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When Leonard Bernstein was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to compose the inaugural piece for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D. C., he wrote ‘The Mass is also an extremely dramatic event in itself—it even suggests a theater work’.
Premièred on 8 September 1971, with additional words by Stephen Schwartz of Godspell fame, Mass is a remarkable visionary piece with a kaleidoscope of musical styles that touches on themes of political protest, existential crisis, and religious faith lost and found.
“…is a virtual triumph from beginning to end, and the only recording for me worthy of sitting next to the composer's own. …Alsop's tight-knit, symphonic pacing delineates the structure of the work without diluting its exuberant eclecticism or softening its hard road towards spiritual reawakening: the final Communion is among the most moving passages ever recorded. She is no slouch, too, when it comes to that elusive Bernstein groove; if you aren't dancing around the room during the Gloria in Excelsis, you haven't got a soul to save, my friend!”
“…Alsop's Jubilant Sykes is the best of all possible Celebrants. Mass follows the Celebrant to the darkest place a proselytiser for faith can travel - from sneaking doubt towards a full-scale breakdown as, in Bernstein's climactic scene, he trashes the altar and sends the sacraments scattering. Sykes brings an intensity that chills. Just as the Celebrant flips comes the most remarkable passage of all - a funky 10-bar refrain of "Dona nobis pacem"... Alsop ensure this passage pushes the Celebrant over the top... the orchestral playing too, here and throughout, is lusty and unafraid to let go.”
“Bernstein's relationship with God is dangerous, probing, transformational. There are those, of course, who proffer that Bernstein thought he was God, that's why he could stand in defiance against Him. But Mass reveals a man thirsting for faith but petrified of blind acceptance. Bernstein's religion was muscular and intellectualised, and the experience of Mass expands, rather than contracts, the further you travel towards the essence of its cosmology. Alsop's Jubilant Sykes is the best of all possible Celebrants. There can be few roles in contemporary music theatre that demand so many sides of a performer. He must disentangle music of gnarly complexity; he needs an operatic sensibility, but must also swing like a hipster jazzer and declaim with authentic rockist swank. Sykes's voice shakes with James Brown's ecstasy, snarls with Janis Joplin-like indigence and projects through the labyrinth of Bernstein's tricky melodic contours like any trained voice would. He was born to play this part. Although she doesn't drive things quite as far as Bernstein, Alsop is pacey, creating a dramatic slipstream that is powered relentlessly onwards by the awkward discontinuities and jagged narrative. Even if the atheist cannot quite love the God-fearing D major affirmation of the final scene, it doesn't matter. The journey, the process of discovery, counts for more.”
It was on returning from a tour of the German concentration camps with Yehudi Menuhin, in 1945, that Britten finally realised his long-cherished project of setting to music the spiritual sonnets of John Donne (1572-1631). He succeeded admirably in conveying their skilful blend of passion and intellectual rigour.
Mark Padmore was born in London and grew up in Canterbury. After beginning his musical studies on the clarinet he gained a choral scholarship to King's College, Cambridge and graduated with an honours degree in music. He has established a flourishing career in opera, concert and recital. His performances in Bach's Passions have gained particular notice throughout the world. His disc of Handel arias As Steals the Morn with The English Concert and Andrew Manze won the BBC Music Magazine Vocal Award in April 2008. Future releases for harmonia mundi include Die Winterreise with Paul Lewis.
“Padmore's sound is more beautiful and easily expressive than Pears's ever was, but he never imposes his own personality too forcefully, content to let the natural inflections of the bespoke vocal lines in the Donne cycle follow their own course.” The Guardian, 26th June 2009 ****
“Before life and after is the more consoling conclusion to the Hardy cycle, and Padmore lavishes a palette of tone colour to match or even outshine Pears here. His English diction has an unfussy naturalness, and Vignoles captures the descriptive imagery of the piano parts with their descriptions of the train whistle and the boy’s violin. Padmore’s voice now sounds dark for Purcell, but the three Britten realisations suit it well, and the disc is rounded off by five of Britten’s most attractive folk-song arrangements.” Sunday Times, 5th July 2009 *****
“Padmore is on happier ground with the idiosyncratic Purcell realisations, especially in a gem of an 'Evening Hymn', while the Hardy vignettes of Winter Words bring an ideally subtle sense of atmosphere from both singer and pianist.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2009 ****
“The Holy Sonnets of John Donne were composed in 1945, soon after Britten's visit to German concentration camps, and the stark immediacy of that experience can be heard in the composer's own recordings. Padmore and Roger Vignoles, his warm-toned accompanist, take a more reflective line. ...the core of the cycle is some heartfelt singing in the sixth and most beautiful setting, "Since she whom I loved". The vivid picture-painting of Winter Words helps make it probably Britten's most popular song-cycle with piano. Several of the Thomas Hardy poems evoke a time of innocence now lost, a familiar Britten theme, and the evocative performance by Padmore and Vignoles captures that sense of longing particularly well.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2009
“This declamatory, religious-themed repertoire fits Padmore like a glove, marrying as it does his enduring success as a performer of early sacred music with his newer success as a chamber recitalist...A satisfying recital on every level.” Charlotte Gardner, bbc.co.uk, 21st December 2009
“It is an outstanding disc in every respect, with Padmore displaying his remarkable range of vocal expressions to maximum effect. He can be dark and sensuous one minute, dramatic and gripping the next, and all the time matched by the outstanding piano playing of Roger Vignoles. If you already have and enjoy the famous Peter Pears recordings of these works then I’d say this is quite different but no less effective.” Chris O'Reilly, Presto Classical, 29th June 2009
The Fantazia for consort of viols is one of the glories of English music, and this unique repertoire, spreading over nearly two centuries, represents the loftiest and most perfect kind of instrumental chamber music written in Europe before the era of the classical string quartet. In his Fantazias for viol, the young Henry Purcell put into practice all he had absorbed in the course of his technical and stylistic training.These pieces are a perfect illustration of his avowed ambition to surpass all his contemporaries. Since its London debut in 1986, the viol ensemble Fretwork has become established both as a leading force in early music and an inspiration to contemporary composers; its repertory spans the entire English consort tradition, including songs and verse anthems, alongside music from 16th and 17th-century Europe, as well as new works written especially for the consort. Fretwork performs and broadcasts regularly in the UK and has toured widely in many countries. It now records exclusively for harmonia mundi usa.
“The sheer technical mastery that Purcell distilled in his “fantazias” is astonishing. But these fluid, animated and emotionally acute performances from Fretwork show that his secure scholarship in the art of composition by no means curbed his caprice.” The Telegraph, 10th June 2009 ****
“Melancholy jostles with merriment, abruptness with eloquence; harmonies and logic go haywire..” The Times, 27th June 2009
“Nowadays, Fretwork takes a brisker view of the music though not perhaps a crisper one where matters of articulation are concerned. The playing in its new recording, with partly different personnel from the earlier one (Virgin), strikes my ears as being more fluent and expressively spontaneous.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2009 ****
“Fretwork have grown in confidence and flair… In this new recording they bring a stronger sense of the linear progression of the music, helped by slightly quicker tempi. They are less introspective, more engaging: they have mellowed. Purcell's remarkable Fantazias - out of sync with their time, never widely circulated or acknowledged in his day, yet works of true genius - are definitely worth revisiting.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2009
In the Etudes-Tableaux Op. 39, among the last pieces Rachmaninov wrote before he left Russia for good in 1917, one can sense the turbulent new era for his country reflected in the innovative stretching of the instrument’s limits, firmly placing the composer in the twentieth century.
Recorded in August 2007 | Time 82:35 | Cover Painting by Aristarkh Lentulov
“Powerful and measured, Paterson-Olenich's playing allows every one of the composer's maelstrom of notes to tell, and the First Sonata's magnificent if sprawling edifice is lit by one revelation after another. …when you listen to the first movement development... and final pages given with such breadth and understanding you are hearing a pianist born for Rachmaninov. The Op 39 Etudes-tableaux, always among the composer's richest offerings, present the same moving force and involvement. ...throughout this entire programme you are made frighteningly aware of Rachmaninov's demons, of his confession that "sometimes I think someone will come down the chimney and murder me".” Gramophone Magazine, September 2009
“there’s something inescapably Russian about the way he plays Rachmaninov; the free-flowing romanticism, the surging tempos, and the waves of colour that can be almost overwhelming in the First Sonata...with a sense of the essential Russian-ness of the music, the darkness and melancholy at the heart of so much of it, despite the glowing magnificence of the more extrovert pages.” Andrew McGregor, bbc.co.uk, 2nd October 2009
“In recent years it has been an enormous thrill hearing my music being performed by The Dmitri Ensemble. This excellent, young ensemble brings a breath of fresh air to music making in this country, and are fortunate to have in their director Graham Ross one of the most exciting new musicians to appear on the radar.” James MacMillan
Naxos is delighted to mark James Macmillan’s 50th birthday with this disc on Naxos, bringing together a number of different choral works from 1993 to 2005.
This disc contains two world première recordings and is produced by John Rutter , who spoke of the Dmitri Ensemble in the following terms : “They are the stars of the future.”
“The flying Scot is writing music with as much fervour and ingenuity as anyone on the planet….his passion and energy seem inexhaustible… he is, paradoxically, the most powerful voice in British music today - by a mile. Though fused from a thousand diverse sacred and secular influences, his pieces are instantly recognisable, intellectually coherent, fizzing with ideas, gloriously coloured, and without a whiff of pretension or obfuscation.” The Times
“Singing and playing are polished, focused and alert; but it’s the controlled intensity that's most striking here. …I can’t recall a performance that so forcefully contrasts the sweet lyricism of 'Verily, I say unto you' and the uncompromising non-tonal harshness of 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” BBC Music Magazine, June 2009 *****
“This is the work's third recording… and, on balance, the most compelling and inexorable-sounding yet. Graham Ross secures outstandingly fervent and finely disciplined results from the youthful Dmitri Ensemble… while the remaining three items are just as impressive, especially the radiantly soaring anthem for double choir Christus vincit...technically speaking the disc is little short of a triumph in its combination of truthful sonority and wholly natural perspective.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2009
Ton Koopman (The Bielfeldt organ (1736), St. Wilhadi, Stade, Germany)
This is the tenth recording in the outstanding series of the complete works of Dieterich Buxtehude by Ton Koopman and the fifth and final part of the organ works. It presents a selection which contains the remainder of Buxtehude’s organ works of the two major categories, free and chorale-based compositions, alongside the complete organ works of Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697). Bruhns was Buxtehude’s most gifted pupil and was an important figure in the development of Buxtehude’s style of composition. Buxtehude’s organ works are his most significant contribution to the history of music. They consist of a comprehensive body of 90 compositions, of which more than half are chorale settings.
The organ featured on this 2-CD set is one of only two surviving organs by Erasmus Bielfeldt and has been restored on the basis of the great organ building art of the baroque in 1990 by Ahrend.
Ton Koopman is one of the world’s foremost early music keyboard specialists and directors. His recording of the complete Bach Cantatas received worldwide acclaim. He is president of the International Dieterich Buxtehude Society and one of the world’s leading authorities on his music.
“For those new to Buxtehude's organ works both the programming and the instrument make these discs the ideal hopping on point. Plaintive chorale elaborations supply contemplative respite from the full-on brilliance of the praeludia, and Koopman's effortless authority and quicksilver articulation illuminate throughout.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2009 ****
“The recording's sound stage has a clear sense of depth and breadth. Majestic, rotund climaxes are handled as adeptly as the smaller-scale manuals-only passages. Tonal combinations are constantly refreshed. The hurdy-gurdy effect in the chorale prelude Von Gott will ich nicht lassen is especially engaging.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2009
“As a package, their claims are strong, both artistically and in terms of recording quality,” awarded three stars by Penguin Guide. The Guardian wrote, “No one is more warmly dramatic in Prokofiev than Jarvi, making his issues consistently recommendable.”
As part of our on-going re-issue of Neeme Jarvi’s famous Prokofiev Chandos now re-releases The Piano Concertos performed by Boris Berman and Horacio Gutiérrez with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
This has proved to be a very popular set in the past, and is now priced at one full price CD.
“Berman is incisive in Prokofiev's Concertos Nos 1, 4 and 5, but the highlight of this set is Horacio Gutiérrez's hair-raising playing in Concertos Nos 2 and 3. Terrific orchestral support.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2009 *****
“…Cuban-American Gutiérrez unleashes some of the most thrilling virtuosity on record, storming the Second Concerto's first movement development/cadenza in a manner that will make lesser pianists tremble. He is no less stunning in the less obviously demanding Third Concerto where once again his ebullience is complemented by flawless technique and musicianship. Berman (Boris, not Lazar) may offer less supercharged vitality but all three of his performances alternate poise and exuberance to a most stylish and musical degree. Järvi works hand in glove with his soloists and the result is a triumph. No recorded collection of the complete concertos, whether deleted or available, comes within distance of this.” Gramophone Magazine, September 2009