ORFEO International – New Releases

New Releases briefly introduced

September 2017 – March 2018

March 2018

ORFEO 1 CD C 945 181 A

Widmann • Mendelssohn

Seldom has one heard one of the best known works of Mendelssohn, the brilliant Hebrides Overture, so wild, gruff and raw, so fissured even, as in this concluding instalment of Mendelssohn symphonies with Jörg Widmann. This is without question a thoroughly contemporary interpretation; C 945 181 A
C 945 181 A
we get the now universal sense of hearing anew that comes with period instruments, even though none are being played here. It must have been a real stimulus to the composer at the conductor’s desk – a music analyst in the highest degree – to take this music tamed by over-familiarity and strip it of everything that is pseudo-obvious and safely middle-of-the-road. And it is that principle, faithfully followed in the earlier releases, of quite deliberately comparing and contrasting Mendelssohn’s works with the clarinet-playing conductor’s own that must have been what struck the spark and audibly kindled the music-making spirit of the Irish Chamber Orchestra. A drama otherwise reserved for the concert hall here comes across admirably on disc: the well-known early-19th-century works sound like new – almost alien – which is a compliment to their interpreters. Widmann’s two early works, now a part of his own history, turn out to be good, even exhilarating, listening; inspired by the young composer’s disco nights, “180  beats” goes well with the fascinating “Fantasie”, played by the composer himself, which effortlessly surmounts the limits seemingly set on the harmonies of a monophonic wind instrument. We may easily go astray when “placing” a piece of music, as the lively booklet-text tells us Schumann did when he credited the “Scottish” with an Italian flavour. Be that as it may, this is a spine-tinglingly new way to listen to Mendelssohn’s music.

Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge, London


February 2018

ORFEO 2 CD C 930 182 I

Gottfried von Einem: Der Besuch der alten Dame

The “tragic comedy” recorded here goes back to the middle of the twentieth century and is based on a work by an author who was of the view that “a story is only fully thought through when the plot has taken a turn for the very worst”, and who as a result decided that he could only write comedies. C 930 182 I
C 930 182 I
The pleasant simplicity of the language, the entertaining, apparent harmlessness of the plot, as manifested in the comic-like names of some of the protagonists, such as Toby, Roby, Koby and Loby, are in the sharpest possible contrast to the unmatched cruelty of the concept and action of the characters – that is to say, an utterly excessive, archaic campaign of feminine revenge. It is therefore quite appropriate that the composer, born 100 years ago, was no pioneer, any more than his librettist, of a bombastic avant-garde style that took itself too seriously. On the contrary, the unfathomable aspect of these merciless events is emphasised here by means of a clearly comprehensible and not entirely unentertaining approach. The premiere at the Vienna State Opera in 1971 was an unprecedented success that, according to the reviews, by far outshone popular repertoire opera premieres of previous years, and the production staged by Otto Schenk enjoyed a run of 39 performances. That success was no doubt thanks in part to its cast: accompanied by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Horst Stein, a first-rate ensemble with Hans Hotter as the teacher, Eberhard Wächter as the lamentable Alfred Ill, and above all, the outstanding Christa Ludwig as the richest woman in the world, Claire Zachanassian. Her name, according to the original play’s author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, is a conglomerate of Zacharoff, Onassis and Gulbenkian, and one might easily conclude that the lady whose birthday we are marking commands similar riches, embodying as she does the qualities of several top-flight singers. The artist, who will celebrate her ninetieth birthday this year, has contributed to the CD booklet notes personally, providing memories of the production, which are further proof of the magnitude of her artistic personality.


January 2018

ORFEO 2 CD C 918 182 I

Mozart, Così fan tutte

Beethoven was shocked

Even in its opera-buffa manifestation, the utterly disastrous wife-swapping experiment in “Cosi fan tutte” so scandalized the entire 19th century, from Beethoven to Wagner, that desperate attempts were constantly made to conceal the work’s frivolity under any number of respectable rewrites. C 918 182 I
C 918 182 I
It was Hermann Levi and Richard Strauss who recreated the original work for Munich with through-composed recitatives instead of spoken dialogues. Amazingly, it took this Munich production of the 1970s to bring Mozart’s absolute masterpiece to life in its original language; yet anything else –   from a great master of musically subtle, rapid-reaction word-play – is sheer sacrilege!
In any case, the acoustic account captures an almost unbearably intense moment in the history of music theatre. The music director of those days, true to local tradition and to his own history, once again shows himself to be not only a consummate Wagner and Strauss conductor but also, as in the previously released “Don Giovanni” from that era (Orfeo C846153), a hugely skilled interpreter of Mozart. The piece’s ensemble qualities, lifting it from the chasms of deep disgrace to a pinnacle of Mozart’s operatic writing, are brought out with breathtaking drama and vivid versatility, due not least to the cumulatively sensational qualities of the various protagonists. These were so highly regarded by the maestro himself as to justify a transfer from the customary Cuvilliés-Theater – where the first Munich production had been staged in 1795 – to the Nationaltheater itself: “With soloists such as these, we can sell out the house.”


January 2018

ORFEO 1 CD C 929 181 A

von Einem, Philadelphia Symphony

The longer the modern era lasts, the older “New Music” grows, and the more versatile it becomes. Upon closer listening, one quickly becomes aware of the many byways and backroads of the genre, in addition to the principal trends, and one composer who trod his own path decisively, with great success, is Gottfried von Einem. C 929 181 A
C 929 181 A
Since his breakthrough with the premiere of his opera Dantons Tod (the death of Danton) at the Salzburg Festival in 1947, through to the composer’s death in 1996, many of his works have been performed on the international music stage, as witness recordings featuring the likes of Böhm, Karajan and George Szell on this label. However, everyone knows that for a composer to continue to develop his artistic skills he needs more than glittering premieres, and so the Orfeo label is delighted to mark the 100th birthday of the composer born in 1918 by releasing, alongside other new recordings of his works from its catalogue, a retrospective of von Einem’s work featuring the very best performers of today.
The earliest work on this new release is the choral work with orchestra Stundenlied, which originates from a highly interesting cultural and historical source: a collaboration with the playwright Bertolt Brecht who from 1949 lived in the German Democratic Republic. The story of Christ’s passion is witnessed and presented in a popular, naive way as a dreadful event and brilliantly depicted by von Einem using simple and stringent compositional means to produce a work that is haunting and authoritative, performed here by the Singverein and Philharmonic Orchestra of Vienna under Franz Welser-Möst.

Written between 1962 and 1973, his Geistliche Sonate (sacred sonata) for soprano, trumpet and organ, is in a quite different category, with scoring in which the composer unites contrapuntal concentration in the layout with tense expressivity. This is music that comes alive in an impressive way thanks to the expressive skills of the soprano, the “modern” (female) Baltic concert organist and the phenomenal world-class trumpeter.

Finally, we hear the Philadelphia Symphony, a work named after the city where it was commissioned and where it was originally to have been premiered, but which after some discord there was premiered in the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna in 1961 with the city’s Philharmonic under Sir Georg Solti – and is now to be heard on the “remake” recording in the same venue under Franz Welser-Möst, who has plenty of stateside experience to offer. Conceived in the dimensions of a three-movement Haydn symphony, this work wins over the audience with its moderately modern ingenuity and suggests that these days, the post-modern can boast a longer history.


November 2017

ORFEO 1 CD C 937 171 B

Nina Stemme - Wagner

The great new Swedish artist sings Wagner

In the erratic and often short-lived field of vocal C 937 171 B
C 937 171 B
arts and opera within the already uncertain music business it is still occasionally possible and so heart-warming to experience an exceptional artist with a more permanent and positive future: the Swedish-born singer Nina Stemme is just such an artist. For the past fifteen years or so she has been enhancing the great music venues around the world with impressive continuity while growing in artistic maturity in the challenging, great, dramatic soprano roles. In the course of that journey, she has attained enormous recognition from critics and audiences alike around the world, both for the abundance and assertiveness of her truly remarkable, well-balanced and eloquent voice, and for her dramatic presence on stage in portraying such a plethora of roles. Orfeo is proud, together with the Vienna State Opera, to release her very first purely operatic solo CD of her performances there, in the great Wagner roles.

The first number features Senta, a role with which she made her acclaimed Viennese debut in 2003 in the new version of The Flying Dutchman under Seiji Ozawa, including the Ballad of Senta which so captivated the audience. In a continuation of the Ring recording already released on Orfeo C875131 featuring the whole of Act I of The Valkyrie under Franz Welser-Möst with Johan Botha, this CD contains another scene in a role so well suited to her: that of a passionate Sieglinde. And from the next part of the tetralogy there is an impressive example of how she has grown into roles considered to be the pinnacle of virtuosic technique in the form of an even more dramatic Brünnhilde, in an extensive excerpt from Act III of Siegfried with Stephen Gould as Siegfried in 2008 – which arouse considerable expectations of the current Ring Cycle at the Bavarian State Opera. Lastly, again under the baton of Welser-Möst, an excerpt from Act I of Tristan and Isolde together with the all-demanding final song by Isolde from 2013. And at this juncture perhaps it is justified to assert that Nina Stemme demonstrates, both here and in her portrayal of Brünnhilde, even greater softness and grace than her great predecessor and compatriot Birgit Nilsson, with whom she is now respectfully compared.


October 2017

ORFEO 1 CD C 920 171 A


Two new cello concertos from a generational triumvirate

On his new recording, the musician, who always demonstrates a verve and lively curiosity in his programme works, brings together three composers for his instrument to form a musical triangular relationship that is fascinating to experience and only possibly thanks to some nifty cross-fertilisation. The consequent easy accessibility and good audibility form a charming contrast to the works’ all but easy playability.
For a start, the intertwining and superimposition of C 920 171 A
C 920 171 A
successive generational is charming in itself: Johann Sebastian Bach’s son, born in 1714, was perhaps the greatest composer of his generation; the essential founding father of the Classical era and creator of significant music genres, born in 1732; and finally, the child prodigy born in 1756. The dates of their deaths, however, then seem to skew the chronology: Mozart died in 1791, just three years after Carl Philipp Emanuel, whereas Joseph Haydn lived another 18 years.
CPE Bach made a significant contribution to establishing the piano concerto genre and arranged three such works for flute and – all of them predictably virtuosic – for the cello, one of which can be heard on this recording. Haydn on the other hand wrote, as is well known, the first and sadly the only great “Viennese Classical” cello concerto, which Daniel Müller-Schott naturally plays often and has already recorded (C080031). He also composed piano and violin concertos, one of which appears here in an arrangement for cello and is technically very demanding. Although the early consummate master of the piano concerto genre sadly did not write a cello concerto, Daniel Müller-Schott, in the tradition of Emanuel Feuermann, has attempted to imagine what Mozart’s Oboe Concerto, which the young composer later arranged himself for flute, would sound like on the cello. In the process, he demonstrates in a staggering manner the typical way in which Mozart transcended the borders of genres for solo concerto: in truly operatic performances and much more, all so artfully achieved and performed that the instrument being played is simply not uppermost in the listener’s mind, let alone the one for which the work was originally composed.
What is more, the experiment of repertoire expansion through transference succeeds in this instance not least thanks to the skill and lively, infectious musicality of the L’Arte del mondo ensemble under the direction of Werner Erhardt, who are clearly all very much at home with this sort of music.


October 2017

ORFEO 3 CD C 850 113 D

Richard Wagner - Lohengrin

In the year of the premiere of Wolfgang Wagner’s second Lohengrin the eponymous hero found himself in a tight spot. At the end of the 1950s Sandor Kónya had taken the scepter in Bayreuth from Wolfgang Windgassen as the principal Knight of the Swan; C 850 113 D
C 850 113 D
at the height of his career in 1959, Kónya featured on a recording opposite Elisabeth Grümmer as Elsa (Orfeo C 691063). On the evening of the 1967 premiere of the new version however, the Hungarian tenor was gravely indisposed. No fewer than four tenors then stepped into the breach to sing his part. The first of them, James King, promptly sang his way to gaining “first night rights” for the following year. In 1968, however, Rudolf Kempe was no longer on the rostrum, though he was key to the success of the live recording of the second performance in 1967, which is now available on the Orfeo label (C 850113). Seven years earlier Kempe, with his sound instinctive feeling for music drama, had already plumbed the “mystic abyss” and conducted the entire Ring cycle. Yet his striving for continuous musical transparency resulted in an ever stronger degree of refinement. The 1967 Lohengrin may undoubtedly be viewed as the crowning glory of this development.

James King (1925-2005) stood at that time on the cusp of his Bayreuth career, which had begun one year earlier with the role of Siegmund. He had already sung Lohengrin at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, which was for many years one of his regular venues. Anyone who is familiar with the baritone origins of the tenor from Kansas, USA, may well be surprised at the tremendous dynamic grading in the suspended high registers through to the sonorous piano passages that he was capable of at his Bayreuth debut in the role of the Knight of the Swan. He kept that role in his repertoire for more than a quarter of a century, singing it right up to the end of his career at new venues – a feat which places James King in the hand-picked league of tenors capable of singing the overtly dramatic roles of their fach with a lean, “Italian” timbre.

The Elsa at James King’s side in this case was Irish-born Heather Harper, who went on to become famous for her performances and premieres of works by Benjamin Britten. With her superlative, highly-spun lyrical phrasing and many nuances her “foray” into the realms of Wagner is a pure listening pleasure. Even the challenging breadth of the role of Elsa did not apparently entice Heather Harper for one moment to force her voice. And how often does one hear, even in the dramatic turn of events in the nuptial chamber, such poignant vocal intensification delivered with such simplicity?

The performer whose Bayreuth career would enjoy an even longer term was yet another singer from the Commonwealth in this cast of Lohengrin: Sir Donald McIntyre was brilliant as Telramund with heroic baritone command, and so his continued success at Bayreuth in roles like Dutchman, Amfortas, Klingsor, Kurwenal and Wotan/Wanderer was hardly surprising in retrospect.

Grace Hoffman (1921-2008) as Ortrud was able to look back at a comparable number of roles at Bayreuth to Sir Donald McIntyre; indeed, her many acclaimed roles from 1957 onwards at the Festspielhaus would include Brangäne, Fricka and Waltraute. Such a role call doubtless serves as proof that Ortrud’s highly dramatic arias can certainly be accomplished by a truly dramatic mezzo-soprano providing that, as in the case of Grace Hoffman, the technical prerequisites are in place. The last of the soloists at that performance were Thomas Tipton as an elegant King’s Herald; the reason for his reputation as the leading gentleman baritone of the Bavarian State Opera in those days is audible here (and he also played Wolfram in Bayreuth in 1967); and the “outsider” so to speak, in the midst of these English-speaking singers who nevertheless sang in perfect German: Karl Ridderbusch (1932-1997) with his truly balmy bass as King Heinrich. He too was giving his Bayreuth debut that year, and he was to give innumerable performances over the years as Daland, Fasolt, Hunding, Titurel, Marke, Pogner and ultimately in the very contrasting roles of Hagen and Hans Sachs.


September 2017

Salzburger Festspieldokumente 2017

The more time passes, the longer becomes the period for which music recordings exist. The Salzburg Festival, established in 1920, was quick to exploit the new medium of radio – ‘the history of the Festival is the history of radio’ as the music journalist Gottfried Kraus wrote. As early as 1925 a complete Don Giovanni (under Karl Muck) was broadcast, with ever more performances to more countries in the years that followed, while the first physical sound recording, on shellac, appeared in 1931 (Mozart’s Requiem, Orfeo C 396951). In 1992 the Salzburg Festival decided, in conjunction with the Austrian broadcaster ORF, to issue especially valuable and historically relevant recordings from the archives as ‘Salzburger Festspieldokumente’. ORFEO is proud to have made a lasting contribution to the project, being the only organization involved that can supply all of the published titles – true to its philosophy. For an institution like the Salzburg Festival, with its aspiration to present much of what’s best in the concert and opera world today, lasting documentation of historical recordings adds an exciting dimension to the artistic perspective. Given the radical changes in the music business and performance practice over the last few decades, the opportunity to consider upheavals from earlier times leads to stimulating reflections in all sorts of directions.
C 938 172 I
C 938 172 I
C 939 171 B
C 939 171 B
C 941 171 B
C 941 171 B
C 942 171 B
C 942 171 B
C 943 171 B
C 943 171 B

And so it’s exceptionally interesting to hear now, for the first time, Daniel Barenboim at the age of 27 making his solo debut with an all-Beethoven programme, as Barenboim is today so esteemed and authoritative a figure in so many genres and forms of classical music and, now a mere 74, is heir to older traditions with greater historical depth than any of his contemporaries. At the time Barenboim had only just begun to unfold as a musical all-rounder and was at the zenith of a career that hitherto had concentrated on the piano. In the context of marked divergences between successive generations, common in the music world at that time, Barenboim asserts himself confidently and brilliantly, with remarkable pianistic eloquence and above all an array of musical virtues: the ability to generate tension and great contemplative depth, a highly imaginative conception, a very wide dynamic range and an amazing songfulness which has lost none of its power to captivate – as in the breathtaking slow movement of op. 10 No. 3, in a Waldstein Sonata with a daringly opened-up final movement as well as in an op. 111 with passages of heavenly length in the Arietta.
Five years earlier the legendary Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, then 45, made his first and last appearance at the festival. Just how exceptional the appearance of this reclusive artist was can be seen in the fact that he strictly and successfully forbade the recording and broadcast of the second half of the concert. It is uniquely appropriate that one of the few Bach pieces from his publicly performed repertoire should be the Bach Chaconne for Violin – an instrument that Benedetti Michelangeli had himself studied and that he said he sought to imitate with his own highly sophisticated piano technique. The work is heard here in the transcription by Ferruccio Busoni. It’s intriguing once again how different the meticulously thought-out interpretations of his very limited public repertoire are, and striking how forcefully and not at all reservedly the Maestro sometimes permitted himself to play. The technically dazzling Beethoven Sonata op. 2 No. 3 is performed here with a perfection and at the same time a gutsy virtuosity that is quite disarming.
One of the great and fascinating singers of her day was the “black Venus” of Bayreuth, Grace Bumbry, who demonstrated her exceptionally wide range at the Salzburg Festival with a gripping Lady Macbeth by the Wagner antipode Verdi (Orfeo C 843112) as well as with the impressive Lieder recital on this recording, exclusively devoted to the Wagner antipode Brahms – from an age that was more friendly towards Lieder recitals than today, yet still one full decade before Jessye Norman.
A genuinely great instrumentalist who certainly left his mark on the music world was cellist Heinrich Schiff, who died last year and is not adequately represented on CD. He can be heard here in his full-on vigorous musicality with a partner who is unusually his equal, in three major works of the cello repertoire, the Sonata op. 40 by Shostakovich, the middle sonata by Beethoven and the last one by Brahms.
Another monumental musician of our time is without doubt the very great opera conductor James Levine. On this recording he can be heard at the age of 34 in a Ponnelle production of Mozart’s last opera La clemenza di Tito – which fits nicely with this year’s programme – in what was an exciting time of upheaval: just before the epoch-making change in musical practice we associate with the name Harnoncourt and which began coincidentally with Mozart’s other ‘opera seria’ Idomeneo. Here ‘Jimmy’ Levine delivers an energetic, ‘full’ and astute performance, not least thanks to a superbly well-suited ensemble of singers and a Vienna Philharmonic in excellent form: a reading so convincing and overwhelming that we realize with astonishment once again that prior to the supposed ‘salvation’ and ‘rediscovery’ there were indeed very, very good performances of works still considered challenging today.