Modern Music for Strings
* Sibelius: 6 Humoresques*
- Violin Concerto "Il Belprato"
- Musica da Concerto for Viola, Viola d' Amore, & String Orchestra
Mela Tenenbaum (violin, viola, viola d' amore), Czech Philharmonic Chamber
Orchestra,* Pro Musica Prague/Richard Kapp
ESSAY CD-1075 Total time: 58:11
Summary for the Busy Executive: Three finds.
Sibelius catches flak for his long decline into alcoholism and creative
silence, during which he tried and failed to complete what would have
been his eighth symphony. He also takes heat for the plethora of short
works in his catalogue, as if his symphonic cycle, string quartet, and
violin concerto weren't enough to justify his stature. However, many
critics don't recognize that an artist needs to eat. Sibelius wrote a
lot just to support his family. The humoresques are late examples of
this, written, I believe, before the Finnish government granted the
composer a lifetime stipend. But as Dr. Johnson remarked, "Only a fool
never wrote for money," and commercial success doesn't preclude artistic
success. These six miniatures, averaging a little over three minutes
apiece, make an effect that belies their length. One senses not only
a great miniaturist, like Grieg, but a great symphonic mind (something
very few ever accused Grieg of) working in little. The effect is
heightened when you hear all six humoresques together. Here and there
one catches little hints of the violin concerto, and one soon realizes
that, notwithstanding his architectural smarts, Sibelius's art, like
Elgar's, has this kind of miniature at its heart.
Ghedini, on the other hand, is practically off the radar. He's better
known as Berio's teacher than for his own music. I'd heard only one
other piece, for wind quintet, before these two string concerti. On the
basis of all three works, I'd call him a Stravinsky-Hindemith neoclassicist,
although like most of his tribe, he doesn't ape his models. He has
something of his own to say. The composer officially lays out his violin
concerto "Il Belprato" in five short movements, and like the Sibelius,
each one averages out to between three and four minutes. However, in
performance, it really comes down to three movements. In aesthetic,
they remind me a lot of Vivaldi's violin concerti. That is, they don't
scale heights or plumb depths, but they do exhibit an exceptional elegance
and take on the energy of dance. The first movement, the longest, is
one of those chattering Vivaldi allegros. What I call the middle movement
and Ghedini formally splits into three is a gavotte, "with interruptions."
That is, the gavotte switches to a vivace, which dissolves into a brief,
though affecting, adagio. The finale blows off steam. The music speaks
directly and without inflation.
The Musica da Concerto, in one large movement, calls for a viola soloist
to switch to viola d' amore about halfway through. This is harder than
it sounds, since one often tunes (and fingers) a viola and viola d' amore
differently (the viola d' amore has three more playable strings). For
one thing, the viola d' amore has no standard tuning. The standard viola
tuning is c g d' a', while the most common tuning nowadays for viola d'
amore is a D-major chord: a d a d' f#' a' d". In addition, the instrument
has seven more strings, not played, but which supposedly vibrate
sympathetically. From a recording, I have seldom heard this effect,
except as a nasty little buzz, even with earphones. As for the work
itself, in general, it eschews the straightahead neoclassicism of "Il
Belprato" for greater psychological penetration. The phrases are longer,
twistier and more searching - more "Romantic," if you will. Even the
volatile sections don't have a dance symmetry, often because they change
character too quickly to establish one. The concerto consists of a
series of builds and fallbacks. Time after time, Ghedini increases the
energy only to let out the steam, usually with a soloist's recitative.
The work sounds all over the place, as if even the composer doesn't know
where we will end up, but this is illusory. Ghedini writes very tightly,
even more so than in the violin concerto. However, the basic material
belongs to an altogether higher level of complexity. This takes at least
a couple of hearings to begin to hear the transformations. As in the
concerto, Ghedini confines the accompaniment to strings only, but what
a wealth of color and texture he comes up with! The viola d' amore, a
wonderful instrument for playing chords, adds to the richness and power
of the sound.
I've been a fan of Mela Tenenbaum's for many years - as far as I'm
concerned, a musican of formidable intelligence and fire. She's always
worth listening to - whether in violin monuments like the Beethoven
concerto or the Bach solo violin music, modern music off the beaten track
(like Ghedini and Klebanov), or even a Kreislerian encore. Kapp has
served her as a very sympathetic accompanist. It's as true of this CD
as of all their others. The Ghedini tracks come from live performances.
They haven't been pristinely edited. You do hear a little audience
stirring and rustling, and there's a brief moment in the Ghedini that I
can best describe as "scrambling," as orchestra and soloist try to
co-ordinate their rhythmic feet. However, that shouldn't put you off,
especially since Ghedini is a composer more people should know, and the
Sibelius is just downright beautiful.