CONCERTOS FOR MALLET INSTRUMENTS     NAXOS 8574218

Concertos for Mallet Instruments - Evelyn GlennieThe remarkable Dame Evelyn Glennie is the first person ever to successfully create and sustain a full-time career as a solo percussionist, performing worldwide with the greatest orchestras, conductors and artists. Despite starting to lose her hearing at the age of 8 and being deaf since she was 12, Glennie has not let this inhibit her ability to perform, contending that deafness is largely misunderstood by the public. She played the first percussion concerto in the history of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 1992 and has commissioned over 200 new pieces for solo percussion from some of the world’s most eminent composers to vastly expand the percussion repertoire. Leading 1000 drummers, she played a prominent role in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. She regularly provides masterclasses and consultations to inspire the next generation of musicians and now has over 100 international awards, including the Polar Music Prize and the Companion of Honour. She was recently appointed the first female President of Help Musicians, only the third person to hold the title since Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and is creating The Evelyn Glennie Collection with a vision to open a centre that embodies her mission to Teach the World to Listen. This latest album is a compilation of three concertos for mallet instruments featuring the triple GRAMMY Award-winning percussion virtuoso and City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong. Alexis Alrich’s Marimba Concerto is a rich amalgam of bold rhythms, exuberance and colourful orchestrations that is highly demanding for the soloist and fully exploits the sound palette of the five-octave marimba. Sir Karl Jenkins traces the 15th-century tune La Folia, basing his offbeat arrangement for the marimba on a famous set of variations published by Arcangelo Corelli in 1700. American composer Ned Rorem’s Mallet Concerto was commissioned by Evelyn Glennie and highlights the contrasting resonances of four different types of pitched mallet instruments displayed in its seven movements (i.e. vibraphone, glockenspiel, marimba and xylophone). The music is ambitous yet thoroughly rewarding and is played by Evelyn Glennie with her usual mesmerising mastery of technique. Watch the trailer 

BEETHOVEN’S TESTAMENTS OF 1802      2L 160 (SACD)

picLudwig van Beethoven is perhaps the greatest composer of classical music, rivalled only by Mozart. He was born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany, and by the time he was 13 he was supporting his family as a court musician, having already written his first symphony. His father, an obscure tenor singer, was apparently a violent man, who would drag young Ludwig from his bed in order to ‘beat’ music lessons into his head. Despite such abuses, Beethoven developed a sensitivity and love for music, going on to study with Mozart, Haydn, Johann Schenk, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and Antonio Salieri. He began slowly to lose his hearing from the age of 30, yet increasing deafness did not end his career. 1802 was the crisis year in which Beethoven the artist committed Beethoven the man to fate – and became immortal. He was beset with mounting problems: progressive deafness, strong feelings of alienation and the conviction that he was being excluded from social and official life in Vienna. During his stay at Heiligenstadt in the summer and autumn of 1802 he wrote testaments in words and in music that showed his path ahead to his middle period, often called ‘the heroic’.

His Sonata No. 9 for violin and piano, the Kreutzer, is a defining work for the year 1802 and for Beethoven’s heroic style. In sharp contrast is the high-spirited Sonata No. 8, but together – and particularly when considered in light of the so-called Heiligenstadt Testament – these two sonatas reveal something of the creative and existential struggle he was enduring. 1802 was indeed the year when Beethoven became Beethoven. This immaculately produced SACD recording features the exceptional young violinist Ragnhild Hemsing with Norwegian pianist pianist Tor Espen Aspaas, who bring freshness and vitality to both these classical masterpieces. ‘Although Beethoven can be played in many ways, I just have to say that this is exactly how Beethoven should be played.’ – Magnus Andersson.

MEYERBEER – ROMILDA E COSTANZA     NAXOS 8660495-97

MeyerbeerGiacomo Meyerbeer was born near Berlin into a wealthy and cultured Jewish family in the year of Mozart’s death (1791). He later studied music under Antonio Salieri and went on to make his career in France and Italy as well as Prussia, where he served as Generalmusikdirektor under King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in the 1840s. He became one of the most successful and performed opera composers of the 19th century, greatly influencing contemporaries such as Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. As a man of independent means, Meyerbeer was able to exercise considerable care over the composition of his operas, choosing the appropriate singers controlling the press. He won his first great success at the Paris Opéra in 1831 with Robert le diable, which was was followed by Les Huguenots, Le Prophète and L’Africaine. The last of these grand operas was staged in Paris in 1865, a year after the composer’s death. Before conquering Paris, he had already won renown in Italy, where the musical climate was dominated by Rossini.

Meyerbeer’s first Italian opera, Romilda e Costanza, to a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, earned the still-unknown 26-year-old composer the sobriquet of ‘the genius of the Spree’. The work is a rescue opera overlaid with a love triangle, which was written for specific performers, and the passionate intensity of feeling – from lyricism to unfettered virtuosity – reflects the semiseria nature of the opera. This 3-CD box set features a recording of the opera as performed in the original version heard at its 1817 premiere. The opera is a medieval fantasy, without any relation to the historical truth, on the intrigues surrounding the succession to the throne of the kingdom of Provence.

Luciano Acocella stylishly conducts the Gorecki Chamber Choir and Passionart Orchestra and the soloists include Patrick Kabongo (Teobaldo), Javier Povedano (Retello), Chiara Brunello (Romilda), Cesar Cortes (Lotario), Luiza Fatyol (Costanza), Emmanuel Franco (Albertone), Claire Gascoin (Annina), Giulio Mastrototaro (Pierotto) and Timophey Pavlenko (Ugo). This is a welcome opportunity to rediscover the music of a now neglected composer who his contemporary, Hector Berlioz, claimed ‘has not only the luck to be talented, but the talent to be lucky.’

ROSSINI – MOISE     NAXOS 8.660473-75

Moise

Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) was the greatest Italian composer of his time, revered from when he was a teenager until his death in Paris at the age of seventy-six. In the first half of his life he was amazingly prolific, composing around forty operas by the age of 38. His opera buffa are among the finest examples of the genre, and in his opera seria he introduced innovations that transformed Italian opera and would influence generations of French and Italian composers. Comedic masterpieces, including L’Italiana in Algeri, La gazza ladra, and his most famous work, Il barbiere di Siviglia, are key works in the repertories of modern opera companies around the world. Following the French theatre tradition for spectacular biblical dramas during Lent, Rossini’s Moïse et Pharaon, subtitled ‘La passage de la Mer Rouge’ (‘The Parting of the Red Sea’), was an incredible success at its Parisian premiere in 1827, when Ancient Egypt was big business in the capital and liberation politics were a live issue. Alongside power struggles and miracles, there develops a love story between Pharaoh’s son Aménophis and the Israelite Anaï, though the main narrative is that of the Exodus from Egypt: Rossini’s riveting score with its spellbinding finales culminates in the parting of the waves of the Red Sea.

In this single work, Rossini laid the foundations of grand opera, and it is widely considered to be among his greatest achievements. The opera is presented in this recording in its complete form, with the Górecki Chamber Choir, Kraków, and Virtuosi Brunensis conducted by Fabrizio Maria Carminati. Moses and Pharaoh (Alexey Birkus and Luca Dall’Amico) both have rich, impressive bass voices, and Italian coloratura soprano Silvia Dalla Benetta is outstanding in the challenging role of Sinaïde. Fine support is provided by Elisa Balbo as Anaï, American tenor Randall Bills as Aménophis and mezzo Albane Carrère as Moses’s sister, Marie.

NIELSEN – COMPLETE VIOLIN WORKS     NAXOS 8573870

NIELSENCarl August Nielsen was born on the Danish island of Funen in 1865, the seventh of 12 children. Although the family were poor, he grew up enjoying their love and support. The family shared joy in communal music-making (his house-painter father was a musician in the village band) and an appreciation of the wonders of the natural world. Young Carl Nielsen learned the violin from his father and, in his teens, played in various local bands and orchestras and began composing. After studying at Copenhagen Conservatory, In 1888, he had his first success with his Little Suite for strings and soon afterwards became a violinist at the Royal Danish Orchestra. He went on to become the most influential figure in Danish musical history, writing complex and modern music for the concert hall as well as simple yet unforgettable songs such as Jens Vejmand (‘Jens the Road-mender’) for the Danish public, without compromising his own personal style.

During the 1920s, Nielsen’s music started to receive international acclaim, a trend which has continued ever since. His work has defined Denmark’s musical voice for over a century and reflects the soul of the country. On this new album, acclaimed violinist Hasse Borup and brilliant American pianist Andrew Staupe perform nine works by Nielsen, including his early Sonata in G major – having ‘a scent of Mozartian youth’ – and the newly published Romance in G major, dedicated to his first teacher. Mature works include the still fresh-sounding Second Violin Sonata – ‘a work unparalleled in the sonata literature’ – and the quirkily experimental Prelude & Theme with Variations for solo violin.

SIBELIUS – KULLERVO      BIS 2236

SIBELIUS KULLERVOJean Sibelius was one of the most popular and prolific composers of his time. His music played an important role in forming the Finnish national identity, although he was born into a Swedish-speaking family in Hämeenlinna in the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland. Named Johan Julius Christian Sibelius, he began using the French form of his name, Jean, during his student days. The core of Sibelius’s music is his collection of seven symphonies, and other famous compositions that include Finlandia, Valse Triste, the Karelia and Lemminkäinen Suites, as well as his brilliant, virtuosic Violin Concerto. Young Sibelius started working on ideas for Kullervo when he was a student in Vienna in 1891, inspired by the epic poem Kalevala and using texts from that poem for his new ‘symphony’. ‘I am trying to find out what my symphony is all about. It is so different from everything that I have written so far,’ he wrote at the time. Composed for soprano, baritone, male voice choir and orchestra, Kullervo avoids traditional symphonic structure and is really more a suite of symphonic movements or tone poems. The work premiered in Helsinki in 1892 to critical acclaim, although Sibelius’s teachers, Robert Fuchs and Carl Goldmark, were unimpressed, calling the music ‘barbaric and raw’.

Kullervo had only four more performances in the composer’s lifetime and Sibelius refused to publish it until the end of his life, after he had re-orchestrated the final ‘lament’ section of the third movement. The first studio recording was made in 1971 and since then many orchestras have performed and recorded this brilliant epic masterpiece. While Kullervo represents just the confident first step in Sibelius’s symphonic odyssey, it is also a viscerally exciting experience on its own terms. This memorable recording features an exciting performance with the mezzo-soprano Lilli Passikivi and baritone Tommi Hakala as soloists, the excellent YL Male Voice Choir and the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Finnish music director Osmo Vänskä. Some 150 years ago what is sometimes called ‘The Great Migration’ of Finns to the United States began. Many settled in the Mid-West, and especially in the so-called ‘Finn Hook’, consisting of parts of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. This outstanding release is a perfect introduction to Kullervo for anyone who knows only the numbered symphonies.

DVORÁK – SYMPHONY 4 & MY HOMELAND        ARTA F10235

DvorakAntonin Dvorák was born in 1841 in a small Bohemian village north of Prague. His father was a professional zither player as well as an innkeeper and butcher. Folk music was a big part of family occasions and young Antonin soon joined his father in the local band – and served briefly as an apprentice butcher befire going on to study music at the Prague Organ School. An accomplished violinist and violist, he joined the Bohemian Theatre Orchestra, which was conducted by Bedrich Smetana in 1860s. After leaving the orchestra to concentrate on composing and teaching, Dvorák went on to become one of the best-loved composers and a strong voice in the re-establishment of Czech musical identity. He wrote concertos, operas and many songs but is most recognised for his nine symphonies, each rich in melodic creation and often inspired by his beloved Bohemia. Only five of his nine symphonies were published during his lifetime, though this did not prevent him from gaining great international reputation, particularly in America where he composed his final symphony. The Fourth, sometimes given the subtitle ‘Little’, was first performed in 1874 in Prague, conducted by Smetana, and later revised.

This straightforward and powerful work was clearly inspired by Wagner as well as Johannes Brahms, who eventually became Dvorák’s mentor. As David Beveridge says in his sleeve notes to this release, ‘Nobody will say the Fourth Symphony is as perfect as Dvorák’s later symphonies. Yet it is has its own value, and by no means only documentary value: it allows us to relish a somewhat different Dvorák from the Dvorák of his famous later works, and joins a wealth of imaginative, fascinating, and often beautiful ideas into a powerful and generally very convincing overall gesture.’ The symphony is played here by Musica Florea conducted by Marek Štryncl, whose keen interest in authentic performance led him to found the outstanding Musica Florea ensemble. This CD also includes their performance of Dvorák’s overture My Homeland, composed in 1882 when Prague’s Czech Theatre asked him to write incidental music for a play, Josef Kajetán Tyl by F. F. Šamberk, which portrays episodes from the real life of its title character, a leading figure in Czech literature. This features a patriotic song with words by Tyl himself, ‘Where is My Home?’. With music by František Škroup, the song was embraced by Czechs living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire as their unofficial national anthem and today it serves that function officially for the Czech Republic.

KATHLEEN FERRIER     20TH CENTURY BRITISH TREASURES      SOMM ARIADNE 5010

KATHLEEN FERRIERKathleen Ferrier grew up near Blackburn, Lancashire, and became one of the this country’s finest and most loved singers. Although she died tragically early at the age of only 41, Ferrier lived a life of unique artistry, acquiring an iconic status which remains potent to this day. She rose in the space of four years from a simple background to perform at the greatest opera houses in the world, yet in the process she retained the popular affection of a generation. Much of Ferrier’s art lies in the sheer range of her repertoire. The tone of her voice was ideally suited to Bach and Handel arias, but she was equally at home with the expressive lieder of Schubert and Schumann. For many though, it was her single-handed revival of the British folk song which set her apart. To this day BlowThe Wind Southerly and I Know Where I’m Goin’ have an immediate association with her voice. Kathleen Ferrier was in great demand throughout the UK and also sang regularly in the Netherlands, where she was extremely popular, as well in other European countries and North America. Benjamin Britten wrote several works specifically for her, including Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia, and part of his Spring Symphony. She worked with many famous conductors such as Bruno Walter, John Barbirolli and Herbert von Karajan, and over forty years after her death she still retains a special place in British musical history and in the hearts of many.

SOMM Recordings’ acclaimed series of re-mastered recitals by the fondly remembered siner continues with Kathleen Ferrier: 20th Century British Treasures. This features recordings made for Decca and the BBC between 1946 and 1953 and includes a previously unpublished recording of Ferrier’s passionate performance of Lennox Berkeley’s Four Poems of St Teresa of Ávila. The earliest recording is of Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Flower Song’ from The Rape of Lucretia, and the latest (both BBC recitals), includes Howard Ferguson’s lovely five-part Discovery, three songs by William Wordsworth and Edmund Rubbra’s Three Psalms, specially written for Ferrier. Pieces by defining proponents of British song including Parry, Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Roger Quilter, Frank Bridge and Peter Warlock complete a crucial celebration of Ferrier’s inimitable contribution to the genre. Sir Thomas Allen, the distinguished interpreter of British song and Trustee of the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, contributes an extensive booklet commentary. Pianist Julian Jacobson, son of composer Maurice Jacobson, whose melancholy but sensuous The Song of Songs is heard in a 1947 BBC broadcast, also provides a personal poignant note on Ferrier’s championing of his father’s work. The music is sung with all the passion and tenderness we have come to expect from that glorious contralto voice, confirming Our Kaff’s reputation as a warm-hearted, vivacious, modest and courageous woman with a wicked sense of humour.