Twilight of the Romantics (CD review)

Chamber Music by Walter Rabl and Josef Labor. Orion Ensemble. Cedille CDR 90000 088.

For those listeners longing for the strains of serious Romantic, lyrical, tuneful, melodious music they don't already have many times over in their collections of basic-repertoire items, there is still hope. The folks at Cedille Records offer this disc of première recordings by composers Walter Rabl (1873-1940) and Josef Labor (1842-1924). Obviously, neither man is a well known composer, but that's the point, and they are both worth a listen.

Things start with Rabl's Quartet in E-flat major for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano. It's a piece he wrote as a young man in 1896 for a competition of the Vienna Musicians' Society, whose honorary president at the time was Johannes Brahms. The Quartet won first prize, Brahms greatly admired it, and then people quickly forgot it, possibly because Rabl himself quit composing music shortly thereafter and turned his attentions to vocal coaching and conducting. In any case, the Quartet is a lovely piece, reminiscent of the work of Schumann (and Brahms). It's fairly simple in its traditional four-movement execution, but the melodies spill forth in abundance, and one cannot help feel the piece's serenity and good cheer.

Then we get Josef Labor's Quintet in D major for Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano, from around 1900. It, too, sounds as though it had a strong connection to Brahms, and it is, if anything, even more dreamily Romantic than Rabl's piece. Why the public neglected it is anybody's guess. The booklet note suggests that perhaps Labor's "blindness may have limited his ability to disseminate and promote his works." Anyway, like Rabl's Quartet, the clarinet dominates Labor's Quintet, the clarinet a wistful, sometimes mournful instrument if ever there was one, and in both pieces it works its magic in still, quiet, longing Adagio movements and energetic, rhythmic Allegros.

The Orion Ensemble, consisting of five accomplished female musicians, play with refinement and grace; and, as always, Cedille's chief engineer, Bill Maylone, captures the sound in a wholly natural and realistic setting. The delineation is a tad on the soft side, but it only serves to emphasize the Romantic nature of the music.


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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.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa