RUSSIAN PIANO TRIOS, VOL. 3 NAXOS 8.574114
The 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
Russian 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.
Nimbus 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
Although 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
Drot 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
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
In 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 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
For 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
Georg 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
Franz 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
The 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)
Ludwig 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
Giacomo 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
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
Carl 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
Jean 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
Antonin 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 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.