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CLASSICAL  October 2005

CLASSICAL October 2005

Subject:

Three Short Reviews - Napravnik/Blumenthal, Lickl, and Witt

From:

Donald Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 3 Oct 2005 06:11:24 +0000

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text/plain

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Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series - Volume 37
Eduard Napravnik (1839-1916)
Concerto symphonique in A minor, Op. 27 (1877 - 31:15)
Fantaisie russe in B minor, Op. 39 (1881 - 12:19)
Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931)
Allegro de concert in A major, Op. 7 (1889 - 13:54)
Evgeny Soifertis, piano
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Titiov, conductor
Recorded Caird Hall, Dundee, Scotland, September 2004
Released August 2005
Hyperion CDA67511 [57:28]

The Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series has been a valuable compendium
of relatively obscure works for solo piano and orchestra.  Most of the
volumes have featured compositions that deserve a place in the concert
hall, but a few are evidence to the fact that some music is obscure for
good reasons.  Unfortunately, Volume 37 resides in the latter category.

Both Eduard Napravnik and Felix Blumenfeld were fascinating and highly
accomplished music professionals.  Of Czech origin, Napravnik permanently
moved to Russia in 1862 and became the chief conductor of the Mariinsky
Theatre in 1869, holding this position well into the 20th century.  It
was through his leadership of the Mariinsky Theatre that Napravnik greatly
influenced and supported Russian music by giving the premieres of over
eighty Russian operas.  He also was quite prolific as a composer, writing
four operas, four symphonies, three string quartets, two piano trios,
a piano quartet, violin sonata, and a host of solo piano pieces.  His
legacy as a conductor and champion of Russian music is substantial, but
his own music has been largely discarded.

Blumenfeld seemed to have a finger in every piece of the musical pie.
He was a highly regarded teacher and pianist, nurturing the likes of
Horowitz and Barere.  As an editor, he effectively championed the works
of other Russian composers.  His own compositions number over 60 and
include a symphony, string quartet, thirty-four songs, and numerous solo
piano pieces.

The best part of the program is the powerful 1st Movement from Napravnik's
Concerto symphonique.  Marked Allegro energico, the exposition's primary
theme is thrilling in its determination and drive while the brass section
belts out the music's urgency and the piano plays 'faster than the speed
of light' octaves.  However, my overall impression of Napravnik's music
is that it's "show piece material" all the way in the grand romantic
style.  One will look in vain for any sense of substance or coherence
other than architectural.  Ultimately, it's a case of music without a
soul.  This type of music needs a great melodist at the helm such as
Litolff in two earlier Hyperion volumes; Napravnik is not a great melodist.
That is his shortcoming and the reason why his compositions are rarely
played.

Blumenfeld's Allegro de concert is largely cut from the same cloth
as the two Napravnik works except it is less aggressive and more
legato-shaped than the Napravnik; also, there is no denying that Blumenfeld
has a greater affinity for the piano. The performances and sonics are
excellent, and Soifertis is an up and coming pianist whose future will
be interesting to chart.


Georg Lickl (1769-1843)
"String Quartets"
Quartet No. 1 in D minor [23:07]
Quartet No. 2 in G major [26:23]
Quartet No. 3 in C minor [25:16]
Authentic Quartet
Recorded Hungaroton Studio, October 2003
Released November 2004
Hungaroton HCD 3220 [75:02]

These are expertly crafted string quartets of a Haydnesque nature that
are utterly charming and relatively carefree musical expressions intended
to please a well-polished audience.  Lickl had two distinct musical
periods during his career.  The first period covers his years in Vienna
(1786-1806) where secular writing of keyboard, chamber, and stage works
dominated his output.  The second period begins in 1807 with Lickl
assuming the post of choirmaster at the cathedral of Pecs, a position
he held until his death in 1843; during this period, nearly all his music
was written for church activities.

The String Quartets on the Hungaroton disc were composed in the 1790's
and reveal a master technician with the faculty to delight listeners
with conventional phrasing that always has a keen ear for tuneful
declarations.  Although not as inventive as Haydn's String Quartets,
these works should find grateful recipients among Haydn enthusiasts.

The Authentic Quartet plays on period instruments, and its members
graduated from the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.  The fault
I find with the performances is an antiseptic element as if 'Mr. Clean'
was a participant in the production; some blood on the plate would have
been advantageous.  In my review of the above Hyperion disc, I indicate
that neither Napravnik nor Blumenfeld were great melodists; that assessment
applies equally to Lickl.


Friedrich Witt (1770-1836)
"Orchestral Works"
Symphony No. 6 "Sinfonie turque" in A minor [24:39]
Flute Concerto in G major [22:46] *
Symphony No. 9 in D minor [26:14]
Susanne Barner, solo flute *
Hamburg Symphony Orchestra
Recorded March 2004
Released July 2005
MDG 329 1299-2 [74:07]

This is the gem of the three discs being reviewed.  If you think of Barry
Manilow without the schmaltz, Friedrich Witt is the outcome.  He was
quite a tunesmith, offering such fetching melodies at will.  Perhaps of
even greater significance, he had an unerring sense of rhythmic flow and
continuity.

However, all is not in glorious condition.  Witt's music is strongly
Mozartian in phrasing and flavor, so much so that he sometimes sounds
like a clone of the famous composer.  My first reservation is that nobody
does Mozart as well as Mozart himself, and I have hundreds of Mozart
recordings to choose from when I want to listen to his music.  My second
reservation is of a more objective nature and concerns development
sections and other parts of works where the main themes are reshaped.
The great composers not only reshape in compelling fashion, they actually
reinvent as well.  These features are lacking in the Witt program, as
his development and recapitulation sections are quite ordinary and
ultimately redundant.  As an example, the 9-minute 1st Movement of the
Sinfonie turque simply does not possess sufficient material to warrant
its length; the wonderful exposition with a fine coda would erase any
notion of note-spinning and represent a very compelling movement of
music.  Of course, sonata form was the rage of Witt's time, and he was
hardly a man to go against the established musical order.

Moesus and his Hamburg forces certainly give their all to the production,
and soloist Susanne Barner is in fine form with her limpid and clear
tones.  The sonics are up-to-date although some listeners might prefer
a richer soundstage.

Don's Conclusions: The Hyperion recording offers show piece music that
is pleasing but has little more to offer.  The Authentic Quartet's
extremely well-scrubbed performances likely do not show Lickl's music
in its best light, but I doubt that alternative versions are on the
horizon.  Last, but best, is the MDG/Witt disc featuring some beautifully
spun music in splendid performances; If you love Mozart, consider Witt
a man you want to hear.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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