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

 

On record – Han Chen plays Thomas Adès: Piano Works (Naxos)

Han Chen (piano)

Thomas Adès
Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face (2009)
Still Sorrowing (1992)
Darknesse Visible (1992)
Blanca Variations (2015)
Traced Overhead (1996)
Three Mazurkas (2009)
Souvenir (2018)

Naxos 8.574109 [69’43”]

Producer Han Chen
Engineer Ryan Streber

Recorded 5-7 April 2019, Oktaven Audio, Mount Vernon, New York

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Taiwanese-born and American-based pianist Han Chen releases his third album for Naxos, bringing together almost all the works for solo piano by Thomas Adès (b1971) in readings that depart – sometimes markedly – from earlier practice and are the more impressive for it.

What’s the music like?

Adès’s piano music falls into three well defined phases. Premiered at the London recital that launched his wider career, Still Sorrowing draws on Dowland in a sustained rumination with ingenious use of the keyboard (is Blue-Tack still being used to dampen the middle register?). Darknesse Visible is more directly a Dowland paraphrase, its pianism highly demonstrative in its range of textures and dynamics. An early culmination is marked by Traced Overhead – its three (progressively longer) sections heading from the spiralling upward motion of Sursum, via the animation of Aetheria, to the gradual ascent of Chori whose heightened eloquence is fatefully undermined by its plunging descent near the close. Understandable that Adès then eschewed the piano medium (and largely avoided public performance) for more than a decade.

His return came from a typically unexpected angle. Among the most significant operas this past quarter-century, Powder Her Face might not have obvious pianistic potential, but Adès proved otherwise with a Concert Paraphrase which realigns several musical highlights into a four-part sequence given continuity by the ingenuity with which underlying dance measures merge into and out of each other. Those for whom its theatricality is all may be nonplussed, yet the essentially tragic essence behind the opera’s glittering façade is conveyed even more keenly through such abstract terms. No less ingenious, the Three Mazurkas refashion a genre most associated with Chopin and Szymanowski into music that recalls the études of Ligeti in their technical finesse and those expressive slights of hand capricious and affecting by turns.

Equally modest in their formal dimensions, the most recent two pieces could hardly be more contrasted in content. A test-piece for the 2016 Clara Haskill Competition, Blanca Variations takes a brief piece from Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel as basis for a study in highly intricate and dextrous pianism. Taken from his score for the film Colette, where it provides a haunting backdrop to the end-credits, Souvenir emerges as a discreet if potent homage to the tradition of French piano music through its slow waltz motion where inference becomes all.

Does it all work?

Yes, even though there are occasions when Adès’s consummate technique risks becoming its own justification. All credit, then to Han Chen (already with excellent releases of Liszt and Rubenstein on Naxos) for ensuring that surface allure is always at the service of an engaged and engaging musical expression. Most of these works have been recorded by the composer, several by numerous other pianists, but Chen clearly has an approach which enables him to render the music very much his own way – extending and enriching its potential accordingly.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Sound has clarity and definition without seeming clinical, and there are informative booklet notes by Paul Conway. One recent short piece (Berceuse from The Exterminating Angel) has not been included, but it hardly detracts from the qualities of this release overall.

Listen

Buy

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

Read

For further information on Thomas Adès visit the composer’s website

On record – Orchestra della Svizzera italiana / Damian Iorio – Malipiero: Symphony no.6, Serenata mattutina etc (Naxos)

Orchestra della Svizzera italiana / Damian Iorio

Malipiero:
Symphony no.6 ‘degli archi’ (1947)
Ritrovari (1926)
Serenata mattutina (1959)
Cinque studi (1959-60)

Naxos 8.574173 [58’32”]

Producer and Engineer Michael Rast

Recorded 2-5 May 2017, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

The Naxos label continues its long-term traversal of the extensive orchestral output by Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) with the present collection, which juxtaposes two of the Venetian composer’s most intriguing such pieces alongside two of his most characteristic.

What’s the music like?

Most substantial is the sixth of Malipiero’s 17 symphonies (only 11 of these are numbered sequentially). Its subtle, ‘of the strings’, is significant in this being a work written with the intrinsic sound of these instruments to the fore – notably in the modally infused harmonies that determine musical content and formal follow-through; the latter worth bearing in mind given the composer’s determination to eschew thematic development of the Austro-German tradition in favour of a motivic evolution that, as Ernest Ansermet pointed out, ‘’generate[s] other motif [that] do not carry the musical discourse – they are, rather, carried by it”. This is evident in the brusquely compressed first and third movements, but also the arching phrases of the lento (one of Malipiero’s finest inspirations) and the fantasia-like format of the finale.

The two sets of shorter pieces were written almost 35 years apart, but the stylistic difference between them is not merely one of ‘historical inevitability’. Thus, the Rediscoveries are full of formal quirks (not least the way in which the plangent central lento’s going off at a tangent is carried over into the ensuing intermezzo), along with an expressive acerbity redolent more of Milhaud than Hindemith. By the time of the Five Studies, Malipiero was in all senses the elder statesmen of Italian music and was held in high esteem – albeit as a figurehead rather than an active influence – by the post-war generation. It is not difficult to hear elements of Dallapiccola or even Maderna in these terse and gnomic utterances, though the penultimate Lento evinces a ruminative poise and emotional serenity which could only be by Malipiero.

Which leaves Morning Serenade, scored for a diverse ensemble handled with unobtrusive mastery and unfolding as a sequence of subtle variations on its opening idea that gradually draw the music deeper and more contemplatively into itself. Whether or not this piece was intended as a literal evocation, it assuredly sums up those qualities of Malipiero’s mature language which are most likely to appeal to listeners of the present and, for which reason, might be considered an ideal point of entry into an output that defies easy categorization.

Does it all work?

Almost always. Malipiero was never a composer for whom technical processes or emotional accessibility are paramount. Rather, he sought out new approaches to age-old issues that may have bemused his contemporaries but will intrigue those willing to listen without prejudice.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The performances here could hardly be bettered, with Damian Iorio securing playing of real precision and impetus from his Swiss Italian musicians. Earlier recordings of the Sixth Symphony (by Antonio de Almeida on Naxos) and Morning Serenade (by Stefano Cardi on Stradivarius) are surpassed, while sound and annotations leave little to be desired.

Hopefully Naxos might yet issue one of the numerous stage-works informing every phase of Malipero’s career; in the meantime, this disc is cordially recommended to devotees and newcomers alike.

Listen

Buy

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

Read

You can read Arcana’s interview with conductor Damian Iorio here, where he talks more extensively about his experience of more modern Italian classical music