Here’s a disc that will, largely, delight the minds and ears of audiophiles who crave something unusual.
None of the three offerings were known to me prior.
Arthur Honegger’s Rugby, sails onto the pitch with an apparent battle between team 3/4 and team 4/4.
Serving as referee, conductor Leon Botstein leads his talented charges through the angular, frequently dissonant paces with nary a yellow card to throw. A tighter ensemble would be welcome. No need for extra time: everything is settled in less than eight minutes!
The only quibble is ending on, seemingly, an out of place consonant after all the wildly brawling on-field action.
As in the present day, there was no crowd noise to lessen the effect.
It is rare indeed that I comment on a CD’s program notes, but in the case of Peter Laki’s assertion that Othmar Schoeck’s Buried Alive (based on the poetry of Gottfried Keller), is of “the absurd premise”—speaking from the grave—strikes me as ridiculous. Does he speak from first-hand experience?
With many hundreds of thousands more people in the grave than ought to be—so many of whom had to expire alone as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on—the notion of “speaking” to loved ones (real or imagined), imagining rescues from calamities (fir trees figure prominently) and the bell tolling for “we” (noon, midnight or a quarter after—matters not) along with disparaging graverobbers, is absolutely compelling in 2020, so long after these prescient verses were penned in 1846.Few will not agree (of those with actual minds and not suffering from wilfull blindness) upon hearing the line, The liars have walked away.
Baritone Michael Nagy is in fine form, notably his exquisite low register and heartfelt word painting (“heart,” “grave,” “world’s end,” and “glowing” are standouts). The only slight hesitation is a vibrato that—for me, so subjective—is a tad on the fast side.
Botstein keeps everything moving steadily forward; the brief contribution for the Bard Festival Chorale adds welcome colour and relief.
The most disappointing music on this disc comes from the pen/imagination of Dimitri Mitropoulos who succinctly proves that as a composer, he was a wonderful conductor (and wisely devoted the bulk of his career to recreating art rather than making it).
There is enough colour in the four-movement set (Concerto Grosso) to perhaps be of use to filmmakers seeking moods rather than substance and expansive ideas. The prominently featured clarinets need a trip to the “shop” to get rid of their frequently annoying key “clacks.” The high strings would benefit from a few more visits to the pitch woodshed to agree on the “centre” of their lines.
Still, two out of three isn’t a bad average in this unusual compilation. JWR