From Chandos in June: Britten’s Owen Wingrave and Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 1

On June 24, Naxos releases the newest addition to Chandos’ Britten catalog: Owen Wingrave, a rarely-performed late Britten masterwork and his second-to-last opera (Chandos 10473). Owen Wingrave features seasoned Britten performer Richard Hickox, who leads the City of London Sinfonia and a cast that includes Alan Opie, James Gilchrist, and Janice Watson.

Commissioned by BBC Television in 1966, Owen Wingrave is a “Cinderella story” among Britten’s operas, despite its imaginative, closely-knit score, possibly because it was composed for television. Like its 1954 predecessor, The Turn of the Screw, Owen Wingrave is based on a ghost story by Henry James. Britten read the story while working on The Turn of the Screw and was inspired to set it as an opera. The music employs the relatively spare textures Britten adopted in his later years.In his latest recording for the label, Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda leads the BBC Philharmonic in performances of three works by Serge Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1, The Isle of the Dead, and Youth Symphony (CHAN 10475).

One of the most remarkable composers of the 20th century, Rachmaninoff wrote three Romantically-inclined symphonies, two of which are now standard orchestral repertoire. However, the premiere of Symphony No. 1 was such a disaster that Rachmaninoff refrained from composing anything more for the next three years. The conductor, Glazunov, is rumored to have been drunk, and Rachmaninoff was unable to attend the entire performance. He reacted by tearing up the score. Luckily, the instrumental parts were preserved and rediscovered in 1945, permitting the restoration of the work. The recording also features the ‘Youth Symphony’, the first movement of an unfinished symphony in D minor, composed when Rachmaninoff was only 17, and the great symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead, inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s painting of the same name, which Rachmaninoff had seen on display in Paris in 1907. Composed in 1909, it is still a relatively early work, but contains some of the dark Russian spiritual qualities which Rachmaninoff would develop in later compositions.