SOUNDS OF AMERICA
opera King Roger, four symphonies, two violin concertos and choral and chamber works. He followed in the footsteps of such illustrious Lieder predecessors as Schubert, Brahms and Mahler by composing more than 130 art songs. Baritone Krzysztof Biernacki and pianist Michael Baron perform 26 of these treasurable miniatures on their new recording, ‘In the Mists’, the title derived from one of the Six Songs, Op 2.
The disc moves chronologically from those early pieces to the Seven Songs, Op 54, spanning most of Szymanowski’s career and stylistic development. The texts are wide-ranging, comprising words in Polish (by Kazimierz Tetmajer, Wacław Berent and Tadeusz Micin´ski), German (Richard Dehmel), Russian (Dmitri Davydov) and English (James Joyce), an indication of the composer’s broad cultural interests.
The songs are manifestations of Szymanowski’s rich and increasingly exotic harmonic language and the narratives – often dark, sometimes childlike – give the composer the chance to spin phrases of penetrating beauty. The writing is compact and direct, with the musical lines wedded seamlessly to the words.
Polish-born Biernacki wraps his pulsating baritone around Szymanowski’s urgent expressivity to keen dramatic effect. His English may not be ideally idiomatic but he treats each language with purpose and intensity. Baron is an exemplary partner, providing a fine sense of sweep and balances that allow voice and piano to interact as ardent conversationalists. Donald Rosenberg
Tchaikovsky Symphony No 6, ‘Pathétique’, Op 74 Park Avenue Chamber Symphony Orchestra / David Bernard Recursive F RC2059912 (45’ • DDD)
In contrast to the rather rough-andtumble Beethoven Ninth Symphony recorded by David Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony that I reviewed in these pages (10/17), the same forces deliver, for the most part, an impressively elegant, thoughtful, well‑balanced and sophisticated Tchaikovsky Pathétique. My main reservation (indeed, my only reservation) concerns the reduced string section, which cannot match their fullsize orchestra counterparts in regard to projection, tonal allure, soaring sweep and assured agility. Still, the Park Avenue players compensate through carefully sculpted phrasing in the finale’s thematic statements, their pointed articulation throughout the second movement and the X‑ray clarity of the low strings underneath the bassoon solo in the first movement’s opening Adagio. The orchestra approaches the first theme’s faster variant tentatively at first but gain suppleness as the music progresses. A crackling outburst launches a development section that makes up in contrapuntal clarity what it lacks in dynamic force.
The second movement’s outer sections take Tchaikovsky’s con grazia directive to heart, with the melodies taking playful shape as they move over the bar lines. The same holds true for the middle section as well, where the normally dark and heavy timpani pedal point is pared down to a suggestive murmur. The finale’s songful fluency and unanimity of phrasing communicate a dignified reserve that contrasts to the epic vistas, wide emotional swings and devastating peroration that fullorchestra versions convey.
It is in the third movement, however, where the chamber orchestra’s downsized virtues shine. Bernard’s excellent textural contouring gives bristling focus to the compound 12/8 and 4/4 metre, and the march theme’s wonderful trombone and tuba parts emerge like newly scrubbed details in a restored painting.
One may miss the sonorous heft and large-scale dimensions of classic fullorchestra Pathétiques from Karajan (EMI 1971 version), Mravinsky (DG) and Solti (Decca), yet Bernard and his musicians frequently shed new and valuable light on a thrice-familiar standard, abetted by a recorded ambience that evokes concerthall realism. Jed Distler
‘Ancestral Voices’ G Cohen Three Goat Blues Farias Andean Suite A Gottschalk Imágenes de Cuba Jandali String Quartet Apollo Chamber Players Navona F NV6130 (69’ • DDD)
The third instalment from the Houstonbased Apollo Chamber Players’ project of commissioning and recording 20 new ‘folk music-inspired and multicultural works’ by the end of the decade introduces four excellent new string quartets and writes a new chapter in Navona’s commitment to the Cuban music industry. In fact, the label claims that Apollo’s recording of Arthur Gottschalk’s Imágenes de Cuba at Abdala Studios in Havana in January 2017 marked the first time an American chamber ensemble had recorded and performed in Cuba. And Gottschalk’s infectious work makes the perfect centrepiece, drawing on Cuban dance rhythms and attitudes alongside conflicting feelings of nostalgia, pride and sadness for its past, and shouts of ‘Cuba libre!’
Not recorded in Cuba, Gilad Cohen’s deeply seeking Three Goat Blues succeeds at being an effective cover tune by drawing on an entirely different set of roots, represented by Passover prayers and fables, and by the quiet beauty he finds in ancient Provençal Jewish tunes. Malek Jandali’s deeply enigmatic String Quartet in E flat, even when punctuated by a few probably inevitable Bartókian moments, speaks with voices and in tongues emerging from the composer’s Syrian heritage that generously repay more reflective listening. Javier Farias’s Andean Suite is almost, but provocatively also not, what you might expect from the raucous sounds of a ritual fight between a bull and a condor, sad drifting melodies from high mountain plains and a Bolivian dance from Carnival.
The sound for the Gottschalk is infectious, loud and fun. The sound from Clarion Hall at Brazosport College 60 miles from downtown Houston for the others is intimate and detailed. Laurence Vittes
‘Resonant Streams’ ‘Choral Music from Sun to Sea’ Anonymous Gao Shan Qing (Chinese Folk Song). Idumea (Sacred Harp Hymn). Kristallen den fina (Swedish Folk Song). Mo Li Hua (Chinese Folk Song) Bouzignac Surge, amica mea Bradford Give me the splendid, silent sun M‑A Charpentier Le reniement de St Pierre – Tunc respexit Fauré Cantique de Jean Racine Holst Hymn to the Waters Jansson Salve regina for the Mothers of Brazil Larsen The Settling Years – Comin’ to Town Pinkham Wedding Cantata – Awake O North Wind Rist Invictus Rodgers Oklahoma! – Oklahoma! Sariola Nouse lauluni Wyers And love be written on running water University of Washington Chorale / Giselle Wyers MSR Classics F MS1642 (56’ • DDD) Recorded live at Meany Hall, Seattle, May 28, 2014 and December 1, 2016, and St Joseph’s Cathedral, Seattle, June 1, 2016
GRAMOPHONE MARCH 2018 V