Alexander Gibson (dir), New Symphony Orchestra of London
Reference: BMCD 833
Bar code: 8427328008334
· Collectors Edition issued in Digipack
· Original LP + Bonus Tracks
· Original Cover Art and Liner Notes
· Living Stereo Recordings
· Newly Remastered in 24-Bit
Liner notes by Robert A. Simon
Throughout this album there is witchery a-brewing. It is the witchery of tone. It is an unbaneful magic that leaves no disturbing aftereffect. If such music didnt cast the right sort of spell, so many listeners wouldnt be returning to it on so many occasions, somehow feeling constantly refreshed. It was Tam OShanter, in the Robert Burns poem, who saw an unco sight, involving witches and other dangerous apparitions. You have here half a dozen unco sights translated into music, and the generic title outlines neatly the pervading pictorial pattern. Witches, demons, a gnome, skeletons and associated subjects are set forth in organized sounds, beginning with the experience of Tam OShanter and ending with an episode of Mephistopheles and Faust.
According to his ain wife Kate, as reported in the poem,Tam OShanter was a skellum, a blethering, blustering, drunken bellum, and that he took the road on sic a night as neer poor sinner was abroad in. The road led to a sort of convention of witches, where auld Nick, in shape o beast, played the pipes for a riotous dance that culminated in the pursuit of Tam by the witches, wi mony an eldritch screetch and hollow. The composer of the overture Tam OShanter is Malcolm Arnold, an English musician who has won attention, applause, and high respect for many kinds of music. He was born in 1921, became first trumpeter of the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of twenty-one, and became known generally as a composer a year later. Tarn OShanter is among his most recent works, as is the score for the film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, for which he won an Academy award.
The excerpt from Pictures at an Exhibition,written for the piano by Moussorgsky and scored for orchestra by Ravel, presents a view of a gnome, as it does in the Hartmann painting which was the visual inspiration for the music. This gnome has curious legs and the music sketches his difficult and somehow menacing progress.
A Night on Bare Mountain is an orchestral fantasy that went through several somewhat tentative stages in Moussorgskys career and which was fashioned into its present familiar version by Rimsky-Korsakoff. The plot is simple. We hear weird voices from below the ground, then the arrival of the spirits, the Black Mass of the god Tchernobog, and the wild celebration, which is brought to its conclusion by the sound of a church bell. When its all done, its dawn, and its clear to the ear that there must have been witches at the nights revelry.
Agraveyard is the setting for Saint-Saens Danse macabre, whose literary antecedent is a poem by Henri Cazalis. Zig et zig et zig is the rhythm set by Death, who, with a violin, directs a dance of skeletons. And if you say it in quick tempo, zig et zig et zig has exactly the brittle effect that we hear in the orchestra. The dance builds up furiously, until a cocks crow (suggested by the oboe) announces daybreak and the cessation of the whirling by bones that seem, in an unearthly night, to have acquired an unliving life.
The witch from Humperdincks Hansel and Gretel is a straight-and-crooked-witch, even to riding a broomstick in full view of every one. If the stage appurtenances cant accommodate the ride realistically, the orchestra provides everything for the imagination to follow the witch at a safe distance. Music can do that sort of thing brilliantly and comfortably. This ride has been the introduction to such music for many children and so it has served music nobly, as well as assisting the witch.
Liszts Mephisto Waltz is part of a variegated catalogue of Mephistophelean music by Liszt. The waltz, which exists both for piano and for orchestra, is the second of two orchestral episodes based on the Faust of Nikolaus Lenau. It projects The Dance in the Village Tavern, and this dance becomes calorific when Mephisto takes over at the fiddle and turns in some villainously enchanting sounds. The dance isnt at all the ordinary rustic party that it started out to be, what with the effect of this supernatural cantillation on the violin. Nobody seems to be up to much of any good, except, of course, good music.
FAUST: BALLET MUSIC
Liner notes by Patrick Hughes
Although Gounod wrote twelve operas, it was only in Faust, his fourth, that he hit upon an operatic subject to which his peculiar genius was suited. As a Latin he understood the human voice; as a Frenchman he understood the orchestra. As a mystic, whose winning of the Prix de Rome has enabled him to spend a considerable time at the heart of Roman Catholicism, he reveled in the opportunities offered by his subject to introduce church scenes and hidden choruses of angels. As a sensualist he made the most of the highly immoral love story of Faust and Marguerite Zola's description of Faust as the "music of a voluptuous priest" is rather unkind, but not altogether unjustified. It can also be said to apply, if a little less obviously, to the famous ballet music from the opera that is heard on this records.
The suite of dances that was added to Faust ten years after the work's première (at the Theatre-Lyrique in 1859) accompanied its transfer to the repertoire of the Paris Opéra, which had a grand tradition of dance as well as of song.
Like most ballet in opera, it tells us nothing of the character of the opera and has no direct bearing on the main dramatic action. The dance interludes of nineteenth-century grand opera were designed to provide atmosphere and "chic" to grant the audience respite from hours of singing, and to please the spectator through visual delights on stage and scintillating music in the pit.
The Faust ballet episode is one of the most famous of all interpolated ballets. It occurs in the closing act and is an entertainment put on by Mephistopheles for Faust's benefit under the title of "The Queens and Courtesans of Antiquity." It has something of the Folies Bergère about its familiar Beauty-Through-the-Ages theme and which, in telling us more about the composer than about his opera, shows him in this case to be more of a voluptuary and less of a priest. However, musically it is delightfully French; it is luscious, tuneful and effective dance music.
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