The November edition of NEW ON NAXOS features Götterdämmerung, which marks the completion of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s epic four-year saga of the Wagner Ring Cycle. Conducted by Jaap van Zweden, Götterdämmerung features an all-star international cast, led by soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin in her debut as Brünnhilde, tenor Daniel Brenna as Siegfried, bass-baritone Shenyang as Gunther, bass Eric Halfvarson as Hagen, soprano Amanda Majeski as Gutrune and mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung as Waltraute, with the Bamberg Symphony Chorus, Latvian State Choir and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Chorus.
At the same time, we are also releasing the complete Der Ring des Nibelungen, as a special boxed set. Containing 14 CDs, the box also features a USB card loaded with extra content, including the libretti to all four operas, concert photos and behind-the-scenes videos.
Other highlights include: Gioachino Rossini’s Maometto II recorded live from the 2017 Rossini in Wildbad Bel Canto Festival; the last instalment of the Complete Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of Old Age) by pianist Alessandro Marangoni; Wolfgang Rihm’s works for violin and orchestra featuring Tianwa Yang; piano works by Erik Satie performed by prize-winning pianist Duanduan Hao; DVD/Blu-ray realeases of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck and Joseph Haydn’s The Creation; A German Christmas, a collection of 17th century music for Advent and Christmas, recorded by the Margaretha Consort; and many more.
Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) is the epic fourth and final opera of Wagner’s great Ring cycle, with a plot that depicts the fall of heroes, gods, and the entire world. As ever with the Ring, the joys of love are all too fragile and fleeting, and the drama of Götterdämmerung revolves around dark and unsettling reversals of fortune and illusions of hope that synthesise thrilling and powerful grand opera traditions with Wagner’s revolutionary techniques. Containing all of the Ring’s essential elements, Götterdämmerung possesses a profoundly satisfying sense of inevitability that makes it both a towering climax and a unified summation of the Ring’s abundant variety.
Wagner’s visionary Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) was first performed as a cycle of four operas in 1876. Its mythic plot examines the relationship between love and earthly power through the agency of a ring which confers ultimate power on its bearer. One of the most sustained and remarkable achievements in all music, the tetralogy is performed by an all-star cast, conducted by the new music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden, in performances that have been critically acclaimed worldwide for their ‘thrilling sense of drama’ (The Sunday Times, London).
With its carefully planned yet complex dramatic structure and skilful transformation of a tale of heroic conflict between two enemies into a drama of impossible love, Maometto II is considered Rossini’s most radical and innovative opera. Against the background of the violent and cruel tumult of war as the Venetian colony of Negroponte is invaded and defeated by Sultan Mehmet II ‘the Conqueror’, in 1470, Rossini contrasts this clash of civilisations with the tender emotions of a doomed romance expressed in some of the most beautiful melodies he ever wrote. Heard here in its original Naples version – the more conventional 1822 Venice version with its overture and happy ending can be heard on 8.660149-51 – this is a movingly tragic drama in which the suicide of the main female role is not without a grim relevance even today.
Volume 11 completes Alessandro Marangoni’s monumental project to record all 200 or so individual works comprising the Péchés de vieillesse or ‘Sins of Old Age’ (including some preliminary sketches). Highlights include all four duets from the collection, from the highly operatic Le gittane to Un sou, in which two beggars try to sell the collar of their dead dog. Rossini’s sacred or pious songs, such as the surprisingly intense Ave Maria (su due note) prompted Richard Wagner’s response, ‘the Parisian salons have turned into prayer cells… extraordinary!’ The closing piece of this edition is appropriately a setting by Rossini of his own name.
The violin works of the leading German composer Wolfgang Rihm encompass almost his entire career and reflect the variety of his stylistic thinking. Lichtzwang, the earliest of his concertos, draws on chorale-like sequences and piercing outbursts alike in its memorialising of the writer Paul Celan. Dritte Musik begins almost imperceptibly before growing in intensity and eventually slipping beyond audibility. Defter and more subtle than the preceding pieces, Gedicht des Malers (‘Poem of the Painter’) was inspired by an imagined painting of the great Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. As Rihm has written: ‘The soloist virtually embodies the painter’s brush as it moves over the canvas in sometimes faster and sometimes more deliberate ways.’
The Italian-born violinist and dancer Jean-Baptiste Lully revolutionised music at the French court in the 17th century (see The Lully Effect, 8.573867). Not only did he transform ballet entertainments into a spectacular new genre, the tragédie lyrique, but he set new standards in orchestral playing – with him the ‘modern’ orchestra was born. The Suite from Roland exemplifies the majesty of his ouvertures, the beauty of his dance movements and the expressive depth of his chaconnes. Both Georg Muffat and Marin Marais were profoundly influenced by Lully, as their inventive suites show, and Muffat’s own preserved performance instructions have been closely followed on this recording.
A unique collaboration: the All-Star Orchestra’s Music Director Gerard Schwarz guest conducts the United States Marine Band. Founded by an Act of Congress in 1798, it is America’s oldest continually active musical ensemble. Three programs feature masterpieces for symphonic band and the history of the famed ensemble.
Satie’s personal eccentricities have never masked the fact that his music was both revolutionary and anticipatory of later artistic movements, principally Minimalism, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd. His piano music offers a perfect distillation of these elements. The Allegro is his earliest known work, offering his first use of quotations, a favoured device. The extended pieces Le Fils des étoiles and uspud derive from incidental music, glorying in parodic and grotesque scenes, while his ‘humoristic’ phase of the 1910s is explored in Cinq Grimaces. Only Satie could attempt to fuse a fugue with a waltz, as he does in the Fugue-valse.
Based on real events and drawing on Georg Büchner’s revolutionary play, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck turns a grimly tragic narrative of violence and murder into one of the most powerful and original operas of the 20th century. Berg’s uncompromising portrayal of brutality and madness generated much controversy, but the significance of Wozzeck was soon recognised; its compelling lyrical expansiveness, large-scale dramatic gestures and remarkable musical structures producing music of overwhelming emotional intensity. The Financial Times declared this to be ‘a beautiful, moving, engrossing production… this is a consummate Wozzeck, blending clarity, lyricism, compassion and crushing force.’
Haydn’s oratorio Die Schöpfung (‘The Creation’) is one of the greatest masterpieces in the repertoire. Its libretto was constructed by Gottfried van Swieten who took texts from the Book of Genesis, the Psalms and employed his own original poetry. In this radical and compelling staging by the ground-breaking Catalan theatre collective, La Fura dels Baus, and internationally acclaimed stage director Carlus Padrissa, the oratorio is seen through the prism of a stream of refugees expelled from Paradise. Stunning light projections encapsulate the stage space and incorporated philosophical and scientific perspectives make this truly an oratorio for our time.
The pieces on this album originate largely from the Christmette by Michael Praetorius. In addition, nativity hymns by a range of different composers from the same era have been compiled. In Lutheran style the compositions on this album include solo-pieces, choir arrangements, double-choral motets, instrumental pieces and of course the church organ repertoire. The listener can also hear pieces, which were not necessarily meant for Christmas, but fit the program very well. The function of some of the pieces is liturgical, like ‘Gloria’, ‘Our Father’ or the mighty Entrance-Prelude. Two other pieces are meditative moments about the name of Jesus.
The three previously unpublished and unrecorded chamber works in this programme were all written after Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s enforced move to the United States from his native Italy. Evoking the emotional day on which the composer sailed into New York for the first time, the Third Violin Concerto was composed for Jascha Heifetz specifically as a duo for violin and piano. Established as a highly regarded teacher and composer of film music, Castelnuovo-Tedesco rediscovered the joy of chamber-music making as part of the Hollywood musical community. He considered the Sonata for Violin and Cello, Op. 148 his finest in this genre, while the String Trio, Op. 147 recalls the shores of the Mediterranean.
Carlo Domeniconi retains a close relationship with the culture of the Mediterranean whose traditions and customs permeate the Concerto Mediterraneo, Op. 67 in which the two guitars evoke North African and Middle Eastern plucked instruments such as the oud and the saz. Domeniconi’s prestige as an internationally esteemed guitarist informs Oyun, a vivacious and true hybrid of Turkish and Western influences, while Trilogy demands both unusual tuning and imaginative improvisation from the performer. Full of virtuosity, energy and pensive melancholy, Toccata in blue embodies allusions to boogie-woogie and the blues.
With the belated success of his Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (8.550822), Górecki emerged in the 1990s as a composer of world stature. Between 1988 and 1995 he wrote three string quartets for the Kronos Quartet that are among his most important mature works. String Quartet No. 1 reveals chorale-like themes, so much a feature of his later writing, as well as hectic, dance-like motion, while the Second Quartet’s wider range of expression explicitly evokes Beethoven. Genesis I: Elementi offers a powerful contrast – a string trio from 1962 of uncompromising immediacy.
The tapestry of drama, refinement and expressive lyricism in Dag Wirén’s four string quartets (the First Quartet was withdrawn) provides a substantial overview of his musical evolution over 35 years. His earlier works are more accessible than challenging, as demonstrated by the relaxed and affirmative Second and Third Quartets. The Fourth Quartet is more sombre, with nods towards Sibelius and Shostakovich, and in the Fifth, completed not long before Wirén’s retirement as a composer, the easy confidence of the earlier quartets has been replaced by a mood of pessimism and uncertainty.
Argentinian pianist, teacher and composer, Graciela Jiménez, continues to be inspired by the landscape and folk melodies of her native country. They infuse her piano music with evocative imagery whether in the colourful fantasia of En los ojos de las llamas, the aphoristic, dreamlike Trespiezas para piano or in the virtuosic dance rhythms of En la Quebrada de Humahuaca which evoke the music of her great predecessor, Alberto Ginastera. Her poetic, impressionist and jazz-inflected La luz de enero is an adaptation for cello and piano of her song cycle, music of exceptional and luminous beauty.
Musical life in Greece draws on a legacy that has as much richness and depth as the nation’s long and complex history. The vibrant and colourful works on this recording, while representing the country’s lively contemporary music scene, make use of traditional melodies and rhythms combined with wider stylistic influences. This unique programme of premiere recordings includes works dedicated to the Aeolos Woodwind Quintet.
Can you hear the music? Do you hear it play? It’s telling you the story of the first Christmas Day… Perfect for children of all ages, this album of classical and traditional works is a charming and engaging retelling of the nativity through music, song and rhyme. Listen to the music and read the story!
The nights are drawing in, there’s a nip in the air, and everywhere you go there are twinkling lights – it’s time to prepare for Christmas! Let this album of festive classical works help you to get ready for the holidays as you light the Advent candle with Chilcott, build a snowman with Korngold, untangle the fairy lights with Liszt and get the box of baubles down from the loft with Tchaikovsky. And once the halls have been decked and the presents are placed underneath the tree have yourself a merry, musical Christmas!
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!
Richard Wagner: Die Walküre, Act III: Hojotoho! Hojotoho!, “Ride of the Valkyries” (Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, van Zweden)