On record – Manuel Barrueco, José Staneck, São Paulo Symphony Orchestra / Giancarlo Guerrero – Villa-Lobos: Guitar & Harmonica Concertos (Naxos)

Manuel Barrueco (guitar), José Staneck (harmonica), São Paulo Symphony Orchestra / Giancarlo Guerrero

Heitor Villa-Lobos
Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra (1951)
Sexteto Místico (1917-55)
Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra (1955)
Quinteto Instrumental (1957)

Sexteto Místico: Cláudia Nascimento (flute), Layla Köhler (oboe), Douglas Braga (alto saxophone), Fábio Zanon (guitar), Rogério Zaghi (celesta), Suélem Sampaio (harp)
Quinteto Instrumental: Cláudia Nascimento (flute), Adrian Petrutiu (violin), Ederson Fernandes (viola), Adriana Holtz (cello), Suélem Sampaio (harp)

Naxos 8.574018 [60’04”]

Producer and Engineer Ulrich Schneider

Recorded 30-31 July (Guitar Concerto), 2-4 August 2017 (Harmonica Concerto), 29 April 2018 (Sexteto & Quintet), 2017 Sala São Paulo, Brazil

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Naxos make a significant addition to their series The Music of Brazil with works from the country’s favourite classical music son, Heitor Villa-Lobos. Villa-Lobos’ instrument was the guitar, and it takes centre stage for the much-loved Concerto, complemented by its cousin for harmonica and orchestra. Two chamber-sized pieces for six and five instrumentalists respectively complete an attractive line-up.

What’s the music like?

Warm and sunny – a perfect counterpart to the gloomy late mornings and early evenings of December!

The Guitar Concerto is especially good, a compact design with the small orchestra complementing the guitar perfectly. The piece has an easy going nature from the beginning but that doesn’t mean it’s insubstantial, as the wistful second theme proves. The slow movement is elegant but also keenly felt, with a thoughtful yet virtuosic cadenza that leads straight into the finale, which is crisp and incisive.

It is still unusual to hear the combination of harmonica and orchestra in a classical context, and the instrument’s piercing tone won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, no matter how good the performance. That said, Villa-Lobos, who wrote the Harmonica Concerto for the skilled American harmonica player John Sebastian, gives the main instrument plenty of good tunes and soulful inflections.

The small-scale works accompanying the concertos are both attractive too. The Sexteto Místico appears to have had a chequered history. Begun in 1917, when composers were exploring alternative sonorities in their chamber music, it was not published until final completion in 1955. It paints attractive colours of pastel shades, the addition of guitar and celesta giving it an exotic air, especially in the unison passages. Meanwhile the bigger Quinteto Instrumental feels more classical in its instrumentation and musical language, again using consonant harmonies that radiate sunshine. With a warm sonic picture the recorded sound is ideal.

Does it all work?

Much of it does. The Guitar Concerto receives an ideal performance that feels wholly authentic with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra’s accompaniment. Their dialogue with Manuel Barrueco is beautifully observed and lovingly phrased under Giancarlo Guerrero‘s direction, and Barrueco gives an excellent account of a justly popular work.

José Staneck is on brilliant form in the Harmonica Concerto, with impressive virtuosity complemented by lyricism, but even that and a sensitive orchestral accompaniment do not quite win me over on the work. It could just be a case of unfamiliarity with the harmonica in this context though, so don’t let that put you off!

The sextet and quintet are ideal, sunlight streaming in on these affectionate accounts that capture the fluid writing for harp, guitar and celesta round the edges.

Is it recommended?

Yes. It’s great to see Villa-Lobos programmed in this way, and the disc has great warmth and hence enormous appeal. Barrueco’s version of the Guitar Concerto is a great modern complement to those made by John Williams, Julian Bream and Narciso Yepes, and the couplings show off the composer’s versatility and invention.



You can listen to clips from this disc and purchase a copy at the Naxos website here

On record – Shostakovich: The Bedbug; Love and Hate (Naxos)

The Bedbug Op.19 – complete incidental music (1929)
Love and Hate Op.38 – complete film-score (1935)

Mannheim Opera Chorus / Dani Juris; Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz / Mark Fitz-Gerald

Naxos 8.574100 [58’54”]

Russian transliterations and English translations included
Producer Roland Kistner
Engineer Bernd Nothnagel

Recorded 18-21 February 2019 at Philharmonie, Ludwigshafen, Germany

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos continues its ground-breaking traversal of the film and theatre music by Shostakovich with this coupling of scores long unheard as originally conceived, thanks in part to the work of Mark Fitz-Gerald in having reconstructed these from extant sketches and soundtracks.

What’s the music like?

Shostakovich’s earliest theatre score was for The Bedbug, a scatological comedy by the ill-fated Vladimir Mayakovsky whose two parts were set in the then-present and 50 years later in 1979. The main items include several astringent dance numbers audibly akin to Stravinsky and Weill, while others were recycled for later dramatic projects (most notably the Wedding Scene [track 6] which soon became the Overture to Erwin Dressel’s opera Armer Columbus), with resourceful usage of such instruments as saxophone, mandolin and musical-saw. An air of sardonic detachment pervades this music which doubtless contributed to the production’s brief theatrical run and its subsequent oblivion, but the confidence and panache with which Shostakovich acquits himself can hardly be gainsaid. Although the parodying of such Soviet archetypes as firemen and pioneers soon became taboo in a Soviet Union beholden to Stalin, the experience gained served the composer well in subsequent ballets and revues, so making the present score a significant harbinger for what was to follow over the ensuing five years.

That said, it is the score for Love and Hate that leaves the stronger impression here. Directed by Albert Gendelshtein, this one of several films resulting from Soviet-German cooperation in the interwar period and which ceased in 1937 when the gulf between Stalin’s and Hitler’s ‘socialism’ became unbridgeable. In its quirkily compelling amalgam of post-expressionist and socio-realist elements, this film is more than mere historical curio – as Shostakovich’s music makes plain in an expressive directness evident from the outset. Most notable in this respect is the song How Long Will My Heart Ache and Moan?, initially allotted to mezzo and female chorus [track 19], and a series of searchingly descriptive pieces as culminates in the surging intensity of The Funeral [track 33]. It is at such junctures that the more elegiac aspect of the Fifth Symphony (two years hence) comes into focus, making one regret that no suite was previously compiled. Maybe this will now prove possible given the score’s timely availability, so enabling a vital link in its composer’s evolution to be properly appreciated.

Does it all work?

Yes, not least owing to the insight of Fitz-Gerald’s realizations with regard to those missing or fragmentary sections – where he captures the Shostakovich spirit in full measure – as also to the commitment of the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz in realizing the often wilful while always arresting nature of the composer’s inspirations. Forward but not unduly immediate sound, with extensive annotations by Fitz-Gerald, musicologist Gerard McBurney and Soviet cinema authority John Leman Riley, further enhance the attractions of this release.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, and it is to be hoped Fitz-Gerald will be continuing his exploration of this one facet of Shostakovich’s output as is still inadequately covered in terms of publication or recording. Several of the composer film and theatre scores from the 1930s still await such rehabilitation.



For more information on this release and to purchase in multiple formats visit the Naxos website, with an article on the recording here

On record – Salviucci: Serenade, Chamber Symphony & String Quartet (Naxos)

Cinque Pezzi (1930)*
Pensiero nostalgico (1931)*
String Quartet in C major (1932)*
Salmo di David (1933)*/***
Sinfonia da camera (1933)**
Serenata (1937)**

***Sabina von Walther (soprano); Ensemble Überbrettl / Pierpaolo Maurizzi (piano)
***Latin text and English/Italian translation.

Naxos 8.574049 [83’05”]

Producer Giovanna Salviucci Marini
Engineer Tommaso Tacchi

Recorded *23-25 July 2017 at Sala dei Concerti di Palazzo Chigi Saracini, Sienna and **4-7 October 2018 at Teatro degli Atti, Rimini

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos continues its inestimable series devoted to Italian music of the twentieth century with this disc of mainly first recordings by Giovanni Salviucci (1907-1937) – a largely forgotten composer, whom his contemporary Goffredo Petrassi once referred to as ‘‘the best of us all’.

What’s the music like?

Although his composing career lasted barely a decade, Salviucci left several notable works across most major genres. Of those pieces included here, earliest is the Five Pieces for violin and piano – appealing if expressively unvaried music, from which only the lively Alla Festa hints at his later rhythmic ingenuity. Each of them, though, would make an attractive encore; as too would Nostalgic Thought for cello and piano, or Psalm of David for soprano and piano – verse from Psalm 61 with its roots in a modality also drawing on French and Italian sources.

Just before this latter piece, Salviucci achieved something of a breakthrough with his String Quartet. The fast-slow-fast trajectory may yield no obvious surprises, but beneath the intently contrapuntal surface of its outer movements is a quixotic handling of tonality that offsets any risk of predictability. The highlight (in every sense) is the slow movement, an Adagio whose suffused eloquence and finely wrought rhetoric transcend Salviucci’s earlier music. That the piece is unpublished is something this excellent recording should go some way to remedying.

The other two pieces have previously been recorded, which hardly makes them familiar. Its scoring for 17 instruments suggests that the Chamber Symphony may have been conceived with knowledge of Schoenberg’s eponymous work, even though Salviucci’s approach to the balance between wind and strings is less combative and more pragmatic. Outer movements combine rhythmic incisiveness with a harmonic lambency redolent of Vaughan Williams, while the heartfelt Adagio and piquant scherzo confirm an ongoing process of maturation.

A process culminating in the Serenade that was Salviucci’s last completed work. Scored for nine instruments, its textural clarity and harmonic astringency suggest increasing familiarity with the composer’s inter-war contemporaries (Italian and otherwise), and if the lively outer movements are almost too succinct for their motivic ingenuity fully to register, the Canzona elides between soloistic and ensemble writing with deft mastery. The Venice premiere, four days after Salviucci’s death, must surely have rendered the loss of such potential more acute.

Does it all work?

For the most part. Salviucci’s earlier music may be notable more for fluency of technique, but the composer’s idiom evolved apace over his few remaining years, so that one is left only too aware of what he might have gone on to achieve in the very different cultural climate of post-war Italy.

The performances by the excellent Ensemble Überbrettl leave little to chance, with Pierpaolo Maurizzi as astute in direction as he is a pianist. Sound is just a little confined in the chamber works, while Giordano Montecchi’s notes provide a valuable biographical overview.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Salviucci was already a composer to reckon with, and this generous selection makes an ideal introduction to his music. Hopefully Naxos will now turn to the handful of orchestral works that he completed: in the meantime, the present release should be acquired forthwith.



For more information on this release and to purchase in multiple formats visit the Naxos website

On record – New Russian State Symphony Orchestra / Alexander Walker – Havergal Brian: Symphonies 7 & 16 (Naxos)

Havergal Brian
Symphony no.7 in C major (1948)
Symphony no.16 (1960)
The Tinker’s Wedding (1948)

New Russian State Symphony Orchestra / Alexander Walker

Naxos 8.573959 [61’58”]

Producer Pavel Lavrenenkov
Engineers Aleksander Karasev, Gennady Trabantov

Recorded 16-19 January 2018 at Russian State Television and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos continues its traversal of the symphonies by Havergal Brian (1976-1972), once more with Alexander Walker and the New Russian State Symphony for two works as rank among the composer’s most impressive in this genre – plus one of his most appealing shorter pieces.

What’s the music like?

The Sixth and Seventh Symphonies saw Brian’s active return to composition after a hiatus of four years. Whereas the former is in a taut single movement, the Seventh Symphony is a four-movement work on a Brahmsian scale and its composer’s final such symphony. Inspired by the chapters of Goethe’s autobiography concerning his student years at Strasbourg, where he was never to return, the work charts a course from innocence to experience which might (as John Pickard surmises in his booklet note) extend to the degradation of Teutonic culture over the Nazi era. Walker has the measure of the out-going initial Allegro, not least its musing central episode, then points up the energy and extroversion of the scherzo. In its amalgam of intermezzo and Adagio, the third movement unfolds from fugitive restlessness to an anxious searching whose emotional depth is undercut by Walker’s relative swiftness, yet he brings due purposefulness to the Epilogue with its remorseless motion towards a coda whose bell-clad remoteness fairly encapsulates the ‘Once upon a time’ aura of intangibility at the heart of this ambivalent work.

Forward 12 years and the Sixteenth Symphony is the highlight of a group of one-movement such pieces where Brian wrestled with new possibilities of formal and expressive continuity. Here the overt rhetoric of its three predecessors is replaced with a tensile momentum which accumulates across its six sections. Walker draws due expectancy from its slow introduction, then finds brusque energy in the allegro and playful fantasy in those quixotic variations on a ceaselessly changing ‘ground bass’ that follow. The main slow episode evinces real nobility, and if the ensuing fugal galop undeniably taxes orchestral coordination, the closing section moves methodically though confidently towards a heady cadential QED as only Brian could have conceived. Absence of any concrete ‘programme’ only adds to this work’s fascination.

Opening this disc is the second of the ‘comedy overtures’ that span Brian’s creativity. Taking its cue from the play by J. M. Synge, The Tinker’s Wedding is a blueprint for its composer’s final years as it alternates hectic energy and pensive musing prior to a tersely decisive close.

Does it all work?

Yes. Brian may be an acquired taste, but his output contains numerous pieces of undoubted quality and the two symphonies featured here are, in their appreciably different ways, among his best. If the playing of his Russian players is intermittently less assured than that accorded Charles Mackerras in the Seventh (EMI/Warner) or Myer Fredman (Lyrita) in the Sixteenth, Walker is demonstrably his own man when it comes to an interpretative stance. Those who are new to Brian’s music will find this release starts them, qualitatively speaking, at the top.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Sound is a little airless, but this is not to the detriment of the intricacy or dynamism of this music – with annotations that could not be more authoritative. Hopefully Walker and his orchestra will record the nine remaining Brian symphonies yet to be covered by Naxos.



For more information on this release and to purchase in multiple file formats visit the Presto website

On record: Orchestre National de Lille / Jean-Claude Casadesus – Dutilleux: Symphony no.1, Métaboles & Les Citations (Naxos)

Cyril Ciabaud (oboe), Kasia Tomczak-Feltrin (harpsichord), Mathieu Petit (double-bass), Romain Robine (percussion) (all Les Citations), Orchestre National de Lille / Jean-Claude Casadesus

Symphony No. 1 (1951)
Métaboles (1964)
Les Citations (1985/90)

Naxos 8.573746 [61’27”]

Recorded 18-21 July 2016 at Auditorium de Nouveau Siecle, Lille
Producer/Engineer Phil Rowlands

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Jean-Claude Casadesus marks his four-decade tenure at the helm of the Orchestre National de Lille with this disc of Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013), with whose music he has been associated across his conducting career and whose current status he has played no small part in securing.

What’s the music like?

Numerous listeners will have come to know Dutilleux’s First Symphony through a recording Casadesus made with his Lille forces in 1977 (released on LP by Forlane in 1984 then on CD by Erato as part of its five-disc compendium in 2014).

The present account offers no radical reassessment; rather an intensifying of what was already a taut and involving take on a work which channels elements drawn from Roussel and Honegger into a distinctive if not yet fully characteristic statement. Thus, the stealthy Passacaille and incisive Scherzo now comprise an unbroken and cumulative continuity; the ensuing Intermezzo exuding calm though little repose prior to a Finale whose variations on its bracing initial chorale unfold eventfully yet purposefully to a hushed close. Rarely has this piece evinced greater cohesion or conviction.

One of George Szell‘s selective though influential commissions for the Cleveland Orchestra, Métaboles is a linked sequence of five pieces which combine the formal logic of a symphony with the expressive immediacy of a concerto for orchestra. Casadesus places emphasis firmly on the former quality, there is assuredly no lack of impetus as he steers these musicians from the striking Incantoire, through the rapturous Lineaire then impetuous Obsessionnel and alluring Torpide, to the energetic Flamboyant which makes for a scintillating apotheosis.

Les Citations is a diptych that alludes to Britten, Mannequin and Jehan Alain over its succinct yet highly unpredictable course; in scoring which evokes the French baroque and Debussy’s revitalising of it in terms at once authentic and capricious – as this fine reading makes plain.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. Dutilleux may have come to international prominence well before his death, but there remains something innately French about both his music’s content and its sound-world, as these readings confirm. A conductor who has never sought worldwide acclaim, Casadesus has choosing to hone his repertoire and musicianship from a long-term location, so explaining the tangible chemistry and unanimity of purpose that exists between him and the Lille players.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, especially as the recording offers a near-ideal combination of detail and perspective, and the booklet notes a sure knowledge of this composer’s idiom. Anyone new to Dutilleux now has a range of options, with this new release as good a starting-point as any available.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about the release on the Naxos website, while the video below gives a generous glimpse of the equally desirable recording these forces have made of the Second Symphony: