The June edition of NEW ON NAXOS shines a spotlight on Les Frivolités Parisiennes’s newest release of Jules Massenet’s rarely heard opera Don César de Bazan, conducted by Mathieu Romano. The performance features a superb group of soloists led by baritone Laurent Naouri and soprano Elsa Dreisig, supported by the Ensemble Aedes and the Orchestre des Frivolités Parisiennes. Their world premiere recording of Auber’s La Sirène (8.660436) has received critical acclaim including a nomination in the Opera category from the International Classical Music Awards (ICMA). This release is continuation of the company’s project of re-discovering gems of the French opéra comique repertoire.
Other highlights include: the audiovisual release of Stefano Landi’s La morte d’Orfeo from the Dutch National Opera, conducted by Christoph Rousset; the final instalment of Domenico Cimarosa’s Overtures presented by the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice and Michael Halász; Marek Štilec’s conclusion of the orchestral works by Zdeněk Fibich; Arthur Fagen and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra performing works by William Levi Dawson and Ulysses Kay; Henri Vieuxtemps’ works for violin and orchestra recorded by soloist Reto Kuppel and the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra; Vol. 24 of Domenico Scarlatti’s complete Keyboard Sonatas featuring Alon Goldstein; and many more.
Don César de Bazan is an opéra-comique with a narrative of dashing Spanish chivalry and romance. Its plot revolves around deception and comedies of reversed identity, with a struggle between true nobility and wicked selfishness maintaining an animated momentum throughout. This was the young Jules Massenet’s first full-length opera and yet it is filled with the composer’s mature symphonic style, his gift for melody, feeling for the picturesque, and vivacity of rhythm. These distinctive qualities reveal an operatic feast whose time has at last arrived.
Stefano Landi was an influential early opera composer, and La morte d’Orfeo is regarded as a milestone in the development of the genre. The narrative starts where Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo ends, taking us through the remaining adventures of Orpheus in the underworld. Beaten to death and torn apart by the fearsome maenads, Orpheus survives as a wandering soul and is finally reincarnated as a star in the sky. Landi succeeded in turning Greek tragedy into timeless music-drama, the starting point of all opera, and Seen and Heard International declared that it had ‘never before encountered such technical perfection’ in Pierre Audi’s Amsterdam production.
Domenico Cimarosa was a prolific composer of church and instrumental music, but his reputation rests principally on his operas. During the second half of the 18th century, and until the arrival of Rossini, he was the most successful and performed operatic composer in Europe, and one of the last exponents of the Neapolitan School. His bracing and vivacious overtures in this final volume include the hugely popular Il convito (‘The Banquet’), a triumph in Venice and Florence, as well as some examples of his expressively moving overtures for oratorios.
Zdeněk Fibich’s three symphonies project very different qualities: No. 1 (available on 8.572985) prizes structural integration, and No. 2 (8.573157) cyclical unity. Symphony No. 3, written only two years before his untimely death, but at the zenith of his powers as one of the Czech Lands’ leading composers, reveals Fibich’s sustained melodic and atmospheric powers as the music pursues the ‘darkness to light’ trajectory synonymous with the symphony during the 19th century. The remaining pieces, drawn from his best stage works, showcase operatic qualities that extend the dramatic lineage of Smetana. This is the final volume in this series.
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra • Arthur Fagen
William Dawson’s Negro FolkSymphony was premiered by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1934 to huge enthusiasm. Its traditional form houses a continuous process of variation and introduces little-known spirituals in fragmentary form, while the work’s recurring motifs, remarkable transitions and syncopations are enhanced in Dawson’s 1952 revision heard here. The Fantasy Variations by composer and teacher Ulysses Kay employs dissonance with great expressivity in a work of textural and coloristic variety. UmbrianScene, despite its pictorial suggestion, is lean and sombre.
Pulitzer Prize recipient and GRAMMY award-winner Aaron Jay Kernis is one of America’s most performed composers. Both works on this album exemplify his creative approach to orchestral composition, sharing elements in common, such as virtuoso percussion writing and the use of variation form. ColorWheel is an exuberant miniature concerto for orchestra with a wide array of contrasts, while SymphonyNo. 4 ‘Chromelodeon’ explores the coexistence of opposing musical forces to powerful, pensive, and touching effect.
Henry Vieuxtemps was a towering figure in the line of 19th-century violinist-composers, receiving admiration from Wagner, Chopin and Berlioz. A virtuoso in the Paganini tradition, Vieuxtemps was also one of the first to employ a full Romantic orchestral palette in his concertante works and to imbue them with a true ‘symphonic’ conception, as these examples show. They include the Duo brillant, Op. 39—a dramatic and expressive mini double concerto for violin and cello, the bravura caprice Old England, Op. 42 and the Airvarié, Op. 6 with its rich lyricism, four variations and dashing coda.
Domenico Scarlatti is best remembered for the hundreds of single-movement keyboard sonatas he composed for his pupil the Infanta Maria Bárbara, who married the heir to the Spanish throne in 1728, taking her music master with her from Lisbon to Madrid. Scarlatti’s panache and inventiveness is always on show in these compact sonatas, their delicacy and refinement hiding some surprising explorations of unexpected keys, and technical demands such as hand-crossing and chains of sixths and thirds that would have posed some interesting challenges to his clearly talented pupil.
Schubert’s String Trio was modelled after the example of Beethoven, and its transparent textures, Classical structure and fine interplay are capped by a charming Rondo finale. Composed over a decade later, during the period of his final illness, the String Quintet is wholly different in character. Scored for two violins, viola and two cellos, it is one of the most compelling and moving works in the chamber music canon, and stands as the summation of Schubert’s writing for chamber forces.
Jacques Castérède composed in almost every genre, from stage and symphonic works to competition pieces, with music that remained rooted in expressive melody. This third and final volume of his flute music presents witty neo-Classicism in the 5 Bagatelles, and the composer’s delight in popular music with the post-Debussian 12 Études, works that are both communicative and vibrant. in the Divertimento we meet the composer at his most compulsively subversive, as an expert melodist, harmonist and contrapuntalist, in music as zany as it is disarming.
Australia’s premier guitar quartet Guitar Trek reflects life in modern Australia with a programme that showcases works of immense colour and rhythmic vitality. The album includes the rich melodic and nostalgic quality of Richard Charlton’s Five Tails in Cold Blood (including the eponymous ‘Bluetongue’); the driving energy and shifting timbres of Nigel Westlake’s SixFish that adds the distinctive sound of the 12-string guitar and dobro to the mix; and at its heart the music of Philip Houghton, one of the most original and poetically imaginative guitar composers of our time.
Darko Nikčević and Srdjan Bulatović have gained international acclaim for virtuosic guitar duo performances providing a unique blend of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern mysticism. Their works are varied in terms of character, style, technique, rhythm and tempo, and share a common thread of Montenegrin traditional music, movie soundtracks, world music and popular contemporary movements. Their acclaimed album The Sea can be found on Naxos 8.573943.
Johan Smith, 2019 winner of the prestigious Guitar Foundation of America Competition, presents his dream programme in this recital. Bach’s Toccata for harpsichord ‘borders on the unplayable’ for the guitar, especially in its final double fugue, while Manuel Ponce’s Variations on La folía deEspaña and Fugue is one of the most challenging peaks of the repertoire. Mertz’s celebrated virtuoso Concertino is followed by Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland, renowned for its blend of Elizabethan melancholy and contemporary strangeness. The recital concludes with a world premiere, the evocative Sables Stellaires by Josquin Schwizgebel, dedicated to Johan Smith.
Beethoven’s secular vocal works, many rarely heard today, were composed for a variety of reasons. Some were written for marriages, to mark the departure of a friend or to celebrate a name day, while others allude to Masonic imagery or set the words of great literary contemporaries, such as Schiller. The larger canvas of Mehrstimmige italienische Gesänge reflects Beethoven’s studies of Italian word-setting with Antonio Salieri, revealing insights into Beethoven’s achievements during his early years in Vienna.
Following the success of the 1st Chopin Festival Hamburg 2018 (available on Naxos 8.574058), the 2nd Chopin Festival Hamburg 2019 continues its unique approach of inviting pianists to perform on original historic instruments and, by way of comparison, on a modern grand piano in the same concert. Performances range from Chopin heard on his Pleyel ‘pianino’ of 1832 to the most technically advanced Shigeru Kawai grand piano built in 2019. Listeners are invited to discover ‘old’ and ‘new’ in completely fresh ways through these multifaceted interpretations.
Muzio Clementi’s legacy to pianists lies not only in his teaching studies and in his exploration of new levels of virtuosity, but in compositions that were widely admired by contemporaries such as Beethoven. This album explores a variety of pieces, a number of which focus on variations. ‘The Black Joke’ was a popular English tune garnished by Clementi with 21 successive variations. Musical Characteristics captures the styles of leading figures of the time, including Mozart, Haydn and Koželuch, while the Variations on ‘Batti, batti’ is a virtuoso transcription. Nicholas Rimmer plays on an original fortepiano made in Clementi’s own workshop around 1806.
Beethoven’s chamber music contains some of his most joyful and transcendent works. Included here are two great Violin Sonatas and arguably his greatest Cello Sonata, as well as the first movement of his Piano Trio No. 7, Op. 97, the so-called ‘Archduke’, and what remains, to this day, one of the most monumental works for string quartet, the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133. This collection also illustrates Beethoven’s mastery in writing for the horn, and for septet and octet.
For those who are new to an instrument, the first question is often: where to start? The ‘Best Loved’ series offers an easy answer to that question and a perfect introduction to the wonderful, varied world of classical music. Spotlighting individual instruments in some of the best-loved pieces ever written, and with a mix of solo, chamber and orchestral works, the series provides a convenient introduction to classical music’s infinite variety of instrumental sounds and styles. The latest batch of releases focuses on beloved plucked string instruments—Guitar, Harp, Mandolin and Lute.
The Naxos World label has two new releases this month: a collection of songs inspired by the different tribes of Uganda, and folk music from Yi and Qiang Tribes in Sichuan & Yunnan, China.
The band Milégé derives its name from an ankle rattle, a bell worn around the ankle to create rhythmic sounds that compliment dance performances. Afwoyo means ‘thank you’ in Thuphadola, a Luo dialect from the Japhadola tribe of eastern Uganda.
The Folk Music of China series continues with its seventh volume, Folk Songs of the Yi and Qiang tribes in Sichuan & Yunnan. The album includes lively short dance songs in duple metre and long melodious labour or love songs that employ a free rhythm.
The award-winning Naxos Audiobooks label offers a wide range of abridged and unabridged digital recordings of the world’s greatest literature. There are Junior Classics, and numerous non-fiction titles with focus to history, religion and philosophy. The label also offers a plethora of classic and contemporary plays on record—from Shakespeare to Beckett.
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.
Henry Vieuxtemps: Fantaisie, Op. 21, ‘Souvenir de Russie’ (Kuppel, Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Bosch)
Franz Schubert: String Trio in B-Flat Major, D. 581: I. Allegro moderato (Ostrovsky, Bialobroda, Mitnitsky)
Gustav Uwe Jenner: 11 Lieder, Op. 4: No. 5. Im Schnee (Bästlein, Spencer)
William Levi Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony: III. O, Le’ Me Shine, Shine Like a Morning Star! (Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Fagen)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Opferlied, Hess 91 (2nd setting, Op. 121b) (Schlemmer, Fuchs, Cantus Novus Wien, Holmes)
Jacques Castérède: 5 Bagatelles: No. 1. Incantation (Cobus du Toit)
Muzio Clementi: 5 Variations on a Minuet by Mr. Collick, WoO 5: Thema: Minuetto a tempo di ballo (Nicholas Rimmer)
We are celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday with a dynamic CELEBRATE BEETHOVEN playlist with various themes based on his life, compositional periods, types of works, and more. This month, we focus on Beethoven’s chamber music::
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