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Volume 18 Issue 1 - September 2012

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DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS

DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWEDEditor’s CornerDAVID OLDSSeptember marks a milestone in thehistory of recorded classical music: 25years since the establishment of theNaxos label. Originally regarded with disdainby the record business establishment,this “budget” line of CDshas gone on to become the largestmanufacturer and distributorof classical CDs and digital downloadsin the world. Later this monthNaxos founder Klaus Heymannwill be in Toronto for a mediaevent celebrating the anniversaryand the release of The Story ofNaxos — The extraordinary storyof the independent record labelthat changed classical recordingfor ever.In the two months since the lastissue we have received 21 CDs onthe Naxos label and more than 80 onlabels distributed by Naxos. And thatis just the number that has physicallycrossed my desk; there were morethan 200 separate titles listed on theAugust release sheets alone. For thismonth’s column I decided I wouldselect a few of the discs that wereof most interest to me personallyfrom this wealth of material. Thisproved harder than I first imagined.Since my own area of expertise ismusic of the 20th century I decidedto limit myself to this field andeven so I ended up bringing tendiscs home; a selection of workswith which I was already familiarand a number which were newto my ears. Space precludes any indepthanalysis of the recordings, butsuffice it to say that with minor hesitationsas noted, none of the discsdisappointed me and a number ofthem were very satisfying indeed.Although well versed in thechamber music and concertos ofSergei Prokofiev, I am less familiarwith his other orchestral andparticularly symphonic output(with the exception of the everpopular“Classical” Symphony). I chose arecording of two works composed during theSecond World War, the symphonic suite TheYear 1941 and the Symphony No.5 in B-FlatMajor, Op.100 performed by the São PauloSymphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop(8.573029). The first of these works is, perhapsunderstandably, bombastic with itspatriotic movements “In the Struggle,” “In theNight” and “For the Brotherhood of Man,” butnevertheless well crafted and well performed.The symphony is more abstract in nature andalthough still noticeably nationalistic is notovertly jingoistic.The next up on my unknown list was theSymphony No.6, Op.79 and the Rhapsody onMoldavian Themes, works datingfrom 1963 and 1949 respectively,by another Sovietcomposer, MieczyslawWeinberg (8.572779),performed by theSt. Petersburg StateSymphony Orchestraunder Vladimir Lande.Weinberg fled to Russiato escape the Nazi invasionof Poland and hismusic is receiving quitea bit of attention and aplethora of recordingsin recent years. I firstbecame aware of hismusic about five yearsago on a CD featuring theARC (Artists of the RoyalConservatory) ensemble,here in Toronto.Weinberg was aprotégé of Shostakovichand his music is oftenreminiscent of that master’swork.While I enjoyed theNaxos CD I found theWeinberg Cello Concerto,Op.43 contained on arecent Chandos release(CHSA 5107) of moreinterest, likely to dowith my own kinshipwith that low memberof the violin family. Althoughcomposed in 1948, the concertohad to wait until 1957 for itsfirst performance. Rostropovichgave that premiere and the workis eminently suited to the bigsound of that late maestro. ClaesBunnarsson proves himself wellequal to the task in this performancewith the GothenburgSymphony Orchestra under Thord Svedlund.The disc also includes the premiere recording(and perhaps first performance accordingto the detailed liner notes) of Weinberg’sSymphony No.20, Op.150 dating from 1988(eight years before his death). I mention thisrecording here as Chandos is one of the manymajor labels now distributed by Naxos. I’mtempted to note that this is the first recordingI’ve seen that includes a logo reflecting sponsorshipfrom Volvo.A second disc I was drawn to because of theprominence of the cello is on another labelfrom Naxos’ distribution stable. Truls Mørkis the soloist in Einojuhani Rautavaara’sTowards the Horizon (Cello Concerto No.2)on a recent Ondine release (ODE 11782)which also includes the percussion concertoIncantations featuring Colin Currie,both dating from 2008, and the 1957 orchestralcomposition Modificata which wasrevised in 2003. All are performed with theHelsinki Philharmonic Orchestra underJohn Storgärds direction. My proclivity forthe cello notwithstanding, it wasthe percussion concerto with its(mostly) subdued use of malletinstruments which I foundmost satisfying.One of Naxos’ most prolificlines is the American Classicsseries. Richard Danielpour, acomposer whose work I firstcame across in a recording of a celloconcerto written for Yo-Yo Ma,is featured on a recent releasewith the Seattle Symphony andChorale under Gerard Schwarz(8.559712). What drew me tothe disc was the SymphonyNo.3 “Journey WithoutDistance” when I first conceivedof this column, thinkingit would focus on modern symphonies.While the symphony isa striking work featuring sopranoFaith Esham as the “voiceof as angel” in a transcendenttext by Helen Schucman,it was The Awakened Heart,a purely instrumental work(in spite of literary references in themovement titles) which capturedmy attention. It datesfrom 1990 and is a dramaticand often exuberant work,at times reminiscent of thehybrid of symphonic andtheatrical music in LeonardBernstein’s oeuvre.I was not previously familiarwith the symphonic output of Britishcomposer Peter Maxwell Davies although certainlyaware of his cycle of string quartets(commissioned by Naxos) and such modernclassics as Eight Songs for a Mad Kingand Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise. I wasa little surprised to learn that he has writtennine symphonies and if recent releasesare an indication I assume we will see all ofthem from Naxos in the coming months. Iadded Symphony No.2 (1980) (8.572349) andSymphony No.3 (1984) (8.572350), both performedby the BBC Philharmonic underthe composer’s direction, to my carry homebag and have enjoyed both of these texturalpieces. I would almost consider them concertosfor orchestra rather than symphonies, notbecause of sectional virtuosity but becausethey seem to be more about the differentsonic possibilities inherent in the ensemblethan in thematic development. The caveats60 thewholenote.com September 1 – October 7, 2012

I mentioned earlier in this article have to dospecifically with these two discs. Each of thesymphonies is accompanied by what I wouldcall an incidental piece. Although the premiseof each — St. Thomas Wake (Foxtrot fororchestra on a pavan by John Bull) and CrossLane Fair — is “serious” enough, with separatedance band and Northumbrian pipesand bodhran respectively, they come acrossas merely pastiche. This is not to suggest thatthey are not a worthy part of Maxwell Davies’oeuvre, simply that I would prefer a so-called“separation of church and state” — discs ofsymphonic repertoire on the one hand and ofthe more theatrical music on another.With my space rapidly running out I willjust briefly mention my “old favourites”revisited in recent Naxos recordings.The abrasive music of then young Polishcomposer Krzysztof Penderecki was animportant aspect of my introduction to themusic of the 20th century. There have been anumber of recent Naxos Penderecki releases,each of which combines his youthful outputwith more conservative works of his matureyears. Fonogrammi/Horn Concerto/Partita(8.572482) includes Fonogrammi for flute andchamber orchestra, Anaklasis for stringorchestra and percussion and De natura sonorisI for orchestra, all from the 1960s, withseveral works from the 70s and the muchmore recent Horn Concerto “Winterreise”(2009). With a variety of soloists the WarsawPhilharmonic Orchestra and Anthony Witprovide definitive performances.Olivier Messiaen’sEt exspecto resurrectionemmortuorum(8.572714) is a devotionalwork from 1964.The OrchestreNational de Lyon givesa strong performanceunder the direction ofJun Märki, but without ecstatic interludessuch as those included in the earlierTurangalîla Symphony, to my ears the pieceis a little “too much of a muchness.” The discis redeemed however by the inclusion of twoearly orchestral works which provide welcomedramatic contrast: Le Tombeauresplendissant (1931) and Hymne (1932).Saving the bestfor last, MarinAlsop returns witha recording ofBartók’s Concertofor Orchestra (1943)and Music forStrings, Percussionand Celesta (1936)(8.572486). In this instance she is conductingthe Baltimore Symphony Orchestrain performances that rival any I’ve heard ofthese two works which number among myvery favourites.Naxos is to be commended for its commitmentto thoroughness, excellence andaffordability. This small sampling of recentoutput only includes the art music of ourtime. It must be pointed out that the Naxoscatalogue is just as extensive, one could sayexhaustive, in classical repertoire from theRenaissance through the Baroque, Classicaland Romantic eras. And as Nicholas Soames,author of The Story of Naxos and directorof Naxos AudioBooks would certainlypoint out, the Naxos catalogue extends farbeyond the scope of classical music. Thereare two things I look forward to in the comingmonth: finding the time to read Soames’story of this innovative company that haschanged the history of recorded music in ourtime, and the newest addition to the NaxosCanadian Classics series, Dreamscapes, featuringorchestral music by Vivian Fung dueout on September 23.Of related interest: Jerry Fink, formerCEO and President of Naxos of Canada Ltd.,will present a ten-week class surveying thehistory of Western “classical” music from aJewish viewpoint. Jewish involvement in thedevelopment of “classical” music from beforethe Byzantine Empire to the present daywill be explored historically and examinedmusically. Examples from the presentationinclude: the Psalms and their use inChristian church music; Jewish troubadoursof the Middle Ages; a Jewish national musicschool in pre-Soviet Russia. Thursday eveningsbeginning October 4 at Holy BlossomTemple. Tuition fee 5 (416-789-7400).We welcome your feedback and invitesubmissions. CDs and comments should besent to: The WholeNote, 503–720 BathurstSt., Toronto ON M5S 2R4. We also encourageyou to visit our website, thewholenote.com,where you can find added features includingdirect links to performers, composers andrecord labels, and additional, expanded andarchival reviews.— David Olds, DISCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.comFEELING LUCKY?THREE WAYS TO WINCDs, tickets and othermusical prizes courtesy ofThe WholeNote1. Join our mailing list byregistering atwww.thewholenote.com2. Like us on Facebook3. Follow us on Twitterthewholenote.comEARLY & PERIOD PERFORMANCETwo Lutes – Lute Duets fromEngland’s Golden AgeRonn McFarlane; William SimmsSono Luminus DSL-92155!!Lute duets formsome of the mostenchanting and atthe same time mostdemanding recitals.Imagine a selection of27 such duets!La Rossignal hasalways been a testingbut satisfying example of the genre. Both lutenistsbring out the disciplined yet exuberantquality of this piece; they follow immediatelywith the stately and measured Delight Pavanof John Johnson, 15 years Queen Elizabeth’s“royal lewter.”Ronn McFarlane and William Simms havegone well beyond formal compositions byElizabethan composers — the anonymousRobin is to the Greenwood Gone is performedwith a dedication and passion whichDowland and his contemporaries would havefelt honoured by.Then there are the sadly less well-knowncomposers. Who can listen to the complexityof John Danyel’s Passemezzo Galliard and notwonder not just at the complexity of the galliardbut also the performance to which weare treated? Listeners can even enjoy ThomasRobinson’s Passamezzo Galliard and comparethe two, notably their slow almost labouredopening bars.Johnson it is, however, who contributesthe most duets. His Chi Passa (which differsconsiderably from the Commedia dell’arteversion normally found), Queen’s Treble andFlatt Pavan and Galliard (was ever a compositionso inappropriately named?) areinterpreted so as to lend no doubt as to howlong the players have been a duet.This reviewer tried to make notes while listeningto the duets. He was persistently butvery happily prevented by the sheer pleasureof their content.—Michael SchwartzVivaldi – New Discoveries IIModo Antiquo; Federico Maria SardelliNaïve OP 30534!!The story behindthis disc is a fascinatingone. As explainedin the handsomeand comprehensiveaccompanying booklet,the recording ismade up entirely ofnewly-discoveredoperatic and instrumental music by Vivaldi,found over the past 20 years in various privateand public collections in England, Scotland,Belgium and Germany. These include aSeptember 1 – October 7, 2012 thewholenote.com 61

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