Hummel, Moscheles, Ries – Cello Sonatas

Hummel-Moscheles-Ries-Cello

Cello Sonatas (Amazon)

Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870)
Grand sonate concertante, op. 34 (1841)

Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838)
Grand sonate in G minor, op. 125 (1823)

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Grand sonate in A major, op. 104 (1824)

Marco Testori, cello
Costantino Mastroprimiano, piano

 (2016) – TT 69:50


Terrific Beethovenian Cello Sonatas – Poor Sound

star-ratings-4-5

In a nutshell:
• First recording of Moscheles’s Cello Sonata in B-flat major op. 34, remarkable for its dark slow movement of Beethovenian pathos and a smashing finale of perpetual motion that anticipates Mendelssohn’s trademark elfin scherzo; it has the finesse and power of an etude.
• Ries’s Cello Sonata in G minor op. 125 is autumnal and indebted to Beethoven, but situated further along the bridge towards Romanticism.
• Hummel’s warm and stylish Cello Sonata in A major op. 104 is well represented in the discography and receives a worthy performance.
• Marco Testori (cello) and Constantino Mastroprimiano (piano) offer convincing interpretations—considerably rushed in the Ries, however—but the 1838 Érard piano will be grating for some listeners.
• Recording quality is rough with a confined and muffled sound. Details are muddied; the cello suffers from this more than the piano.


These cello sonatas date from 1814-1824 and reflect a transitional period from late classicism to early Romanticism. Each composer acknowledges Beethoven to some extent, while displaying their own personal stamp. The real sleeper hit is the never-before-recorded Grande Sonate Concertante (1814) by Moscheles. All three movements are inspired and riveting. An overt Hummel influence permeates the “Allegro moderato,” while Beethoven comes to mind in the dark and chromatic “Andante doloroso.” Mendelssohn was just four years old at the time, but there are occasions when he sounds like the author of the final “Allegro molto.” It is an “elfin” scherzo in which the piano dominates using rapid patter and scales in the manner of a tarantella. In this busy keyboard texture, the cello comments and interjects where it can, frequently operating as a pedal point. Moscheles’s brand of virtuosity is against the grain of empty bravura display. He is an heir to Beethoven and does not indulge meaningless decoration and glitter for mere effect.

Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) is best remembered as Beethoven’s earliest biographer, secretary, and for a time, one of his piano students. That Ries was a disciple of Beethoven is unmistakable in the Grande Sonate in G minor op. 125 (1823). The opening “Grave-Allegro” is deeply serious and darkened by the cello’s nether regions. In one sublime instance, the cello carries a wrenching emotional melody above soft ostinatos on the keyboard. Ries looks forward to Romanticism in the soothing “Larghetto con moto,” featuring a tender cello cantilena. Harder and louder playing occurs in the Hungarian-flavored “Rondo,” an animated dance with florid piano writing. Note the performers take a much faster tempo compared to Gaetano Nasillo / Alessandro Commelato (Brilliant Classics) and Guido Lorisch / Robert Hill (CPO).

If there’s a famous work among these neglected gems, it would be Hummel’s Grande Sonate in A major op. 104 (1824), recorded notably by Franz Bartolomey / Madoka Inui (Naxos) and Boris Pergamenschikow / Pavel Gililov (Orfeo). The “Allegro amabile e grazioso” creates an intimate dialogue of melting expressiveness and fresh harmonies, leading to a dignified development. In the melancholy “Un poco adagio e con espressione,” the piano often leads with important melodic material buffeted by long-breathed cello lines. A jaunty “Rondo” rife with Alberti bass figures and a lively keyboard part brings the work to a close.

Cellist Marco Testori has a rich tone, but is often overpowered by Constantino Mastroprimiano on an 1838 Érard. Unfortunately the Érard’s tone is thin and deadened. If you dislike period instruments, you’ll have a difficult time warming up to the sound, which is already muffled; the recording venue, Sala Note Romantiche, may be the culprit.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


 

Caetani – String Quartets

Roffredo Caetani (1871-1961)
String Quartet in D major, Op. 1 (1888)
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 12 (1907)

Alauda Quartet
Cristina Prats Costa, violin
Milan Berginc, violin
Rhoslyn Lawton, viola
Elena Cappelletti, cello

 (2016) – TT 61:21


Cerebral and Autumnal Quartets Modeled After Beethoven and Liszt

star-ratings-4

In a nutshell:
• Caetani was a proponent of German Romanticism and writes in a fin-de-siècle language influenced by Beethoven, Brahms, and Liszt.
• If you’re unfamiliar with Caetani, listen first to his piano music. I think he was a better composer for the keyboard.
• String Quartet No. 1 in D major (1888) is an homage to Liszt owing to its structure and usage of the Hungarian minor scale. However, this is 32-minutes of continuous and cerebral music fashioned after a study of Beethoven’s middle and late quartets. Sober and searching, this long piece traverses serious moods, exciting the senses during agitated sections, but losing the plot otherwise. It’s a mixed success with some fine expressive aims, but ultimately missing strong thematic material and meaningful development.
• String Quartet No. 2 in F minor (1907) is the best of the pair with a forlorn and powerful slow movement of Baroque dignity. The torrential finale is also outstanding and possesses toe-tapping verve.
• Alauda Quartet is a terrific ensemble exemplifying balance, clarity of line, and consummate blend.


Roffredo Caetani (1871-1961) was the godson of Liszt, a friend of Cosima Wagner and Brahms, and a student of Sgambati. He embraced German Romanticism to the fullest, absorbing in particular Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms, and Wagner. However, his own style is neither Lisztian nor Brahmsian, but rather cosmopolitan and quintessentially fin-de-siècle. As a wealthy aristocrat, composing seems to have been a casual hobby and thus his output is small. To me, he excelled at writing for the keyboard, so between this release and the volume of his piano music also on Brilliant Classics, I prefer the latter. At any rate, these string quartets will intrigue those who like sober and intellectual music in a late Romantic garb.

String Quartet No. 1 op. 1 in D major (1888) is an homage to Liszt by dint of its application of the Hungarian minor scale, not to mention its structure and cyclical aspect. Distinct movements are recognizable, but each section seamlessly transitions from one to the next. Despite its continuous 32-minutes of music in several tempo markings, the real influence is Beethoven. Caetani was manifestly in awe of the middle and late quartets and his own premier String Quartet exudes the same manner of part-writing, sobriety, and searching emotions. It begins with a melancholy “Allegro” section in a consistent homophonic texture in which all strings are balanced. A rapid and heroic “Agitato” follows with excited counterpoint before quoting material from the opening section. Then a pensive “Moderato come la prima volta” surveys poignant minor-key passages, before veering into a stormy “Allegro agitato” that culminates in a fugato. Caetani packs a lot of ideas into this work, but with mixed success. I liked the “Agitato” sections a great deal, while the others struck me as long-winded and devoid of sharply-drawn melodies.

String Quartet No. 2 in F minor op. 12 (1907) is the best of the pair, although not in the nondescript first movement. Apart from its solemnity, subdued atmosphere, and expressive intent, few memorable ideas emerge. Fortunately the quality escalates dramatically in the “Molto lento,” which is just magnificent. It has a whiff of the Baroque in its noble pathos and chordal texture. There’s great emotional power in these gentle strains. All instruments are equally weighted, providing intricate voices and long sustains, especially the cello which supplies a perpetual pedal point. The final “Presto” is full of agitated energy and fast pulsing accompaniment figures shared by each part. When not barreling forth with momentum, the piece yields to an expressive vocal duet and sul ponticello tremolos.

The Alauda Quartet is a relatively new ensemble, formed in 2011, and with no other recordings to their credit. They showcase all the necessary skills and musicianship to tackle these nuanced low-key quartets. Recorded sound is just fine.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Roffredo-Caetani
Caetani – Works & Recordings

Caetani – Piano Music

Roffredo Caetani (1871-1961)
Ballade in F-sharp minor, Op. 9 (1899)
Quattre Impromptus, Op. 9 (1899)
Toccata in D major, Op. 9 (1899)
Piano Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 3 (1893)

Alessandra Ammara, piano

 (2014) – TT 78:56


Fin-de-Siècle Synthesis of Chopin, Brahms, and Wagner

star-ratings-4

In a nutshell:
• Anyone interested in late Romantic piano music from a Lisztian, Franckian, or Brahmsian mold will enjoy this release..
• These piano works are sonorous, hyper-Romantic, and loaded with fresh ideas and melodic appeal in a salon atmosphere.
• Ballade (1899) has the emotional depth, gravity, and power of Franck and late Beethoven.
• Piano Sonata in A flat major (1893) is a massive 46-minute work of lyrical breadth, maturity, and classical poise. One can detect pianistic gestures and devices used by Chopin, Liszt, and Brahms, as well as the spaciousness and harmonic palette of Wagner.
• Alessandra Ammara (piano) delivers poetic performances with thoughtful dynamics, voicings, and rubato.


Italy was not known for producing many pianist-composers, but Roffredo Caetani (1871-1961) is an extraordinary exception. This fascinating and marginal figure was the godson of Liszt and received the composer’s endorsement at an early age. He developed further friendships with Cosima Wagner and Brahms, and studied with Liszt’s pupil, Sgambati. Caetani therefore had his pulse on German music of the time, which was far removed from the provincial tastes of Italy. As a wealthy aristocrat, composing seems to have been a peripheral hobby and so his output is small.

Caetani’s piano works absorb many influences from Beethoven and Chopin to Liszt and Wagner. His piano writing is bold, sonorous, and technically demanding. Although Caetani is writing in an ultra Romantic fin-de-siecle language, it is still anchored in the salon. But unlike so much third-rate salon music, Caetani creates rich harmonic progressions and cerebral melodic lines that serve to express sober ideas. Contrary to the liner notes’ statement that Caetani preferred a gloomy atmosphere and pessimism, I don’t hear that at all in his music. Drama and seriousness abound, but there is not a whiff of gloom. Caetani’s melancholy moods are aligned with Chopin and Brahms; not the pessimism of late Liszt or the Russian silver age composers.

The major works here that deserve attention are the Ballata in F sharp minor and the Piano Sonata. Both seem to be an outpouring of Caetani’s best ideas. The Ballade (1899) conveys a surprising amount of beauty and power in 6 minutes. It has, at times, the emotional weight and sound world of Franck or late Beethoven. The Piano Sonata in A flat major (1893) may be Caetani’s masterwork. Cast in three lengthy movements and clocking in at 46 minutes, there is a lot of content that invites repeated listenings. Although most likely his first piano composition, it is technically assured and mature. Caetani does not indulge in bombast or superficial passagework. Everything is classically structured and oriented towards sincere expression. There are extroverted moments and Lisztian fireworks, but these are interludes to otherwise subdued and lyrical themes. Brahms seems to be the model, although the final movement is purely Wagnerian in its expansiveness and also borrows many gestures from Chopin and Liszt.

In his review on MusicWeb International, Roger Blackburn found the impromptus “the most successful items on the disc.” That just goes to show we all have our own tastes. To me, the impromptus don’t measure up to the profundity of the Ballade and the forceful writing of the Piano Sonata. The impromptus are attractive enough and some possess lovely Chopinesque phrases, but they’re appetizers to the main course. Likewise, the Toccata in D major is a curiosity, though not without its charm: a neoclassical piece that imitates Beethoven and Schumann. Alessandra Ammara is the kind of pianist I would hear play anything. Her performances are poetic and left a deep impression on me. I followed the score of Caetani’s piano sonata while listening and was amazed at her rubato, dynamic range, and overall interpretative intelligence.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Roffredo-Caetani
Caetani – Works & Recordings

Molique – String Quartets Vol. 4

Bernhard Molique (1802-1869)
String Quartet No. 7 in B-flat major op. 42 (1851)
String Quartet No. 8 in A minor op. 44 (1852)

Mannheim String Quartet
Andreas Krecher, violin
Shinkyung Kim, violin
Niklas Schwarz, viola
Armin Fromm, violoncello

 (2016) – TT 48:33


Weakest Volume in the Series – Convivial and Mendelssohn-lite

star-ratings-3-5

In a nutshell:
• Molique was a conservative who considered Schumann too modern. His comfort zone is Beethoven, Spohr, and Mendelssohn.
• An underwhelming volume in this series containing Molique’s weakest quartets. Disc is only 48 minutes.
• Although not at the level of OnslowBurgmüller, or Czerny, Molique’s quartets are always pleasant. I recommend Vol. 3 and Vol. 2.
• String Quartet No. 7 in B-flat major op. 42 (1851) is sunny, buoyant, and Mendelssohnian with two compelling movements, namely the “Menuetto”—by turns melancholy and vivacious—and the lovely “Andante” in the manner of a serenade.
• String Quartet No. 8 in A minor op. 44 (1852) is Molique’s last and shortest quartet (19 minutes). Despite its minor key, this work is very light and frothy with an elfin scherzo depicting dancing sprites, followed by a cheerful rondo full of vigorous scales and flourishes.
• Fine performances by Mannheim String Quartet, but they omit exposition repeats, which wasn’t the case in prior volumes.
• Recorded sound is excellent.


A student of Spohr and a preeminent violinist in his day, Bernhard Molique (1802-1869) is now little more than a footnote. If he ever carried any fame, it was for his violin concertos. Molique may have been active in the mid-19th century, but he approached Romanticism timidly and instead cultivated an anachronistic style that Schubert might have found tame. His eight string quartets are never far away from classicism, even if they reveal a stylistic evolution from early Beethoven to Mendelssohn. It is a neat trick that Molique published string quartets matching the opus numbers of Beethoven’s (op. 18) and Mendelssohn’s (op. 44). In any event, Molique keeps a tight rein on his emotions and eschews the expressive gestures and grit of Beethoven. Even the liner notes paints a portrait of a composer constantly blushing in his music, as if he’s too demure to abide chromaticism, intensity, or unrestrained passion.

Whereas Molique’s earliest quartets were more indebted to Beethoven, his String Quartet No. 7 in B-flat major op. 42 (1851) is thoroughly Mendelssohnian, starting with the genial and elated “Allegro vivace,” notable for its strong first theme and a spirited development. As a whole, it isn’t a very distinctive movement and lacks sufficiently contrasting material. Molique has written better sonata-allegros. The ensuing “Menuetto,” a Mendelssohn scherzo, is more buoyant and attractive with vivacious patter. The “Andante” is a beautiful serenade with expressive contours intoned by all the strings in a tranquil atmosphere. Finally, the quartet ends with an exuberant “Rondo” enlivened by playful scales and figures.

String Quartet No. 8 in A minor op. 44 (1852) is not only Molique’s last quartet, but his shortest at 19:38. No doubt it was the composer’s intention to share the same opus number with Mendelssohn’s set. Not much stands out in the elegant “Allegro” except for moments of emphatic vigor and motivic craft. For the first time Molique changes up his formula, substituting an “Intermezzo” for a minuet. This is quintessential elfin Mendelssohn with galloping rhythms and delicate repeated notes, conjuring an image of sprites darting around. A 3-minute tender “Adagio” with gentle strumming pizzicato transitions seamlessly into the finale. This jocular “Rondo” with abundant scalar passagework is in a bright major key, which makes the quartet’s tonic key of A minor rather nominal.

The Mannheim String Quartet is at home with Molique’s idiom. They treat these lightweight quartets with warmth, generating a satisfying blend, clarity of texture, and clean execution. However, Mannheim disappoints by not taking the repeats this time. Recorded sound meets CPO’s high standards.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Bernhard-Molique
Molique – Works & Recordings

Molique – String Quartets Vol. 3

Bernhard Molique (1802-1869)
String Quartet No. 1 in G major op. 16 (1841)
String Quartet No. 2 in C minor op. 17 (1841)

Mannheim String Quartet
Andreas Krecher, violin
Shinkyung Kim, violin
Niklas Schwarz, viola
Armin Fromm, violoncello

 (2010) – TT 75:14


The Best Volume of the Series – Who Would Guess Molique’s Earliest Quartets Were His Finest?

star-ratings-4

In a nutshell:
• Molique was conservative for his time, still emulating classicism via Spohr and early Beethoven when Romanticism was in full bloom.
• Although not at the level of OnslowBurgmüllerCzerny, or Spohr, Molique’s string quartets possess well-wrought material.
• String Quartet No. 1 in G major op. 16 (1841) is surprisingly more effective than any of Molique’s op. 18 quartets (see Vol. 1). It has a noble Haydnesque “Allegro,” a spry and motivic “Menuetto,” and a profound “Andante.”
• String Quartet No. 2 in C minor op. 17 (1841) is an altogether different work: ambitious, darker, and with appropriate minor-key intensity. An epic 14-minute “Allegro” conveys a struggle between tension and release, while the angular “Menuetto” and yearning “Andante” offer reams of interesting and expressive content. Apart from Molique’s F minor quartet, this is surely one of his greatest efforts in the genre.
• Mannheim String Quartet treats these pieces with respect and warmth and observes exposition repeats.
• Recorded sound is excellent.


A student of Spohr and a preeminent violinist in his day, Bernhard Molique (1802-1869) is now little more than a footnote. If he ever carried any fame, it was for his violin concertos. Molique may have been active in the mid-19th century, but he approached Romanticism timidly and instead cultivated an anachronistic style that Schubert might have found tame. His eight string quartets are never far away from classicism, even if they reveal a stylistic evolution from early Beethoven to Mendelssohn. It is a neat trick that Molique published string quartets matching the opus numbers of Beethoven’s (op. 18) and Mendelssohn’s (op. 44). In any event, Molique keeps a tight rein on his emotions and eschews the expressive gestures and grit of Beethoven. Even the liner notes paints a portrait of a composer constantly blushing in his music, as if he’s too demure to abide chromaticism, intensity, or unrestrained passion.

String Quartet No. 1 in G major op. 16 (1841) is, oddly enough, more inventive and texturally varied than Molique’s three quartets of op. 18 (see Vol. 1). It begins warmly and in sunny Haydnesque fashion with an “Allegro” of instant melodic appeal. Both themes are excellent and supported by exquisite part-writing and a noble development. Molique offers a playful “Menuetto” with a distinctive leaping motif reproduced in various guises. The “Andante non troppo” is utterly profound for Molique, who usually avoids deep emotions. This movement is infused with long-breathed angelic lines and expressive fluttering intervals, generating a sublime and atmospheric effect. Occasional strains of melancholy and harp-like pizzicati—again unusual for Molique—add to the depth of this movement. The leaping motif of the minuet is referenced in the energetic “Rondo,” full of cheerful staccato patter and graceful counterpoint.

String Quartet No. 2 in C minor op. 17 (1841) is in stark contrast to its predecessor: bigger, darker, and more complex. The first movement is Molique’s most ambitious and longest of all his quartets, reaching 14 minutes. His exposition is on a grand scale, clocking 8 minutes when repeats are taken. The music itself is serious: a primary theme laden with tension is slightly relieved by the elegant secondary theme. During transitions, the 1st violin part is assertive and there’s an aggressive interplay between the ensemble, which comes to a head in the rigorous development. Next is minor-key “Menuetto” of peculiar rhythms and angular material, while the ensuing “Andante” is dignified, yearning, and even has a stretch of gentle fugato writing. In the “Finale,” the texture is lighter and contrapuntal, but not without its moments of vehemence befitting the key of C minor.

The Mannheim String Quartet is at home with Molique’s idiom. They treat these lightweight quartets with respect and warmth, generating a satisfying blend, clarity of texture, and clean execution. Exposition repeats are observed. Recorded sound meets CPO’s high standards.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Bernhard-Molique
Molique – Works & Recordings

Molique – String Quartets Vol. 2

Bernhard Molique (1802-1869)
String Quartet No. 5 in E flat major op. 18 (1843)
String Quartet No. 6 in in F minor op. 28 (1846)

Mannheim String Quartet
Andreas Krecher, violin
Shinkyung Kim, violin
Niklas Schwarz, viola
Armin Fromm, violoncello

 (2009) – TT 57:39


Two Elegant and Conservative Quartets – The Intense F Minor is Molique’s Best

star-ratings-4

In a nutshell:
• Molique was conservative for his time, still emulating classicism via Spohr and early Beethoven when Romanticism was in full bloom.
• Although you’re better off exploring quartets by OnslowBurgmüllerCzerny, or Spohr, Molique’s possess some strong movements and make for delightful reading music, if nothing else.
• String Quartet No. 5 in E flat major op. 18 (1834) displays various influences, from graceful Mozartian contours in the “Allegro” and Romantic passion in the “Andante” to the motivic rigor and dynamic vitality of Beethoven in the “Presto” finale.
• String Quartet No. 6 in in F minor op. 28 (1846) is a serious piece begging comparison with Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet op. 80 in terms of its drama, if not quality. The restless opening movement is very intense for Molique’s genteel sensibilities, while the lyrical beauty of the “Andante” and the sweeping energy of the “Rondo” are some of Molique’s best efforts in the genre.
• Mannheimer String Quartet treats these lightweight quartets with respect and warmth and observes exposition repeats.
• Recorded sound is excellent.


A student of Spohr and a preeminent violinist in his day, Bernhard Molique (1802-1869) is now little more than a footnote. If he ever carried any fame, it was for his violin concertos. Molique may have been active in the mid-19th century, but he approached Romanticism timidly and instead cultivated an anachronistic style that Schubert might have found tame. His eight string quartets are never far away from classicism, even if they reveal a stylistic evolution from early Beethoven to Mendelssohn. It is a neat trick that Molique published string quartets matching the opus numbers of Beethoven’s (op. 18) and Mendelssohn’s (op. 44). In any event, Molique keeps a tight rein on his emotions and eschews the expressive gestures and grit of Beethoven. Even the liner notes paints a portrait of a composer constantly blushing in his music, as if he’s too demure to abide chromaticism, intensity, or unrestrained passion.

The liner notes argues that the String Quartet op. 18 no. 3 in E flat major (1834) moves further in the direction of Romanticism, but in the opening “Allegro,” I hear the reverse. Whereas the other two quartets of op. 18 (on Vol. 1) are clearly indebted to Beethoven, this initial movement—thoroughly genial and graceful—looks back to Mozart, right down to the contours and phrases. Perhaps the beautiful “Andante” is more Romantic in its moments of expressiveness and passion, but in general it radiates tranquil classical strains. A cheerful “Menuetto” makes way for a memorable “Presto” finale of insistent rhythms, robust motivic deployment, and Beethovenian dynamic contrasts constituting loud statements followed by quietude.

In his String Quartet op. 28 in F minor (1846), Molique has matured and developed a post-Beethoven style very much aligned with Mendelssohn. In a way, the first movement does evoke Mendelssohn’s F minor quartet op. 80 owing to its agitated material and impassioned seriousness. Apart from the hopeful 2nd theme, the exposition and development are quite intense for Molique’s normally docile moods. Low registers are demanded of the viola and cello, adding to the gravity of the music. This is a superb “Allegro” with expressive import and an exquisite interplay of strings. As if exhausted by the preceding excitement, the “Andante” is in meditative repose, featuring a lyrical violin and supple inner voices provided by viola and cello. After a light and mischievous scherzo, the work concludes in dramatic minor-key fashion with a gripping “Rondo” of propulsive energy and tense material.

The Mannheimer String Quartet is at home with Molique’s idiom. They treat these lightweight quartets with respect and warmth, generating a satisfying blend, clarity of texture, and clean execution. Exposition repeats are observed. Recorded sound meets CPO’s high standards.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Bernhard-Molique
Molique – Works & Recordings

Molique – String Quartets Vol. 1

Bernhard Molique (1802-1869)
String Quartet No. 3 in F major op. 18 (1843)
String Quartet No. 4 in A minor op. 18 (1843)

Mannheim String Quartet
Andreas Krecher, violin
Shinkyung Kim, violin
Niklas Schwarz, viola
Armin Fromm, violoncello

 (2005) – TT 58:29


Gentle, Elegant, and Evocative of Beethoven’s Op. 18

star-ratings-4

In a nutshell:
• Molique was conservative for his time, still emulating classicism via Spohr and early Beethoven when Romanticism was in full bloom.
• These string quartets resemble Beethoven’s op. 18, tempered by a courtly, relaxed atmosphere with airy textures and polite melodies.
• Although you’re better off exploring quartets by Onslow, Burgmüller, Czerny, or Spohr, Molique’s possess some strong movements and make for delightful reading music, if nothing else.
• String Quartet No. 3 in F major op. 18 (1843) is sunny and graceful with contrapuntal textures, repeated notes, and motivic invention.
• String Quartet No. 4 in A minor op. 18 (1843) introduces elements of Spohr, Onslow, and Mendelssohn, including an elfin scherzo and a dramatic finale with a substantial 1st violin part.
• Mannheim String Quartet treats these lightweight quartets with respect and warmth and observes exposition repeats.
• Recorded sound is excellent.


A student of Spohr and a preeminent violinist in his day, Bernhard Molique (1802-1869) is now little more than a footnote. If he ever carried any fame, it was for his violin concertos. Molique may have been active in the mid-19th century, but he approached Romanticism timidly and instead cultivated an anachronistic style that Schubert might have found tame. His eight string quartets are never far away from classicism, even if they reveal a stylistic evolution from early Beethoven to Mendelssohn. It is a neat trick that Molique published string quartets matching the opus numbers of Beethoven’s (op. 18) and Mendelssohn’s (op. 44). In any event, Molique keeps a tight rein on his emotions and eschews the expressive gestures and surliness of Beethoven. Even the liner notes paints a portrait of a composer constantly blushing in his music, as if he’s too demure to abide chromaticism, intensity, or unrestrained passion.

Is it a coincidence that Molique’s opus 18/1 is a string quartet in F major, just like Beethoven’s? Probably not, especially when Molique appears to be infatuated with Beethoven’s op. 18. The prevailing tenor of this quartet is placid elegance and conviviality, as in the opening “Allegro,” which has a genteel atmosphere broken by lively transitions and an assertive development. The “Andante” is likewise an easygoing essay of soft lyricism, harboring a lovely duet between cello and violin. Molique’s veneration for Beethoven’s motivic craftsmanship is on display in the charming “Menuetto” and the high-spirited “Finale,” the latter making a greater impact with its pleasant contrapuntal texture, light repeated note patter, and virtuoso 1st violin.

In the String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, the hues of early Beethoven are still omnipresent, but Molique also draws upon Spohr, Onslow, and Mendelssohn. The “Allegro” is cast in an elegant minor-key garb with imitative gestures, a tinge of suspense, and vigorous counterpoint in the development. The “Andante” has an attractive pastoral flavor with wisps of lyricism and searching reflection. Next is a light and elfin “Menuetto,” clearly modeled on the Mendelssohn scherzo. For me, the centerpiece of this quartet is the witty and dramatic “Vivace,” memorable for its galloping rhythms and toe-tapping flurries of violin activity.

The Mannheim String Quartet is at home with Molique’s idiom. They treat these lightweight quartets with respect and warmth, generating a satisfying blend, clarity of texture, and clean execution. Repeats are taken. Recorded sound meets CPO’s high standards.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Bernhard-Molique
Molique – Works & Recordings

Akimenko – Music For Violin and Piano (Toccata)

Feodor Akimenko (1876-1945)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor op. 32 (1907)
Mélodie russe (1925)
Cantabile et danse, op. 31 (from Trois pieces)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in E minor, op. 38b (1911)
Trois Pieces (before 1912)

Tatiana Chulochnikova, violin
Andrea Rucli, piano
Anastasia Dedik, piano

 (2016) – TT 64:41


Conventional Perfumed Salon Music with a French Flavor

star-ratings-3

In a nutshell:
• Akimenko writes in a Russian Romantic salon style influenced by French impressionism.
• Violin Sonata No. 1 (1907) contains folk dance rhythms and lyricism, but apart from its serious theme & variations movement, this piece is just okay; it didn’t make a great impression on me.
• Violin Sonata No. 2 (1911) is steeped in French impressionism, but its themes are not very distinctive. The finale amounts to a concoction of folk dances, but I must say I was amazed by the haunting and intense “Andante”—now that’s a gem.
• The short salon pieces from 1909 and 1912 are pretty lightweight, encompassing airy French colors, genial dances, and Slavic melancholy. I prefer the latter from Akimenko, and his “Melodie russe” and “Cantabile” are both excellent and exude pathos.
• This disc might appeal to specialists, but I urgently recommend other esoteric violin-and-piano works by NovakRöntgenAubertKahn, and Philipp Scharwenka.
• Performances are decent and expressive, although Tatiana Chulochnikova (violin) has a bright piercing tone that detracts from the refined salon mood of these works.


Only specialists, scholars, and intrepid explorers of Russian music will know the name Feodor Akimenko (1876-1945). This Ukrainian composer studied with Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov and would produce over 90 opus numbers. For twenty years he lived in France where he came under the influence of impressionists. It was during these years in Paris that he met and taught Stravinsky. Judging from this selection of works, Akimenko’s style is an alloy of folk-tinged Russian Romanticism, salon aesthetics, and French impressionism.

With a dedication to Eugene Ysayë, the Violin Sonata No. 1 (1907) certainly features a prominent and starring role for the violin. Folk dance rhythms are commonplace throughout this work. In the opening “Andantino,” the violin part is virtuosic yet understated, tackling sprightly dance material as well as slow lyrical double stops. There’s a constant sway and motion suggested by the violin, rarely interrupted by the piano or stopping for breath. Next is a theme and variations, initially stated by solo violin in a passacaglia-like fashion. Soon enough the piano has a larger role in the drama with thick chordal writing. Notwithstanding its dance rhythms and spry violin lines, these variations are serious and make a better impression than the outer movements.

The Violin Sonata No. 2 op. 38b (1911) embraces French impressionism and employs sharper chromaticism. In the first “Allegro,” the piano part is more contrapuntal, busily moving against the violin. Not much is memorable about this movement, as the tempo and texture fluctuate erratically and the thematic ideas are nebulous. Much more convincing is the “Andante,” a slow lament of haunting beauty and intense violin writing. This is a lyrical gem. The finale is ostensibly a rondo, but comes off as a potpourri of folk dances, at once jovial, poetic, fiery, and pastoral. There’s some fine melodic dances here with interesting mood shifts between dark and light.

The short salon pieces from 1909 and 1912 are generally light and unremarkable. There’s a sweetly tender “Doux reve” of French color sandwiched between a genial “Valse” and jaunty “Danse rustique.” More interesting is the “Danse” from op. 31, a mock-serious Russian folk dance with playful pizzicato and a rollicking tempo. However, I liked these two wistful pieces of somber Slavic melancholy: the pathos of “Melodie russe” (1925) and the nostalgic “Cantabile” of op. 31 (1909), essentially a mournful song for violin.

Violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova offers a nuanced and technically adroit reading of these works. However, her bright and brittle tone is frequently off-putting and doesn’t align with the delicate French salon mood of these pieces. Recorded sound is fine.

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~Hexameron


Theodore-Akimenko
Akimenko – Works & Recordings

Borodin, Glazunov, & Arensky (Nash Ensemble)

Alexander Borodin (1833–1887)
String Sextet in D minor (1860)

Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936)
String Quintet in A major, op. 39 (1891)

Anton Arensky (1861–1906)
String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, op. 35 (1895)

The Nash Ensemble
Laura Samuel, violin
Marianne Thorsen, violin
Lawrence Power, viola
Paul Watkins, cello
Alice Neary, cello

 (2012) – TT 65:37


Three Russian Masters and One Masterpiece

star-ratings-4

In a nutshell:
• These three works are uneven, but if you want good performances and a well-caught recorded sound, The Nash Ensemble delivers.
• Borodin’s unfinished String Sextet in D minor (1860) is a light Mendelssohnian charmer with some degree of tunefulness and warmth, but nothing at the level of his string quartets.
• Glazunov’s String Quintet in A major (1891) adopts Mozart’s quintet scoring and is generally docile and elegant. Nash takes a hustling tempo in the “Allegro” to infuse it with more energy. The finest movement is the lyrical and serene “Andante sostenuto.”
• Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (1895)—written in memory of Tchaikovsky—is the heavyweight item on this recording and a masterpiece utilizing two cellos for somber color. Nash intensifies its Slavic beauty and expressive depth at every step.
• The Nash Ensemble displays incredible ensemble skills and a genuine “Russian” feeling for this music, particularly the Arensky.


This recording should fill some gaps in your collection if you’re missing the Borodin sextet or Glazunov quintet. And even if you’re familiar with the Arensky quartet, the Nash Ensemble gives a formidable performance worth hearing. Nash has a command of all three works, exhibiting natural dynamics, satisfying tonal blend, and a Russian soulfulness.

Let’s start with the oddity of the program: Borodin’s String Sextet in D minor. For whatever reason, this early work dating from 1860 remained unfinished and was not published until 1950. Those expecting something at the level of his string quartets will be disappointed. The sextet is lighter and innocuous, drawing upon Mendelssohn for its charm. Borodin does show off some gorgeous harmonies in the opening “Allegro,” a tuneful and warm essay demonstrating a talent for part-writing. Less interesting is the “Andante,” which despite some noble ideas seems overly timid with thematic material in low relief.

If Borodin looked to Mendelssohn, Glazunov went further back to Mozart in his String Quintet in A major (1891). Certainly he adopted Mozart’s choice of scoring for two violins, two violas, and cello. Much of this quintet inhabits the world of the salon, starting with the elegant “Allegro” that unfurls its counterpoint gently and without hurry. Yet the Nash ensemble plays briskly, taking a faster tempo than the Gringolts Quartet (8:28) and Fine Arts Quartet (9:53). Playful pizzicato and staccato figures dominate the “Scherzo,” but I think the finest movement must be the “Andante sostenuto.” It exudes iridescent lyricism and tranquility. Nash produces lush sonorities in the “Finale,” notable for its Russian character and infectious rhythmic patterns.

Arensky’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (1895) is far weightier, owing to its sober expressive content and compositional class. Written in memory of Tchaikovsky, Arensky aims for a fuller and darker sound by employing two cellos. The opening “Moderato” achieves expressive depth, chiefly somber or consoling and heating up during the development. Next is a theme and variations that the Nash Ensemble plays exquisitely. They are sympathetic to the Slavic melancholy and beauty of the slow variations, as well as the excited presto moments and intricate dialogue between strings. In the finale, Arensky summons a somber Russian chorale, contrasted against a lively contrapuntal section with rousing flurries of 16th notes.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Freschi – Chamber Works

Freschi-Chamber-Works

Chamber Works (Amazon)

Antonio Freschi (1838-1916)
Allegro appassionato
Romance, op. 18
Elegia
Urisda – Capriccio (1915)
Leggenda, op. 20
Souvenir des Alpes
Festa campestre – Capriccio caratteristico (1856)

J. Burgmein, pseud. Giulio Ricordi (1840-1912)
Tramway, galop caratteristico for four-hands (ca. 1880)

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Paraphrase de concert “Rigoletto”

Antonio Bazzini (1818-1897)
Andante
Fantasia su La Traviata

Lucio Degani, violin
Andrea Rucli, piano
Agnese Toniutti, piano (secondo)

 (2017) – TT 67:46


Passionate, Tender, and Virtuosic Salon Pieces from a Bazzini Pupil

star-ratings-4

In a nutshell:
• Freschi was an amateur violinist and composer writing in a late Romantic cosmopolitan style.
• Freschi’s pieces for violin and piano are hyper-Romantic. The lyrical curves of his melodies are exquisite and he reinforces them with impassioned double-stops. Highlights include the soaring “Romance,” an expressive “Elegia,” a Lisztian and contrapuntal “Leggenda,” and the “Souvenir des Alpes,” an effective sentimental piece in a dark minor key.
• Some of Freschi’s works are written for professionals. “Capriccio caratteristico” is a rustic and fiery showpiece, while “Allegro appassionato” exudes striving emotions, and the “Urisda Capriccio” is ablaze with double-stops, leaps, portamento, harmonics, and multiple-stopped scales.
• The program also includes Liszt’s Rigoletto, an “Andante” and “Fantasy on La Traviata” by Bazzini, and a rarity for piano duet by Giulio Ricordi: “Tramway” or “Galop caratteristico” is an amusing and over-the-top concert piece in which a triangle and train whistle are part of the ensemble.
• Lucio Degani (violin) displays judicious use of vibrato and a luscious tone inflected with the nuance of vocal expression.


Antonio Freschi (1838-1916) seems to have been important in his own circles of Italian music life, but remains an utterly inconsequential figure outside of Italy; on the margins of marginality. Most of his manuscripts were destroyed in the Great War, and those featured on this recording are decent salon pieces. And some are quite virtuosic and beyond the reach of amateurs. Freschi has a surefire gift for melody and violinistic writing. His idiom is late Romantic and influenced by Liszt and his teacher, Bazzini.

Several of his pieces show off beautiful curves in the manner of songs without words. “Romance” op. 18 is full of soaring lyricism, quite passionate in character, and marked by many double-stops. “Elegia” is sufficiently melancholy and features a lavish piano part, which melds well with the rich violin writing, often restating the theme in double-stops or in the high registers. “Leggenda” op. 20 balances sobriety and playfulness. Apart from its Lisztian chromaticism, it possesses a Baroque spirit replete with many contrapuntal passages. “Souvenir des Alpes” is an effective heart-on-sleeve piece of attractive melodic contours. Despite its sentimental pangs, it avoids the maudlin by veering into darker tension and noble expression.

A few of Freschi’s pieces are fast and virtuosic. “Capriccio caratteristico” is a festive and rowdy dance featuring brisk, fiery violin patterns and an assertive piano part. “Allegro appassionato” opens with a blatant variant of the Beethoven “fate motif” on piano. The violin enters with a hopeful and tender theme, laced with double stops. What follows is a derivative but engaging concert piece, notable for its sense of ardent striving and occasional interjections of the fate motif. A new direction is taken in the “Urisda Capriccio,” which is a sprightly and rustic dance with brilliant virtuosity: double-stops, leaps, portamento, harmonics, and fast multiple-stopped scales all contribute to building a dazzling showpiece.

Perhaps because of the loss of so many of Freschi’s manuscripts, this recording must fill out the program with other pieces representing late 19th-century Italy. Most interesting of these supplements is Giulio Ricordi’s (1840-1912) “Tramway” or “Galop caratteristico” for piano four-hands. This cartoonish Chaplinesque display is amusing, if over-the-top in its effects. It employs a simple jingle of a theme—very jovial in a Johann Strauss manner—and features the triangle and an actual train whistle to emulate the tram bell. Next is Liszt’s Rigoletto paraphrase, offered in a graceful and glittering performance by Andrea Rucli. There’s also a Fantasy on La Traviata by Bazzini: an appealing exhibition of bel canto lines and violin acrobatics. Performances are very good. Lucio Degani displays judicious use of vibrato and a luscious tone, inflected with the nuance of vocal expression. He receives fine support from pianist Andrea Rucli.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Antonio-Freschi
Freschi – Works & Recordings