September 23rd 2009

Review from March 2004



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Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920)
The White Peacock (1915) [5.37]
Three Poems of Fiona McLeod: The Lament of Ian the Proud; The Dark Eyes to Mine; The Rose of the Night (1918) [10.33] *
Bacchanale (1912-1919) [3.59]
Clouds (1916-1919) [4.08]
Three Tone Pictures: The Lake at Evening; The Vale of Dreams; The Night Winds (1915) [8.27]
Poem for Flute and Orchestra (1918) [9.58] **
The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan (1912-16) [12.29]
Barbara Quintiliani (sop) *
Carol Wincenc (flute) **
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Kleinhans Music Hall. Buffalo, NY, Feb 2002.
NAXOS 8.559164 [56.08]


Many years ago I purchased on impulse an RCA album of music conducted by Charles Gerhardt – mainly because I had been extremely impressed with Gerhardt’s Classic film Score Series that RCA released through the 1970s. That album included the best performance to date of Howard Hanson’s Romantic Symphony and Griffes The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan. Why do I mention this? Because of Gerhardt’s taste for the exotic and ‘cinematic’ in music; and this Griffes piece is just that - a sensual and exciting trip to Arabia (one senses retribution for a violated harem at its climax) One might expect to hear such luscious music underpinning any Arabian Nights film romance starring Sabu and Jon Hall from the 1940s. JoAnn Falletta brings out all its voluptuous languor and perfumed atmosphere. sample

Born in New York City, Charles Griffes studied in Berlin and France before teaching at a boys’ school in Tarrytown, NY until his early death in 1920. He was fascinated and much influenced by the music of Debussy and Ravel – and by Japanese and American- Indian themes and oriental scales. In his later works polymetric and polytonal features are apparent.

The White Peacock (1915) was inspired by a poem by the English late-Romantic novelist William Sharp (1855-1905) writing under the pseudonym Fiona McLeod. Griffes’ colours and slow, dreamy approach is very reminiscent of the French Impressionists with a subtle far eastern overlay. sample

The Three Poems of Fiona McLeod are beautifully evocative of the gray misty Hebrides, the mysterious light, the breezes and slow swell of the seas. Barbara Quintiliani, despite a tendency to vibrato, is dramatic and nicely expressive; her voice, in its controlled dynamics, used by Griffes as almost an extension of the orchestra.
The lament of Ian the Proud - sample
Thy dark eyes to mine - sample
The Rose of the Night - sample

Bacchanale, at a more pressing tempo, is as might be expected, something of a hedonistic celebration with some imaginative writing for brass. The whole is densely, richly scored and lusciously orchestrated with a contrastingly quieter and more reflective section. There is much depth and variety in this miniature four-minute tone poem. sample

Clouds, the fourth and last piece in Griffes’ Roman Sketches is another little gem, full of atmosphere: similar but quite different to Debussy’s Nocturnes. Here Griffes’ exotic, wispy harmonies and oriental colours graphically suggest "…golden domes and towers of a city with streets of amethyst and turquoise." sample

The Three Tone Poems inspired by poems by W.B Yeats and Edgar Allan Poe are equally exotic and dream-like; even, as far as the second and third pieces are concerned, subtly nightmarish. There is often an unnerving voluptuousness about this music. Griffes adds a solo piano to good romantic effect in The Vale of Dreams (Listeners might find in this piece an uncanny resemblance to Jerry Goldsmith’s music for that notorious film Basic Instinct.)

The Lake at Evening - sample

The Vale of Dreams - sample

The Night Winds - sample

Griffes’ Poem for Flute and Orchestra coolly shimmers and cavorts in sunlit meadows but also squeezes through troubled menacing thickets. Again, good atmospheric writing particularly for a sombre threatening horn. Carol Wincenc grasps every virtuoso and expressionist opportunity. sample

A delightful, exotic, musical picture, story book.

Ian Lace

see also review by Rob Barnett, Kevin Sutton



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