Monday, December 30, 2013

Is it surprising classical music has problems?


When an embedded journalist recommends a recording I run a mile, because there is invariably a hidden agenda. When John McLaughlin Williams recommends a recording I buy it, because John is probably the least embedded person on this planet. Back in December 2010 I ran a post highlighting John's recommendation of Paul Constantinescu's Byzantine Christmas oratorio The Nativity, which he described as a "beautiful, mystical work". In 2010 I wrote that there was currently no recording in the catalogue, and that remains the case. [Update - see comment below.] But after a couple of years searching I tracked down an affordable new copy of the 1977 Bucharest recording originally made by Electrecord, Romania, which was re-released and subsequently deleted by the Olympia label.

It goes without saying that John McLaughlin Williams is quite right in his assessment of Constantinescu's unknown oratorio. Paul Constantinescu (1909-1963) was a pupil of Franz Schmidt in Vienna and his Byzantine oratorio is most definitely beautiful and mystical. But it is also music that is neither easy nor difficult to listen to, which means it is perfectly capable of winning new audiences. Yesterday I suggested that the classical music industry should kick the composer anniversary habit and, instead, give some of the very good neglected music a chance. Paul Constantinescu's neglected The Nativity is very good music indeed and the admirably spacious 1977 Bucharest recording is more than serviceable. It is deeply frustrating that there have been endless re-issues of Britten, Wagner and Verdi in 2013, while gems such as this Byzantine Christmas oratorio remain unavailable (except from scalpers) and unknown. Nobody else is pleading the case for Paul Constantinescu's music because there is nothing in it for the commercial nexus. Is it surprising classical music has problems?

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8 comments:

Victor Părău said...

There is also a second, newer recording of the Oratorio (1992, Horia Andreescu conducting the Academic Radio Choir and the National Radio Orchestra) which was released on CD in 2010, then re-released in 2011. Safest lead to a physical copy would be this, I believe,they do mention it still in stock: http://www.edituracasaradio.ro/prod.shtml?grp=4&cat=21&prod=371

Nevertheless, the 1977 Electrocord is still a bigger surprise, considering the work (as with much of everything by Constantinescu) was censored by the regime. Maybe we can assume what "subsequently deleted" meant, then? Not even my astute Analysis teacher, who incidentally surprised us just a few weeks ago by bringing and playing for us the 1992 recording, mentioned the 1977 one. He also claimed without reservation how superior to Bach's "Three Cantatas mashed up together" he finds it. Few more anecdotes from him: George Enescu conducted both oratorios in 1944 (not sure on the year) at the Atheneum; most of Europe would have thus tuned up to the broadcast; German review apparently called his Easter Oratorio "the Eastern reply to Bach's Mattheus-Passion".

Pliable said...

Victor, in response to your comment which I copied to Facebook John Mclaughlin Williams has posted this message:

'I wonder where the performing material resides? It would be good to have a full set on this side of the Atlantic.'

Do you know where the performing parts are available from?

Victor Părău said...

Could you please clarify? If you (and Mr. Williams) meant acquiring the new recordings, I already posted a link to the label (Radio House Editure) which has released both oratorios and says it still has copies to be ordered (here's also a link for the Easter Oratorio, recorded April 2004: http://www.edituracasaradio.ro/prod.shtml?grp=4&cat=21&prod=177). I don't know their policy for shipping abroad, it'd be best to inquire about that (contacts: comenzi_editura@rornet.ro / editura.cr@rornet.ro).

Also claiming to have the Christmas Oratorio in stock are Carturesti Library [Easter Oratorio as well] (http://librarie.carturesti.ro/oratoriul-bizantin-de-craciun-247325) and Byzantine Library (http://www.librariabizantina.ro/index.php/oratoriul-bizantin-de-craciun-nasterea-domnului-cd.html). And, wow, the latter also claim to have a CD version of the Electrecord version! (http://www.librariabizantina.ro/index.php/oratoriu-bizantin-de-craciun-nasterea-domnului-cd.html)

Pliable said...

Victor, JMW means the sheet music itself - the sheet music that each of the players in the orchestra and singers play/sing from, plus the full score for the conductor.

Do you know if these music parts are available for hire/purchase from a Romanian music publisher or elsewhere?

Many thanks for your help and sorry not to make myself clear in the earlier comment.

Victor Părău said...

Oh, I see. Bärenreiter Verlag published at least the full score of the oratorios, in their manuscript form, in 1969. Klaus Kessler is credited to have translated the libretto (in German, obvious to presume?). It was again my teacher - whom I should already credit as professor, musicologist and composer Valentin Timaru - who mentioned that Constantinescu's wife managed to send the scores there after his death, due to the censorship imposed in Romania.

Pliable said...

To clarify Victor Părău's earlier comment. He is reporting that new CD's of the 1977 Electrecord recording of Paul Constantinescu's The Nativity are available from Romania - http://www.librariabizantina.ro/index.php/oratoriu-bizantin-de-craciun-nasterea-domnului-cd.html

It would be useful to hear if any readers successfully buy the CD via this route.

JMW said...

Victor, thank you very much for this essential and helpful information. Personally, I was unaware that Constantinescu faced censorship at home; I didn't think it was political enough to be perceived as a threat. Since virtually nothing about the composer is known in the West, perhaps you can point us to online information about him, no matter what the language.
Again, we are all very grateful for your help.

Victor Părău said...

Many thanks to you as well. Being influenced to appreciate and understand his art during the seminars I mentioned, I'm now glad to find people from abroad being already inspired by him and promoting further.

Otherwise, I'm hardly apt to fill in with all the details. His synthesis of folkloric melos (he had the great ethnomusicologist Constantin Brailoiu as his teacher, after all), byzantine modes and classical writing can be considered notable among the Romanian composers of that period. Regarding the oratorios, I think the essence would be that they were written following intense apostolic practice, knowledge and, shall we say, sensibility. For instance, after composing the Easter Oratorio with an ending as conventional as the Passions (Christ's Descent), he was guided to complete it with the Resurrection as well. His sacred music did mostly aggravate his persecution by the regime - with rumours that the Church's support went intentionally silent, too. Perhaps wanting to emulate another giant, he also wrote a traditional Triple Concerto, which could make for a more peculiar listening. Not least, his adaptations of Caragiale's comedies would be another highlight, especially 'A Stormy Night'.

As for links, I could only pick these so far: a short biography in Romanian (http://www.scribd.com/doc/156372619/Paul-Constantinescu), one in English (http://www.romanianmusiconline.com/Articles/PaulConstantinescu.htm) and the Ploiesti Philharmonic's, named after him, biographic and homaging page (Romanian) (http://www.filarmonicaploiesti.eu/index.php/paul-constantinescu). Also, further insight and analysis of the oratorios (Romanian) (http://costintuchila.wordpress.com/category/costin-tuchila-paul-constantinescu-sinteza-muzicala-oratorii-bizantine-bizantinism-muzica-psaltica-bach-contrapunct-recitativ-evanghelie/) and a general éloge on the occasion of his centenary written by critic Dumitru Avakian (http://www.romlit.ro/paul_constantinescu_-_o_permanenta_spirituala).