RESPIGHI: La Boutique fantastique. La pentola magica. Prelude and Fugue in D (Bach. arr. Respighi)
BBC Philharmonic Orch/Gianandrea Noseda, cond.
CHANDOS 10081 (F) (DDD) TT: 79:35
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COLLINS: Concerto No. 3, for Piano, in B minor. Symphony in B minor ("Nos habebit humus").
William Wolfram, pianist; Royal Scottish National Orch/Marin Alsop, cond.
ALBANY TROY 625 (F) (DDD) TT: 74:41
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KHACHATURIAN: Flute Concerto. IBERT: Pièce pour flûte seule. Flute Concerto.
Emmanuel Pahud, flute; Zurich Tonhalle-Orchester/David Zinman, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 57563 (F) (DDD) TT: 63:56
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Chandos' Respighi disk is a winner in every way. The BBC Philharmonic plays brilliantly under Gianandrea Noseda, who a year ago was appointed Principal Conductor. He brings out all of the verve of Respighi's delightful magic toyshop ballet which was written for Diaghilev and premiered in 1919 with Massine as one of the two can-can dancers. Equally intriguing is another ballet, the 25-minute La pentola magica (The Magic Pot), first performed in 1920. Respighi wrote this "for fun" and it sounds like it. He took from several other Russian composers including Grechaninov, Arensky and Anton Rubinstein, the latter represented by the exciting "Dance of the Tartar Archers." track 14 on the CD. Respighi had a close relationship with Arturo Toscanini who premiered a number of his works including the composer's full-scale transcription of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D, P. 158 which he commissioned and premiered in New York in 1930. A large orchestra is required replete with blazing brass (but, surprisingly, no organ), a robust conclusion to this superbly-recorded CD.

Music of American composer Edward Joseph Collins (1886-1951) can be heard on the Albany/Troy CD, the "Concerto No. 3, for Piano, in B minor" and Symphony in B minor ("Nos habebit humus") ("all return to dust") performed by pianist William Wolfram with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop. These are premiere recordings (and probably the first performance of the symphony)—and doubtless the last.

Collins was born in Joliet, Illinois, studied with Rudolf Ganz in Chicago and with Bruch and Humperdinck in Europe. Reportedly his 1912 Berlin debut as a pianist was well received and he was an assistant conductor for the Bayreuth Festival in 1914. After Army service he taught in Chicago and continued composing, his works attracting the attention of Frederick Stock who conducted many of Collins' works with the Chicago Symphony. In 1920 Collins married Frieda Myer, daughter of the meat-packing magnate Oscar Myer. Now in a wealthy family, he continued to compose and won a prize for a work called 1914 (later re-titled Tragic Overture) which Stock and the CSO played. In 1925 Stock and the CSO also premiered the Concerto No. 3 with the composer as soloist. In 1931 his Concert Piece in A minor for piano and orchestra was premiered, reviewed by Claudia Cassidy (then writing for the Chicago Sun-Times), in some of her more flowery verse, who found "splendor in its imagery, and a faunish hint of capricious gaiety and something gallant that captured fantasy in terms of modern melody." (whatever that means!). Collins died in Chicago December 7, 1951 of congestive heart failure.

Glowing CD program notes by Collins' biographer Erik Eriksson (for more information, full biography and images, visit www.EdwardJCollins.org) praise the composer's music, compare the concerto with those by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, and suggest a similarity with Delius in the Symphony. I've listened to both of these works several times searching in vain for something memorable—and found nothing. Tunes, melodies and rhythmic impulse seem to be alien to Collins. In the concerto the soloist usually is busy, there are occasional brass outbursts in the orchestra, but for little purpose. It is to the credit of pianist William Wolfram, the Royal Scottish Orchestra and conductor Marin Alsop that they are able to get through this BORING music. Albany/Troy's sound is fine, although the piano is rather recessed in the concerto. The label previously issued another CD of music of Collins containing Mardi Gras, Concert Piece in A Minor, Tragic Overture and Valse Elegante (Albany/Troy 267) with the same performers as on this second disk. Based on what is heard on the later release, I have no desire to hear it.

After hearing the previous, even Aram Khachaturian's Flute Concerto, banal though it is except for its lovely second movement, is balm for the ears. Of course the composer didn't write a flute concerto. After Jean-Pierre Rampal bugged him incessantly, Khachaturian told him to just arrange his violin concerto for the flute, which the famed flutist did, with great success only changing the cadenza as the instrument cannot do everything a violin can. It worked, and for years interested collectors relied on David Oistrakh's Russian recording with the composer conducting. Now, in addition to this fine new version, there are only two available, one Rampal's in a mid-price twin-CD Erato set that also contains music of Ibert, Jolivet, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Martinu and Hindemith, the other the James Galway RCA recording which can now be had only in the 15-CD mid-priced "Sixty Years" package. Emmanuel Pahud's performance is as good as any, with superb accompaniment from Zinman and his Zurich orchestra. Ibert's lovely Flute Concerto is a plus, as is inclusion of a five-minute piece for solo flute by the same composer. Excellent sonics, too.

R.E.B. (September 2003)

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