Presto News - 16th June 2014
Sakari Oramo conducts symphonies by Per Nørgård
A new discovery for me this week, as I have been listening to a disc of two symphonies by the Danish composer, Per Nørgård, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and conducted by Sakari Oramo.
Nørgård, who will turn 82 next month, is a prolific composer, with numerous concertos, several operas, and eight symphonies to his name. Stylistically, he was initially influenced mostly by composers such as Sibelius and Nielsen, as well as his teacher at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, Vagn Holmboe. Some of those early influences can definitely be heard in his Symphony No. 1, subtitled “Sinfonia austera”, written between 1953 and 1955; the very opening, with its use of timpani and bass clarinet, is reminiscent of the beginning of Sibelius's First Symphony, and later on in the first movement, some of the counterpoint and running viola semiquavers very much put me in mind of the Fifth Symphony by Nielsen.
It's possibly the second movement that can most justify the “austere” subtitle, beginning as it does with some bleak woodwind writing, whereas the symphony itself ends in a blaze of brassy glory. It's all fantastically played of course, and the end of the first movement is quite enchanting: after the cataclysmic climax a couple of minutes before the end, it all begins to wind down, and it finishes with a wonderful sense of calm, and a marvellous shimmer from the Vienna strings.
The second symphony on this disc is his Symphony No 8, written just three years ago (in fact this is the world première recording). In terms of its sound world it could hardly be more different to the first symphony, seeming to me much more impressionist in style. It opens with what Nørgård has termed “sculptural rising and falling scales”, which are meant to call to mind, he says, spirals or the stepped pyramids of Mesopotamia.
I can sort of see what he means: the music twists and whirls, nowhere more so than the end of the symphony, where he uses incessantly repeated notes in the woodwind and strings to hypnotic effect, only for this all to fade away, leaving behind a simple held chord for horns and upper strings. It's a very effective end to a thrilling symphony.
What struck me most about the piece was that, even with such a large orchestra at his disposal, he often pares everything right down to focus on just a few instruments rather in the fashion of chamber music. One of my favourite moments is an extraordinary section towards the end of the first movement, where the piano, harp, celeste, vibraphone, and glockenspiel are each asked to play their material independently of the main tempo. On top of this, a solo violin eventually enters with a rising quarter-tone scale. The effect that all of this creates is quite magical, and reminded me of the sound of a Javanese gamelan. The whole piece glistens and sparkles: this is partly due to the large array of percussion that Nørgård employs, with instruments including antique cymbals, Thai gongs, wind chimes, an oil drum, and chimes of various sorts.
I can't imagine these symphonies were previously part of the Vienna Philharmonic's standard repertoire, and yet their collective virtuosity is so great that they sound immediately convincing, and they take to this music with apparently effortless ease. It's fascinating to hear the difference in style by having two such disparate works on the same disc. As I mentioned at the start, I was not at all familiar with any of Nørgård's music, but it's been a pleasure to discover these pieces, and it's certainly made me want to hear more of his music.
Per Nørgård: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 8
Vienna Philharmonic, Sakari Oramo
Presto Recommends – Olivier Messiaen
The twentieth-century French genius Olivier Messiaen is in the spotlight this week, as David takes a whistle-stop tour of his huge, eclectic and varied output for the organ, the piano, the orchestra, the voice and more.
Often unfairly used as a byword for "modern" music (with connotations of outlandishness and impenetrable weirdness), he wrote a good deal of music that is, in its way, every bit as pictorial as Debussy's musical sketches and watercolours.
You can read David's Messiaen recommendations here.
Presto Interview – Rameau's Muse
Katherine talks to soprano Carolyn Sampson about her new disc celebrating the artistry of (and showcasing works composed for) the French Baroque diva Marie Fel - the darling of an entire generation at the Paris Opera, whose stellar career changed the course of French vocal history.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto CD – Critics' Choice
Another round of blasts from the musical past – this week we're delighted to announce the availability of 26 titles from Decca, DG and Philips' 'Critics' Choice' series, a series based (as one might guess!) around recordings that were particularly acclaimed by critics and reviewers, in particular BBC Radio 3's Building a Library.
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
16th June 2014
Strauss, R: Elektra
Evelyn Herlitzius (Elektra), Anne Schwanewilms (Chrysothemis), Waltraud Meier (Klytaemnestra), René Pape (Orest), Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann
This recording features today’s dream cast for Elektra: Evelyn Herlitzius, Anne Schwanewilms, Waltraud Meier and René Pape, all under the expert baton of Strauss master Christian Thielemann, accompanied by the Staatskapelle Dresden. This is an historic release since the opera was premiered in Dresden in 1909, with the Staatskapelle.
Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Christian Lindberg
The symphonic overture Excelsior! was composed only four years after Stenhammar made his début as a composer. The work displays an infectious exuberance and enthusiasm, contrasting with the more reflective Interlude from the composer’s final large-scale work, the cantata Sången from 1921. Closing the disc is the Serenade in F major, often regarded as Stenhammar’s finest orchestral score.
Beethoven: Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123
Helen Donath (soprano), Doris Soffel (mezzo soprano), Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor) & Hans Sotin (bass), Edinburgh Festival Chorus & London Philharmonic Orchestra, Georg Solti
Recorded live at the BBC Proms in 1982, this concert was one of the highlights of Solti’s final season as Principal Conductor of the LPO. The recording features an outstanding array of soloists representing some of the finest voices of the late 20th century: Helen Donath, Doris Soffel, Siegfried Jerusalem and Hans Sotin, as well as the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.
Vaughan Williams: Stars of the Night
Matthew Trusler (violin), Roland Wood (baritone) & Iain Burnside (piano)
A disc of songs and violin works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, including arrangements for violin and piano of the Violin Concerto (Concerto Accademico), and The Lark Ascending, performed by Matthew Trusler and Iain Burnside, and the Songs of Travel with baritone Roland Wood.
Turina: Canto a Sevilla
María Espada (soprano), Martin Roscoe (piano), BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena
This is the latest disc in Juanjo Mena’s ongoing series of Spanish orchestral music with the BBC Philharmonic and is his second featuring the works by Joaquín Turina, one of the leading Spanish composers of his generation. The works recorded here are filled with the inspiration Turina found in his native Andalusia and particularly the city of Seville.
Jonathan Biss: Schumann, Janacek
Jonathan Biss (piano)
American pianist Jonathan Biss places Schumann at the heart of his recital as he pairs the composer’s captivating Fantasiestücke with his intimate, characterful Davidsbündlertänze. Highlighting the strong connections these works have with Janácek’s On the overgrown path, Biss crafts a rich texture by interspersing movements from the Janácek with the Schumann, as he subtly creates each colourful sound world in mere moments.
Maria João Pires: The Complete Erato Recordings
Maria João Pires (piano)
With her refined, honest artistry, the Portugese pianist Maria João Pires – who turns 70 in July 2014 – was one of the musicians who defined the Erato label in the 1970s and 1980s. This 17-CD box gathers together all the recordings she made over the period from 1972 to 1987 and it reflects the consistent focus of her repertoire, with its special emphasis on Austro-German composers of the Classical and early-Romantic periods.
Brahms: Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
Barbara Bonney (soprano) & Bryn Terfel (baritone), Berliner Philharmoniker, Swedish Radio Choir & Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, Claudio Abbado
This is an extraordinary performance of Ein Deutsches Requiemby the Berliner Philharmoniker under the baton of Claudio Abbado, recorded to mark the centenary of Brahms's death in the Grand Hall of the Vienna Musikverein in1997. Soprano Barbara Bonney and baritone Bryn Terfel are the soloists, with the well-acclaimed Swedish Radio Choir and the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir.
Blu-ray version also available here.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 14th June 2014
Building a Library - Rameau: Pièces de Clavecin
First Choice (Download Only)
Christophe Rousset (harpsichord)
Download - download options available for this item (Download not available in all countries)
CD Choice (Harpsichord)
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
CD Choice (Piano)
Alexandre Tharaud (piano)
Disc of the Week
Walton: Symphony No. 1 & Violin Concerto
Tasmin Little (violin), BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner
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