Bruch: Scottish Fantasy (CD review)

Also, Violin Concerto No. 1. Joshua Bell, soloist and conductor; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Sony 19075 84200 2.

Since its founding by John Churchill and Sir Neville Marriner in 1959, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields has been among the most-prominent chamber orchestras in the world. I was lucky enough to have begun collecting their recordings about the time Sir Neville started conducting them from the podium in the early 1960's, and I have followed their career through the years on L'Oiseau-Lyre, Argo, Decca, Philips, EMI, Collins, Chandos, DG, CORO, and now Sony. Although they seemed to lose a little of their recording presence during the early 2000's, their current Music Director since 2011, violinist Joshua Bell, has brought them back into the public eye. I certainly welcome any new recording by them.

The current disc features two of the most-popular works by the German Romantic composer
Max Bruch (1838–1920): his Scottish Fantasy and Violin Concerto No. 1. Record producers and conductors often pair these pieces on their discs, but seldom is the Scottish Fantasy announced so prominently. Indeed, in this case it is the only work mentioned on the cover of Bell's album. I didn't even know they included the Violin Concerto until I looked at the back of the jewel box.

Anyway, the first thing on the disc is Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, which he finished in 1880, dedicating it to the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate. The Fantasy is, of course, Bruch's survey of Scottish folk tunes, loosely tied together in four movements.

The Fantasy starts off rather solemnly with an introduction marked "Grave," which is slow and somber before giving way to the more familiar and frolicsome melodies that follow. The Adagio cantabile, for example, floats gently overheard, doing much favor and grace to the Scottish love song that inspired it. Then, the Scherzo has a charming flow that melds imperceptibly with the folk tune of the Andante that succeeds it. Yes, there is a good deal of sentimentality in the music, yet it's a delightful sentimentality no less. The work concludes with a finale that is the most overtly "Scottish" of the Fantasy's music.

Joshua Bell
I have no idea why Bruch chose to start so charming a piece of music with so somber an introduction, but Bell soon enough takes us into the sweeping melodies that audiences have always loved. His violin almost sings the notes, plaintively, longingly, lovingly. Then Bell moves along to the Scherzo, which he takes at an unhurried if somewhat subdued pace. Here, I thought he might have provided a little more vitality. Bell's treatment of the Andante is subtly melancholic without being in any way gushing, and then he paints all of the final movement's sweet strains with colorful characterization. Again, his chosen tempos take us on a leisurely journey through the Scottish countryside, with few distractions.

Does Bell's performance compete with my favorite artist in this music, Jascha Heifetz on RCA? Not for me, not quite. Bell is a degree too relaxed and too careful with the score, whereas Heifetz seemed to throw himself into the music. Still, Bell's fans will doubtless appreciate his work, and there is no questioning his earnest sympathy for Bruch's tunes.

The coupling, as I said earlier, is the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, which Bruch revised in 1867 and which has become one of the staples of the violin repertoire ever since. It has an unusual first movement, a Vorspiel (or Prelude), leading directly to the second movement. This Vorspiel is like a slow march, with some ornamental flourishes along the way. The second-movement Adagio, a series of broadly sweeping themes, is beautifully melodious and forms the core of the work. Then comes the Finale, which begins quietly until the violin opens up with a vivacious theme in the form of a dance.

Again, Bell plays it safe with moderate tempos and smooth phrasing throughout. His violin tone is immaculate, and the orchestra, as always, is attentive and articulate. I enjoyed the Adagio best of all, with Bell giving it a wistful but never doleful air. With the Finale Bell again sounds just right, although I didn't think the music quite took flight. Thus, Bell delivers a reliable, measured, carefully constructed interpretation with little to fault and a good deal to commend.

For reasons unknown, the folks at Sony supply no timings for any of the tracks, neither on the back of the jewel box nor inside the booklet. No idea why.

Adam Abeshouse produced, engineered, edited, mixed, and mastered the disc, recording it at Air Studios, London, UK in September 2017. The first thing noticeable about the sound is that it's fairly resonant. Then, when the violin enters, the instrument appears well in front of the orchestra, while occasionally moving back toward it at will. I'm not sure why Mr. Abeshouse chose these qualities; perhaps with the resonance he wanted the smallish chamber orchestra to sound bigger than it was; perhaps by occasionally moving the soloist forward and back he wanted to emphasize the violin's part in the proceedings.

In regard to the resonance, I doubt that any recording studio would be this reverberant, but I've never been there so I don't know. Maybe the sound would be just right if listened to through ear-buds, in a car, or via inexpensive computer speakers; again, I don't know. But through my VMPS towers, the orchestral sound was often a bit too flat, too forward, too clouded, or too muffled for my taste, as well as a bit hard and bright in the upper registers. The violin, on the other hand, sounded mostly clear and vibrant, if sometimes, as I say, too close. In short, the recording produces an ever-changing sonic perspective, which listeners will either ignore or find distracting.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


Classical Music News of the Week, July 21, 2018

Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin to Make North America Debut at Bravo! Vail, 2019

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter to join ensemble for auspicious performance.

The Bravo! Vail Music Festival has just commenced its 2018 season and already it is tempting patrons with the announcement that Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin will make its North America debut at the distinguished summer classical music festival in 2019 alongside lauded violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. The performance also marks Anne-Sophie Mutter's Bravo! Vail debut. Bravo! Vail Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott made the announcement from stage to a thrilled audience of nearly 2,000 at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Specific details about the repertoire and concert date are not yet available. More information about Bravo! Vail can be found at www.bravovail.org.

"To present the Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin in its North American debut is a singular opportunity for Bravo! Vail. That this occasion also marks the Vail debut of the great violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performing all five of Mozart's violin concertos is thrilling," said McDermott, hinting at the program to come in 2019. "We are so excited to be a home for this compelling musical partnership and to introduce them to our exceptional audience and setting."

Comprised of musicians from the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, the Chamber Orchestra Vienna-Berlin showcases the prowess, sophistication, and collaborative spirit of two dominant forces in classical music. Though easy to emphasize the differences in these celebrated ensembles--the smooth elegance and nobleness of the Viennese; the captivating passion of the Berliners--when performing together it is clear that they treasure a refinement of playing, enormous flexibility, and a specific beauty of sound.

For more information, visit https://www.bravovail.org/ and https://en.harpa.is/events/event/chamber-orchestra-vienna-berlin/

--Mike Fila, Bucklesweet

2018 Festival Mozaic Events
The 48th anniversary season of Festival Mozaic began this week. From now through July 29th, we will celebrate top-quality music-making, camaraderie, community-building, and music education. You'll see a diverse group of musicians from around the country present concerts in unique and beautiful spaces. We look forward to sharing the experience with you as we welcome these incredible musicians and bask in the glow of their creativity and artistry. We invite you to join us as we explore Music Without Borders.

Enjoy this video interview with Music Director Scott Yoo and Executive Director Bettina Swigger to learn more about the summer festival and its theme, Music Without Borders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRV5MF9wna8

--Festival Mosaic

Emerson String Quartet Performs All Five of Beethoven's Last Quartets at Tanglewood
The world-renowned Emerson String Quartet returns to Tanglewood for performances of all five of Beethoven's immortal late string quartets, performed over two concerts. Like his final piano sonatas, the late quartets are some of Beethoven's greatest and most philosophical, inward-looking works. The program includes the String Quartet No. 12 in E-flat, Op. 127, the String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, and the String Quartet No. 16 in F, Op. 135.

Tuesday, July 24, 2017 at 8 PM
Seiji Ozawa Hall - Lenox, MA
String Quartets Nos. 12, 14, and 16

Wednesday, July 25, 2017 at 8 PM
Seiji Ozawa Hall - Lenox, MA
String Quartets Nos. 13 and 15 and Grosse Fuge in B-flat

For complete information, visit https://www.bso.org/Performance/Detail/93188 and https://www.bso.org/Performance/Detail/93189

--Xi Wang, Kirshbaum Associates

Summer at the Green Music Center 2018
The Green Music Center's Summer 2018 Season in Weill Hall + Lawn (Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA) features a star-studded lineup with some of the most renowned names across a variety of genres from Country and bluegrass to jazz and blues. Voted best Music Venue in Sonoma County by readers of the Press Democrat and Best Outdoor Venue by The Bohemian, the Green Music Center offers unparalleled concert experiences, whether you're inside the stunning Weill Hall or soaking in the sounds of Summer on beautifully landscaped Weill lawn.

Free Movies on the Green
Annie (2014) and The Greatest Showman
Sunday, Jul. 22, 2018 – 3:00 pm

Blues at the Green
Maceo Parker Big Band, Eric Lindell & The Grand Nationals, Deva Mahal
Saturday, Jul. 28, 2018 – 2:00 pm

A Free Concert for the Community
Mariachi Champaña Nevín and the Santa Rosa Symphony
Sunday, Jul. 29, 2018 – 7:00 pm

Free Movies on the Green
The Lion King and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018 – 3:00 pm

Hunter Hayes
Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 – 7:30 pm

An Evening with Chris Botti
Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 – 7:00 pm

Boyz II Men
Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 – 7:30 pm

Punch Brothers
Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 – 7:30 pm

Taste of Sonoma
Saturday, Sep. 1, 2018 – 12:00 pm

Free Movies on the Green
Black Panther
Friday, Sep. 7, 2018 – 7:00 pm

An Evening with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band
Saturday, Sep. 8, 2018 – 7:30 pm

Tower of Power – 50th Anniversary Tour with special guest Average White Band
Saturday, Sep. 22, 2018 – 7:30 pm

For complete information, visit https://gmc.sonoma.edu/events-by-presenter

--Green Music Center

Miami Music Festival
Opera Scenes
Sunday, July 22: 2:00pm
Weber Hall, Barry University
MMF Opera Apprentice singers perform an intriguing program of opera and operetta dating from the inception of the art form to current works.

Summer Chamber Works
Sunday, July 22: 8:00pm
Andy Gato Gallery, Barry University
Free Concert

MMF's Orchestral Institute draws a remarkable pool of talent from around the globe each season, and out of this ensemble, we offer our Chamber Concert series, comprised of student musicians who select their own programs and coach with our distinguished faculty and artists-in-residence. Chamber Concert performances can be enjoyed by the community throughout the entire festival.

For more information, visit http://miamimusicfestival.com/

--Miami Music Festival

ASPECT Foundation for Music and Arts Announces 2018-2019 Season
The ASPECT Foundation for Music & Arts today announces its third New York City season of illuminating performances featuring many of the most prominent performers and musical scholars of today. Paired with stimulating illustrated cultural discussions, ASPECT Foundation's 2018-2019 concerts include performances by the Zemlinsky String Quartet, Ariel String Quartet, violinist Philippe Quint and cellist Zlatomir Fung, the Sitkovetsky Duo, pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn, and the Four Nations Ensemble.

On Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall, ASPECT Foundation for Music & Arts' season opens with Zemlinsky, Janácek, Dvorák and Their Muses.

The season continues on Thursday, November 1, 2018 at 7:30pm with "Beethoven: Intimate Letters" at the Italian Academy at Columbia University. The program features the virtuosic Ariel String Quartet.

Mozart, Schumann, and the Tales of Hoffmann on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall is a program conceived by violinist Philippe Quint.

On Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at 7:30pm, ASPECT presents the thrilling Sitkovetsky Piano Duo in "When Brahms Met Tchaikovsky" at Bohemian National Hall.

The ASPECT Foundation season continues with Archduke Rudolf: Beethoven's Pupil and Patron on Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall. Russian-American pianist and conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn is joined by violinist Korbinian Altenberger and cellist Na-Young Baek.

On Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 7:30pm, ASPECT closes its season with Music Of The 18th Century Grand Tour at Bohemian National Hall. The concert features New York's Four Nations Ensemble with soprano Pascale Beaudin.

To find out more, please visit www.aspectfoundation.net.

--Katy Salomon, Morahan Arts and Media

Opening Weekend of ABS Festival & Academy
The 9th annual ABS Festival & Academy will take place August 3-12, 2018 in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and San Francisco's Saint Mark's Lutheran Church.

Each summer festival focuses on a different aspect of the world of Baroque music, and for 2018, ABS Artistic Director Jeffrey Thomas has chosen the music of Germany with a particular emphasis on "The Glorious Court of Dresden," known for the extraordinary quality of music that was composed for the electors and kings of Saxony who upheld the highest artistic and cultural standards for their subjects. Its splendid Baroque and Rococo architecture brought the city its nickname as the "Jewel Box," and a distinguished roster of performers and composers made it one of Europe's most important musical capitals. A full array of free events--including public master classes, lectures, concerts, and colloquia--complement the performances by American Bach Soloists in two exceptionally fine venues.

For more information, visit americanbach.org

--American Bach Soloists

Franck: Symphony in D Minor (CD review)

Also, Stravinsky: Petrouchka. Pierre Monteux, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. RCA Living Stereo 09026-63303-2.

To say that these interpretations are authoritative would be an understatement. Maestro Pierre Monteux performed the Franck Symphony in D Minor probably more so than any conductor before or since; and he premiered the Stravinsky Petrouchka in 1911. These recordings, from 1961 and 1959 respectively, were his last words on the subject. 

In terms of both performance and sound, my own previous favorites for the Franck Symphony were Charles Dutoit's digital recording on Decca and Sir Thomas Beecham's on EMI. I'll stick with commenting on Dutoit for comparison purposes, his performance and sound being very good (although not quite as good as Beecham's). Alongside the remastered Monteux, however, Dutoit seems more matter of fact, more suavely elegant, to be sure, but ultimately more mundane than Monteux. Monteux, on the other hand, is more reposed and more insightful. Although his timings are not much different from Dutoit's, Monteux's pacing is more meaningful for his greater lingering on pauses, his greater affection for phrasing.

Pierre Monteux
The music under Monteux is just as dramatic in the opening and closing movements as Dutoit's, swinging from moody to energetic, but it is especially more ravishing in the central Allegretto, with its prominent English horn solo, and in the playfulness of the slender scherzo-like theme that follows. The sound of the Dutoit disc is admittedly more detailed, but it is really no more lifelike. Where the newer Decca recording comes into its own is by its filling in the center of the orchestral sound better, Monteux's RCA recording being a bit more prominent in the left and right channels.     

The Stravinsky is another matter, and none of my references here--Rattle, Muti, Ansermet, Davis, and Haitink--moved me as much as Monteux did. Petrouchka has always struck me as a rather creepy little ballet, anyway, and Monteux brings out all the color of the slightly sinister characters and events.

The sound is even better here with the Boston Symphony than in the Franck with the CSO. My only previous experience with the recording was on an old LP that disappointed me greatly for its dullness and noise. But the recording is now shiny and well remastered, the highs sparkling, the midrange natural, the bass robust, the stereo spread considerable. Interestingly, Monteux introduced Petrouchka to American audiences in 1920 while also conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

To have both performances on a single, mid-priced CD is a godsend (and more recently remastered on an SACD). Obviously, I highly recommend it.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa