YSAYE – VIOLIN DISCOVERIES       DIVINE ART DDA 25222

Eugène Ysaÿe – Violin DiscoveriesEugène Ysaÿe, brother of pianist and composer Théo Ysaÿe, was a composer and conductor as well as one of the greatest violinists who ever lived.  Born in Liege, Belgium, in 1858, he started violin lessons at the age of five and made his first public appearance at seven. He went on to become the leading violinist of his time, combining beauty of tone with great technical ability and depth of musical expression. Pablo Casals claimed never to have heard a violinist play in tune before Ysaÿe, and Carl Flesch called him ‘the most outstanding and individual violinist I have ever heard in my life.’ Ysaÿe was also an accomplished avant-garde composer, perhaps best known for his Six Sonatas for Solo Violin. These set a new standard by which to judge a violinist’s technical prowess and are masterpieces of the genre, opening the way to the later sonatas by Bartók and Prokofiev, as well as those by Hindemith and the preludes and fugues by Reger. Given his reputation as ‘The King of the Violin’ it seems surprising that many of his works remain unknown, unpublished and unrecorded. This album presents for the first time several works for violin and piano ranging from 1885 to 1924, and a previously unknown Violin Concerto from 1910. The internationally known Romanian violinist Sherban Lupu studied in London with Yehudi Menuhin and other leading teachers and has a busy career, being best known for his discovery, publication and performance of the music of Enescu. He also has held prestigious posts in Italy and Romania and as concertmaster of San Francisco Opera, USA. He is accompanied here by the award-winning young French pianist Henri Bonamy (who was Professor of Piano in Seoul, Korea and now teaches in Munich) and the excellent orchestra of Liepaja, Latvia. The conductor is Paul Mann who has made a name recently with his recordings for Toccata Classics. These are exuberant and passionate performances of brilliant music. Highlights include Scènes Sentimentales Nos. 3 and 5 (written to showcase the composer’s virtuosity), the enchanting Élégie, the evocative Trois Études-Poèmes and the Violin Concerto in G minor, completed and orchestrated by Sabin Pautza in 2017. Listen to Scènes Sentimentales No. 5

 

FRANCK – HULDA    NAXOS 8.660480-82

HuldaThe composer and organist César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck was born in Liège in 1822 and studied music there before going to the Paris Conservatoire. He briefly returned to Belgium, but went back to Paris in 1844 and remained there for the rest of his life, making his living by teaching and as an organist. In 1858, he became organist at the basilica Sainte-Clotilde, where he remained until his death. He was professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson, Louis Vierne, and Henri Duparc, and as an organist he was particularly noted for his skill in improvisation. Although his output of compositions was small, it was hugely influential, laying the groundwork for the French great symphonic organ style. During his early days in Paris Franck earned a living partly as an accompanist to the Italian tenor Mario Bordogni, becoming familiar with the world of opera (his first opera, Stradella, was written when he was only 15). Most of Franck’s works received scant attention at the time of their composition and Hulda, written between 1879 and 1885, was never performed in his lifetime. Inspired by a Norwegian play, this medieval legend is set in 14th-century Norway at the time of the great tribal kings, with marauding hordes spreading fear and terror throughout the land. Hulda is kidnapped and transferred from one tribe to the other, her family is killed and she herself is humiliated. However, Hulda’s spirit cannot be crushed, and she survives with revenge as her goal in life. Franck’s music portrays raging clans, bloodthirsty murderers and shattered lives, but also moments of exquisite tenderness in this acclaimed revival of a forgotten masterpiece that places the role of Hulda among the great tragic stage heroines.

Hulda premiered in Monte Carlo in 1894 in an abridged version  but its first complete performance was by Reading University Opera in 1979 with a later version was staged in London in 1994. This 3-CD box set features a world premiere recording of the original uncut version, with soprano Meagan Miller in the title role, Anja Jung as her mother, Joshua Kohl as Eiolf, Irina Jae Eun Park as Swanhilde, and Katerina Hebelková as Gudrun. The Choirs of Theater Freiburg and the Philharmonisches Orchester Freiburg are conducted by Fabrice Bollon, who says that ‘Discovering Franck’s grand opera Hulda, complete with ballets, as a very dramatic and powerful story, I was first dazzled by the beauty and the deep human realism of his two love duets. Reading the whole score (once we received Franck’s complete original version, not the published edition) suddenly each scene enjoyed its own function and dramatic power, revealing that Franck indeed wrote a really great opera, but one which hadn’t been understood in his time. This is not only a recording of the score’s original version, but also a performance of a very high-quality work, one that is worthy of joining other major operas in the repertoire.’ Watch the trailer

 

THE SCHUMANN PROJECT, VOL. 1      MSR MS 1763

Schumann-Project-Vol-1Clara Schumann was an outstanding pianist and composer, as well as a pioneer who had a large impact on the history of music. She was a child prodigy, learning early from her father, Friedrich Wieck, a famous German piano teacher. At the tender age of 13, Clara became one of the first pianists to perform from memory and her influence over a 61-year concert career changed the format and repertoire of the piano recital She also composed a works that include piano concertos, chamber music and choral pieces. Clara was married to and supported an even more famous composer, Robert Schumann, who she first met when she was only eight years old. Together they maintained a close relationship with Johannes Brahms (she was the first to perform publicly many works by Brahms). Ukrainian-born American pianist Inna Faliks is a passionately committed artist who has made a name for herself through her poetic and commanding performances of standard piano repertoire, genre-bending interdisciplinary projects and inquisitive work with contemporary composers. She is Professor of Piano and Head of the Piano Department at UCLA and has performed on many of the world’s great stages, with orchestras, in solo appearances and in highly regarded chamber music groups. As she says in her sleeve notes to this outstanding and thought-provoking CD, ‘Juxtaposing two large scale works by Clara Schumann (née Wieck) and Robert Schumann on a recording will certainly invite comparisons between them; however, my aim in The Schumann Project series is to simply unite, on each album, two or more works by kindred souls. How different the dynamics of this ‘power couple’ of the 19th century might be today if one were to imagine Robert and Clara as equal partners in life.’

Inna Faliks gives a warm and expressive performance of the beautiful Piano Sonata in G minor written by Clara, at the age of 22.  Never performed during her lifetime, it was first published in 1991, so is not well known. Nevertheless, the sonata marked an important early step in her compositional development between her two other larger-scale works, the Piano Concerto in A minor (which Faliks performed with the Chicago Symphony when she was 15 years old) and the Piano Trio in G minor. Robert Schumann’s large-scale Symphonic Études are among his most difficult compositions to perform but Inna Faliks plays this dramatic, powerful music here with tremendous verve and sensitivity, revealing both her mastery of the piano and her deep understanding of the composer’s work. This impressive first volume in The Schumann Project is highly recommended and will leave listeners eager to discover what further insights future releases in the series may bring. Listen an excerpt here ‘Her quiet, breathless opening of the staccato Étude 9, marked Presto possibile, puts Faliks is in a league with some of the greatest pianists to record this work.’ – Fanfare.

 

CZERNY – ROMANTIC PIANO FANTASIES     NAXOS 8.579099

CZERNY - ROMANTIC PIANO FANTASIES Carl Czerny (1791-1857) was a prolific Austrian composer, teacher, and pianist of Czech origin whose music spanned the late Classical and early Romantic eras.  His father was a pianist, organist, oboist, singer and teacher, aho taught Carl to play all of Mozart’s piano pieces, including the concertos. In 1801, he began studying with Ludwig van Beethoven, and became familiar with C.P.E. Bach’s ‘Essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments’. Due to his exceptional memory Czerny rapidly learned all of Beethoven’s compositions by heart and frequently performed them at the palace of Prince Lichnowsky, a patron of music who, according to one source, would call out the opus numbers he wished to hear. Czerny and Beethoven stayed in contact throughout their lives, and Beethoven chose Czerny to perform the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1806 and the Vienna premiere of the ‘Emperor’ Concerto, in 1812. Czerny can be considered as a father of modern piano technique for generations of pianists, with students who included Franz Liszt. His reputation as a composer as a composer centered mainly on on his opera fantasies, which  were well recieved by the public but were disdained by many music critics.

Robert Schumann, Chopin and Liszt were dismissive of Czerny’s music, though more positive views have been offered by others such as Brahms, Leon Botstein and Igor Stravinsky, who wrote of his admiration for Czerny as a composer. Carl Czerny’s instructional exercises, still widely used in piano teaching, may be his lasting legacy but there remain numerous largely forgotten pieces that reveal important elements of his compositional range. The four Romantic Fantasies named after Sir Walter Scott’s famous Waverley novels are piano duets of epic breadth. In them Czerny ingeniously develops popular Scottish melodies, including the use of the ‘Scotch snap’, to generate a vivid programmatic quality that explores numerous genres. Scherzos, fugal passages, chorales and marches are all featured, and raise the music – full of beauty, virtuosity and unpredictability -– to orchestral proportions. This rewarding music is performed on these recordings by the captivating and versatile pianist, Dr. Pei-I Wang, an outstanding young musician born in Taiwan, and Samuel Gingher, a fellow teacher at Millikin University who has a particular interest in Carl Czerny’s contributions to the art of extemporization.

 

HINDEMITH – MATHIS DER MALER       CAPRICCIO C5450

HINDEMITH - MATHIS DER MALERBorn in 1895 in Hanau, near Frankfurt am Main, Paul Hindemith was a music theorist, teacher, violist and conductor, as well as the finest avant-garde German composer of his generation. He was taught the violin as a child and later entered Frankfurt’s Hoch’sche Konservatorium, where he studied violin as well as conducting and compositions. Early in his career he supported himself by playing in dance bands and musical-comedy groups, before becoming leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra at the age of 19. He also played second violin in the Rebner String Quartet and in 1921 he founded the successful Amar Quartet, playing viola. At the height of his career, Hindemith came into conflict with the Nazi party, which began a campaign to discredit him, culminating in a boycott of his work. He subsequently emigrated in 1938 to Switzerland, where he made his basebefore settling in the USA. There he became an American citizen and taught composition at Yale University. After retiring from Yale in 1953, he took up permanent residence in Switzerland and became more active as a conductor. His inventive opera Mathis der Maler (Matthias the Painter) has a protagonist, Matthias Grünewald, who was a real historical figure. Grünewald, flourished during the Reformation and his art, in particular the Isenheim Altarpiece, inspired many creative figures in the early 20th century. Hindemith completed the opera, writing his own libretto, in 1935, but by then the rise of Nazism prevented hom from securing a performance in Germany.

The story, set during the German Peasants’ War (1524-25), concerns Matthias’s struggle for artistic freedom of expression in the repressive climate of his day, which mirrored Hindemith’s own struggle as the Nazis attained power and repressed dissent. The opera’s obvious political message did not escape the regime. Mathis der Maler was first presented to the public in 1934 in Berlin as a 3-movement symphony derived from the score for the opera. It was well received but a few months later Hindemith was attacked in the National-Socialist press, which prompted the renowned conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler to spring to his defence in a newspaper article known as The Hindemith Case. The opera itself wasn’t premiered until 1938, in Zurich. In contrast to the popular symphony version, the large-scale opera Mathis der Maler is only occasionally staged, so this recording of a magnificent, highly acclaimed 2012 production from the Theater an der Wien is particularly welcome. Bertrand De Billy conducts the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Slovak Philharmonic Choir, and the soloists include the superb German bass-baritone Wolfgang Kochin in a commanding performance as Mathis, court painter to the Cardinal and Archbishop of Mainz, Abert  (Kurt Streit). Martin Snell is Lorenz the dean, Franz Grundheber the wealthy citizen Riedinger, and Manuela Uhl his daughter Ursula.

 

BURKARD SCHLIESSMANN – AT THE HEART OF THE PIANO   DIVINE ART DDA 21373

BURKARD SCHLIESSMANN - AT THE HEART OF THE PIANOBurkard Schliessmann is an accomplished German classical pianist and a renowned scuba diver. Winner of the esteemed Goethe-Prize of Francfort/Main 2019, he is one of the compelling pianists and artists of the modern era. Critical recognition includes two Gold Medals ‘Awards of Excellence’ from the Global Music Awards, three Silver Medals for ‘Outstanding Achievement’, two Critics’ Choice Awards from the American Record Guide, two Recording of the Year Prizes from MusicWeb International and the prestigious Melvin Jones Fellowship Award. He has also developed a considerable personal following over the years as an international concert artist giving performances of music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Scriabin, and the Second Viennese School up to the Avantgarde. This 3-CD / triple digital album features music by some of the great Romantic works in which he specialises. These include Busoni’s stunning Chaconne (after J S Bach’s Partita No 2) and Alban Berg’s youthful Sonata Piano Sonata, Op. 1, which are receiving their first release. The other tracks were previously issued (on CD only, not digitally) by Bayer and have been newly remastered. Burkard Schliessmann is a unique interpreter, never afraid to find a new expression and always searching for the heart of the music and the composer’s inspiration. On their initial release these recordings received many accolades: American Record Guide said: ‘The best pianist I know at entering the world and expressing the awareness of the German romantics. There is something personal and unique about Schliessmann’s Schumann. It does not sound like anyone else’s. He is better than any other pianist I have heard.’ High Performance Review said of his Scriabin: ‘This is the most imaginative playing one has heard yet – on the level of Richter, Michelangeli, Wild, Gould – the highest order of artistry.’ Highlights include Schumann’s expressive and thrilling Symphonic Études, Franz Liszt’s enigmatic Piano Sonata in B minor, and works by the innovative and controversial  Alexander Scriabin.

 

APPEAR AND INSPIRE     GOTHIC G-49335

APPEAR AND INSPIREThis new release from Gothic features the award-winning East Carolina University Chamber Singers, conducted by the ensemble’s Director of Choral Activities James Franklin, accompanied by Andrew Scanlon accompanies on St. Paul’s (Greenville) highly respected C.B. Fisk Perkins and Wells Memorial Organ. The repertoire features both contemporary and historic composers in a performance that resonates with a message that rings true today. Works include John Rutter’s lovely Be Thou My Vision, James MacMillan’s exuberant O Radiant Dawn, Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria and Benjamin Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia, a setting of a poem by W. H. Auden. Poulenc’s Quatre petite prières de Saint François d’Assise, written for and premiered by the Franciscan monks of Champfleury, is followed by two Notre Père compositions – one by Frank Martin and the second by Maurice Duruflé. Edward Elgar’s The Spirit of the Lord, Mendelssohn’s Daughters of Zion, and Arvo Pärt’s sublime The Deer’s Cry, a sacred motet set to text from a traditional Irish lorica, bring this musical program of hope and illumination to a close. The ECU Chamber Singers is one of the premiere choral ensembles in the United States. It maintains a vigorous performance and travel schedule focusing predominantly on unaccompanied choral literature for advanced chamber choir. The group of 36-40 auditioned singers has developed a national and international following. In 2020, the Chamber Singers won second place in The American Prize in Choral Performance in the college/university division. In addition to conducting the ECU Chamber Singers, James Franklin also directs the graduate program in choral conducting. Andrew Scanlon is professor in the keyboard department at East Carolina University, directing the graduate and undergraduate programs in organ and sacred music.

CORDELIA WILLIAMS – NIGHTLIGHT     SOMM 0639

CORDELIA WILLIAMS - NIGHTLIGHTAlongside her performing career, former BBC Young Musician 2006 winner and acclaimed international pianist Cordelia Williams has gained a First in Theology from Clare College, Cambridge. Her curiosity towards religions and faith led to her year-long project exploring the music, context and theology of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus. She has enjoyed travelling to perform extensively through Great Britain, Europe, the Far East, America, and the Gulf States, and welcomed her first son in 2017. He has accompanied her on several concert tours and was recently joined by a brother. The recordings on this latest release, Nightlight, were inspired by Williams’ experience mothering her two infant children in the isolating dead of night while the world around her slept and she has dedicated it ‘to the many people who… feel alone in the darkness. To those who experience despair or sublime melancholy during the hours before the dawn, who are searching for solace, peace or impossible hope. To anyone lost who is waiting to be found by the light’. The music spans four centuries, from Thomas Tomkins’ exquisitely melancholic A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Times, composed shortly after the execution of Charles I, to jazz virtuoso Bill Evans’ hypnotic, fantasy-laced Peace Piece, a pastoral improvisation first recorded by the composer in 1958. The recital moves from sleep-inducing nightfall – Mozart’s popular D minor Fantasia, K.397 – to waking hopes for the new dawn in what Williams describes as the ‘shimmering hope, glory just beyond the horizon’ of Schumann’s late work, Gesänge der Frühe (Songs of Dawn).

The becalmed and tempest-driven waters of the ocean in Scriabin’s technically demanding Piano Sonata No.2 (Sonata-Fantasy) prove a perfect metaphor for the stilled and turbulent currents of the night. Plunging into night’s darkest, most disturbed places, the dislocations of Schubert’s late Sonata in C minor, D958 with its lovely adagio movement, are salved by two soothingly nocturne-like Liszt Consolations. ‘The music recorded here,’ says Williams, ‘sees our loneliness and darkness, recognizes and validates those unutterable feelings, and reaches out a hand of consolation.’ Nightlight is a compelling exploration of the contrariness of night, its turmoil, terror and tenderness, and the longing for light. Cordelia Williams’ previous SOMM releases include her acclaimed coupling of Bach and Arvo Pärt (SOMMCD 0186), hailed by International Piano as ‘a magnificently stimulating concept, brilliantly recognised’, and well-received recitals of Schubert (SOMMCD 0127) and Schumann (SOMMCD 0150). Listen to the trailer

 

BRUCKNER – SYMPHONIES      SWR 19528CD

Bruckner - SymphoniesAustrian Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) struggled to gain recognition in his lifetime but is now acknowledged as a major composer of symphonies and his music has been much recorded. Admired for his originality and characteristic style, it has been said unfairly that ‘he did not compose nine symphonies but one symphony nine times’. He was a late starter, only composing seriously at 37, well past the age that Mozart died. As well as nine numbered symphonies there are two earlier works that remained unpublished at the time of his death. Sir Roger Norrington was chief conductor of the former Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (today the SWR Symphonieorchester) for thirteen years. During that time he caused an international stir with what came to be known as ‘The Stuttgart Sound’, a synthesis of historically-informed performance practice with the technical capabilities of a modern orchestra. Whether in Mozart, Haydn, Bruckner or Brahms, Norrington sought to capture the performance experience of the time, adjusting the orchestra’s size and seating plan to create an authentic sound without vibrato. In these reissued recordings of five Bruckner symphonies, Norrington and the SWR present the human face of a composer whose image in the public mind has sometimes been reduced to that of someone in a quasi-religious retreat.

Bruckner’s symphonies, however, were distinctly secular works written with the Musikverein Vienna in mind. They describe journeys, nature and birdsong; there is dance music, humour, unexpected drama and pauses. In his entirely individual style, albeit with subtle influences of Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Wagner, Bruckner conjures memories of his youth, from playing violin at village weddings to the sounds of the St Florian organ loft. These recordings of Symphonies 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9 emphasise the depth and variety in Bruckner’s oeuvre, underscoring the fact that he wrote his symphonies over a period of twenty-seven years, during which time he developed spectacularly as a composer. The sound is thrillingly captured, especially in Norrington’s majestic and unhurried interpretations of the Third Symphony and the visionary Ninth Symphony with its ethereal adagio. The music touches sacred subjects (the intensity of Bruckner’s religious faith is legendary) and offers fascinating insights into the composer’s character.

 

MARIAN SAWA – MUSIC FOR ORGAN     DIVINE ART DDA 25219

MARIAN SAWA - MUSIC FOR ORGANMarian Sawa (1937-2005) was a Polish composer, organist, improviser, musicologist and pedagogue. He studied organ and composition at the the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, where after graduating he became organist at the Military Church. From 1966, he taught organ improvisation, harmony, counterpoint and liturgical accompaniment at many of the top musical establishments in Warsaw and was awarded numerous prizes and state decorations (including First Prize at the Young Composers Competition) for his impressive compositional output as well as his outstanding contributions to education and culture. Sawa composed hundreds of pieces, including instrumental, vocal and vocal-instrumental works, though he is best known as a prolific composer of organ music (five organ concerts, sonatas, fantasies, preludies, toccatas, passacaglies). He also toured extensively as a soloist and accompanist and made many recordings. His works often resulted from religious inspiration and his music builds on the Polish post-Romantic tradition involving Gregorian chant, Polish church songs and folklore, sometimes combining them in one piece. Sawa’s personal and individual voice makes his music very recognizable and though little known in the West to date, he can be considered perhaps the greatest Eastern European organ composer of the 20th Century. The pieces on this album, composed between 1971 and 2005, demonstrate vividly the range, variety and often enormous power of his compositions. Highlights include the spectacular opening Dies irae, an ethereal Aria, three lively Dances in Old Style, and the majestic Sequence II ‘Victimae paschali laudes’. The music is wonderfully played by American Carson Cooman, an exceptional composer himself of works ranging from solo instrumental pieces to operas, orchestral works and hymn tunes. As a concert organist, he specializes in contemporary music and over 300 new works have been composed for him by over 100 composers from around the world. This recording of the exquisite Fleiter organ (2014) at St. Ludgerus, Billerbeck, was made using the Hauptwerk remote digital access system. Listen to the thrilling Dies irae and other tracks.

 

BEHZAD ABDI – HAFEZ     NAXOS 8.660426-27

Behzad Abdi - HafezBorn in 1973 in Tehran and currently based in Kiev, Ukraine, Behzad Abdi is an Iranian composer of opera, film and television music, having worked on more than 40 productions. He studied Iran’s traditional music as well as Western classical music at the Tchaikovsky Academy in Ukraine, beginning his studies there in 2003, and is probably the first composer to write Iranian traditional opera fusing traditional dastgah (the Iranian modal system) and Western classical music. He wrote Iran’s first national opera, Rumi (previously released by Naxos), in 2009, based on the life of the revered and now universally popular 13th-century Persian poet and mystic. His second opera, Hafez, exemplifies his approach to the medium. The opera’s subject is anther great Persian poet and mystic, Hafez, whose sonnets and poetry are still widely read across the Persian-speaking world today. Behrouz Gharibpour’s Persian-language  libretto traces the poet’s tribulations, memories of keeping his poems from being destroyed by a despotic government, and subsequent exile. Abdi’s polytonal technique serves to reflect the unique concepts of Hafez’s 14th-century poetry with passion, lyricism and power. The Credo Chamber Choir and National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine are conducted by Vladimir Sirenko, with soloists Mohammad Motamendi, Hossein Alishapour, Babak Sabouri, Eshaq Anvar, Mohommad Zakerhossien, Ali Zandevakili and mezzo-soprano Haleh Seyfizadeh. ‘Hafez, as one of the greatest composers of lyric poetry, is revered the world over. Many people deify his poetry to such an extent that they seek the divine in it, and ask him for help in their affairs and work. The poetry and sonnets of Hafez are still relevant and alive, and continue to represent the language of our present time and will be pertinent even to later generations.’

 

AROUND DVORAK       MUSIC@MENLO

Around DvorakMusic@Menlo is an internationally acclaimed chamber music festival and institute in the San Francisco Bay Area. Founded by David Finckel and Wu Han as a program of Menlo School, Music@Menlo features unique immersive programming, a roster of world-class artists, and a Chamber Music Institute for emerging and pre-professional musicians. Intimate performance venues and signature offerings such as AudioNotes CDs, Café Conversations, and the Encounter lecture series offer a wide range of opportunities for aficionados and newcomers of all ages to connect with chamber music in new and innovative ways. Music@Menlo was inaugurated in 2003 with concerts, lectures, a training program for aspiring professional musicians, Young Performers Concerts, open-to-the-public master classes, and a daylong Open House offering behind-the-scenes access for the entire community. Following the course charted by the inaugural season, and spurred by its great success, all festival seasons have been constructed around well-defined themes in chamber music history. Around Dvorák is an outstanding nine-CD box set of live recordings from the ambitious chamber music festival’s twelfth season celebrating the timeless work of the Czech Romantic master Antonín Dvorák, one of the most universally loved musical voices of his generation. The recordings feature works by Dvorák alongside those by composers including Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Bartók, Janácek, Kodály, and more. Masterminded by Grammy Award-winning producer Da-Hong Seetoo, these superbly engineered recordings feature a wide range of performers including David Finckel and Wu Han, the Danish and Escher String Quartets, pianists Gloria Chien and Gilbert Kalish, violinists Benjamin Beilman and Nicolas Dautricourt, cellists Dmitri Atapine and Keith Robinson, clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein and baritone Randall Scarlata. Find out more about Around Dvorák and the Music@Menlo festival.

 

SOLACIUM – TRIO MEDIAEVAL       2L-165-SABD

SolaciumFormed in 1997, the Grammy nominated vocal ensemble Trio Mediæval consists of founder members Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Anna Maria Friman, and Jorunn Lovise Husan who joined the group in 2018. Hailed as a ‘fascinating journey with music of timeless beauty’, the Trio’s highly acclaimed first album, Words of the Angel, launched the group into the elite circles of early music ensembles and introduced them to a broad international audience. Solacium is a delightful collection of hymns and lullabies – intimate songs as old as time and as new as tomorrow. ‘This is music with no boundaries, celebrating our common humanity. We’ll never know the first song or the first singer, and we’ll never know what they sang about. If time could unwind and we could hear it, we would witness a mother or a father singing the first lullaby. When we sing a hymn or a lullaby, we become a link in a chain that began in the unknowable past and will stretch into the infinite future: a timeless continuum of solace and comfort.’ The new lullabies by Anders Jormin and Sinikka Langeland began in their heads as little musical gifts for real children, and are here sung for all of us by three singers who have sung many a lullaby to their own children, aided and abetted on this album by guest musicians Trygve Seim (saxophone) and Mats Eilertsen (double bass), fathers both. 2L’s superb Immersive Audio provides a sonic sculpture that you can literally move around and relate to spatially; surrounded by music you can move about in the aural space and choose angles, vantage points and positions. Dolby Atmos and the Auro-3D on this Pure Audio Blu-ray delivers a new standard in immersion, fully enveloping the audience in a cocoon of life-like audio. Recorded in discrete 7.1.4 at DXD resolution. Highlights include the traditional Norgegian Nu rinder solen opp, beautiful Swedish hymns such as Abba, hjartans Fader god and Kom, helge Ande, the lullaby Bysjan, bysjan, the sublime Pris vare Gud, and the closing lullaby, Nattens vingar (text and music by Anders Jormin). This soothing music offers balm for the soul in these troubled times, reviving the spirit and healing the heart.

 

ALICE SARA OTT – ECHOES OF LIFE    DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4860474

Alice Sara Ott - Echoes of Life German-Japanese classical pianist Alice Sara Ott’s is much acclaimed for her superb technique and intensity. This latest project is her personal musical reflection on the fragments, moments and memories that make up a life. The programme features Chopin’s Preludes op.28 as well as complementary music by 20th and 21st-century composers. Alice Sara Ott comments: ‘Echoes Of Life is a musical journey that not only reflects on the thoughts and moments that continue to influence my life, but also portrays how I see myself as a classical musician today. With his Préludes op.28, Frédéric Chopin composed a collection of 24 individual character pieces – very different from each other and yet all connected in some way. They remind me of life. I have chosen seven contemporary works to intersperse the Préludes and, while they echo some of my most personal and vulnerable experiences, they also affirm how modern, provocative and timeless Chopin’s music is.’ Alice Sara Ott has further expanded her artistic horizons by collaborating with award-winning architect Hakan Demirel. Together they have created an album-length digital video installation to accompany Echoes Of Life live in concert. The multi-sensory experience lends a physical dimension and visual narrative to the music, taking us on a virtual journey through the microcosm of Echoes Of Life. Concerts begin in August 2021 in Gstaad, Switzerland, followed by performances across Europe, including London in November, and a tour across Japan in 2022.

Alice Sara Ott brings radiance, poignancy and warmth to Chopin’s masterful preludes (listen to an exerpt ) and constantly surprises with works by György Ligeti (Musica Ricercata I, signifying childhood rebellion), Nino Rota’s Valse, Chilly Gonzales, Toru Takemitsu’s dissonant Litany, Arvo Pärt’s introspective Für Alina (reflecting the musician’s path after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago), a newly-commissioned work, In The Beginning, by Francesco Tristano, and Alice Sara Ott’s own composition, Lullaby To Eternity, based on fragments of W. A. Mozart’s Lacrimosa. ‘When I first explored the concept of the album, I didn’t anticipate what this would come to mean to me emotionally, and reveal to me musically … the moment when I heard the entire compilation for the first time and realised that the contemporary works confirm how Chopin’s Préludes are modern, provocative and timeless.’ Highly recommended.

 

ABRAHAM – BALL AT THE SAVOY     NAXOS 8660503-04

ABRAHAM - BALL AT THE SAVOY Jewish-Hungarian composer Paul Abraham wrote many popular operettas, often featuring jazz interludes into their scores. Born in 1892 Austria-Hungary (today’s Serbia), he studied cello and composition at the Royal National Hungarian Academy of Music in Budapest before going on to enjoy huge success across Europe with his ‘jazz operettas’, not least in Weimar Berlin where his works caused a sensation. Ball im Savoy (‘Ball at the Savoy’) has a plot reminiscent of Die Fledermaus and its variety of influences, some European and some reflective of contemporary American popular song, won the kind of acclaim only equalled by Franz Lehár. The premiere, which took place in December 1932, was for some the last major cultural event of Weimar Germany. Its English-language premiere took place the following year at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, with the libretto adapted by Oscar Hammerstein. The music is more modern than the libretto, incorporating foxtrots and Latin American dances like the tango and pasodoble as well as more traditional waltzes. After the Nazis seized power in 1933, Abraham left Germany and went via Vienna and Paris to Cuba then to later New York City. Following a mental breakdown in 1946, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital before returning to live in Germany, where he continued to receive treatment and died in 1960, aged 67. In this recording of Abraham’s exuberant yet rarely heard Ball at the Savoy, Chicago’s Folks Operetta orchestra is directed with verve by Anthony Barrese. The talented cast includes Gerald Frantzen as the rueful rake Aristide, soprano Alison Kelly as proto-feminist Madeleine, Cynthia Fortune Gruel as crafty Daisy Parker and Ryan Trent Oldham as the comical, much-married Mustafa Bey.

 

SAINT-SAENS – COMPLETE SYMPHONIES   NAXOS 8.503301

SAINT-SAENS- COMPLETE SYMPHONIESThe French composer, pianist and organist Camille Saint-Saëns, born in Paris in 1835, was a childhood prodigy. His precocious talent soon won him the admiration of Gounod, Rossini, Berlioz and Liszt, who proclaimled him ‘the world’s greatest organist’. He was organist at the Madeleine, a teacher (Fauré was among his pupils) wrote on musical, scientific and historical topics, travelled widely, and co-founded the Société Nationale de Musique (1871). He wrote many concertos, classically-orientated sonatas, sacred music, several ‘exotic’ dramatic works and a good deal of chamber music, including his Third Symphony (the ‘Organ’). He wrote this famous piece including organ and piano – unprecedented at the time – to create a spectacular example of music that is both resplendent and grandiose. It was driven, in the composer’s words, ‘by the progress made in modern instrumentation’, and Saint-Saëns himself conducted its French première in 1920. His more rarely heard Second symphony is a large-scale composition with many innovative ideas of form and structure. A stormy allegro in the first movement is followed by a short adagio and a lively final movement rondo based on a dance tune. Full of drive and energy, this light hearted symphony is, by any standards, an outright winner and deserves to be much better known.

Saint-Saëns wrote five symphonies between the years 1850 and 1886. The cycle began with the Mozart-influenced Symphony in A but as a precocious composer of 17 he wrote his first numbered symphony, a work much admired by Berlioz and Gounod. This 3-CD box set of the critically admired cycle of recordings by Marc Soustro with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra also includes a sequence of atmospheric and dramatic symphonic poems, including Phaéton, the rambunctious Danse macabre, and Urbs Roma (or F major symphony). Written in 1856 for a competition held by the Société Sainte Cécile of Bordeaux, which Saint-Saëns won, Urbs Roma was the anonymous pseudonym the judges required to ensure fair play. The composer never promoted Urbs Roma, or published it, but it’s an intriguing work both as a marker for the future and for its own virtues.

 

LEHAR – THE OPERETTA EDITION     OEHMS OC1902 

Lehar - The Operetta EditionAustro-Hungarian Franz Lehár was the twentieth century’s leading composer of operetta music, giving the genre a renewed vitality. He wrote around 30 operettas in all, the most famous and enduring of which is The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe). This witty, sophisticated masterpiece, with a bittersweet note beneath the glittering jewels and fizzing champagne tells the story of a rich widow and her countrymen as they attempt to keep her money in the principality Marsovia by finding her the right husband. Based on an 1861 comedy play by Henri Meilhac, The Merry Widow has enjoyed extraordinary international success since its 1905 premiere in Vienna and continues to be revived and recorded thanks to its marvelous score featuring the ‘Vilja Song’, ‘Da geh’ ich zu Maxim’ (‘You’ll Find Me at Maxim’s’), and the ‘Merry Widow Waltz’. A sparkling performance is included in this 5-CD Operetta Edition from OEHMS, presenting popular works by Lehár. The others are  bittersweet ‘romantic’ Das Land des Lächelns (‘The Land of Smiles’), the large scale Giuditta (Lehár’s last and most ambitious work), Der Graf von Luxemburg (‘The Count of Luxembourg’) set in bohemian Paris and Der Zarewitsch, loosely based on a true story about Alexei, the self-imposed exiled son of Peter the Great. Das Land des Lächelns was performed in Berlin in 1929 in a Lavishly staged show was built around the performance of the famous Austrian tenor Richard Tauber, a friend of the composer. Lehar often wrote a ‘Tauber song’ or ‘Tauberlied’ – a signature tune exploiting the exceptional qualities of his voice – in most of his later operettas. These recordings were made at the Mörbisch Festival in Austria and feature the Mörbisch Festival Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Rudolf Bibl and Wolfdieter Maurer (Der Zarewitsch). ‘Arguably one of the strongest recordings in the whole Mörbisch operetta series, this is strongly recommended, and not just to die-hard operetta fans.’ – Fanfare on Der Graf von Luxemburg.

 

MONIUSZKO – HALKA      NAXOS 8660485-86

MONIUSZKO - HalkaNineteenth Century Polish composer conductor and teacher Stanisław Moniuszko wrote many popular art songs and operas, and his music is filled with patriotic folk themes of the peoples of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Often referred to as ‘the father of Polish national opera, Moniuszko’s best operas, Halka and Straszny Dwór (The Haunted Manor), are famous for their nationalistic elements, both musically and thematically. Like Chopin’s music, many of Moniuszko’s melodies are inspired by Polish dance music, such as the mazurka and polonaise.  His operas also depict the strength of the Polish people and military and they are regularly performed at the Belarusian National Opera. The libretto for Halka is by Włodzimierz Wolski, a young Warsaw poet with radical social views. It is a tale of jealousy and sacrifice that tells the tragic story of a young highlander girl who had been seduced by the noble Janusz, who is engaged to Zofia, Stolnik’s daughter. Jontek, who has long been in love with Halka, warns her off Janusz but she ignores his good advice. She is betrayed when Janusz abandons her to marry Zofia, daughter of the Esquire. Act 2 begins with the lovely and moving poetic aria for Halka, ‘When the sun rises’. Hans von Bülow described this as ‘Full of originality and lively passion, to which its strongly native folk element adds a special flavor…The entire gamut of erotic emotions.’ The opera’s music is melodic, deeply lyrical and Polish in character, with scenes depicting the life of the Polish nobility and highlanders, as well as spectacular dance sequences. This double CD features Gabriel Chmura conducting the Poznán Opera House Orchestra and Chorus, with featured soloists including tenor Piotr Friebe (Jontek), Polish soprano Magdalena Molendowska, who was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal in her final year at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (Halka), mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wilczynska-Gos (Zofia), and the impressive bass Rafal Korpik (Stolnik). This production was made during ‘Moniuszko Year’ in Poland, marking the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. It also serves as a memorial to the distinguished Gabriel Chmura, who was artistic director of Poznán Opera House from 2012 until his death in November 2020.

 

ROMANTIC REVOLUTION – DUSSEK/CHOPIN    SOMM SOMMCD 0634

Romantic RevolutionCzech composer and pianist Jan Ladislav Dussek was born in 1760. He began learning the piano from his father at the age of eight and went on to become one of the first piano virtuosos to travel widely throughout Europe and Russia (he fled while under suspicion for plotting to assassinate Catherune the Great). A favourite of Marie Antoinette, he was celebrated for his technical prowess and was a major influence on Franz Liszt. He was also a master on the glass harmonica and was the first performer to sit at the piano with his profile to the audience, earning him the appellation ‘le beau visage’. During a ten-year stay in London, he became friends with John Broadwood, developer of the ‘English Action’ piano, and because his music demanded strength and range not available in then current pianos, Dussek pushed Broadwood into several extensions of the range and sonority of the instrument, which was later also used by Beethoven. This new release sees pianist Michael Dussek explore the music of his ancestor and its relationship to one of the piano repertoire’s most illustrious champions, Fryderyk Chopin.

The fascinating recital reveals Jan Dussek as a colourful character who was ‘revolutionary in his approach to both composition and pianism’ and makes a persuasive argument for Dussek’s influence on Chopin. In his informative booklet notes, Michael Dussek makes the case for his namesake’s music being the product of a composer ‘very much ahead of his time in the development of a Romantic piano style’ (Grove Music). The disc’s centrepiece is the Op.35 Piano Sonatas (Nos.11-13), the B-flat major Sonata a crucible of ideas accommodating the rustic lyricism of his native Bohemia, a contrapuntal sophistication that would find full flowering in his later Messe Solennelle, and an anticipation of what would become a Chopin signature. Completing the disc are two masterpieces of the piano repertoire: Chopin’s exquisite Nocturne, Op.15 No.2, and the lyrical, rapturously intense Ballade No.1 in G minor. MusicWeb International has hailed Michael Dussek as ‘a doyen among the pianists who have made themselves familiar with this repertoire’. This is a welcome celebration of a performer and composer who was revered in his own time but largely forgotten today.

 

BRUCKNER – SYMPHONY NO. 3     BR KLASSIK 900189

Bruckner - Symphony No. 3Nineteenth Century Austrian Anton Bruckner (struggled to gain recognition in his lifetime but is now acknowledged as a major composer of symphonies and his music has been much recorded. Admired for his originality and characteristic style, it has been said unfairly that ‘he did not compose nine symphonies but one symphony nine times’. He was a late starter, only composing seriously at 37, well past the age that Mozart died. As well as nine numbered symphonies there are two earlier works that remained unpublished at the time of his death. To a certain extent, Bruckner reinvented the symphony. Unlike Liszt or Wagner, it was Bruckner and later Brahms who sought and found new methods of reviving the symphonic genre and developing it further. Bruckner wrote his symphonies over a period of twenty-seven years, during which time he developed spectacularly as a composer. From the outset, he relied on the sound of the large orchestra rather than mixing the individual groups of instruments. Terraced dynamics (the immediate juxtaposition of piano and forte without transition) was also something Bruckner derived from organ music. As a church musician, he had close contact with these and other elements of Baroque music, and they flowed into his symphonies. As far as dramaturgical development was concerned, he tended to favour Schubert; indeed, it was the organic continuation and alternating interconnection of themes Bruckner had learned from Schubert that also explains the unprecedented performance length of his symphonies.

The Munich concert year of 2005 began at the end of January with two highlights: the two performances of Bruckner’s Third Symphony with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in the Philharmonie im Gasteig. This live recording makes it possible to experience one of the landmarks of the Late Romantic symphonic repertoire, conducted by an outstanding Bruckner connoisseur. Bruckner completed the score of the opening movement, the Adagio and the Scherzo of his nascent Third Symphony between February and July 1873, and sketched out its finale in August that year in Marienbad, Bohemia. The composer then travelled to Bayreuth, and presented Richard Wagner with his Second Symphony and the already completed manuscripts for his artistic breakthrough, the Third. Bruckner asked Wagner to select the symphony he preferred, intending to dedicate it to him – but since both men drank quite a lot of beer during their perusal of the manuscripts, Bruckner was later unable to remember which work Wagner had ultimately chosen, and this had to be clarified in writing. The Third Symphony in D minor – the ‘Wagner Symphony’ – was completed inn December 1873. It was revised again in 1889, with no fewer than six versions now in existence.’Lucid texture, tension, grandeur and poised lyrical delicacy are enshrined in these deeply expressive, radiant performances.’ – Daily Telegraph.

 

FROBERGER – SUITES FOR HARPSICHORD, VOL. 2         ATHENE ATH 23209

FROBERGER - Harpsichord SuitesGerman Baroque composer, keyboard virtuoso and organist Johann Jakob Froberger was born in 1616 in Stuttgart, where his father was court Kapellmeister. His family later moved to Vienna and Jacob later studied in Rome with Athanasius Kircher before travelling to Paris, where he became acquainted with composers such as Couperin and Gaultier. Froberger himself became one of the most famous composers of the era, even though only two of his many compositions were published during his lifetime. He is often credited as being the creator of the Baroque dance suite and he was among the first composers to focus equally on both harpsichord/clavichord and organ, blending Italian and French genres and techniques with quintessentially ‘German’ style music. He paved the way for J S Bach’s elaborate contributions to the genre and influenced almost every major composer in Europe, including Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Handel and Beethoven. His keyboard works are often played on harpsichord and some, like the suites, were specifically written for that instrument. Renowned Scottish musician Gilbert Rowland is one of Europe’s most senior and accomplished exponents of the harpsichord.

Following his critically acclaimed six-CD series of the Harpsichord Suites of Handel for Divine Art. This two-CD on the Athene label is the the second volume in a projected complete recording of the Harpsichord Suites by Johann Jakob Froberger, whose music is individual in nature and ground breaking – he was one of the first composers to settle the ‘dance-movement’ style. There are twelve Suites in this collection, with Gilbert Rowland playing a two manual French style harpsichord made by Andrew Wooderson after an instrument by Goemans (Paris, 1750). These are thrilling and authoritative recordings by Gilbert Roland of wonderful music by a much sought-after composer. Listen to track

 

PROKOFIEV – COMPLETE SYMPHONIES             NAXOS 8.506038

Prokofiev - Complete SymphoniesThough sometimes regarded as eccentric and arrogant, Sergey Prokofiev was one of Russia’s finest twentieth century composers. His music ranged from  chamber works to brilliant, fiendishly difficult piano concertos, symphonies and operas, to film music such as Lieutenant Kije and Alexander Nevsky. He wrote the music for nine ballets in all, the best known of these being The Prodigal Son, Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeare’s most famous romantic play. Prokofiev’s seven symphonies, spanning his entire career, are among his major achievements. These recordings by Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, brought together in this fine box set, have received widespread critical acclaim. From the crisp vitality of the youthful and sparkling ‘Classical’ Symphony to the viscerally exciting Third, the Fifth Symphony which for Prokofiev represented ‘the grandeur of the human spirit’, and the deeply moving and heartfelt Sixth Symphony, this is an unforgettable collection crowned by the bitter-sweet, enigmatic Seventh Symphony, the composer’s final significant work before his death a year later. The Fourth Symphony is actually two works. The first was written in 1929 and premiered in Paris in 1930, while the second is a large-scale revision made by the composer in 1947. Both works share significant musical material with Prokofiev’s ballet L’enfant Prodigue or The Prodigal Son.

In this brilliant recording by Marin Alsop explores the revised version of this imposing work. The monumental Fifth Symphony was premiered in 1945 in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory, with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer himself. The Red Army had announced its victory in the war a few minutes before the premiere, so the heroic spirit of the music fitted perfectly. The symphony was a great success at its premiere and remains one of Prokofiev’s most popular works. BBC Music Magazine hailed Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra’s version of this work as ‘An outstanding achievement’. As well as all seven symphones, this fine box set also includes Prokofiev wonders such as his symphonic Autumnal Sketch, the brilliant Lieutenant Kije and Love for Three Oranges Suites, The Prodigal Son (a moral tale involving sensual temptations, drunken debauchery, robbery and remorse), The Year 1941 (written as a response to the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War against Nazi invaders), and Waltz Suite (drawing upon waltzes from three of the composer’s works for stage and screen). Watch the video

 

RUSSIAN PIANO TRIOS, VOL. 3   NAXOS 8.574114

Russian Piano Trio, Vol. 3The latest release in this excellent Naxos series of Russian Piano Trios features Rimsky-Korsakov’s rarely performed Piano Trio in C Minor, César Cui’s À Argenteau No. 2. Farniente (version for piano trio), and Alexander Borodin’s Piano Trio in D Major. Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s influence as composer and teacher was profound in Russia and beyond, yet his chamber music has been overshadowed by his operas and orchestral works. The unfinished Piano Trio in C minor was completed by his son-in-law Maximilian Steinberg to reveal a substantial work of considerable depth. César Cui’s charming and lyrical Farniente is an arrangement from a piano original, while Borodin’s Piano Trio in D major is reminiscent of Mendelssohn in its joyous agility and nostalgic beauty. As well as being an ‘amateur’ composer, Borodin was a scientist and became professor of chemistry at the Imperial Medical-Surgical Academy in St Petersburg. He is probably best known today for his first two symphonies and two string quartets. The award-winning Brahms Trio unites violinist Nikolai Sachenko cellist Kirill Rodin and pianist Natalia Rubinstein. Founded in Moscow in 1988, this outstanding ensemble has performed and recorded much of Russian piano trio repertoire and has made a significant contribution to enlarging the chamber repertoire by rediscovering unknown music by Russian composers of the late-19th and early-20th century.

 

THE MUSIC OF THOMAS DE HARTMANN      NIMBUS

Hartmann PianoRussian composer Thomas de Hartmann was born in Ukraine in 1885 to a family of aristocrats. He showed musical promise before the age of five but at age nine, following the death of his father, he was sent to the military academy in St. Petersburg. Luckily a sympathetic director recognized his unusual talent and allowed him to pursue informal musical studies alongside his military training. At the age of eleven, he became a composition student of Anton Arensky and Taneieff, and studied piano under the legendary Anna Essipova-Leschetizkyat the St. Petersburg Imperial Conservatory, graduating in 1904. De Hartmann’s output as a composer included four symphonies, several operas, concertos, sonatas, and songs as well as fifty-three film scores. By his early twenties he was one of the best-known living composers in Russia and his music was enthusiastically supported by Leopold Stokowski, Pablo Casals and Paul Tortelier. The fragmented path his life was to follow brought him into contact with some of the most intriguing personalities of the century including the dancer Alexander Sacharoff, painter Vasilly Kandinsky, philosopher, mystic, George Gurdjieff and the American design visionary Frank Lloyd Wright. Armenian-Greek Gurdjieff wrote, composed, choreographed and advocated a philosophy that claimed most humans were not really conscious, but living in a kind of waking trance. Between 1918 and 1927, De Hartmann and the intense Gurdjieff co-composed a repertoire of sacred music, which has remained in circulation. His classical music has been largely overlooked as the turbulent historical events through which he lived kept de Hartmann’s music from reaching a wider audience.

Hartmann ChamberNHartmann Songsimbus has now released three excellent new albums of that spotlight the remarkable talents of this unique composer. A two CD set of his PIANO MUSIC (NI6409) features pianist Elan Sicroff, one of the leading interpreters of the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann music. Highlights include Twelve Russian Fairy Tales (such as The Princess of Whom One Never Tires of Admiring) and two impressive sonatas. THE CHAMBER MUSIC OF THOMAS DE HARTMANN (NI6411) is another double CD set, with Elan Sicroff and outstanding soloists such as violinist Katharina Naomi Paul, cellist Anneke Janssen (the lovely Deux pleureuses), Natalia Gabunia, Quirijn van Regteren Altena, Amstel Quartet, flutist Ingrid Geerlings and Joris van Rijn. THE SONGS OF THOMAS DE HARTMANN (NI 6413), includes music set to texts by Marcel Proust, Paul Verlaine, James Joyce and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Sicroff here accompanies Nina Lejderman, Elan Sicroff, soprano Claron McFadden, Judith Petra, Anjolet Rotteveel, Alan Belk and Daniël Hermán Mostert. Thomas de Hartmann papers in the Yale University Music Library reflect a life of early successes followed by constant struggle in the wake of two World Wars and the Russian Revolution. With these papers now widely available for scholarly examination, the opportunity is ripe for a new look at the composer’s unique contributions. In the 1970s, Elan Sicroff studied with Olga de Hartmann, widow of the composer, who introduced him to de Hartmann’s music, and since 1982 he has given numerous recitals of the composer’s work in North America and Europe. In 2006, guitarist Robert Fripp – of the band King Crimson and adherent of the teachings of Gurdjieff – proposed bringing the Russian composer’s music back into concert halls. These new releases from Nimbus will introduce this unique composer’s intriguing work to an even wider audience.

 

MOZART – PIANO SONATAS, VOL 4     SOMM SOMMCD 0629

Mozart Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4Although they are perfect examples of classical form, Mozart’s piano sonatas are not as well known as they should be. Like Haydn, he wrote much of his keyboard music with the option for it to be played on either the harpsichord or the piano, which was only invented thirty years before his birth. The piano sonatas were a relatively late addition to his work, the earliest surviving one being his Sonata in C major (K279) with its delightfully expressive Andante. This dates from 1774, when Mozart was eighteen and in Munich supervising the production of La finta giardiniera. On this new release, the brilliant English pianist Peter Donohoe gives a sparkling performance of that first sonata as well as Mozart’s Sonata 5 in G major (K283). Both were composed as a set of six ‘difficult’ sonatas by the musical prodigy in 1774. Containing hints of the mature genius to come, the Scarlatti-accented outer movements of the First Sonata frame a seductively perfumed, sensuously realised central passage of precocious sophistication. Sonata No. 5 moves from grace to complexity to echo CPE Bach before ending in a breathless, left-hand accented contradanse celebrating the growing freedom and fluidity of Mozart’s piano writing. More emotionally conflicted, Sonata No. 12 in F major (K332) with its lyrical Adagio was composed in the wake of Mozart’s failed search for employment in Paris, his mother’s death and a moment of spiritual despair. Two miniatures complete the volume: the mysterious and engrossing late Minuet in D major (K355) and the austere and searching Allegro in G minor (K312). Mozart sonatas can almost be boring when played badly but the performances here are excellent – natural, inventive, spontaneous and deeply satisfying. Peter Donohoe’s vibrant interpretations of these diverse works elegantly capture the essential poetry in the music. Musical Opinion described Donohoe as ‘an ideal interpreter…no finer accounts of these still neglected masterpieces will have been offered to the public’. This fourth in the acclaimed Somm Recordings series focuses on the composer’s adoption of the newly emerging pianoforte and his bold exploitation of its more sophisticated voicing. The enlightening booklet notes are by Christopher Morley. Highly recommended.

 

PETER HEISE – DROT OG MARSK       DACAPO 6.200006

Peter Heise - Drot og MarskDrot og Marsk (King and Marshal) is a magnificent opera telling the story of a struggle for power in old Denmark and events which led to the murder of King Erik Klipping on 22 November in 1286. The king was around 37 years old and had been stabbed 56 times when he was found murdered in a barn near a little country town south west of Viborg. Was it revenge for a rape, or a politically motivated killing? The king’s military ‘right-hand man’, Marshal Stig Andersen, and eight others were adjudged to be outlaws for their part in the killing and fled to Norway. But was it actually them who stood behind the murder? Peter Heise was organist and music teacher at Sorø Academy and wrote romances as well as larger compositions for soloists, choir and orchestra. To present this dramatic episode from Danish history, a power play rooted in love, jealousy and honour, Heise composed gripping music with a razor-sharp dramatic sense and great lyrical beauty. It is Danish romance at its most powerful and immediate. With a libretto by Christian Richardt, based on Carsten Hauch’s play Marsk Stig, the opera was first performed at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen in 1878. King and Marshal was played for the first time on the stage in 2019 at the Royal Opera House on Holmen in Copenhagen, directed by Amy Lane and Kasper Holten, and conducted by Michael Schønwandt, caught on the live recording in this deluxe SACD box set featuring singers Peter Lodahl, Johan Reuter, Sine Bundgaard, Gert Henning-Jensen, Sofie Elkjær Jensen, Morten Staugaard, Simon Duus, Mathias Monrad Møller, Teit Kanstrup, with The Royal Danish Opera Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Michael Schønwandt.

 

A CLAUDE – BENEDETTO BOCCUZZI    DIGRESSIONE DCTT111

A CLAUDE - BENEDETTO BOCCUZZI New York born musician Benedetto Boccuzzi is a pianist, composer, improviser and teacher with a wide-ranging repertoire, from Frescobaldi to Shostakovich. He performs regularly in Italy and Europe as a solo pianist and chamber musician, including at La Chambre Magique Theatre Company, for which he composed and performed the stage music for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. His new album, À Claude, stems from a profound admiration for Claude Debussy and his legacy, a composer who thanks to his intense aesthetic, formal and timbral research has been a fundamental pillar and turning point for the 20th century’s musical production. The programme aims to be a family reunion, an ancestral tree starting with Debussy and branching out into all the subsequent generations: Olivier Messiaen continued Debussy’s research, merging it with his personal interest in colour and non-European cultures; the Japanese Toru Takemitsu who pays homage to Olivier Messiaen and his rich harmonies; the American George Crumb, whose work takes the piano towards unheard-of timbres and considers Claude Debussy his greatest teacher; the Roma-nian Diana Rotaru, who pays tribute to the two great masters with her Debumessquisse and finally Benedetto Boccuzzi attempting to condense this legacy in his short piano piece (quasi) Notturno.

Musicologist Fiorella Sassanelli notes in the accompanying booklet that: ‘Benedetto Boccuzzi has taken very precise paths in terms of aesthetic and repertoire choices that allow him to present a record that captivates the listener without necessarily being an unprecedented monograph resulting from some musicological discovery. The pianist, already mature, can immediately indulge in the rare privilege of an autobiography in music, which presents the performer (or rather the musician in the broadest sense: here Boccuzzi is both composer and transcriber) through a transversal journey from Debussy to the present day. The subject of the journey is the exploration of the piano as an instrument which opens up the path to a new sonic realm at the very moment in which it is freed of its (traditional) pianistic nature’. Highlights include Debussy’s magical Images and Deux danses pour harpe avec accompagnement d’orchestre d’instruments à cordes, Benedetto Boccuzzi’s striking Notturno, George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, and Messiaen’s brilliant Vingt regards sur l’enfant – Jésus. Watch the video for Debussy’s Danse Profane 

 

1847: LISZT IN ISTANBUL    DIVINE ART DDA 25213

1847 LISZT IN ISTANBULIn 1847 Franz Liszt visited Istanbul (then Constantinople) and performed several recitals on an Erard piano specially shipped for him to play. As early as 1838 he wrote to a friend that ‘I have a desire and strong decision to go to Istanbul, although I would need signed letters of introductions for cities like Izmir, Istanbul and Athens from Prince Metternich.’ With the help of his poet friend Alphonse de Lamartine, Liszt’s visit was finally scheduled for 1847. He spent a month there and gave several concerts including two in the Sultan’s palace. He was fêted and praised highly; at that time the city was a hub of Western culture and a frequent destination of Italian and French opera companies, so Liszt’s operatic transcriptions found a receptive audience. This new CD features Turkish-American pianist Zeynep Ucbasaran playing a selection of works from Liszt’s program which were broadcast throughout Europe in 2011 and performed live to great acclaim. This recital celebrates not only great music but also what was Liszt’s final year as a virtuoso performer. Zeynep Ucbasaran began music studies in Istanbul at the age of four, then in Hungary and Germany before moving to the USA to obtain her degrees in Piano Performance. She has won multiple awards and performed in many parts of the world. She naturally has an affinity with the musical culture and heritage of her native Turkey. Highlights include Liszt’s Grande Paraphrase de la Marche de Giuseppe Donizetti and Réminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor, the Introduction and Polonaise for Bellini’s opera I Puritani, Erlkönig (Schubert’s Erl King arranged by Liszt), Chopin’s Mazurka in B minor, and Carl Maria von Weber’s Invitation to the Dance. Zeynep Ucbasaran plays with great passion, exuberance and flair, bringing vividly to life one of List’s most historic performances. Listen to Schubert’s Erl King

 

RICHARD STRAUSS – COMPLETE TONE POEMS    SWR 19426

RICHARD STRAUSS - COMPLETE TONE POEMSRichard Strauss was born in 1864 in Munich (then in the Kingdom of Bavaria, now in Germany), the son of Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. Richard received a thorough, though conservative, musical education from his father, writing his first music at the age of six. He was to compose music continuously between then and his death almost eighty years later. Strauss married the soprano Pauline Maria de Ahna in 1894 and she was a great source of inspiration. From his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he always preferred the soprano voice above all others. His style began to change when he met Alexander Ritter, a composer and violinist, and the husband of one of Richard Wagner’s nieces. Ritter persuaded Strauss to abandon the conservative style of his youth and begin writing tone poems. While composers like Schumann and Brahms held fast to the classical concept of the symphony, it was composers of the New German School, such as Wagner and Liszt, who preferred the tone poem as a modern means of expression for orchestral music. It tries to convey non-musical topics, like legends, tales, myths, and sometimes novels, in musical terms: programme music in its best sense. Strauss’s boisterous self-confidence allowed him the conviction that a different ‘formula’ would enable him to roll out his musical imagination with inimitable style. His success in doing so has ensured the popularity of these works to the present day. The SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden and Freiburg under the baton of its former chief conductor Francois-Xavier Roth recorded all ten tone poems, as well as the composer’s musical epitaph Metamorphosen, between 2012 and 2016. These recordings have now been re-released as a collector’s item in this exquisite 5-album box set. There are fine performances especially of the revolutionary Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), Strauss’s first tone poem Aus Italien (written after a trip to Italy), the dramatic Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote (based on the novel by Cervantes), the harmonious Symphonia Domestica, and the sensuously beautiful Eine Alpensinfonie (An Alpine Symphony).

 

ERIC CRAVEN – PIECES FOR PIANISTS, VOL. 1     METIER MSV 28601

Eric CravenFor most of his life Eric Craven has kept a very low profile, concentrating on his teaching career and quietly developing his ‘non-prescriptive’ composing method, a sort of aleatory style but which allows the performer varying degrees of freedom. His earlier cycle of short pieces, ‘SET’, was recorded after Craven was persuaded by leading pianists to make his work available. Highly praised, that technique is shown again to great effect in the ‘Pieces for Pianists’, producing music that is varied, interesting, but perfectly accessible for listener and performer. The composer states that his hope is ‘to reward any pianist with even modest ability with immediate success’ while also providing a challenge to more accomplished pianists to explore new territory. Mary Dullea is an Irish pianist based in London, who enjoys a busy career as a soloist and chamber musician and regularly performs and broadcasts in many countries. She is also Reader in Music at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her exceptional discography demonstrates her support as a champion of new music. Her pianism and musicality as well as remarkable virtuosity make her an ideal interpreter of Eric Craven’s joyous, playful and satisfying music which, as she says, ‘will prove endlessly rewarding’. This collection is the first of two volumes of world premiere recordings available on CD and in HD digital audio. Each of the 25 pieces, simply named 1 to 25, has its individual charm and miniaturist precision, by turns reflective, ethereal, authoritative and questioning. Detailed notes on this adventurous music and album concept by Michael Quinn are included in a booklet that also has biographies of both pianist and composer. ‘Every note, every phrase must be there for a purpose. An immediacy has to be established. There has to be a clarity of ideas and a clarity of the expression of those ideas.’ – Eric Craven.

TELEMANN – GRAND CONCERTOS       CPO 555414-2

Telemann - Complete Grand ConcertosGeorg Philipp Telemann was one of the eighteenth century’s most versatile and productive composers. Almost completely self-taught in music, he became a composer against his family’s wishes, writing an enormous number of religious compositions and operas, most of which have not survived. He settled in Hamburg in 1721, becoming musical director of the city’s five main churches, and wrote a large amount of music for educating organists under his direction. This included 48 chorale preludes and 20 small fugues (modal fugues) to accompany his chorale harmonizations for 500 hymns. His music incorporates French, Italian, and German national styles, and he was at times even influenced by Polish popular music. Remaining at the forefront of new musical tendencies, his music is an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles. Johann Sebastian Bach made Telemann the godfather of his son. Among Telemann’s countless instrumental works are about 130 concertos for instruments that include the trumpet, oboe, violin, piccolo, flute, recorder and viola d’amore, as well as basso contunuo (harpsichord and contrabass). After its wonderful, standard-setting complete recording of Telemann’s wind concertos on eight CDs, CPO has now released this set of delightful concertos for mixed ensembles. These works from the heart’s core of his oeuvre come on six CDs in a splendid box set. Performances feature a wide range of instrumental groupings against the background of an accompanying string orchestra that evidently stirred his creative imagination most strongly of all, inspiring him as Bach in his Brandenburg Concertos to invent all sorts of different ensemble types. Here Telemann’s oft-cited ‘mixed style’ unfolds in all its bright colour: French elegance, Italian brilliance, German erudition, and Polish-Hanakian spirit: we find all of the above in these gems of Late Baroque musical performance that often enough opens the door to Empfindsamkeit and the Sturm und Drang. No better and more knowledgeable advocates for this project could be found than Michael Schneider and the soloists and musicians of La Stagione Frankfurt, who perform beautifully with excellent recorded sound quality and great variety with regard to the instruments employed.

 

SCHUBERT – SAKONTALA     CARUS 83.509

SCHUBERT - SAKONTALAFranz Schubert died in 1828, aged only thirty-one, but in his short life he wrote some 600 Lieder and nine symphonies as well as liturgical music, operas, incidental music and a large body of chamber and solo piano works. He was never able to secure adequate permanent employment, and for most of his career he relied on the support of friends and family. Interest in his work increased dramatically after his death when composers such as Liszt, Schumann and Mendelssohn championed his music and he has become one of the best-loved of all classical music composers. A considerable number of Schubert’s works have been neglected however and his 16 operas are almost entirely unknown (only three were produced in his lifetime). This is largely due to generally poor libretti and the belief that the operas are dramatically ineffective. This reconstruction and recording of his opera Sakontala is therefore overdue and very welcome. The two-act opera was written in 1820 to a libretto by Schubert’s friend, physics professor Johann Philipp Neumann, based on the Sanskrit story by classical Indian poet Kalidasa telling of Shakuntala’s love for King Duschmanta and her rejection. Schubert’s unfinished work has been brilliantly reconstructed by the award-winning Danish author, conductor and composer Karl Aage Rasmussen, based on a copy of the original manuscript from the Schubert Society in Tübingen. This two-disc set features a world premiere live recording from 2006 made at the Stadthalle Metzingen. The Kammerchor Stuttgart and Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen are stylishly conducted by Frieder Bernius, with German soprano Simone Nold as Sakontala, tenor Donát Havár as Duschmanta, the excellent Martin Snell as High Priest Kanna and Konrad Jarnot as Madhawia, the court jester. This is a remarkable and highly enjoyable performance of an almost lost work by one of the greatest composers of the romantic era, wonderfully brought to life by Rasmussen’s reconstruction ‘to give the general public access to almost two hours of unknown music by Schubert’.

 

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
Rossini – Moïse

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.