“A Second of Silence” – SATIE: Gymnopédie I & II; GLASS: Company; SCHUBERT: Gretchen am Spinnrade, Op. 2, D 118 (arr. Ljova); Des Baches Wiedenlied from Die Schöne Müllerin, Op. 25, D 795; Symphony No. 3 in D, D 200; Symphony No. 8 in b, “Unfinished”, D 759; MORTON FELDMAN: Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety – The Knights/ Eric Jacobsen – Ancalagon multichannel SACD ANC 137, 68:58 ****:
This Ancalagon production is the first that violinist Lara St. John has produced that does not involve her own playing. The Knights are a tight-knit chamber group based in New York City, and have put together a snappy recital that works very well, centered on the two symphonies of Schubert, and interspersed with some modern music that sounds as if it had been taken from a musical graft of the Viennese master.
Years ago at her “last lecture” at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, author, cellist, and noted musicologist Dr. Elizabeth Cowling (“The Cello”) was asked by a student what her favorite piece or passage of music was. She said that every time she heard the opening bars of the second movement of Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony she felt as if “that is what heaven is like”, and that description, to me so perfect, has been my benchmark for this work ever sense. Carlos Kleiber achieves it, as does Leonard Bernstein and a few others; Roberto Abbado did it once in a live concert I heard. Eric Jacobsen does not accomplish it on this recording, giving us a very irritated Schubert that lacks repose and reflection so obvious in every bar of this amazing score. The drama, which he is at pains to present, should be accomplished not by rushing and overly-emphasizing, but by holding back—this is the point he misses. Fortunately all is not lost when we turn to the much earlier Symphony No. 3, truly a jewel in the Schubert catalog, and here, even though the same energy abounds, it is much more in tune with the composer’s intentions, and even Karl Bohm and Thomas Beecham don’t best the Knights in this splendid reading.
The two arranged songs serve as connect the dots for this recital, and I must admit, even though they are brilliantly played, these sorts of song arrangements don’t do a lot for me—they might for you. The Satie Gymnopédie I & II are subtle and gorgeously rendered, a small spider spinning a very delicate web. The Glass piece Company is new to me, and is a real stunner, written for a staging of Samuel Beckett’s prose text. It provides a competent and quiet prelude to the music of Schubert that follows it, the same way that the hollow and silence-filled music of Mort Feldman leads us out of it; he is one composer that simply forces you to listen because you don’t know what is coming next, or when, or even if anything is coming.
Production values are very high on this recording, and the surround sound is typical of what St. John has been producing since day one—it just doesn’t get better. All in all a lovely album, well-conceived and vigorously presented.
This is a delightful holiday collection.