- 22 February, 2013
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Sadly, violence is part of the wallpaper of life, and the tragic consequences it brings are documented all too vividly in our age of instant and graphic news dissemination.
If violence has a positive spin-off, however, it’s the creativity that it occasionally prompts. The big 2013 centenary anniversaries bring such associations with conflict to mind: Benjamin Britten (b. 1913) and his War Requiem; Giuseppe Verdi (b. 1813) and the conduit his operas provided between the public and Il Risorgimento, the Italian reunification movement; and the contentious baggage still carried to this day by the music of Richard Wagner (b.1813), who became Hitler’s most admired composer.
This year also marks the centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The music and dancing lacerated many ears and eyes in the auditorium, while the barbaric plot turned on the offering of a human sacrifice. Whether or not the legendary riotous atmosphere at its premiere got as far as fisticuffs is debatable, but the noisy reception it encountered certainly prompted the physical ejection of a number of spectators. Both composer and music survived, however, and you can hear Stravinsky himself conducting the work with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York in a recording from the 1940s (8.112070) on the Naxos Historical label.
The world premiere recording of James Whitbourn’s Annelies (8.573070), one of last month’s new releases from Naxos, is the first major choral work to set a libretto based on The Diary of Anne Frank, the penetrating observations recorded by the teenager while hiding from Hitler’s forces during their occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. The sensitivity with which Whitbourn handled such a moving narrative was well received by critics, some of which we would like to share with you:
“…the greatest accomplishment here is that James Whitbourn has created some music of great beauty, without trespassing into the realm of the cloying. Not only does that release one to listen to the work’s oases of soaring melody … with impunity but leaves the integrity of such an important piece of literature, and history, intact.” – Caroline Gill, Gramophone
“… woundingly beautiful.” – The Daily Telegraph
“Whitbourn’s loving imitation of Bachian chorale in Courage and the poignant lyrical intertwining of voices and instruments in Kyrie-Sinfonia are … moments when words and music meld impressively together.” – Terry Blain, BBC Music Magazine
One of this month’s new releases on Naxos also recalls bruises of conflict: Weinberg’s Symphony No 8, Polish Flowers (8.572873) (he wrote 22 in all) may have been written long after the end of World War II – it was premiered in 1964 – but it recalls the composer’s experience of being forced to flee his native Poland following the Nazi invasion in 1939. He eventually took refuge in Moscow in 1943, safe from Hitler but vulnerable to the atrocities Stalin meted out on the country’s Jewish population. Conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, plus soloists, Antoni Wit directs the world premiere recording of this 10-movement choral and orchestral work that recounts Poland’s past inequities, human degradation and wartime horrors – all the more telling for being forlorn and ferocious in equal measure.
As an antidote to all this artistic doom and gloom, you could retreat to the comfort zone of soprano Dinara Alieva’s new disc of Russian songs and Arias (8.572893). This is Alieva’s first recording for the Naxos label, and she comes with an enthusiastic endorsement from the Spanish operatic soprano, Montserrat Caballé: “… a wonder … a gift from Heaven.”