This month’s NEW ON NAXOS spotlight recording is Manhattan Intermezzo, a special programme that brings together music for piano and orchestra by composers who are highly regarded in the fields of jazz, popular song and progressive rock – Neil Sedaka, Keith Emerson, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin. Acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Biegel is joined by the Brown University Orchestra, under the direction of Paul Phillips.
Other highlights include the world première recording of Johann Simon Mayr’s Saffo, performed by the world’s leading exponents of Mayr’s music – the Simon Mayr Chorus and Concerto de Bassus, directed by Franz Hauk; the release of the 4-CD box set of Tianwa Yang’s critically acclaimed series of Pablo de Sarasate’s complete music for violin and orchestra, with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra and conductor Ernest Martínez Izquierdo; Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra’sSinfonía No. 3, which marks the start of a new series featuring the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra; the rarely heard recordings of orchestral works by leading Italian opera composers – Paganini, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini and Respighi which are not often found on disc and are also not characteristic of four of the composers’ works, with the exception of Respighi’s well-known La boutique fantasque; and Du Mingxin’s piano concerto “Spirit of Spring” performed by Jenő Jandó, paired with his first violin concerto, which was written for Takako Nishizaki, who performs it on this recording as well.
This programme brings together four works for piano and orchestra by composers best known from the fields of jazz, popular song and progressive rock. Neil Sedaka’s Manhattan Intermezzo explores the New York of today and yesterday with its melting pot of nationalities. Keith Emerson is best known as a founding member of Emerson Lake & Palmer. His remarkably inventive semi-autobiographical Piano Concerto No. 1 fuses his classical training with jazz. Duke Ellington’s sublime New World a-Comin’ is a visualisation of improved conditions for black people in America, while the rarely heard original version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue represents the quintessential style of New York City in the Roaring Twenties.
Johann Simon MAYR (1763–1845)
Dramma per musica in due atti
Andrea Lauren Brown • Jaewon Yun • Katharina Ruckgaber, Sopranos
Marie Sande Papenmeyer, Mezzo-Soprano • Markus Schäfer
Daniel Preis, Tenors • Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus
Simon Mayr Chorus • Concerto de Bassus
Theona Gubba-Chkheidze, Concertmaster • Franz Hauk, Harpsichord and Conductor
No one did more to combine in his operas the innovations of the Viennese classical composers, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, with the Italian ideal of bel canto than Johann Simon Mayr, the Bavarian composer who rose to fame in Italy. His opera Saffo, first performed in 1794, dates from his years in Venice. Not only was it his first opera but it was premièred at the Teatro La Fenice where it was enthusiastically received. It is full of surprising and striking elements, with a strong musical realisation of the text, supportive string and woodwind writing and vivid solo and choral effects. Set by the Rock of Leucas, from which unsuccessful lovers leap to their deaths, the opera deals with the poetess Sappho’s unhappy love for Phaon, finally resolved in a happy ending.
Pablo de Sarasate was one of the most successful violinists in history, reigning supreme as an incandescent musical personality in the days when violinist-composers were a significant feature of concert life. Tianwa Yang has been described as “an unquestioned master of the violin...the rarest of violinists” (American Record Guide), and each volume of these stunning works for violin and orchestra has been received with great international acclaim. Yang has achieved recognition as one of the world’s outstanding instrumentalists with the 2014 Annual Prize of the German Record Critics for her Naxos recordings of the Complete Music for Violin by Sarasate, and she was named the 2015 ECHO Klassik Instrumentalist of the Year (Violin) for her Ysaÿe 6 Sonatas for Solo Violin [Naxos 8.572995].
The sonic colour and distinctive rhythms enshrined in these four works provide further evidence of the art of internationally acclaimed Puerto Rican composer, Roberto Sierra. The award-winning Sinfonía No. 3 ‘La Salsa’ owes its inspiration to the music of the Spanish Caribbean and is a salsa of older and newer rhythms, intoxicatingly presented amidst revelry and dance. The instrumentally vivid Borikén is based on the baroque chaconne but with a Latin twist, while El Baile invokes traditional music in a wholly distinctive way. Beyond the Silence of Sorrow is a captivatingly lyrical song cycle.
Italian Orchestral Works
Patrick De Ritis, Bassoon* • José Vicente Castelló, Horn‡
Würzburg Philharmonic Orchestra • Enrico Calesso
Except for Respighi’s delicious confection, which is heard in Malcolm Sargent’s concert suite, the works on this recording are rarely heard. Puccini’s youthful Preludio shows melodic invention and warmth anticipating his later operatic style. Rossini’s little-known Bassoon Concerto is full of charm while Verdi’s Capriccio fuses noble and carnivalesque qualities. Far more than a curio, Paganini’s virtuosic Concertino for horn, bassoon and orchestra offers an intriguing slant on the great violinist’s work.
Du Mingxin's Violin Concerto is unusual in the context of contemporary Chinese music in that it has no declared programme, follows no particular narrative and claims to evoke no particular landscape or situation. It is a work that imposes great technical demands on the performer, makes particular use of Takako Nishizaki's lyrical gifts as a player, while exploiting to the full her command of violin technique. The Piano Concerto No. 1 "Spirit of Spring" was written in 1988 and received its first performance at the concert given in Hong Kong to celebrate the composer's sixtieth birthday. The soloist on that occasion, as on the present recording, was the Hungarian pianist Jenő Jandó.