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Gramophone’s guide to the classical scene in the US and Canada Sounds of America

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Reviews New recordings from San Francisco, Toronto and South Dakota » The Scene Live highlights – page VII

Bizet Symphony. Jeux d’enfants, Op 22. Variations chromatiques (orch Weingartner) San Francisco Ballet Orchestra / Martin West Reference Recordings F RR131 (75’ • DDD)

Ballet orchestra takes on Weingartner’s Bizet rarity Bizet’s death soon after the premiere of Carmen deprived the world of a composer who likely would have produced more remarkable works. So it’s something of a revelation to encounter a major Bizet score that hasn’t received much exposure. Not that Variations chromatiques is neglected. In its original solo piano version, it has received attention by noted artists, including Glenn Gould, who can be heard singing along on his trenchant recording (part of the Glenn Gould Edition on Sony Classical).

The piece becomes an entirely different animal in Felix Weingartner’s darkly coloured orchestration, the highlight of this new disc by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under Martin West. Bizet sounds like a cross between Schumann and Brahms as transported to the layered textures of the orchestra. The atmospheres lean towards the brooding and dramatic, and Weingartner takes every opportunity to add sonic interest by passing figures among instrumental sections. The San Francisco musicians give the score a performance that balances tonal depth with expressive intensity.

They play two other Bizet scores that have made captivating transitions from concert stage to ballet proscenium. The 12 sections of Jeux d’enfants, originally for piano four-hands, depict a charming narrative of children and their toys. Bizet’s orchestral versions of five pieces are supplemented by deft orchestrations of the others by Hershey Kay and Roy Douglas.

A tendency towards sluggish tempi keeps an account of the Symphony in C from soaring but the orchestra is always on its toes and alert to Bizet’s poetic allure, as in Laura Griffiths’s haunting oboe solo in the slow movement. Donald Rosenberg

J Byrd Animals. Loops and Sequences. Three Aphorisms. Densities I. Four Sound*Poems. String Trio. Water talks to... Peter Oundjian The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s music director on recording a live all-Russian disc What does a live recording add to the score? You can kind of hear that sense of ‘it’s now or never’ – although I think all concerts should be that way. I remember, as a young quartet player giving 40 concerts a year, that feeling of ‘I can’t walk on stage one more time’. To survive as a touring musician, you must think, this is the only time this music will be played for this audience, in this place. There’s a quality to silence when an audience is there, and I think you can hear that in a live recording.

How do you make The Rite of Spring unique? I don’t do things to be different. I’ve been touring and playing for decades and you get used to committing completely to what you’re playing. In any piece, I want to get to the core of what that composer wanted to convey.

How important are The Rite’s dance origins? We should never ignore anything that’s relevant to the piece. Music and movement have been terribly important to me since I was a small child. When you play Rite, you should certainly evoke that feeling of movement.

Why Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances? The dance element obviously connects both works, and they both have a primitive quality. But Symphonic Dances is man’s journey from his primitive state to his most sophisticated. People say, ‘How lovely, some dances’, but this work is a profound statement by Rachmaninov – a sense of what it is to be alive and the struggles he faces. At the end, he introduces the Alleluia theme in conflict with the Dies irae and, to me, the Alleluia wins – he has overcome his demons. Perhaps that’s why he wrote ‘I thank thee Lord’ at the end of the score. To read Gramophone’s review, turn to page III

Music. Prelude to ‘The Mystery Cheese-Ball’ American Contemporary Music Ensemble New World F NW80738-2 (63’ • DDD)

ACME play hypnotic sounds of Cage and Feldman pupil Byrd The American Contemporary Music Ensemble’s second CD documents music by Joseph Byrd (b1937) – who in 1967 formed psychedelic rock band The United States of America – all written in the early 1960s, when he was studying with Morton Feldman and John Cage. The variety ranges from the hypnotic rhythms, frequencies, textures and intensities of a String Trio to the deflating balloons of a chamber opera once performed in Yoko Ono’s Greenwich Village loft. Two big set pieces show Byrd at full mastery. Animals is an engaging romp, and Water Music is a sonic icefall produced by a percussionist and a tape, the latter playing ‘rumbles, tinkles and clanks’. On a more intimate scale, Loops and Sequences, composed for Charlotte Moorman, proposes a false sense of anti-rhythmic unpredictability as the setting for brief moments of impossible beauty. Densities I for viola and four treble instruments delights in squeaks and squeezes which lead to moments of sheer radiance. Four Sound*Poems, dedicated to women in the experimental arts scene in New York, revels in attitude and chatter, while Three Aphorisms reveals aggressive shadows behind the music’s abstract mask.

Throughout there is a sense that materials are being selected and assembled with a Swiss gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE NOVEMBER 2013 I

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