Presto News - 10th February 2017
Andrew Davis continues Chandos's cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies
This week sees a rather bittersweet pleasure – the first in Chandos’ Vaughan Williams symphony cycle since the death of the illustrious Richard Hickox. While the loss of Hickox was, and remains, a huge loss to fans of this music, there could be no finer conductor to receive the baton than Andrew Davis. On this album, he combines the Ninth Symphony (a late and rather enigmatic work) with the earlier ballet Job, from Vaughan Williams’ middle, mature period.
Job shows us the Vaughan Williams most of us already know and love – tuneful, expressive and with more than half an eye on England’s musical past as a source of inspiration. Just as the famous Tallis Fantasia drew on the Renaissance for its memorable melody, so in Job Vaughan Williams adapts ancient dances such as the sarabande, pavan, galliard and so forth. The purpose of the music is to accompany a ballet (or, as Vaughan Williams termed it in a further nod to archaic English tradition, a masque) telling the vivid Old Testament story of Job’s trials and tribulations. Despite such tempting subject matter, the music never strays into the lurid or the grotesque; Satan’s first appearance, after a tranquil pastoral scene has been established, is announced by unmistakably biting brass fanfares, but these are bold and self-confident rather than abrasively discordant.
If Job is what one might term “core” Vaughan Williams then his Ninth Symphony is anything but. Ever since its composition it has languished in relative obscurity, and is less immediately accessible than his other symphonies. No straightforward programme or big tunes are on display, but rather an almost Sibelian approach to organic development. From the evocative and mysterious opening one might be tempted to expect a re-run of the atmospheric Antartica, but there is a wistful mood underlying the Ninth that seems to lead it in a more profound direction than that impressively pictorial work.
For many people, the flugel horn is either a complete unknown or associated only with the British brass band tradition. However, its uniquely haunting sound has captured the imagination of many an orchestral composer, and in this symphony Vaughan Williams uses not only the flugel but a trio of saxophones to great effect within the orchestral texture. The flugel (played here by Martin Winter) shines particularly in the second movement, beginning and ending it with a simple tune of great nobility; in the third and fourth, the saxophones – almost invariably heard as a trio – have some luminous chorale-like material that shows a very different aspect of the instrument to what most listeners (then and now) might expect. We’ve all heard saxophones in a non-orchestral context, and many of us have heard saxophones with an orchestra (say, in Ibert’s deservedly popular Concerto) – but Vaughan Williams’ innovative use of saxophones within the orchestra is, like Wagner’s expansion of the brass section, a welcome and significant addition to the palette. His tasteful use of them shows that he regards them as an integral part of his wind section, rather than a mere sonic gimmick.
If I was forced to choose between this performance and the venerable Handley account with the RLPO, I think my decision might well come down to the mere flip of a coin. Davis seems to avoid some of Handley’s showmanship – giving less of a punch to some of the more impassioned outbursts – but conversely there’s a clarity here in some of the more intricate contrapuntal passages that Handley sometimes fails to match.
It cannot be denied that the Ninth is one of those works that one has to listen to several times before it starts to reveal its secrets; this is, I’m sure, why it is not more widely heard and performed. However, I think it’s absolutely right that it has at last begun to emerge from the shadows of the repertoire. Its impassioned climaxes (in the second and fourth movements) are every bit as stirring as the more commonly-heard Vaughan Williams favourites, and his experimentation with new sonorities, while not as wild as that in the Eighth, nevertheless shows a fascinatingly original side to a composer who is often sidelined as a mere pastoralist.
Vaughan Williams: Job & Symphony No. 9
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis
Presto Interview – Olivier Latry on 'Voyages'
The Paris Philharmonie recently had a new organ installed; and who better to put it through its paces than French organist Olivier Latry? His new album, 'Voyages', comprises a number of colourful transcriptions - featuring such pictorial works as Saint-Saëns' Danse macabre, Falla's Ritual Fire Dance and Debussy's Cathédrale engloutie.
David talks to Olivier about the relationship between the originals and their organ arrangements, and about how he brought these works to life in a new way on this magnificent instrument.
Presto Interview – Leonard Elschenbroich on Musica Nostalgica
Leonard Elschenbroich has recorded an album centred on the cello music of Alfred Schnittke - not merely comprising his first Sonata for the instrument, a Suite and other works, but also featuring Elschenbroich's own tribute to Schnittke that incorporates elements from his works.
Katherine caught up with Leonard to find out more.
Nicolai Gedda (1925-2017)
A household name for an entire generation of music-lovers, Gedda performed and recorded an enormous number of roles to enormous critical acclaim - everything from Bach to Barber, in both sacred and secular works, and such was his formidable technique that he was still recording well into his seventies (his final appearance on disc dates from 2003).
A full obituary can be found here.
David Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
10th February 2017
New on Naxos - February releases
Our dedicated Naxos New Release Brochure returns this week, where you can browse, read about, and listen to excerpts of all the exciting new Naxos releases out this month.
February's highlights include violin concertos by Halvorsen and Nielsen, with soloist Henning Kraggerud; piano quartets by Brahms and Mahler, and the world première recording of D. Wilson Ochoa's symphony-suite on R. Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. (The 'Buy Now' links will bring you back to the recording on the Presto Classical website.) Find out more...
Johann Sebastian Bach - Rafał Blechacz
Rafał Blechacz (piano)
Rafał Blechacz, winner of the 2005 International Chopin Piano Competition, has been immersed in Bach since his childhood and has cultivated a strikingly natural eloquence in his mature interpretations of the composer’s keyboard works. Rafal’s interpretation flows not least from his formative experience as an organist.
Handel: Sonya Yoncheva
Sonya Yoncheva (soprano), Academia Montis Regalis, Alessandro de Marchi
Sonya Yoncheva devotes her second solo album to the music of Handel, showing another facet of her wide-ranging repertoire. Being an alumna of William Christie’s Le Jardin des Voix, the Baroque era formed her musical understanding at an early stage of her career, laying the foundation for her versatile & broad-reaching repertoire.
Andreas Ottensamer: New Era
Andreas Ottensamer (clarinet), Emmanuel Pahud (flute), Kammerakademie Potsdam, Albrecht Mayer
Andreas Ottensamer presents a dazzling selection of the clarinet’s early repertoire, with works by J. and C.P. Stamitz, Mozart and Danzi, together with the Kammerakademie Potsdam. It also features duets with Albrecht Mayer and Emmanuel Pahud - two of Ottensamer’s friends and colleagues at the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Queen Mary's Big Belly
Gallicantus, Gabriel Crouch
Gallicantus perform music surrounding the fascinating yet tragic story of Queen Mary Tudor’s ‘phantom pregnancy’. The music performed here resonates with the circumstances of the mid-1550s, including items composed outside of Mary’s reign; from the royal ceremonies in which Mary participated as queen, and music directly tied to the specific events of 1554-5. This includes a newly-reconstructed Litany which was performed during Mary’s assumed pregnancy.
Giaches de Wert: Divine Theatre
Franco-Flemish composer Giaches de Wert wrote a considerable amount of sacred music during the late Renaissance, but little of it was published during his lifetime. Only three books of motets were released in 1566 and 1581. Stile Antico's new album introduces us to another side of this composer who spent most of his life in Italy.
Richard Strauss: Tone Poems, Vol. 5
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, François-Xavier Roth
This is the fifth and final instalment of the Strauss Complete Tone Poems Cycle performed by the Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg under their chief conductor François-Xavier Roth, featuring Metamorphosen and Symphonia Domestica.
Australian Eloquence - New Releases
The latest batch of releases from Australian Eloquence includes a 4-CD set of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch (originally released on LP in 1952), a selection of verismo arias from tenor James McCracken, a 4-cd collection from The Cambridge Buskers, and a recital from clarinettist Gervase de Peyer, who sadly died last week.
Puccini: Turandot (DVD)
Nina Stemme (Turandot), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Calaf), Maria Agresta (Liù), Alexander Tsymbaluk (Timur), Angelo Veccia (Ping), Roberto Covatta (Pang), Blagoj Nacoski (Pong), Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Riccardo Chailly
This is the first DVD of a cycle of the complete Puccini operas in partnership with La Scala and conducted by Riccardo Chailly. This Turandot presents for the first time on film the Luciano Berio completion of the opera. Nina Stemme assumes the title role with Maria Agresta as Liù and Aleksandrs Antonenko as the heroic Calaf.
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