C 952 182 IHaydnʼs biblical oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia, which is so rarely to be heard, is thanks to an unusual gift: the orchestra La Scintilla, which was founded as an “original sound” ensemble comprising musicians from the Zurich opera orchestra, had awarded Nikolaus Harnoncourt honorary membership. The honour included the opportunity for Harnoncourt to choose a piece of music which he could then perform with the orchestra in an ideal atmosphere.
Harnoncourt surprised everyone by choosing Haydnʼs virtually unknown oratorio based on the apocryphal Bible story of Tobias (Tobit), who goes on an adventurous journey with the angel Raphael in order to heal his blind father with the angelʼs help. In keeping with the spirit of the subject matter, the proceeds of the concert were given to a charity supporting war victims of Sarajevo.
The work was performed under Harnoncourtʼs direction with an ideal line-up of soloists (Ann Hallenberg, Valentina Farcas, Mauro Peter, Sen Guo and Ruben Drole) and the magnificent Arnold Schoenberg Choir at a 2013 Salzburg Festival concert in the Felsenreitschule. The release by Orfeo International of the live recording, which is almost devoid of background noise, is only the third-ever recording to have been made of this very seldom performed Haydn oratorio in the history of phonography. Yet again one is moved to ask why so many of Haydnʼs operas and oratorios are so rarely played. Viewed objectively, Il ritorno di Tobia is in no way inferior to Haydnʼs hit oratorios The Creation and The Seasons.
ORFEO 1 CD C 956 181 A
With Elisabeth Kulman through the history of the art song
The Schwarzenberg Schubertiade can look
C 956 181 Aback on more than forty years of music-making history, making it one of the oldest music festivals for the Lieder genre. In the true spirit of its co-founders Hermann Prey and Gerd Nachbauer, the music of Franz Schubert is the central focus of interest, and this is reflected in the frequent airing of works by composers who followed Schubert and continued his Lieder legacy.
One of the foremost composers of Lieder after Schubert was undoubtedly Robert Schumann, whom Elisabeth Kulman, possibly todayʼs best mezzo soprano, placed at the heart of her Schubertiade Lieder recital on August 26, 2017. Together with her outstanding accompanist Eduard Kutrowatz she performed a very personal selection of Schumann Lieder which included both the well known standard songs as well as rarities in the repertoire.
In the second half of her recital, Kulman contrasted some of the best known Schubert Lieder with songs by Herwig Reiters, who is currently deemed one of the leading composers of Lieder, thereby impressively illustrating how the tradition of the art song has developed from Schubertʼs time to the present day to produce some really brilliant repertoire for listeners to enjoy.
ORFEO 1 CD C 953 181 B
The year 1974 saw some of the best artists of their time join forces at the Salzburg Festival to revive a repertoire that had long been neglected. The works in question were Robert Schumann’s “Spanisches Liederspiel” Op. 74 and Johannes Brahms’s “Liebeslieder Waltzes” Op. 52.
C 953 181 BBoth these cycles call for up to four solo vocalists, and the Brahms songs are scored for a four-hand accompaniment. Such repertoire may have been ideal for the bourgeois drawing-rooms of the 19th century, but it was bound to fall foul of the 20th-century tendency to pigeonhole everything by genre. The excitement was all the greater, then, when Edith Mathis, Brigitte Fassbaender, Peter Schreier and Walter Berry together with pianists Paul Schilhawsky and Erik Werba performed these pieces during the Salzburg Festival in a manner that even today can arouse nothing but admiration. The rehearsal photos included in the booklet testify to the sheer love of music-making experienced by all who took part and thanks to the excellent soloists, all at the height of their vocal powers, that delight comes across just as strongly today, making this historic live recording a true audio document of enduring quality and stature.
ORFEO 3 CD C 866 183 D
When an event of such worldwide significance as the Salzburg Festival features a box-office success like Bizet’s “Carmen”, it is always newsworthy. But back in 1967, we should recall, “Carmen” was being put on at the Salzburg Festival for the very first time. The expectations were vast, and so no expense was spared.
C 866 183 DThe great stars of the day, such as Grace Bumbry, Mirella Freni, Jon Vickers, John van Kesteren and many more, ensured a cast that even today can be considered ideal down to the very smallest supporting role. And Herbert von Karajan was more than a conductor, he was the director of the production, having full control over presenting the music to full advantage as he saw it from his point of view. Musically first-rate, the listener can have no clue that this staging was to prove Karajan’s greatest Salzburg failure. Thus this optimally restored live audio recording represents yet another Salzburg document released by Orfeo and giving us an objective look back across the space of half a century.
ORFEO 1 CD C 933 181 A
Rare Russian cello repertoire: From the Old World
Perhaps the relatively small size of a repertoire is an advantage after all. The vast realm occupied by the leading genres – as in Verdi’s operatic oeuvre, Bach’s cantatas, Schubert’s Lieder or Haydn’s symphonies – seems so extensive as to make one despair of embracing it in its entirety.
C 933 181 AThe cello repertoire cannot boast such wide expanses, and Daniel Müller-Schott seems to take real pleasure in making a virtue of necessity, in introducing us to great works of the literature and casting fresh light on each of them.His new all-Russian programme revolves around Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations. Other works by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov bring together composers in a late Romantic tradition that ended on the death of Glazunov in 1936, even if that troika met only once – at the dedication of a statue to Glinka in 1885.
Apart from that the three composers are united by a complex and tense relationship portrayed in detail in the booklet in an extensive artist interview conducted by Meret Forster. Daniel Müller-Schott brings home to us how the Rococo Variations depict Tchaikovsky’s love of Mozart and his “modern”, nobly historical awareness of past times – along with his own intensive emotionalism. He also presents Tchaikovsky’s three-part “Souvenir d’un lieu cher”, a work scarcely to be heard in its original version for violin, now transposed to the cello by the soloist (having previously been orchestrated by Glazunov) who thus poses himself the ultimate challenge – while enlarging the cello repertoire.
This and other highly entertaining and enlighteningly different examples of the genre, presented by an accomplished soloist who himself studied under that monumental Russian virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich, cannot fail to give their interpreter a historical dimension of his own. It is already more than a quarter of a century since he won first prize in the Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians, which marked the commencement of his international career – a career which has lasted longer and more sustainably than is to be expected amid the evanescent glories of our times.
Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge, Berlin
ORFEO 8 CD C 957 188 L
Wolfgang Sawallisch, who was born on August 26, 1923 in Munich and died on February 22, 2013 in Grainau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, is known throughout the world and especially in his birthplace as a paragon among his generation of conductors and musicians, exemplifying a former world of music. After a thorough music education and a firm grounding in the art of conducting operas he soon began to assume more elevated positions on the music scene.
C 957 188 LThe extent of his success in the 1950s was so great and indeed so rapid that by 1957 he was given the privilege of conducting at Bayreuth, and it comes as no surprise that Birgit Nilsson in her memoires gushes on the topic of the “35-year-old Sawallisch”: “What talent, what a gifted man!”
Orfeo is pleased to officially release for the first time Nilsson’s 1958 premiere production of Isolde under Sawallisch (C951183) together with the famous 1959 Dutchman featuring George London and Leonie Rysanek (C936182).
That said, the most decisive period of his career was probably from 1971 to 1992, when he enjoyed huge success with the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, both in the city and worldwide. He was initially appointed General Music Director, and in 1982 was promoted to State Opera Director. It was in the Bavarian capital that he expanded his role as a highly diversified, top-notch musical director. His wide-ranging, active repertoire was founded on three mighty “pillars”, namely Mozart, Wagner and Strauss, each of them very safe in his hands. One of his legendary achievements is his complete cycle of Wagner’s operas, a feat he achieved in 1983 (in a manner unknown in Bayreuth), and the Orfeo catalogue includes excerpts from the first of Wagner’s operas – Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi – which are now acknowledged as benchmark recordings. It is well known that Sawallisch was an excellent pianist who would play chamber music or accompany singers from time to time, and the Orfeo catalogue features Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Hermann Prey, Bernd Weikl and the very first Orfeo CD of all: Schubert Lieder with Margaret Price (C001811).
Recently released excerpts from Don Giovanni and Così are proof that he was capable in the 1970s of conducting fiery Mozart performances, while his Puccini and Rossini recordings are testimony to his mastery of the Italian repertoire. What is more, the Orfeo catalogue contains several digital studio recordings of symphonic repertoire by Bruckner, Pfitzner and Weber as well as the Brahms Requiem, interestingly featuring the “colleagues” from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Orfeo now releases a compilation of these recordings as a tribute to Sawallisch to mark his 95th birthday, order no. C 957181 L.
ORFEO 1 CD C 966 181 B
Born in Krasnoyarsk in 1962, Dmitri Hvorostovsky is known to us only with snow-white hair. That – along with his precociously mature and sonorously dark baritone – made him almost ageless, as in his Eugene Onegin under Kirill Petrenko (2010) , who writes Tatyana a letter taking her to task for her passionate declaration of love and declining it,
C 966 181 Bor his Prince Yeletsky a year earlier in The Queen of Spades, when he declares in vain his love for Lisa. Both roles were prime examples of the baritone’s Russian repertoire.
First comes bel canto like I Puritani with the 31-year-old singing under the baton of Plácido Domingo and a duet as Figaro with the Count Almaviva of Michael Schade. In the Romance from Bellini’s last opera, Riccardo laments the loss of his promised bride, who sustained him during his years of restless wandering. By contrast, the Barber and the Count engage in eloquent and musically fluent dialogue on how the beloved Rosina is to be won, with the proviso that the help offered is to be richly rewarded.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky stands out above all on this album as a true Verdi baritone: as Posa (Don Carlos), for example, and in paternal roles. It is all to the good, given their dramatic impact, that ensemble scenes dominate: the quartet in which Hvorostovsky plays Rigoletto alongside Patrizia Ciofi, Ramón Vargas and Donna Ellen, or Hvorostovsky’s Simon Boccanegra in the finale of Act I of Verdi’s eponymous and all too rarely performed opera. By then, Hvorostovsky’s cancer was far advanced and much of his singing lacks the effortlessness of decades earlier. But this is more than compensated for by the depth of his characterization, which makes us overlook any shortcomings elsewhere.
The climax is his moving aria as Anckarström in the original Swedish version of Un ballo in maschera, in which he fears he has lost the love of his wife. It ends with the bitter-sweet resignation of “O dolcezze perdute, o speranze d’amor” (O sweet moments lost, O vain hopes of love).
Before that, Hvorostovsky is to be heard in the role of a father convinced of himself and of his own moral standards, Padre Germont (La Traviata), who persuades Violetta (Marina Rebeka) to renounce her beloved Alfredo. The performance is that of November 29, 2016; scarcely a year later, Hvorostovsky succumbed to the cancer with which he had wrestled for so long – aged just 55. Here we hear the pitiless rigour with which, despite feigned sympathy, he pronounces the fate of a dying woman and takes from her the best thing she had ever known – true love.
Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge, Berlin
ORFEO 2 CD C 932 182 I
“America, you are better off”
– wrote Goethe in 1827, weary of German Romanticism and the “fruitless wrangling” of sterile debates.
A century later, the New World experienced an unprecedented wave of migration consisting of leading figures, largely Jewish, from the cultural and intellectual spheres of German and Austrian life.
C 932 182 IThe composers among them were attracted by the rich rewards that seemed to be on offer from the new world of sound film in Hollywood, but few were able to reap those rewards to the full: among those few, who were able to make their way in a competitive marketplace through pragmatism and perseverance, were Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklós Rózsa – both regularly nominated for Oscars and frequently successful. While making a living from this genre of “music drama”, each of them –whether or not they were recognized by the classical music business – sought to push the limits of the traditional formats and were remarkably successful in doing so.
“If you’re Heifetz, I’m Mozart!” Taking a phone call, Rózsa could scarcely believe that the legendary virtuoso really was seriously interested in his Violin Concerto and was ready to give the work its premiere – but so he did in 1956, and the first recording of the work, with its extreme technical challenges, was also made by Heifetz. And it had been just the same with the Violin Concerto by Korngold, Rózsa’s senior by ten years: the 1947 premiere and the brilliant first recording of this twentieth-century classic again showcased Heifetz as soloist.
In the new generation of genuinely American musicians, one outstanding figure was Leonard Bernstein, an all-rounder whose early success led on to even greater heights: here too, one can hardly ignore his contribution to film music, even if it amounts to one single film. Bernstein rated his Violin Concerto of 1954, “Serenade”, inspired by Plato’s Symposium, as his best work ever, and this work too in its imaginatively slimmed-down scoring for string orchestra, harp and percussion is now acknowledged to be an important 20th-century concerto for violin. Isaac Stern performed the premiere of the work with the composer conducting. As an “encore”, this compilation includes the masterly Symphonic Dances from the immortal “West Side Story”, which has long risen above the “fruitless wrangling” over “light” and “serious” music.
The very different challenges posed by all three concertos are brilliantly overcome by Baiba Skride, whose unquestionable virtuosity nevertheless takes second place to the immediacy of her musical language and expression.
Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge, Berlin
ORFEO 2 CD C 936 182 I
The slimmest Senta in the world
Although Wagner himself made it quite clear to King Ludwig II of Bavaria that the Flying Dutchman was among those works of his deemed fit to be performed in Bayreuth, the “Romantic Opera in three Acts” was not staged there till 1901, as the last of those ten.
C 936 182 I1959 was a special year in “New Bayreuth”: by producing the earliest, Wieland Wagner had now presented all ten works under his own direction, in the first “Ring-free” year since the 1951 reopening – an abomination to hard-bitten old-school Wagnerians, for whom only the Ring and Parsifal genuinely belonged on the “green hill” of Bayreuth. There was once again heated discussion over the guiding principles governing the presentation of the festival – as reported, along with much else, in the well-informed and lively booklet-note by Festival public relations officer Peter Emmerich. But Wieland confounded and convinced his critics yet again with a “rediscovery” of his directorial idiom, described by him as “magic realism”. Musical success was achieved on the grand scale by the brilliant exponents of Senta (dubbed by Wagner “the woman of the future”) and the Dutchman – and by the musically modern slim-line conductor, who had made his successful Bayreuth debut not long before in the new production of Tristan (now on CD ORFEO C 951 183). Leonie Rysanek, whose singing gave vivid meaning to all the drama’s emotional aspects, also had the figure for the part – in her own words, she was the “slimmest Senta in the world”. With his powerful voice and darkly glowing male timbre, the inimitably elegant and empathetic George London remains without peer on this recording as elsewhere. Just as convincingly cast in its other roles, the work soon established itself in this second “New Bayreuth” staging even in its spiritual home. We would make a special point of observing that this historic audio document was captured not at the premiere performance, but during a second live recording on August 5, 1959.
Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge, Berlin
ORFEO 2 CD C 931 182 I
The global careers of not one but two Slovakian singers were launched on March 23, 1978 in Vienna’s State Opera: that of then-27-year-old tenor Peter Dvorský, and above all that of 31-year-old Edita Gruberova, hers a career which has endured to this day. Despite her success there in the role of Zerbinetta just eighteen months earlier, she was then still an insider tip for such a large bel canto role.
C 931 182 IAlthough studio recordings from subsequent years (1984, 1992 and 2003) exist of this role which would later become Gruberova’s hallmark – one she sang eighty-eight times in Vienna alone – this early live recording has a quality that is missing from later recordings: the maidenly determination and yet stupendous vocal perfection (including her flawless high E flat) that Gruberova delivers in her portrayal, her inimitable sonorous timbre – which she retains to this day – alongside the wonderfully intimate and yet tense partnership with Dvorský, whose passionate, burning tenor provides a unique highlight in his first duet with Gruberova’s Lucia and supplies a further high point in the tricky final scene on a recording not short of such brilliant climaxes. Matteo Manuguerra’s reading of Lucia’s brother Enrico is a perilously relentless, masculine tour de force. Last but not least, the quickening touch of Giuseppe Patanè’s baton makes this a gem among the treasures of Edita Gruberova’s discography, one never short of outstanding testimony to her consummate vocal skill and is a wonderful addition to that of Peter Dvorský, whose discography is sadly not so bountiful. The Neapolitan conductor, who was highly regarded in Munich for his performances of Italian repertoire, transforms a singing festival into an exciting music drama in the way that he leads the Vienna Philharmonic in a highly flexible and dynamic manner through the musical narrative.
ORFEO 3 CD C 951 183 D
A vocal quality to die for
There are few artists who have dominated a particular vocal field of highly challenging roles unrivalled for so many years as the Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson in her highly dramatic roles in the operas of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. That dominance has continued to resonate in the decades since her retirement in 1984 and the years since her death in 2005; indeed, it has been reinforced – one could even say her reputation has been immortalized – by numerous benchmark recordings.
C 951 183 Dwitty memoirs Nilsson recalled how, after her first audition in Bayreuth, Wieland Wagner knelt before her in his office and, to her great astonishment, offered her any role she wanted – amusingly adding “but never Isolde or Brünhilde”. As history recalls, things turned out differently in the end. There are several things that are remarkable about this Tristan performance released here officially for the first time. It documents her Bayreuth debut in one of the aforementioned roles in which she was to shine, one which she embodied to such an extent that until 1970 she was effectively Isolde. Her initial success in Bayreuth – as we can hear on this recording – came in productions under Wolfgang Wagner, before her now legendary collaboration with Wieland. Musical direction in this case was in the hands of the young Wolfgang Sawallisch, whom Nilsson admired greatly. Surprisingly, the production was not a great success until its second year, from which this recording derives. Alongside great singers like Wolfgang Windgassen, Grace Hoffman, Josef Greindl and Fritz Uhl, who would later frequently partner her, fellow Swede Erik Saedén gave a convincing reading of Kurwenal, though only in that year.
To mark the 100th birthday of this outstanding singer on May 17, 2018, it is worth recalling Wieland Wagner’s characterisation of the three great post-war Isoldes: “Martha Mödl was the tragic Isolde dogged by fate, Astrid Varnay was the vengeful Isolde, and Birgit Nilsson was the loving Isolde.”
ORFEO 1 CD C 915 181 B
Before the great wave of Bruckner conducting that has taken place since the 1970s, it was Hans Knappertsbusch (1888–1966) who stood out as unquestionably one of the most important Bruckner exponents, and Bruckner was part of his core repertoire.
C 915 181 BThere are several recordings by him of the 3rd to 5th and 7th to 9th Symphonies, two in the case of the Seventh, a live recording from the 1949 Salzburg Festival with the Vienna Philharmonic (Orfeo 655061) and this transfer direct from the original tapes of 1963 (and not “off the air”) with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The Seventh is particularly suited to comparison with older recordings insofar as there is no question of the alternative versions and editions we otherwise associate with Bruckner. The difference between the two recordings is substantial, which is no particular surprise when it comes to “Kna”. His later reading released here is painted on a broader canvas, goes into less individual detail; at the same time, one can appreciate how comprehensively Knappertsbusch plans the grand design while noting with amazement – especially at the brass-scored fortissimo climaxes typical of Bruckner – how energetically the conductor shapes, phrases, “turns into music” even here, something one does not hear these days.
The orchestra is impressive for its exceptional solo contributions. It is the same orchestra that would record the Bruckner symphonies complete with Günther Wand a decade later.
Chormusik & Oratorien
Edition zeitgenössisches Lied
Symphonie & Konzert