Presto News - 9th February 2015
Zemlinsky String Quartets from the Brodsky Quartet
We may have got January out of the way, but I’ve found myself preoccupied with looking forward and backward on several levels this week, thanks to a new survey of the string quartets of Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) just out on Chandos. With one foot in late Romanticism and another in the stark modernism of interwar Vienna, Zemlinsky’s chamber-music is full of delicious ambivalence, so it helps that the Brodsky Quartet are themselves quite an eclectic bunch. Now well into their fifth decade (though only two of the original line-up remain), they’ve ploughed some unexpected furrows alongside their acclaimed surveys of mainstream quartet repertoire – their non-classical projects over the years have included collaborations with the maverick Icelandic singer Björk and with Elvis Costello.
I must confess to a slight vested interest in this recording, as the Brodskys played a special role in my own development as a musician: three of the original members hail from Middlesbrough, where I grew up and received my first violin lessons, and a free workshop with the quartet (who were as passionate about education and outreach in the early 90s as they are today) was a real epiphany for me as a young teenager. They played us the last movement of Dvořák’s ‘American’ Quartet with such joy and energy that four of us from my local youth orchestra tentatively decided to join forces, with regular inspiration and input from the Brodskys over the next few years.
I was strongly reminded of that first encounter with their spiky, incisive Dvořák almost as soon as I switched on this collection of Zemlinsky’s string quartets (written between 1893 and 1936) - instead of the lush, late-Romantic sound-world I was expecting, the First Quartet is full of quirky, slightly off-kilter dance-rhythms and folk-ish (often maddeningly catchy!) melodies, owing far more to Dvořák and Zemlinsky’s early mentor Brahms than to the Second Viennese School figures with whom Zemlinsky would go on to forge close personal and artistic links.
In a similar vein is the previously unrecorded String Quartet of 1893 (published only in 1997), which was summarily turned down when Zemlinsky submitted it to the Tonkünstlerverein – an elite Viennese musical society who provided a platform for new music, but enforced strict quality-control on what could be performed under their auspices in public. (He was in distinguished company in this rejection: the committee would also veto his future brother-in-law Arnold Schoenberg’s masterpiece Verklärte Nacht, inspired in part by his love for Zemlinsky’s sister, several years hence). It’s an appealing if not ground-breaking piece, with bags of youthful vitality and supreme confidence in handling the genre from the 22-year-old composer - but it’s the masterly performance of the Second String Quartet (1913-15) that’s really packed a punch for me this week. By the second decade of the twentieth century, Zemlinsky was no longer a talented journeyman following in the footsteps of the nineteenth-century masters, but fully immersed in the experiments with tonality, structure and almost everything else that also preoccupied his friends Schoenberg and Alban Berg.
Perhaps it’s something to do with their own wide-ranging repertoire and finely-honed ability to move between idioms and sound-worlds, but the Brodskys really do work wonders with its slippery, uncompromising modernism. And many of the virtues which I remember them instilling into us as fledgling chamber-musicians really come into play here – the balance between achieving blend and maintaining clarity, for instance, is masterfully realised in the ambiguous, shape-shifting middle stretches of this elusive single-movement work.
Definitely worth sampling for anyone who’s interested in the journey from late-Romanticism to modernism and beyond, or indeed in consummate chamber-music-making in general.
Zemlinsky: String Quartets
Gramophone Editor's Choices – February 2015
Chris introduces the Editor’s Choices from February’s Gramophone Magazine.
Pianist Piotr Anderszewski takes Recording of the Month with his Bach English Suites, while Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music fly the flag for authentic performance on period instruments with the Orchestral Suites, and the Ensemble Clément Janequin under Dominique Visse take a final look back at Christmas with a collection of early Renaissance Christmas music.
Elsewhere, there are two hotly-awaited new instalments; Kristian Bezuidenhout continues his acclaimed series of Mozart’s keyboard works, and Sir Mark Elder leads the Hallé in Vaughan Williams’ haunting response to the First World War, the Pastoral Symphony.
You can browse through them all here.
Presto Interview – Harry Christophers on the Spanish Golden Age
British chamber choir The Sixteen and their conductor Harry Christophers have long been champions of neglected choral repertoire, from the treasures of fifteenth-century English polyphony found in the Eton Choirbooks to the Polish Baroque composer Bartłomiej Pękiel, and further afield still to Juan de Padilla, one of the first composers to work in the Spanish colony of ‘New Spain’ - today’s Mexico.
David talks to Harry Christophers about their latest disc, which explores more musical glories from the zenith of Spanish imperial power in the reign of Philip II, highlighting the works of two contemporaries of the famous Tomas de Victoria - Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto Recommends – Ludwig van Beethoven (Orchestral and choral works)
Nine symphonies, two Masses, an opera, concertos, oratorios and more - you can browse through all James’s choices here.
Presto CD – DG Archiv
Chris introduces the latest batch of Presto CDs, looking at works from the Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval eras with 36 titles from DG’s early music series Archiv. Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert are among the proponents of authentic performance practice featuring on these discs, while the Berlin Philharmonic and the choir of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig represent earlier, ‘pre-period’ approaches.
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Katherine Cooper - email@example.com
9th February 2015
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major
Filarmonica della Scala, Daniel Barenboim
In this live recording from 15th November 2014, Daniel Barenboim conducts the Filarmonica della Scala in Mahler's Ninth Symphony. This was Barenboim's final concert as music director at La Scala.
Berlioz: Harold en Italie & La mort de Cléopâtre
Antoine Tamestit (viola), Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano), London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
Violist Antoine Tamestit and mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill join forces with the LSO and Valery Gergiev in the latest instalment of their Berlioz exploration. Harold en Italie is among the most poetic of Berlioz’s oeuvre, its ingenious use of solo viola charting Harold’s wanderings throughout the Italian countryside. Karen Cargill gives an emotionally intense performance of the dramatic cantata La mort de Cléopâtre.
Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol. 3
Mary Bevan & Sophie Bevan (sopranos), Benjamin Hulett (tenor), CBSO Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner
This is the third recording in Edward Gardner's Mendelssohn in Birmingham series, featuring Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and Symphony No. 2. The soloists are all emerging young artists in Britain, the soprano sisters Mary and Sophie Bevan and the tenor Benjamin Hulett.
Elgar: Symphony No. 1 & Cockaigne Overture
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko
Vasily Petrenko is recognised as one the leading Elgarians of our time. This CD is the first in a series that will contain both symphonies and the other major orchestral works, plus some of the delightful miniatures. Here, the First Symphony is preceded by the sparkling concert overture Cockaigne.
Liszt: Piano Sonata
Angela Hewitt (piano)
Angela Hewitt’s notes for this new album describe a teenager’s moment of revelation when she first came to appreciate the epic masterpiece that is the Liszt Piano Sonata. Here we have a heart-felt recording where this palpable sense of wonder is manifest alongside Hewitt’s enthralling technical facility at the keyboard.
Lorin Maazel: Early Recordings
For the first time, Deutsche Grammophon brings together all of its celebrated early recordings by Lorin Maazel in a limited-edition, 18-CD box with original cover art. Highlights of the edition include symphonies by Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, Romeo & Juliet by Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, and Ravel's operas, L'Enfant et les sortilèges and L'Heure espagnole.
Max Goberman: The Symphonies of Haydn
Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, Max Goberman
The American conductor Max Goberman made these pioneering recordings of Haydn symphonies in the early 1960s, which would have formed part of the first-ever complete recording of the Austrian composer’s symphonic works. Sadly, he had only managed to record 45 symphonies before dying from a heart attack at the age of 51. Newly re-mastered from the original 3-track tapes, this 14-CD set restores these historic recordings to pristine condition.
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte, K620
Maximilian Schmitt (Tamino), Christina Landshamer (Pamina), Thomas Oliemans (Papageno), Brindley Sherratt (Sarastro), Íride Martínez (Königin der Nacht), Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Marc Albrecht
Emanuel Schikaneder's original production of Die Zauberflöte was theatrically inventive, and this new interpretation from director Simon McBurney emulates that in fresh and current terms. Fusing music, technology and stagecraft, this exciting production gives the opera a refreshing new treatment that is both thrilling and simple in its approach.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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