The April edition of NEW ON NAXOS features another exciting recording from pianist Boris Giltburg, this time performing Sergey Rachmaninov’s 24 Préludes. Increasingly recognised as a leading interpreter of Rachmaninov’s music, this new release is a remarkable addition to Giltburg’s award-winning recordings of the Second and Third Piano Concertos, Études-tableaux, Opp. 33 and 39, and Moments musicaux and Corelli Variations.
Other highlights include: Hector Berlioz’s timeless masterpiece Roméo et Juliette, presented by the Orchestre National de Lyon and conductor Leonard Slatkin; an audiovisual release of Carl Maria von Weber’s popular opera Der Freischütz, filmed from a production of Teatro alla Scala conducted by Myung-Whun Chung; world premiere recording of Daniel Auber’s comic opera La Sirène, featuring soprano Jeanne Crousaud; Leo Weiner’s large-scale symphonic poem Toldi, Op. 43, recorded by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV and Valéria Csányi, and many more.
Written over a period of 18 years, Rachmaninov’s sets of Préludes are a mirror and a record of his compositional development. With so rich a variety of character, colour, texture and mood, no two préludes are fully alike, and differentiation of tempo and register ensures that each prélude’s character is clearly defined. The first eleven pieces were conceived by Rachmaninov as a single cycle, and their full-hearted Romanticism contrasts with the significantly more angular, modernistic Op. 32. Whether evoking ballad or bell toll, the exotic or folk influences, the Préludes stand in the great tradition of works by Bach and Chopin written in all 24 major and minor keys.
Of all Berlioz’s Shakespeare-inspired works, Roméo et Juliette is unquestionably his masterpiece. It is also cast in an innovative new form, a kind of ‘super-symphony’ that incorporates elements of symphony, opera and oratorio. Berlioz composed no singing roles for the central characters, but allowed others to comment or narrate, giving latitude to incarnate the lovers in a musical language of extraordinary delicacy and passion. The vivid Ball Scene and Romeo at the Capulettomb are intensely dramatic but the heart of the work is the Love Scene, a long symphonic poem which Richard Wagner called ‘the melody of the 19th century’.
Weber was at the forefront of the rise of German Romantic opera and sought to dethrone Rossini from his position as the leading operatic composer in Europe. In his breakthrough and most popular opera Der Freischütz (‘The Marksman’) composed in 1821, he succeeded in his aim of establishing a truly German form. Turning to the folklore and folk songs of his native land he took a story of a marksman who makes a pact with the Devil, vesting it with powerful intensity – not least in the famous Wolf’s Glen scene – and an astonishing control of orchestral colour and atmosphere.
Auber earned international adulation in the late 1820s for his revolutionary grand opera LaMuette de Portici and by the time he composed La Sirène, the success of which inspired potpourris of its melodies, he occupied a central place in French musical life. The mysterious siren of the title is part of a plot that abounds in fantastic comedy, love, betrayal, farce and festivity in the lineage of Italian popular theatre. The German poet Heinrich Heine wrote that ‘La Sirène was received with resounding bravos … The author and the composer know how to amuse us agreeably, and even to enchant us, or to dazzle us by the luminous facets of their spirit.’
Leó Weiner’s influence as a teacher in Budapest was exceptional and his pupils were some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. But it’s only in recent years that his compositions, with their synthesis of German Romantic and Hungarian elements, have been brought to wider appreciation. Like Csongor and Tünde (8.573491), the symphonic poem Toldi was inspired by a masterpiece of Hungarian literature. Cast in twelve sections, the music follows the epic poetry in a way that seems to notate the text musically, a unique achievement. Weiner considered Toldi one of his most significant compositions, and he also composed two suites from the work which are available as a digital download on 9.70284.
Eduard Strauss was overshadowed by his more famous elder siblings Johann II and Josef but his music from the 1870s and 1880s easily stands comparison with theirs, and in the dance genres of the quick polka and the galop he was in a class of his own. These world premiere recordings of ‘handsome Edi’s’ music include the beguiling waltz Freie Gedanken or ‘Free Thoughts’ written for the ‘Hesperus’ Artists’ Association, and the charming polka-mazurka Schmeichelkätzchen (‘Little Flatterer’), which was popular enough with Viennese audiences to be reprised throughout that season. Volume 1 of this edition (8.225369) was considered ‘energetic and beautiful’ by the American Record Guide.
Joseph Marx’s distinctive style is characterised in these songs by dazzling, colourful harmonies and a remarkable melodic richness that, coupled with his sensitive setting of the texts, results in some of the composer’s finest works for voice and orchestra. Recurring themes of love and longing are encapsulated in one of Marx’s earliest songs, Hat dich die Liebe berührt, and moods of cheerful serenity, profound earnestness and amusing operetta-like lightness are all explored elsewhere. This programme of premiere recordings includes the cycle Verklärtes Jahr, a high point in Marx’s vocal oeuvre, and the intoxicating expression of his love for Italy in Aufder Campagna.
After the resounding success of their first volume of Catalan Wind Music (8.573547), the Barcelona Symphonic Band and Salvador Brotons return with world premiere recordings of works commissioned from award-winning Catalan composers. Xavier Montsalvatges’s colourfully festive Music for a Sunday is followed by Joan Albert Amargós’ play on the timbres and dynamic force of wind instruments in Thematic Games. Elisenda Fábregas’ dramatic and emotional First Symphony contrasts majestic grandeur with the expressiveness of Catalan song, and Moisès Bertran exploits the virtuoso skill of the soloist in his incisive and lyrical A Double Bass Fantasy.
So greatly did Ignaz Lachner venerate Mozart that he arranged twelve of the 27 piano concertos for performance by small ensembles. Lachner, who had known Schubert in Vienna and had met Beethoven, was superbly equipped for these arrangements ensuring that the string quintet of soloists, with the double bass largely doubling the cello role, sounds thoroughly idiomatic. The three selected works represent the different sized orchestras Mozart employed, K. 246 being the most lightly scored, and K. 488 the most complex. The anonymous arrangement of excerpts from Die Zauberflöte proves equally vital and attractive.
Herbert Howells’ style, immediately recognisable for its long melodic lines, rhapsodic nature and rich harmonies, defined the sound of English cathedral music in the 20th century. His studies in London imbued his works with sophistication and a French influence, which were intertwined with a nostalgic ‘heart-ache’ for the ‘real Gloucestershire’, as can be heard in String Quartet No. 3. The charming little character stories in Lady Audrey’s Suite tell of countryside and church, while the Piano Quartet in AMinor is dedicated ‘To the Hill at Chosen and Ivor Gurney who knows it’, portraying a favourite local vantage point at different seasons as well as poignantly remembering a lost friendship.
Victoria Bond is a distinguished force in contemporary music. She is known for her melodic and dramatic flair, and her orchestral works, chamber pieces and operas have been lauded by The New York Times as “powerful, stylistically varied and technically demanding.” This collection of world premiere recordings by GRAMMY® Award-winning ensemble Chicago Pro Musica provides an essential overview of Bond’s multi-faceted inventiveness – from a musical interpretation of tarot cards in Instruments of Revelation, to descriptive and dramatic images of the tragic city of Pompeii in Frescoes andAsh. Leopold Bloom’s Homecoming expresses in music what is left to our imagination in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and the mathematics of Binary turn the digits 0 and 1 into variations on a Brazilian samba.
Boccherini enjoyed enormous popularity during his lifetime thanks to music that emphasised rich melody, instrumental vibrancy and disarming beauty. He chose the intimacy of a chamber music setting for his Stabat Mater, writing for a solo soprano and string quintet with the instrumental textures weaving the fabric of the text’s meaning. The result is passionate music with power, depth and pathos. As a virtuoso cellist he was perfectly placed to write chamber music. In the Quartet, Op. 52, No. 3, a colourful tapestry of contrasting events frames moments of bucolic excitement and lyric interlude, while the expertly structured Quintet, Op. 42, No. 1 directly evokes the Stabat Mater in its themes.
Gaetano Donizetti is renowned as a leading composer of the Italian romantic bel canto opera style during the first half of the 19th century. But in his earlier years and as a student of Simon Mayr his dramatic genius came to the fore in his settings of psalm texts for Vespers, a form then still popular in Italy both in secular and liturgical contexts. Donizetti’s Vesper Psalms are characterised by beautifully shaped operatic melodies and colourful orchestration on a grand scale, creating moments of real rhetorical force – outstanding features of works that have lain undiscovered in manuscript form for two centuries.
John Beard (c. 1716–1791) was a young tenor who came to George Frideric Handel’s attention when still a teenager. He inspired the great composer to give new focus to the tenor voice within his English oratorios. Beard was Handel’s ideal in his demands for ‘articulate utterance of the words and a just expression of the melody’ – a collaboration that climaxed in Handel’s creation of the first truly great tenor part as the hero in Samson. GRAMMY® Award-winning tenor Aaron Sheehan steps into John Beard’s shoes equipped with a voice of ‘shining quality and deep sensitivity’ (The New York Times).
The doyen of Australian guitarists, Timothy Kain, has always encouraged the creation of vibrant new music for the instrument and has worked closely over the years with the four composers presented here. In Richard Charlton’s Sonata of Forgotten Dreams, non-standard tunings allow cascade-like harmonics to infuse the music, while Mark Isaacs contrasts jazz-like chords with classical colour in Five Bagatelles. Phillip Houghton’s The Goldfish Suite brings iridescent colour and atmosphere, and Mosstrooper Peak is Nigel Westlake’s alternately reflective and energetic solo piece evoking remote locations on the country’s east coast, shrines to the memory of his son.
Guitar works by new Zealand composers continue to display a richness of imagination and sense of colour that makes them intensely attractive to listeners. In 1990 Jack Body wrote African Strings, which transcribed music of the Madagascan valiha tube zither and West African kora harp to captivating effect. John Psathas’ Muisca refers to the Chibcha-speaking people of what is now Colombia in music of conversational vitality and driving rhythm. Anthony Ritchie evokes lovers’ dances in Pas de Deux and there is a beautiful arrangement of the famous traditional Māori love song Pōkarekare Ana.
In an exciting collaboration, guitarists Adam del Monte and Mak Grgic journey through the wide landscape of Spanish and Latin American music. With brand new arrangements they explore classics of Iberian Romanticism from Albéniz and Granados as well as promoting the vivid ethnic rhythms of Ginastera and the beautiful filmic nostalgia of Carlos Gardel, master of the tango-song. The bittersweet poetic richness of Héctor Stamponi is balanced by del Monte’s own original flamenco dances, which take the genre into vivid new directions.
In addition to his prodigious youthful genius as a composer, Mendelssohn was an exceptionally able pianist. Demonstrating an astonishing level of maturity beyond the composer’s teenage years, this group of rare works is notable for a sequence of piano fugues with an impressive command of counterpoint and chorale harmonisation, two sonatas which reveal the dual influences of the Baroque and more contemporary models such as Weber and Hummel, as well as a dashing Prestissimo in F Minor and a brilliant Vivace in C Minor.
His appointment in 1757 as maestro di capilla and organist at the Escorial, the royal palace established by Philip II of Spain, allowed Antonio Soler to mix with fellow court musicians, among whom was Domenico Scarlatti, whose influence was to remain profound. Soler wrote some 150 sonatas, his greatest compositional memorial, most for the young prince, Don Gabriel. The works in this volume reveal Soler’s mastery of dashing bravura and his exploitation of a full keyboard range in Sonata No. 88, felicities of hand-crossing in SonataNo. 89, and his awareness of the contemporary influence of Haydn in Sonata No. 92.
Innovative music printer Pierre Attaingnant published the first editions of keyboard music ever to appear in France in 1531. Only one copy of each of these seven tiny but crucially important volumes has survived, in which anonymous composers made arrangements of some of the most beautiful chansons, motets and dances from the reign of François I – keyboard music that shows France at the forefront of developments in this field. Glen Wilson has corrected the countless errors in these original sources, restoring this rare and enchanting music and allowing it to shine in its original glory.
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!
Sergey Rachmaninov: 13 Préludes, Op. 32: No. 13 in D-Flat Major (Boris Giltburg)
Hector Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette, Op. 17, Part II: Scène d’amour (Orchestre National de Lyon, Slatkin)
George Frideric Handel: Samson, HWV 57, Act I: Total eclipse! (Sheehan, Pacific MusicWorks Orchestra, Stubbs)
Gaetano Donizetti: Magnificat in D Major (Concerto de Bassus, Simon Mayr Choir, Hauk)
Adam del Monte: Colegas, Rumba (Duo Deloro)
Victoria Bond: Frescoes and Ash: VII. Ash: Awareness of Mortality (Chicago Pro Musica)
Leó Weiner: Toldi, Op. 43: IX. Moonlight – Miklós stops the raging bull (Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV, Csányi)
Herbert Howells: Lady Audrey’s Suite, Op. 19: IV. The old shepherd’s tale (Dante Quartet)
Felix Mendelssohn: Sonatina in E Major (Sergio Monteiro)
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