Monday, March 9, 2015

J.S. Bach - Keyboard Concerto No.1 in D minor - Paul Hindemith - The Four Temperaments: Theme with Four Variations for Piano & Strings - Ernst Bloch - Concerto Grosso No.1 for String Orch. with Piano Obbligato - MSR Classics 2013

I  must say am having a rollicking good time unwrapping discs purchased in or around 2013. Truly it's the same kind of excitement as if I had just received them in the mail; after all I don't know what I'm about to find in these piles-simply because I was still able to buy so much at that time and can't keep track (Has anyone else out there ever bought the same disc twice? This has happened to me....a few times ;)   So here we have three works for Piano & String Orchestra. Paul Hindemith's "The Four Temperaments" is one of my favorite Hindemith works but also one of my favorite piano + orchestra compositions in general. I have many recordings of it, and thus far I'm extremely pleased with this interpretation, the pianist and string players are playing with passion and obvious enthusiasm, and I like their choice of tempi very much. Bloch's Concerti Grossi are also favorite works of mine, and here his "Concerto Grosso No. 1" is also played extremely well start to finish. As far as the ubiquitous Bach keyboard concerto goes, there's really nothing that needs to be said; I'm sure most of you also have a dozen or more recordings of this wonderful but overplayed concerto. The reading here is good, although the sound quality is not as good (-unless it's my imagination? The orchestra playing the Bach is the same that pulls off the Hindemith so well-only the Bloch is performed by a different orchestra. Tell me if I'm just having hearing problems!) as on the Hindemith and Bloch works. 

"The Four Temperaments - Theme with Four Variations for Piano and Strings" was composed when Hindemith first established himself in the United States in 1940. The origins of this work are somewhat murky. According to the website of the the New York City Ballet, it was commissioned by George Balanchine to give himself something to play (the famous choreographer was an accomplished pianist, but it is not clear whether or not he ever actually performed the work). The first public performance did not take place that same year (as is stated in almost all reference sources) but four years later in 1944 when Lukas Foss played it with the Boston Symphony under Richard Burgin at a special concert at the New England Mutual Hall on September 3rd; the work was later repeated at Symphony Hall as part of the orchestra's regular season.

In 1946, Balanchine founded 'Ballet Society', the predecessor of the New York City Ballet, and he choreographed the Theme with Four Variations under the title "The Four Temperaments" for the first performances of the company. The premiere was on November 20th, 1946 at the Central High for Needle Trades (the predecessor to the Fashion Institute of Technology) with a cast that included Tanaquil Le Clerc and Todd Bolender; the pianist was Nicholas Kopeikine and the conductor Leon Barzin.

The notion that human behavior is dominated by four humors or temperaments each connected to a bodily fluid- black bile for the 'melancholic', blood for the 'sanguine', phlegm for the 'phlegmatic' and yellow bile for the 'choleric'- goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks and, although long since abandoned by the medical profession, continues to have some poetic or literary currency. Was it Hindemith's idea or the choreographer's to apply this program to the music? Ironically, while the titles appear to push this score away from pure musical abstraction, the ballet was in fact a big step in Balanchine's evolution away from narrative dance. Hindemith's musical interpretation of this idea is not simply musically, let alone programmatically. The work, although classical in its use of piano and strings and its expanded C major - C minor - E flat tonality, does not exactly fit the mold of a classical or baroque concerto or of a conventional theme and variations. The theme itself has three distinct parts: a Moderato in the strings with a long lyric melody, a tocatta or scherzo-like Allegro assai led off and finished by the piano and later joined by the strings, and a Moderato in the style of a 6/8 siciliano, finished up by the strings only-first solo, and then later with pizzicato accompaniment and an embellished piano solo in the middle.

The first variation "Melancholy", might suggest a dance of death. It starts as a slow, mournful 9/8 duet between the solo piano and a solo violin followed by a whirlwind 12/8 Presto for the strings alone. It ends with a funeral march in in E-flat minor with a drum-roll rhythmic figure in the piano and a dramatic, sinister melody in the strings.

"Sanguine" is the only variation that does not change tempo; it is a landler (18th century folk dance) style waltz dominated by the strings with rhythmic punctuations and 'oom-pahs' from the piano and, except for an occasional insertion of 2/4 bars, it maintains the 3/4 waltz tempo throughout. There is a kind of Trio introduced by a sequence of trills in the piano and then with running notes in octaves in the piano over pizzicato and then melodic strings. The strings pick up the running motion before a return to the main waltz in a particularly melodic form. The movement ends with a dynamic buildup over harmonic stasis- running notes in the piano over a steady E minor in the strings.

The third variation, "Phlegmatic", begins Moderato in 4/4 with solo string quartet in a typically Hindemithian expanded version of the key of C major. A 12/8 Allegretto in the form of a slow dance belongs to the piano with occasional brief interruptions from the solo strings; the meter and the shifting tonality give it a kind of 'tipsy' character. A piano solo in octaves leads leads into a rather jolly folk-like Allegro scherzando in 2/4, dominated by the solo strings with the piano offering mostly rhythmic/chordal accompaniment. The piano suddenly goes quiet and the variation fades to a rhythmic pianissimo in E-flat. 

The last variation "Choleric" begins with a kind of dramatic accompanied recitative in a constantly shifting tempo. The strings and piano offer loud and louder interjections, outlining the double-tonality of C major and E flat major. A Vivace in 2/4 begins with pizzicato strings, and interpolations from the piano turn into off-beat 'oom-pahs' (this section is one of my favorites!) before going back to a reverse series interpolations and pizzicatos. The Appassionato that follows is in a sweeping 12/8 with rich octave melodies in the strings and call-and-response between the strings and piano. The movement and the work culminate in a Maestoso which starts quietly with rising eighth notes in the piano that accompany sweeping octaves in the strings and lead to a triple forte C major climax.
This work leaves me gleefully breathless time and again :)

Ernst Bloch's fantastic Concerto Grosso No.1 has already been posted here (with No.2 as well) on a CPO disc, so I won't discuss it in this post.

Track listing:

J.S. Bach - Concerto No.1 in D minor for Keyboard and Strings, Bwv 1052

1)Allegro (7:54)
2)Adagio (8:17)
3)Allegro (7:46)

Paul Hindemith - "The Four Temperaments" for Piano and Strings

4)Thema - Moderato; Allegro assai; Moderato (5:45)
5)First Variation - Melancholisch: Langsam; Presto; Langsamer Marsch (5:50)
6)Second Variation - Sanguinisch: Waltzer (5:18)
7)Third Variation - Phlegmatisch: Moderato; Allegretto; Allegretto scherzando (4:58)
8)Fourth Variation - Cholerisch: Introduction; Vivace; Appassionato; Maestoso (6:27)

Ernst Bloch - "Concerto Grosso No.1 for String Orchestra and Piano Obbligato

9)Prelude: Allegro energico e pesante (2:56)
10)Dirge: Andante moderato (6:41)
11)Pastorale and Rustic Dances: Assa lento; Allegro; Moderato, ma non troppo lento (6:53)
12)Fugue: Allegro (5:31)




sneffels said...

Interesting performances of these familiar works - thank you.

Which orchestra play which pieces?

Anonymous said...


I have somewhat similar experience from time to time - I too have a bunch of CDs that I bought in 2014 that are not opened yet. Mostly because I keep them unopened until I feel I have nothing new to listen to... Of course with all the music available online I actually have a backlog of downloaded music that I have not listened yet.

Keep feeding us new music! It's fun! Any more music with wind instruments?


Anonymous said...

Another cd sublime,super,fascinant,thanks,Master Tzadik and LLAP(Live long and Prosper) last mensaje of Mister Spock from cosmos... Dr.Tapirman(hize un programa especial en la Radio dedicado a su memoria,a este gran humanista,cantor,poeta,fotógrafo,actor,vectos de ciencias y artes,un verdadero American Man,Leonard Nimoy,me hacía recordar al gran Hovahness...)

Tzadik said...

Hi Sneffels you are welcome! The Capella Istropolitana plays both the the Bach and the Hindemith, while the Slovak RSO makes an equally fine showing of the Bloch. TZ

Tzadik said...

Hey Piterets my friend, no worries the feeding shall continue! I only wish I had more has been a real pain in the ass lately to put it mildly. how many unopened discs do you have in "the pile"? Would you say townhouse or skyscraper? ;)


Tzadik said...

Oh and yes I always have more wind music; some of which is lined up for posting soon. TZ

Anonymous said...

Hey TZ!

More like a townhouse. :) A couple of dozens maybe.

I appreciate you finding time to post shares as well as writing informative posts. I enjoy the a lot!


Tzadik said...

Hey Piterets a music townhouse is good; its like life itself, neighbors coexisting..some tonal and some atonal. Strange bedfellows sometimes, sometimes not!! TZ