Symphony No. 3 (‘Il’ya Muromets’)
The Buffalo Philharmonic conducted by JoAnn Falletta
Until this disc, one might have said with all confidence that the finest single moment of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on record was, without question, Michael Tilson Thomas leading the BPO in the double record set of the complete works of Carl Ruggles.
I’d still argue that when it came to a historic and radical contribution to recorded repertoire and the world’s understanding of American music in particular, Thomas and the BPO’s complete works of Ruggles is unlikely to be equaled.
It must be said that this, as rare as it is, is not the first complete performance of Gliere’s Third Symphony on record.
If, however, you combine the disc’s stupendous performance quality, rafter-shaking sound and a brilliant and gloriously revisionist contribution to our understanding of classical repertoire, this Naxos disc recorded in Kleinhans Music Hall last May is absolutely on a level with Thomas’ epochal Ruggles set.
Up to now, Gliere was usually lumped in with Russian – and later Soviet – composers, but he was born in Kiev and maybe at this moment of 21st century history, it’s no doubt wise not to overlook his Ukrainian blood. (Nor, for that matter, his passion for other “ethnic” musics surrounding Russia.)
Gliere’s Third Symphony is as long (71 minutes) as a Mahler symphony. It comes from 1911, the last year of Mahler’s stint as conductor of the New York Philharmonic and the year after Mahler’s mammoth eighth symphony was premiered. If the late Mahler symphonies are the sublime masterworks of German late Romanticism, this, fabulously overblown early symphony from Gliere at the age of 36 is a unique expression of bipolar Russian late-Romanticism, even more grandiose than Scriabin’s orchestral works (though not Scriabin’s mad visions; nothing beats those for grandiosity). It is compellingly poised midway between sonorous blather and extraordinary, thrilling eloquence with much ecstatic beauty in between.
According to maestra Falletta’s notes to the disc, it was Naxos who asked Falletta and the BPO to perform and record the work. “We made it the centerpiece of our concert season … and scheduled it not only in Buffalo but at Carnegie Hall. It was an adventure that changed our orchestra, strengthened us, and became an artistic benchmark for our musicians …
“We reveled in the gorgeous landscape of the symphony … We performed and recorded this massive work uncut to preserve Gliere’s extraordinary architecture and it was an unforgettable journey. This work is a cathedral in sound, that unfolds in breathtaking swooshes of color, poetry and monumental climaxes that combine a bejeweled and ancient Russian influence with violent paganism.”
Gliere’s surviving relatives in Russia were able to hear the BPO’s rare Carnegie Hall performance.
Listen to this magnificent disc and you will never again be moved to argue, merely, that the Buffalo Philharmonic is a world-class orchestra. What you have on this disc, giving a magnificent performance of one of the great and massive repertory rarities, is the work of a truly great world-class orchestra.
– Jeff Simon
Gerald Finley, baritone
The Canadian baritone Gerald Finley is one of the best singers working today. His voice is beautiful and he has an appealing natural sound. Nothing he sings sounds overworked or overplanned. He is wonderful singing Schubert. He sings as if he is feeling the emotion of this terribly sad and bleak song cycle.
His clear approach lets “Die Winterreise” speak for itself. Just listening to these songs, you can’t help but marvel at their intricacy. The piano parts, performed by Julius Drake, are ingenious – startlingly modern, at times. The stark octave notes in “Gefrorne Tranen,” the sparse, halting notes that suggest the organ grinder in “Der Leiermann” – they dazzle you even as they horrify you. The melody lines paint a picture of obsession. Finley does some amazing, creative things with them. In “Der Lindenbaum,” he gives a creepy tone to the lines when the tree is supposed to be tempting the protagonist to kill himself. I love when an artist can take such a famous song and do something new and natural with it.
And yet – I have a confession. It is hard to find a more ardent Schubert fan than I am, and yet I find a lot of “Die Winterreise” dull. I am crazy about it through the first five songs. The first song, “Gute Nacht,” enchants me. (I wish Drake weren’t so mannered at that magical moment when the song goes from minor to major.) The next song, where you can feel the weather vane spinning around in the wind, first this way, then that way – God knows how Schubert pulls that off. I love “Die Winterreise” up to and including “Der Lindenbaum.” But then comes the rest of the cycle, and repeated listening doesn’t seem to help, it just bogs down. I think Schubert’s other song cycle, “Die Schoene Muellerin,” is the better work. He dashed off the songs for “Die Schoene Muellerin” guiltily, thinking he was wasting his time. With “Die Winterreise,” he knew he was writing for posterity. The result was that he created two very different masterpieces. I kept wishing Finley were singing the other one.
– Mary Kunz Goldman
The Take Off and Landing of Everything
The time to judge a band is not when it is new, young, still wet behind the ears, full of passion and self-assurance and conviction, and more than likely ensconced in some sort of “of-the-moment” trend. No, the time to judge a band’s true worth is much later, when it has managed to survive – or not – and when the new car smell has fully worn off and the honeymoon is over. That’s when you can tell what a band is truly made of.
So it’s with British quintet Elbow’s sixth release, “The Take Off and Landing of Everything,” that we see that this band, which first emerged amid the world’s obsession with the new wave of Brit-pop, has worth above and beyond the first blush of that initial emergence. Topping 2011’s “Build A Rocket Boys” was never going to be easy – that record was suffused with elegance and maturity, and though fans of Coldplay might have fallen for its surface appeal, those with a longer listening history rightly heard the aural patina of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis in its ambitious marriage of minimalism and baroque pop. Yet somehow, the group has topped “Rocket,” even though that earlier album had “career-defining” written all over it.
Maturity arrives as mixed blessing – one is no longer able to rely on merely being young to get by, and yet, one is finally in full possession of one’s talent. So it is with Elbow’s unlikely frontman Guy Garvey, who is unlikely because he looks like Ricky Gervais, not Bono, and wears his poetic compassion on both sleeves, though those sleeves are more often than not covered by a nice button-down shirt. Garvey’s voice is a rich delight here, a warm and welcoming tour guide through abstract poetic landscapes tethered to Earth only by the smart, sparse arrangements provided by his bandmates, which err on the side of subtlety without fail.
Witness “Charge,” one of many slow-burning beauties peppered throughout this lush and irresistible album. A sparse rhythmic pulse redolent of latter-period Radiohead is swaddled in the comfy wool of analog synths. Garvey knows exactly what to do with this scenario – which is to say, he builds his narrative slowly and masterfully, giving the listener plenty of time to luxuriate in the warm glow of his melodies.
Every tune here is worthy of its own mini-essay. That’s a testament to Elbow’s ability to summon grandeur without sounding egotistical about it. “The Take Off and Landing of Everything” will undoubtedly sound wonderful filling the world’s arenas as the band takes to the road, but there’s a humble heart beating clearly beneath these grandiloquent pieces. And that makes all the difference.
– Jeff Miers