The spotlight release in the October edition of NEW ON NAXOS is a live recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s opera Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane) from the Theater Freiburg, conducted by Fabrice Bollon. The recording features a strong cast led by soprano Annemarie Kremer and baritone Aris Argiris, with the Philharmonisches Orchester Freiburg. This new release is another milestone in Korngold’s revival as a significant figure in Western musical heritage.
Other highlights include: J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio recorded by the Bachchor and Bachorchester Mainz with renowned conductor Ralf Otto; Teatro Real’s production of Death in Venice by Benjamin Britten, directed by Willy Decker; Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, in a production by Teatro Massimo directed by Emma Dante; three orchestral works by Franz Schreker conducted by JoAnn Falletta; John Harbison’s Requiem, featuring the Nashville Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under Giancarlo Guerrero; two Leonard Bernstein recordings by Marin Alsop and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra; volume 6 of the Music for Brass Septet series by Septura; and many more.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold was at the height of his fame and technical mastery by the time he began work on his fourth opera in 1923. Prominent opera houses clamoured to stage his works, and the Viennese premiere of Das Wunder der Heliane (‘The Miracle of Heliane’) featured Lotte Lehmann among its star cast. Its story is one of the redemptive power of love over injustice and adversity, expressed in music that is richly impressionistic and intensely dramatic. Korngold was criticised for resisting the tide of modernist atonality in this opulent score, but its symbolism and compelling romantic atmosphere can be appreciated today more than ever.
J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was written for the Christmas season of 1734, and although it incorporates music from earlier works it belongs firmly among his timeless large-scale compositions. The development of the oratorio, which was to become a new musical form in Protestant church services at that time, was stimulated by Bach’s compositions, particularly by the unusual form of his six-part Christmas Oratorio. From its famously joyful opening ‘Jauchzetfrohlocket’ to the arrival of the Wise Men from the East, this work’s enduring popularity has long proven its status as a choral ‘evergreen’.
Adapted from Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella, Death in Venice was Benjamin Britten’s last opera, the composer insisting on its completion while delaying badly needed heart surgery. The starkly simple narrative of a famous but failing novelist travelling to Venice to seek inspiration only to find unhealthy infatuation and deadly cholera, is given a chamber-like precision and clarity through Britten’s score, becoming a haunting drama filled with musical symbols, disquieting mystery and richly evocative atmospheres of Venice and its strange characters. Willy Decker’s Teatro Real production was described as ‘one of his most brilliant stage works… a remarkable technical feat.’ (bachtrack.com)
Commissioned in 1846, Macbeth offered Verdi the opportunity to make a qualitative leap in his career and its premiere was triumphantly received by audiences. Yet the libretto had proved problematic and many Italian critics did not share the composer’s reverence for Shakespeare. Verdi surmounted all concerns with an opera that valued brevity but also preserved the play’s most important elements. The formidable final concertato stands as one of his greatest achievements thus far, his pacing and detailing of the opera as a whole far surpassing his previous works. This production preserves the preferred 1865 revision of the work, sung in Italian and retaining the original 1847 finale.
Franz Schreker was a prominent figure in early 20th-century Austro-German music, his reputation as an opera composer rivalling that of Richard Strauss. The Prelude to a Drama is the concert overture of Schreker’s acclaimed opera Die Gezeichneten, a lurid drama involving murder and madness. Conceived as a theatrical pantomime, The Birthday of the Infanta adapts Oscar Wilde’s tragic tale of an ugly dwarf who dies of a broken heart, while the Romantic Suite fully explores the composer’s colourfully detailed and translucent orchestration and lyrical expressiveness.
Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur fellow John Harbison has composed a Requiem for our time – a moving choral work that incorporates the composer’s distinctive sensibilities while drawing deeply on the tradition of Latin sacred music. Completed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Harbison’s Requiem is full of dramatic passages from singers and musicians alike, with abundant opportunities for vocal soloists, brass and percussion to shine. “I wanted my piece to have a sense of the inexorability of the passage of time,” the composer says, “for good and ill, of the commonality of love and loss.”
This recording brings together music from some of Leonard Bernstein’s best-loved scores with seldom heard occasional works and premiere recordings. From the iconic musical West Side Story, the hot-blooded dance number Mambo embodies the show’s dramatic tensions. Slava! celebrates Bernstein’s friend and colleague, the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, in music reworked from the daring show 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, from which the Suite rescues further highlights. CBS Music has not been heard since the broadcasting giant’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 1978, while the Birthday Bouquet takes the form of affectionate musical tributes from eight composer colleagues to one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians.
The sparkling overture to Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 musical Candide immediately found a prominent place in concert programs all over the world and is now one of his most frequently performed pieces. Many of Bernstein’s best loved works drew inspiration from the city of New York, and this is true both of the three sailors pursuing female conquest in the ballet Fancy Free, and of the rip-roaring swing rhythm and big tunes from the musical Wonderful Town. Bernstein celebrated his friends and family with his Anniversaries – piano vignettes heard here for the first time in colourfully expanded orchestrations. Bernstein protégée Marin Alsop’s long association with the composer gives her unique insights into and feeling for his music.
Septura head homeward, with a recording of British music from the first half of the 20th century – a golden age in England’s otherwise chequered compositional history, and a period in which brass instruments, in the form of the brass band, established their place at the very heart of British musical culture. From the many composers of the period whose music endures we have chosen four of the finest: iconic works by Elgar, Parry, Finzi and Walton, re-imagined for the unique sound of the brass septet.
A composition pupil of Jules Massenet, Alfred Bruneau was largely responsible for introducing realism into French opera. His friendship with the writer Émile Zola, who shared his desire for theatrical naturalism, strongly informed his work, not least L’Attaque du moulin (‘The Attack on the Mill’), a ‘drame lyrique’. The suite includes rustic elements, but also Mascagni-like verismo beauty tempered by a Gallic palette. Bruneau was a deft orchestrator with a taste for exotic colour, and the excerpts from Messidor show the influence of Wagner on one of the most important but overlooked figures in turn-of-the-century French musical life.
Alexander Moyzes was one of the most significant figures in modern Slovak music, synthesising the national musical style inherited from his teacher Vítězslav Novák with wider European contemporary trends. Both of these symphonies were written in a happy period of the composer’s life – before his musical oeuvre was overshadowed by conflict. The eloquent and sprightly Fifth Symphony is a celebration of ‘the heritage of my dear father’, who was also a talented musician and an important figure in Alexander’s development as a composer. The Sixth Symphony is notable for its clarity and symmetry, from the simple theme of its opening to the brilliant contrapuntal fugato in its closing movement.
A follow-up to Latino Ladino (8.573566), which focuses on music of the Sephardic diaspora after the 1492 expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain, the programme for Exaltation is drawn from Medieval and Baroque Europe, Turkey and the Near East, and includes beautiful examples of the Sephardic and Sufi traditions. This essentially joyful album, which combines instruments from different cultures and ages to include distinctive timbres such as the didgeridoo, ney flute, flamenco guitar and more, topped by Yaniv d’Or’s haunting countertenor voice, celebrates the spirit that binds the wandering communities, the gods they worship and the hopes they share for a harmonious co-existence.
London and Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries shared an artistic vitality that set them apart from the rest of the world. With Parisian society regularly gripped by periods of Anglomania, a constant process of cultural exchange resulted in operetta hits, wartime classics and popular songs both bawdy and elegant. Capturing the spirit of a period ranging from the fashionable d’Oyly Carte to 1920s American jazz, the Frivol’Ensemble takes us back in time to rediscover the delights of this golden age of musical theatricality.
Famed for his sequence of Piano Concertos, Sterndale Bennett also wrote a small but distinguished body of chamber music. The String Quartet in G Major is one of his earliest surviving works, revealing a precocious talent still strongly influenced by Haydn. Mendelssohn is the model for the Sextet, though Bennett’s highly virtuosic piano writing, with its concertante interplay, reinforces the work’s lyrical qualities and required dexterity as well as its advanced harmonies and hymnal beauty. The concise Chamber Trio radiates sheer charm while displaying an even greater grasp of structure and is the first English example in the trio form where both string instruments are given parts independent of the piano.
Ferdinand Ries grew up in the same musical environment that nurtured Beethoven, both counting Ferdinand’s father Franz as one of their teachers and the two of them becoming the closest of friends. Ries was a gifted and prolific composer in every instrumental genre. His Violin Sonatas are based on the Viennese Classical style established by Mozart but with a freshness and originality that includes movements such as the Adagio of the Sonata, Op. 38,No. 3, one of Ries’s loveliest creations. The Sonatas Op. 38, Nos. 1 & 2 can be heard on the 2nd volume of this edition (8.573717), ‘unreservedly recommended’ by Fanfare magazine.
George Oakley is a Georgian-born American composer and a prize-winning concert pianist. The solo piano pieces on this recording, Toccata and Sonata-Fantasia, are technically demanding works which exhibit a range of styles from jazz to classical and Georgian folk music. Oakley’s Sonata for Cello and Piano takes us from an initial state of struggle and doubt to a cheerful and victorious conclusion. For his FourSongs on Shakespeare Sonnets, Oakley ‘drew inspiration … from the musical language of Shakespeare’s era, so that each song would somehow become a bridge connecting the Renaissance with modernity.’ His mentor and friend Richard Danielpour has written that ‘George Oakley’s music is always highly expressive, inevitable without ever being predictable, and speaks to the heart as well as the mind.’
With its unique combination of instruments, the Vienna Reed Quintet creates a new and refreshing sound that differs significantly from that of the conventional wind quintet. This programme opens up three very special keyboard works to these exhilarating sonorities, starting with the virtuoso dances of Rameau’s descriptively titled suite La Triomphante. Mozart’s Fantasia has all the stately grandeur of a Bach fantasia, while Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin is a tribute both to his great musical ancestor and to friends who fell during the First World War.
This programme has been nurtured from a selection of pieces inspired by English gardens, including Vaughan Williams’ lovely Fantasia on Greensleeves, spreading out towards French and Italian repertoire that evokes pastoral settings of birdsong, fountains and springs, and topped with a light-hearted musical picnic dessert. Along the way we are treated to the exquisite melody of Elgar’s Chanson de matin and the nostalgic atmosphere of William Alwyn’s Naiades. Nino Rota’s film music credits include The Godfather, and his sublime and festive Sonata adds a celebratory touch to the personal joy of these performers’ many years of musical friendship.
Andreas Hakenberger spent his entire professional career within the territory of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, remaining for 20 years as chapel-master at the Lutheran Church of St Mary’s in Gdańsk. Here he wrote his most outstanding works, a sequence of important motets written in cori spezzati, or polychoral technique. The rich tonal colouring obtained through the combinations of vocal parts is enhanced by the variety of the accompanying instrumentation. With astute use of imitation and rhetorical pauses, Hakenberger’s music emerges as richly colourful, graceful and vibrant.
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!
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Das Wunder der Heliane, Op. 20, Act I: Du sollst vom Tod gelöst sein (Argiris, Storey, Kremer, Freiburg Philharmonic, Bollon)
Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, Part VI: Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben (Mainz Bach Choir and Orchestra, Otto)
John Williams: A Bernstein Birthday Bouquet: To Lenny! To Lenny! (São Paulo Symphony, Alsop)
Leonard Bernstein: Fancy Free Suite: IV. Pas de deux (São Paulo Symphony, Alsop)
Edward Elgar: Serenade in E Minor, Op. 20: II. Larghetto (arr. M. Knight) (Septura)
Franz Schreker: Der Geburtstag der Infantin Suite: IX. Die Rose der Infantin (Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Falletta)
John Harbison: Requiem: Part II: Sanctus (Rivera, Markgraf, Nashville Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Guerrero)