This month’s NEW ON NAXOS presents Laurent Pelly’s new staging of Léo Delibes’ opera Lakmé for the Opéra Comique. Raphaël Pichon conducts the ensemble Pygmalion, and an outstanding cast starring soprano Sabine Devieilhe (‘petite and bursting with stage confidence in the title role’ – Interlude). The performance also features baritone Stéphane Degout, ‘whose Nilakantha was a commanding presence’ (parterre box).
Other highlights include esteemed conductor Antoni Wit directing the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra in Krzysztof Penderecki’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Chinese Songs’; violinist Nikolay Madoyan and pianist Armine Grigoryan performing delightful works by some of Armenia’s finest composers; a festive mix of fresh and favourite carols sung by the critically acclaimed Vasari Singers; and more.
Penderecki’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Chinese Songs’ is an intimate, chamber-scale work for bass-baritone and orchestra. It sets eight Chinese poems in German adaptations linked with interludes for the two-stringed erhu. It proved to be Penderecki’s last completed symphony and is imbued with great pathos as well as melodic beauty. The Trumpet Concertino is taut, spirited and full of dextrous interplay between the soloist and orchestra. His single-movement Concerto doppio for violin, cello and orchestra, is a work of keen unpredictability.
Zoltán Kodály’s life was largely occupied with collecting his country’s folk music and devising the internationally renowned method of music education that bears his name. His orchestral output is therefore a relatively small but astonishingly colourful and rhythmic legacy, brimming with Hungarian spirit. Háry János is the charming story of a veteran soldier and the ‘tall tales’ he spins about his life, while Summer Evening is a timeless evocation of that gentle moment in the day. The Symphony in C major occupied Kodály for over 20 years, the composer’s disarming explanation being, ‘I was busy with more important work’.
The second volume in this series (Volume 1 is on 8.574516) is devoted to three more ‘London’ symphonies. No. 96 in D major ‘The Miracle’ – so named, as the legend goes, after a falling chandelier narrowly missed the audience during its Hanover Square Rooms premiere – exemplifies the grandeur of these works. The structural surprises of No. 97 in C major and the hymnal slow movement of No. 98 in B flat major reinforce Haydn’s inexhaustible compositional versatility and inventiveness. These recordings are the product of a two-decade partnership between Adam Fischer and the Danish Chamber Orchestra during which they have explored the most effective technical solutions necessary for performing these works.
WORLD PREMIERE RECORDINGS
Heinrich Marschner developed his own distinctive operatic style that enabled him to become the leading German opera composer between Weber and the rise of Wagner. The works in this second volume of overtures and stage music (Volume 1 is on 8.574449) span much of his compositional life, from the early commission for Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, a work that explores ethical philosophy, to the sumptuous and varied excerpts from Austin. The stirring overture from his dramatic cantata Klänge aus Osten reinforces his orchestral mastery and sense of colour.
Premiered in 1883, Lakmé remains one of the most popular of all French operas. Reflecting contemporary tastes, the original source material presented a tragic liaison between a French officer and a Tahitian woman on a Pacific island, but Delibes moved the location to British-ruled India where the two central characters are torn between passion and loyalty, and assailed by a fanatical religious leader. For this opera Delibes wrote music of indelible beauty, including the much-loved ‘Flower Duet’ and ‘Bell Song’.
Jean-Baptiste Lully’s unrivalled position at the Sun King’s court gave him freedom to produce numerous grand theatre works. Acis et Galatée is acknowledged as one of his masterpieces with its adroit alternation of effects and situations and its substantial use of dances and choruses. The opera was composed as part of lavish celebrations for the Dauphin’s stay at the castle of Anet and is a pastorale héroïque, with its plot based on the love story between the nymph Galatée and the shepherd Acis. The work’s ‘heroic’ element is provided by the presence of the mythical Neptune and cyclops Polyphème who, for the love of Galatée, crushes Acis under a boulder.
Small in form yet rich in artistic significance, these delightful Armenian works for violin and piano are both evocative and songful. Komitas Vardapet’s poetic examples include Krounk (‘The Crane’), the anthemic symbol of the motherland, whilst Khachaturian is represented by his enticing Dance in B flat major, his first ever work, and by violin arrangements from his popular ballet Gayane. This album presents some of Armenia’s finest composers in a programme of nostalgic evocations, folkloric infusions and exquisite melodies.
Lorenzo Perosi was both a priest and a composer, enriching Italian music with a large body of transcendent choral music that was admired by Puccini. Much less well known is his chamber music, written during a creative outpouring after serious illness between 1928 and 1931. The piano quintets are marked by rich melodic ideas and a buoyancy of mood. The String Trio No. 1 in G minor is admirably concise and the accompanying six string trios reflect a strong command of counterpoint. Perosi’s piano quartets and String Trio No. 2 are available on Naxos 8.574375.
As a young composer immersed in the new bourgeois scene in Vienna, Schubert was perfectly positioned to write for the many salons that had opened in the city. The fashionable dances he wrote for them also gave him an avenue for their publication and the selling of scores. These charming gems were not intended for the concert stage but offer a surprising and seemingly spontaneous outpouring of melody and harmonic wit – and even imitations of Tyrolean yodelling. The 12 Écossaises, D. 299 are known to be the first work Schubert composed away from Vienna. Didier Castell-Jacomin employs the 1982 Henle edition based on manuscripts and first editions.
INCLUDES WORLD PREMIERE RECORDINGS
Ivor Gurney’s songs (Naxos 8.572151) have long earned him renown but his works for piano, composed over the period of a decade, are hardly known. The lyrically beautiful Five Preludes reflect influences as wide as Schumann and Scriabin but preserve Gurney’s expressive freshness. The Sonatas Nos. 1 and 3 inhabit very different sound worlds from each other, and only one movement of Sonata No. 2 has survived, a deeply poignant elegy – all of which are heard here in world premiere recordings. His poem for piano, Autumn, offers further opportunity to discover this rarely heard music by a composer for whom the pursuit of beauty was of the utmost importance.
INCLUDES A WORLD PREMIERE RECORDINGS
Christmas is a time for special musical experiences, from gentle traditional carols to rousing calls for worship. This recording fully represents the Vasari Singers’ renowned seasonal programmes, mixing familiar festive fun with newly inspired creations such as the world premiere recording of Helena Paish’s beautiful setting of words by the youngest of the Brontë sisters. From the evocative narrative of Finzi’s In Terra Pax to the joyous potpourri of A Merry Little Christmas, this, like the Vasari Singers’ previous Christmas release, A Winter’s Light (Naxos 8.573030), is a recording to treasure.
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!