This month’s NEW ON NAXOS spotlight recording is Leonard Slatkin’s latest addition to his acclaimed Ravel Orchestral Works cycle with the Orchestre National de Lyon, now on its third volume featuring some of the composer’s popular orchestrations.
Other highlights include Irish composer Victor Herbert’sCello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, performed by cellist Mark Kosower, the Ulster Orchestra and under the baton of renowned conductor JoAnn Falletta; world première recording of Portuguese composer João de Sousa Carvalho’s ‘serenata’ L’Angelica, with soprano Joana Seara in the title role, with the Concerto Campestre conducted by Pedro Castro;Chinese composer Qigang Chen’s orchestral music, featuring pianist Chun-Chieh Yen, erhu player Jie-Min Yan, and the Taiwan Philharmonic, under the baton of Shao-Chia Lü; Gerard Schwarz conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra in recordings of Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov; and guitar concerto performances, highlighted by the world première recording of Leo Brouwer’s Concierto de Benicàssim, plus other works by Frank Martin andJoaquín Rodrigo.
Maurice Ravel’s incomparable skill in orchestration and command of orchestral colour is evident both in his own works and in his orchestrations of music by other composers. His versions of both Chabrier’s vibrant Menuet pompeux and the colourful commedia dell’arte figures of Schumann’s Carnaval were commissions for ballet, while new life was given to his late friend Debussy’s Sarabande et Danse at the request of publisher Jean Jobert. Ravel’s iconic orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition makes telling use of a large orchestra, vividly depicting scenes that range from the playful to the macabre.
Irish-born Victor Herbert was one of the most celebrated names in American music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A cellist, conductor, and composer of light operas, he was also a recording artist. His two Cello Concertos are full of graceful melodies, the First having a songlike slow movement and a spirited Polonaise finale that earned praise at its 1885 première in Stuttgart. The Second Concerto, scored for a large orchestra, is more tightly constructed than the First. It was hearing this work that inspired Herbert’s boss at the National Conservatory in New York, Antonín Dvořák, to write his own great B minor Cello Concerto.
João de Sousa Carvalho was one of the foremost Portuguese composers of his generation. L’Angelica was his first opportunity to write a ‘courtly serenata or drama’, the first of ten such works, after being appointed music master to the Portuguese royal family at the court of Queen Maria I (1734–1816). Setting a libretto by the great Italian poet Metastasio, Carvalho brings out every ounce of dramatic intensity in his richly expressive and captivating score, the story of how the beautiful and intelligent Angelica uses and misuses her seductive charms to fool the noble Orlando into thinking she loves him, only to abandon him and run away with Medoro instead.
Qigang Chen is one of the most prominent Chinese composers working today, whose music has been commissioned and performed by leading orchestras and musicians around the world. Er Huang, commissioned by Carnegie Hall, is based on a number of melodies from Peking operas, nostalgically recollected, while the unusual structure of Enchantements oubliés explores a journey into the essence of beauty. Un temps disparu features the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese fiddle, and makes use of an ancient Chinese melody called Three Variations on the Plum Blossom.
Begun when he was a seventeen-year-old naval cadet, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphony No. 1 was hailed by the nationalist group ‘The Five’ as the first truly Russian symphony, in contrast with the German-influenced music of Anton Rubinstein. With its use of Russian folk-songs, this is a work of remarkable natural talent, justifying the early enthusiasm of Balakirev. Symphony No. 3, cast in a thoroughly Russian musical language, is notable not only for its significantly enhanced technical competence but for its great rhythmic vitality and subtle orchestration.
This album brings together two world première recordings and an undisputed masterpiece, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez which, with its sublime Adagio, has become his most celebrated work. Frank Martin’s extraordinarily powerful Guitare is the composer’s orchestral version of Quatre pièces brèves for solo guitar [Naxos 8.570191]. Echoes of Rodrigo can be heard in the cinematic Romanticism of Leo Brouwer’s Concierto de Benicàssim, described by the composer as ‘a panorama of my own ideas’. Written as a tribute to the 150th anniversary of the birth of Francisco Tárrega, it is revived here by Miguel Trápaga over a decade after its première.