This month’s NEW ON NAXOSspotlight recording is the second part of Naxos’ Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungencycle –Die Walküre – recorded by an international cast of some of today’s leading interpreters of this repertoire, together with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jaap van Zweden. The first volume, Das Rheingold, was selected as ‘Album of the Week’ by The Sunday Times, which praised its “thrilling sense of drama.”
Other highlights include an amazing video set of three award-winning opera productions – Rigoletto in Mantua, La traviata in Paris, Tosca in Rome – which including opera greats Plácido Domingo, Julia Novikova, Vittorio Grigolo, Ruggero Raimondi, Catherine Malfitano, José Cura, and Eteri Gvazava, with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAIand world-renowned conductor Zubin Mehta; Septura’s newest recordings, featuring a collection of the most beautiful Christmas music, arranged for brass septet; the Christmas choral works by James Whitbourn, highlighted by the Missa Carolae performed by the Westminster Williamson Voices and conductor James Jordan; world première recording of André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry’s opéra comique L’épreuve villageoise, performed by the Opera Lafayette and Artistic Director Ryan Brown; Brahms’ First and Third Piano Quartets, performed by four acclaimed artists – pianist Eldar Nebolsin, violinist Anton Barakhovsky, violist Alexander Zemtsov, and cellist Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt; and works for clarinet and string quartet by American composers Bernard Herrmann (of Psycho fame) and David Del Tredici, performed by acclaimed clarinetist Michel Lethiec and the Fine Arts Quartet.
Comprising four separate operas, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is one of the supreme works in the history of music. Part II of the tetralogy, Die Walküre, centers on the young lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, whose relationship angers Fricka, goddess of marriage, and on the disobedience of the Valkyrie Brünnhilde who is sent to carry out Fricka’s wishes. Performed by an all-star international cast, the work features thrilling set-pieces such as Wotan’s Farewell and the Ride of the Valkyries. The Prologue, Das Rheingold, can be heard on Naxos 8.660374-75, selected as ‘Album of the Week’ by The Sunday Times of London, which praised its ‘thrilling sense of drama’.
Watch the video trailers:
Act III Ride of the Valkyries (short version):
Act III Wotan, feat. Matthias Goerne (short version):
Act I Finale, feat. Stuart Skelton & Heidi Melton (short version):
Brass instruments are almost a Christmas cliché: synonymous with the celebration, but perhaps not with the wealth of great music that it has inspired. Septura sets out to rectify this, re-imagining for brass septet the Christmas offerings of the greatest composers of the past 450 years. Pushing the combinations and colors of the septet to the limits, the result is a virtuosic and varied selection of festive favorites.
James Whitbourn is a GRAMMY® nominated composer whose music is internationally admired for its direct connection with performers and audiences, The Observer describing him as ‘a truly original communicator in modern British choral music’. Carolae is a fusion of two great American and English Christmas traditions, with the Missa carolae at its heart. Whitbourn’s love of medieval musical language is shown through his crafting of original melody and skillful arrangements of seasonal favorites.
L’épreuve villageoise (The Village Trial) – which, in its original form as Théodore et Paulin, was first performed before Marie Antoinette at Versailles – was one of André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry’s most popular works. For a century after its 1784 première, it enjoyed huge acclaim across Europe and even travelled to the New World, where it captivated audiences in New York. Grétry was a master of 18th-century opéra comique and this crisp and lively farce centers on a clever farmer’s daughter and her two competing suitors. Employing divergent stylistic registers – finesse and naiveté, music reminiscent of popular song, and extended ensembles – Grétry fashioned a score of sophisticated wit and huge charm.
Johannes Brahms is considered Beethoven’s successor in terms of his orchestral output, but for chamber music it was more the Romantic mantle of Robert Schumann that he assumed, vastly expanding its scale and ambitions in the 19th century and remaining a towering influence until well into the 20th. The First Piano Quartet has a deeply felt Andante con moto at its heart, and a sprightly ‘Gypsy Rondo’ finale. Brahms started writing the Third Piano Quartet during the difficult period of Schumann’s final illness, later re-composing it to create a work of symphonic proportions, distinctive power and striking beauty.
“When I first became acquainted with the scores of Bernard Herrmann’s Souvenirs de voyage and David Del Tredici’s Magyar Madness, I was struck by how much these seductive quintets had in common, despite being completely different in mood and style. Both of these compelling works were written for string quartet plus clarinet by distinguished American composers who were pioneers in the Neo-Romantic movement, and both wistfully evoke the spirit of diverse European cultures. They seemed to be the ideal, odd couple. And Magyar Madness would be a world première release, to boot, so I felt they just had to be recorded together.”
Can you imagine Christmas without music? No singing, no jingling. Only Scrooge would be happy with that! It is a time for music to fill the air. Part of the fun is hearing things that are only played at Christmas and at no other time of year – carols that make you think of the end of term, or the holidays, or bobble hats; songs that make you think of food, or snow, or stockings. Here are some of the most popular carols, as well as some other surprises… Merry Christmas!
Despite the limitations of life in his Salzburg birthplace – and the patronage of a new and somewhat unsympathetic Prince-Archbishop – opportunities nevertheless presented themselves to Mozart. Following a commission for Il re pastore in 1775, he wrote a sequence of violin concertos that reveal his own performer’s understanding of the instrument. The concertos are suffused with elegance, vivacity and wit. Mozart’s mastery of solo violin cantilena is matched by prodigious melodic invention and moments of exotic color, such as the Turkish episode in the Rondeau finale of K. 219.
Vaughan Williams withdrew or destroyed many works from his earliest period, but he considered The Solent, with its haunting opening and luminous polyphonic textures, as among his ‘most important works’. The Fantasia is his earliest known piece for solo instrument with orchestra and contains some of his most bravura writing, contrasting with the graceful geniality of the Suite. Depicting a sublimely pastoral scene and now one of the best loved pieces ever written, Vaughan Williams called The Lark Ascending a ‘romance’, a term reserved for his most profoundly lyrical works.
Composer, educator, performer and author Bruce Adolphe has a close affinity with the piano, and he acknowledges the transformative influence of Chopin on the way the instrument has been perceived up until the present day. Chopin Dreams places the Romantic master firmly into modern times, building on his models and imagining him as a jazz pianist or exploring what he might have played at a bar mitzvah. The Piano Puzzlers take Chopin’s style and mix it into what Dick Hyman has called ‘the wittiest and funniest musical parodies imaginable.’ Seven Thoughts Considered as Music are deeply personal and philosophical musical reactions to inspirational thoughts by the great minds of Emerson, Kafka, Rilke, Chief Seattle, Novalis, Heraclitus, and Shankara.
American-born but of Spanish descent, José Luis Greco enjoys a wide-ranging career. His music embraces traditional and eclectic contemporary elements, and his interests in pop, rock and jazz have been enriched by the creation of multimedia performances. Geografías del silencio illustrates the quality of silence via ‘a quest in which melancholy and dream states are mingled.’ Greco is the son of dancers and In Passing demonstrates his vivid choreographic imagination. Avian memories permeate the beautiful Swallow and kaleidoscopic childhood impressions surface in Off with its Head!
The distinguished Russian-born composer Grigory Smirnov is, in the words of fellow composer John Corigliano, “an exceptionally talented composer with a unique voice”. His works are powerful and timeless, and not beholden to any particular stylistic affiliations. Dowson Songs comprises ten poems by the English Victorian poet Ernest Dowson which Smirnov has organised into a musical narrative exploring, with great richness, the transformative evolution of the poet’s love. In Chaconne, for cello and piano, Smirnov cleverly manages to dissolve the borders between melody and harmony whilst following Baroque ideas.
Joaquín Rodrigo is best known for his Concierto de Aranjuez (Naxos 8.555841), but the fame of this great work has eclipsed a prolific output of almost 200 works including the rarely heard and profoundly original works for violin that span almost his entire life as a composer. The timelessly beautiful Adagio from the Sonata pimpante is indeed comparable to that of the Concierto de Aranjuez, and all of these pieces are captivating in their intense lyricism and originality, from Rodrigo’s only piece for solo violin, the Capriccio, to the vivacious and nostalgic Set cançons valencianes.
Award-winning Italian guitarist Andrea Bissoli has made a significant contribution to Villa-Lobos’ status as a composer for the guitar, both through his extensive and ground-breaking research, and his musicianship, characterised by MusicWeb International as “a hot spring of bubbling energy and rejuvenating zest”. This set includes both the rare and the recently discovered (some works long assumed to be lost), as well as Bissoli’s completion of the unfinished Valsa Concerto No. 2 and his ‘folk ensemble’ instrumentation of fourteen songs from the Guia prático. Bissoli also performs the Concerto written for the legendary Segovia.
Volume 3 of this admired series reveals the expressive nature of both the guitar and the harmonica in works several of which embrace the principles of Ma, an everyday Japanese word indicating time and space. Takemitsu’s contemporary arrangements of popular songs, combining virtuosity and, in the words of the composer, ‘flexible spirituality’, are of extraordinary originality whilst melodic inventiveness is the hallmark of Hikaru Hayashi’s varied pieces. There are also examples from film scores and unusual sound explorations as in Yoshimatsu’s intensely evocative and masterful Forgetful Angel II.
Argentinian guitarist and composer Jorge Morel’s long and distinguished career has made him a legendary figure amongst guitarists. He is renowned as “a consummate and virtuoso artist” (Guitar Magazine) whose music is notable for its blend of colorful Latin American vibrancy rooted in the popular folk-music of his early life in Buenos Aires, and North American sophistication. From gently lyrical pieces such as the Milonga del Viento to the life-force of the dance in works such as Giga Criolla and Otro Tango, and the more classical Sonatina, this programme is a true reflection of the amazing variety of Morel’s creative output. Turkish guitarist Celil Refik Kaya is a prizewinner of a number of international competitions, including First Prize at the 2012 JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Competition.
In 1891 Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé asked Debussy to compose incidental music for a theatrical version of his poem L’Après-midi d’un faune (The afternoon of the faun) and the resulting work, with its innovative melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic writing, is both impassioned and expressive. The four-hand arrangement was made by Ravel in 1910. Inspired by the natural phenomena of water, light and wind and, according to Mme Debussy, unplayable in its piano four-hand version, La Mer is a masterpiece of some structural complexity. Of the technically inventive Images, which evoke Spanish sights, sounds and fragrances, Debussy wrote that the work marked a departure for him, dealing with “realities” not impressionism.
Along with his contemporaries Bartók, Kodály and Dohnányi, László Lajtha was one of the leading Hungarian composers in the first half of the 20th century and his position as the country’s greatest symphonist of that time is unrivalled. Of his nine symphonies, Symphony No. 2, Op. 27 dates from 1938 and is an intense, sombre and brooding work as if foreshadowing the horrors of the war to come. When asked to compose incidental music for Georg Höllering’s film of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, Lajtha responded with three autonomous compositions of which one, the monumental Variations, Op. 44 from 1948, is recorded here. Volume 1 can be heard on Naxos 8.573643.