This month’s NEW ON NAXOS presents a treasure trove of new recordings. Our monthly spotlight release is the long-awaited and highly acclaimed box set of Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s complete cycle of Shostakovich’s symphonies. International Record Review described this cycle as “exceptional” and ClassicsToday.com proclaimed Vasily Petrenko as “an outstanding Shostakovich conductor.”
Other highlights include Boris Giltburg’s recording of three of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, representing the Early, Middle and Late stages of the composer’s creative life and united by their key: C minor/major; the penultimate release of the Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra’s cycle of orchestral works by Jean Sibelius; Gabriel Schwabe and Nicholas Rimmer’s performance of Brahms’ two much loved cello sonatas; Leonard Slatkin and the Orchestre National de Lyon’s interpretation of Ravel’s foray into a world of childlike imagination – L’Enfant et les sortilèges and Ma Mère l’Oye; the penultimate volume of Pierre Rode’s violin concertos, performed by Friedemann Eichhorn; the complete orchestral works of Portuguese composer José Viana da Mota, which includes his Symphony ‘To the Homeland’ along with the world première recordings of several other works, with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Álvaro Cassuto; Spectrum Concerts Berlin’s recording of chamber works by Anton Arensky; and Penderecki’s song cycle Powiało na mnie morze snów… (A sea of dreams did breathe on me…), with the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, directed by Antoni Wit.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas form an unparalleled canon, remaining one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges for pianists to this day. These three sonatas represent Beethoven’s Early, Middle and Late periods but are united in the key of C – minor, for the dramatic and stormy intensity of mood in the Pathétique, and major for the radiant and poetic Waldstein sonata. In his SonataOp. 111 the cycle is completed with music of utmost dramatic tension and the deepest spirituality.
So great was the effect of Sibelius’s incidental music for Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande that August Strindberg, whose wife had performed the role of Mélisande, agreed that he should write the music for his as-yet unperformed play Svanevit (Swanwhite). Composing for an orchestra of thirteen he wrote in a style reminiscent of Grieg, and both play and music were very well received by critics and audiences alike. The play Ödlan (The Lizard) inspired Sibelius with its dreamlike atmosphere, while Ett ensamt skidspår (A Lonely Ski Trail) and Grevinnans konterfej (The Countess’ Portrait) show his skill in writing for drama on a miniature scale.
A period of twenty-one years separates Brahms’ two Cello Sonatas. Suffused with lyricism and expressive ardour, the First has become one of his most popular chamber works. The Second is more sober and succinct than the earlier work, yet strikingly original not least for the wide range required of the cellist to reach unusually high notes from the very low register. Chosen to suit the cello’s particular colour and articulation, the six songs are heard in idiomatic and sensitive arrangements which stay as close as possible to the originals.
Ravel’s opera L’Enfant et les sortilèges captures an imaginative child’s world in which the creatures and objects around him come to life. Wittily portrayed in Colette’s inventive libretto and by Ravel’s meticulous orchestration, furniture, crockery and animals alike are at first provoked by the child’s appalling behaviour, finally helping him after he bandages the squirrel’s paw he had previously pricked with his pen. The unforgettably enchanting Mother Goose translates well-known fairytales into music, including the gently melodic SleepingBeauty’s Pavane, her conversation with the gruffest of beasts, and a final blessing in The Fairy Garden.
Pierre Rode was the star pupil of Viotti (the greatest violinist of the day), in time becoming the leading exponent of the French Violin School. A great virtuoso – he premièred Beethoven’s last ViolinSonata – he composed exclusively for his own instrument and his thirteen concertos, along with his Caprices, are his greatest compositional legacy. The Violin Concerto No. 2 is notable for its contrasts between challenging virtuosity and lyrical interludes, whilst Concerto No. 8 is one of his most beautiful works, with long-breathed melodies and dramatic flourishes. This is the fourth of five volumes containing all thirteen of Rode’s Violin Concertos.
The most distinguished pianist of his generation, a brilliant pedagogue and a highly gifted composer, José Viana da Mota was a towering personality in the field of Portuguese music. Disapproving of ‘modernistic’ compositional trends he stopped composing around 1910 but not before he had written his Symphony ‘To the Homeland’, a brilliantly orchestrated paean to Portuguese prowess and discovery which makes use of Portuguese folk dances and songs. Based on the dramatic life and murder of the 14th-century noblewoman Inês de Castro, Viana da Mota’s Lisztian symphonic poem is an early work notable for its kaleidoscopic sections full of inspiring contrasts. This recording presents the complete orchestral works of Viana da Mota.
Anton Arensky belonged to the generation between Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, his early flair leading Tolstoy to state that, “among the new composers he is the best, he is simple and melodious.” Lacking a Russian tradition for the genre, Arensky’s Piano Quintet draws on Brahms and Mendelssohn for its sweeping themes and sparkling wit. The Second String Quartet was written in memory of Tchaikovsky and is a tender, elegiac work unusual in its scoring with two cellos. Dedicated to his cellist friend Karl Davidoff, the First Piano Trio is also a wonderfully heartfelt and virtuosic masterpiece.
Composed for the final concert of the Chopin bicentenary celebrations in Warsaw in 2010, Powiało na mnie morze snów… (A sea of dreams did breathe on me…) is an extended song cycle comparable in scale to the Eighth Symphony [Naxos 8.570450]. The individual songs, settings of both Romantic and contemporary Polish poetry, are grouped into larger movements and chart a progression from an almost impressionistic lightness to monumentality, the expressive tenor of the music ranging widely – nostalgic for loss, but also tense and impassioned.