August 5 marks the opening of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival [EIF]. Together with the Fringe Festival’s cladding of some three thousand satellite events, EIF’s exhaustive programme of theatre, music, dance and opera runs until August 29. In the words of The Spectator: “… you can sleep in September.” Founded in 1947, EIF has developed an enviable international reputation for matching the beauty of the city with the attractiveness of its programmes, and it’s always gratifying to run an eye over the roster of events each year, if only to get a shot of reassurance that the arts in live performance are thriving north of the border, Brexit or no.
It’s a hazard of working for Naxos that, whenever the names of particular artists or works hit your eye, the brain shortcuts to entries for the same in the Naxos catalogue. And so it proved when riffling through this year’s EIF music programme. The first one was by proxy, in that the multi-talented Barry Humphries is fronting an evening of ‘degenerate’ music from Germany’s Weimar Republic on 8 and 9 August. Racy, degenerate qualities certainly characterise Humphries’ persona Sir Les Patterson and, to a degree, his alter ego Dame Edna Everage. But the latter proves all sweetness and light on her Naxos recording of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (8.554170), to which she stakes a somewhat unearthly claim:
“I tend to believe in reincarnation, call me old fashioned but I do, and it may interest you to know that I am the reincarnation of Serge Prokofiev’s mother. She was a wonderful old Russian housewife, and when little Serge was knee-high to a grasshopper she would put him on her knee and croon old-fashioned folk-tunes to him … most of those tunes his mother hummed are in his masterpiece Peter and the Wolf. That’s why I’m an absolute natural to record this work. After all, I actually wrote it in a spooky sort of way, so I ought to know how to perform it—don’t you agree, possums?”
There’s a more definitive case for the next artist’s bid for authority on the music in question. The Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits’ EIF concert on 20 August sees him directing the Russian National Orchestra in a programme of Mussorgsky, Mozart and Tchaikovsky; the following evening’s programme features works by Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Silvestrov. But in 2013 he treated Naxos music-lovers to the world première recorded performances of Three Concertos for Orchestra (8.572633), written in the 1980s by his father, Ivan Karabits. Following Ukraine’s independence in 1991,Ivan Karabits became the country’s leading musical figure. His works reflected three traditions in particular: Mahler, Shostakovich and the folk-music of his native country. His untimely death in 2002 undoubtedly robbed us of many outstanding scores. The critics raved unanimously about the Three Concertos for Orchestra. We hope you would readily agree with their response. Here’s an extract from the opening of the second movement of his Concerto for Orchestra No. 2.
Naxos Artist Marin Alsop appears at the EIF on 22 August directing the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra in a programme of music by Villa-Lobos, Bernstein and Shostakovich. This month also sees the release of the latest volume in her Prokofiev symphony cycle for Naxos with the same orchestra. Their Edinburgh programme includes Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (8.559177), written in 1965 in response to a commission from the Dean of Chichester in England. Here’s an extract from the 3-movement, 20-minute work, scored for mixed choir, boy solo, strings, 2 harps and percussion. Marin directs the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra here in the jubilant closing section of the first movement, a setting of Psalm 100 (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands).
Members of the splendid Australian Chamber Orchestra perform at the EIF tomorrow, Saturday 6 August, and their programme features a curiosity—the re-scoring of Mahler’s monumental orchestral song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde. Arnold Schoenberg began this arrangement for string and wind chamber forces, piano, celesta, harmonium and percussion, but died before its completion; this was eventually achieved by Rainer Riehn in 1983. Naxos Artist JoAnn Falletta has recently recorded the work with members of the Virginia Arts Festival Players, the Attacca Quartet and soloists. The recording doesn’t become available until October (on 8.573536), but we can give you a foretaste with this extract from the first movement, The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow.
My coda to today’s blog turns from a nod to Edinburgh to many happy returns of the day to Betsy Jolas, the indefatigable French composer who predates the EIF by some 30 years and celebrates her 90th birthday today, 5 August. She’s still going strong: the première of her A Little Summer Suite, a commission from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, was directed by Sir Simon Rattle just a few months ago. To bow out, then, here’s an extract from a piano trio she wrote in 2007, dedicated to and premièred by the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, and titled appropriately Ah! Haydn (C7020).
The 2016 Edinburgh International Festival runs from 5–29 August.