Presto News - 14th July 2014
Prokofiev Violin Sonatas from Alina Ibragimova and Steven Osborne
The chamber music of Prokofiev isn't an area I'm hugely familiar with, so this week's disc – comprising the two Violin Sonatas and the set of Five Melodies – was something of an exploration. In the capable hands of Alina Ibragimova and Steven Osborne, I've had as good an introduction to this side of the composer (whom I hitherto knew primarily as an orchestral writer) as I could wish for.
Alina Ibragimova and Steven Osborne
The First Sonata, in F minor, is unmistakeably stark right from the beginning, with Osborne lending the initial melody a sense of deep foreboding as the violin's hesitant, self-absorbed trill motif enters over the top. From this dark opening the movement expands out into a landscape of palpable grief – and casting an eye over the notes, it's immediately clear why. This sonata was conceived and written at the height of Stalin's Great Terror, and eventually (after a hiatus of some years) took on the form of a memorial for personal friends and colleagues who disappeared.
In the light of this, it's not just the bell-like tolling of the piano's lower octaves that makes a strong impression, but also the brief glimpses of light in the second movement, which features a lyrical, yearning melody in the violin that seems at times to emerge out of nowhere. It's impossible not to hear this in the context of the despair that surrounded the work's genesis, and Ibragimova very much picks up on this, lending it a bittersweet, elegiac quality. The Sonata's fourth movement (written five years after the first three), while also opening in boisterous mood, lacks the discordant, tortured harmonic nature of the rest of the work; a characteristic motif consisting of two rising major chords occurs throughout, seeming to represent in musical form Prokofiev raising his head and squaring his shoulders to move on from the artistic and personal tragedies that had been inflicted on him. It brings the work to a melancholic, but calm, close.
A set of five songs without words (also titled simply Melodies) provides a welcome contrast; having originally composed them for the Russian mezzo Nina Koshetz as a set of wordless vocalises, Prokofiev was convinced by his musical associates of their suitability for performance on the violin, and in collaboration with the violinist Kochánski he transcribed them accordingly. The resulting set of miniatures are exquisitely beautiful, and provide Osborne and Ibragimova with the perfect arena in which to demonstrate their flexibility of expression and their ability to adapt seamlessly to different musical moods.
We remain in the world of transcriptions for the Second Sonata; originally composed for the flute, this too was reimagined for the violin at the instigation of a performer friend – in this case David Oistrakh. While there are moments of shadow, and of the characteristic sardonic wit that seems to have sustained so many Soviet composers through dark times (particularly Shostakovich), it is on the whole a much sunnier and less troubled work than the First. Strong traces of Prokofiev's neoclassical period, coupled with striking influences of jazz idioms in the final movement, make for an accessible, lyrical work.
Darkness and light, then; two enormously contrasting sonatas that could hardly be more different, but it's testament to the musicianship of Ibragimova and Osborne that both works, as well as the Melodies (which are certainly more than just filler material), succeed so well. As a relative newcomer to this aspect of Prokofiev's musical personality I wasn't sure what to expect from this disc, but it's a very varied and at times profoundly moving experience.
Samples are below; enjoy!
Prokofiev: Violin Sonatas & Five Melodies
Alina Ibragimova (violin), Steven Osborne (piano)
Obituary – Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)
We were greatly saddened to hear of the death of the American conductor Lorin Maazel on Sunday. Born in France and educated in the United States, he showed a talent for conducting from early childhood, quickly establishing a reputation as a consummate perfectionist for whom only the best would do. He was renowned for having an almost photographic memory for scores, and could often be a daunting presence in rehearsals.
From about the 1970s onward, his career was mostly focused on orchestras in the United States, with whom he performed and recorded regularly; a particularly striking achievement was a concert given with the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang, North Korea, in February 2008.
You can browse through all his recordings here.
Presto Recommends – Giacomo Puccini
James listens to recordings of perhaps the greatest operatic composer of them all, Giacomo Puccini. Blessed with a gift for memorable melodies, Puccini's list of operatic triumphs and "hits" is impressive - from showpiece arias such as the iconic Nessun Dorma and E lucevan le stelle to operas that have become staples of the repertoire the world over - Tosca, Madama Butterfly and La bohème, to name just three.
You can read through James's Puccini selections here.
Presto CD – British Music Collection, Part 2
The second instalment in our Manufacture on Demand revival of the British Music Collection - 22 titles including the pioneering work of the British early music scene, as well as Mark Anthony Turnage's Greek and other recent works.
David Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
14th July 2014
Ingolf Wunder Plays Tchaikovsky & Chopin
Ingolf Wunder (piano), St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy
Ingolf Wunder performs two of the greatest concertos in the repertoire: Chopin's and Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concertos - live from St. Petersburg’s 2012 “White Nights” Festival. Returning to his beloved Chopin, Ingolf Wunder teams up with the supreme musicianship of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of the legendary Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Download - download options available for this item (Download not available in all countries)
Gregson: Orchestral Works
BBC Philharmonic, Bramwell Tovey
Edward Gregson is one of Britain’s most versatile and prolific composers, his approachable and engaging music having gained recognition worldwide. With the BBC Philharmonic, Bramwell Tovey conducts works that take inspiration from an array of musical and extra-musical sources, revealing the breadth of Gregson’s musical imagination.
Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1
Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Ludovic Morlot
Drawing on Ludovic Morlot’s personal relationship with the great French composer, this disc opens with a sensuous performance of Symphony No. 1 and closes with a live recording of Dutilleux’s late masterpiece, The Shadows of Time. The disc also includes the cello concerto Tout un monde lointain with French cellist Xavier Phillips.
Unsuk Chin: Three Concertos
Sunwook Kim (piano), Alban Gerhardt (cello), Wu Wei (sheng), Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Myung-Whun Chung
Solo concertos are important milestones in Unsuk Chin’s development as a creative artist: in each of them, the solo instrument’s possibilities are explored in terms of its sonorities and of the performer’s virtuosity and re-examined in a new light. This is a world premiere recording of these concertos with Myung-Whun Chung and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.
Carlo Bergonzi: The Verdi Tenor
Carlo Bergonzi (tenor)
Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi always epitomised both bel canto and the grandeur and lyric style of Verdi. This special commemorative box includes all his best-known Verdi recordings, including six operas and two recitals. His 1974 recording of 31 major arias from every Verdi opera (CDs 14-16 in this collection) won multiple awards at its time of release, and is frequently referred to as a peerless achievement.
Ferenc Fricsay: Complete Recordings on DG - Volume 1 (Orchestral Works)
Ferenc Fricsay – Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon Vol. 1 presents Fricsay’s orchestral output in its entirety, covering symphonies, concertos, waltzes, overtures, ballets. The set contains symphonies by Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovksy, his definitive Bartók and Kodály interpretations, famous recordings of great modernists like Blacher, Egk, Glière, Hindemith, Honegger, Martin, and many other composers.
Simon Rattle conducts El Sistema at the Salzburg Festival (DVD)
National Children’s Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela & White Hands Choir Venezuela, Simon Rattle, Maybeth Garcia & Luis Chinchill
El Sistema is the international phenomenon from Venezuela and this concert by the National Children's Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and the White Hands Choir comes from the Salzburg Festival 2013. Conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, this concert shows the joy and the musical quality of the orchestra, which thrilled the audience!
Blu-ray version also available here.
Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer (DVD)
Samuel Youn (Der Holländer), Franz-Josef Selig (Daland), Ricarda Merbeth (Senta), Tomislav Muzek (Erik), Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus, Christian Thielemann (conductor)
Jan Philipp Gloger’s controversial production translates the tale of the Dutchman to a future time, where part-human/part-cyborgs grind out an existence in a world completely subservient to commerce. In the modern fan-making factory, which replaces the world of Senta and her fellow seamstresses, we see a final tableau in which their heavenly union is ‘commemorated’ by factory workers producing souvenir statuettes of the couple.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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