ORFEO International – New Releases

New Releases briefly introduced

February 2016 – August 2016

August 2016

ORFEO 1 CD C 902 161 A

Duo Sessions

Duets for violin and cello are whatC 902 161 A
C 902 161 A
might be called the lowest common denominator of sophisticated solo literature and chamber music. Much as each member of the present duo intensively cultivates the chamber music repertoire, they are both first and foremost soloists – and are bound to remain so in the extraordinary technical and musical challenges of this intermediate category. After the premiere of the Ravel sonata, a contemporary listener wittily pleaded for the publication of a reduced version for orchestra.
It is appropriate that the original Julia Fischer, Daniel Müller-Schott
Julia Fischer, Daniel Müller-Schott
Foto: Christine Schneider
works to be heard in this programme – and they are some of the most important works for this repertoire – were written surprisingly late, some of them a decade or more after the dawn of the Modern era: Kodály 1914; Ravel 1922; Schulhoff 1925. Even if the three works can scarcely be regarded as avant-garde for their time, at least where their tonality is concerned, a new spirit is in the air: a freely ranging search on all levels for new forms and means of expression, coupled with a love of experimentation with extremely sparse scoring. It is also noteworthy that all three works succeed in their own way in reflecting national character in their musical idiom, as befitted an age of heightened awareness of nationhood in music as elsewhere. Ravel offers typical trompe-l’oreille subtlety while retaining immaculately groomed French elegance; Kodály writes against a background of ethnological research in folk music; Schulhoff stands out for the way he experiments with complex combinations of rhythm.
The pioneering work in a distinctive violin-cello Julia Fischer
Julia Fischer
Foto: Christine Schneider
repertoire was surely written a generation earlier: Brahms’s concerto for this “eight-stringed giant” of 1887. It was a performance of his work that brought our two soloists together on the concert platform for the first time, setting a pattern for the future. In fact, both artists wish this CD release to represent a record of their work together as a duo over the past ten years and more, as the two Munich musicians explain in an extended conversation with Meret Forster printed in the accompanying booklet. It is already the case that performances of the Brahms Double Concerto by our pair of soloists now almost inevitably lead the audience to expect the immortal Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia of 1894 – a demand which is gladly met. This congenial enlargement by the Norwegian violinist and composer Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) of a passacaglia from a Handel suite for harpsichord exists in various pairings of violin, viola and cello. It accentuates the infectious vigour of the original in a remarkably clever manner by its highly challenging but idiomatic transposition to two quite differently characterized and mutually supportive instruments.


June 2016

ORFEO 1 CD C 889 161 A

Pavol Breslik • Mozart

When such an internationally celebrated singer as Pavol Breslik, an artist progressively adding to his repertoire, nevertheless keeps returning to Mozart, he is warmly praised by the critics and more than that, he has no qualms about his decision: “When I go back to Mozart after excursions into other repertoire – like Lensky or bel canto –and feel at home with Tamino, I know I have done the right thing.”

The burning question of how to master these demanding Mozart vocal roles C 889 161 A
C 889 161 A
has been answered again and again, without embarrassment and with sustained success, from the very start of his career. Born in Slovakia in 1979, the young artist made his professional singing debut at the age of twenty-one in the challenging role of Don Ottavio, in the very city where Don Giovanni was premiered: Prague. Since then, he has added to his tally of such roles on many of the world’s leading stages: Salzburg in 2008 (staged by Claus Guth), the Munich production of 2009, Vienna Staatsoper in 2011, London under Constantin Carydis and Los Angeles under Dudamel in 2012 and at last in 2013 Zurich, where the artist is resident. And Pavol Breslik does justice to the very different Prague and Vienna arias that are to be heard here not only in the studio but when necessary – as in Munich – live on stage.
Pavol Breslik enjoyed great success at another Mozart premiere location, in Dieter Dorn’s new staging of Idomeneo at the 2008 reopening of the Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, in the role of Idamante. Also to be heard here is the great “Fuor del mar” aria of the title role, sung by the priest Idomeneo, Idamante’s father. In this latter aria, needless to say, the singer rises to the challenge of the original version’s virtuoso ornaments, which Mozart spared his elderly soloist at the work’s first performance.
Of Belmonte’s four arias in Die Entführung, the two most important are included here, “Konstanze, dich wieder zu sehen” and “Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke”, known as the “master builder’s aria” and often dropped on account of its wide vocal range, challenges and length.
Having sung the role of Pavol Breslik
Pavol Breslik
Foto: Neda Navaee
Ferrando in Così fan tutte in 2010 at the New York Met and in London, Pavol Breslik was regrettably obliged to withdraw at short notice from Dieter Dorn’s Munich production on account of an inflammation of the vocal cords. The present “Un’ aura amorosa” is a later recording.
Breslik now treats Tamino almost as his showpiece among Pavol Breslik
Pavol Breslik
Foto: Neda Navaee
Mozart roles; he sang it at an early age in his home city of Bratislava, he has been singing it at Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden ever since his ensemble years there, he made his 2006 debut with it at the Bavarian Staatsoper, and only lately he embodied the part in the Baden-Baden production under Simon Rattle. As the role contains just one real aria, it is followed by the enchantment scene with the magic flute and a scene with the reciter, here played by the venerable José van Dam.
From our singer’s impressively large repertoire of concert arias comes one of his favourites, “Misero! O sogno – Aura che intorno spiri”, sung in operatic manner that with its dramatic recitative and elegiac lamentation movingly conveys the sorrow of farewell.


May 2016

ORFEO 1 CD C 913 161 A

Violin Sonatas & Pieces

On their new CD the Latvian Skride sisters C 913 161 A
C 913 161 A
present yet more composers from their extended Baltic homeland region (allowing that they include Norwegian Edvard Grieg, especially since he composed his Sonata in Copenhagen, then called Christiania). The uniting thread of the works on this CD is “finding one’s own sound”, something which each of the featured composers first had to find, and an element that the sisters effortlessly achieve as performers. All four composers on this recording share a close link with the violin, and all four had an ambivalent relationship with the German tradition. Grieg emerged as the lodestar above his three younger colleagues with his Sonata No. 2 in G major op. 13 of 1867; all four were friends and the other three dedicated their works to him. Grieg’s Sonata introduces folk music influences into the expanded Romantic form in a completely new manner: not just as a quote or “tone”, but as an integral compositional element on all levels, from the dramatically erupting, cadenza-like violin solo through to the internal motivic work. Throughout the entire piece, the piano is given what was once known as the “precentor/cantor function” .
Wilhelm Stenhammar, Baiba Skride
Baiba Skride
Foto: Marco Borggreve
a leading Swedish conductor of his time and a brilliant concert pianist, was very fond of chamber music both as a performer and as a composer. In addition to the six string quartets which are regarded as his main oeuvre, he left this Violin Sonata in A minor op. 19 of 1899 to posterity. While still paying tribute to the German tradition, the sonata transcends that style while merely touching upon Romantic and folk elements. In return he subtly invokes his own mysterious “semi-frankness” towards the future, which makes considerable demands upon the violin with long passages in high registers, sometimes transposed an octave.
Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen, Lauma Skride
Lauma Skride
Foto: Marco Borggreve
who were good friends, played and composed a great deal of chamber music. They composed one violin concerto each (both featured on Baiba Skride’s previous CD recording, C 896152 on ORFEO). While Nielsen’s works for solo violin centre on three mature sonatas with piano accompaniment, Sibelius wrote a large number of short pieces for violin and piano, often combined into groups of works, such as the four brought together here as op. 78. They represent the greatest conceivable contrast to the great composer’s seven famous, large-scale symphonies. In the smaller scale form, the often erratic symphonist reveals himself as an utterly different, yet no less able composer. He is able to evoke moods that emerge for a moment and then disappear (his Impromptu of 1915) and to create the flourishing, heartfelt cantilenas that reveal his expert knowledge of the instrument (his Romance of 1915 and the Religioso of 1917), which Baiba Skride naturally lends the requisite impeccable taste. Sibelius then rounds off the inward-gazing/introvert cycle with a Nordic-tinted Baroque-styled dance (Rigaudon, 1915), making his intention perfectly clear: this is an era that has passed ...
In contrast, the Violin Sonata No 2 op. 35 of 1912 by the Danish individualist Carl Nielsen offers the most modern music in its way. In a manner typical of the composer, Nielsen eschews the foundations of clearly traditional harmony and consciously experiments with shimmering tonality that naturally opens up opportunities for creating his own new tonal landscape. At the same time, the composer proves to be entirely and sensitively in tune with the times with regard to his approach to historical and musical gestures and formal concepts, and even to be not unlike Mozart in more of an “objective” approach to the dramaturgical content of his music than in an emotionally-generated Romantic relationship to it.
The fact that all four composers share a very conscious musicological relationship to their music, which brings out their “own sound” in their works, proves here to be highly rewarding, both for an unsentimental musicality and for the performers’ flawless, nuanced technique on the piano and violin, as well as for their open-minded listeners.


April 2016

ORFEO 1 CD C 914 161 A

Mendelssohn Symphonies 1 & 4

Today C 914 161 A
C 914 161 A
there is an unbroken fascination with complete recordings, especially of symphonic cycles. So the quality of Mendelssohn’s symphonies, combined with their astonishing obscurity, makes them an extremely appealing project. ORFEO is delighted to begin a new collaboration with the Irish Chamber Orchestra and its Artistic Director Jörg Widmann to record the symphonies of this great, yet still underestimated Romantic composer.

The Jörg Widmann
Jörg Widmann
Foto: Marco Borggreve
multi-talented Jörg Widmann comes to the project not just as an instrumentalist and conductor but as a “composer colleague” of Mendelssohn, making this project all the more attractive. Mendelssohn was a Wunderkind who gained prominence with his compositions at an early age. The symphony he numbered his “First”, in c minor, was not just the work of a 15-year-old boy, but already his thirteenth essay in the genre (if one counts his twelve string symphonies too). Mendelssohn was both immensely gifted and entered into his chosen career with incredible vigour and unrelenting industry. His family background also provided well-nigh ideal conditions for him to unfold his talent in the highly cultivated milieu of the Berlin salons. He was even able to try out his practical conducting skills with an orchestra provided for the purpose. His background in the “large-scale chamber music” of his string symphonies perhaps makes it all the more pertinent to approach his oeuvre with a chamber orchestra, not with the usual heavy, late-Romantic orchestral apparatus.

Mendelssohn was himself highly educated and possessed of a broad historical knowledge (both in music and Sergei Nakariakov
Sergei Nakariakov
Foto: Thierry Cohen
beyond it), and it is indispensable to Jörg Widmann’s concept here that the works of this history-conscious Romantic composer should be juxtaposed in all their facets with new works of our own time – composed by Widmann himself. This first edition of the series features such a “bridging” work that is not just the obligatory solo concerto such as one might expect in a concert programme, but a work in a genre popular with Romantic composers such as Schumann and Weber, namely a Konzertstück or “concert piece”. Furthermore, ORFEO is delighted to be able to present not just a first-class soloist here, but also a work written especially for him by the Artistic Director of the project, namely Jörg Widmann’s ad absurdam. It probably takes a masterly instrumentalist and composer such as Jörg Widmann to be able to divine and explore the truly transcendental possibilities and musical intelligence that this unique virtuoso demonstrates with breath-taking skill at the very boundaries of his instrument – a uniqueness that could not find full expression in the “traditional” repertoire with its festive clarion calls. Nakariakov’s mastery of circular breathing is employed here in particular (a technique that one otherwise occasionally finds on the oboe). It is typical of Jörg Widmann’s alert creative spirit that he makes use of these unique opportunities with a dash of Romantic irony, heightening them to the point of absurdity – as the title suggests. And despite his mastery of modern compositional means, he here takes the opportunity to offer a truly exciting, dashing piece too.

Mendelssohn’s surging, virtuosic “Italian” Symphony is thus incorporated into an overall view of the oeuvre of Irish Chamber Orchestra
Irish Chamber Orchestra
Foto: Dave Hunt
this exuberant symphonist. It is here placed in a programmatic setting that is both worthy of it, and at the same time more natural, yet somehow so much more surprising than that to which we have otherwise become so accustomed.


March 2016

ORFEO 2 CD C 901 162 B

Knappertsbusch: Beethoven

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra enjoys a special position, not least because – besides its activities in the pit of the Vienna State Opera – it is constituted as an autonomous concert orchestra (something one easily forgets). This means that it is able to establish a very particular relationship with the guest conductors it chooses. In some cases, that relationship has been especially long-lasting and intense. Hans Knappertsbusch (born 1888 in Elberfeld) first encountered the orchestra in 1929 in Salzburg, but by the time of his death in 1964 they had together given no less than 210 concerts – not to mention innumerable performances at the Vienna State Opera.

This singular, unique man was physically imposing, and while he was demonstratively averse to courting publicity, he seemed at the same time not wholly unaware that he was also the object of immense admiration and love on the part of his audiences. He was notorious for almost daringly minimalistic rehearsals – and, up to a certain point, he was loved for it all the more by his orchestras. And not all his various comments on musicians (male and female), colleagues and (modern) composers are of a nature that may be quoted in print. He kept to a relatively small repertoire comprising the masterworks of which he was particularly fond, and in his interpretations of them he developed over the years a brilliantly intuitive, calm, deliberate mental disposition that was paired with a high degree of emotional spontaneity and intense, sometimes abrupt expression.

This characteristic mixture can understandably C 901 162 B
C 901 162 B
be experienced far better in his live concert recordings than in his studio recordings (which he did not particularly like making anyway). In this he was a typical representative of a generation for whom music-making could not be easily combined with the studio perfection that was later required (let alone the efforts – more or less unconscious – that other conductors made to adjust to this clinical perfection in advance of the studio). The “test run” of an act from the Walküre that Decca made with him and with the young Solti, with a view to a complete recording of the Ring, is legendary today – and we all know how that ended.

As with several of his later colleagues, Knappertsbuschs’s approach to Beethoven is a special case within the “special case” that was Knappertsbusch himself; he was above all known as a conductor of the “heavier” German late Romantics. In his finest moments, his high degree of unpredictability (something which marks him out as the complete opposite of his great colleague and competitor Karajan) affords his interpretations a sense of “recreating” the music in the truest sense of the word, making it sound as if it is being played “for the first-ever time”. And this is probably why the music in these moments sounds so powerful, refreshing and liberating, far removed from any kind of comfortable listening conventions. And today, in retrospect, it also sounds free of any new-fangled fashions or constraints. Expressive details are always granted the time they need, as is the overall context. We never come across a tempo that is too fast, however historically well-founded it might have been. But nor is there any sense of “titanic” expression (whatever that is supposed to be). And in the process, however different in character his various performances of a single work might be, the whole work always comes across as balanced and coherent in itself on a higher level. In short: the characteristics of Knappertsbusch’s art of music-making are particularly inspiring in the case of Beethoven – a composer whose music is both rational and constructive, and yet soars freely into new regions of the imagination.

On this new double CD we can hear both a complete concert given in the Musikverein in Vienna on 17 January 1954 – with the Coriolanus Overture, the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Seventh Symphony – and the Third Symphony from a concert at the same venue, given on 17 February 1962. In the unheroic G-major Piano Concerto, Knappertsbusch’s partner is his contemporary Backhaus, who was famous for his Beethoven, but who at the same time possessed an individual “objectivity” and a legendary virtuosity that doubly refutes the clichés about “typically German” musicians. In this context, the commentator Gottfried Kraus recalls visiting Backhaus’s apartment in Salzburg, where the pianist spoke of his lifelong struggle to play the problematic lyrical chords at the opening of this Concerto. In the third movement, we are also wrenched from our customary listening habits by an unknown cadenza – and then cast back, bewildered, onto the well-known, yet seemingly new paths of the Concerto once again. The best performers can play the great masterpieces in so many different ways because the works themselves are far greater than any individual interpretation.


February 2016

ORFEO 2 CD C 907 162 I

Giuseppe Verdi: Un ballo in maschera

Luciano Pavarotti’s repertoire comprised only a few roles, but his performances and recordings of them wrote and rewrote history. This was the case in 1970 as Nemorino (in L’elisir d’amore) alongside Joan Sutherland and in 1972 as Rodolfo (in La Bohème) under Karajan, with Mirella Freni als Mimí. C 907 162 I
C 907 162 I
But while Pavarotti’s Riccardo in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera in his studio recording of 1983 is given pride of place because of its surface brilliance (not least thanks to Georg Solti on the podium), in his live TV broadcast of the same role three years later under Claudio Abbado he offers a striking sense of musical and dramatic immediacy. In this recording of that broadcast from the Vienna State Opera, we can hear a performance both highly nuanced and possessed of an immense radiance, from his very first “Amici mei” to his touching death scene.

Pavarotti had given his Vienna debut already in 1963 at the age of 27. He returned to sing there some 50 times in his landmark roles from Nemorino to Cavaradossi. What is astonishing time and again about Pavarotti is his unmistakeably beautiful, brilliant timbre. It even prompted the leading music critic Jürgen Kesting – who was otherwise so critical – to entitle his chapter on Pavarotti “Vocal eroticism” in his book on the great singers. After the famous canzona in the first act of this recording (“Di’ tu se fedele il flutto m’aspetta”), the audience of the Vienna State Opera justifiably burst into a storm of applause (and not for the last time either).

As in the studio recording with Pavarotti and Solti, the role of Amelia was sung by Margaret Price on the opening night of this production. In the second performance, the then 25-year-old Gabriele Lechner had to stand in for her – and she did so not just with an overwhelming, fiery, youthful vigour, but also with astonishing luminosity and conviction, despite her occasional (understandable) nerves. Just listen to the opening of the second act when Amelia waits fearfully for her beloved Riccardo alone at night – and then finally meets him. It’s rare to experience such a truthful performance as this. But the Russian mezzosoprano Ludmila Semtschuk as the fortune-teller Ulrica is also beguiling with her passion and profound depth.

Piero Cappuccilli had been well known to the Vienna audience for decades. He too is unmistakeable in his timbre and his art of musical characterisation. Like many famous Verdi baritones he was not free of vanity, but this has no adverse impact on his performance as the jealous husband of Amelia and the friend of Riccardo.

Claudio Abbado had been the new music director of the State Opera since the autumn of 1986. He had given his highly successful debut there just two years earlier. In the years up to 1991 he left his mark on all the musical events of the Vienna State Opera: on the performances in the house on the Ringstrasse, on co-productions at the Theater an der Wien, and also on guest performances outside the State Opera. As ever – and not just with Verdi – Abbado is convincing here in his insistence on a lean, sinewy, tense performance from the Vienna Philharmonic, and this is wholly in the interests of the musical drama. He is also a constant inspiration in how he accompanies the singers.