GOULD: Jekyll and Hyde Variations. Fall River Legend (complete ballet).
James F. Neal, narrator; Nashville Symphony Orch/Kenneth Schermerhorn, cond.
NAXOS 8.55922 (B) (DDD) TT: 73:48

 

VILLA LOBOS: Bachianas Brasileiras: No. 1 for 'an orchestra of cellos." No. 2 for chamber orchestra. No. 3 for piano and orchestra. No. 4 for orchestra. No. 5 for voice and 8 cellos. No. 6 for flute and bassoon. No. 7 for orchestra. No. 8 for orchestra. No. 9 for string orchestra.
Rosana Lamosa, soprano; José Feghali, piano; Nashville Symphony Orch/Kenneth Schermerhorn, cond.
NAXOS 8.557460-62 (3 CDs) (B) (DDD) TT: 73:10 / 42:42 / 62:22

 

This invaluable disc of rare music by Morton Gould was recorded in Nashville on December 5 and 6 of last year (i.e. 2004), and may have been the late Kenneth Schermerhorn’s last for the company he had been associated with for 20 years. It was Klaus Heymann’s request that he became music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic in 1984 with a mandate to make it a fully professional orchestra, suitable for recording on the Marco Polo label (Naxos came later) which Heymann founded in 1983 as Hong Kong Records. That same year Schermerhorn succeeded Michael Charry as music director in Nashville, where he died this past April at the age of 75, before he could record the first – for “an orchestra of cellos” – of Villa Lobos’ nine Bachianas Brasileiras in their final orchestral form. Andrew Mogrelia finished the set in May of 2005, less than a month after Schermerhorn’s passing, with a finesse that deserves better than his downplayed billing in the program book and credit-listing on the back box-cover. The rest, however, were Schermerhorn’s bequest, as well as a sense of completion. His first Marco Polo album featured the composer’s 8th and 9th Chôros (later reissued on Naxos, which had 35 minutes of left-over space). Here, the second of three CDs lasts only 40:42, with room for Bachianas No. 7 on the third disc, which would have accommodated 40-45 minutes more of V-L’s voluminous output. Perhaps such was planned – we can’t know now – but there would have been enough space for a remastering and reissue of the two Hong Kong Chôros.

Nashville’s orchestral Bachianas include the complete No. 5 for voice and eight cellos – a Dança
(Martelo in parentheses) that follows the ubiquitous Aria (Cantilena) the composer recorded with Bidu Sayao a half-century ago for then-Columbia/now-Sony. The soloist here is another Brazilian soprano, Rosana Lamoso, whose timbre is harsher than Sayao’s (not to mention Reneé Fleming’s on an RCA/BMG disc with the New World Youth Orchestra, conducted by its founder Michael Tilson Thomas). But there is something to be said for, and enjoyed, in Lamosa’s heartier version; in other words, you’ll hear none of Fleming’s sophisticated crooning or Sayao’s enchantingly gentle lyric soprano. However, Nos. 5 and 6, the latter for flute and bassoon (played by Erik Gratton and Cynthia Estill, Nashville SO principals), are the shortest of the Bachianas – 10:59 and 9:07, respectively – along with No. 9 for strings (two movements lasting just 10:08). Longest is the Third for piano and orchestra, composed in 1938 and vibrantly played here by José Feghali (gold medalist in the seventh Van Cliburn Competition). However, No. 4 was originally for keyboard but orchestrated in 1941. It might have been interesting in the 35 empty minutes on disc 2 to have had Feghali play the original (dated 1930).

After No. 5, the most famous Bachianas is No. 2, four movements for chamber orchestra that end with “The Little Train of the Caipira.” Musically, however, Nos. 7 and 8 from 1942 and 1944 are powerhouses, both for full orchestra in four movements each. I‘ve read a couple of reviews expressing mild disappointment with the recorded sound, digitaped in Ingram Hall on the campus of Vanderbilt University (Nos. 2-9 were produced and engineered by Tim Handley, who settled for producing No. 1, engineered by Rich Mayes). Contrarily perhaps, I found the sound overall superb, both on my computer as well as the main rig; and I suspect you will, too.

As vivid as most of Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas are, the Gould disc is a treasure because its contents are so rare. The complete Fall River Legend ballet as conceived and choreographed by Agnes de Mille in 1948 has had only one previous recording, by Milton Rosenstock and the National PO (of Great Britain, I assume), made in 1983 but not released stateside until 1990 on Albany, and the Jekyll and Hyde Variations of 1957, new to discs. Fall River is better known as a 20-minute concert suite in six movements that Gould made from his 52-minute original in 16 sections, with a spoken prolog (here by veteran attorney James F. Neal, to the work’s advantage, whereas actor Brock Peters read the indictment against Lizzie Borden in the Rosenstock recording). It was DeMille’s conviction (and Gould’s) that Lizzie was guilty, and therefore hanged at the ballet’s end, whereas in real life she went free. For the hanging music alone, the entire Fall River score makes dramatic as well as musical sense – a far cry from most of Gould’s prewar-2 music. The greater surprise, however, is his Jekyll and Hyde Variations, created at the instigation of Dimitri Mitropoulos, who introduced it just a month before he was removed as music director of the New York Philharmonic. It is Gould’s single 12-tone work, so artfully conceived and worked out that it stands as one of his finest creations. The work was not a success with audiences or the press 50 years ago, who expected the familiar insouciant sophistication. But its theme and 13 variations are uncommonly eerie both in sound and psychological effect as they contrast the good doctor with his repulsive alter-ego. Repeated hearings reveal layers of compositional mastery that make one grateful for Schermerhorn’s advocacy and the marvelous performance by an orchestra he kept bettering during his 22-year tenure. One hopes the new concert hall bearing his name, scheduled to open next September, fulfills the hopes of an admiring citizenry, which already has an impressive-sounding, wood-paneled venue in the Andrew Johnson Center, at least as I heard it from a loge seat in 1980.


R.D. (December 2005)