symphony music

SCHNITTKE - TEN SYMPHONIES      BIS BIS-CD-1767-68

Schnittke - The 10 SymphoniesThe Russian composer Alfred Schnittke’s early music was strongly influenced by the work of Dmitri Shostakovich, but after the visit of the Italian composer Luigi Nono to the USSR, he took up the serial technique in works such as Music for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (1964). However, he soon became dissatisfied with this and moved on to a new style which has been called ‘polystylism’, where music of various different styles past and present are juxtaposed. Schnittke once wrote, ‘The goal of my life is to unify serious music and light music, even if I break my neck in doing so’. He continued to develop the polystylistic technique in works such as the epic First Symphony (1969-1972) and First Concerto Grosso (1977). In the 1980s, Schnittke’s music began to become more widely known abroad, and despite constant illness he produced a large amount of music, including important string quartets, the Faust Cantata and the ballet Peer Gynt as well as his Third, Fourth and Fifth Symphonies (the last of which incorporates his Fourth Concerto Grosso) and the Viola and Cello Concertos. This bargain-priced 6-CD box set includes the only available collection of all ten of Alfred Schnittke’s symphonies, including Symphony No. 0, Concerto Grosso No. 4, ‘Symphony No. 5’, and Symphony No. 9. After a stroke in 1994 left him almost completely paralysed, Schnittke largely ceased to compose, and the Ninth Symphony’s score was almost unreadable because written with great difficulty with his left hand. This Symphony was first performed in 1998 in Moscow in a version by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. Schnittke heard a tape of this performance and indicated he wanted it withdrawn. After his death the score was deciphered and reconstructed by Alexander Raskatov in the version included here. The recordings, part of the Schnittke Edition begun in 1987, come together with an essay by Schnittke’s close associate Alexander Ivashkin and performers include the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Stockholm Sinfonietta, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, with conducors Leif Segerstam, Eri Klas, Tadaaki Otaka, Okko Kamu, Neeme Järvi, Lü Jia and Owain Arwel Hughes.

BRUCKNER - SYMPHONY NO. 8   WARNER CLASSICS MAESTRO 2564691748

Anton Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony in C minor, dedicated to the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and sometimes known as ‘The Apocalyptic’, is the last he completed. He began work on it in 1884 and all four movements had been finished in draft form by the following year, though the full orchestration took Bruckner until 1887, during which time the order of the inner movements was reversed, leaving the scherzo second and the Adagio as the third movement. It was further revised over the next few years before eventually being published in March 1892 - the only one of Bruckner’s symphonies to be published before its first performance, which took place later that year under conductor Hans Richter in Vienna. Two complete autograph manuscripts of the symphony exist, dating from 1887 and 1890, and many sketches also exist. The controversial Robert Haas edition was published in 1939, based on the 1890 autograph but including some passages from the 1887 version that were changed or omitted in the 1890 score. The controversy arose over the fact that the musical text was a fabrication of the editor and was never approved by Bruckner himself. Despite the debatable scholarship Haas’s edition has proved enduringly popular with conductors such as Herbert von Karajan and Bernard Haitink. On this live recording, Daniel Barenboim conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker, in a thrilling performance of the Haas edition of Bruckner’s masterpiece. This is one of many excellent new releases on Warner’s bargain-priced Maestro label. Others include Mozart’s Concertos 24 and 25 (with Barenboim as soloist and conductor), Rostropovich conducting two symphonies by Prokofiev, and a double CD by Andras Schiff of piano works by Robert Schumann.

SHOSTAKOVICH - SYMPHONY NO. 4     BIS-SACD-1553

Dmitri Shostakovich began to write his Symphony No. 4 in C minor in 1935, and he was still working on it when in 1936 his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk came under attack in Pravda. This attack, possibly coming from Stalin himself, threatened the composer’s career at this time, though much later in life he is reported as having said: ‘Instead of repenting I composed my Fourth Symphony.’ Rehearsals were difficult however and Shostakovich withdrew the work from circulation and instead worked on his Fifth Symphony, which was a great success and probably saved his career. The Fourth Symphony’s manuscript score was lost during the war, and it was not until well after the death of Stalin that the orchestral parts were rediscovered. It was finally premiered in 1961 by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Kyril Kondrashin. The unusually structured work has three movements, the outer two being much longer than the short middle one. It requires an immense orchestra of 125 musicians and this, together with the technical and emotional demands placed on the performers, make this symphony one of the least-performed of his scores. On this outstanding SACD recording, Mark Wigglesworth conducts the excellent Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. This disc is the seventh in Wigglesworth’s acclaimed complete cycle of the composer’s symphonies and they take on this huge work - it has a duration of well over an hour - with great assurance, revealing the dark beauty of this important and very personal music.

LISZT - DANTE SYMPHONY      WARNER CLASSICS 2564-69368-9

Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy inspired Franz Liszt to compose his ‘Dante Symphony’ in the early 1830’s after he was first introduced to the work by his mistress, Marie D’Agoult, though he did not seriously start to work on the symphony until 1855. The Symphony, written in the high romantic style, premiered in Dresden in 1857 with Liszt himself conducting, and was unofficially dedicated to the composer’s friend and future son-in-law Richard Wagner. Liszt’s intention was to compose the work in three movements - one each for the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. However, Wagner persuaded him that no earthly composer could faithfully express the joys of Paradise, so Liszt dropped the third movement but added a choral Magnificat at the end of the second. Some critics have argued that the Dante Symphony is not so much a symphony in the classical sense as it is two descriptive symphonic poems. Liszt is often considered the father of the Symphonic Poem and he was a master at using his music to portray different stories or images. This superb live recording features Daniel Barenboim with the Berlin Philharmonic, who give an impeccable performance of this masterpiece. The CD also includes a wonderfully warm and sensitive interpretation by Barenboim of Liszt’s ‘Dante Sonata’ - Après une Lecture de Dante: (Fantasia quasi Sonata).

HAYDN - THE LONDON SYMPHONIES     HYPERION CDS44371/4

Joseph Haydn has been called both ‘Father of the Symphony’ and ‘Father of the String Quartet’. Born in 1832 in Rohrau, Austria, a village near the border with Hungary, he was a life-long resident of Austria and spent most of his career working as a court musician for the wealthy Hungarian Esterházy family on their remote estate, isolating him from other composers and musical trends throughout most of his long life. In 1790, Prince Nikolaus died and was succeeded by an prince who dismissed the entire musical establishment and put Haydn on a pension. Freed of his obligations, he accepted a lucrative offer from German impresario Johann Peter Salomon to visit England and conduct new symphonies with a large orchestra. This visit was a great success and led to another soon afterwards, making Haydn the most famous and popular composer alive as well as financially secure. The visits to England produced some of his best-known work, including the Surprise, Military, Drumroll and London symphonies, and created one of the greatest and most varied set of symphonies ever written. To mark the 200th anniversary of the Haydn’s death, Hyperion have released this excellently recorded four-CD box set featuring all twelve of the ‘London’ symphonies (Nos. 93-104). The Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana (Orchestra of Italian Switzerland) is conducted by Howard Shelley in stylish performances of this lively, sophisticated and accessible music.

RACHMANINOV - SYMPHONY NO. 2     BIS - BISSACD1712

Sergei Rachmaninov was a fine pianist and conductor as well as a great composer of late Romantic classical music. Influenced by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and other Russian composers, his music is imbued with remarkable lyricism and expressiveness. He wrote a good deal for the piano as well as excellent vocal music and orchestral pieces, though his First Symphony was such a failure at its 1897 premiere that the devastated Rachmaninov became incapable of composing until persuaded to do so again by a hypnotist, Nikolai Dahl. After the unqualified success of his Second Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov fled from Russia in 1906 and spent the next three and a half years in Dresden, where he continued composing. His Second Symphony, with himself again conducting, was greeted very differently at its premiere in St Petersburg in 1908. It contains the very best of Rachmaninov: deliberately paced and rhythmically flexible it is propelled by that wonderful sense of melodic expansion of which he was such a master. With a playing time of an hour, the main criticism made against the work over the years has concerned its epic dimensions. It is this monumental work that Lan Shui and his Singapore Symphony Orchestra have chosen to record as a celebration of the orchestra’s 30th anniversary. Founded in 1979 the SSO has become an important musical force in Asia, but is also gaining international recognition from its high-profile tours and its releases on BIS. This new CD features a warmly resonant performance of Rachmaninov’s gloriously melodic Second Symphony as well as the composer’s own arrangement of his short Vocalise, originally written for voice with piano accompaniment.

BRAHMS – SYMPHONIES NO. 2 & 3      PENTATONE PTC 5186 308

Brahms Symphony no 2 & 3Johannes Brahms wrote many major works for orchestra, including four symphonies, two piano concertos and a double concerto for violin and cello. Although many regard him as one of the last bastions of the Romantic era, he always maintained a Classical sense of form and order within his works - in contrast to the excesses of some of his contemporaries. With the possible exception of Anton Bruckner, Brahms was the finest symphonist in the late 19th century and his work greatly inspired Gustav Mahler and Jean Sibelius. Brahms revered Beethoven - a marble bust of the great composer looked down on the spot where Brahms composed – and was to an extent inhibited by this overwhelming genius. Schumann had said that Brahms would become the next great composer like Beethoven, a prediction that Brahms was determined to live up to but did little for his self-confidence, and may have contributed to the delay in producing the First Symphony. However, Clara Schumann noted before that Brahms’s First Symphony was a product that was not reflective of Brahms’s real nature, feeling that the final exuberant movement was ‘too brilliant’. She recanted in accepting the Second Symphony. Often regarded as one of his sunniest works, although Brahms himself felt that the first movement reveals the melancholic side of his nature. Brahms’s Third Symphony was written in the summer of 1883, nearly six years after he completed his Second Symphony. This marvelous work has been called ‘Brahms’s Eroica’ and is famous particularly for the sublime theme from its third movement. On this is a Super Audio CD, Brahms specialist Marek Janowski directs the excellent Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in fresh and satisfying performances of the composer’s Second and Third Symphonies. Highly recommended.

BEETHOVEN/TOSCANINI – THE COMPLETE SYMPHONIES  MUSIC & ARTS CD-1203

Arturo Toscanini was born in Parma, Italy, in 1867 and died in Riverdale, New York, in 1957. He began his musical career as a cellist and made his conducting debut in Rio de Janeiro in 1886, substituting for the regular conductor and conducting Verdi’s Aida from memory. He later gave the world premieres of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and many of Puccini’s greatest operas (La Bohème, La Fanciulla del West and Turandot), as well as the Italian premiere of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and La Scala’s first production of Beethoven’s Fidelio. Widely regarded as the world’s greatest conductor, Toscanini’s anti-Fascist stance during the Second World War made him as a symbol of freedom and humanity. As musical director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra from 1937 to 1954 he brought his brilliant intensity, restless perfectionism and phenomenal ear for orchestral detail and sonority to a mass audience via radio broadcasts, concerts and recordings. This superbly produced set features excellent digital transfers of Toscanini’s legendary 1939 cycle of Beethoven symphonies and overtures. The soloists in the great Choral Symphony are Jarmila Novotna, Kerstin Thorborg, Jan Peerce and Nicola Moscona, with the Westminster Choir, and these five CDs contain over six hours of outstanding historic performances. Beethoven’s symphonies were more profound and dramatic than those of his predecessors and Toscanini brings all his strengths as an opera conductor to inspire vigorous and stirring accounts of all nine of them as well as the Leonore and Egmont overtures. The NBC Orchestra is in fine form and the great conductor’s sometimes controversial genius combines with that of Beethoven to produce dazzling and memorable performances.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – SYMPHONY NO. 5   TELARC SACD-60676  

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) is 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. On this new recording, Robert Spano and the acclaimed Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus return to the music of Williams (their previous recording of the Sea Symphony won three Grammy awards, including one for Best Classical Album). As well as the calm and lyrical Fifth Symphony, this SACD features Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis, Serenade To Music and opens with Tallis’s ‘Why Fum’th In Fight’, a paraphrase of Psalm 2 ‘Why do the nations rage? which is one of nine Psalm settings by Tallis. This tune is also the basis for the famous Fantasia. The excellent soloists for the Serenade to Music are the soprano Jessica Rivera, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, tenor Thomas Studebaker and baritone Nmon Ford. Robert Spano conducts the Fifth Symphony (first heard in London during the Second World War blitz) with great gusto and the brilliant SACD sound on this recording reveals Serenade to Music, a setting of the final scene of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, in all its transcendent beauty. Highly recommended.

CHARLES IVES – SYMPHONY NO. 3       COL LEGNO 20225

Charles Edward Ives (1874-1954) was one of America’s first classical composers of international significance, although his music was largely ignored during his lifetime. He worked as an insurance salesman and treated musical composition as a hobby, giving up composition in the final twenty-five years of his life. He lived long enough though to find himself recognised as an ‘American original’ with his music regularly performed after several decades of neglect. In 1947, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Symphony No. 3, which had been premiered the previous year by Lou Harrison. This is the most concisely-scored of his five symphonies, using only strings, a few winds, horns and trombone to give an uncluttered reminiscence of nineteenth century America viewed through traditional hymn tunes. The three movements are: ‘Old Folks’ Gatherin'’, ‘Children’s Day’ (opening in Haydnesque fashion and depicting children at play), and ‘Communion’. Also included on this album are Ives’s Four Ragtime Dances, inspired by African-American folk music and written for a theatre orchestra, and the wonderful Robert Browning Overture, perhaps his greatest and most original large-scale work. This inspired piece was completed a few years before Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and anticipates such future developments as free jazz and the music of Xennakis. On this recording Michael Stern conducts the excellent RSO Saarbrucken in spirited performances of challenging music by a truly original composer.

TCHAIKOVSKY – SYMPHONIES & PIANO CONCERTOS   WARNER 2564 63781-2

Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the most popular and versatile composers of the Romantic era. Although not a member of the group of Russian composers known as ‘The Five’, his music is distinctly Russian in character. With rich harmonies and stirring melodies, his work is perhaps more accessible to western audiences than some of his Russian contemporaries. His early symphonies are largely optimistic works of nationalistic character, while the later ones are more intensely dramatic, especially the despairing Sixth (the Pathétique). This bargain box set of ten CDs features all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies (including the Manfred, inspired by a Byron poem) as well as the three piano concertos and performances of his ‘pure melodrama’ Francesca da Rimini, the Romeo & Juliet: Fantasy Overture with its famous love theme, Gopak from Mazeppa, the Festival Coronation March, Concert Fantasy, Op. 56 and a collection of waltzes. The excellent New York Philharmonic and Gewandhausorchester are conducted by maestro Kurt Masur and the distinguished pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja gives impassioned performances of Tchaikovsky’s popular Piano Concerto No. 1 as well as his less flamboyant concertos Nos. 2 and 3, the last of which was intended initially to be the composer’s sixth symphony. Leonskaja was born in the Georgian capital of Tiflis and is one of the most outstanding musicians of our time, renowned like Kurt Masur for interpretations of the romantic repertoire.

FERDINAND RIES – COMPLETE SYMPHONIES     CPO 777 216-2

Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) was a friend and pupil of Beethoven, for whom he worked as secretary and copyist. In 1805, fearing conscription into the French occupying army, Ries left Vienna and in 1813 arrived in London, where he became a member of the Philharmonic Society. Having become rich, thanks to his music and teaching, Ries settled in Frankfurt with his English wife, Harriet Mangeon, where he was appointed head of the city orchestra and Singakademie in Aachen. With Gerhard Wegeler he published a collection of reminiscences of Beethoven and was an accomplished composer himself, writing eight symphonies, a violin concerto, nine piano concertos, and many other works. His style, not surprisingly, lies somewhere between that of the Classic and early Romantic eras. ‘Ries imitates me too greatly’, Beethoven remarked about his one-time pupil and disciple. Beethoven’s influence is certainly evident in the orchestration of early symphonies such as the 1818 Symphony No. 4 with its hints of passages from several Beethoven works. By the time Ries wrote his sixth Symphony in 1822 he had broken free of his earlier style so this dramatic, harmonically rich work is more reminiscent of Weber, Mendelssohn and Schumann, as well as containing hints of Wagner and Bruckner to come. This handsome four-CD box set includes all the symphonies, given exuberant performances by conductor Howard Griffiths and the lively Zurich Chamber Orchestra. Ferdinand Ries’s music may sometimes be derivative but the symphonies are thoroughly enjoyable and make an excellent introduction to an intriguing composer.

UNISSUED CARL SCHURICHT    TAHRA TAH 592-594

Carl Adolph Schuricht (1880-1967) was born in Danzig (Gdansk) into a family of organ builders. He began to study piano and violin at the age of six and started to conduct at the age of fifteen. His first professional musical job was in 1901 as a choral coach of the Stadttheater of Mainz, and in 1907 he became Operetten-Kapellmeister of the Zwickau Stadttheater. He went on to conduct the Rühlschen Oratorienchores of Frankfurt am Main and the Städtische Symphonieorchestra of Wiesbaden, and was invited to conduct in London and at La Scala, Milan. In 1934 he conducted Vienna Philharmonic for the first time and after the Second World War, in 1946, he conducted this orchestra at the re-opening of the Salzburg Festival. He was particularly renowned for his interpretations of the music of Anton Bruckner, steering a successful course between the romantic and literal traditions. Although he lived to be 87, Carl Schuricht did not produce a huge commercial discography but there are many live recordings in various European radio archives, mainly German and Swiss (he was a resident of Switzerland and often worked with L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande). This invaluable three-CD set features recordings made in the 1950s with the NDR Hamburg and available for the first time. The music is by Schubert (Unfinished Symphony), Bruckner (Eighth Symphony) and Brahms (Deutsches Requiem, with soprano Elisabeth Grümmer and tenor Otto Wiener). These are outstanding performances by a conductor who was much loved both by orchestra members and audiences.

ROBERT SIMPSON – COMPLETE SYMPHONIES   HYPERION CDS44191/7

The English composer and long-serving BBC producer and broadcaster Robert Simpson was born in Leamington in 1921 and died in 1997. He is best known for his orchestral and chamber music and for his writings on the music of Beethoven, Bruckner, Nielsen and Sibelius. He is said to have written and destroyed four symphonies before submitting his official Symphony No.1 in 1951 as part of his doctorate thesis at the University of Durham. As a composer, he completed eleven symphonies in all and fifteen string quartets, works which together form the central core of his achievement. The Robert Simpson Society was formed in 1980 to promote the music of this unjustly neglected composer and the Hyperion label has consistently championed his work. This splendid box set of seven CDs brings together all of Simpson’s symphonies, together with his Variations on a theme by Nielsen (taken from the incidental music for Ebbe Skamulsen). Vernon Handley conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Royal Liverpool Orchestra in recordings of the first ten symphonies. The Eleventh is performed by the City of London Sinfonia with Matthew Taylor, to whom it was dedicated by the composer. Highlights include fine interpretations of the challenging Eighth Symphony, the Sibelius-influenced Second, the popular Third (dedicated to the the composer Havergal Brian), the lyrical Fourth, the impressive Fifth and his three final symphonies, written between 1987 and 1990. These are outstanding recordings of music that is always adventurous and challenging yet ultimately rewarding.

MOZART - SYMPHONIES    BERLIN CLASSICS 0013802BC

Founded in 1986, the Virtuosi Saxoniae chamber orchestra made its debut at that year’s Dresden Music Festival and has gone on to acquire an international reputation. The ensemble’s founder and music director is Ludwig Güttler and all members of the group are principal instrumentalists of the Dresden Staatskapelle. The Virtuosi Saxoniae mainly plays eighteenth century music which Dresden brilliantly epitomised, icluding opera, church and chamber music. Ludwig Güttler is a renowned virtuoso on both the trumpet and the corno da caccia as well as being an acclaimed conductor, scholar and concert promoter. On this excellent three-CD set, Virtuosi Saxoniae play five of Mozart’s finest symphonies. Mozart’s works spanned the period during which the classical style transformed from one exemplified by the style galant to one that began to incorporate some of the contrapuntal complexities of the late Baroque. He wrote his passionate 40th Symphony during an exceptionally productive period in 1788, although there is no evidence that it was performed in his lifetime. Symphony No. 38 (the ‘Prague’), was performed first in Prague in 1787, a few weeks after Le nozze di Figaro. The Symphony No. 36 (known as the ‘Linz’) was written in the Austrian town of Linz when Mozart was on his way back home to Vienna from Salzburg. He completed the entire symphony in just four days and his magnificent Symphony No. 41 (the ‘Jupiter’) was written in the space of a few weeks in 1788. All are played here with consummate skill, together with Mozart’s Serenata Notturna and two divertimenti.

SHOSTAKOVICH - SYMPHONY NO. 5     BERLIN CLASSICS 0017922BC

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor was written in 1937 and first performed in Leningrad later that year by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. This performance was a great success and received an ovation of half an hour (a whole hour, according to Mstislav Rostropovich) and the symphony remains one of the composer’s most popular works. The Soviet authorities gave it the subtitle, A Soviet Artist’s Reply to Just Criticism, referring to the denunciation of Shostakovich in 1936. It was officially interpreted as a Bildungsroman describing ‘the making of a man’, with an appropriately optimistic conclusion. However, the final movement is really a parody, representing ‘forced rejoicing’. The movement includes a quotation from the composer’s song ‘Rebirth’, in which a ‘barbarian painter’ blackens the genius’s painting, suggesting that the barbarian and the genius are Stalin and Shostakovich respectively. The work is largely sombre despite the composer’s official claim that he wished to write a positive work. The internationally acclaimed conductor Günther Herbig began his musical training with Hermann Abendroth at the Franz Liszt Academy in Weimar and was one of the few students chosen for intensive study with Herbert von Karajan. In 1972 he became Music Director of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra, and from 1977 until 1983 held the same position with the Berlin Symphony. In 2001 he became Chief Conductor of the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra. This new release (along with his recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 BERLIN CLASSICS 0017932BC) mark the composer’s hundredth birthday as well as the start of a Herbig series on Berlin Classics. The spectacular Fifth Symphony receives an emotionally charged performed in this live recording, where the ambiguity of the finale becomes clear through the choice of tempo: very fast at the beginning and almost excruciatingly slow at the end. The dark Eighth Symphony, in which the contrasts of mood are particularly apparent, comes together under Herbig to form a cohesive unit. He has a sure feel for portraying the opposing forces in a context of lyrical intensity, and both these CDs make essential listening.

BRAHMS - SYMPHONIES/GERMAN REQUIEM    WARNER 2564-62768-2

Johannes Brahms wrote four symphonies, as well as other major works for orchestra a great deal of chamber music. He never wrote an opera and in his lifetime was best known for his small-scale compositions, including the Hungarian Dances and some songs such as the Wiegenlied, op.49 no.4 (otherwise known as ‘Brahms’s Lullaby’). A marble bust of his revered Beethoven looked down on Brahms as he composed and his works contain a number of apparent imitations. The main theme of the finale of Brahms’s First Symphony is reminiscent of the one in the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth. When this resemblance was pointed out to Brahms, he replied, ‘Any ass can see that’. In the process of creating a symphony, Brahms had long been plagued by self-doubt, and rather than identify his first effort as a ‘Symphony’ he opted for the more modest title ‘Serenade’. His large choral work, A German Requiem (Ein deutsches Requiem), is not a traditional, liturgical requiem but a setting of texts which the composer selected from the Luther Bible. All four of his symphonies, together with the German Mass, Tragic & Academic Festival Overtures, Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny) and the masterful Variations on a theme of Joseph Haydn, are included in this excellent 5-CD box set of live recordings made in 1994 by German conductor Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Kurt Masur has been the distinguished music director of this orchestra since 1991, producing consistently high quality of playing and artistic spirit. Since 2000, he has also been principal conductor of the London Philharmonic and is frequently a guest conductor with many of the world’s leading orchestras. Brahms has long been a specialty of Kurt Masur and his interpretation of the Requiem here is both authoritative and wonderfully jubilant.

FRANZ SCHMIDT - SYMPHONY NO. 1   QUERSTAND VKJK 0503

The unjustly neglected Austrian composer Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) was born in Pressburg (known as Poszony in Hungarian). A gifted pianist and cellist as a young man (he won a place in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), he also composed four first-class symphonies ‘in the spirit of Brahms and Bruckner’, two operas, a magnificent oratorio, as well as much chamber and organ music. Although usually regarded as a conservative composer, his harmonic language is often quite complex, bordering on atonality. Nevertheless, his superb gifts for melody and brilliant orchestration make his music wonderfully accessible. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in the work of this relatively little heard composer, whose expressive music is among the undiscovered treasures of twentieth-century composition. His first symphony, premiered in 1902, is typically opulent, with a beautiful and melanchly slow movement. Much of Schmidt’s music is deceptively difficult to perform but on this CD the MDR Orchestra, conducted by Fabio Luisi, plays with both technical accomplishment and commendable warmth. It forms one of a series from Querstand by the MDR featuring all of the Schmidt Symphones; the Second (VKJK 0504), the Third (VKJK 0505) and his best-known, the elegiac Fourth (VKJK 0506), composed as a requiem for his daughter, who had died in childbirth.

BRUCKNER/BARENBOIM - NINE SYMPHONIES  WARNER CLASSICS 2564-61891-2

Daniel Barenboim is an acclaimed conductor, pianist and chamber musician, born in Buenos Aires in 1942 to parents of Jewish-Russian descent. He started playing piano at the age of five and went on to become an outstanding concert performer on tours of Europe, the United States, South America, Australia and the Far East. He also began conducting, often with the English Chamber Orchestra, and is currently Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where he succeeded Sir Georg Solti. Barenboim made his first gramophone recordings in 1954 and soon began recording the most important works in the piano repertory, including complete cycles of the piano sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven and concertos by Mozart as both conductor and pianist, Beethoven (with Otto Klemperer), Brahms (with Sir John Barbirolli) and Bartók (with Pierre Boulez). The music on this elegantly produced set of nine CDs was recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic between 1990 and 1997, all but Symphonies No. Four and Seven being live concert performances. The spectacular sound is thrillingly captured, especially in the conductor’s masterly readings of the last two great symphonies. Bruckner’s symphonic chorus for male voices and orchestra, Helgoland, is also included, making this box set even more of a bargain.

BRAHMS - SYMPHONIES NOS. 3 & 4  TELARC CD-80465

Mozart composed his first symphony at the age of eight but Brahms did not finish his first until he was forty-three. Brahms had previously been intimidated by the musical genius of Beethoven, who revolutionised the symphonic form and set the standard by which everyone thereafter would be compared. When Brahms’ First Symphony eventually appeared, it was inevitably dubbed ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’. His Second was later compared to Beethoven’s Pastorale and his Third Symphony was referred to as ‘Brahms’ Eroica’. Annoying though these descriptions were to Brahms, he was spurred on to greatness by the example of his predecessor and all his symphonies met with critical and public success. The Third in particular, written when he was fifty, was highly acclaimed, although the frequency with which this masterpiece came to be performed may have irked the composer. This recording is one of a series made by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Sir Charles Mackerras, a scholar and musicologist as well as a conductor. He did extensive research into the performance practices and size of the orchestra as it was during Brahms’ lifetime, taking as his model the Court Orchestra of Meiningen, which had just 49 players and with which the composer was associated for much of his life. Brahms was a Romantic in spirit but a classicist in style, and Mackerras gives both these aspects of the music their due. Other CDs in the series feature the Symphony No. 1 and Academic Festival Overture (CD-80463) and Symphony No. 2 and Variations on a Theme by Haydn (CD-80464). ‘A spring cleaned Brahms...to make the music fresh, lithe, and new’ - Sunday Times.

POPOV - SYMPHONY NO. 1           TELARC SACD-60642

The neglected Russian composer Gavriil Nikolayevich Popov (1904-1972) studied piano and composition at the Leningrad Conservatory. He went on to write operas, chamber music, highly dramatic choral works, film scores and much orchestral music, including six completed symphonies. His First Symphony is in the grand tradition of Borodin and Glazunov and is written in the system of dissonant counterpoint then fashionable in Western Europe. This work was heartily condemned by the Soviet authorities, forcing the composer later to change his style towards more accepted principles of the ‘Soviet realism’. Popov was a contemporary of Shostakovich so it is appropriate that this disc should also include a performance of the latter’s early piece, Theme & Variations, scored for strings only. These two little-known works are played with great conviction by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein, and this excellent SACD recording is particularly effective in eliciting the depth and complexity of the Popov Symphony. This valuable and rewarding release provides a fascinating comparison between two of the twentieth century’s most gifted composers.

PETER RUZICKA - CELAN SYMPHONY   BELLA MUSICA CTH 2490

The versatile composer, musician and conductor Peter Ruzicka was born in Düsseldorf in 1948. He received his early musical training (piano, oboe and composition) at the Hamburg Conservatory and later studied law and musicology in Munich, Hamburg and Berlin. His compositions have received numerous prizes, including one at the Bartók Competition, Budapest, for his string quartet ‘... fragment ...’ and an award for an orchestral work, ‘Metastrofe’, at the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. Peter Ruzicka was appointed professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg in 1990 and is Artistic Director of the Salzburg Festival. As a conductor of his own and other works, he has directed, among others, the German Symphony Orchestra in Berlin, recording works by Mahler, Pettersson and Schreker. The tragic Paul Celan was orphaned when the Nazis deported his parents to a concentration camp - an episode from which the author never recovered and which led to psychological problems and ultimately his suicide. Ruzicka’s opera, Celan, was commissioned by NDR and premiered in 2001 at the Semperoper in Dresden. On this CD, the composer conducts the NDR in a moving version of the work, as well as his Errinurung, written for orchestra and clarinet (the soloist here is Sharon Kam). This is challenging and thoughtful music from an important contemporary composer.

PHILIP GLASS - SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 & 3        NAXOS 8.559202

Marin Alsop conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in performances of two challenging works by the controversial American composer, Philip Glass. A pupil of Nadia Boulanger, Glass was influenced by the Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar and is one of the leading contemporary exponents of minimalist music based on the repetition of a motif, modified or extended. His idiosyncratic Second Symphony and the smaller scale Third Symphony (written for chamber orchestra) show true scope, structure and seriousness of purpose. Marin Alsop was appointed Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2002 and in the following year she was voted Gramophone magazine's ‘Artist of the Year’. She is also currently Conductor Laureate of the Colorado Symphony and has appeared as guest conductor with, among others, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony, Bavarian Radio Symphony, and the Orchestre National de Lyon. She was born in New York City, studied at Yale University and the Juilliard School, and was a pupil of Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa and Gustav Meier. ‘The Bournemouth’s American chief conductor Marin Alsop is the perfect champion for these powerful, charismatic pieces’ - The Observer.

BEETHOVEN - ORCHESTRAL WORKS, VOL. 5    SIMAX PSC 1184

The excellent Simax series featuring the complete orchestral works of Ludwig van Beethoven continues with his Symphony No. 6, performed by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro and conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. The ‘Pastoral’ symphony, perhaps his most popular work, reveals Beethoven’s great affection for nature and his sublime ability to express this in musical form. It is part of a long tradition going back to the renaissance where the composer seeks to represent nature and his experience of it. This outstanding album also includes the first three overtures Beethoven wrote for his only opera, Fidelio. Known as the Leonore overtures, they were performed, together with the final overture known as the Fidelio, by Felix Mendelssohn in Leipzig in 1840. As part of their commendable Beethoven project, Thomas Dausgard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro have toured Germany, played in Chicago and New York, and performed to great effect at the BBC Proms in London. ‘The clarity of texture on every level makes for an exceptionally fresh reading’ - Gramophone.

MAHLER - SYMPHONY NO. 5      QUERSTAND VKJK0413

Gustav Mahler wrote his Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor in 1901 and 1902, mostly during the summer months spent at his cottage at Maiernigg. The piece is scored for a large orchestra made up of four flutes (two doubling piccolo), three oboes (one doubling cor anglais), three clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), three bassoons (one doubling double bassoon); six French horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba; four timpani, cymbals, bass drum, side drum, triangle, glockenspiel, tamtam, wood clapper, harp and strings. Generally regarded as Mahler’s most conventional symphony up to that point, it nevertheless marked the beginning of a new phase for the composer and represented a break with the ‘Wunderhorn’ of previous symphonies. The long Scherzo is one of the most powerful of his symphonic movements and the famous Adagietto has acquired a life of its own, achieving worldwide recognition as film music for Luchino Visconti’s ‘Death in Venice’. In this latest addition to Querstand’s excellent MDR Edition, the MDR Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Fabio Luisi.

SAINT-SAENS - SYMPHONY NO. 3   TELARC SACD-60634

The American-born Michael Murray, together with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, gives a wonderfully warm and satisfying performance of the Saint-Saens: Symphony No. 3. This excellent SACD also includes rousing accounts of nine French encores dating from the 1600s almost to the present day, including Franck’s Piece Heroique, Widor’s Toccata, Symphony No. 5 and Couperin’s Chacone in G minor, all played on the organ at acoustically superb Symphony Hall in Boston. The music is made all the more exciting by Telarc’s Soundstream recording system, based on a sampling rate of 50kHz compared to a standard compact disc, which has a sampling rate of 44.1kHz. The higher rate offers an extended frequency response and increased detail, revealing the true sound of the original recording. ‘Here is playing of great skill, artistry, and above all, integrity’ - Gramophone.

LISZT - DANTE SYMPHONY/TASSO      TELARC SACD-60613

Leon Botstein conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in recordings of two profound works by Franz Liszt: Eine Symphonie zu Dantes Divina Commedia (also featuring the London Oratory School Schola, directed by Michael McCarthy) and Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo. The ‘Dante Symphony’ is based on the poetic masterpiece by Dante Alighieri and has two movements: ‘Inferno’ and ‘Purgatory’, charting the jjourney of the soul toward Paradise, with some of the musical ideas taken directly from Dante’s text. ‘Tasso, lamento e trionfo’ was originally written as an overture to a stage production of Goethe’s drama Torquato Tasso held in honour of the writer’s 100th birthday celebration in 1849. The play recalls the life and passions of Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), whose literary masterpiece about the first Crusade, La Gerusalemme Liberata, made him arguably the greatest Italian poet of the late Renaissance. Byron looms in the background to this work as well, for it is his Lament of Tasso which strongly suggests itself in the symphonic poem’s subtitle and in the exploration of an artistic soul wracked by doubt which opens the work. Liszt transforms these doleful themes into radiant melodies in the second half of the piece, heralding the artist’s ultimate victory beyond the grave. These exemplary recordings are captured in superb SACD sound.

BRUNO WALTER IN STOCKHOLM     TAHRA TAH 508/509

This double album contains an entire live concert that the legendary Bruno Walter gave in Stockholm in 1950, featuring works by W. A. Mozart and Franz Schubert. The concert was formerly out on LP but has never been available in its complete version, as here. The first CD includes Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 (Eine kleine Nachtmusik) as well as his Symphony No. 39, both recorded in 1950 with the excellent Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. The Stockholm concert continues on the second CD with an exemplary performance of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony (the Great). The first CD also features Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, recorded by Walter live in 1952 with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. These remarkable recordings reveal the conductor at the height of his powers and this is a most valuable addition to the historical repertoire now increasingly available on CD.

THE ART OF PAUL VAN KEMPEN, VOLS 2 & 3   TAHRA TAH 514-515/TAH 516-517

These two latest double CDs from Tahra continue a series that explores the extensive work of the gifted conductor Paul van Kempen. In Volume 2 he is featured directing the splendid Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra in recordings from 1943 of symphonies by Haydn (No. 104), Sibelius (an impeccable version of the 5th) and Schubert (No. 8). In Volume 3 van Kempen conducts the Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio Hilversum in early 1950s recordings of Bruckner’s 4th Symphony and Dvorak’s 9th (a prevously unissued performance), as well as two overtures by Wagner played by the Orchestra of La Scala, Milan. The sleeve notes contain the first publication of an invaluable discography of Paul van Kempen’s recorded work between 1929 and 1955, including his contributions to the Polydor, Decca, Telefunken, Deutsche Grammophon and Philips labels.

BEETHOVEN - SYMPHONY NO. 9      TELARC CD-80603

Donald Runnicles conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in a stirring performance of Beethoven’s magnificent Symphony No. 9, the ‘Choral’ Symphony. The soloists include Mary Dunleavy (soprano), Elizabeth Bishop (mezzo-soprano), Stephen Gould (tenor) and Alastair Miles (bass). Beethoven’s 9th was inspired after the composer read Fredrich Schiller’s ‘To Joy’ and subsequently included Schiller’s words in the rousing choral movement that follows three purely orchestral movements. Donald Runnicles is the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s principal guest conductor and is also music director of the San Francisco Opera, where ina ddition to the usual Mozart, Strauss and Wagner repertoire, he has conducted a wide range of works from Gluck to Michael Tippett's King Priam.

BAX - TINTAGEL/SYMPHONY NO. 7     NAXOS 8.557145

In 1917, Arnold Bax spent an idyllic six-week holiday at Tintagel, on the north coast of Cornwall, and was inspired by this to write his well-known, evocative tone-poem. Tintagel creates a stirring impression of the castle-crowned cliff and Atlantic on a sunny summer’s day, and features some of the most vivid sea music ever written. Bax’s final symphony, his seventh, has three movements, the first largely characterised by surging energy, being by turns optimistic, playful, exuberant. richly lyrical, wistful and mysterious. The third movement conprises a series of variations, which range in mood from violent to tender, from ebullient to skittish. Bax never quite recovered the creative impulse that drove him on during the inter-war years, and never again achieved the moving serenity and poise to be found in his seventh symphony. On this CD, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is conducted by David Lloyd-Jones.

MARTINU - THE SYMPHONIES       BIS CD-1371/1372

This bargain-priced box set features the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Järvi, performing all the symphonies by the prolific Bohuslav Martinu, including his Symphony No.6, ‘Fantaisies symphoniques’ These three discs were originally released in 1987-88, to great critical acclaim. All Martinu’s symphonies were written in the USA, where he arrived in 1941 as a fugtive from the Nazis, and their success was immediate as the works were taken up by some of the finest conductors of the time, although they have since been unjustly neglected. Neeme Järvi’s interpretation, enhanced by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra’s playing, make this a most welcome collection of recordings. ‘The Bambergers play for all they are worth for Järvi, who brings out Martinu's individual qualities…balance is excellently judged almost throughout and massive climaxes are thrillingly caught’ - Gramophone.

BENJAMIN LEES - SYMPHONY NOS. 2, 3 & 4/ ETUDES    ALBANY TROY 564/65

This album features three symphonies and fine work for piano and orchestra from one of the best contemporary American composers, Benjamin Lees. Born in China on January 8, 1924, he spent his early years in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles and (for seven years) Europe. On returning to the USA, he taught composition and his Second and ‘surrealist’ Third Symphonies were performed by the Louisville Orchestra in 1958 and 1969, respectively. Symphony No. 5 (premiered in 1998) has a one movement structure and commemorates the arrival of Swedish immigrants to Delaware in the 1600s. On this double CD set the excellent Staatsphilharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz is conducted by Stephen Gunzenhauser. The Etudes for Piano and Orchestra, played by the Texas Festival Orchestra conducted by Robert Spano, are dedicated to James Dick, the outstanding pianist who performs them here with virtuoso aplomb. ‘The “Lees Style” is instantly recognizable and every work is possessed of lofty grandeur’ - Tempo Magazine.

HOVHANESS - SYMPHONY N0. 23 “ANI”      CRYSTAL CD809

Alan Hovhaness is an exceptionally prolific composer, having written 67 symphonies, 22 concertos, 67 sonatas for various instrument combinations, and 7 operas. The Ani Symphony is one his finest works for winds and is performed on this recording by the Highline and Shoreline College Bands, conducted by the composer himself. The CD also features Spirit of Ink, written for three flutes and performed here by flute virtuoso Samuel Baron, playing all three parts. Originally released on the composer's Poseidon label in the 1970s, this re-issue completes the transfer of Poseidon's Hovhaness catalogue to CD. ‘Because of his ability to produce beautiful sounds from whatever combination of instruments he is working with (right up to full orchestra) and the unabashedly melodic character of his works, his music possesses instant appeal’ - New York Times.

ALAN HOVHANESS - MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAINS       TELARC CD-80604

The distinguished American conductor Gerard Schwarz directs the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in assured performances of three symphonic works by the highly individual American composer Alan Hovhaness: No. 2 (Mysterious Mountains), No. 66 (Hymn to Glacier Peak), and No. 50 (Mount St. Helens). Also included is a short, exciting piece, Storm on Mount Wildcat, written when Hovhaness was only twenty years old. Born in Massachusetts in 1911, he was of Armenian descent (original name Chakmakjian) and made a lifelong study of Asiatic and Middle-Eastern music. As well as being exceptionally prolific he had a unique musical style that resulted from following his own ‘instinct and voice’. This is an excellent introduction to a remarkable composer

 

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