What a catalogue of discoveries Martin Anderson (no relation) has built up for his Toccata Classics label. The vast majority of what follows are first recordings, presented with generously informative booklets.
Alexander Brincken Orchestral Music, Volume One. Brincken (born Leningrad in 1952) is represented here by his Symphony 4 (2015) & Capriccio for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1985). Brincken is the soloist. The fifty-minute-plus Symphony, in G-minor (note), is a throwback in style, late-Romantic, descriptive and “big-hearted”. The material isn’t always strong enough to sustain the ambitious length, and can be used too repetitively. I am not sure that the annotation’s citing of Franz Schmidt and Martinů is all that helpful, it’s no more than a guide, but there is no denying the outgoing nature and Nature-suggestiveness of the music, quite filmic (the Swiss Alps came to my mind), and, if you did but know it, also its potentially wide appeal. Rainer Held & the Royal Scottish National Orchestra are in fine form, clearly if too glaringly recorded in the loudest fortissimos, and they offer deft support to the composer in the concise Capriccio, which offers somewhat more engaging listening. Toccata Classics TOCC 0550.
Fridrich Bruk Orchestral Music, Volume Two. Bruk (born 1937 in Kharkov) is heard through three of his Symphonies, numbers 19-21 (lasting from forty minutes down to fifteen), all from 2018, each displaying individual orchestration and an appealing angular expressiveness. Symphony 19 (Tunes from Ghettoes) makes striking use of a baritone saxophone (a smoky-sounding Liepāja Kaslauskas) and develops a compelling emotional engagement, full of the right sort of tension and contrasts. Symphony 20 is no-less fine in its varied content and colours, while the gnarled and, at times, complex No.21 (Presentiment: In memory of Anne Frank, 1929-1945) is another winner in terms of wholly addressing the ear and the senses. The Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra and Māris Kupčs give performances that display their total faith in this true-discovery music. Don’t miss! TOCC 0543.
Steve Elcock Orchestral Music, Volume Two. This second survey of Elcock’s orchestral output – he’s an Englishman born in 1957 – features two powerful, jugular-attacking pieces: the “terrors of nightmare-riven sleep” of Incubus (2017), and the “volcanic” Fifth Symphony (2014) inspired by another Fifth, Beethoven’s, and its “structural logic”, and not forgetting a few familiar and borrowed motifs, the music kick-started with “wild energy”. Intriguing piece, as is Elcock’s Haven: Fantasia on a Theme by J. S. Bach (1995/2017); the clue to the nature of the music is in the title’s first word (well, for the most part). The Siberian Symphony Orchestra and Dmitry Vasiliev do the honours. TOCC 0445.
Normally I’d not run to organ music, but that of Vincent Persichetti turns out to be another matter. Persichetti (American, 1915-87) is I suggest reasonably well-known, this on the basis that Eugene Ormandy and his Philadelphians recorded Symphonies 4 & 9, if not together; the RCA LP of No.9 was coupled with another Ninth, that of William Schuman. On the organ of St Albans Cathedral (Hertfordshire, England) Tom Winpenny, with much concentration and executive prowess, includes eight Persichetti pieces, eighty-six minutes’ worth (no claim is made for this being a complete survey) written for an instrument that the composer played most of his life. The annotation advises a “kaleidoscopic admixture of Hindemith and Messiaen, bristling with edgy flashes of colour…”. I certainly get the Hindemith input. Some of the works are hymn-tune-based, very short, whereas the twenty-five-minute Auden Variations (Opus 136) is major-league, so too (in length) Parable VI and the Dryden Liturgical Suite. The organ used here is a big beast in a spacious setting, powerfully captured. Warn your neighbours or don headphones! TOCC 0549.
Back to the orchestra for Volume Two of Vissarion Shebalin’s colourful music, once again with the Siberian SO and Vasiliev. Three Suites feature (as compiled by others), and if you like Khachaturian in ballet-music mode or the lighter side of Shostakovich (he and Shebalin, 1902-63, were good mates) then you have much to enjoy, if without the distinction of either colleague. On the evidence of these twenty-one examples of his theatre music it is difficult to understand that Shebalin was “condemned in the infamous 1948 Party congress in Moscow…”. TOCC 0154.
Ronald Stevenson Piano Music, Volume 4. This notable Scottish pianist-composer (1928-2015) once again impresses with his stylistic acuity and superb writing; nothing predictable yet one senses his single-mindedness albeit calling upon wide terms of reference, and brought to life here with dedication by Christopher Guild. Whether the shapely lines of Suite from Paderewski’s ‘Manru’, or in Stevenson’s rapturous transcription of an aria from Charpentier’s Louise, to the three volumes of L’Art Nouveau du chant appliqué au piano, this is music concerned with song and singing left to the piano. TOCC 0555. In case you have heard of, or even heard, the epic eighty-minute Passacaglia on DSCH, that is also by Stevenson. http://www.classicalsource.com/db_control/db_concert_review.php?id=16506
Finally, Agnes Zimmerman (1847-1925, Cologne-born, London-domiciled, a pianist and teacher), her three Sonatas for Violin and Piano, each in four movements and lasting close to half-an-hour, and happily accommodated on one CD, TOCC 0541, on which the Sonatas are arranged in reverse order. The works belong to their time (1868-1879) and German tradition, each is charmingly lyrical and sometimes playful, if in a minor key, and not unemotional, and exudes much craft, sympathetically revealed by Mathilde Milwidsky & her pianist-partner Sam Heywood.
My next task is to return the thick booklet of the Bruk to its case! It simply won’t go back! And I struggled to extract it, too. BTW, Martin advises that some of the above titles are not yet released. Hang on in there, dear reader.