SAINT-SAENS - SYMPHONY NO. 2 HYPERION CDA68212
The French composer, pianist and organist Camille Saint-Saëns, born in Paris in 1835, was a childhood prodigy. His precocious talent soon won him the admiration of Gounod, Rossini, Berlioz and Liszt, who proclaimled him ‘the world’s greatest organist’. He was organist at the Madeleine, a teacher (Fauré was among his pupils) wrote on musical, scientific and historical topics, travelled widely, and co-founded the Société Nationale de Musique (1871). He wrote many concertos, classically-orientated sonatas, sacred music, several ‘exotic’ dramatic works and a good deal of chamber music, including his famous Third Symphony (the ‘Organ’). His more rarely heard Second symphony is a large-scale composition with many innovative ideas of form and structure. A stormy allegro in the first movement is followed by a short adagio and a lively final movement rondo based on a dance tune. Full of drive and energy, this light hearted symphony is, by any standards, an outright winner and deserves to be much better known. Following their outstanding recording for Hyperion of the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony, Thierry Fischer and the Utah Symphony Orchestra here perform the composer’s Symphony No 2, a rambunctious Danse macabre (with Madeline Adkins, violin) and Urbs Roma (of F major symphony). Written in 1856 for a competition held by the Société Sainte Cécile of Bordeaux, which Saint-Saëns won, Urbs Roma was the anonymous pseudonym the judges required to ensure fair play. The composer never promoted Urbs Roma, or published it, but it’s an intriguing work both as a marker for the future and for its own virtues.
BERLIOZ - ROMEO ET JULIETTE NAXOS 8573449-50
Of all Hector Berlioz’s Shakespeare-inspired works, Roméo et Juliette is unquestionably his masterpiece. The French composer’s inspiration for this large-scale choral symphony came from being overwhelmed at a performance of Romeo and Juliet that he saw at the Odéon Theatre in Paris in 1827. In his Memoirs, he recalled that by the third act he was scarcely able to breathe - - ‘It was as though an iron hand had gripped me by the heart - I knew that I was lost.’ The cast included Harriet Smithson, who also inspired Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique. The range of feeling and mood as well as poetic and formal invention which Berlioz found in Shakespeare made a musical setting of Shakespeare’s work al most inevitable. Roméo et Juliette created an innovative new form, a kind of ‘super-symphony’ that incorporates elements of symphony, opera and oratorio. Berlioz composed no singing roles for the central characters but allowed others to comment or narrate, giving latitude to incarnate the lovers in a musical language of extraordinary delicacy and passion. The vivid Ball Scene and Romeo at the Capulet tomb are intensely dramatic but the heart of the work is the Love Scene, a long symphonic poem which Richard Wagner called ‘the melody of the 19th century’. Wagner was at the premiere of the symphony in 1839 and it made such an impression on him that it subsequently influenced his score for Tristan and Isolde. This double-CD release features a performance at Auditorium de Lyon, France, with Spirito, Chœurs et solistes de Lyon-Bernard Tétu and the Orchestre National de Lyon conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The soloists are Marion Lebègue (mezzo-soprano), Julien Behr (tenor) and Frédéric Caton (baritone). This is a fine recording of one of Berlioz’s most personally cherished works - a profound homage to love, Shakespeare, Beeethoven and the symphonic form.
TIPPETT - SYMPHONIES 3 & 4 HYPERION A68231/2
Sir Michael Tippett was born on 2 January 1905 in London and grew up in Suffolk. He took an early interest in ‘composing’ on the family piano and rose to prominence as a bona fide composer during and immediately after the Second World War. Ranked second only to Benjamin Britten among his contemporaries, his best-known works are the ground-breaking oratorio A Child of Our Time, his orchestral Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, and his opera The Midsummer Marriage. After Tippett’s death in 1998, his reputation fell somewhat and no consensus yet exists about his later works. Nevertheless, he is recognised as one of the most original and powerful musical voices of twentieth-century Britain and his vast output of energetic, ebullient music has a dedicated following, though much of it is little heard. This new double-CD completes Hyperion’s exemplary Tippet Symphony series and is a rare opportunity to experience the composer’s unique symphonic voice stretching across nearly half a century, from the early Symphony in B flat, written in the 1930s, to his Third Symphony (here receiving its first recording) and the extraordinary single massive movement Symphony No. 4, written in 1977. Tippett called his Fourth Symphony ‘a birth to death piece’, emphasised by a breathing effect, either from tape or sampler. This is particularly prominent at the beginning and the end of the symphony, with a single, unaccompanied intake of breath forming its conclusion. This masterful symphony combines the gentle lyricism of his first creative period with the characteristic spiky modernism of his later work. The excellent BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Martyn Brabbins, a leading advocate of British composers, with exciting dramatic soprano Rachel Nicholls as soloist in Symphony No. 3.
STENHAMMAR - SYMPHONY NO. 2 BIS SACD BIS2424
Swedish composer, conductor and outstanding pianist Wilhelm Stenhammar was born in Stockholm in 1871. He studied music in Stockholm and Berlin, where he was influenced by German composers such as Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner. He later adopted the more ‘Nordic’ style of Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius, clearly evident in his Second Symphony, beautifully played on this SACD by the Gothenburg Symphony conducted by Herbert Blomstedt. From 1906 to 1922 Stenhammar was Artistic Director and chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony, the first full-time professional orchestra in Sweden. and organised many performances of music by contemporary Scandinavian composers. His own works were varied and included two completed symphonies, a Serenade for Orchestra, two piano concertos, four piano sonatas, a violin sonata, and six string quartets. His many songs and other vocal works included several large-scale works for chorus or voices and orchestra. Herbert Blomstedt first conducted the Gothenburg Symphony in 1953, since when he has been back many times, performing a wide range of works only not those by Wilhelm Stenhammar. Blomstedt has told of how an international career gave him little opportunity to study and conduct Stenhammars music. At the age of 85, however, when he no longer had any obligations as a chief conductor, he began to study the composer’s major scores in earnest. The works on this disc are possibly the finest orchestral music that Stenhammar composed and he gave the premières of both with this orchestra, Symphony No. 2 in 1915 and the revised version of the Serenade in 1920. He even dedicated the symphony to the members of the orchestra, his dear friends. Stenhammar’s music has been overshadowed by that of Nielsen and Sibelius but deserves to be much better known. His superb Symphony No. 2 is a hidden masterpiece, both exciting and Romantic, and the Serenade is seductively lyrical. This exemplary recording is highly recommended.
SAINT-SAENS - SYMPHONY NO. 3 & TROIS TABLEAUX SYMPHONIQUES HYPERION A68201
The French composer, pianist and organist Camille Saint-Saëns, wrote this famous piece including organ and piano - unprecedented at the time – to create a spectacular example of music that is both resplendent and grandiose. It was driven, in the composer’s words, ‘by the progress made in modern instrumentation’, and Saint-Saëns himself conducted its French première in 1920. The Utah Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Thierry Fischer, give an outstanding performance of this masterpiece here, as well as two less well-known pieces by Saint-Saëns: The exotic and suggestive Bacchanale from his opera Samson et Dalila and Trois tableaux symphoniques d’apres La Foi, based on the incidental music to a play by Eugene Brieux set in ancient Egypt. Confounding traditional expectations of exoticism, La Foi reflects the composer’s ideas on the role of religion in society. The prospect of a little-known Saint-Saëns orchestral work might not set the heart racing, but ample amends for a century’s unaccountable neglect of ‘La Foi’ are made with this magnificent new recording - much more than just a prelude to the ‘organ’ symphony. This is music of the highest quality, beautifully played and recorded.
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – SEA SYMPHONY HYPERION CDA68245
Ralph Vaughan Williams remains one of Britain greatest and most influential composers. His music’s power, nobility and expressiveness sublimely capture the essence of ‘Englishness’, perhaps because he was an important collector of English folk music and songs. In a long career, he wrote symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music and film scores, his music often profoundly mystical as well as lyrical, melodic and melancholic - nostalgic yet timeless. In the early years of the 20th century, the sea was a popular subject for composers, including Elgar (Sea Pictures 1899) and Debussy (La mer) and British composers were often inspired by the poetry of the American Walt Whitman. Vaughan Williams brought both these preoccupations together in A Sea Symphony, begun in 1903 and competed seven years later. The words were from various Whitman poems to be found in Leaves of Grass, and the composer said that ‘The shape of the work is symphonic rather than maritime or dramatic… The words as well as the music are thus treated symphonically.’ Vaughan Williams conducted the first performance himself on 12 October 1910, his 38th birthday, at the Leeds Festival, where he was also the soloist in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. His vast, profound and moving symphony received a rapturous reception, leaving no doubt that Vaughan Williams was the leading English figure in the post-Elgar generation. One of the mightiest of first symphonies, this setting of Walt Whitman creates a very special sense of occasion. It is coupled here with another Vaughan Williams setting of words by Whitman, the rarely heard ‘Darest thou now, O soul’ for chorus and strings. The outstanding BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus are superby conducted by Martyn Brabbins, with soloists Elizabeth Llewellyn (Soprano) and Marcus Farnsworth (Baritone) in fine voice.
ARTYOMOV - SYMPHONY OF ELEGIES DIVINE ART DDA 25172
This is the fifth in Divine Art’s series devoted to Russian composer Vyacheslav Artyomov, which has included recordings of his ‘Threshold’ and ‘Gentle Emanation’ symphonies. The Symphony of Elegies is the composer’s own favourite among his symphonies composed so far – and it is very different from the others, being exceptionally ethereal, mainly very quiet, and meditative as well as sorrowful. The Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra is conducted by Saulius Sondeckis. The album also features two other important works by Artyomov. ‘Awakening’, played here by Oleh Krysa and Tatiana Grindenko, requires virtuoso playing but not of the ‘fireworks’ kind. ‘Incantations’, featuring the Mark Pekarsky Percussion Ensemble and the marvelous vocal talent of the late soprano Lydia Davydova, is a percussion piece that was formerly recorded under the title Invocations. ‘Artyomov brings glory to our country and to Russian art.’ - Mstislav Rostropovich.
ARTYOMOV - SYMPHONY, ON THE THRESHOLD OF A BRIGHT WORLD DIVINE ART DDA 25143
Vyacheslav Artyomov’s superb ‘Threshold’ symphony, part of his tetralogy ‘Symphony of the Way’, is typically underpinned by the composer’s deep spirituality, and is also universal and cosmic in its scope. Also included here is ‘Ave Atque Vale’, another major work for percussion and orchestra, and ‘Ave, Crux Alba’, a more traditional (and sublimely beautiful) choral piece by Russia’s greatest living composer. The National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia is conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. A companion CD. ARTYOMOV - SYMPHONY, GENTLE EMANATION (DIVINE ART 25144) symphony ‘Gentle Emanation’ and ‘Tristia II’ for piano and orchestra (DDA 25144). This is the third of his gigantic tetralogy ‘Symphony of the Way, which was given its premiere by Mstislav Rostropovich to whose memory the disc is dedicated. The symphony is accompanied by Tristia II, a Fantasy for piano and orchestra with poems and prayers by Nikolai Gogol (with pianist Philip Kopachevsky and reader Mikhail Philippov). The Russian National Orchestra is conducted by two of Russia’s finest young musicians, Teodor Currenzis and Vladimir Ponkin.
SCRIABIN - SYMPHONY NO. 1 / PROMETHEUS: THE POEM OF FIRE LAWO LWC1160
The innovative and controversial Russian composer and pianist Alexander Scriabin was born in 1872. Influenced by Chopin, his early compositions were characterised by tonal language, including music in many genres popularised by Chopin himself, such as the étude, prelude, nocturne, and mazurka. Later, and independently of Arnold Schoenberg, Scriabin developed an atonal and more dissonant musical system that resonated with his personal brand of mysticism. He was also influenced by synesthesia, associating colours with various unusual harmonic tones, as well as by Theosophy and Symbolism. His music was initially scorned, but Leo Tolstoy described it as ‘a sincere expression of genius’ and it later influenced composers such as Stravinsky and Prokofiev. His ambitious First Symphony, completed 1900, consists of six movements the last of which has a chorus and two vocal soloists and a chorus. Described by critic Arthur Eaglefield Hull as ‘a masterly work of great beauty’, the symphony’s finale is full of wonderful ideas and shows the influences of Wagner, Liszt, Franck and Tchaikovsky. The grandiose finale is a paean to the sovereignty of Art, with words written by Scriabin, who considered himself to be a ‘Messiah’, an inspired bringer of enlightenment to humanity. This release also includes a recording of Scriabin’s Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, which he considered to be his Symphony No. 5. Written in 1910, it was the composer’s last completed orchestral work and is almost a concerto, although the prominent role for the piano functions as part of the orchestra rather than as a soloist. In this last instalment of their highly recommended Scriabin Series, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by acclaimed Russian maestro Vasily Petrenko, with the excellent pianist Kirill Gerstein. ‘Gerstein is just the sort of ‘thinking pianist’ to take it on and he does a terrific job, and Vasily Petrenko and the Oslo Phil are highly sympathetic partners.’ - Gramophone Magazine on Scriabin’s Piano Concerto (LWC1139).
SMETANA - FESTIVE SYMPHONY NAXOS 8.573672
Czech composer Bedřich Smetana pioneered the development of a musical style which became closely identified with his country’s aspirations to independence. Widely regarded in his homeland as the father of Czech music, he is best known internationally for his opera, The Bartered Bride, and his symphonic poems cycle Má vlast (‘My Country’), which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer’s native land. Smetana’s underrated Festive Symphony, incorporating the Austrian imperial anthem, was composed in 1854 when hopes for Emperor Franz Joseph becoming King of Bohemia were high. Although Smetana dedicated it to the royal couple, they never acknowledged receipt of this early work and it wasn’t played until years later. The splendid Romantic sounds of Smetana’s only formal symphony pre-echo later masterpieces such as Ma Vlast, but his use of the Austrian Imperial anthem became unacceptable in the subsequent spirit of Czech nationalism, resulting in the work’s neglect. The most impressive movement of the four is the folk-influenced scherzo with its lively tunes which in later life Smetana conducted only as a single movement. The attractive, well-crafted music is played here by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Darrell Ang. The album also includes a recording of the sparkling overture and three lively rural dances from The Bartered Bride. Smetana’s international reputation has been secured by the only Czech opera of its day to enter the standard repertoire, becoming a beacon for the nation’s 19th century musical renaissance.
MENDELSSOHN SYMPHONIES 1-5 DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4797337
Felix Mendelssohn was born into a notable Jewish family - his grandfather was the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn - which later converted to Christianity. He was a musical prodigy and his early success in Germany was followed by travel throughout Europe. Mendelssohn was particularly well received in England as a composer, conductor and soloist, and his ten visits saw many of his major works premiered there. His essentially conservative musical tastes set him apart from some of his more adventurous musical contemporaries such as Liszt, Wagner and Berlioz, and the Conservatoire he founded at Leipzig became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook. Mendelssohn’s work includes symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano and chamber music, as well as many songs, both for solo voice and for duet with piano. This 3-CD box set features the complete Mendelssohn symphonies with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, released to mark the 500th anniversary of the European Reformation. The set is crowned by a recording of the ‘Reformation’ Symphony No. 5 (actually the second of the mature Mendelssohn’s five symphonies). This release is the first complete symphonic cycle to be recorded at the new Philharmonie de Paris, which opened in January 2015. Montreal-born Nézet-Séguin is the Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Music Director Designate of the Metropolitan Opera New York.
BEETHOVEN - SYMPHONY NO. 3 MDG SACD MDG9371966
Beethoven’s Third Symphony, ‘Eroica’, was premiered on April 7, 1805, at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, and it remains among the greatest of all symphonies. Pushing back boundaries in the scale of both ambition and expression, Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony was one of the most important milestones in classical music, and a triumphant piece of art. Beethoven injected this grand symphony - written at a crucial time in his life when he was losing his hearing and falling into a deep depression - with immense passion, intensity and ideas that had never been heard before. He uses the symphony to convey his ideas about heroism and revolution, which was messing up all Europe at the time. Legend has it that when the composer learned that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, he tore the title page of his symphony to shreds. He had originally intended to call it ‘Bonaparte’, but now he felt that Napoleon had betrayed the ideals of the French Revolution. Fortunately he left the music unchanged, bequeathing an enduring masterpiece to posterity – as this compelling new recording by Stefan Blunier and the Beethoven Orchester Bonn shows on this excellent SACD. Beethoven’s Third Symphony is complemented with König Stephan and Die Weihe des Hauses, two very rarely heard overtures. It is difficult to understand why these two masterpieces are hardly ever performed in the concert hall, especially since they received huge acclaim from audiences when they premiered in conjunction with stage performances. In 1811 Beethoven composed his delightful six-minute overture and incidental choral music for King Stephen, a play about the founder of Hungary that was written by August von Kozebue to open a new theatre in Budapest. The Consecration of the House (or Die Weihe des Hauses), was composed in 1822 and first performed at the opening of Vienna’s new Theatre in der Josefstadt that year. The work builds to an intense and satisfyingly intense climax, with an air of celebration and festival.
SPOHR – SYMPHONY NO. 4 NAXOS 8.5553989
The nineteenth century German composer, violinist, conductor and teacher Louis Spohr was once as famous as his friend Beethoven. His orchestral writings and chamber works were considered on a par with Mozart’s and he was a virtuoso whose playing was greatly admired by Queen Victoria. Although Spohr’s music is little heard today, his musical legacy remains as one of the leading conductors of the first half of the nineteenth century and as a seminal figure in the development of modern violin playing. In addition to inventing both the violin chin-rest and rehearsal numbers/letters for printed music, he was the first major conductor to use a baton. As a composer he was an important figure in the development of German music drama, especially the oratorio. The prolific Spohr produced more than 150 works, including nine symphonies (the tenth was left unfinished), fifteen violin concertos (plus two double-violin concertos), 36 string quartets, and dozens of other chamber works. This new release from Naxos features Alfred Walter conducting the Budapest Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Spohr’s forward-looking Symphony No. 4 in F major, acclaimed as the composer’s symphonic masterpiece on its first performance in 1832. Subtitled Die Weihe der Töne (The Consecration of Sound), this is a programmatic work, based on an eponymous poem by Carl Pfeiffer, that offers both a novel symphonic form and a powerful musical narrative. The album also includes recordings of two pieces by Spohr that demonstrate his talent for operatic composition, the Overtures for Faust and Jessonda.
BRAHMS – SYMPHONIES 1-4 OEHMS OC 030
German composer Johannes Brahms venerated Ludwig van Beethoven and had a marble bust of the great man looking down on him as he composed. Brahms inevitably wanted to write symphonies, even though fifty years earlier Beethoven had proved himself such a master of that form. As Brahms once observed that he was daunted by ‘What it means to the likes of us when we hear his footsteps behind us.’ He hesitated for many years before daring to present his first symphony, which he had begun his first symphony in the early 1860s but didn’t finish until 1876. It premiered that year in Karlsruhe rather than Vienna, where Brahms lived but was wary of the city’s music critics and audiences, who also worshipped Beethoven. The main theme of the finale is reminiscent of the main theme of the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth, and when this resemblance was pointed out to Brahms he replied that ‘any ass could see that’. The premiere was a success and Brahms’ First Symphony, memorably tagged ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’ by Hans von Bülow, stands today as one of the finest by any composer of any time. The composer went on to produce three more classical symphonies, confirming himself as a classicist in the tradition of Mozart and Beethoven. This 3-CD box set features Australian-born Simone Young (Limelight magazine’s Music Personality of the Year in 2012) conducting the Philharmoniker Hamburg, playing all four symphonies by Brahms, together with his turbulent Tragic Overture. Young and the orchestra are in impressive form, enabling the listener to experience all the subtlety of these still unerrestimated works.
BEETHOVEN: THE SYMPHONIES DACAPO 2.110423-25BD
The great maestro Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, who died aged 80 in 2014, was a Spanish-born conductor of German parentage who blended Teutonic precision with Iberian sensuality. He was acclaimedfor memorable interpretations of the works of his Spanish composers while championing the Germanic canon on the Iberian Peninsula. He worked with many leading orchestras around the world, including the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia in London and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the United States, in a conducting of almost six decades. In 2010, he was named ‘Conductor of the Year’ by the prestigious magazine Musical America and more than 100 recordings testify to his reputation as one of the finest conductors in recent times. His two years as the venerated Principal Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra is celebrated in this splendid three Blu-ray box set recorded live in concert at the new DR Koncerthuset in Copenhagen. The set combines Frühbeck de Burgos’ powerful interpretation of the complete symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven with his spectacular renderings of Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz and Richard Strauss’ Eine Alpensinfonie as well as Joaquín Rodrigo’s popular Concierto de Aranjuez, featuring the world-renowned Spanish guitarist Pepe Romero. The box set, also available on DVD, includes a 100-page booklet with an extensive essay by the Danish composer and writer Karl Aage Rasmussen, who authoritatively takes the reader through Beethoven’s nine Symphonies. The book is presented in four languages – English and Danish as well as Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos's own languages, German and Spanish. These recordings are a worthy tribute to a man held in great affection and respect by audiences and musicians alike.
BRUCKNER – THE COMPLETE SYMPHONIES CPO 555 023-2
Austrian Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) struggled to gain recognition in his lifetime but is now acknowledged as a major composer of symphonies and his music has been much recorded. Admired for his originality and characteristic style, it has been said unfairly that ‘he did not compose nine symphonies but one symphony nine times’. He was a late starter, only composing seriously at 37, well past the age that Mozart died. As well as nine numbered symphonies there are two earlier works that remained unpublished at the time of his death. The music on this elegantly produced box set of ten CDs was recorded with the Tapiola Sinfonietta, Northern Sinfonia, Sinfonieorchester Basel, Berner Symphonieorchester, and Konzerthausorchester Berlin. Swiss conductor Mario Venzago has been acclaimed for his imaginative interpretations of Bruckner’s music as he opposes the heavy, pathos-laden, slow sound of many others. Venzago’s work with different ensembles aims to emphasise the depth of variety in Bruckner’s oeuvre, underscoring the fact that Bruckner wrote his symphonies over a period of twenty-seven years, during which time he developed spectacularly as a composer. The sound is thrillingly captured, especially in the conductor’s brilliant readings of the last two great symphonies. The accompanying bonus DVD features a film documentary, Venzago’s Bruckner. This is an unconventional, original, and visionary look at a great cal composer, touching sacred subjects (the intensity of Bruckner’s religious faith is legendary), and offering fascinating insights into musical rehearsal.
PER NORGARD - SYMPHONIES 2 & 6 DACAPO 6.220645
Per Nørgård’s eight symphonies stand as milestones, composed through six decades, each with its own unique musical world. This SACD release features John Storgårds conducting the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra performing Nørgård’s Second Symphony, in which the composer unfolds his famous ‘infinity principle’ euphorically and almost psychedelically, and his Sixth Symphony, in which the mature composer proves more exploratory and playful than ever. On PER NORGARD - SYMPHONIES 4 & 5 (DACAPO 6.220645), the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and John Storgårds present two of Per Nørgård’s most dramatic works; the chaotic and troubled Symphony No. 4 inspired by the schizophrenic Swiss artist Adolf Wölfli, and the fearless Symphony No. 5, in which the composer seems to embrace violent forces of nature. ‘If the music of today is to have any tomorrow, Nørgård will surely be part of it.’ - Gramophone.
PHILIP GLASS – THE SYMPHONIES ORANGE MOUNTAIN MUSIC OMM0104
Philip Glass is perhaps the best known member from a school of American composers known as the minimalists. Others include Terry Riley, Steve Reich and La Monte Young, but Glass has been the most commercially successful due to his music’s accessibility and simple melodies. Glass was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1937. After graduating from the University of Chicago, where he majored in mathematics and philosophy, he moved to New York and Paris to study music. After researching music in North Africa, India and the Himalayas, he returned to New York, renouncing his previous music, and applying eastern techniques to his own work. As well as his opera, Einstein on the Beach, he has written music for dance, theatre, chamber ensemble, orchestra and films. This superb 11-disc boxed set is a celebration of Philip Glass’s work and features all ten of his symphonies. These are definitive recordings of this beautifully orchestrated music interpreted by conductor Dennis Russell Davies, who commissioned 9 of the 10 and was the composer’s closest collaborator over three decades. Symphony No.7 ‘Toltec’ is the only symphony not commissioned by Davies but five years after its world premiere under Leonard Slatkin, Davies presented the European premiere of the piece in Austria in a revised version. That revision was a major one and it gives a glimpse into the process that Glass shared with Davies with each new work and helped make him one of the world’s most influential composers. Dennis Russell Davies understands this brilliant 20th Century composer perfectly and gets elicits wonderful performances from the Bruckner Orchestra, Linz; Sinfonieorchester, Basel; Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra; and Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. ‘If you don’t know what to do, there’s actually a chance of doing something new.’ - Philip Glass.
KHACHATURIAN SYMPHONY NO 2 / LERMONTOV SUITE NAXOS 8.570436
Soviet Armenian composer and conductor Aram Il’yich Khachaturian was born and raised in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. He moved to Moscow in 1921 and studied at the Moscow Conservatory. His first major work, the Piano Concerto (1936), popularized his name within and outside the Soviet Union. Although Khachaturian was a relatively late starter as a composer, his most significant works date from the first half of his career. These include three symphonies, concertos for piano, violin and cello, and the full-length ballets Gayane (featuring the famous ‘Sabre Dance’) and Spartacus. During most of his career, Khachaturian was approved by the Soviet government and held several high posts in the Union of Soviet Composers from the late 1930s, although he joined the Communist Party only in 1943. Along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich, he was officially denounced as a ‘formalist’ and his music dubbed ‘anti-people’ in 1948, but was restored later that year. After 1950 he taught at the Gnessin Institute and Moscow Conservatory and turned to conducting in Europe, Latin America and the United States with concerts of his own works. The Symphony No. 2 in A minor is one of Khachaturian’s best-known works. Completed in 1944, it was nicknamed The Bell or Symphony with Bells after tubular bell motif that begins and ends the piece. Written during the height of the Second World War, this symphony illustrates the pain that humanity, and the composer himself, felt at the time. He described it as ‘a requiem of wrath, a requiem of protest against war and violence.’ Besides his ever-popular Spartacus, Khachaturian also wrote other stage music, including a splendid score for Boris Lavrenyov’s play about the great Russian author Mikhail Lermontov. On this recording, Dimitry Yablonsky conducts the excellent Russian Philharmonic Orchestra in Khachaturian’s ‘Symphony with a Bell’ and excerpts from the Lermontov Suite.
FRITZ BRUN – SYMPHONY NO. 2 / SYMPHONIC PROLOGUE GUILD GMCD 7416
The Swiss composer, conductor and pianist Fritz Brun was born in Lucerne in 1878. His father, a secondary school teacher, died when Fritz was eight years old. After early piano lessons, which enabled him to contribute to the family income with an engagement as a harmonium player at the Lucerne penitentiary church, he continued studied theory under the organist Joseph Breitenbach, and subsequent piano teachers included Peter Fassbänder and Willem Mengelberg. Brun was granted a scholarship to complete his musical studies at the Cologne Conservatory, where he studied composition and conducting under Franz Wüllner and perfected his piano technique under Max van de Sandt. His First String Quartet was composed in 1898 and he settled in Berlin to work as a private ‘music maker’ and teacher of Prince George of Prussia. It was during this period that he composed the first of his symphonies. After the Prince’s death the following year, Brun travelled to London, where he earned a living as a private piano teacher and arranger of music-hall songs, before returning eventually to Switzerland to settle in Bern, where he became chief conductor of the Bern Municipal Orchestra and leader of the two choral societies, the Cäcilienverein and Berner Liedertafel. Brun later resigned from his post, but returned to Bern for occasional guest conducting and as a chamber music player. He retired to his villa on the shores of Lake Lugano to concentrate on writing music, completing ten symphonies in all, and died in 1959. Guild’s recent releases of music by Fritz Brun have been highly praised and helped raise the profile of an underrated composer who deserves to wider recognition. This latest CD features a superb recording of Brun’s impressive Second Symphony from 1911 together with his Symphonic Prologue, written 33 years later. Both are demanding and compelling major orchestral works by one of the greatest Swiss composers of any generation. The excellent Moscow Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Swiss-born conductor-composer Adriano.
PER NORGARD - SYMPHONIES 1 & 8 DACAPO 6.220574
With this world premiere SACD recording, the Vienna Philharmonic offers new perspectives on the most visionary voice of Nordic music and one of the greatest symphonists of our time. Conducted by Finnish Sakari Oramo, these performances of Per Nørgård’s Symphonies 1 and 8 – two milestones composed with almost six decades between them – are the legendary orchestra’s first recording of new Nordic music. This is powerful, elemental music from a composer unafraid to take chances and explore new territory. ‘If the music of today is to have any tomorrow, Nørgård will surely be part of it.’ - Gramophone.
SCHUMANN - SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 & 4 GUILD GHCD 2362
German composer, aesthete and influential music critic Robert Schumann was a virtuoso pianist but when a hand injury prevented his ambitions from being realised, he decided to focus on composition. Most of his works were written for solo piano or for piano and orchestra, though he also composed many lieder, an opera, orchestral, choral and chamber works, and four symphonies. He began his Second Symphony in 1845 and completed the orchestration the following year, when it was premiered in Leipzig with Felix Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. By this time he had a good deal of experience as an orchestral composer but he had begun to show signs of serious mental and physical illness. Clara Schumann wrote of her thirty-four-year-old husband: ‘Robert could not sleep a single night. His imagination painted him the most fearful pictures. Early in the morning I usually found him bathed in tears. He quite gave himself up.’ It’s the longest of his symphonies and has an atmosphere of grandeur, with musical imageery of great originality and beauty. By the time he wrote this C major Symphony, Schumann had already completed his Symphony No. 1 and the first version of his D minor Symphony, which would eventually become his Symphony No. 4 after the composer revised it in 1851, when he at first called it called it a Symphony-Fantasia, with the sub-title Symphony in One Movement. Perhaps his most popular and most attractive symphony, it has an alluring introductory Romanze followed by a vigorous Scherzo and brilliant Finale. In the year commemorating the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann’s birth, Guild has released this unique coupling of his Second and Fourth Symphonies, recorded between 1940 and 1946 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter. The disc also includes a stunning performance under Toscanini of the Manfred Overture. The performances shed new light on the approaches to Schumann’s music by two of the greatest conductors of the 20th-century and the NBC mono broadcast sound has been dramatically improved. Other new releases by Guild include FAREWELL (GUILD GMCD 7342) including Haydn’s wonderful ‘Farewell’ Symphony and four works by 20th-century Swiss composers Frank Martin, Wladimir Vogel, Hermann Haller and Hans Schaueble; GUITAR WORKS (GUILD GMCD 7347) by Rodrigo, Turina, Boccherini, Assad and others, played by the brilliant young guitarist Admir Doci; and BAP NOS (GUILD GMCD 7349) In Memoriam to Swiss composer Meinrad Schütter, who would have been celebrating his 100th birthday in 2010. On this CD, Meinrad Schütter’s music is combined in a unique way with Gregorian music, music by Leoš Janácek and Christian Henking. The CD shows how creative musical work gets embedded into time periods, an endless cycle of inspiration, processing and new creation.
PROKOFIEV - SYMPHONY NO. 4 / THE PRODIGAL SON NAXOS 8573186
Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 4 is actually two works. The first was written in 1929 and premiered in Paris in 1930, while the second is a large-scale revision made by the composer in 1947. Both works share significant musical material with Prokofiev’s ballet L’enfant Prodigue or The Prodigal Son. This brilliant recording by Marin Alsop with The São Paulo Symphony Orchestra features the revised version of Prokofiev’s imposing Fourth symphony as well as his music for The Prodigal Son. Lengthened and enriched in orchestration by the addition of a piccolo clarinet, piano and harp, the symphony makes extended use of themes from The Prodigal Son as well as unused material. Prokofiev composed the music for nine ballets in all, the best known of these being Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and his final ballet for Sergey Diagilev, The Prodigal Son. The vivid depictions in the latter’s moral tale include sensual temptations, drunken debauchery, robbery and remorse, all brought to vivid life in this fine Naxos recording. In December NAXOS will launch their new innovative Advent Calendar App - featuring 25 free downloadable complete tracks behind the numbered doors. Each day, a new door can be ‘unlocked’ to reveal a piece of seasonal music from the label’s extensive classical music catalogue. Tracks include exemplary performances of festive favourites, undiscovered works, Christmas carols and instrumental tracks. More about Naxos Apps
SCHUBERT - SYMPHONIES 8 & 9 BIS BIS-SACD-1656
Franz Schubert died in 1828, aged only thirty-one, but in his short life he wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies, liturgical music, operas, some incidental music and a large body of chamber and solo piano music. He was never able to secure adequate permanent employment, and for most of his career he relied on the support of friends and family. Interest in his work increased dramatically after his death when composers such as Liszt, Schumann and Mendelssohn championed his music. Schubert would have been amazed to learn that he has come to be regarded as a great symphonist as these works fared worst during his lifetime. His first two were written for his school orchestra and the next four for an amateur group he was able to assemble, all intended to be heard once and then forgotten. The most popular is his joyous Fifth and the minor-key Fourth (the so-called ‘Tragic’ Symphony). On this outstanding new recording, Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra’s play Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ (Symphony No.8) and ‘Great C Major’ (No.9). These are the most celebrated of all Schubert symphonies, which makes it all the more ironic that the composer never got to hear them performed by the great orchestras of his time. The Eighth, with its distinctive, mysterious opening, was not completed, possibly because Schubert remained unsatisfied with his attempts to match the degree of innovation he achieved in the first two movements. The glorious Ninth, on the other hand, runs its full course, with a Finale of exuberant festiveness. Unfortunately for the composer, the great (or, as Schumann put it: ‘heavenly’) length of the symphony and the technical demands it placed on the orchestra caused the only performance planned in Schubert’s lifetime to be cancelled. In 1839 the score was found among his papers by Robert Schumann, and received its first performance shortly thereafter by Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra - eleven years after the composer’s death.
BEETHOVEN – SYMPHONIES 3, 5, 6 & 7 KING KKC 2053-5
The NHK Symphony Orchestra, based in Tokyo, was Japan’s first professional symphony orchestra. Formed as the New Symphony Orchestra in 1926, it changed its name to the Japan Symphony Orchestra. In 1951, after receiving financial support from NHK, the orchestra took its current name and gives concerts in several venues, including the NHK Hall, Suntory Hall and the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall. The orchestra’s current permanent conductors are Yuzo Toyama and Tadaaki Otaka, Herbert Blomstedt holds the title of honorary conductor, and Paavo Järvi will be its next chief conductor. German conductor Horst Stein, who died in July 2008, visited Japan for the first time in 1973 to conduct the NHK Symphony Orchestra and was made honorary conductor two years later. He conducted the orchestra until 1998, mainly performing works by German composers. The historic recordings featured in this three-CD set capture commendably straightforward performances of four great Beethoven symphonies that Stein conducted with the NHK between 1985 and 1992. Stein’s professionalism and technical facility are much in evidence and his performances here show characteristic strength, precision and consistency. Other new releases from King Records by the excellent NHK Symphony Orchestra include Vladimir Ashkenazy’s fine recordings of music by MOZART & SHOSTAKOVICH (KKC 2058-9), MOZART PIANO CONCERTOS 23, 24 & 27 (KKC 2047-8) with Walter Klein as soloist, and orchestral works by DVORAK, RIMSKY-KORSAKOV, ENESCO, TCHAIKOVSKY & ALFVEN (KKC 2049-50), conducted by Constantin Silvestri.
DVORAK: SYMPHONY NO. 6 & JANACEK: IDYLL NAXOS 8572698
Dvořák’s was a strong voice in the re-establishment of Czech musical identity, and the noble themes, open landscapes and dancing Scherzo of his Sixth Symphony bear the stamp of a genius at his height. Dedicated to Hans Richter, this four-movement piece was one of the first of Dvořák’s large symphonic works to draw international attention. The work can also be heard as a tribute to Brahms, who helped Dvořák earlier in his career and who became a longtime friend and supporter. Janáček’s charming though rarely heard Idyll for String Orchestra reflects his preoccupation with Moravian folk-songs and rhythms as well as the influence of his friend Dvořák, identified by Jaroslav Vogel as the work’s ‘spiritual godfather’. Janáček would subsequently dismiss this rustic and graceful music as ‘worthless’ but it will surely seduce even those who find his later works too much for them. Gerard Schwarz exuberantly conducts the excellent Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
BRITTEN - CELLO SYMPHONY, SONATA & SUITES HYPERION CDA67941/2
This important double-CD release marks the start of Benjamin Britten’s 100th anniversary year celebrations. His Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, or Cello Symphony, was written in 1963 and dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the work its premiere in Moscow with the composer and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in 1964. The great Russian cellist had considerable influence on his long-time friend Britten, who eventually composed a sonata with piano as well as three suites for solo cello for him. Although effectively a concerto, with its final two movements linked by a cello cadenza, the Cello Symphony’s title reflects the music’s more even balance between soloist and orchestra than in the traditional concerto format. The suites are repositories of a huge number of compositional and string-playing techniques, acknowledging their debt to Bach but also demonstrating all the imagination and emotional scope for which the composer is revered. Acclaimed German cellist Alban Gerhardt performs this challenging music with great elegance and sensitivity. In the Cello Sonata he is partnered by pianist Steven Osborne, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Manze join him for the Cello Symphony. The brilliant miniature Tema ‘Sacher’ (written at Rostropovich’s request in honour of Swiss conductor Paul Sacher) completes the set. ‘A must-have set for all Britten enthusiasts.’ - BBC Music Magazine.
BERLIOZ - SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE NAXOS BLU-RAY AUDIO NBD0029
The Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz was written in 1830 while the composer was suffering an intense and unreciprocated passion for the Irish actress Harriet Smithson. One of the most powerful and influential musical compositions of its day, this revolutionary work provoked much controversy. Its an autobiographical tale that describes a young musician’s opium-poisoned nightmares of jealous despair and fatal justice following the murder of his beloved. The various scenes of the intoxicating programme music are approached with daring; dreadful, macabre ideas are presented in a low, gloomy and dark timbre until finally a heroic attitude comes to the fore, accompanied by thundering drum rolls, when the death sentence is pronounced. This ground-breaking Blu-ray Audio disc features an exemplary recording the Symphonie Fantastique by the Orchestre National de Lyon under Leonard Slatkin together with the overture Le corsaire, written in 1844 when Berlioz was recovering from the break-up of his marriage and exhaustion from his intensive concert activity in Paris. These recordings are also available on CD (Naxos 8.572886).
PROKOFIEV - SYMPHONY NO. 5 / THE YEAR 1941 NAXOS BLU RAY AUDIO NBD0031
Sergei Prokofiev’s monumental Fifth Symphony, written in one month in the summer of 1944, was premiered in 1945 in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer, who described it as he intended it as ‘a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit’. The Red Army had announced its victory in the war a few minutes before the premiere, so the heroic spirit of the work fitted the moment perfectly and the music was a great success. It remains one of Prokofiev’s most popular works as- well as one of his greatest and most complete symphonic statements. The first movement couples considerable strength with unexpected yet highly characteristic twists of melody. After a violent scherzo followed by a slow movement of sustained lyricism, with a fiercely dramatic middle section, the finale blazes with barely suppressed passion. The Year 1941 is another wartime work, a symphonic suite written in response to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. This Blu-ray Audio disc features intense performances of both works conducted by Marin Alsop with the excellent São Paulo Symphony Orchestra.
BRAHMS SYMPHONY NO. 3 / ELGAR SYMPHONY NO. 1 ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5063
Sir Adrian Boult was one of the finest British conductors of the 20th century. Brought up in a prosperous mercantile family he followed musical studies in England, at Leipzig in Germany, and with the legendary Arthur Nikisch in Berlin. Early in his career, Boult conducted for the Royal Opera House in London and for Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet company, and was became conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra. The BBC appointed him director of music in 1930, when he established the BBC Symphony Orchestra and became its chief conductor. This superb orchestra is captured here in a beautifully recorded 1977 Proms performance of Brahms’s Third Symphony, never before available on CD. Boult recorded two cycles of Brahms symphonies in the studio but this superlative recording catches him live, producing an unforgettable sense of tension, drama and emotion. In his notes, Martin Cotton states that the thrilling 1976 live recording in wonderful stereo of Elgar’s Symphony No.1, also from the Albert Hall Proms, is completely astonishing. Boult was one of the last living conductors to have known Elgar and had effectively been blessed by him: I feel that my reputation in the future is safe in your hands and here he gives what is arguably his greatest performance of the work. Cotton attended the 1976 concert and describes it as one of the greatest musical experiences of my life. The archive performances capture Boult towards the end of his golden years as a conductor (he was in his late eighties at the time) and show that he remained a true master with these balanced yet passionate interpretations of two great symphonies.
KNAPPERTSBUSCH CONDUCTS BRUCKNER SYMPHONIES AND WAGNER MUSIC & ARTS CD-1256(6)
The highly respected German conductor Hans Knappertsbusch was best known for his performances of music by Wagner, Bruckner and Richard Strauss. He succeeded Bruno Walter as music director of the Munich Opera as conductor for life. However, when he refused demands made by the Nazis he was fired from his post in 1936 and maintained a low profile during the Nazi regime, leaving after the Munich debacle to settle in Vienna where he conducted the Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera. After the Second World War, Knappertsbusch returned to Munich but continued to guest conduct in Vienna as well as at the Bayreuth Festival. When he died in 1965 this much loved conductor left behind many superb recordings and this newly restored 6-CD collection features previously released and no longer available Knappertsbusch best sellers from the Music & Arts catalogue. These include majestic and unhurried interpretations of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 with the Bavarian State Orchestra (1954), Symphonies 4 (1944), 8 (1951) and 9 (1950) with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphony No. 5 with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra (1959) and Symphony No. 7 with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Salzburg Festival, 1949). There are also tantalising excerpts from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and Die Walküre. This superbly produced box set makes for a fascinating comparison with the Bruckner collection by Volkmar Andrea, also from Music & Arts. Highly recommended.
WILLIAM WALTON - SYMPHONIES 1 & 2, ELEGY HYPERION CDA67794
Sir William Turner Walton was born in Lancashire, the son of a musician, in 1902. During a sixty-year career this largely self-taught composer wrote music in many genres and styles, including ballets, chamber and choral works, the cantata Belshazzar’s Feast, the entertainment Façade (in collaboration with Edith Sitwell), 13 film scores (most famously for Lawrence Olivier’s Henry V) and opera (Troilus and Cressida). His tense, dramatic First Symphony, reminiscent of Sibelius, is on a large scale and displays an astounding range of colours and emotional volatility, reflecting the turbulence of Walton’s private life. This immensely virtuosic work received an ecstatic critical reception when it was first heard in 1935 and secured the composer’s international fame. According to Grove, the music has ‘orgiastic power, coruscating malice, sensuous desolation and extroverted swagger’. The Second Symphony, written twenty years later, is relatively conservative, concise and refined, and was took a long time to emerge from the shadow of its masterful predecessor. This CD by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martyn Brabbins, features exciting and authoritative performances of both symphonies together with Walton’s short work Siesta, an intimate piece written for small orchestra in 1926.
CASELLA - SYMPHONY NO. 3 & ELEGIA EROICA NAXOS 8.572415
Italian composer Alfredo Casella was born in Turin in 1883 into a musical family. His cellist grandfather was a friend of Paganini’s and Alfredo’s father was also a professional cellist, as were two of his brothers. Alfredo’s mother was a pianist and gave him his first music lessons before he went on to study composition under Gabriel Fauré at the Conservatoire de Paris, where his fellow students included Enescu and Ravel. Casella became one of the best-known Italian piano virtuosos of his generation, and was part of the acclaimed Trio Italiano, for which he wrote some of his best known compositions, including the Sonata a Tre and the Triple Concerto. His first two symphonies were modernistic, influenced by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, but Casella eventually settled on a personal style more like Stravinsky or Ravel, as was evident in his very successful ballet, La Giara. This third disc in the Naxos series completes the world première recording of all three Casella symphonies. Francesco La Vecchia and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma play two powerful works that grew from the tragedy of two World Wars. Searingly dissonant and profoundly human, the Elegia eroica (Heroic Elegy) is Casella’s memorial to Italian soldiers killed in World War I. His Third Symphony assimilates the influences and experiences of a lifetime into an exhilaratingly melodic, emotionally wide-ranging and truly organic whole.
ANDREAE CONDUCTS BRUCKNER. MUSIC & ARTS CD-1227(9)
The distinguished Swiss musician Volkmar Andreae was born in Bern in 1879 and his musical gifts were clear from early age. He began his serious music studies at the Bern Conservatoire under Karl Munzinger and then was a pupil of Franz Wüllner at the Cologne Conservatoire, where he excelled both as composer and conductor and published his first mature composition, the Piano Trio in F minor. In 1902 Andreae settled in Zürich, where he conducted the Tonhalle Orchestra (1906-49) and became director of the conservatory (1914-41). He was also guest conductor with many top European orchestras and an advocate of both Bruckner and contemporary music. His compositions, in the German Romantic tradition, include operas, orchestral and chamber music and several male chorus works. Although little known today, Volkmar Andreae belonged to the great generation of Bruckner conductors - others included Walter, Furtwängler and Klemperer - born while the composer was still in his prime. Andreae conducted Bruckner for half of the twentieth century, though his recorded legacy is small, so these rare performances of the nine symphonies, originally given in 1953 and archived in excellent sound by Austrian radio, are particularly welcome. Musicologist Kurt Blaukopf wrote of this historic cycle: ‘The performances given by the Vienna Symphony under Andreae’s direction...have the significance of a musical monument.’ Despite the profusion of Bruckner recordings available in modern sound, these remarkable historic recordings amply reward careful listening. Music & Arts has also released another splendid box set featuring the Polish-born American violinist and conductor Szymon Goldberg - GOLDBERG CENTENARY EDITION, VOL 1 (CD-1223(8). Despite an often difficult life, Goldberg had an extraordinary ability to project a balanced view of the music he played. He was the archetypal Classical violinist and was of the opinion that the composer knew best, never trying to impose his own egotistical interpretation. He was a superlative Mozart interpreter and perhaps at his best in chamber music, though he was also an assured soloist. He was given few chances to record concertos in the studio but these eight CDs include live broadcasts of solo sonatas by Bach, concertos by Mendelssohn and Berg, and chamber works by Beethoven, Bartok, Stravinsky and Webern. Among the great artists performing with him are Pablo Casals, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra.
ARVO PART - SYMPHONY NO. 4 ECM 476 3957
Arvo Pärt’s previous symphonies (the Third was written almost 40 years ago) are scored for full orchestra, but his Fourth is scored for string orchestra, harp and percussion (including timpani, marimba, crotales, chimes, triangle, cymbals, tam-tam and bass drum). Subtitled the Los Angeles, the symphony appropriately received its first performance there last year, and this ECM release features a live recording of that performance to celebrate Pärt’s 75th birthday on 11 September. The symphony is both literally and figuratively a ‘musical setting’, based on an underlying text. Canon of the Guardian Angel forms the work’s point of departure, determining its structure down to the smallest details. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts The Los Angeles Philharmonic in this mystic, ethereally beautiful 37-minute work reminiscent of Sibelius. The symphony is accompanied on this CD by a new montage of ‘fragments’ from Kanon Pokajanen, sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste. Pärt feels the piece is closely related to his symphony: ‘To my mind, the two works belong together and form a stylistic unity.’
KLEMPERER PLAYS BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONIES & OVERTURES MUSIC & ARTS CD-1252(5)
The celebrated German conductor, Otto Klemperer, made his debut in 1906 with a presentation of Orphée aux enfers by Offenbach. A year later, he met Gustav Mahler, who arranged a post as choirmaster of the German Opera in Prague for him. After a brief time there, he was nominated director of music and made his debut with von Weber’s Der Freischütz before going on to become one of the twentieth century’s most revered conductors in the German tradition. Klemperer’s interpretations are remarkable for their dramatic strength and his Beethoven symphony cycle is one of the greatest achievements in the history of classical recording. Each Beethoven symphony is a masterpiece and all are different from each other, representing stages in the evolution of the musical symphonic language. Stately, grand and resolutely unsentimental, Otto Klemperer’s versions of all nine symphonies are available in this fantastic five-CD collection at a budget price, together with number of Beethoven’s great overtures. Indispensable listening.
SALLINEN - COMPLETE SYMPHONIES AND CONCERTOS CPO 7776402
Acclaimed Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen was born in 1935 and as a teenager learned violin and piano, playing both classical and jazz music. He went on to study at the Sibelius Academy of Music in Helsinki, where his teachers included Aarre Merikanto and Joonas Kokkonen, and can be regarded as the natural successor to Finland’s greatest composer. After early experimentation with serialism, Sallinen adopted a clear, diatonic style that often evokes the cold expanse of Finnish landscapes. With a strong sense of national identity, Finnish traditional melodies often appear in his works, and the subject matter of several of his six operas draws on the history and folklore of that country. His symphonies are sometimes austere but also lyrical in a way that is reminiscent of Sibelius as well as Prokofiev an Shostakovich. Sallinen ranks next Einojuhani Rautavaara as Finland’s most important contemporary classical music composer and his complete symphonic works and concertos series is now available in this special priced 5 CD box. The Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz are conducted by Ari Rasilainen, with soloists Esa Tapani (horn), Jan-Erik Gustafsson (cello) and Jaakko Kuusisto (violin).
MAHLER - SYMPHONY NO. 4 SOMM SOMMCD 245
SOMM continues its collaboration with Orchestra of the Swan under its charismatic conductor, David Curtis, with a live recording made in 2009 during the orchestras first concert season as resident chamber orchestra at Birminghams Town Hall. The CD contains a rarely recorded chamber version of Mahlers Fourth Symphony, originally arranged for Chamber Ensemble by Arnold Schoenbergs pupil Erwin Stein and reconstructed here by conductor Alexander Platt. Stein was a Viennese editor who went on to become Benjamin Brittens publisher. His reduction of Mahler’s fourth symphony to a piece for solo voice and 12 players is remarkably effective and performed here brilliantly by the orchestra with acclaimed mezzo soprano Heather Shipp, who received rave reviews for her vibrantly sexy interpretation of Bizets Carmen. This is Mahler all right but probably as you have never heard before. The CD also features a premiere recording of Berliozs Nuits dÉté, attractively arranged for voice and Chamber Ensemble by composer David Matthews. SOMM has also released THE BEECHAM COLLECTION (SOMM SOMM-BEECHAM 29), following its excellent CD set of Berlioz’s Trojans. The series is a fitting tribute on the 50th Anniversary of his death to a much-loved conductor. This is the first CD release of live recordings that Sir Thomas Beecham made with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1950s of Wagner’s Overture Rienzi, a magical performance of Delius’s In a Summer Garden (a particular favourite of Beecham’s), and Schubert’s exhilarating Symphony No. 9.
LOUIS SPOHR - SYMPHONIES 8 & 10 HYPERION CDA67802
This album by Howard Shelley and the Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana is the penultimate volume in Hyperion’s invaluable series of Spohr’s symphonies. The mostly upbeat Eighth Symphony is one of the composer’s more conservative experiments with the form. The modest, more serene Tenth is his final symphony, which remained unpublished until 2006 after the composer withheld the score from publication. Both works bring unexpected pleasures and this CD also includes Spohr’s fine overture to Der Zweikampf mit der Geliebten (‘The duel with the beloved’), the first of his operas to be produced. SPOHR - SYMPHONIES 3 & 6 (HYPERION CDA67788) features two of the composer’s earlier symphonies. By the time he came to write his poetic Third Symphony, Spohr was established in the top rank of contemporary composers. It is a rich, romantic work that moves further away from the classical ideal and nearer to a romantic freedom of form. The idiosyncratic Sixth Symphony was written in an entirely new form - each movement in a different historical style filtered through Spohr’s imagination. As well as these two fascinating symphonies, the CD also features Spohr’s Overture to The Fall of Babylon, an English oratorio with words by Edward Taylor, that the composer was commissioned to write for the 1842 Norwich Festival. These are lively performances of rewarding works by an unjustly neglected master of quintessentially Romantic music.
GLAZUNOV - SYMPHONY NO. 6 REGIS RECORDS RRC1359
The Russian composer and influential music teacher Alexander Glazunov was born the son of a publisher and bookseller in St Petersburg in 1865. As a child he showed considerable musical ability and the first of his symphonies premiered in 1882 when he was just 16 years old. He studied music under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, at the recommendation of Mily Balakirev, whom he had met at the age of 14, and went on to write three ballets, nine symphonies (the last of which was unfinished - a single movement later being completed and orchestrated) and many other orchestral works. Glazunov’s music, much admired by Liszt and Borodin, is individualistic and melodious, his style ranging from Russian nationalism to Lisztian romanticism to classicism. Folk melodies and songs give his work its distinctly Russian character. Glazunov’s charming Sixth Symphony, completed in 1896, is an imaginative and affecting work with a delightful oboe solo in the second variation and a thrilling finale. This re-release features an award winning 1987 recording of Glazunov’s appealing symphony, together with three Suites from his ballet Raymonda and the Triumphal March, based on ‘John Brown’s Body’. The London Symphony Orchestra is enthusiastically conducted by Yondani Butt and the sound quality is excellent in sparkling performances of some of the composer’s most popular works. ‘Beautifully recorded sound, with the velvety LSO strings caught absolutely splendidly...enjoy the music!’ - Gramophone. Regis produces many interesting and exciting reissues in the budget price range, including classics by some the greatest choral ensembles, orchestras, conductors and artists the world has ever known. Other recent CDs include Britten Song Cycles with tenor Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten on piano (RRC1365), The Artistry of Dennis Brain, including Beethoven’s Horn Sonata and Mozart’s Second Horn Concerto (RRC1363), Joan Sutherland’s Legendary Debut Recital from 1959, with arias by Donizetti, Verdi & Handel (RRC1364) and two Liszt Piano Concertos played by the incomparable Alfred Brendel (RRC1362). See more Regis Records releases here
ARVO PART - SYMPHONY NO. 4 ECM 476 3957
Arvo Pärt was born in Estonia in 1935 and his earliest works were in neo-classical style. In the 1960s he had changed to serial mode of composition, bringing him a certain notoriety. By 1976 he had developed a minimalist tonal technique he called ‘tintinnabuli’, influenced by Russian neo-classicism, Western modernism, Schoenbergian dedecaphony, minimalism, polytonality and Gregorian chant. Pärt’s previous symphonies (the Third was written almost 40 years ago) are scored for full orchestra, but his Fourth is scored for string orchestra, harp and percussion (including timpani, marimba, crotales, chimes, triangle, cymbals, tam-tam and bass drum). Subtitled the Los Angeles, the symphony appropriately received its first performance there last year, and this ECM release features a live recording of that performance to celebrate Pärt’s 75th birthday on 11 September. The symphony is both literally and figuratively a ‘musical setting’, based on an underlying text. Canon of the Guardian Angel forms the work’s point of departure, determining its structure down to the smallest details. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts The Los Angeles Philharmonic in this mystic, ethereally beautiful 37-minute work reminiscent of Sibelius. The symphony is accompanied on this CD by a new montage of ‘fragments’ from Kanon Pokajanen, sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste. Pärt feels the piece is closely related to his symphony: ‘To my mind, the two works belong together and form a stylistic unity.’
LOUIS SPOHR - SYMPHONES NOS. 3 & 6 HYPERION CDA67788
The German-born composer, violinist, conductor and teacher Louis Spohr (1784-1859) was once as famous as Beethoven, and his orchestral writings and chamber works were considered on a par with Mozart’s. He established himself as a leading virtuoso whose playing was greatly admired by Queen Victoria. Although his work is little heard by audiences today, Spohr’s musical legacy remains as one of the leading conductors of the first half of the nineteenth century and as a seminal figure in the development of modern violin playing. In addition to having invented both the violin chin-rest and rehearsal numbers/letters for printed music, he was the first major conductor to use a baton. As a composer he was an important figure in the development of German music drama, especially the oratorio. A prolific composer, Spohr produced more than 150 works, including nine symphonies (a tenth was left unfinished), fifteen violin concertos (plus two double-violin concertos), 36 string quartets, and dozens of other chamber works. This album by Howard Shelley and the Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana continues Hyperion’s invaluable series of Spohr’s symphonies. By the time Spohr came to write his poetic Third Symphony he was established in the top rank of contemporary composers. It is a richer, more romantic work than its two predecessors, both through its orchestration and the more plastic quality of its themes with their stronger flavour of poetic fantasy. It also moves further away from the classical ideal and nearer to a romantic freedom of form. The idiosyncratic Sixth Symphony was written in an entirely new form - each movement in a different historical style filtered through Spohr’s imagination. As well as these two fascinating symphonies, the CD also features Spohr’s Overture to The Fall of Babylon, an English oratorio with words by Edward Taylor, that the composer was commissioned to write for the 1842 Norwich Festival. These are lively performances of rewarding works by an unjustly neglected master of quintessentially Romantic music.
ANDREAE CONDUCTS BRUCKNER. MUSIC & ARTS CD-1227(9)
The distinguished Swiss musician Volkmar Andreae was born in Bern in 1879 and his musical gifts were clear from early age. He began his serious music studies at the Bern Conservatoire under Karl Munzinger and then was a pupil of Franz Wüllner at the Cologne Conservatoire, where he excelled both as composer and conductor and published his first mature composition, the Piano Trio in F minor. In 1902 Andreae settled in Zürich, where he conducted the Tonhalle Orchestra (1906-49) and became director of the conservatory (1914-41). He was also guest conductor with many top European orchestras and an advocate of both Bruckner and contemporary music. His compositions, in the German Romantic tradition, include operas, orchestral and chamber music and several male chorus works. Although little known today, Volkmar Andreae belonged to the great generation of Bruckner conductors - others included Walter, Furtwängler and Klemperer - born while the composer was still in his prime. Andreae conducted Bruckner for half of the twentieth century, though his recorded legacy is small, so these rare performances of the nine symphonies, originally given in 1953 and archived in excellent sound by Austrian radio, are particularly welcome. Musicologist Kurt Blaukopf wrote of this historic cycle: ‘The performances given by the Vienna Symphony under Andreae’s direction...have the significance of a musical monument.’ Despite the profusion of Bruckner recordings available in modern sound, these remarkable historic recordings amply reward careful listening. Music & Arts has also released another splendid box set featuring the Polish-born American violinist and conductor Szymon Goldberg - GOLDBERG CENTENARY EDITION, VOL 1 (CD-1223(8). Despite an often difficult life, Goldberg had an extraordinary ability to project a balanced view of the music he played. He was the archetypal Classical violinist and was of the opinion that the composer knew best, never trying to impose his own egotistical interpretation. He was a superlative Mozart interpreter and perhaps at his best in chamber music, though he was also an assured soloist. He was given few chances to record concertos in the studio but these eight CDs include live broadcasts of solo sonatas by Bach, concertos by Mendelssohn and Berg, and chamber works by Beethoven, Bartok, Stravinsky and Webern. Among the great artists performing with him are Pablo Casals, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra..