Reviews: Walter Braunfels, John Alden Carpenter

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BBC Concert Orchestra/Johannes Wildner

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Walter Braunfels Volume 4 - Orchester-Suite e-Moll für grosses Orchester opus 48 (SACD)

(Dutton Epoch)

Although he died in 1954, it is only in recent years that the work of German composer Walter Braunfels has returned to the mainstream attention that was his between the wars - banned for his so-called “degenerate” music under the Nazi regime, he more or less faded into obscurity even after the war was over.

The result is a lot of new recordings of works that have not been performed in decades, with this collection offering up a world premiere to his Orchester-Suite e-Moll für grosses Orchester opus 48, composed between 1933-36, alongside rare airings for Hebridentänze op 70 (1950-51) and Sinfonia Concertante (1947-48), all under the eye of conductor Johannes Wildner and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Of the three, it is the Orchestral Suite that will garner the most attention - it is almost twenty years since the once-believed-lost work was rediscovered, and reconstructed by Stefan Kames; and more than eighty years since a review of its premiere bemoaned a “somewhat tormented… prelude,” an “intellectually insignificant” third movement (“Marsch”) and an “overblown and talkative” finale “Capriccio.”Braunfels, too, considered the piece little more than something that “amuses” me.

What a difference a few decades makes. As the liners point out, the four years that separated the creation of the different parts feels a lot less vast today, because the suite does in fact hold together with remarkable strength, a mighty piece that may remind one in places of Bach’s Fantasia (another point raised by the liner notes), but swiftly heads off in its own direction.It’s an intriguing, energetic piece that is only given fresh impetus by the vigorous performance here.

The other two pieces here are more familiar, at least to Braunfels afficianados - the last year or so has already seen the Münchner Rundfunkorchester’s interpretation ofthe Sinfonia and the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz’s Hebridentänze - the former a muscular piece that may take a couple of listens to truly comprehend; the latter an evocative study of a couple of Hebridean folk melodies, with Piers Lane’s pianoforeost throughout.

As the title suggests, this is the fourth release in Dutton Epoch’s series of Braunfels releases, and while nothing here matches what is surely his greatest work, 1906’s Hexensabbat opus 8 (as yet untouched by Dutton), still this series represents one of the most enjoyable re-examinations in recent years.

BBC Concert Orchestra/Keith Lockhart

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John Alden Carpetnter: Krazy Kat: A Jazz Pantomine etc

(Dutton Epoch)

If it’s krazy kats you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with the art of Louis Wain, and the appearance of one of his signature pieces, “The After Dinner Speaker,” on the cover of this 2014 recording surely ranks among the most inspired of recent years.

However, if it’s “jazz” that you’re seeking, Krazy Kat probably won’t satisfy your yearning.Its title notwithstanding, the ballet owes more to Debussy and, perhaps, Holst than to the smoky speakeasies of Prohibition-era America - fittingly, however, as the piece was conceived as a ballet about the comic strip kitty of the same name.Yes, sax and brass both play their part in the play, but they are effectively punctuation around Krazy Kat’s antics.

It’s a jolly piece, as comical as the ballet surely was (and the original cartoons certainly were), and the liners ask whether it was the success of the jazz pantomime that inspired the often ambitious soundtracks that would accompany later Disney and WB cartoons.That question cannot easily be answered.But listening through, it is difficult not to imagine our childhood animated favorites rolling and tumbling through their latest adventures.

Three other, shorter, Carpenter pieces complete the disc; the 1947 revision of 1915’s Concertino for Piano and Orchestra - which gleefully echoes the playful buoyancy of Krazy Kat; and the first ever recordings of 1948’s Carmel Concerto (which, at almost fifteen minutes, is more-or-less as long as Krazy Kat in its entirety) and 1932’s Patterns for Piano and Orchestra.

Both are considerably more sober works - Patterns is positively foreboding in parts, with Michael Chertock’s piano positively writhing through some passages, stamping through others.Certainly they make peculiar companions to the earlier pieces (or should that be vice versa?), but the overall disc - a rare excursion outside of SACD territory for the label - is a delight regardless.

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