The December NEW ON NAXOS features Stefan Herheim’s staging of Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. Magnus Loddgard conducts the Arnold Schoenberg Chor and the Wiener Symphoniker together with an excellent line-up of soloists starring boy soprano Tempu Ishijima as Amahl, mezzo Dshamilja Kaiser as Amahl’s mother and the Three Kings played by tenor Paul Schweinester, bass-baritone Nikolay Borchev and bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer. Bachtrack wrote of this production that ‘There was magic aplenty in director Stefan Herheim’s bold recontextualisation of the tale. Magically and skilfully done… Musically there is not a complaint to be had [and] the Wiener Symphoniker played beautifully’.
Other highlights include Giovanni Sgambati’s Piano Concerto in G minor and the world premiere recording of Sinfonia festiva; Zygmunt Noskowski and Władysław Żeleński’s Violin Sonatas recorded by violinist Laurence Kayaleh, and pianist Bernadene Blaha; Vol. 4 in Johannes Brahm’s Complete Songs series presented by pianist Ulrich Eisenlohr, soprano Alina Wunderlin and tenor Kieran Carrel; and more.
† WORLD PREMIERE RECORDINGS
Giovanni Sgambati led the revival of Italian orchestral music during the late 19th century. He was a favourite student of Liszt, admired by Wagner, and a pivotal figure in the emancipation of his country’s music from the dominance of bel canto opera. The Piano Concerto in G minor is a stirring and inventive work signalling a new beginning for Italian piano music on the international stage. It offers a synthesis of the possibilities of the genre, evoking Liszt, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, as Sgambati constantly transforms his thematic material to heroic effect. Sinfonia festiva is a short, confidently written work inspired by the dance-like character of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.
INCLUDES WORLD PREMIERE RECORDINGS
The idea of a piccolo concerto might have seemed far-fetched at the beginning of the 20th century, but numerous composers have now expanded its role as the highest instrument of the orchestra into a true solo voice. With this recording Francesco Viola has brought together four unknown works by Eastern European composers – the Romanian Andreas Baksa; Slovenian composer Uroš Krek; German-Croatian composer Boris Papandopulo; and Hungarian composer Frigyes Hidas whose Oboe Concerto is recorded here in Francesco Viola’s transcription for piccolo. All of these concertos are filled with atmosphere, passion and high spirits.
Premiered in 1951, Amahl and the Night Visitors was the first opera specifically composed for television, though Gian Carlo Menotti admitted that he had conceived it for the stage. The magical story tells of Amahl, a disabled boy who befriends the Three Kings when they stop at his house on their journey to see the newborn Jesus. Amahl decides to give his crutch to Jesus, at which point his leg is miraculously healed. Long a Christmas favourite, this new Viennese production, sung in German, boldly re-examines the story finding its key elements to be fantasy, empathy and the enduring power of love.
Francesco Cavalli was successor to Monteverdi and the most influential opera composer in Venice during the mid-17th century. His dramma per musica, Il Xerse, was innovative for the period, with a tangled plot of affections and relationships based on history rather than mythology. Its enormous success was due in no small part to Xerse’s bizarre and overblown character and his famous declaration of love for a tree, ‘Ombra mai fu’. Cavalli’s Il Xerse is commedia dell’arte theatre that creates an exotic world aimed at inspiring awe in its audiences, enhanced with music that conveys an avalanche of emotions.
Both Zygmunt Noskowski and Władysław Żeleński were leading exponents of Polish nationalism in the period from the last quarter of the 19th century. Noskowski is best remembered as a symphonist but his large-scale Violin Sonata in A minor is an imposing work that suggests the influence both of Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata and of Brahms. Żeleński was as eminent a teacher as he was a composer, seeking to broaden Poland’s provincial outlook through works such his opera Janek (Naxos 8.660521-22). His Violin Sonata in F major typifies the essentially conservative idiom that Żeleński pursued in his maturity.
WORLD PREMIERE RECORDINGS
Mozart’s return to Vienna in 1781 initiated a remarkable period of inventiveness and productivity. In late 1784 he wrote the Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, a work Mozart performed in Frankfurt on the occasion of Leopold II’s election as Holy Roman Emperor and which is notable for its rhythmic vivacity and sense of colour. In 1786 he wrote the Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major – a work that stretched the concerto genre considerably with its operatic qualities and dramatic dialogue. Ignaz Lachner’s ingenious transcriptions show a complete grasp of Mozart’s idiom, incorporating much instrumental detail and reinventing the music’s underlying dramatic scheme within a chamber context.
INCLUDES WORLD PREMIERE RECORDINGS
The cello was a vital part of Catalan musical expression in the first half of the 20th century. Pablo Casals as composer and cello virtuoso was its revolutionary force, and his student Gaspar Cassadó joined him in writing superb transcriptions and expressive original works with a strong sense of tradition and national melodic flavour. Casablancas’ Cant per a Frederic Mompou ‘Remembrança’ pays homage to another great friend and colleague, while Enrique Granados’s soulful Madrigal is accompanied by delectable arrangements of piano works with cello such as the Goyescas. A digital single featuring more pieces by Casals, Cassadó and Mompou is available on 9.70354.
INCLUDES A WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING
Angel Stanislav Wang, winner of the 63rd Jaén Prize International Piano Competition in 2022, presents his Naxos debut recital with a selection of works he performed during the competition. Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor is an undisputed masterpiece of the Romantic era, while Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor is one of the most intense and eloquent chamber works of the 20th century. Spanish music is always present at Jaén and is represented here by a selection from Granados’s Goyescas, and by Laura Vega’s competition commission Poema a un amor eterno – a work of intense emotion, calling upon the pianist to be more of a poet or rhapsodist than a virtuoso.
WORLD PREMIERE RECORDINGS
Billy Arcila, raised in Medellín, Colombia, has lived in the United States for over 40 years, where he teaches and performs as one of California’s foremost guitarists. This album, the first to be made of Arcila’s music, contains works ranging across his entire compositional life, from his first published work to the most recent. Interspersed with the music of other admired composers which exploit nationalist elements, such as the bambuco and pasillo rhythms, Arcila’s autobiographical guitar music embraces the nostalgic, the verdant and the vibrant.
Brahms’ early songs express an exuberance that may surprise those who are unfamiliar with this element of his music making. The Op. 6 set includes a Mediterranean-flavoured song in bolero rhythm and songs of hope and joy, displaying an apparent simplicity that was hard-won and the product of constant refinement. Based on folk songs, the Op. 14 collection is astonishingly varied, ranging from folk melodies to medieval harmonies and Baroque-styled richness. Elsewhere Brahms charts more melodious, elegiac settings in the Op. 19 set and confronts melancholy and loss in Op. 48.
The New & Now playlist features all that is new and exciting in the world of classical music, whether it’s new music, new presentations or new performers. With more than 200 new releases each year, and artists from around the world, there is always something new to discover with Naxos.
This month, there are some fantastic new additions to the playlist!