North East Post
A Voice of the Free Press
Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
1:01 AM 13th April 2024

Classical Music: Path to the Moon

Path to the Moon

Korngold Schönste Nacht, Op.36 No.25 (1946);
George Walker Cello Sonata (1957); Lili Boulanger Reflets (1911) arr. cello and piano;
Florence Price Night (1946) arr. cello and piano by Tom Poster; Britten Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo: Sonetto XXX (1940) arr. cello and piano; Sonata Op.65 (1960-61); Debussy Suite Bergamasques; No.3, Clair de lune (c 1880 rev 1905) cello arr. Ferdinando Ronchini, piano arr. Alexandre Roelens Beau soir, L6 (c1880 rev 1890-91) arr. cello and piano by Alexander Grechaninov (1920s?); Cello Sonata, L135 (1915); Fauré Clair de lune, Op.46 No.2 (1887) arr. cello and piano; Toru Takemitsu Will Tomorrow, I Wonder, Be Cloudy or Clear? (c.1992) arr. voice Henning Brauel, arr. cello and piano; Jonathan King Everyone’s Gone to the Moon (1965) vocal by Nine Simone (1969) arr. cello and piano

Laura van der Heijden (cello)
Jâms Coleman (piano)

Chandos CHAN20274

Confronted with (quite possibly) two hundred paintings in an exhibition, I always opt to walk through the rooms quickly, make a mental note of three to five works that interest me, and go back later for a more in-depth viewing. This has not always worked well for me. Some guardians, particularly in galleries abroad, do not care for backtracking. I've had to start over, sometimes even paying a second time.

The multiple contributors to this CD demand supplementary listening just as the paintings demand supplementary viewing, but I will be narrowing the field down to just four: Korngold, Takemitsu, Lilli Boulanger, and Nina Simone (Jonathan King). These are selected for no more elevated reason than that they have destroyed fewer forests than the likes of Debussy or Britten.

Maria-Juliette Olga Boulanger (‘Lilli’): Reflets

Most readers will be familiar with the surname. Lilli was the sister of the phenomenal Nadia, who acted as a single-handed finishing school for most of the famous composers of the 20th century: (inter alia) Aaron Copland, Astor Piazzola, Quincy Jones, Philip Glass, and George Gershwin.

However, despite dying at a mere twenty-four, she won the prestigious Prix de Rome on her first attempt, being the first woman to do so after her older sister had tried four times and failed.

Her piece on this portmanteau CD is, of course, a miniature. It is arranged for the cello of Louise van der Heijden and Jams Coleman’s piano. The inspiration for the work came from the Belgian symbolist poet Maurice Maeterlinck, whose themes were heavyweight stuff—mainly death and the meaning of life.

The cello is plaintive in contrast to the piano's punctuation of dark chords. I must admit, it was more dramatic than I expected, and I took greater pleasure in that. Not being too fanciful (I hope), I see a lonely figure from a Caspar David Friedrich painting, surveying distant mountains from under a tree in a remote wood. Moonlight pervades the view.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Die Stumme Serenade Schonste Nacht

Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Korngold was a child prodigy, having operas produced when he was still in his teens. Composing film scores in Hollywood in the 1930s (he won an Oscar for Robin Hood) is what saved him from the Nazis.

Die Stumme Serenade (The Silent Serenade) was also the title of an unsuccessful musical Korngold wrote in the 1940s, though the connection between that and this piece, adapted for cello and piano, is unclear to me. Like many other pieces, the music evokes a sense of longing and a sense of missing something. That is, I suppose, the nature of reflection: we dream and reminisce and, for some strange reason, take pleasure in loss.

Toru Takemitsue: Will Tomorrow, I Wonder, be Cloudy or Clear?

Putting Korngold and Takemitsu close together may be drawing attention to their shared background in composing for films, in addition to music that somehow links to the moon.

However, I was a little surprised by Takemitsu’s lack of reference to traditional Japanese music. The title has all the whimsy of that tradition, but Takemitsu rejected his country’s ancient forms and opted for Western structures. Apparently, the folk melodies of his country put him too much in mind of the war.

Of all the pieces represented here, I cannot see even a tenuous connection to the moon theme.

Jonathan King/Nina Simone: Everyone’s Gone to the Moon

Never having heard the Nina Simone version of this song, I am thrown back to Jonathan King’s 1965 version. ‘Two minutes, thirty seconds of utter tosh’ was my haughty dismissal then, but what I failed to pay any attention to was the melody that underlies those vapid lyrics. It is clearly a wonderful melody, extracted from King's clutches. It even makes it into this moon-theme collection because of its quality, here thoughtfully brought out by cello and piano.

This CD is indeed mood music. Some listeners may find just two instruments repetitious; perhaps it might be better to listen in short bursts. Perhaps not ‘bursts’; perhaps languid intervals might be more appropriate.