Notes and Editorial Reviews
Daniel Myssyk, cond; Ens Instrumental Appassionata
FIDELIO 20 (62:11)
2 Elegiac Melodies.
If one were competing to put together the most unusual program of diverse works to showcase a string
orchestra, I would expect this one to take first prize. It kind of reminded me of some of the creations one encounters on California cuisine menus, like sardines sautéed in suet and wrapped in seaweed. That was pretty much my initial reaction at surveying the list of ingredients represented by the composers on this disc. But that was before I listened to it. Two of the works with which I was totally unfamiliar—Janá?ek’s
and Lekeu’s Adagio for string orchestra—turned out to be some of the most gorgeous music to caress these jaded ears in quite some time.
I’m not sure whether to call
(“Idyll”) a suite or a serenade, as it subscribes to the formal layout of neither, yet contains elements of both. The piece is in seven movements, and either Smetana or Dvo?ák would have been proud to claim it as his own. Written in 1878 when Janá?ek was 24 (he was a fairly late bloomer when it came to developing his personal modernistic style), the piece is ripe Romanticism at its best. I’m a little embarrassed at not having heard it before—or for not remembering it if I had—for there are a number of prominent conductors and ensembles that have recorded it: Iona Brown and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra for Chandos, František Jilek and the Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra for Supraphon, and Ross Pople and the London Festival Orchestra for Arte Nova, among them. In any case, I’m glad to have discovered (or rediscovered) it in this exceptionally fine account by the French Canadian, Montreal-based Ensemble Instrumental Appassionata.
When it comes to Lekeu’s Adagio for strings, I know for certain that I’ve never heard it before, and I find no other current recordings of it listed. Guillaume Lekeu (1870–1894) belongs near the very head of the list of shortest-lived composers, dying of typhoid fever at the age of 24. Off the top of my head, I think only Arriaga (1806–1826) died younger. Belgian by birth, Lekeu, like a number of the Franco-Belgian school of composers, ended up in Paris, where he became a student of César Franck and, upon Franck’s death, of Vincent d’Indy. Of Lekeu’s approximately 50 works, the only one that has retained some currency is the Violin Sonata he was commissioned to write by the great violin virtuoso Eugène Ysaÿe. Menuhin took it up, and gave the piece its first outing on a recording in 1938 with sister Hephzibah at the piano, a performance remastered and available on Naxos’s “Great Violinists” series.
Written in 1891 when Lekeu was 21—barely an adult by normal standards, but with only three years left to live), the Adagio for strings is shocking in its uncanny pre-echoing of Schoenberg’s 1899
. Did Schoenberg know Lekeu’s piece? Who knows? But premonitions of the Schoenberg at certain points in Lekeu’s 11-minute work seem almost too strong to be accidental or coincidental. Again, as is the case with Janá?ek’s
, Lekeu’s Adagio is an exquisitely beautiful piece.
Little needs to be said about the Grieg and Mozart numbers on the disc. They’ve both been done to death by countless ensembles and on countless recordings. So, buying this release for either the
Two Elegiac Melodies
, superbly as they are played here by the Ensemble Instrumental Appassionata, will probably make for redundant additions to your collections. But for the Janá?ek and the Lekeu, I cannot give this CD a stronger recommendation. It’s over an hour’s worth of pure bliss. The ensemble’s official Web site lists this as their sole recording. Based on the sheer beauty and sheen of their playing, I hope there will be many more to come.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Idyll for Strings by Leos Janácek
Instrumental Appassionata Ensemble
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1878; Brno, Czech Republic
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