI by the Oslo Philharmonic under the direction of Alfredo Antonini, a performance that has been re-issued on CD by Bay Cities (BCD-I017). The work has been choreographed by Jose Limon, with the title, There is a Time. It is in the form of a theme and variations, with each biblical line represented by a variation. Again, I must confess something of a deafness to DelIo Joio’s virtues. Its language strikes me as at once harsh and treacly, emotionally lukewarm in a way that conjures 1950s American culture at its most ordinary. Amos’ performance is somewhat broader than Antonini’s, which is fine as well, but Harmonia Mundi’s sonics are, of course, vastly superior.

The performances on these three CDs are generally solid, fervent, and committed. The sound quality is splendid, with a fullness and richness never at the expense of clarity. Some of the soloists — especially, cantor Sheldon Merel in Shepherd of Israeland violist Karen Elaine in Dello Joio’s Lyric Fantasies — are rather uncertain. Program booklets are handsomely produced, with excellent photos of the composers, although accompanying notes could be somewhat more elaborate.

MODERN MASTERS I. ROZSA: Tripartita. MENOTTI: Triplo Concerto a Tre.GOULD: Folk Suite. LAVRY: Emek. David Amos conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. HARMONIA MUNDI–HMU 906010 [DDDJi 72:59. Produced by Tim McDonald.

MODERN MASTERS II. CRESTON: Partita for Flute, Violin, and Strings. DELLO JOIO: Lyric Fantasies for Viola and Strings. WARD-STEINMAN: Concerto No.2 for Chamber Orchestra. COWELL: Hymn for Strings. TUROK: Threnody. Yossi Arnheim, flute; Nicholas Ward, violin; Karen Elaine, viola; David Amos conducting the City of London Sinfonia. HARMONIA MUNDI–HMU 906011 [DDDJi 59:31. Produced by Robina G. Young.

MODERN MASTERS III. ROSNER: Responses, Hosanna, and Fugue.HOVHANESS: Shepherd of 1sraelPsalm and Fugue. DELLO JO1O: Meditations on Ecclesiastes. Sheldon Merel, cantor; Kenneth Smith, flute. David Amos conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. HARMONIA MUNDI–HMU 906012 [DDDJi 76:35. Produced by Robina G. Young. .

BLOCH: Sonata Nos.1 and 2 for Violin and Piano. String Quartet No. 1. Suite for Viola and Piano. Schelomo. WALTON: Cello Concerto. R. STRAUSS: Violin Sonata.

An Ernest Bloch Update

BLOCH: Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano. R. STRAUSS: Sonata in E-Flat for Violin and PianoOp. 18. Elmar Oliveira, violin, Walter Ponce, piano. VOX CUM LAUDE D-VCL 9021 (digital), produced by Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz, $10.98.

BLOCH:  Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano. Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (Poème Mystique). Yukiko Kamei, violin; Irma Vallecillo, piano. LAUREL LR-121, produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert, $8.98.

BLOCH:  String Quartet No. 1. Pro Arte Quartet. LAUREL LR-120, produced by Herschel Burke Gilbert, $8.98 (available from: Laurel Records, 2451 Nichols Canyon, Los Angeles, California 90046).

BLOCH: Suite for Viola and Piano. HINDEMITH Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 25, no. 4. Yizhak Schotten, viola; Katherine Collier, piano. CRI RECORDS SD-450, produced by Carter Harman, $8.95.

BLOCH:  Schelomo. WALTON: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. Gregor Piatigorsky, cello; Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch. RCA GOLD SEAL AGL1-4086, $5.98. 

This season has seen the appearance of several fine discs devoted to the music of Ernest Bloch. These, along with other recent recordings that have been discussed in these pages (see especially Fanfare IV:5, pp. 60-61), suggest that musicians have finally begun to look beyond the familiar attractions of Schelomo and the Concerto Grosso No. 1 end delve into Bitch’s challenging and rewarding body of chamber music — especially those landmark works composed between 1915 and 1924, the period represented by these recordings. After the appearance of so many discs that offer nothing beyond the right notes, it is encouraging to note that players are also beginning to comprehend the expressive possibilities of this music and approach it with the emotional commitment that it demands. Most of Bloch’s works from this period — including Schelomo — carry a rather explicit metaphysical program. Using as a point of departure the formal and stylistic parameters inherited from the Franck/Chausson/Debussy tradition in which he developed, Bloch imbued his music with intensely bitter philosophical visions, attempting to depict such dynamics as the destructive forces of mankind, raging against the eternal serenity of nature, the escape from materialism into spiritual contemplation, the futility and vanity of idealism, etc. The use of music as a vehicle for such personal philosophical statements is not as common as one might think, although, interestingly, this trait was shared by Scriabin; literary, dramatic, and historical programs are far more frequently encountered. Of course, such content runs counter to several of today’s artistic taboos: against public confessions, against unrestrained emotional display, as well as against verbalizing musical meaning — especially of a personal nature. Around the turn of the century such uninhibited rhetoric was more acceptable, and Bloch, himself a fervent, passionate fellow, did not hesitate to provide verbal interpretations of his works, or to sanction the attempts of others to try their hands. In some cases, as in Alex Cohen’s notorious commentary on the Violin Sonata No. 1, the results were rather extravagant. (“Bloch saw in this terrible march … a barbaric procession with mounted elephants trampling to death a crowd of prostrate bodies — scapegoats doomed to die in a mass atonement, to lay the ghost of en obsession end propitiate some imagined spirit, in order that life might be safe for the survivors . . . .”) But it is partly a testament to the unequivocal content of Bloch’s music, and to his eloquence in realizing it, that such commentaries strike the listener as wholly accurate, florid though the verbiage may be. The purpose of these interpretations was to help listeners to penetrate the surface of this music, whose brutal ferocity was quite overwhelming at the time. Today many may find the descriptions superfluous. In any case. the music must succeed or fail by dint of its own merits. But with a little indulgence for a tendency toward loose, expansive structures common to early 20th-century romanticism, one will discover some of the most powerful and deeply, moving works of the chamber music literature.

Of particular interest here are 2 important new recordings of the Violin Sonata No. 1, one of Bloch’s greatest works. (For comments on previous recordings of this sonata, see Fanfare III:4, pp. 63-65; V:5, p. 269.) Vox Cum Laude presents a digital recording (also released on cassette) that features Elmer Oliveira, a dazzling younger virtuoso who has demonstrated consummate artistry in a wide variety of styles. Laurel, a small, independent-minded company based in Los Angeles, introduces the young Japanese violinist Yukiko Kamai, a former student, and, later, assistant of Jascha Heifetz (Heifetz, of course, has made definitive recordings of the Bloch sonatas, available now only as part of a 4-record set. RCA ARM4-0947.) In previous performances coincidentally, Oliveira has impressed me with a technical mastery and visceral gusto suggestive of Heifetz. Thus, in listening to this recording, I was a little surprised and disappointed to encounter a detached refinement more akin to the playing, say, of Arthur Grumiaux. But we are not dealing with Saint-Saens’ Rondo Capriccioso here. You do not play the Bloch Sonata No. 1 to show how refined you are. You play this piece because you believe in it, or you leave it alone. Indeed, the playing is superbly patrician: Challenging technical passages are dispensed with an aloof calm; there is not an uncontrolled note, nor an ugly one — and this is very difficult music. But there is ugliness in it that must be conveyed. Oliveira is a bit too tight, too controlled, insufficiently expansive. And, as if to disprove everything that has been said about digital recording, the sound quality on this disc is rather distant and diffuse. I am no advocate of “concert-hall perspective” in recording, especially not for chamber music. In this case, it only compounds the frustrating detachment of the performance. Pianist Walter Ponce provides adequate, reasonably sensitive support, but the piano is miked and balanced in such a way that it sounds muffled, a problem that plagues virtually all recordings of this work.

Kamei, on the other hand, presents a very different type of performance. Though lacking the extraordinary tonal finesse of Oliveira, she seems to dig deeper into the work. Her tone is wiry and a little harsh, but she has full technical command and approaches the sonata with the necessary aggressiveness. The sound quality of this recording is also very different from the Vox: Here the violin ambience is very close — even too close, so that it sounds rather flat and two-dimensional. Then, too, the balance between violin and piano is not right — again the piano is muffled and distant. (If you think I’m being too fussy, listen to the CRI viola disc as an example of ideal string/piano balance.) In summary, let me emphasize that these are 2 very fine performances. While neither achieves perfection, each is a significant addition to the Bloch discography.

To its distinct advantage, this new Laurel release is the first single-disc pairing of the 2 Bloch sonatas since the workmanlike renditions of Rafael Druian and John Simms on Mercury from the mid 1950s. The Violin Sonata No. 2, “Poème Mystique,” was composed in 1924, four years after the Sonata No. 1. It is in one movement, much freer in form than its predecessor. Centered around a beautiful hymn containing both Christian and Jewish elements, the work offers an optimistic spiritual alternative to the pessimism of the First Sonata. While not as tight and concentrated as the earlier work, the “Poème Mystique” is passionate in its idealism, and quite lovely. Kamei and Vallecillo provide an excellent performance, superior to the warmly heartfelt but technically uncertain rendition by Michael Davis and Nelson Harper on Orion.

Laurel has slowly been building a reputation among connoisseurs as one of the most discriminating and imaginative smaller record companies around. Under the uncompromising guidance of Herschel Burke Gilbert, Laurel has tried to fill important gaps in it the recorded repertoire with outstanding recordings of authoritative performances. Although many small companies have tried this sort of thing, few have shown the painstaking concern for musical values that Laurel has demonstrated. Among the projects in progress are Robert Muczynski’s traversal of his substantial piano output, the string quartets of Szymenowski, and, with this initial entry, the 5 string quartets of Ernest Bloch, performed by the Pro Arte Quartet (in residence at the University of Wisconsin). This will be the first complete recording of the quartets, as the London set by the Griller Quartet (LLA-23) was released before the composition of the Fifth Quartet in 1956. On the evidence offered in this initial effort, Bloch enthusiasts have much pleasure ahead, as this recording of the Quartet No. 1 — the first in some 27 years — sets a new standard for the repertoire.

The Quartet No. 1 was completed in 1916, shortly after Schelomo, with which it shares a thematic motif. It is long — nearly an hour — very ambitious, and uncompromisingly serious in tone. The long-lived Bloch was not a terribly precocious composer; although he was 36 when he completed this quartet, it reveals traces of apprenticeship absent, however, from Schelomo. While reflecting the spiritual and philosophical vision of ferocious savagery and bitter despair found in the other works of this period, the quartet also reveals clearly its lineage from the Franco-Belgian tradition mentioned earlier. Not only does its whole-hearted adoption of cyclical procedures suggest its links to the Franck group, but moreso, its approach to quartet sonority ties it closely to the Debussy quartet. It is interesting to observe the Frenchman’s magical timbral blends wrenched and twisted to serve Bloch’s very different and highly individual temperamental needs. Certainly these fascinating connections to its stylistic roots are not to the detriment of the work. However, its excessive length suggests a degree of formal uncertainty; one detects a lack of confidence that one will get the message the first time, so that points are made more fully and explicitly than necessary. There is, nevertheless, much to appreciate in this work, especially in the performance we are offered on this disc. The Pro Arte group emphasizes the quartet’s dramatic intensity to the utmost, bringing to it the necessary physical power and incisiveness. The recording captures a dynamic range that is extraordinarily impressive. This is a milestone recording of an important work, whetting one’s appetite for the next installment: The Second Quartet is probably the greatest of the 5.

Bloch is one of those composers who demonstrated a mastery of orchestral color from his earliest serious efforts — witness the brilliance of Schelomo in this regard. Conversely, his writing for the piano remained consistently awkward throughout his career. Even as fine a work as the 1935 piano sonata, though a powerful piece of music, does not use the resources of the instrument to best effect. Indeed, virtually all of Bloch’s keyboard writing sounds like orchestral music reduced for simulation on piano: Tremolo effects, tightly-voiced dissonances, mysterious murmurs beg the imagination to translate them into their appropriate garb. This is revealed clearly by a comparison between the Suite for Viola and Piano and the orchestrated version that Bloch completed soon afterward. Composed shortly before the First Violin Sonata, the Viola Suite is more loosely structured (as its title suggests), though again its mood is similar to that of the sonata and the First Quartet. More exotically colored than the other 2 works, it has many beautiful moments, conjuring an imagery both mysterious and remote. The opening, in particular, is one of Bloch’s most haunting passages. But as the work unfolds, it seems to lose its focus somewhat, its substance thinning cut disappointingly. Failing to fulfill its obviously ambitious intentions, it occupies a slightly lesser position among Bloch’s works from this period. Violist Yizhak Schotten and pianist Katherine Collier offer as magnificent a performance of the work as I have ever heard. An excellent partnership, they are technically impeccable and sensitive to every nuance. And, as mentioned earlier, the quality of the recording is extremely good, with a superb instrumental balance and sonic ambience. Yet I am afraid I must recommend this work in the orchestral version on Tumabout TV-S 34622 (with an excellent performance of Schemolo on the other side), although Milton Katims’ viola playing is nowhere near as fine as Schotten’s. (Actually, I would love to see Schotten record the orchestral version.) In Bloch’s case, the orchestra reveals an implicit aesthetic dimension that remains dormant in the piano version — something that is riot true for all composers.

There is certainly no paucity d tine recordings of Schemolo As magnificent a work as it is, though, its popularity has discouraged lazy conductors from exploring other equally fine, if less well-known works of Bloch. In fact, with tongue partly in cheek, the Ernest Bloch Society recently urged a moratorium on performances ofSchelomo, so that other works might get some attention. (On that note, I would nominate for resurrection the brilliant 1937 orchestral suite Evocations, the demonic Scherzo Fantasque for piano and orchestra, and the 1903 Symphony in C-sharp minor, which prompted Romain Rolland to write. “I do not know any work in which a richer, more vigorous, more passionate temperament makes itself felt.”) The best recorded performance of Schelomo features Rostropovich, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the French National Radio Orchestra (Angel S-37256). The Piatigorsky performance is excellent, though, with surprisingly good sound quality, considering that it is 25 years old. There are several other fine, moderately priced recordings as well: Laszlo Varga  on Turnabout (mentioned above) and Pierre Fournier on DG Privilege (2535201).

To deal briefly with the companion pieces: Yizhak Schotten and Katherine Collier offer a meticulous, well-disciplined performance of Hindemith’s Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 25, No. 4, but the piece just bustles around and goes nowhere.

Elmar Oliveira’s pairing for the Bloch Sonata No. 1 is Strauss’ Sonata for Violin and Piano. It is one of the last works in his early, classically oriented style, written in 1887-88, about the time he began the cycle of tone poems. Like most of Strauss’ music from this period, the sonata is composed with great technical skill, but its content is quite superficial. It has its nice moments, and Oliveira and Ponce play it beautifully, but it is an inflated, garrulous work, devoid of all the deeper values so important to Bloch. There are a couple of peripheral annoyances about this new release worth mentioning: For one, the cover design subordinates the music to the performers in a particularly blatant manner. Moreover, Peter Eliot Stone’s liner notes lavish an inordinate amount of analytical commentary on the Strauss, while padding a cursory description of the Bloch with a disorganized array of irrelevant details, although the Strauss is the less important work from every conceivable perspective.

Gregor Piatigorsky recorded the Walton concerto in 1957, 3 days after he introduced the work. It is a mellifluous piece, more memorable thematically than Walton’s concertos for violin or viola. There is a trace of Korngold’s Hollywood style that runs through the attractive, if loosely structured, piece. Piatigorsky and the Boston Symphony do an excellent job with it, making this a worthwhile reissue.

A Persichetti Perspective

PERSICHETTIString Quarets Nos.1-4; New Art String Quartet. Available from Department of Music, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85281. 2 LPs, $10. 

This is the kind of recording most composers dream about: beautiful in every aspect, from layout to annotation to performance to sound quality. It is a first-rate, in-depth examination of one of our foremost composers as reflected in his treatment of the string quartet medium over a period of 33 years. 

Vincent Persichetti, now 62, has been associated with the Juilliard School for the past three decades. As a teacher, composer and author of one of the leading textbooks on contemporary harmony, he has revealed a steadfast avoidance of dogma and a concomitant dedication to the development of a 20th century common practice-an amalgamation of the wealth of compositional styles and materials that have emerged into a broad and flexible vocabulary-and this during a period when the music world has been an arena for dozens of different competing, ephemeral, exclusive and seemingly irreconcilable musical styles. 

This catholic approach has spawned a body of work that has touched the lives of thousands of musicians, from beginning piano students to high school band members to specialists in esoteric theory. But as Persichetti’s compositional career may appear as a veritable tour de force of technique while setting an example, so his music has at times been criticized as impersonal, facile, derivative, or academic. However, for the most part, these judgments are the result of an inadequate sampling of pieces. In truth, Persichetti’s musical profile shares something in common with those of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Ravel-composers whose total and effortless mastery of technique served a range of expression on a continuum from exquisite delicacy to joyful exhilaration. In essence, Persichetti is the ultimate neo-classicist, not in the trivial sense to which that concept has degenerated, suggesting the mockery of musical affect, but in its highest, Apollonian sense as one who glories in striving for the apotheosis of musical perfection. I do not mean to suggest that all of Persichetti’s music is of a sanguine character; much of it deals in dramatic conflict. But the range of conflict is within the music rather than within the composer. For those who are familiar with a reasonable sample of Persichetti’s works, these consistencies become apparent. 

The guiding spirit of this recording project was David Cohen, a member of the music faculty at Arizona State University. Cohen is also responsible for the knowledgeable, penetrating and perceptive liner notes. The New Art String Quartet, consisting of Frank Spinosa, Eugene Lombardi, William Magers, and Takayori Atsumi, is also in residence at Arizona State. 

One of the first observations a listener to these quartets might make is that Persichetti’s shift from simple diatonic tonal materials to more complex and angular elements in no way follows a chronological pattern. Both extremes are found in his American Record Guide earliest as well as his most recent music, though they have become more refined in many ways. In fact, the quartet that will probably most ingratiate the listener on first hearing is No. 2. Similar stylistically to the Third Piano Sonata, the work opens with a simple diatonic statement in the Dorian mode. Its consistent modality and open consonances give the piece a distinctly folk-like, “American” flavor. This flavor remains throughout, despite a Grosse Fuge-like finale. 

By contrast, No. 1, which preceded No. 2 by five years, is of a decidedly different nature, and is the only one of the four with which I am less than pleased. The work exemplifies the single weakness that I have observed in Persichetti’s music: an occasional mismatching of idiom to intent. That is, at times the spirit of a piece appears to be in conflict with the materials used, resulting in a dissatisfying ambiguity. (Another case in point is the ambitious Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.) The First Quartet, despite the grim 12-tone row with which it begins and its densely contrapuntal unfolding, is essentially a lightweight piece with much in it that suggests the jocular and lyrical. Yet its unrelievedly abrasive harmonic language undermines and conflicts with this spirit, creating a limp and stilted effect. 

The No. 3 was composed during the 1950’s, a decade of incredible fertility for Persichetti in which he completed four symphonies, five piano sonatas, the hour-long song cycle Harmonium, along with seven shorter cycles, and many more miscellaneous works. Among these are most of those pieces for which. Persichetti is best known. The No. 3 explores an approach shared by his other most successful works of this period, the Concerto for Piano, Four Hands, and the Symphony No. 5 for strings. Each of these pursues a thorough exploitation of a single thematic element within a one-movement framework containing many short sections contrasting in tempo and texture. This format is ideally suited to Persichetti’s gifts for uncovering endless possibilities in limited thematic material, for creating a unified stylistic entity from diverse expressive elements, and for generating a fluent and coherent overall design despite many contrasting episodes. In this quartet the severity of the mysterious 12-tone theme with which it opens is fully justified and sustained throughout, though the piece is not composed according to serial procedures. It is a work of endless fascination and prompts numerous re-hearings. 

It is worth noting that despite his use of 12-tone themes, fragmentary textures, and complex non-tonal harmonic structures, Persichetti has never written a serial work, in the Schoenbergian or Webernian sense. However, he does use a personal adaptation of some serial devices to generate harmonic structures. Often the result, as in the monumental Symphony No. 9, “Janiculum”, the Parable IX for band, and the Fourth String Quartet is aurally equivalent to many fully serialized works. Yet in his case the music rarely lapses into sterile intellectualism because of the overriding dramatic impetus that is Persichetti’s primary concern and an always perceptible rhythmic pulse that underlies and clarifies the work’s articulation. 

The No. 4 is the 10th in the series that Persichetti has dubbed Parables. The Parables are one-movement dramatic abstractions, most of which contain references and allusions to his earlier pieces. This particular work is a further extension of the notion of constant flux within a one-movement design. 

The surface quality and the sound quality of these recordings are excellent — quite unusual for a private, noncommercial release. The performers demonstrate a serious commitment to the music through their willingness to fashion really polished, sensitive interpretations; the playing is of a consistently high quality. A great deal of work has obviously gone into this production, and the result is a valuable tribute to a major composer, indispensable to everyone concerned with the contemporary chamber music repertoire. 

Unfortunately, the number of available recordings of Persichetti’s major works has dwindled of late. RCA has recently dropped from its catalogue the extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra performance of Janiculum, but Persichetti and his wife’s hair-raising rendition of the masterful Concerto for Piano, Four Hands can be obtained from Columbia Special Products, and whatever copies might remain of the Symphony No. 5 can be ordered from the Louisville Orchestra (333 West Broadway; Louisville, Kentucky, 40202). Tape collectors may be able to turn up the excellent recent performance of this work by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Ajmone-Marsan; all are warned to avoid the outrageous truncation perpetrated by Giulini and the Chicago Symphony. For those interested in a more accessible side of Persichetti’s music, six of his pieces for band, including what is probably his most popular work, the Symphony No. 6, are available on Coronet S-1247 (Coronet Recording Co., 375 East Broad Street; Columbus, Ohio). 

SAMUEL BARBER: A Once-Suppressed Symphony, Three Essays, and Other Orchestral Works

With the music of Samuel Barber receiving a great deal of attention these days, the appearance of his once-suppressed Symphony No. 2, in its first recording in nearly four decades, is sure to generate wide interest. The work was composed in 1944, at a time when Barber, only in his mid-thirties, was internationally acclaimed as one of America’s most distinguished composers. As his contribution to the wartime effort, Barber was serving as corporal in the Army Air Force, enjoying the privilege of fulfilling his patriotic duty by writing music that would unify the nation in the spirit of victory. Looming as precedent along these lines was Dmitri Shostakovich, whose “Leningrad” Symphony had become such a symbol of the Allied struggle that his name had virtually become a household word. Stories circulated describing how the Army, in an unprecedented effort to nurture Barber’s creativity, flew him around the country from airfield to airfield, so as to inspire within him the appropriate sentiments.

Originally entitled Symphony Dedicated to the Army Air Forces, the work proved to be the most ambitious product of Barber’s wartime experience and its premiere, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky, was as highly publicized as the circumstances surrounding its composition. The orchestration called for an “electronic tone generator.” especially designed for the purpose by Bell Labs, and listeners attempted to hear in the work representations of air-raids, planes taking off and the like, although, from the beginning, Barber denied any descriptive or programmatic intentions. The critical reception was generally quite favorable and the work received a number of subsequent performances and broadcasts, in the U.S. and abroad.

Some ambivalence on the composer’s part concerning the symphony was suggested by the appearance in 1947 of a revised version, in which the “tone generator” was replaced by conventional instrumentation and the title changed simply to Symphony No. 2. A few years later, Barber conducted a recording of the work in England (London LL-1328) — its only recording until now.

Evidently, during the following decade the work’s popularity lagged behind that of the composer’s earlier successes. Most likely, this is attributable to the general withdrawal of support among major orchestras and conductors from native symphonic music, as the European serialist movement, whose leaders derided thencurrent American compositional styles. attained considerable influence in this country after the war. In addition, during the 1940s Barber had retreated somewhat from the overt, heartfelt lyricism that had brought so much popularity to his earlier works while stigmatizing him among critics as a reactionary. His works from this period reveal a .language squarely in the mainstream of American composition-a dryer, cooler, more “objective”-sounding language influenced by Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Copland, yet enriched by characteristically lyrical passages at strategic moments. Though this shift may have brought his music more in line with contemporary practice, it also reduced its immediate audience appeal to some extent.

In any case, while discussing the symphony’s relative neglect with his publisher during the early 1960s, Barber is reported to have said, “it is not a good work . . . . Let’s go back to the office and destroy it.” The subsequent act of physical destruction was more a rash, symbolic impulse than an actual obliteration of the work itself. as the recording and printed score had been widely circulated. Nevertheless, most of the parts were destroyed and the work was banned from recording or public performance. Only now, after some extensive negotiation, have the trustees of the Barber estate made an exception. allowing the release of this new recording.

What was so terrible about the symphony that prompted the composer to withdraw it? Barber’s great reputation often seemed to be for him something of a mixed blessing. For most of his professional life, he enjoyed a position of eminence that brought him both wealth (relatively speaking) and frequent performances and recordings by the world’s leading singers, instrumentalists, ensembles, and conductors. But with such success came the periodic pressure-others might view it as an opportunity-to create “blockbusters,” i.e., grand, highly publicized musical events. My impression-and I should confess that I did not know him well, though I have spoken to many who didis that Barber dreaded this sort of thing, feeling that monumental statements were not natural to his creative temperament. Furthermore, graduating from a safe, pampered childhood directly into the musical limelight by his mid-twenties seemed to render him terribly vulnerable to failure. Hence, he probably undertook such ambitious projects as the Second Symphony and the Opera Antony and Cleopatra (which incorporates the opening of the symphony into act 1. scene 2: see Fanfare 8:2, pp. 147-150, to pursue the affinity between these two works) with considerable misgivings, feeling pressured into supplying what was expected, yet finding the results alien to his true nature

However, though the Symphony No. 2 may not be the most authentic product of Barber’s inner character, with a larger array of reminiscences of other composers than is usually found in his music, this factor does not necessarily diminish the experience of the work for the listener. Indeed, it is perhaps a far more successful composition than Barber realized. From the expansive theme that opens the first movement, one encounters an assertive tone–even an aggressiveness-virtually unprecedented in the composer’s work, somewhat akin in spirit to the opening of Vaughan Williams’s Sixth Symphony and in language to the first movement of Prokofiev’s Sixth (both works written later than the Barber). The first movement as a whole is gripping throughout–taut, virile. solidly and tightly-if conventionally-structured. Quartal harmonies. spiked with major and minor seconds. abound, though the composer’s identity pecks through with a characteristically lyrical secondary theme introduced by the oboe. A distinctly American quality, not previously heard in Barber’s music, appears throughout the work (and throughout most of his subsequent compositions from the 1940s). It is this quality that links the symphony to so many others of the period, as well as suggesting a kinship with the music of Copland and Bernstein.

Barber had extracted the second movement from the symphony when he decided to withdraw it, entitling the excerpt Night Flight. Here the Americana flavor comes to the fore, with a wistful, nostalgic poignancy that he later developed in Knoxville and other works.
The third movement brings a renewed sense of determination and militance. In a sense. this is the most “abstract” movement, with contrapuntal passages that bring both Harris and Hindemith to mind. as well as a Walton-like glibness that robs the triumphant conclusion of some of its power and conviction.

On the whole, however, this is a work that ranks without apology alongside the best American symphonies of the period. In it Barber explored a harsher, more athletic, and more extroverted type of expression than he had in the past. He also produced a fine symphonic structure-more ambitious and complex than its predecessor-and this was no minor accomplishment for a composer who was rarely at his best in extended abstract works. As I immersed myself in the symphony, I kept wondering why he didn’t withdraw the Capricorn Concerto or the Excursions. two truly inferior, inauthentic-sounding works written the same year as the symphony!

The performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is nothing short of amazing. Andrew Schenck, who is becoming something of a Barber specialist, seems to have galvanized these musicians into generating the effort necessary to make the kind of definitive impact heard here. Of course, the orchestra may not offer the ultimate in refinement of balance and tone quality and individual soloists reveal some rough edges. But the combined effect is a stunning performance and a tremendously convincing argument on behalf of the work itself. I suspect that as a result of this release Barber’s Symphony No. 2 will return to the active repertoire. It will be most interesting to see how the recording is received in other quarters.

The “Essay for Orchestra” is a genre created by Barber to identify short orchestral compositions that follow neither classical structures nor explicit literary programmes. Essentially, each is a varied succession of atmospheric/emotional/dramatic episodes-not unrelated motivically, but without the sense of progression through an abstract argument. Barber composed three “Essays “during his career. of which the first two. written early on, hold an enduring place in the repertoire; the third, composed toward the end of his life, is well on the way to joining its predecessors. Their success is attributable to the direct and immediate appeal of their musical ideas as well as to Barber’s unerring mastery in presenting them to maximum effect, without placing undue structural demands upon them. The Slatkin disc is the first recording to offer all three, and in performances that are superb.

Essay No. 1 dates from the 1930s, and is one of the works that brought Barber to public attention while he was still in his twenties. Among the others are the Overture to the School for Scandal, Music for a Scene from Shelley, and the Adagio for Strings. Most of the pieces from this period are characterized by a deeply romantic feeling. expressed with genteel reserve, through concise, straightforward structures. The Essay, one of the finest of these early works, opens with a rich, somber elegy not too unlike the famous Adagio. Slatkin presents this with a breadth of phrasing and depth of conviction missing from prior recordings. However, inexplicably, he holds back the tempo of the light, scherzo-like allegromolto that follows, which gives it a stiff, labored quality. While lacking the fullness and refinement of the St. Louis Symphony, the New Zealand performance compensates with a more appropriate sense of pacing.

Overture to the School for Scandal was Barber’s graduation piece from the Curtis Institute. Neither vulgar nor pandering in any way, it is certainly one of the most scintillating, captivating overtures in the American repertoire. Both performances are fine, though Slatkin/St. Louis clearly has the advantage of a superior orchestra. The same comment also applies to the performances of the Adagio. As much as I have always loved this piece for its touching poignancy — what Wilfrid Mellers calls its “frail pathos” — its fragility cannot withstand the overexposure to which it has been — and is increasingly — subjected. I am sorry to say that, for me. it has joined most of the standard repertoire in ceasing to offer new levels of insight or stimulation that might sustain my interest through further hearings.
Music for a Scene from Shelley also dates from Barber’s early twenties, though it hasn’t won quite the popularity of some of the other pieces from that time. Lasting less than ten minutes. it builds upon a few simple elements to conjure a haunting mood of dark, gothic mystery, rising from an undulating murmur to a blood-curdling climax. One wonders whether this piece has ever been used in a cinematic context, as it would provide an ideal score for a Poe adaptation or something of the kind. The performance under Schenck is adequate, its gradual expansion nicely controlled. As the only decent modern recording of the work, it is most welcome.

Essay No. 2 is possibly Barber’s finest short orchestral work, packing tremendous expressive breadth and weight into eleven minutes. Although composed in 1942, it displays the same richness and ardor that characterize the compositions of the previous decade. The only hints of Barber’s impending stylistic shift are the fourths and fifths that permeate the main theme, suggesting the more explicitly American orientation that was to emerge two years later in the Second Symphony. Slatkin leads a magnificent performance of the work.

Medea, the ballet score Barber composed for Martha Graham’s Cave of the Heart, is his earliest excursion into ancient classical settings, and one of his finest works from the 1940s. A rhythmically exciting and exotically colored score, it features what is probably the composer’s harshest, most dissonant harmonic usage, although the Second Symphony seems to hold that reputation. Slatkin leads a stunning performance of the often-performed excerpt. Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance (a title later shortened by the composer. according to the accompanying program notes, to Medea’s Dance of Vengeance — a misjudgment. in my opinion). Andrew Schenck has also recorded this excerpt, with the London Symphony Orchestra. in a prior all-Barber CD (ASV CD DCA534; see Fanfare 10:1, pp. 98-9), but that version is somewhat inflated and overly fussy. There has been no recording of the complete ballet suite since Howard Hanson’s excellent, nearly thirty-year-old reading with the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra. One would think that the new EMI release would have given Slatkin, who has demonstrated a great affinity for Barber’s music, an excellent opportunity to take a fresh look at the complete score and provide us with an updated recording. The decision not to do so is the chief liability of this otherwise superb CD.

Essay No. 3, composed in 1978, was Barber’s last completed orchestral work. Having attended its premiere by the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and having reviewed its first recording by the same forces (New World Records NW-309; seeFanfare 4:5, pp. 49-50), I found it to be a disappointment, markedly inferior to its two predecessors. Slatkin’s new recording has caused me to reconsider and modify my judgment somewhat. the harshness of which I can now attribute to Mehta’s shallow musicianship. Though it clearly lacks both the conciseness and the conviction of the other two Essays, Slatkin deftly nurtures its tender, almost cloying thematic materials, allowing them to build slowly to a brief but fulfilling climax of Straussian opulence.
Despite the overlap between these two releases, each offers significant merits of its own. Slatkin’s must be considered the finest all-Barber orchestral recording to date, better played (and recorded, of course) than the once-definitive Schippers issue (Odyssey Y-33230) which is now supplanted, while the presence of the Symphony No. 2 on the budget-priced Schenck/New Zealand disc renders that one indispensable for all Barber enthusiasts. This latter group should be pleased to learn that Stradivari executive Michael Fine and conductor Schenck are planning a future release to contain Prayers of Kierkegaard, a work for chorus and orchestra that happens to be my own favorite from Barber’s canon, along with The Lovers, an important and substantial work from 1970-never recorded-for baritone solo, chorus, and orchestra.

BARBER: Symphony No. 2. Music for a Scene from Shelley. Essay No. 1. Overture to the School for Scandal. Adagio for Strings. Andrew Schenck conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. STRADIVARI SCD-8012 [DDD]; 66:22. Produced by Michael Fine.
BARBER: Essays: No. 1; No. 2; No. 3. Medea’s Dance of Vengeance. Overture to the School for Scandal. Adagio for Strings. Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. EMI ANGEL CDC7-49463 2 [DDD]; 61:11. Produced by Joanna Nickrenz.

A Muczynski Retrospective

Robert Muczynski is, along with Lee Hoiby, one of America’s most distinguished traditionalist composers still active today, from the generation that came of age during the years following World War II. He is also one of the most widely and frequently performed, although his name rarely appears in discussions of important American composers of the time. The reasons for this have much to do with musical politics, fashion, and geography, and little to do with quality or merit. Born in Chicago in 1929, he studied piano and composition at DePaul University with Alexander Tcherepnin, who was his most significant mentor. Muczynski pursued a career as a composer-pianist, becoming a persuasive exponent of his own music. During the 1960s he moved to Tucson, joining the faculty of the University of Arizona as composer-in-residence. He held this position until his retirement in 1988.

The three new CDs to be discussed here, which happened to arrive during the same week, present fully one third of Muczynski’s entire output, and span the years 1953 through 1994. Hence they provide an ideal opportunity for an overview of the composer’s oeuvre, while enabling the listener toverify the summary remarks that follow. The two Laurel discs reissue most of the contents of three enthusiastically received LPs released by the company during the early 1980s, while presenting a couple of additional pieces never before recorded. The Hungaroton release is brand new, featuring three works, one of which overlaps the Laurel material, another of which is also available in a different performance on Centaur, and the third of which is new to CD (but was included on yet another Laurel LP). (To round out the most important discographical information: An entire CD devoted to Muczynski’s music featuring the flute is included in Naxos’s American Classics series [reviewed in Fanfare 22:4].)

Muczynski has concentrated his compositional efforts on works for solo piano and pieces for small chamber combinations. His music exemplifies mid-20th-century American neoclassicism, tempered by a romantic sense of mood and affect. One might identify its underlying stylistic currents with reference to the phraseology of Bartók, the harmonic language and overall rhetoric found in the piano works of Barber, a fondness for 5- and 7-beat meters reminiscent of Bernstein, and a piquant sprinkling of “blue-notes” within its melodic structures. The music is modest, soft-spoken, earnest, and unpretentious in character, and is developed according to techniques that are thoroughly traditional—some might say conventional. The result is a friendly modernism—tonal but not reactionary, peppered with light dissonance and energetic asymmetries of rhythm—always expertly tailored to highlight the artistry of the performer in a manner idiomatic to the featured instrument. It is not hard to understand why his pieces have been favored by music teachers and are often used as test-pieces in competitions. Indeed, music like this is easy to patronize—or would be, if it weren’t for what might be termed its essential honesty. Without ostentation, pretense, or much alteration of his basic style, Muczynski has produced piece after piece of authentic musical expression, without hiding behind any of the compositional smokescreens to which so many composers resort. I am not referring only to the modernist smokescreens of technical complexity, originality, and pseudo-profound obfuscation; Muczynski also avoids empty virtuosity, grandiosity, overpowering emotionalism, opulent sonority, and eccentricity—the kinds of smokescreens to which more conservative composers fall victim in their weaker moments. Muczynski’s pieces tend to be short because his music is pure substance—nothing but the aesthetic basics: straightforward yet distinctive themes and motifs, woven into clear, transparent textures, developed logically but imaginatively into concise, satisfying, compelling formal entities.

The two Laurel discs are largely devoted to Muczynski’s music for piano solo (although a few such pieces are still unrecorded), with the addition of three pieces featuring flute and clarinet. The two discs present the music chronologically, the first extending through the late 1960s, the second starting with 1970. The fourteen pieces thus included comprise several extended works: the three sonatas for piano, the flute sonata, and Time Pieces for clarinet and piano; most of the remainder consists of short character-pieces,  averaging a minute-plus in duration. Obviously one of Muczynski’s favorite genres, naturally suited to his compositional personality, such short vignettes have reappeared throughout his creative life.

What may be observed from such an overview is how steadfastly Muczynski has held to a relatively narrow creative range, and how little his musical language has evolved over the course of four decades. But what is most remarkable is—despite those two generalizations—how consistently high is the quality of this music with regard to its thematic material, its expressive content, and its workmanship. In fact, after having been familiar with most of these pieces for almost twenty years, I find virtually nothing—not even the simple duos for flute and clarinet—less than fully realized.

Muczynski’s three piano sonatas date from 1957, 1966, and 1974, respectively. No. 2 is perhaps the most ambitious in scope and was the first to attract my attention. A vigorously virtuosic work in four movements, it bears a striking resemblance to Samuel Barber’s notable contribution to the genre, which may, however, temper the enthusiasm of some listeners. Sonata No. 1 was written for the pianist-composer’s Carnegie Recital Hall debut in 1958, and bears a dedication to Tcherepnin. In preparing this review I was struck anew by the dark, dramatic moodiness of the first of its two movements—a magnificent example of modern romanticism at its best. My only complaint is that the contrasting second movement is a little glib in its dismissal of the weighty concerns that immediately precede it. The Third Sonata is similar to its two predecessors in style and tone, if perhaps a bit less dramatic in content and more refined in execution.

Muczynski composed his Sonata for Flute and Piano in 1961, and it is probably his most well-known and frequently-performed work. A staple of the repertoire, it is familiar to all players advanced enough to attempt it. Varied in expression and expertly crafted, it is as enjoyable and satisfying to hear as it is to play.

Much the same may be said about Time Pieces, a 16-minute work in four movements for clarinet and piano, commissioned in 1984 by Mitchell Lurie, who plays it on this recording. This is the piece that overlaps the Hungarian recording, and is well on the way to establishing itself in the clarinet repertoire. Despite its enigmatic title, the work is essentially similar in structure to those identified as sonatas.

I will not attempt to describe the groups of character pieces—the PreludesSuiteA Summer JournalSeven, and the Maverick Pieces—individually. Music of this nature is difficult to describe verbally, beyond the foregoing general comments. I will add only that, although Muczynski’s style has evolved little over the years—perhaps moving from more overt reference to his musical models to a broader, freer expressive palette—the music continues to sound fresh and imaginative, with little sense of redundancy.

The Laurel set also includes a three-minute Toccata, a demanding, relatively harsh, bracing study in perpetual motion, recorded by the composer shortly after he wrote it in 1962. The other novelty is the debut recording of one of Muczynski’s most recent works: Desperate Measures, a set of twelve variations on “that” theme of Paganini, composed in 1994. Talk about the possibility of redundancy! But no—Muczynski takes a decidedly “fun” approach, with a series of witty, almost jazzy, takes on the venerable tune. I expect that once the word on this piece gets out, it will be another “hit.”

Throughout these recordings, Muczynski represents his music advantageously, with pianism marked by fluency, sensitivity, and subtlety. Nevertheless, it does him no disservice to point out that, rather than being definitive renditions, his readings serve more as enticing and informative approximations, which whet the appetite of the adventurous, creative virtuoso by drawing attention to music that might otherwise be overlooked and suggesting the artistic potential inherent within it.

Turning now to the Hungaroton release—the Trio d’Echo is a relatively young ensemble based in Budapest. Comprising clarinet, cello, and piano, the Trio addresses Muczynski’s Fantasy Trio, scored for that combination, as well as his two respective duos featuring clarinet and cello, each with piano. Fantasy Trio, dating from 1969, is an infectious work, grabbing the listener’s attention immediately with its grippingly assertive opening, and maintaining it throughout. A performance featuring the Mühlfeld Trio was released on a Laurel LP in 1983, but has not been reissued on CD. That reading boasted tremendous vigor and spunk, in addition to precision; the Trio d’Echo’s, on the other hand, is smoother and more polished, but a little cautious and deliberate.

The same distinction applies with regard to the Time Pieces. Clarinetist András Horn and pianist Gábor Eckhardt offer a polished reading that borders on the antiseptic, while Mitchell Lurie and the composer take chances that result in a more exciting experience.

Muczynski’s four-movement Sonata for Cello and Piano, composed in 1968, is possibly his masterpiece. While aesthetically consistent with all his other works, it seems to aim for a deeper, more probing level of expression. Its opening movement, a theme with variations, reveals a somber bleakness that reminds one of Vaughan Williams’s great Flos Campi, while its slow movement develops an austere lyricism to impressively eloquent heights. The two fast movements provide compelling contrast, with a grim and energetic sense of determination. Cellist György Déri offers a solidly convincing reading, but mention must also be made of an extraordinary performance that can be found on Centaur CRC-2300, featuring cellist Carter Enyeart and pianist Adam Wodnicki. These two U.S.-based artists offer a reading of unerring precision and blistering intensity. I cannot resist quoting from commentator Laurie Shulman’s perceptive notes accompanying that recording: “The [first-movement] theme’s recurrence in the finale is only one manifestation of the organic logic that permeates this piece. [Muczynski’s] writing is well-crafted without being pedantic…. Perhaps [his] greatest achievement in this sonata is the immense respect he accords to traditional form and harmony, without sounding conservative…. Defying the serialist pundits who dominated American music in the 1960s, Muczynski showed in this work that there is indeed something new under the sun.”

As musicians continue to discover, perform, and record the fine music of Robert Muczynski, attention is directed to his three piano trios and a string trio, all of which are among his strongest works. They are most-needed candidates for recording.

The Hungaroton release also includes a work by Balazs Szunyogh, a Hungarian student of Petrovics and Kurtag who died two years ago while in his mid-40s. His Trio Serenade (1978) for clarinet, cello, and piano is a pleasant piece with quasi-minimalist devices. Its simple surface conceals some subtle intricacies.

MUCZYNSKI Six Preludes, op. 6. Piano Sonata No. 1, op. 9. Suite, op. 13. Sonata for Flute and Piano, op. 14. Toccataop.15. A Summer Journal, op. 19. Piano Sonata No. 2, op. 22 – Robert Muczynski (pn); Julius Baker (fl)– LAUREL LR-862 (67:40)

MUCZYNSKI Seven, op. 30. Six Duos, op. 34. Piano Sonata No. 3, op. 35. Twelve Maverick Pieces, op. 37. Masks, op. 40. Time Pieces, op. 43. Desperate Measures, op. 48 – Robert Muczynski (pn); Julius Baker (fl); Mitchell Lurie (cl) – LAUREL LR-863 (75:08)

MUCZYNSKI Sonata for Cello and Piano, op. 25. Fantasy Trio, op. 26. Time Pieces, op. 43. SZUNYOGH Trio Serenade – György Déri (vc); András Horn (cl); Gábor Eckhardt (pn) – HUNGAROTON HCD-31877 (65:30)

“New York Philharmonic: An American Celebration”

Following the successes of their two previous packages, New York Philharmonic: The Historic Broadcasts 1923-1927 (released in 1997) and New York Philharmonic: The Mahler Broadcasts (released in 1998), New York Philharmonic Special Editions has just issued their third such deluxe package: a ten-CD set devoted to the orchestra’s performances — previously unreleased — of American music. The contents (listed in toto at the end of this essay) are a collector’s dream: performances of 49 works by 39 composers, led by 21 different conductors, adding up to a total of 13 hours of music. The package is divided into two volumes, each with its own box of five CDs and program book: the first covers repertoire dating roughly from the first 50 years of this century; the second covers the latter half of the century. The performances span the period 1936 through 1999, and include 13 world premieres. Of particular interest are ten performances conducted by Leonard Bernstein of works he never recorded commercially.

Each program book approaches 250 pages, and is filled with essays by Masur (an enthusiastic introduction to the set), by the Philharmonic’s Executive Director, Deborah Borda (a more institutional introduction), by critic Alan Rich (an introduction to the repertoire), by the set’s producer Sedgwick Clark (discussing the factors and considerations that concerned him, followed by brief comments on each selection), and by the engineers who worked on the original source material (describing the issues they faced). There is also an explanation of the prominence given to Aaron Copland (who is represented by eight works), a timeline of important events concerning the relevant musical figures, a complete discography of the orchestra’s commercial recordings of American music (provided by Fanfare’s own James North), program notes on each work, biographies of each conductor and soloist, a roster of orchestra members for each concert, and brief excerpts from interviews with the composers and performers represented, conducted by radio host Robert Sherman.

The chief architect of the set is Sedgwick Clark, who was also producer of the two previous New York Philharmonic recording mega-projects. Clark is a long-time discophile who has played a variety of important roles in the classical music business.  He began collecting records while he was attending Hanover College in his native state of Indiana. Although he graduated with a degree in philosophy, he took a job with Philips as Director of Publicity and Artist Relations. Following this he served as editor of FM Guide, Tape Deck Quarterly, Modern Recording, and Keynote.He has written criticism for the American Record Guide, FI, and Gramophone. Clark was involved from the outset with the highly praised CD reissues of the Mercury “Living Presence” series, as well as with the Sony Classical “Masterworks Heritage” line. Today Clark estimates his personal collection at some 20,000 LPs and 7,000 CDs.

In preparation for this article, I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Clark by phone. Portions of that conversation follow, edited for clarity and concision:

How did you get involved with the New York Philharmonic in the first place?

In anticipation of the orchestra’s sesquicentennial celebration, I had proposed the idea of a recording project that would draw upon the orchestra’s archives of previously unreleased material. Henry Fogel had successfully undertaken a similar venture with the Chicago Symphony, and I thought that a project of this kind with the Philharmonic would be a great idea. There was some hesitancy at first, but once they gave me the green light, I began contacting collectors and gathering sources. The result turned out to be so successful, we started on the Mahler project right away.

In planning this American music project, there must have been dozens of performances to choose from. How did you decide what to include?

We tried to stick basically to the 20th century. I think the only pieces written before 1900 were by Chadwick, MacDowell, and Sousa. I justified them by the fact that all three were active into the 20th century. What I wanted to do was to give people a wide survey of the many various styles in 20th-century American music. Of course these styles were very European-oriented at first, and then in the 1920s all of a sudden burst out in all directions. That was my idea of what to do with this set. People will say there are a lot of things missing, which is quite true, but there also is an awful lot here that will be unfamiliar to most listeners. One of the big discoveries for me was Paul Creston’s Second Symphony. I had never even heard it before. The truth is, there aren’t too many chestnuts in the whole set, but we had to have some. We wanted to appeal to a broader audience than just collectors. But we had a number of other constraints as well.

What sort of constraints?

The first thing that limited us was what actually exists. For example, looking through program listings, I saw that Mitropoulos had conducted a broadcast of Colin McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan. I looked everywhere, and — there is just no trace of it as far as I know. A lot of people don’t realize that broadcasts were not systematically saved. This was part of the understanding between the orchestras and radio stations. Any recordings sent out to the various cities for broadcast were to be played immediately, or destroyed. At least they were supposed to be. The idea was that these broadcasts were for people who had “missed the concert” for one reason or another. That was the purpose of the broadcasts in the first place. The New York Philharmonic, like the other major orchestras, exists to give concerts. Their attitude was, people who want to hear us in recorded form can buy our records. That’s why home tapers were hated so much by orchestras for so many years. They were felt to be stealing the musicians’ work and all that. But the thinking on that changed some time in the 1970s. The orchestras finally realized that this was history and important to preserve, if they believed in the work they were doing.

Were there other constraints as well?

Another factor was that the Philharmonic did no concert broadcasts between 1968 and 1975. This eliminated a great deal of Boulez’s legacy. For instance, he did Copland’s Connotations. Boy, would I love to have that on this set, but it wasn’t taped. But in 1975 the orchestra began broadcasting again and, for the first time, saved its tapes. A set like this is only possible because the orchestra, through the Musicians Union, agreed to reduce its fees from the amount they would normally get for a commercial recording.

But, given what was available, how were the choices made? For example, many commentators, myself included, consider Peter Mennin’s Seventh to be one of the greatest of all American symphonies. George Szell commissioned it for the Cleveland Orchestra, and performed it with the New York Philharmonic in 1964. Yet you did not decide to include that broadcast performance, which I think is stupendous.

There were a couple of reasons that one didn’t make it. For one, the sound of the tape we have is not very good. True, we could have worked on it, but frankly I did not think the piece itself is as good as other Mennin pieces I’ve heard. I happen to like the “Moby Dick” Concertato very much. Also, time was a big factor. To put on a half-hour piece that I don’t think is very good, even with George Szell conducting, … Besides, there are other recordings of the work available. We were trying not to duplicate too much. Obviously, there are some duplications.

Yes, and many of these seem a little superfluous, such as Bernstein doing Harris’s Third, which he recorded commercially with the orchestra just a few years later.

I just found it unthinkable for the New York Philharmonic to release a set of this magnitude about American music and not include a Bernstein performance of the Harris Third. I happen to believe that it’s the greatest of American symphonies. Every time I hear it I’m just amazed by its concision and power. This was Bernstein’s first performance of it with the Philharmonic, and it’s faster than either of the subsequent recordings. I find it a different view of the work and tremendously exciting. Even by 1961 he broadened it out, looking for more grandeur in the piece. But in 1957 he made it quite a taut drama.

What about the 1945 Rodzinski performance of Appalachian Spring?

Well, it was the world premiere, after all. I just thought it was very important and I think it sounds fabulous. Plus it’s important to the New York Philharmonic’s history, and, after all, this is a New York Philharmonic set. Collectors may have a lot of this material from other sources, but we had access to sources that sound better than anything anyone else has–like Voice of America tapes and discs at the Library of Congress. No one else has access to those.

How involved was Masur in making these decisions?

More than in either of the previous sets. He wanted to be involved from the beginning. This is not true of the music directors of other orchestras that have produced sets like this, where the conductors may have been concerned with their own recordings but not with what else goes on the set. Masur cared about everything. So for this set we arranged for five 2 ½-hour listening sessions, and invited members of the orchestra committee as well. Essentially, that’s what they hired me for — to select performances and propose them for Masur and the orchestra to approve in the listening sessions. They listened to all or parts of everything that is on the set, as well as several pieces that, for one reason or another, could not be included. We had some fun little discussions. There were loads of things I considered that there simply wasn’t room for. Some things that we had to leave out were really painful, like Walter Piston’s Second Symphony under Rodzinski. This sort of thing happened when there were other performances that Masur wanted to have included, and I had to juggle things, and some just had to go. At one point I asked for two more discs, so that we could include everything I thought was really important. But the economics just wouldn’t allow it. These pieces will get on later when we do our next set. Absolutely!

How did Masur seem to respond to this music? Was he really able to understand and appreciate the different American styles?

Actually, it was interesting to see how he tuned into the pieces that had a more European influence right away. But one of the exciting things was playing him the more Americana-like pieces, and discovering that some of them really impressed him — he found them really substantial and felt that they demanded to be taken seriously. He’s a very serious guy, actually. But his major concern was that the Philharmonic be represented as well as possible. One of the things that makes these performances so exciting is that most were recorded live, so you get this feeling of walking the tightrope. So there are mistakes once in a while — what of it? It happens in every concert.  But Masur rejected some of these performances when he didn’t feel the playing was good enough. These decisions had to be made. So everything that finally made it onto the set has the OK — the imprimatur — of the New York Philharmonic and its music director. Although a set like this is not a natural seller, Masur, the orchestra, and the board of trustees are all very excited about it. I think we all feel that a set like this calls attention to music that has been overlooked, and makes the point that these pieces are good music that should be played regularly in concerts every year.


Looking over the list of compositions and conductors included in this set will make any collector’s mouth water, one would think — collectors who specialize in conductors as well as those whose interests center around American symphonic music. To touch on some of the high points: For me the single most important performance on the entire set is Leonard Bernstein’s 1958 reading of William Schuman’s Sixth Symphony. Composed in 1948, this is arguably Schuman’s greatest symphony — a work of tremendous power, concentration, and abstract complexity, composed shortly after he assumed the presidency of the Juilliard School and entered the richest creative period of his career. The work has only been available on a recording from the mid 1950s that featured the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Eugene Ormandy. As adequate as this performance may have seemed, Ormandy’s tendency to provide competent, accurate readings robbed of vitality and expressive detail is no secret, although these shortcomings were often difficult to detect and attribute accurately in a work otherwise unfamiliar. But Bernstein was a knowledgeable and persuasive advocate of Schuman’s music, and his reading of the Sixth, though perhaps a little ragged at times, makes vivid and exciting a work that some have viewed as cold and synthetic.

Another high point of the set — though much more modest in scope — is George Szell’s 1950 reading of Samuel Barber’s lovely First Essay. This short piece has enjoyed many fine performances, but I have never heard one maintain such a consistent sense of contrapuntal continuity throughout. Considerably faster than one is used to hearing, Szell’s interpretation never sounds brusque or rushed, because it is founded on a convincing underlying conception. Disappointment about the absence of Mennin’s Seventh Symphony aside, one regrets that this is the only Szell-led performance included in the set: his thorough comprehension of those American composers whose work he embraced has yet to be fully appreciated.

The third notable inclusion is Pierre Monteux’s 1956 rendition of Paul Creston’s Second Symphony, a work whose extraordinary individuality and tremendous appeal was well understood by the French conductor, who championed the piece with a number of different orchestras — in Europe as well as in the U.S. Although he pushes the work’s Introduction a bit, setting too high an emotional temperature prematurely, his pacing of the remainder is excellent, making one wonder how such an exciting and satisfying work could have gone into such abrupt eclipse after the mid 1950s.

If Creston’s Second was the producer’s big discovery, mine is Ernest Schelling’s A Victory Ball. This is no masterpiece, mind you, but it is a fascinating period-piece by a composer whose name was totally unfamiliar to me. Schelling, who lived from 1876 to 1939, inaugurated the Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts in 1924. Celebrated as a prodigious pianist as a child, he concentrated on composition after a car accident injured his hands. His most famous work, A Victory Ball is a 15-minute orchestral fantasy composed in 1922 after a well-known poem of the same name by Alfred Noyes. Based on a conceit somewhat reminiscent of Ravel’s La Valse(composed two years earlier), the piece develops its antiwar theme with bitter irony, in a direct, straightforward musical language that would make its point to the most casual listener. The work evidently enjoyed hundreds of performances in its time.

One of the most unexpected realizations I had was that the most impressively executed performances on the set are those of the past 25 years. Indeed, the orchestra used to have a reputation for sloppy, indifferent playing, unless especially inspired by circumstances of the moment. But from the mid 1970s on, the orchestra simply seems to have gotten better and better. This means that the style — now best understood as something of an aesthetic transition between serialism and the return to tonality — dubbed by Jacob Druckman “the New Romanticism” is especially well represented. Anticipated in such early works as Varèse’s Intégrales and Ruggles’s Sun-Treader, and epitomized by Druckman’s own music, such as Lamia, the style achieved something of an apotheosis in such works as George Crumb’s Star-Child and, later, Joan Tower’s Sequoia, before reaching a dead-end and drowning in its own clichés. Turning away from the haughtily abstract post-Webernian serialism that so enthralled university music departments while alienating most listeners, the “New Romantics” attempted to create an immediate visceral impact through fanciful titles and novel compositional concepts, realized through imaginative, often flamboyant, coloristic orchestral effects, while avoiding any perceptible semblance of traditional tonality, except through the quotation of earlier styles or actual pieces. Even Elliott Carter couldn’t resist the opportunity, in writing for the Philharmonic, to draw upon the orchestra’s tremendous potential for aural sensuality in his rigorously structured Concerto for Orchestra. For whatever reason, the New York Philharmonic had a real flair for this sort of music, and all these works, under conductors as diverse as Bernstein, Boulez, and Mehta, are heard here in performances that must be described as stupendous.

Also especially gratifying are some of the recent performances of older works, such as Copland’s inexplicably neglected Prairie Journal, Ives’s Three Places in New England (perhaps his most fully realized work), and Bernstein’s lovely and increasingly popular Serenade (in a memorial performance done barely a week after the composer’s death). And some of the most recent works, such as the intensely serious, Eastern European-flavored Zwilich Third Symphony, for example, and Rouse’s brilliant Trombone Concerto, are performed with an incisiveness and precision that are truly extraordinary. (Unfortunately, Zubin Mehta’s floundering attempt to manage the orchestral version of Reich’s Tehillim serves largely to underline the proficiency of the hand-picked ensemble that usually showcases the composer’s new works.)

On the other hand, many of the earlier performances — especially of the symphonic music of the 1940s and 50s — are rather disappointing. At first, this may seem surprising, but, upon reflection, is understandable. Consider that when conductors like Munch, Rodzinski, Cantelli, and Steinberg performed American works, they were venturing into idioms that were essentially alien to their backgrounds and experience. Although some of these performances proved to be outstanding, they were the exceptions. In too many cases, e.g., An American in Paris (Rodzinski, 1944), El Salón México (Cantelli, 1955), Appalachian Spring (Rodzinski, 1945) we are hearing the Philharmonic essentially sight-read music that has become second-nature to conductors, orchestras, and listeners today. Those of us who know the recorded history of this repertoire are all too familiar with what I call “first-generation performances” — performances led by conductors who have become acquainted with the scores just prior to the performances, and played by orchestras whose members are reading their parts without knowing how the music “goes.” After all, most recordings of the American symphonic repertoire made during the 1950s and 60s are such “first-generation performances.” What is really exciting is hearing some of the more recent recordings of this repertoire, led by conductors like Leonard Slatkin, who have actually lived with some of this music in their musical minds for many years. And in the cases of better-known works by composers like Barber, Copland, Bernstein, and Schuman, some of the orchestral musicians know how the music “goes.” This distinction is of vital importance in understanding the way new music is grasped and gradually absorbed into the repertoire, and warrants far more consideration than it has thus far been accorded.

Similarly, the program notes for each work were not written especially for the set by a commentator versed in the repertoire, but rather seem largely to have been adapted from the original program notes that appeared in the concert programs when these performances took place. So instead of reading about these works and their places in American musical history from today’s vantage point, we read what was written about this music when it was unfamiliar and the composers’ entire outputs were not yet known. Such contemporaneous commentary may be of historical interest concerning the music of Mahler, about whom there is no shortage of modern commentary, but in the cases of composers like Barber, Schuman, Creston, Mennin, Harris, and Hanson, there exists very little insightful musicological commentary based on a comprehensive knowledge of this repertoire; mostly what one finds are the overly specific details embedded within vague generalities that characterize program notes of unfamiliar music. Perhaps one might argue that Alan Rich’s essays represent an attempt to treat this repertoire from a more contemporary perspective. But unfortunately his comments are brief and terribly superficial, amounting to little more than third-hand paraphrases of uninformed generalizations (e.g.,  Hanson’s music is described as “a folkish amalgam of prairie and Nordic folk-tunes”).

In reflecting on the decisions involved in selecting performances for a set like this, I arrived at three legitimate criteria: 1) important works not otherwise represented on recording; 2) important works presented in performances far more outstanding than what has previously been available; and 3) performances of particular historical or documentary significance. An American Celebration comprises performances that meet each of these criteria, but it is clearly the third that predominates, probably making the set more interesting to conductor-oriented listeners than to those whose chief focus is repertoire. Some may feel that with eleven performances, Leonard Bernstein is over-represented as a conductor. (In his essay, Sedgwick Clark calls Bernstein “the foremost champion of American music in our century”; but elsewhere in the set it is noted that as a conductor, Howard Hanson presented 200 new American works during his 45 years as director of the Eastman School, while Leopold Stokowski is said to have introduced 2000 new works during his long career, most of them by American composers.) Others may object to the emphasis on the already-well-recorded Aaron Copland, represented here through eight works. Personally, I could have done without the aforementioned Appalachian Spring, the ubiquitous Fanfare, and the Lincoln Portrait. But I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to hear Bernstein conduct Copland’s Orchestral Variations, which he never recorded, although he was closely associated with the original piano version. Truthfully, there is nothing on this set not worth hearing—at least once. (I couldn’t wait to hear Bernstein’s reading of Concertato, “Moby Dick,” by Mennin, a composer to whom he seemed to pay little attention throughout his career. The result proved to be amazingly stiff and mechanical.) The question is: How many of these performances does one want in his permanent collection? Individuals will have to arrive at their own answers.

NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC: AN AMERICAN CELEBRATION

Volume 1 – NYP 9902 (5 CDs: 6:25:47)

BARBER Essay No. 1 (Szell, 1950). BLOCH Concerto Grosso No. 1 (Munch, Hendl [pn], 1948). CHADWICK Melpomene Overture (Bernstein, 1958). COPLAND Appalachian Spring (Rodzinski, 1945). Fanfare for the Common Man(Masur, 1997). Lincoln Portrait (Bernstein, Warfield [spkr], 1976). Music for the Theatre (Leinsdorf, 1985). Prairie Journal (Mehta, 1985). El Salón México (Cantelli, 1955). COWELL Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 2 (Paray, 1956). CRESTON Symphony No. 2 (Monteux, 1956). GERSHWIN An American in Paris (Rodzinski, 1944). GRIFFES The White Peacock (Hanson, 1946). HARRIS Symphony No. 3 (Bernstein, 1957). HANSON Serenade (Stokowski, Wummer [fl], 1949. Symphony No. 2, “Romantic” (Hanson, 1946). HERRMANN The Devil and Daniel Webster Suite (Stokowski, 1949). IVES Three Places in New England(Masur, 1994). LOEFFLER Memories of My Childhood (Barbirolli, 1936). MACDOWELL “Indian” Suite: exc’pts (Bernstein, 1958). RUGGLES Sun-treader (Masur, 1994). SCHELLING A Victory Ball (Rodzinski, 1945). SCHUMAN Symphony No. 6 (Bernstein, 1958). STILL Old California (Monteux, 1944). THOMSON Four Saints in Three Acts: Acts III and IV (Bernstein, soloists, 1960). VARÈSE Intégrales (Bernstein, 1966).

Volume 2 – NYP 9903 (5 CDs: 6:32:14)

ADAMS Short Ride in a Fast Machine (Masur, 1991). BARBER Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance (Mitropoulos, 1956). BERNSTEIN Candide Overture (w’out conductor, 1992). Serenade (Slatkin, Dicterow [vn], 1990). BOLCOM Clarinet Concerto(Slatkin, Drucker [cl], 1992). CARTER Concerto for Orchestra (Boulez, 1975). COPLAND Nonet (Steinberg, 1964). Orchestral Variations (Bernstein, 1958). CRUMB Star-Child (Boulez, Gubrud [sop], 1977). DIAMOND World of Paul Klee (Lipkin, 1960). DRUCKMAN Lamia (Boulez, deGaetani [mez], 1975). ELLINGTON-MARSALIS A Tone Parallel to Harlem (Masur, 1999). FOSS Introductions and Good-Byes (Bernstein, Reardon [bar], 1960). GOULD Dance Variations (Mitropoulos, Whittemore & Lowe [pns], 1953). HOVHANESS To Vishnu (Kostelanetz, 1967). MENNIN Concertato, “Moby Dick” (Bernstein, 1963). REICH Tehillim (Mehta, 1982). ROREM Symphony No. 3 (Bernstein, 1959). ROUSE Trombone Concerto (Slatkin, Alessi [tbn], 1992). SCHULLER Dramatic Overture (Mitropoulos, 1957). SOUSA Stars and Stripes Forever (Toscanini, 1944). TOWER Sequoia (Mehta, 1982). ZWILICH Symphony No. 3 (Ling, 1993).

May be ordered by phone: (800) 557-8268; or via the Internet at www.newyorkphilharmonic.org ; price: $185  

A Continuing Reassessment of Samuel Barber

Five recent releases, several of which make substantial contributions to the Samuel Barber discography, prompt these reflections. A Solstice disc, featuring pianist Lilia Boyadjieva, offers a number of pieces never before recorded, and is probably the most valuable CD solely devoted to Barber’s keyboard music. Virgin Classics presents a lovely program of Barber’s songs, sensitively and tastefully performed, augmented by works for string quartet. A rewarding disc on its own, it is, however, rendered superfluous by the magnificent two-CD set on Deutsche Grammophon, featuring Cheryl Studer, Thomas Hampson, and John Browning (see Fanfare 18:1, pp. 132-34). RCA Victor features violinist Kyoko Takezawa in yet another fine performance of the Violin Concerto, this one boasting a silky, liquid violin tone and an appropriately patrician conception. The disc also offers superb performances, led by today’s pre-eminent Barber conductor Leonard Slatkin, of two of the composer’s lesser compositions. Choral music accounts for some of Barber’s most deeply moving and fully consummated works, featured here on an ASV disc, along with two pieces by his exact contemporary, William Schuman. This disc, highlighting an English choir called The Joyful Company of Singers, bears comparison with the all-Barber choral program on Gamut, sung by the Cambridge University Chamber Choir (also discussed in the review cited above). The two choirs are comparable in size, style, and interpretive approach, so that a choice between the discs entails weighing one’s interest in the disappointingly unmusical Schuman pieces and the never-before-recorded God’s Grandeur of Barber against A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map and the excerpts from Vanessa and Antony and Cleopatra included on the Gamut disc. A Nuova Era release offers Italian pianist Dorella Sarlo in rather labored, unidiomatic renditions of several American piano works, among which Barber’s Souvenirs is of subordinate importance. (Of more significance is the large group of Bernstein’s Anniversaries–short sketches written for friends and relatives, many of which found their way into larger works, most prominently Age of Anxiety and Mass. Copland’sFour Piano Blues, introspective character pieces that draw upon “bluesy” turns of phrase in the most remote, abstract way, are played here in an uncomprehending, literal manner, without a trace of “swing.” The late [1972] Night Thoughts, ostensibly a homage to Ives, are more reminiscent of Messiaen in their groping, unfocused ruminativeness — a quality quite uncharacteristic of Copland in general.)

Auditioning this cornucopia of music by Barber has been illuminating and deeply pleasurable. The five discs include of the genres in which he worked, and comprise almost half entire output, the earliest piece dating from age 13, and the latest — his penultimate completed work — from age 67. The extent of international interest in Barber’s music is illustrated by this review, which addresses a French disc featuring a Bulgarian pianist who lives in France; an English disc that features a (presumably) English baritone and string quartet; a disc featuring a major American orchestra and conductor, with soloists from Japan and England; an English disc that features an English chorus; and an Italian disc featuring an Italian pianist.

Particularly exciting is the presence on both the Solstice and the ASV releases of pieces– mostly recorded for the first time — that are not included on Barber’s official work-list. Most of them were written during the composer’s youth, but are not at all dismissable as juvenilia. In addition, the performances discussed here are mostly quite good, in many cases revealing a sense of comfort, confidence, and polish suggesting that the musicians have not just learned the music for these recordings, but have been digesting it for some time. In other words, these are not “first-generation performances,” as are most recordings of American music, but, rather, show the effects of the music’s increasing general familiarity.

To a devotee of program notes, the annotators’ various attempts to conceptualize the 20th-century American music scene and Barber’s role within it are fascinating. The annotators of the respective discs are: Fanfare’s own erudite, Paris-based Martin Anderson; Michael Oliver, who was not previously known to me; Barbara Heyman, author of a comprehensive biography of the composer, in which voluminous research is counterbalanced by a timidity about assessing matters of meaning and significance characteristic of American musicologists; the estimable and venerable Wilfrid Mellers, a delightfully provocative English musicologist with a particular interest in American music, and one who is not at all timid about making assessments of meaning and significance, whose deftly-expressed speculations are at times infuriatingly wrongheaded and at others brilliantly acute; and Mauro Balma, an Italian commentator not previously known to me.

The notes by these writers indicate that from today’s vantage point, Barber’s place among the pantheon of American composers and the themes that underlie his creative output are not as well understood or appreciated as is the quality of individual works. This is partly the result of a misconception — especially prevalent in Europe — that the dominant reference points in American music are Charles Ives and John Cage, two characters who, in reality, exerted relatively little influence on the vast majority of serious American composers. (Barber himself said, “I can’t bear Ives,” describing him as “an amateur, a hack, who didn’t put pieces together well.”)  From the perspective of such commentators, Barber looms among the intellectuals from the East Coast, the eccentric experimentalists from the West Coast, and the various purveyors of a mythic American landscape as the conservative who remained loyal to the European late-romantic tradition. This may be true as far as it goes, but it is an obvious oversimplification. Far more relevant and pointed is the question: Among all the American traditionalists who forged their own identities without abandoning the familiar language of European late-romanticism, what was unique and special about Barber? Since his death in 1981, work after work has gradually entered the “standard repertoire,” where de facto “masterpiece” status is conferred. Yet there has not been any serious reassessment of Barber’s overall significance as an artist.

Further barriers to a deeper, fuller understanding are biographical factors that do not play well from the perspective of the “rugged pioneer” view of American culture– for example, that Barber was a “sissy,” born to an affluent family with influential musical connections (“with silver spoons spilling from his mouth and prizes magnetically gravitating towards him,” in Mellers’ words). Afforded the opportunity to concentrate on cultivating both his talent and his network of social contacts, he won the encouragement of wealthy benefactors and the enthusiastic support of many of the greatest musicians of the day while he was still in his mid-twenties. The assumption is that Barber “had it easy,” and therefore didn’t “pay his dues” as a “suffering artist.” Commentaries on Barber often display this prejudice in their patronizing or begrudging attitudes. Consider the tortuous ambivalence reflected in Mellers’ favorable description of the Adagio for Strings: “Finely spun string cantilena gives to the harmonies’ opulence a frail pathos, so that one is involved in a genuine, not Hollywooden, tear-jerker, but is never emotionally bullied.” Elsewhere, Mellers describes him as “a composer usually distinguished by charm and discretion” — a description clearly based more on Barber’s social image than on the character of his music.

What emerges from deeper acquaintance with Barber’s entire output is a musical personality of great tenderness, sensitivity, a fragile vulnerability — a “hothouse” personality, perhaps.
Supporting this temperament is the hand of a meticulous craftsman who tolerated nogaucherie in workmanship or taste, regardless of a work’s scope or level of ambition. It is this latter quality that is most striking in the piano pieces dating from the composer’s mid-teen years: Three Sketches and the two pieces that comprise Fresh from West Chester. Anderson’s commentary leads one to expect childish self-mockery and awkward satire, not to mention some crudeness and immaturity in execution. But what one discovers are “salon” pieces that almost anticipate Souvenirs in their irresistible “prettiness,” their refined taste, and their sophisticated workmanship — quite astonishing for a 15-year-old! Discovering these early pieces, played without a scintilla of condescension by Boyadjieva, provides a point of departure from which to view the pieces that soon followed, such as the Op. 1 Serenade and the Three Songs, Op. 2.

Barber’s artistic mentor from his childhood well into his maturity was the composer Sidney Homer, who happened to be his uncle (and how illuminating it might be to encounter some of his music on recording!). Homer successfully pointed his nephew toward two ideals: one was the imperative of being true to one’s inner voice, and the other was the fundamental
importance of impeccable craftsmanship. How closely Barber heeded this guidance may be seen in the works he composed during his twenties– e.g. the Songs of Opp. 2, 10, and 13, the Choruses, Op. 8, and the Reincarnations— works in which he courageously exposed the tenderness and vulnerability of his artistic soul. In this music there is often a strain of sadness, but a sweetness and a sense of security as well. Dover Beach, Barber’s first work of true greatness, composed when he was 21, is atypical and precocious in the wholehearted conviction with which it embraces Matthew Arnold’s bitterness, despair, and yearning for the security of the past. In its emotional content, Dover Beach anticipates the psychological and emotional themes — made explicit in the texts that he chose — that Barber developed more fully during his maturity.

In the music he composed during his twenties, Barber also gave voice to spiritual sentiments, but always within a humanistic context. As Mellers acutely observes, “The texts he set were seldom overtly religious, though they often celebrated the presumptive innocence of child or peasant… . Barber was on the mark in believing that the truth of his religious sensibility was inseparable from his awareness of the common heart of humanity.” An example of this is his setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” which Barber chose not to include among his numbered works. Written at about the same time as the three Reincarnations, it contains a musical device that also appears in “Anthony O’Daly.” Although not without its magical moments, God’s Grandeur does not impress me as achieving the same consistency of inspiration as does the contemporaneous triptych, although Mellers considers it to be Barber’s finest choral work,

Barber’s creative gift was so literary in nature, so focused on mood and emotion, that he seemed almost incapable of mastering the techniques of organic growth essential in constructing large works of absolute music, unless guided in some way by a literary point of reference. In fact, few of Barber’s totally abstract works can be considered fully successful artistically (a notable exception is the Symphony No. 1), although the irresistible appeal of his melodic ideas often compensated for compositional weaknesses, enabling such works to achieve considerable popular success. Two clear examples are the String Quartet and the Violin Concerto. In these works Barber seems to be floundering out of his element, as lovely lyrical ideas are linked together seemingly arbitrarily, in search of a plausible formal design. Such pieces would be unacceptable were it not for the appeal of the material itself. Unacceptable seemed to have been Barber’s own verdict for the two Interludes for piano, composed right after Dover Beach, and recorded here for the first time. Perhaps their unmistakable roots in the Brahms Intermezzi made him feel that they did not qualify as fully mature compositions. I suppose this is true, but the first of the two– more than three times as long as the second– is, as Martin Anderson observes, “Brahms seen through Barber’s eyes,” and makes a strong, lasting impression.

During his early thirties, perhaps moved to self-doubt by criticisms that he was overlooking compositional trends then engaging the attention of others, Barber began to explore some of
these musical languages, deviating considerably from the elegiac romanticism that characterized most of his previous work. Perhaps the most notable success from this period is Knoxville: Summer of 1915, in which the quintessentially Barberian theme of nostalgic longing for the sweetness and innocence of childhood is articulated through the more harmonically acerbic language of Stravinsky-as-Americanized-by-Copland. But many of these pieces — the Excursions for piano, the Capricorn Concerto, the Cello Concerto (which followed each other in sequence) — lack the very individuality, conviction, and sincerity that so distinguished Barber’s earlier work, although each displays the composer’s impeccable refinement and sensitivity to nuance. Even the highly-touted Piano Sonata of 1949, played with an extraordinary combination of both power and delicacy by Lilia Boyadjieva in one of the finest readings on record, remains an ultimately unsatisfying work, the artistic whole of which is less than the sum of its rather incongruous parts.

Then, during the early 1950s, Barber found himself again, integrating an angular chromaticism retained from his recent explorations into a more authentic, expressive, and mature personal language. In these later works, the tenderness and vulnerability return, but more and more often expressed with irony, defensiveness, even decadence and self-pity, as it became increasingly clear during the unsentimental, self-consciously modernistic 1960s that the very success he had won at such a young age now made Barber seem like an overgrown, spoiled child. Yet, perversely, the bitterness and disappointment of his later years lent the best works from this period — Andromache’s Farewell, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Lovers— an emotional complexity and ambiguity missing from the works that made him famous. These are probably Barber’s least understood masterpieces. In an interview, Barber made a comment that seems from today’s vantage point to reflect with some poignancy the way he saw himself at that time: “It is said that I have no style at all but that doesn’t matter. I just go on doing, as they say, my thing. I believe this takes a certain courage.”

Unfortunately, during his final years, self-doubt and self-pity seem to have destroyed Barber’s creative impetus, so that his last pieces, such as the Ballade for piano, a nocturnal reflection in the manner of Scriabin and Bloch, seem unable to take flight at all. Boyadjieva does her best to imbue the Ballade with some intensity, but to no avail. In Martin Anderson’s words, the work “ends, as Barber’s life did, in unemphatic, quiet pain.”

It is unlikely that Barber could have foreseen the revival of interest in his music that followed almost immediately upon his passing. Somehow, a composer’s death seems to neutralize much of the nastiness that surrounds him while still among the living, so that the music itself can then achieve a clearer profile than the person, rather than the other way around. Today, Barber’s entire oeuvre is available on recordings, many of the highest artistic caliber. Of how many other 20th-century composers can this be said? Many of his works have entered the active repertoire, a process that appears to be continuing. Today there are at least a dozen recordings of the Violin Concerto, about ten of the Overture to the School for Scandal, about eight of Knoxville. It will be fascinating to watch the evolution of critical and popular opinion as more and more of his works achieve broader exposure.

BARBER: Three Sketches. Fresh from West Chester. Interludes I and II. Four Excursions. Sonata for Piano. Nocturne. After the Concert. Ballade. Lilia Boyadjieva,
piano. SOLSTICE SOCD-145 [DDD]; 65:29. Produced by Yvette Carbou. (Fax: (33) 4 68 48 55 41)

BARBER: Serenade for String Quartet, Op. 1. Three Songs, Op. 2. Dover Beach, Op. 3. Three Songs, Op. 10. String Quartet, Op. 11. Three Songs, Op. 45. Misc. Songs
(see below). Thomas Allen, baritone; Roger Vignoles, piano; Endellion String Quartet. VIRGIN CLASSICS 7243 5 45033 2 [DDD]; 63:35. Produced by Andrew Keener.
Misc. Songs: Sure on This Shining Night, Op. 13, No. 3; Nocturne, Op. 13, No. 4; Solitary Hotel, Op. 41, No. 4.

BARBER: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.  Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. Capricorn Concerto. Leonard Slatkin conducting the Saint Louis Symphony
Orchestra; Kyoko Takezawa, violin; Steven Isserlis, cello; Jacob Berb, flute; Peter Bowman, oboe; Susan Slaughter, trumpet. RCA VICTOR
09026-68283-2 [DDD]; 64:42. Produced by Joanna Nickrenz.

BARBER: Two Choruses, Op. 8. Agnus Dei. God’s Grandeur, Reincarnations, Op. 16. Two Choruses, Op. 42. Misc. Choral Settings (see below). W. SCHUMAN: Mail
Order Madrigals . Perceptions
. Peter Broadbent conducting the Joyful Company of Singers. ASV CD-DCA-939 [DDD]; 66:23. Produced by John H. West. Misc. Choral
Settings: Heaven-Haven, Op. 13, No. 1; Sure on This Shining Night, Op. 13, No. 2; The Monk and his Cat, Op. 29, No. 8.

BARBER: Souvenirs. BERNSTEIN: Five Anniversaries. Thirteen Anniversaries. COPLAND: Night Thoughts. Four Piano Blues. Dorella Sarlo, piano. NUOVA ERA
7195 [DDD]; 71:58. Produced by Luciano Stella (Audium)