Thursday, June 8, 2017

Nixon, Henry Cotter. (1842-1907) Complete Orchestral Music, Volume 1. First recordings.

New acquisition.
Bought in March 2017.
First listen: 8-6-2017.
Label: Toccata Classics.
Recording dates: June 2016.
Recording venue: Pásti Synagogue Debrecen, Hungary.
Recording engineer: Zoltán Osváth.
Producer: Paul Mann.
Running time:71:23.
Relevance to me: Mildly interesting.

Works performed:
Concert overture No. 3 "Jacta est Alea" (after 1880)
Romance for Violin and orchestra. (c. 1889, reconstructed 2016 by Paul Mann.
Palamon and Arcite, Symphonic Poem. (1882)

Performed by:
Ana Török, Violin.
Kodály PO, Paul Mann.

Nixon is one of those composer that is really totally forgotten, and since I am always curious after why and how, I decided to invest money time and effort into this project. They are planning to record all his extant orchestral music plus symphonic poems. Quite a daunting project I would say! Today I put it through its paces, and am quite devastated about the quality of music, interpretation and recording. This is not a good start. On the basis of what I hear I must conclude that apart from some nice parts, but not the whole sum, he is justly forgotten. His music sounds like a watered down Brahms, with some Schumann into the bargain, And although there are some good episodes and ideas, the music is not able to hold your attention for long. The best and most substantial work on this disc must be "Palamon and Arcite". So Brahmsian in character that one almost thinks it is a study piece by Johannes. It has some quirky ideas and nice string writing but it is boring. Why settle for this if you can have the real bargain. Of course it is painful to come to this conclusion, but I have to be honest. The truth is that he is not helped by either performance and recording. The orchestra sounds under rehearsed,  and I hear a lack of involvement and motivation, as if they do not understand the essence of Nixon's music. I have issue with the tempi too, which ruins part of the symphonic poem. The pastoral character of the performance is making the not so interesting music even less interesting. There are some inconsistencies throughout different desks, notably the brass and the first strings. And then the recording. The engineer had a difficult time adjusting his ears to the acoustics of the Synagogue. The concert overture sounds good enough, but the timpani has a boomy character with no reverb. That is unpleasant, when it works its way through the lower strings to my ears.  The romance for Violin and orchestra is an engineers affront to the listener. This is really badly judged, and should have been re-recorded. The Violin is so forwardly positioned that she is almost in eye distance, with the orchestra close behind. Really unpleasant. The playing is square and rough, without  any nuance in expression. Too much stress on the strings, so it sounds laborious and uncomfortable. The recording is not well balanced and rather confrontational. No sensitivity, and it sounds badly rehearsed. The lightness and romantic luminosity it should have, is wholly absent.
Palamon is the best of the recordings. The boomy character of the timpani is gone, and a certain airiness is making it sound more at ease. The balance is almost good. The woodwinds and brass tend to sound a bit hooty at times and gives an unpleasant pressure on the ear, but as a whole it is quite acceptable.
The music is lacking in body and substance, doesn't conjure spellbinding moments or a romantic atmosphere, and has no intensity in emotional expression to tell of.  No real potency in it. It all falls short on rhythm, harmony, shape, tension....... well at times it's alluring, but not fertile enough to build further volumes on. I realize this is my personal opinion and you might think otherwise, but for me this is a huge disappointment.




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