SCHWARTZ'S GUIDE TO UNDERRATED MASTERPIECES
(Orff - Purcell)
(Satie - Szymanowski)
(Sergei RACHMANINOFF - Carl RUGGLES)
Several others have already suggested pieces. I'll add Three Russian
Songs and The Bells for chorus and orchestra, and the fourth
piano concerto, unfairly denigrated. I hear a fascinating attempt to
incorporate jazz and lots of pointers to the Symphonic Dances.
The solo piano music, mostly unfamiliar, I have a lot of trouble with --
too many notes.
We'll duke it out over Bolero. I have never heard a Ravel piece
I didn't like enormously. The concerti are pretty popular and
Daphnis gets recorded. Still, there is orchestral Ravel outside
the standard rep: the exquisite fanfare to L'éventail de
Jeanne, the complete, profound Ma Mère L'Oye (a wonderful
2-piano original as well), the wild Tzigane for violin and orchestra,
and the masterpiece Le tombeau de Couperin. Excepting the string
quartet, the chamber music waits to be taken up.
Introduction et allegro for harp and chamber ensemble is to me
a perfect work -- one of the few I can compare to
Mozart without blushing. The second
violin sonata is Ravel sings the blues. He's got a right. Like
Debussy, he wrote only one piece
for a cappella choir, Trois Chansons. Like Debussy's, they rank
among the best ever and leave you hungry for more. The songs are terra
incognita and he wrote at least one masterpiece: the song cycle Don
Quichotte à Dulcinée. I love the opera L'enfant et les
sortilèges to a libretto by Colette, although I'll be dead before
I hear a good recording. It strikes the deepest chords within me.
An ex-dentist. Also, a fine symphonist. His music fits in the
Walton wing of British music, but he's
very much his own man. Besides, who could imitate Walton successfully?
Rawsthorne's another who didn't know how to write mediocre. Snap up
anything. I refused to rhapsodize over Lloyd Webber's Cats, since,
apart from the dismal quality of the music, I had already heard Rawsthorne's
fine settings of the same material.
A naturalized Brit of the
Hindemithian school (very rare).
The piano quintet is especially powerful.
Aside from the Big Three and the Renaissance arrangements, most of his stuff
waits for discovery. I recommend the violin concerto and the piano concerto.
Lauda per la Natività is a colorful work for chorus and
orchestra, free from cliché.
The Other Mexican composer. Far more adventurous and, in my opinion, more
musical than Chávez. Died young. His few pieces are strongly inspired
by Stravinsky and mestizo music. Get
anything. None of his pieces are long.
Sue me. I like him. He really needs to be rediscovered as an opera composer. I enjoy his operas a lot more than
Tchaikovsky's Big Two.
The Tsar's Bride is darkly dramatic, and the fairy-tale and
folk-operas -- Christmas Eve, May Night, Snow Maiden --
His reputations rests on 2 works: Concerto Aranjuez and
Fantasia para un Gentilhombre, both for guitar and orchestra.
His emotional range isn't all that wide, but within it, the music tells.
I like best his concerti and his songs: 4 Madrigales Amatorios,
Concerto Andaluz for 4 guitars and orchestra, the two cello
concerti, the exciting violin concerto, the 2-guitar concerto, the
brilliant Concert-Serenade for harp and orchestra, the piano
concerto, and the cycle Triptic de Mosen Cinto.
He's best known for his songs. Individually, the songs make a good effect but
in aggregate tend to smush together. My favorite work, not well known at all,
is the choral piece Pilgrim Strangers.
Klaus George. Record collectors may remember his superb notes to the
Szell-Cleveland Orchestra recordings. I've heard only two pieces, both
wonderful: a Hindemithian
trombone sonata and a profound setting of St. Francis's
Canticle of the Sun, for chorus and solo viola.
I realize Ben-Hur is high on a lot of people's list of the
Pretentious and Best Forgotten. I have never seen the picture all the
way through, so it's relatively easy for me to divorce the music from
the screen images. I really like the film music, and it's not all
Hollywood Piety. In his own way, he is as innovative as Bernard
Herrmann -- the score to Crisis, for solo guitar, the
film noir scores, and the music for Resnais's Providence,
all good examples.
The concert and chamber music, what there is of it, is beautifully written.
Heifetz recorded the magnificent violin concerto, but there's also those for
piano, cello, and string orchestra. In chamber music, try the lovely string
trio and the gorgeous string quartets.
A whole generation of British composers between
Vaughan Williams and
Britten have been forgotten. Some, like
Tippett, managed to work themselves out
from under those two shadows. Others still languish. Rubbra is a symphonist,
student of Holst, and a master of making
a cogent, strong symphonic argument. I doubt he'll ever be popular because he
simply hasn't the capacity for the Big Tune. Nevertheless, it's a worthwhile
acquaintance. Sometimes you want to hear the tongues of angels. Sometimes you
just want an intelligent conversation.
His music had a boomlet in the '60s, what there is of it. Now he's gone
back to being Ives's friend. A real
shame, because he's not simply another Ives -- though, come to think of
it, there's nothing simple about that. The adjective everyone uses is
"rugged." Like Ives, the music is freely dissonant. Unlike Ives, Ruggles
has a surer grasp of form. There's an inevitability to the course of his
music. Try Sun Treader or Men and Mountains.
Write to author Steve Schwartz
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