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Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, March 2010

Suites from Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier, Frau ohne Schatten and Josephs-Legende are well played by the Buffalo Philharmonic (8.572041)…Excellent sound.



Arthur Lintgen
Fanfare, March 2010

This CD contains…of the best sound that I have heard from Naxos…this well- performed and engineered collection should offer value to anyone interested in securing this music on one CD.



Lawrence Hansen
American Record Guide, January 2010

Naxos’s sonics are full, three-dimensional, and vibrant—all the better to show off the orchestra’s assured, resplendent playing...Falletta’s interpretation perfectly captures Strauss’s combination of rollicking humor, schmaltz, and sublime lyricism.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



Tim Smith
The Baltimore Sun, December 2009

VIVALDI, A.: 4 Seasons (The) / Mandolin Concerto, RV 425 / Lute Concerto, RV 93 (arr. for piano) (Biegel) 8.570031
JANACEK, L.: Operatic Orchestral Suites, Vol. 1 (arr. P. Breiner) - Jenůfa / The Excursions of Mr Broucek 8.570555
JANACEK, L.: Operatic Orchestral Suites, Vol. 2 (arr. P. Breiner) - Kat’a Kabanova / The Makropulos Affair 8.570556
STRAUSS, R.: Rosenkavalier (Der) Suite / Symphonic Fantasy on Die Frau ohne Schatten / Symphonic Fragment from Josephs Legende (Falletta) 8.572041

Nice. First, Janáček did not make suites from his operas. Peter Breiner arranged these suites. Some of the items he lifted pretty much whole. Others he hunted and snipped and pasted. I’ve got nothing against such procedures per se. After all, it’s done with movie soundtrack albums all the time. However, I really have to wonder why Breiner did it. Whom did he serve?

At one point the answer would have been Janáček himself. The operas weren’t all that well known beyond Czechoslovakia, after all, and such suites might well have introduced many to the music, thus leading to performances and recordings. However, all the operas here have received already recordings (still currently available) and a couple have actually made standard rep. Broucek and Makropulos, I believe, have even been done at the Met, that most hidebound of houses. Consequently, you might think that these suites now introduce the music-lover to the operas. Listeners can dip into the music and decide whether they want to go further.As I mentioned in my first post of gift suggestions (for those on your shopping list, or for yourself when all those gift cards come in), I ended up limiting myself to opera, orchestral and piano. Here are my picks from the last two categories:

PIANO

Two of the most enjoyable keyboard CDs I heard this year both feature pianist Jeffrey Biegel, and both are ever so slightly (and delectably) out of the mainstream.

Even if you’ve got a zillion recordings of the Mozart piano sonatas, you’re not likely to have any that include embellishments of the repeats. In the three-disc Volume 1 of his survey of the sonatas for the E1 Music label, Biegel argues that, given Mozart’s famed improvisational skills, there’s room for improve today when sections of a sonata movement get repeated. Doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to me. Then again, I’m in favor of embellishing repeated sections in Mozart arias, a practice that relatively few singers dare to try. And I think even the repeats in symphonies—not just by Mozart—could stand a little variety, Maybe not actual changes or additions to the notes, but at least variances in dynamics and emphasis. Ah, but I digress.

The modest amount of ornamentation and variation Biegel applies in the sonatas seems just right, adding a welcome dimension of spontaneity and intensified character. That’s not the only distinction. The pianist also demonstrates admirable technical fluency, considerable tonal shading and a great deal of stylish sensitivity to make this a first-rate exploration of Mozart’s ever-rewarding sonatas.

For even more of a left-field excursion, how about a piano transcription of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”? I’m so over-dosed on this music that I didn’t think any version of it would awaken my senses, but Biegel won me over with the first notes of his own keyboard version, contained on a Naxos release. Although Vivaldi’s seasonal-themed collection of descriptive violin concertos would not seem, at first glance, to translate easily to the piano, Biegel provides the color, nuance and virtuosity to make it work. He fills out the disc with Andrew Gentile’s classy arrangements of Vivaldi’s C major Mandolin Concerto and D major Lute Concerto. Again, the experience proves thoroughly winning.

ORCHESTRAL

Sure, you can find the usual symphonies and such among current recordings, but how about something a little different? I was very impressed with three releases, all on Naxos, devoted to orchestral suites from stage works by Strauss and Janáček.

The Strauss collection, with the Buffalo Philharmonic conducted by JoAnn Falletta (yes, Virginia, there is another very talented American female conductor besides Marin Alsop), contains one truly familiar item, the Suite from “Der Rosenkavalier,” which gets a sturdy workout. What makes the disc more appealing is the inclusion of a less-often encountered suite from another opera, “Die Frau ohne Schatten,” and a suite from the relatively obscure ballet “Josephs-Legende.” Falletta secures vibrant responses from the orchestra in both of these richly layered scores.

Even farther a field are the premiere recordings of orchestral suites fashioned by Peter Breiner out of the potent operas of Janáček. Breiner captures the flavor of the composer’s sound and dramatic instincts so well that it’s easy to imagine Janáček. penned the suites himself. At more than a half-hour each, there is a lot of action in these pieces, and the New Zealand Symphony digs deeply into to the material with the guidance of Breiner on the podium. The first release pairs “Jenůfa” with “The Excursion of Mr. Broucek.” The second contains suites from “Katya Kabanova” and “The Makropulos Affair.”

These three discs would be perfect for the opera-shy person on your shopping list. Not a note of vocal music, but a strong sense of each opera’s melodic and emotional power.

BONUS RECOMMENDATION

If you’re having a tough time deciding on a classical music gift, you can’t go wrong with a hefty collection—six CDs, 111 tracks, 111 artists—released by Deutsche Grammophon to celebrate its 111th anniversary. The selections are arranged alphabetically by performer, so it means that the repertoire is constantly varying—orchestral, vocal, solo instrumental, chamber. The one constant is quality, since the musicians include the likes of Argerich, Caruso, Furtwängler, Heifetz, Maazel, Michelangeli, Segovia, Rostropovich and Wunderlich. The set wouldn’t necessarily be for the classical music purist, who may well frown on miscellaneous excerpts, but it’s a handsome compendium of (and a possible introduction to) the art form and those who have served it nobly for more than a century.

However, Breiner’s suites give you very little idea of the power of the operas. At most, I can say that they’re well-fashioned and make for a pleasant listening experience. But, to take one example, Kát’a Kabanová is not a pleasant opera, and you miss the tragedy in Breiner’s suite. Breiner fails to catch the eccentricity of Broucek, and I don’t see how he could have done so. Janáček’s operas depend on text and singing actors as well as the music to make anything near their full effect. So I’d take the plunge and buy a complete opera instead. The Cunning Little Vixen introduced me to Janáček’s operas and hooked me, so that I wanted to hear as much as I could. And, by the way, get the operas sung in Czech, rather than in German or in English. You will probably understand nothing without a gloss in front of you, but in general, singing translations notoriously suck and diminish the poetry of the text.

Other than those caveats, these CDs comprise an afternoon of agreeable listening. Breiner and his kiwis do very well. I’ve never really listened to the New Zealand Symphony before, mainly because their repertoire interested me to the exclusion of their performances. Now that they play something that interests me less, I can focus on them: a lovely string sound and capable of sustaining large spans of music. I can’t tell how much Breiner has contributed to this, but obviously the capability lies within the players. The sound is acceptable without crossing over into the super-spectacular.



Colin Anderson
International Record Review, December 2009

JoAnn Falletta cares greatly for shape, line and detail, and the Buffalo Philharmonic musicians respond with some fine playing and with good balance…this is a very recommendable disc, well recorded, and showcasing am  American orchestra and conductor who make fine music together and who certainly relish Strauss’s many gifts to them, and, in turn, to us.



Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, November 2009

While the Rosenkavalier suite will no doubt attract most purchasers, the other two works—written by Strauss in his last years in an attempt to popularise two of his earlier compositions that he considered unduly overlooked—are, in many ways, of even greater interest.

Diaghilev’s ballet Josephs-Legende, for which Strauss’s music had been originally written, proved to be a flop on two counts. In the first place it had an over-inflated storyline into which the librettist—bon viveur, dilettante and man about town Count Harry Kessler—had gleefully inserted a mass of sublimated and not-so-sublimated S&M and homoerotic themes. And, fatally, its first run in 1914 was torpedoed by the wave of virulently anti-German sentiment that swept France and its allied nations shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in August that year…But if more than an hour of Strauss at his lusciously ripest is too much for you—as Strauss himself, busily reworking the score amidst the very different atmosphere of austerity in post-World War II Berlin, obviously thought might be the case for some—then maybe the cleverly abbreviated “symphonic fragment” is for you. It has occasionally been recorded in the past, though, significantly, that was often only when it was impossible not to do so—in, for instance, Kempe’s well-known complete traversal of Strauss’s orchestral works or in Koch Schwann’s CD series The Unknown Richard Strauss. But JoAnn Falletta’s new Naxos disc easily trumps those, and not only for the superb quality of recorded sound which is so important in dense, colourful late Romantic scores such as this one, virtually a Cecil B. DeMille epic set to music. Her interpretation is also spot on, combining the requisite sensuality, spectacle and tenderness as appropriate to the clearly delineated elements of the story. It carries the listener on inexorably to the drama’s stirring climax of Joseph’s celestial transfiguration.

Because the music for Josephs-Legende was written for dance, it has, perhaps, a more immediate appeal than that for Strauss’s 1919 opera Die Frau ohne Schatten. Nevertheless, in his final years Strauss also believed that he could successfully popularise the latter by reworking themes from the latter into a shorter and purely orchestral work. For this abbreviation, the composer was far more selective in his editing than he was to be the following year with the Diaghilev ballet. Here he jettisoned much of the Emperor’s and Empress’s music, cherry-picking instead themes associated with the opera’s other couple, the dyer and his wife, with whom, it seems, he himself felt a far greater personal empathy. As such, it becomes impossible to follow the consistent story of the opera through the music, which presumably explains why Strauss instead regarded the piece as a more generally conceived “symphonic fantasy”. Once again, though, there is some utterly glorious music to be heard—and although it is not quite so enjoyably over the top as the Josephs-Legende score, its darker colours are perhaps only to be expected in music penned in the catastrophic aftermath of 1918’s defeat and demoralisation rather than in the headily hedonistic pre-war era. This new account is once more a very fine one, though the jury must remain out on whether it will succeed in its acid test of driving listeners to explore Die Frau ohne Schatten itself, arguably one of the composer’s more flawed and “difficult” stage works (Michael Kennedy has described it as Strauss’s “most symbolic and intellectual creation, a mixture of fairy tale, magic and Freudian psychology”, which gives a broad hint as to why it may never have attracted at least the matinee audiences.)

There is no such difficulty about Der Rosenkavalier, which, ever since its composition exactly a century ago, has been hugely popular. The suite presented here was written immediately after the opera’s initial success and is less a popularising reworking—as in the other two works on this disc—than a simply glorious potpourri of its most popular melodies. In his unusually chatty and enjoyable booklet notes, Edward Yadzinsky puts it very well: “All the renditions are centered around the florid waltzes…And in every setting, the music resounds with lusty tunes, swaggering rhythms, gorgeous harmonies and a scintillating orchestration, all in tribute to the great Viennese tradition. Wunderbar...!”

Recorded in the fabulously clear acoustics of their base at Kleinhans Music Hall, the Buffalo Philharmonic has a fine pedigree, with past Music Directors including William Steinberg (1945–1952), Josef Krips (1954–1962), Michael Tilson Thomas (1971–1979) and Semyon Bychkov (1985–1989). JoAnn Falletta (1999–present) is now not only the first woman but the longest serving incumbent in the post and this hugely enjoyable and bargain-priced disc indicates that she need fear no comparison with any of her illustrious predecessors.



Lawrence A Johnson
Gramophone, November 2009

Solid and accomplished as the Buffalo ensemble is…idiomatic sensibility and elegance…and the recording is not top-drawer either, muted and full with little brilliance on top…the Naxos price a factor.



Uncle Dave Lewis
Allmusic.com, November 2009

…the three pieces offered on Naxos’ Richard Strauss: Josephs-Legende; Rosenkavalier, the Symphonic Fragment from Josephs-Legende fares the best.

…it’s a beautiful sound and the orchestra is marvelously in tune, but the music seems oddly restrained when it comes to anything requiring weight and power…



Infodad.com, October 2009

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic play these suites—as well as the familiar one from Der Rosenkavalier—with spirit and enthusiasm. The music is clearly Straussian, filled with sweep and power and very lush orchestration, always a Strauss hallmark. The music from Die Frau ohne Schatten is somewhat less effective in this form than the opulent score taken from Josephs-Legende, which is based on the Biblical story of Joseph’s attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife. The ballet music simply flows more naturally on its own. But all this music is interesting and worth hearing…Falletta’s conducting is propulsive…she keeps everything together well…a very interesting mixture of some familiar Strauss music with some that most listeners will not have heard before.



Joshua Meggitt
Cyclic Defrost, October 2009

The latest disc in Naxos’s ongoing Strauss series features orchestral excerpts from the German composer’s later, tamer stage productions, but there’s still enough violent brass and crazed dance whorls to satisfy those keen on his edgier sounds.

‘Der Rosenkavalier’ of 1910 remains his most beloved opera, a comedic romp inspired by the Viennese waltz, of which this orchestral suite packs in most of the hits. For those, like myself, who cannot tolerate full operas this is all one needs, a lush, gay riot, like carousing drunk on vintage Blue Nun. His Wagneresque postwar morality play ‘Die Frau ohne Schatten’ (‘The Woman Without a Shadow’) is, as the title implies, more ambivalent, alternating reflective calm with rich romantic flourishes, while the final ‘Symphonic Fragment from Josephs-Legende’ is equally bold and jarring. Fans of the more rough-hewn ballroom grit of Tom Waits and Tindersticks ought to see how it was done here first: the veneer may sparkle with all the lustre of a chandelier, but the lights conceal the idiosyncratic style of a true maverick.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2009

Why such a tuneful and lavishly scored work has been excluded from the regular orchestral repertoire is difficult to understand. Completed in 1914 to a commission from the Ballets Russes, Richard Strauss subsequently reduced his extended ballet, Josephs-Legende to create a Symphonic Fragment for use in the concert hall. At times looking back in the mode of Le bourgeois gentlehomme, Strauss created alluring scenes to cover the story-line of Joseph, a virtuous shepherd who rejects the seductive advances of Potiphar’s wife. The rejected woman has him chained and sentenced to death, the Archangel arriving in the nick of time to save him. It does require an orchestra who can move from moments of slimline transparency to outpourings of voluptuous warmth, the Buffalo Philharmonic providing both under their conductor, JoAnn Falletta, Their account of the suite from Der Rosenkavalier is also most welcome, though here it comes into a highly competitive market, and if they do not have the upholstered Berlin or Vienna strings, they lack nothing in good intentions. It is also good to have the Symphonic Fantasy on Die Frau ohne Schatten, an opera that seems to defy an adequate cast, Falletta here steering her orchestra skilfully through the complex and dense score bringing clarity and good sense to the grand gestures. The brass are excellent, and the strings scream in the right possible way. You have to take the Rosenkavalier as a large bonus track—but you probably already have it in any case—and enjoy the really outstanding performances that come with it, as I know of nothing comparable. Tim Handley’s production and engineering is superb.






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12:56:26 PM, 21 April 2014
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