C 831 151 AHofstetter was chief conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra from 2006 to 2013, and together they have now recorded Handel’s Concerti grossi Nos. 1, 6, 10 and 12 from his Opus 6 collection, along with the concerto grosso Alexander’s Feast. This last concerto, dating from 1736, was composed while Handel was still lord of the operatic world in London. Nevertheless, it already displays many characteristics familiar from his later concertos, with its sparkling allegro opening, its pastoral Largo, the rich counterpoint of its fugue and its dancelike final movement. Handel’s subsequent concerti grossi offer one highpoint of the genre after another – and the masterful, transparent performances of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under Michael Hofstetter do full justice to this music, from the Musette of Concerto No. 6 – described by Romain Rolland as “one of the most luminous visions of pastoral happiness” – to the French-influenced forms of overture and air in the tenth concerto or the twelfth concerto with its powerful beginning that opens out into supreme elegance and virtuosity. The concerti grossi op. 6 are justly regarded as the highpoint of Handel’s instrumental oeuvre, on a par with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and his Brandenburg Concertos. Handel’s works stand at the end of an era, and he knew how to incorporate aspects of the new “galant” style, moulding highly original works of music out of seemingly incompatible elements and in the process creating an impressive coda to the genre of the Baroque concerto grosso.
ORFEO 1 CD C 895 151 A
When considering the symphonic output of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the Manfred Symphony in b minor, Op. 58 (1885), composed between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, has all too often been overlooked.
C 895 151 AThe latter two symphonies exist already in award-winning recordings from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Music Director Andris Nelsons (as does the Sixth Symphony – the “Pathetique”). Manfred, after Lord Byron’s dramatic poem of the same name now enriches this Tchaikovsky cycle through a number of remarkable facets.
Foto: Marco BorggreveAs suggested by the critic Vladimir Stassov, Tchaikovsky oriented himself on the programmatic symphonies of Hector Berlioz, creating a late-romantic, agitated series of orchestral scenes in which the lonely mountain peregrinations of the title character are alliterated with not only magical apparitions but with an idyllic submersion in nature as well as a bacchanal from the nether world. The end of the work is musically linked to motives found in the symphony’s impassioned first movement. In both, the unfulfilled love of the protagonist to his sister Astarte is musically characterized. It is in just these segments of the new recording with the CBSO, under the direction of Andris Nelsons, that the listener is gripped, particularly by the enormous strength of the CBSO string section while the woodwind and brass sections show themselves to great advantage, nearly stealing the show, in the alluded “transcendental” vision of the Alpine fairy and the tempestuous sweep of the bacchanal. In addition – Tchaikovsky’s much shorter Marche Slave in B-flat minor, Op. 31, composed one year before the start of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, gives the CBSO sufficient opportunity to shine. Tchaikovsky powerfully shifts the initial flow of the funeral march, characterizing the suppression of an entire folk, into a triumph of freedom. He includes not only musical references to Serbian folk songs but also the Russian National Anthem, “God Save the Tsar”, a fact which caused considerable problems for the Russian censors during much of the 20th century. Whether on the concert or operatic podium, conductor Andris Nelsons remains a master when it comes to the heightening of dramatic intensity. Here, with the CBSO once again on superb form, this march assumes the stature of an engrossingly timeless painting of history.
ORFEO 1 CD C 872 151 A
This new CD by Daniel Müller-Schott and Francesco Piemontesi offers three sonatas for cello and piano. Their compelling, emotional performances sum up several chapters of 20th-century history that go far beyond the merely musical. Sergei Prokofiev displays a masterly serenity in his songlike Sonata in C major op. 119, composed in 1949.
C 872 151 AIt makes evident his adjustment to the cultural politics of the Soviet Union – to which this world-famous composer had returned just twelve years before – but is also tailor-made for an exceptional cello-piano duo. Rostropovich and Richter gave its first performance, and Müller-Schott and Piemontesi are their worthy successors here. Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sonata in d minor op. 40 is no less marked by fate. It was on the programme of a concert tour given by the composer and his cello partner Victor Kubatzki in 1936 when Shostakovich was put on the Stalinist index of undesirables, on orders from the very top. This was a tragic irony of fate because this Cello Sonata is highly melodic and anything but modernist in its design, giving lie to the accusation that its composer wrote “chaos instead of music”. Daniel Müller-Schott and Francesco Piemontesi do full justice to all facets of this work – now catchy and playful, now pensive instead. And finally, Benjamin Britten’s Sonata in C op. 65 marked the beginning of a productive creative friendship that was established despite many a problem posed by the Cold War. It was first performed in Aldeburgh in 1961 by the composer and Rostropovich. The five movements of this Sonata are marked by typically Brittenesque twists and turns – at times hesitant, at other times effervescent and skittish, and towards the close ever more lively and unruly in its rhythms. This Sonata offers Daniel Müller-Schott and Francesco Piemontesi ample opportunity to unfold to the full both their technical expertise and their expressive art of interpretation.
ORFEO 1 CD C 737 151 A
Pavol Breslik has for a long time now been one of the most in-demand lyrical tenors on the world’s operatic stages – but nor has he neglected the concert scene or the Liederabend. His youthful yet masculine timbre, possessing clarity of tone and a timbre neither dark and baritonal nor overly bright, seems almost predestined for the world of Franz Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, his song cycle to texts by Wilhelm Müller.
C 737 151 ABreslik is captivating in this new studio recording. He sweeps us along on the miller boy’s journey, falling in love with his master’s daughter, then enduring disappointment, despair and ultimately infidelity and betrayal that lead to his abandonment of life. Pavol Breslik aptly conveys all this. The text is given its full due, while his phrasing is natural and faithful to every nuance and expression, from the fresh attacca opening to the close with its long legato arches of melody in the brook’s lullaby. The brook itself – the miller boy’s constant companion – is just as eloquent in Amir Katz’s piano accompaniment. The clarity of pedalling means there is no hint of opacity, and Katz’s experience as both soloist and chamber musician allows him to convey the rich accents of Schubert’s music in all its twists and turns, its irresistible torrents and, at the close, in its serene stasis when all the ripples have been calmed. And just as the brook accompanies the miller’s boy in all his ups and downs, so too does his interpretation go beyond all the thrilling motorics to encompass a multitude of nuances across the keyboard and the dynamic spectrum, affording a maximum of variety in the strophic songs without this variety ever becoming an end in itself. And all is at the service of the text, with its shifting moods and the trials and tribulations of the miller boy’s emotional life. The exciting musical dialogue between Breslik and Katz (who will both soon be taking the miller boy’s journey to the concert halls) means that this well-loved song cycle by Schubert comes across as lively and true-to-life as any lover of the Lied could wish for.
ORFEO 1 CD C 864 141 A
This live recording is being released 20 years after Konstantin Lifschitz’s final concert at the Gnessin School. He played the Goldberg Variations there as part of his school-leaving exams at the age of 17, and performed it otherwise several times in concert at the time.
C 864 141 AThis was back then still “unusual, even very, very daring”, and Lifschitz remembers how it seemed to him at the time that even the great Mrs Kantor (his teacher) was “almost envious” of him. Lifschitz himself has never missed an opportunity to try out the work on the organ or harpsichord, though he has never ever considered giving a public performance on one of those instruments. He has often performed the work in his piano recitals and has done so on all five continents.
Foto: Sona AndreasyanWhereas there is a lack of a performing tradition for the Art of Fugue – especially on the piano – with the Goldberg Variations one runs far more obvious risks, such as an over-romanticisation of it, or playing it too drily. What is important to Lifschitz is an equilibrium of knowledge and freedom in performance. Whereas the Diabelli Variations have a quite different sense of progression, given their process of “shattering” and “cleansing” the theme, it is very different, says Lifschitz, with the Goldbergs. It is also important to Konstantin Lifschitz that Bach’s original title did not call his work “variations”, but “Veränderungen” (thus “changes” or “alterations”). The idea of a series of variations on a given theme, which in itself is so simple and obvious, is one that it seems Bach took up only with great hesitation – at least when one considers the rest of his extant oeuvre – however natural to him he might have found the compositional means that he employed in the work. But Konstantin Lifschitz feels one could also claim that Bach employs even more artfulness in hiding his skill from the listener, by distracting him with his manifold art of variation on many different levels. Today, one thing is more important to him than was the case when he made his studio recording, and in which he feels the live recording of his Würzburg concert released here comes closest to what he wants. What is indispensable to him is to integrate properly all the repeats of the individual variations.
ORFEO 3 CD C 846 153 D
Even at the big opera houses it’s a real stroke of luck if a production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni doesn’t just have a charismatic Don, but a whole ensemble that’s able to exert its magnetism over the assembled audience (and who thus manage not to follow the Don’s example – after all, his attempts at conquest go awry throughout the opera, with only the memories of earlier conquests remaining).
C 846 153 DThis rare constellation – having an engaging title hero whose gifts are matched by the objects of his passion – in fact came about in 1973 at the Munich Opera Festival. Ruggero Raimondi was in his early 30s at the time and his unmistakeable, agile, irresistible bass-baritone voice veritably conquered the Bavarian State Opera. In the process he established himself as the Don Giovanni of his generation. But while he was the centre of attention, he was by no means the only sensation of the production. With Margaret Price as Donna Anna, Julia Varady as Donna Elvira and Lucia Popp as Zerlina he was faced with a trio of sopranos who in their individual arias and in their numerous, tricky ensemble numbers turned the evening into a musical feast – as we can now hear in this live recording of the opening night. In the midst of these powerful, highly individual personalities, Hermann Winkler’s lyric dramatic tenor and Stafford Dean’s agile lyric buffo bass were well able to hold their ground as Don Ottavio and the servant Leporello respectively. Enrico Fissore offered a vigorous Masetto, while Giovanni’s final descent into hell – which leaves shivers down many a spine – was made doubly gripping by the dark bass of Kurt Moll’s Commendatore and by Wolfgang Sawallisch at the helm of the Bavarian State Orchestra. This was a Don Giovanni of fast-paced tempi, with a momentum brilliantly geared to the dramatic trajectory, carried by the lyrical qualities of its singers, and with a perfect sense of poise and exhilarating intimacy at just the right moments.
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