C 916 172 AThis recording features Géza Anda and the Cologne Radio Orchestra, one of the few concert orchestras that Knappertsbusch conducted at the time apart from the Berlin and Vienna philharmonics, and using the highly professional recording technology of Westdeutscher Rundfunk.
The programme of this concert is again a Beethoven piano concerto, the passionate Third in C minor. The pianist Géza Anda, then aged 41, was the diametric opposite as a performer to the 74-year-old Hans Knappertsbusch – technically “modern” and flawless, musically strict, fresh and “objective”. The sense of foreboding sometimes felt in this day and age when such repertoire can seem stale and lacking in any sense of tense anticipation is simply not present in the musical riches released by this electrically-charged meeting of symphonic forces and a musician who revelled in his virtuosity.
The concerto is then followed by the principal work, Brahms’s Third Symphony which was so close to the conductor’s heart, in which he combines an inimitable sense of dramatic dimensions with audacious spontaneity in the music’s agogic structure. This is preceded by a wonderfully spirited reading of the Euryanthe Overture by the early Romantic Carl Maria von Weber. The Brahms symphony is then followed by an encore in the form of his Haydn Variations recorded the following year, in which Knappertbusch again demonstrates his mastery in a devotional immersion in each single variation and an abrupt shift and gripping progression, to produce a sublime overall experience.
ORFEO 1 CD C 922 171 A
“Oh, they are all dreadful.”
Vladimir Horowitz’s admissions about the twelve Etudes op. 10 and the twelve of op. 25 by Frédéric Chopin, all of which he found dreadful, or to be precise, dreadfully difficult, are both revealing and disarmingly frank: “For me, the most difficult is the one in C major, op. 10/1. I cannot play it, and the other one in C, op. 10/7, is no better. And I can’t really play the one in A minor op. 10/2 properly.” –
C 922 171 AEven if his outspoken confessions contain more of a degree of playfulness than some similar statements made by the famous Chopin performer Arthur Rubinstein, it is indeed the case that well into the 1970s the Chopin Etudes were deemed so technically difficult that it was the norm for any pianist not to play them all in public or record them in one go, but to play them one at a time like Horowitz and Rubinstein. That said, the musical ranking of the individual works has always been a matter of controversy. The fact that the complete recordings by the few pianists whose names are still familiar – Backhaus, Cortot, Arrau – are from artists who all share an interpretational style and choice of repertoire that is decidedly serious in approach could be an indication that these exponents, who after all had the necessary technical skills at their fingertips, were also concerned with the great musical context.
Times have changed since then, however, and the technical standard expected today of a young pianist has risen relentlessly, while at the same time much has happened in the musical sphere when it comes to Chopin interpretation. Today, all of the Polish genius’s works have increasingly come to the fore for their uniqueness and their unsurpassed quality, with the result that more and more pianists are daring to tackle the fearsome 24 Etudes – at least in the studio. In preparation for the studio recording, Amir Katz sought audience approval by performing the works frequently and to acclaim in concert. As with previous projects, he wanted to take a holistic approach to the pieces, beginning with the famous “bracket effect” of the first and last pieces in C major and C minor, both of them closely related to the first two pieces of Bach’s “Well-tempered Clavier” and to the last etude that then modulates back to C major – which ultimately brings the work full circle in terms of tonality. What is more, in his assiduous study of the sources on early performance practice, Amir Katz has found divergence in the earlier (faster) original tempi, especially in the slower movements, and exact tempo correspondences between various pieces. Finally, the young virtuoso proves his credentials in these masterworks with a flawless clarity that is more than equal to its stylistically refined, artistically “simplified” neo-Baroque echoes.
The second instalment of Jörg Widmann’s involvement with the Irish Chamber Orchestra and their recordings of Felix Mendelssohn’s symphonies is devoted to what is known as the composer’s Fifth, in keeping with the upcoming celebrations to mark 500 years since the Reformation. In fact, from a chronological point of view, this is Mendelssohn’s second symphony.
C 921 171 Conceived originall, to mark the celebrations of 300 years since the Reformation’s “Augsburg Confession” of 1530, to play the work and the premiere never took place – a shocking experience for the then-23- the premiere planned for 1832 seemed to be very promising, since the work was to be played by the benchmark orchestra of the day, the Orchestra of the Paris Conservatoire under the baton of François-Antoine Habeneck. However, rehearsals descended into tumult, the orchestra refused year-old former child prodigy. The following year the gifted composer applied, after the death of his mentor Carl Friedrich Zelter, to succeed him as Director of the Berlin Singakademie. Mendelssohn was eminently qualified for the post and was encouraged by many friends to apply, in view of his groundbreaking revival of Bach’s St Matthew Passion with that choral society just four years earlier. As part of his application Mendelssohn had given three concerts, one of which included the premiere of his “Symphony in Celebration of the Church Revolution”. The fact that his application was unsuccessful was traumatic for the young composer, whose approach to faith was an idealistic one. The rejection was bound up for him with his second great attempt at a symphony and he wanted nothing more to do with the work thereafter; indeed, it was not published until 1868, more than 20 years after his death, by his son Paul under the posthumous opus number 107.
Today’s verdict on the work’s musical status is of course an entirely different matter. The reports by Mendelssohn’s friend Ferdinand Hiller about the failed rehearsals in Paris – “the work is altogether too scholastic [...] too many fugatos, too little melody and much more in that vein” – say more from today’s standpoint about the composer than about the overburdened orchestra musicians. And in this era when we are almost obsessively torn between overcoming and reawakening national, cultural and religious identities, Mendelssohn’s complex and (not merely) aesthetic experiment undertaken at a time poised between revolution and restoration is truly fascinating – especially when one adds in the extra dimension of the historical allusion to the Reformation. The daring and abundantly formal characteristics of the work offer more than ample material for such analysis, from the confrontation of the artistic, canonically-elaborated Catholic intonation of the Psalms employing a Reformational wind chorale over the “Dresden Amen” that both Wagner and Bruckner were to use, through to the superimposition of the sonata writing and chorale variation in the final movement.
For someone like Jörg Widmann, so intimately familiar with the technical and aesthetic dimensions of the art of composition, it was an appealing challenge to contrast the historically fraught and consciously complex experiment by the mature prodigy Mendelssohn with the young Mozart’s highly emotional, compositionally concentrated answer to his encounter with Bach’s Fugues, which Baron von Swieten had introduced him to in the 1780s in Vienna: the Fugue in C Minor for two pianos, expanded here by a passionate Adagio and arranged here for string orchestra.
The first recording of an adaptation of Widmann’s own String Quartet No. 5 (with soprano) takes the same formation and decisively expands it with an oboe and two bassoons in his “Attempt at a Fugue” from 2005, which he believes is probably his most serious piece in the tradition of Haydn’s and Mozart’s “scholarly”, “artificial” fugal quartets, and which both reflects and deconstructs the history of this genre.
Finally, the instrumentalist, conductor and composer Widmann has fulfilled a personal wish and a promise to the orchestra and all clarinetists and listeners to arrange for clarinet and piano one of his favourite pieces by the 15-year-old Mendelssohn: the Andante from the Sonata in E flat major of 1824, and to perform it with the orchestra, for the first time, in his version for clarinet, string orchestra, harp and celesta to produce – according to the arranger himself –“miracle music”.
ORFEO 1 CD C 906 171 B
Johan Botha’s unfailingly radiant and yet powerfully carrying voice – notably in the middle register – established him over many years as a Strauss and Wagner singer par excellence, but most of all as a youthful hero, and not as a weighty heroic tenor.
C 906 171 BIn fact Tannhäuser was something of a marginal role for him, but what a role! The recording of the Rome episode in the Vienna State Opera premiere of June 16, 2010, with which (after the Florestan aria from Fidelio) the CD’s four-part Wagner portrait begins with excerpts from Vienna Staatsoper productions, movingly reveals how as a suffering yet passionate pilgrim – at the side of Christian Gerhaher as Wolfram – he returns from Rome dejected and unredeemed.
The bridal-chamber scene from the third act of Lohengrin looks back to Botha’s early years at the Staatsoper. Opposite Cheryl Studer as Elsa, he was just 31 years old in 1997! And here too as Lohengrin in all his splendour he makes the abyss audible. Fifteen years later, Botha is an ideal, alert Walther von Stolzing, who after a night of dreams reveals his Prize Song to cobbler-poet Hans Sachs, who in turn refines it and writes it down. The Franconian knight was known to be his favourite Wagner part ever since his sensational debut in the role at the Vienna Volksoper in 1998. And in 2004, Botha begins his scene with Kundry (Angela Denoke) from the second act of Parsifal as a guileless youth whose cries of “Amfortas!” after Kundry’s kiss and the knowledge that it brings are yet possessed of a troubling primal force.
Three of the loveliest and most important Strauss roles are also to be found on the CD. In addition to the Emperor (Die Frau ohne Schatten), whom Botha had already sung to great acclaim at the Salzburg Festival in 2011 and reprised in 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the reopening of the Nationaltheater in Munich, we hear his proudly dominant Apollo (Daphne) alongside Michael Schade (Leukippos) and Ricarda Merbeth (Daphne). At the climactic moment of the opera, the conflict between the god and the two mortals ends with Apollo’s sudden extinction of his human rival.
The most moving scene comes perhaps at the close of Ariadne auf Naxos, when a figure hailed as Hermes, the divine messenger of death, proves to be Bacchus, the god of love, and Ariadne (Soile Isokoski) timidly asks him: “Is there no farther shore, are we there already?” The recording of October 18, 2014 captures one of Johan Botha’s last appearances at the Vienna Staatsoper. He died on September 8, 2016 – aged just fifty-one.
ORFEO 1 CD C 899 171 A
After her debut CD I palpiti d’amour (2008), followed by Slavic Opera Arias (2011) and a Verdi album (2014), the Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova now turns her attention to verismo – in the broadest sense of the word. Again and again she lends those roles by Puccini, Mascagni, Cilea (Adriana Lecouvreur), Giordano (Andrea Chénier) and Catalani (La Wally) her inimitably nuanced and finely resonant lirico spinto soprano, a voice which is both flexible and capable of the highest notes while possessing an enchanting sonority and profound middle range.
Be it Puccini’s foolhardy, gem-addicted Manon,
C 899 171 Awho will ultimately die of thirst in the desert – featured here with her great arias from Acts 2 and 4 – or such tender characters as Liù (Turandot), Madame Butterfly – singing the hope-filled aria “Un bel dì vedremo” and “Che tua madre” immediately before her suicide – or the nun Sister Angelica, whose unconditional love must ultimately lead to her death: Stoyanova always finds the right tone and finely-nuanced expression for each of these female characters – culminating right at the end in “Vissi d’arte” by Tosca – a final surge of life-affirming passion and simultaneously a resigned farewell to life by a great singer.
This selection of great arias is preceded seamlessly by the great and poignant death-scene aria sung by the protagonist of Pietro Mascagni’s opera Lodoletta, in which a spurned woman imagines her unattainable lover as she lies delirious in the snow – maddened by hunger and cold – before she slips into the hereafter.
As with her two previous albums for the Orfeo label, she is accompanied by the Munich Radio Orchestra under Pavel Baleff with great sensitivity and intensity, thereby giving each of these classic opera scenes their own musical world.
ORFEO 1 CD C 925 161 B
The fact that this rare gem was considered lost
C 925 161 Band was only brought back into the repertory in 1993 thanks to a great deal of effort is astounding (even more so considering the relative success it has enjoyed since that time): a chamber-music version of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony by the Schoenberg pupil Erwin Stein for his “society for private performances of music”. The work was reconstructed from Erwin Stein’s notes in his score of the original symphony and his correspondence with Schoenberg. A tonally pleasing piece in itself, it also gives valuable insight into the compositional structure of the original – and provides a creative contribution towards imagining the relationship between two highly important composers: after all, while the circle around Schoenberg truly venerated Gustav Mahler, he in turn took an active and certainly respectful interest in the new paths that Schoenberg had embarked upon. What a fitting contribution to, slightly quirky, yet idiomatically highly suitable, distorted Strauss waltzes by Webern and Schoenberg as “the icing on the cake”. All played by an incomparable “all-star ensemble” featuring Renaud Capuçon, Antoine Tamestit, Clemens Hagen, Magali Mosnier, Sebastian Manz, Albrecht Mayer, Herbert Schuch, Martin Grubinger among others! They are joined in the last movement of the Mahler symphony by Christiane Karg, singing of “the Mahler anniversary year of 2011, marking the centenary of his death! This is matched by two irresistible heavenly joys” ...
ORFEO 2 CD C 905 162 A
As with his previous CD releases, in choosing his
C 905 162 Aprogramme Konstantin Lifschitz is concerned not just to find an interesting idea linking the works, but also to bring out the impact of new aural versions. The title “Saisons russes” refers to the pioneering aesthetic and musical developments initiated by the famous impresario Sergei Diaghilev and the legendary performances given by his Ballets Russes company in Paris from 1910 onwards. Many other contemporary composers were also involved in this development, foremost among them Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky. The works by these three composers, presented together on this CD, are linked by their treatment of material based on myth and legend, and their use of new musical techniques.
Debussy’s Six Epigraphes antiques are taken from twelve short pieces composed around 1900 as incidental music for 2 flutes, 2 harps and celesta for the “Chansons de Bilitis”, songs inspired by ancient Greek poems. In 1914 Debussy arranged six of them for the eminently suitable piano duet formation. Then in 1915 he re-arranged that version, without changing the essence, but adding refinements to make it more of a virtuoso work for piano solo. This set joins Debussy’s two books of six études each, completed that same year, as the composer’s very last works for piano. Maurice Ravel, who can be viewed as a disciple of Debussy and at the same time was an inspiration to the older composer, produced his longest and most complex orchestral work for the “Saisons russes” in 1912: some 60 minutes long, this “choreographic symphony” entitled Daphnis et Chloé was based on an erotic pastoral novel written by the Greek poet Longus in the third century AD. Igor Stravinsky praised the work as “one of the most beautiful products in the entire history of French music.”
On this CD, Konstantin Lifschitz here plays his own highly ambitious solo piano version of several pieces from Ravel’s work. The cascading notes, orgiastically enhanced dances and intoxicating tone paintings (especially one of a sunrise) require the unleashing of a high degree of virtuosity from the performer, such as Ravel had done in his Gaspard de la Nuit. Even taken to such extremes, it remains astounding how accomplished these piano versions sound, considering that the composer’s Impressionist style was famous for its specific art of orchestration.
After the resounding success of his ballets Petrushka (1910) and The Firebird (1911), Igor Stravinsky shot to the pinnacle of notoriety in 1913 with the Ballets Russes, when his scandalous Rite of Spring was premiered in 1913. On this CD, he is introduced via another, stylistically very different work, composed in 1928, though it does indeed have a link to Diaghilev. Yet again we encounter a character from the world of antiquity, as the god Apollo instructs three muses in their roles and takes them to Mount Parnassus. This ballet music is unusual, as it was written purely for string orchestra. The composer was especially keen to revive the concept of bringing out the melody, something he felt had been neglected over the course of the nineteenth century, leading to a loss of clear melodic lines. Stravinsky believed that melody was definitely compatible with many-voiced, polyphonic composition. This is vividly reflected in this premiere recording of his own piano transcription (unlike Artur Rubinstein’s notorious reworking of the Petrushka Suite). At the work’s premiere in Washington a year before his death, Diaghilev expressed his entire satisfaction with it.
Jakov Jakoulov’s work Carousel, written specially for Konstantin Lifschitz, provides a further link to the “typical” beginnings of the Ballets Russes with Petrushka. Born in Moscow, Jakoulov emigrated via Munich to Boston. Carousel combines virtuoso aplomb and instinctive playing with abrupt mood changes and immersion in diverse worlds of expression. The merry-go-round is used to portray human life: a somewhat banal analogy, one might think, but one which – the composer believes – reveals a inherent truth. We all revolve around the axis of our own fate until the spring snaps, bringing the carousel to a halt. “Well, after all, we’re Russians, aren’t we?”
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