ELFMAN: Violin Concerto, “Eleven Eleven” / Sandy Cameron, violinist; Royal Scottish National Orchestra; John Mauceri, conductor / Piano Quartet / Philharmonic Piano Quartet Berlin: Daniel Stabrawa, vln; Matthew Hunter, vla; Knut Weber, cello; Markus Groh, pno / Sony Classical 19075869752
What Elfman has done here is more than just turned out a “violin-concerto-to-order.” He has honed his musical gifts to a fine edge and applied them in a completely non-commercial manner to music that is both intelligent and surprising. And truthfully, the Prokofiev reference is more apt than Tchaikovsky for the simple reason that he develops his themes much more along the lines of a Prokofiev concerto, not just in his harmonic choices but also in the rhythmic motifs with which he laces the work, several of which resemble Stravinsky in his neoclassic period.
I think what surprised me the most was how idiomatic his writing for the violin soloist is, even the first-movement cadenza which is built around themes in that movement. Indeed, I’m here to tell you that I’ve heard a ton of modern classical pieces by a wide variety of composers in my career that I refused to review because the music wasn’t nearly as well constructed as this…and some of them were very famous names in the classical world.
In the Piano Quartet, Elfman was lucky to get the highly gifted chamber ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic. The first movement, “Ein Ding,” sounds a bit like minimalism due to its moto perpetuo rhythm in the opening, but Elfman interrupts it with pauses and overlays a long melodic theme played in whole and half notes over it. Rapid string tremolos introduce the development section. Still, the echoes of such minimalist composers as Terry Riley (whose music I like far more than that of Philip Glass) come and go throughout this movement. There are some lovely solos for the three strings, but in this movement, at least, the piano is treated more as a rhythmic motor than as a solo instrument.
To the British, Edward Elgar is just one step down from God. To most listeners born and raised in other countries, he was a fairly boring composer who wrote a few good pieces, the best of which were the Cello Concerto and the “Enigma” Variations. If you really get into this Dream of Gerontius stuff, you’re on your own.
ELGAR: The Arcadians: The Pipes of Pan / Gwen Catley, soprano; Unidentified orchestra and conductor
ELGAR: La Capricieuse / Bronislaw Huberman, violinist; Siegfried Schultze, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
ELGAR: Caracatus: But Rome and her Legions / Peter Dawson, bass-baritone; Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, conductor /available for free streaming on YouTube
ELGAR: Land of Hope and Glory / Clara Butt, contralto; Unidentified orchestra & conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Four of Elgar’s best (and two of them, most famous) short pieces, all in superb performances. I’m really sorry that Gwen Catley’s charming Pipes of Pan is unavailable at the moment, but to hear Peter Dawson rip into the Caracatus aria or the Voice of Brittania, Clara Butt, boom out her chest tones in Land of Hope and Glory is to produce thrills that simply do not exist today.
ELGAR: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 / Jacqueline du Pré, cellist; Philadelphia Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
If you want proof that Elgar was a mediocre composer but that Jacqueline du Pré was a performer of genius, look no further than this. Go back and listen to Elgar’s original recording of the Cello Concerto under his own baton. It’s a stodgy-sounding piece of shit. Now go and watch, and listen, to du Pré play it. It’s like listening to a Goddess communicate with us little people. Unbelievable.
ELGAR: Variations on an Original Theme, “Enigma” / BBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
When Toscanini unveiled his interpretation of the “Enigma” Variations in London in 1935, critics were quick to point out that his version did not sound “Elgarian,” to which many musicians, and Sir Donald Tovey, said, “Thank God.” Again…listen to Elgar’s own recording of this, with his whoopsy-swoopsy tempos and goopy portamento, and then listen to the magnificent edifice that Toscanini made of it, and decide for yourself. Toscanini also made a wonderful recording of this piece with the NBC Symphony in 1951, but to my ears the mid-‘30s BBC Symphony responded with much more beautiful and flexible playing.
A surprisingly excellent piece of music, superbly played by the brother & sister team of Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin. This is also available on the 20-CD “Menuhin Century” set of their complete recordings together.
ENESCU: Airs dans le Genre Roumain. Andantino Malinconico#. Aria and Scherzino^. Aubade. Fantaisie Concertante. Hora Unirei. Légende. Nocturne, “Villa d’Avrayen.” Pastorale, Menuet Triste et Nocturne. Prelude and Gavotte*+. Sarabande. Sérénade en Sourdine+. Sérénade Lontaine / Sherban Lupu, violinist; Ian Hobson, pianist; #Ilinca Dumitrescu, pianist; ^Enescu Ensemble, University of Illinois; +Dmitry Kouzov, cellist; *Samir Golescu, pianist / Toccata Classics 047, or available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles above.
When this album came out several years ago as The Unknown Enescu, many critics—including yours truly—fell all over themselves coming up with superlatives for both the quality of the music and the high quality of Sherban Lupu’s performances. Now these pieces are unknown no more, but they’re just as interesting and enjoyable.
ENESCU: Impromptu Concertant. Violin Sonata in A minor, “Torso.” Violin Sonatas Nos. 2 (part 1, part 2, part 3) & 3(part 1, part 2, part 3) / Axel Strauss, violinist; Ilya Poletaev, pianist / Naxos 8.572691 or available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles above
More of Enescu’s wonderful violin music, combining Romanian folk tunes, modal harmonies and remarkably inventive construction. Violinist Strauss has a somewhat darker tone than Lupu but is an equally committed player and brings a great deal of verve to these performances.
Well, hell, you simply can’t get more authentic than this: the greatest Romanian pianist of the 20th century, playing solo and with the composer. These performances are pure magic.
ENESCU: Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 11 / L’Orchestre de Concerts Colonne; Georege Enescu, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Once again, you get Enescu from Enescu himself in this rare 1950 performance. Other recordings may have better sound, but none come close to this (except perhaps the Toscanini version) for sheer joie-de-vivre.
ENESCU: Sonata for Cello & Piano No. 1 in F / Andrei Csaba, cellist; Dan Grigore, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
An utterly hypnotizing piece of music, played with incredible control and understatement by Csaba and Grigore. This one will keep you listening for hours.
Erkin, Ulvi Cemal
ERKIN: Kocekce – Dance Rhapsody for Orchestra. Symphony No. 2. Violin Concerto / James Buswell, violinist; Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra; Theodor Kuchar, conductor / Naxos 8.572831, Symphony available for free streaming by clicking on title above
I was absolutely bowled over by the highly distinctive and creative music of Ulvi Erkin when I reviewed this CD, and I think you will be, too. The performances by Theodor Kuchar and the Istanbul State Symphony are lively and superbly phrased and executed.