The spotlight release in the September edition of NEW ON NAXOS is a collection of Jean Sibelius’s Incidental Music recorded by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra and world-renowned Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam. The recordings, released individually during the 150th anniversary celebrations of the composer’s birth, are now available as a special boxed set.
Other highlights include: Gioachino Rossini’s opera Aureliano in Palmira, recorded live from the 2017 Rossini in Wildbad Bel Canto Festival conducted by José Miguel Pérez-Sierra; Henri Duttileux’sFirst Symphony and other orchestral works performed by the Orchestre National de Lille under Jean-Claude Casadesus; world premiere recording of Symphony No. 13 by Mieczysław Weinberg presented by the Siberian State Symphony Orchestra and conductor Vladimir Lande; a DVD/Blu-ray release of George Frideric Handel’sAgrippina from Theater an der Wien; Handel’s famous oratorio Messiah, performed by the Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphonic Chorale and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Polochick; choral works by Estonian composer Toivo Tulev; and many more.
Parallel to his great sequence of symphonic masterpieces and tone poems, Jean Sibelius wrote a significant body of music for the theatre. It was with King Christian II and Kuolema that he established his fame throughout Europe while some of his most hauntingly beautiful writing for the stage can be found in Belshazzar’s Feast. The tragic pantomime Scaramouche is Sibelius’s only continuous dramatic score, the atmospheric and dramatic Pelléas et Mélisande is one of his most popular works and the rarely performed Jedermann is recognised as a hidden masterpiece. Gramophone wrote of these performances: ‘Leif Segerstam masterminds a characteristically unhurried, atmospheric display. What an absorbing journey of discovery this series has proved to be; congratulations to everyone involved.’
Aureliano in Palmira is unique in Rossini’s oeuvre for its inclusion of the only role, Arsace, that Rossini wrote for the castrato voice. Its tale of tragic defeat and the ultimate nobility and triumph of love in seemingly impossible circumstances is a refined and highly innovative example of his style. Set amidst turbulent times in the Roman Empire, Aureliano in Palmira is packed with sublime arias, duets of haunting beauty (notably the three given to Arsace and Zenobia) and excellent choruses, Rossini himself considering this work as ‘divine music’. Even after initial success he re-used many of its melodies in later operas, most famously in Il barbiere di Siviglia.
A fiercely independent composer, Henri Dutilleux wrote music that is refined, colourful and scrupulously crafted. Symphony No. 1, his first purely orchestral score, established his international reputation. Structurally unconventional – it opens, unusually, with a passacaglia – it illustrates his principle of ‘progressive growth’ through its sustained lyricism and towering, chorale-like statements. Métaboles was inspired by the virtuosity of the woodwind section of George Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra. Distinctive instrumentation for each movement allows for deep expression, jazzy rhythms and moments of irony. The enigmatic diptych Les Citations quotes from fellow composers Benjamin Britten and Jehan Alain.
Weinberg’s Symphony No. 13, dedicated to the memory of his mother, is cast in a single movement that unfolds in a symmetrical arc. A large orchestra is used sparingly in chamber-like textures with motivic ideas that evolve over the course of the work. The result is music of gripping and unsettling power, both emotionally intense and architecturally complex. Some years earlier Weinberg wrote the light-hearted Serenade, Op. 47, No. 4 which offers a study in contrasts: by turn capricious, rumbustious and wistful.
During his years in Italy, Handel absorbed the music of his contemporaries and mastered new stylistic trends. Though the staging of La resurrezione was a memorable event in the Roman musical world, it was the production of Agrippina that marked Handel’s definitive investiture as an operatic composer. It met with enormous success and an unprecedented number of performances followed. Its melodic power is overwhelming and in his creation of credible and vivid characters, the alternation of recitative and arias, and sheer theatrical power, Handel established the template that was to last for the remainder of his operatic career.
Of all English oratorios Handel’s Messiah has always been the most overwhelmingly popular. It is the least theatrical of his oratorios and the most purely sacred in its choice of subject matter. The vivid choral writing – there are more choruses in Messiah than in any other Handel oratorio – coupled with the expressive density of the solo arias, have ensured its status as one of the greatest choral masterpieces in the Western canon.
This recording realises Barthold Kuijken’s long-held desire to restore to Jean-Baptiste Lully, and to French Baroque orchestral works in general, the power and intensity that once held the musical world in thrall. To the grandeur, finesse and diversity of the genre he has brought original source material to inform specific bowing techniques and the use of ornamentation. The result, as with Telemann’s Suite in E minor, which stands firmly in the Lully tradition, and Rameau’s magnificent Suite from Dardanus, evokes the spectacle and splendour of Versailles.
Joly Braga Santos was Portugal’s greatest orchestral composer, and this recording presents eight world premiere recordings including his very first work for orchestra, the Symphonic OvertureNo. 1. This and the Symphonic Overture No. 2 share a unified structure and lyrical themes, contrasting with the sombre Prelude, originally written for an intensely tragic opera. Braga Santos’s characterful four ‘miniatures’ are brought together to form an attractive suite, while his only Piano Concerto is a virtuoso spectacle with a large part for percussion and a gloriously anarchic approach to timbre and tonality.
All of the pieces in this programme have a literary or artistic connection as the background to their creation. Heard here in their first version, the Consolations owe their title to a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine and include a melody that later became the first Hungarian Rhapsody. The meditative Sposalizio was inspired by a painting by Raphael, and the Ballade by Gottfried Bürger’s haunting ‘Lenore’. Victor Hugo’s Après une lecture de Dante is used powerfully by Liszt to express damnation and hope, and the first Mephisto Waltz derived from Lenau’s ‘Faust’ depicts a dance both sinister and amorous.
The Estonian composer Toivo Tulev has forged a unique sound world. His music, with its almost obsessive focus on religious mysticism, can be sensual and emotional but also cerebral and technically demanding. Tulev often takes inspiration from his extensive travels, in particular from the city of Istanbul which, like his vocal music, bridges East and West. His meditation on the words of Sufi mystic Mansur Al-Hallaj, I said, Who are You? – He said, You, conjures up a transcendent atmosphere, while his Magnificat departs from the text’s traditionally solemn setting with its stratospherically high string writing and wild percussion solos.
Brazilian-American composer, Miguel Kertsman, writes in numerous genres embracing classical music, jazz, progressive rock, electronica and film, bridging these diverse elements to craft a unique sound world. Concerto Brasileiro explores lyricism and modernity through solemn chorale-like writing and seductive dances laced with Brazilian folk rhythms. Uncommon sonorities, haunting themes and ethereal landscapes mark out the Concerto for Violin, Horn, Shofar andOrchestra, while traditionalism and experimentation define the Journey for Bassoon and Orchestra. Chamber Symphony No. 2 explores and celebrates New York’s rich cultural diversity.
A large number of saxophone concertos have been written, but only a handful are regularly performed. With these premiere recordings Olli-Pekka Tuomisalo showcases five works that, had circumstances been different, might easily have established themselves as repertoire pieces. John Beach Cragun’s beautifully voiced work is the first saxophone concerto by an American and, like Yrjö Gunaropulos’ concerto – which enjoyed celebrity in the 1930s – was only rediscovered in 2016. The concertos by Eilert Lindorff-Larsen and Leopold van der Pals are compact, varied and exciting, while that by Phyllis Tate is considered her first major work.
Peter Graham is one of the leading brass band composers of his generation, and the first outside the US to win the American Bandmasters Association’s prestigious Ostwald Award for composition. Black Dyke Band celebrates his 60th birthday with this recording, the theme of which derives from Graham’s time in New York and from some of the ‘giants’ of American culture. On the Shoulders ofGiants pays tribute to great brass virtuosi such as Miles Davis and John Philip Sousa; New York Movie is a ‘musical narrative’ on seven of Edward Hopper’s iconic, haunting paintings; and Metropolis 1927 takes its inspiration from the dystopian beauty of Fritz Lang’s classic science fiction film.
Rossini considered the ‘mezzo’ voice to be his ideal, stating that ‘the contralto is the norm against which the other voices and instruments of the composition must be gauged.’ Containing numerous premiere recordings, this penultimate release in Alessandro Marangoni’s acclaimed traversal of Rossini’s complete piano music is vibrant with national colours from France, Italy and Spain, and rich in emotions of sadness and love, from the tragic Adieux à la vie! sung on a single note, to the sustained operatic embellishments of Questo palpito soave.
Mozart himself saw the advantages of creating more accessible versions of his concertos in reduced instrumentation. Ignaz Lachner followed common 19th-century practice by leaving the piano parts of these concertos intact and making splendid transcriptions of the orchestra parts using only a string quartet with added bass. K. 488 and K. 491 are two of Mozart’s greatest and most popular piano concertos. These chamber versions throw an intense and intimate new light on familiar music.
Although he was particularly renowned for his music for harpsichord and for guitar, British composer Stephen Dodgson was a versatile craftsman of chamber music. The examples here reveal his intricate but surprising turns of phrase, from the subtle exploration of sonorities in the Septet Variations to the sunlit beauty of the Pastoral Sonata. Dodgson’s mastery of colour and texture is evident in his Solway Suite, while the early Capriccio and Finale treats the listener to a kaleidoscope of whimsical and witty interludes.
The considerable variety of Johann Sebastian Bach’s output for the lute stands witness to different periods of his life and career. This collection comprises Bach’s complete lute works, amply demonstrating his interest in its expressive qualities. These works include the technically demanding Partita BWV 1006a, Bach’s own transcription of his Cello Suite No. 5, three pieces from the St John Passion and the St Matthew Passion where the lute appears in an ensemble setting, and the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998, described by the renowned harpsichordist Wanda Landowska as ‘of incomparable beauty… unique amongst Bach’s works’.
Marko Topchii, winner of the 2017 Michele Pittaluga Guitar Competition, has selected a rich and varied repertoire ranging from neo-Romanticism to serialism, each work offering a unique vision of the instrument’s technical and expressive capabilities. Antonio José’s Sonata is remarkably inventive, bringing a new language to ancient dance forms, while Frank Martin’s Quatre Pièces brèves, written in the same year, offers the flourish and vigour of contemporary harmonic vocabulary. Roland Dyens’ Libra Sonatine is one of the most virtuosic and brilliant of late 20th-century guitar works.
In addition to some 47 keyboard sonatas, Haydn wrote a variety of other pieces including arrangements of earlier orchestral or chamber works, and dances intended for occasional use. The 10 kleine Klavierstücke (10 Little Piano Pieces) contain five symphonic movements – including the second movement from one of his most popular, No. 53 inD major, known as L’Impériale – a single movement from a string quartet and three extracts from his witty Eszterháza opera La vera costanza. The dance movements were popular in Vienna’s many ballrooms.
Heitor Villa-Lobos was one of a number of eminent composers attracted to writing for the harmonica and his Concerto explores the instrument’s abilities perfectly. The first movement is highly melodic while the harmonica’s singing qualities are to be found in the plaintively haunting lyricism of the slow movement. The finale embodies festive romance and great virtuosity, capping one of the most exciting works in the repertoire. The sequence of arrangements and orchestrations of some of Villa-Lobos’s most beautiful, moving and famous melodies includes the masterpiece Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.
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!