On record – Villa-Lobos: Choral Transcriptions (São Paulo Symphony Choir / Valentina Peleggi) (Naxos)

villa-lobos

Villa-Lobos transcriptions of:

Bach Prelude and Fugue no.8 in E flat minor / D sharp minor BWV853, Prelude no.14 in F sharp minor BWV883; Fugues – no.1 in C major, BWV846; no.5 in D major, BWV874; no.21 in B flat major, BWV866; no. 22 in B flat minor BWV867
Beethoven Adagio cantabile Op.13/2
Chopin Waltz no.7 in C sharp minor Op.64/2
Massenet Élégie Op.10/5
Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte in E major Op.30/3
Rachmaninov Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3/2
Schubert Ständchen D957/3
Schumann Träumerei Op.15/7
Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras no.9 W449

São Paulo Symphony Choir / Valentina Peleggi

Naxos 8.574286 [58’32”] English and Portuguese translations included

Producer Ulrich Schneider
Engineers Marcio Jesus Torres, Camilla Braga Marciano, Fabio Myiahara

Recorded: 5-10 August 2019 at Sala São Paulo, Brazil

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos’s coverage of the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos (part of this label’s series The Music of Brazil) continues with a selection of mainly transcriptions from the piano repertoire that the composer undertook during the mid-1930s as part of his extensive educational commitments.

What’s the music like?

Almost all these arrangements emerged in the period 1932-5, when Villa-Lobos took on the challenge of overhauling music education in the public school system of Rio de Janeiro. This involved the creation, virtually from scratch, of a choral pedagogy that he drew from across the spectrum of Baroque, Classical and Romantic music. It is a measure of his prowess that such transformation from mostly piano sources was accomplished with unfailing rigour and an idiomatic quality, so the fame of the originals is almost the only clue to their provenance.

From the soulful strains of among the most mellifluous from Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, the programme then continues with the Eighth Prelude and Fugue from the first book of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier – the former piece summoning a plangently rhetorical response which finds pertinent contrast with the latter piece’s methodical and intricate build-up to a culmination of sombre eloquence. The arrangement of Dreaming from Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood fully conveys its wistful pathos, as does that of the First Fugue from Bach’s WTC the original’s cool elegance. Similarly, the last of Schubert’s Serenade settings loses little of this song’s plaintiveness, and the Twenty-First Fugue from Bach’s WTC takes on unexpected jauntiness in what proves one of Villa-Lobos’s most inspiriting re-creations.

Chopin’s Waltzes might be considered unsuited to the vocal medium, yet the C sharp minor responds ably to such elaboration, as too the ruminative calm of the Twenty-Second Prelude from Bach’s WTC. Rachmaninov might have thought better of his Prelude in C sharp minor had he encountered this uninhibitedly dramatic realization, with basses providing the baleful anchorage, in contrast to the yearning aura drawn from the Fourteenth Prelude of the second book from Bach’s WTC. Massenet’s Elegy exceeds the original song for bittersweet poise, a foil to the serenity of the Fifth Fugue from Bach’s WTC. The indelible main melody from the Adagio of Beethoven’s Pathétique segues ideally into the Ninth Bachianas Brasileiras, with Villa-Lobos’s choral incarnation rather more atmospheric and evocative than that for strings.

Does it all work?

Almost entirely and due in no small part to the excellence of the São Paulo Symphonic Choir with its Italian conductor Valentina Peleggi. Lasting just under 60 minutes, the selection feels varied yet also cohesive enough to be enjoyed as a continuous programme, while enterprising choirs from both sides of the Atlantic ought to find much here to enrich their existing rosters. Inclusion of Villa-Lobos’s own music at the close is a reminder its technical demands should never be taken for granted, but here too the SPSC rises to the challenge with unstinting verve.

Is it recommended?

It is. The acoustic is just a little reverberant at times yet without detriment to the clarity of the choral writing, with informative annotations from Manoel Corrêa do Lago. Listeners should also investigate a recent Naxos release of Villa-Lobos’s first three violin sonatas (8.574310).

Listen

Buy

You can discover more about this release at the Naxos website, and you can also purchase the recording here. You can read more about conductor Valentina Peleggi here

On record: Nashville Symphony / Giancarlo Guerrero – John Adams: My Father Knew Charles Ives, Harmonielehre (Naxos)

Nashville Symphony / Giancarlo Guerrero

John Adams
My Father Knew Charles Ives (2003)
Harmonielehre (1985)

Naxos American Classics 8.559854 [69’03”]
Producer Tim Handley
Engineer Trevor Wilkinson

Recorded 5-7 October 2018 (Harmonielehre), 25-27 October 2019 (My Father Knew Charles Ives), Laura Turner Concert Hall, Nashville

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos adds to its coverage of John Adams with this release featuring two major orchestral works – the one among the most enticing of his latter-day output, the other among the most characteristic (and recorded) of the pieces that first accorded him international prominence.

What’s the music like?

Adams has long expressed a penchant for the music of America’s great visionary of the late-Romantic era, and My Father Knew Charles Ives is his oblique while affectionate homage to the composer who gave American classical music its aesthetic basis. Not that the title should be taken literally – rather, the work’s three movements add up to an inclusive portrait of Ives in a way not dissimilar to that of the composer’s orchestral sets. Thus, the opening Concord deftly identifies the cultural environment behind Ives’s thinking besides alluding to some of his most inimitable music, while The Lake builds upon this with evocative and atmospheric writing whose concertante role for piano also finds resonance in the senior composer’s music. The final and longest movement, The Mountain returns to those transcendental strivings as infused Ives’s creative maturity, though its finely sustained initial pages are not followed up by the falling back on well-rehearsed minimalist routines that ensue. Conversely, the closing pages inhabit an ethereal introspection as makes for an understated and affecting apotheosis.

Hard to believe it is now 36 years since Harmonielehre first blazed a trail over the Western musical landscape, or that what once provoked extreme reactions (causing a near riot at the 1987 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival) should have come to represent a musical lingua franca imitated many times in the interim. That this earliest of Adams’s ‘symphonic’ works remains among his most representative is fully reaffirmed here. Giancarlo Guerrero finds a viable balance between drama and lyricism in the lengthy opening movement, then builds the mingled Wagnerian and Mahlerian resonances of The Amfortas Wound toward a climax of potent anguish (if such is the music’s intent). The luminous opening of Meister Eckhardt and Quackie demonstrates the best in the Nashville Symphony – as with its superb release of Christopher Rouse (Naxos 8.559852) – and while even astute pacing cannot make the closing peroration sound other than manufactured, the approach yields a methodical and eventful sense of purpose as makes its ‘travelling in hope’ more compelling than any arrival.

Does it all work?

It does, from the perspective that Adams often makes his larger-scale works cohere through sheer force of impact more than formal ingenuity – his trademark post-minimalism proving renewable at almost every turn. Guerrero’s take on My Father Knew Charles Ives is certainly preferable to the composer’s rather calculated account with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Nonesuch), while his Harmonielehre can rank high among the seven available recordings of this piece – among which, Kent Nagano with the Montréal Symphony Orchestra (Decca) currently leads the field.

Is it recommended?

Yes, not least when recording and annotations are first rate. Hopefully, future Naxos releases of Adams will explore further his extensive back catalogue and revive such as the impressive ‘symphony’ El Dorado, which still awaits its second recording after virtually three decades.

For further information on this release, and to purchase, visit the Naxos website. For more on John Adams, the composer’s website is a great resource. Meanwhile the Nashville Symphony website is here, and you can visit conductor Giancarlo Guerrero’s website here

On record – Dario Salvi conducts Humperdinck: Music for the Stage (Naxos)

a Andrea Chudak (soprano); b Ruxandra Voda van der Plas (contralto); c Harrie van der Plas (tenor); d Robert Bennesh (organ); Malmö Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Dario Salvi

Humperdinck
Die Heirat wider Willen (1905) – Prelude to Act Two
Der Kaufmann von Venedig (1905) – Incidental Music (abce)
Das Wunder (1912) – Suite (arr. Lotter) (d)
Die Wallfahrt nach Kevlaar (1878) (acd)
Lysistrata (1908) – Incidental Music (e)

Naxos 8.574177 [73’27”] German texts can be found here: http://www.naxos.com/libretti/574177.htm

Producer / Engineer Sean Lewis

Recorded 13-17 August 2019 at Bengt Hall-salen, Malmö, Sweden

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos continues its exploration into late-Romantic byways with this selection of theatre and choral works by Engelbert Humperdinck, presented so as to confirm a composer whose music more than makes up for what it might lack in overall individuality with expressive generosity.

What’s the music like?

The recent appearance of William Melton’s biography (Toccata Press) was of great value in conveying Humperdinck as a figure both selfless and humane; and a composer whose output reflects these qualities so that a personable and appealing musical idiom is always to the fore.

The selection gets underway with the Prelude to the second act of The Forced Marriage, after Alexandre Dumas, and the most likely among Humperdinck’s ‘forgotten’ operas to be worthy of revival. At least, the glowering intensity of this music set in the Bastille suggests as much.

Humperdinck contributed music to several productions by Max Reinhardt, with that for The Merchant of Venice running the gamut from very brief vocal or instrumental cues to such as a lilting Sarabande and a Procession of Masks which exude an engaging verve. The Casket Song draws a winsome response from female soloists and chorus, while the most extended item is an orchestral commentary on the text In such a night whose (not unduly) Wagnerian overtones and gently emergent rapture ought to secure more regular hearings in its own right.

Despite a lavish ‘multi-media’ premiere at Covent Garden, the sanctimonious scenario of the film The Miracle sealed its fate. Adolf Lotter’s suite deserves better – the evocative Prelude for organ leading into the lively Procession and Children’s Dance, then a festive ‘Banquet Scene’ finds contrast with the chaste Dance of the Nuns. A whimsical March of the Army is itself juxtaposed with the plangent Death Motif, before the Christmas Scene bestows a typically glowing atmosphere which the Finale to Act One builds to an eloquent apotheosis.

Much the earliest work, the cantata after Heine’s ballad The Pilgrimage to Kevlaar established Humperdinck’s reputation and is still occasionally revived – though not in the original version recorded here. If those swirling textures of the first section remind one that Humperdinck was soon to prove an invaluable amanuensis for Wagner, the central section renders the brunt of the narrative with considerable fervency, before the final section tempers the ostensibly tragic turn of events with a forceful reaffirmation of belief prior to its warmly consoling conclusion.

Finally, to incidental music for Aristophanes’ Lysistrata – comprising a perky Entr’acte for brass and woodwind, a vaunting Festal Procession that juxtaposes then combines male and female voices, then a Closing Song that elaborates its woodwind melodies to piquant effect.

Does it all work?

Yes, bearing in mind that Humperdinck never sought to impress his personality on the task at hand. Within its self-imposed limits, the theatre music is always suited to what is portrayed on stage, with the Heine setting among the most persuasive instances of a much-maligned genre.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The various vocal and choral contributions have all the requisite limpidity and poise, while the Malmö Opera forces acquit themselves with verve and elegance under the capable guidance of Dario Salvi – whose efforts in raising the profile of this music compels respect.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Naxos Direct. Meanwhile for more information on the recent Toccata Press book on Humperdinck, you can head to their website

On record – Matthew Schellhorn plays Howells: Piano Music Vol.1 (Naxos)

Matthew Schellhorn (piano) Herbert Howells Phantasy (1917) Harlequin Dancing (1918) My Lord Harewood’s Galliard (1949) Finzi: His Rest (1956) Summer Idyls (1911) Siciliana (1958) Pavane and Galliard (1964) Petrus Suite (1967-73) Naxos 8.571382 [65’52”] Producers Rachel Smith< Engineer Ben Connellan Recorded 19-21 August 2019 at The Menuhin Hall, Stoke D’Abernon Written by Richard Whitehouse What’s the story? Naxos continues its coverage of Herbert Howells with this initial instalment (presumably one more to follow) of his piano music, all pieces being previously unrecorded and authoritatively rendered by Matthew Schellhorn in what is a notable addition to the composer’s discography. What’s the music like? Long before his death (at the age of 90), Howells’s reputation rested firmly on his output of choral and organ works. Only quite recently has his considerable earlier output of orchestral and chamber music received serious re-evaluation, so revealing one whose distinct change of outlook in his early forties came about as much through cultural as personal reasons. Modest in scope and dimension, his piano music features no extended or career-defining works, yet its technical poise and always idiomatic feel for this instrument makes for a rewarding listen. The present selection interleaves miniatures and cyclical works in chronological order. As to the former, Phantasy finds the recently graduated composer assured in his handling of those impressionist aspects derived from Debussy and Ravel, while Harlequin Dreaming inhabits a world of Satie-esque whimsy and nonchalance as a reminder that Howells was then close friends with Bliss. Moving on to the Renaissance-inspired piano pieces of his later years, My Lord Harewood’s Galliard fuses its recherche manner with engaging harmonic astringency, whereas Finzi: His Rest is a pensively ambivalent in-memoriam to a younger colleague. The Siciliana is a languorous if non-indulgent take on the characteristic dance rhythm, while the Pavane and Galliard juxtaposes the confessional and combative with stark emotional acuity. The suites come from either end of Howells’s career, with all that implies for a half-century timespan. Summer Idyls [sic] formed a part of his portfolio for the Royal College of Music; its stylistic indebtedness to the mid- and late Romantics – not least Rachmaninov – would soon be left behind, but the appeal in these evocations of rural environs no doubt familiar from his childhood endures. Pick of the seven is the wistful rumination of ‘Near Midnight’, with the central ‘Minuet Sine Nomine’ similarly dominating the Petrus Suite in its limpid refinement. Otherwise, the seven pieces evince a sinewy counterpoint and tensile linearity    as are audibly a product of Howells’s late style, yet the origin of several in sketches made decades before confirms an overriding consistency of approach heightened by experience. Does it all work? Yes, allowing that Howells never sought to suffuse this music with the degree of emotional intensity reserved, at least in his maturity, for the larger choral works. Yet his quintessential expression is arguably to be found in those many shorter choral or organ pieces intended for liturgical purpose; in which case, the expressive focus and restraint of what is recorded here is its own justification. It could hardly have a more persuasive advocate than Schellhorn, who credits the late Stephen Cleobury for introducing him to the extent of Howells’s piano music. Is it recommended? Indeed. The closely unduly defined sound is ideal for piano music of this kind, and Jonathan Clinch’s annotations (along with a reminiscence by the pianist) are succinct and informative. The follow-up volume, mainly of better-known music, will doubtless prove just as rewarding. Listen & Buy
You can listen to clips from the recording and purchase, either in physical or digital form, at the Naxos website

On record – Christopher Lyndon-Gee conducts Silvestrov: Symphony no.7 (Naxos)

Inna Galatenko (soprano); Oleg Bezborodko (piano); Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra / Christopher Lyndon-Gee

Valentin Silvestrov

Ode to a Nightingale (1983)
Cantata no.4 (2014)
Concertino for Piano and Small Orchestra (2015)
Moments of Poetry and Music (2003)
Symphony No. 7 (2003)

Naxos 8.574123 [73’06”]

Producers / Engineers  Vilius Keras, Aleksandra Keriené

Recorded 18-24 January 2019 at Lithuanian National Cultural Centre Recording Studio, Vilnius

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos makes a notable addition to the Valentin Silvestrov discography with this release of mainly recent works, mostly in first recordings, and all idiomatically realized by Lithuanian artists under the direction of conductor (and sometime composer) Christopher Lyndon-Gee.

What’s the music like?

Much the earliest piece, Ode to a Nightingale includes all the verses of Keats’s poem. A series of motifs constantly recurs and recombines such that this text is not so much set as projected via a rhetorical while flexible vocal line, heard against an instrumental texture dominated by a carillon that evokes the eponymous bird. Previously encountered in a chamber version, this is the first recording of the recently premiered orchestral original, and if larger forces extend rather than intensify its expressive scope, this is hardly to the detriment of the music overall.

Two decades on, and Cantata no.4 is an assembly of verse by Ukrainian poets (including the national author Taras Schevchenko), set in a manner that evidently recalls the salon intimacy of mid-19th century Russian songwriters. Most appealing is its Pastorale second movement, which duly re-emerges in expanded form as the corresponding movement in the Concertino written soon afterwards. Nominally more abstract, this latter piece charts a wider emotional terrain – the wryly ingratiating Pastorale framed by a Preliudium whose majesty rapidly dissipates, then a Serenade of wistful poise; none of these movements quite anticipates the Postliudium which brings about a closure of decidedly ominous ambivalence – a reminder that the seeming repose of Silvestrov’s later music is permeated by an introspective anxiety.

This is no less audible in Moments of Poetry and Music, a brief yet telling juxtaposition of verse by Paul Celan – to piano accompaniment – with a longer paraphrase where piano and orchestra open-out those salient motifs to a degree the more affecting for its understatement.

Which just leaves the Seventh Symphony – at barely 18 minutes, the shortest of Silvestrov’s maturity while eschewing both the underlying integration of the Fifth and plangent contrasts of the Sixth. Nor is it any less characteristic, unfolding as an unbroken span where episodes of relative tension and release interleave on the way to a coda of rapt evanescence. A pivotal cadenza from piano (rendered by Marija Grikevičiūté) is but the most significant appearance by an instrument whose concertante function tangibly enhances the speculative aura overall.

Does it all work?

Yes, providing one remembers the music from this composer’s maturity is less about ongoing evolution than incremental variation (the Eighth Symphony rather seems to indicate a stylistic shift in its priorities). Such pieces are best listened to individually, though the programme as assembled is persuasive in its follow-through; with Inna Galatenko eloquent during her vocal contributions and Oleg Bezborodko a pianist of no little finesse. Lyndon-Gee secures playing from the Lithuanian National Symphony as to indicate an orchestra punching above its status.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, and at its modest price this is an ideal introduction to the composer for those yet to be acquainted with his music. Conductor and orchestra will hopefully tackle more Silvestrov, not least the three symphonies (the Ninth pointedly entitled Ode to Joy) he has gone on to write.

Listen & Buy

You can listen to clips from the recording and purchase, either in physical or digital form, at the Naxos website