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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 6 April 2015

The Sounds of Springtime

by René-François Auclair / April 1, 2015

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Spring is here once more, a time for festive and invigorating music. Here are some suggestions to celebrate the different aspects of the season that beckons us abroad.

The Symphonies
Robert-Schumann-Philharmonie. Frank Beermann. CPO. 777536-2. 2010. 122 min 2 s.

Most of us know the “Spring” Symphony, which was composed in just a few days in January 1841, but all Schumann’s symphonic work is a vibrant tribute to that season. It exudes health and vigour, evoking the landscapes he adored. From forests to the magnificent views of the Rhine valley, Schumann gives us his impressions of idyllic happiness. This new edition, prepared by the musicologist J. Draheim, highlights the perfectionism of the composer, who gave very precise directions on his last manuscript revisions. Beermann’s interpretation is refreshingly light and airy, without being frivolous. Worth discovering.

The Four Seasons
Dresden version with winds. L’Arte dell’Arco. Federico Guglielmo. CPO. 777037-2. 56 min 24 s. (+G.A. Guido’s Four Seasons)

Just as spring always comes back, so inevitably does Vivaldi’s Opus 8, which since its rediscovery around 1940 has surely been the most recorded work in the history of music albums. But the Italian musicians here offer something new and thrilling, based on legitimate speculation. At the Dresden court of the eighteenth century, it was customary to add wind instrument parts depending on the performance. In light of this tradition the Seasons take on fresh colours, and the result is wonderful! The flute perfectly imitates the twittering of birds and the whistling wind of a storm. The bassoon yaps, while the horns call the listener to the hunt. Uplifting.

Rhapsodies, Serenade, In the Mountain Country
Moeran (1894-1950)
Ulster Orchestra. Vernon Handley. Chandos 10235. 1988-89. 69 min 22 s.

Ernest John Moeran was an English composer of Irish descent. He lived for many years in Norfolk, where he frequented village pubs, listening to the folk songs, of which he collected over 150. He loved the outdoors and would walk great distances along the coasts of England and Ireland. This provided much of the inspiration for his music, a mixture of tradition and modernity that reflected the local folk songs of his roots as well as the epic grandeur of the coast. The excellent quality of this Chandos recording perfectly renders the windswept, verdant landscapes that beckon us in this music.

J. H. Roman (1694-1758)
Music for a Royal Wedding. Ensemble 1700 Lund. Göran Karlsson. CPO 777589-2. 2010. 62 min 12 s.

The return of warmer weather usually coincides with marriages. The magnificent wedding of Crown Prince Frederick and Princess Ulrika in summer 1744 at Drottningholm Palace reverberated down Swedish history. The festivities lasted four days and certainly kept the musicians busy! Roman, who was known as the “Swedish Handel”, composed a suite of exquisite pieces to accompany meals and ceremonials for the dignitaries. Sometimes informal, sometimes solemn, often tinged with melancholy, this high quality music is both tender and joyous. This small Swedish ensemble performs an irresistible jewel of the baroque.

Quintets with 2 violas op. 60 & 62
Ensemble 415. Chiara Banchini. HMA 1901402. 67 min 49 s.

These late pieces by the Italian musician were composed during a time of personal and financial crisis, yet they hardly betray any of the sadness he was experiencing. Rather, these quintets burst with the sunshine and colours of Madrid, where Boccherini spent time as composer to the court. Now those days were gone and he was seeking other patrons. Some nostalgia surfaces through the rich, elegant phrasing, while flamenco and the rhythms of castanets are a recurring theme. Chiara Banchini and her fellow musicians convey all the sunshine suffused in the music.

Symphonic Poems vol. 2
Johan Wagenaar (1862-1941)
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie. Antony Hermus. CPO 777933-2. 2014. 55 min 26 s.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, this little-known Dutch composer tried to  make typical Dutch music more widely known. He considered it to be “tending toward simple, almost folk-style melodic formation, inclined to heartiness, and evocative of warmth, contentment and native mirth”. Despite its laudable intention to distinguish itself from the music of its larger neighbour, Germany, Wagenaar’s compositions did not really catch on. They are more like Scandinavian music, with the same themes inspired by national folklore. Apart from a certain outdated romanticism, the charm of his work is set off by lively, rich orchestrations full of spontaneity and lightheartedness.

Translation: Cecilia Grayson

René François Auclair also writes a blog, Le Parnasse musical. Listen to clips of the works listed in this article at www.leparnassemusical.com

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