Americascapes: Henry Cowell (1897-1965), Variations for Orchestra (1956), Howard Hanson (1896-1981), Before the Dawn, Op. 17, Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935), La Mort de Tintagiles, Op. 6 (1897), Carl Ruggles (1876-1971), Evocations [Orchestral Version, 1943]; Basque National Orchestra, Robert Treviño, cond., Delphine Dupuy, viola d’amore; Ondine ODE 1396-2, © 2021, TT 63:06; $16.99, via Arkiv Music.

Listings are in alphabetical/bibliographical order, not chronological or performance order.

The composition dates of the works on this recording range from 1897 to 1956; the earliest, the Loeffler, features the viola d’amore as its star, although it doesn’t dominate the work as would a violin. Loeffler was a naturalized American from Berlin, who came here from Alsace by 1882 when he was a violinist in the new Boston Symphony Orchestra. The work by Hanson, who won the first Prix de Rome, supported by the American Academy in 1921, is a premiere recording, and most of the others were not well-known in their day, even if their composers were. In the program notes, music critic Tim Page describes Cowell as a “great American experimentalist,” who used tone clusters first adopted by Béla Bartók; his solo piano music began a great change in the medium, leading to Cage’s prepared piano music. Cowell was a steady music educator who incorporated exotic music into his works, and the result had a major impact on the development of modern music. Ruggles was a painter as well as a composer, and produced many more works of art than of music. For 40 years, Hanson was the head of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, which led to internationally pivotal performances of much modern music that he programmed.

Treviño has resurrected these significant works from the archives and crafted an interesting and enjoyable diverse program that features many dominant 20th century styles from the late Romantic to the Modern. It is also a varied program of forms: an extensive dramatic poem, a set of evocations, a brief impression, and a set of variations, all different from each other. Learning them must have been a real challenge, one to which the musicians rose amazingly and pleasingly well.

Page’s program notes in the accompanying booklet are meaty, pithy, and concise. Treviño also includes an informative personal perspective note. Spanish and Basque versions are available via QR codes.

The first recording earlier this year by the forces on this label is also excellent:

Maurice Ravel, “Alborada del gracioso,”Boléro, “Pavane pour une infante défunte,” Rapsodie espagnole, “Une barque sur l’océan,” La Valse; Basque National Orchestra, Robert Treviño, cond.; Ondine ODE 1385-2, © 2021, TT 69:39; $16.99, via Arkiv Music.

Listings are in alphabetical/bibliographical order, not chronological or performance order.

The opening, central, and closing works: La Valse, Rapsodie espagnole, and Boléro, were composed for orchestra, in 1918, 1908, and 1928 respectively; the short “Pavane pour une infante défunte,” originally written in 1899 for piano, was orchestrated by Ravel in 1910. The other two pieces are single movements from the suite Miroirs originally composed for piano, Ravel’s own instrument, and orchestrated in 1907 and 1919. (See my article about French pianist-composers concerning the make Ravel played almost exclusively and the one he owned that is still in his home, now a museum).

“Une barque sur l’océan” was not well received by audience or reviewers at its premiere, but it is now recognized as a masterpiece of orchestration. Ravel’s 1922 orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition confirmed him as a (really the) master of that skill. Ravel’s music sparkles with these musicians, perhaps because they are the orchestra of the Euskadi region that struggled so long to escape domination by other political powers.

Ravel’s mother was Basque, his father, French Swiss; they met in Madrid. So, although he went to Paris at age three when his father took a job there, he always felt his ancestry in his blood, and visited the Basque country often as an adult. It is divided politically between France and Spain, the French portion, in which Ravel was born, having suffered considerably less from the domination. The language is as unique as the ethnicity, with virtually no connection to any other tongue. The Basque National Orchestra includes natives of both areas; their communion with this music and the energy of these performances are palpable.

The scholarly booklet notes by various Basque specialists are superb, and include a version in Euskara, the Basque language. Treviño also has a fine note on his personal perspective. Even if you have this music on CD, you should get this one!

Coincidentally, this past weekend, I received a CD I had ordered that relates to all of this:

Iberia y Francia; Music by Mompou, Debussy, Albéniz, Ravel, Falla (14 tracks of short works); Imogen Cooper, piano (Steinway D, No. 547 137); Chandos 20119, © 2019, TT 77:14, $18.99 via Arkiv Music.

Cooper is a fine British pianist, largely unknown by Americans, but all the recordings that I have heard of her in both solo and collaborative settings are excellent. The program notes in this CD’s accompanying booklet by Roger Nichols are excellent as well. Similar to Basque country, Catalonia, on the east end of the Pyrénées, is divided between the same two nations in similar proportions, but its language is not unique; the Romance language of Catalan evolved from Latin. The composer Federico Mompou featured on this CD is Catalan. Cooper spent time there, and four of her photos in Catalonia accompany the notes, which include her personal perspective. Cooper’s performances on this recording are different from the run-of-the-mill ones, and, in most cases, more in line with what I know and how I think.