Mix of the month, August

I’m going to select from this month’s crop of new Naxos releases the names of nine composers that might be new to many readers. Introducing audiences to little–known music and its creators is just one of the reasons that Naxos has earned its worldwide reputation, so here goes in putting flesh on the bones of that thought – and, this week, in alphabetical order.

First up is the American composer Derek Bermel (b. 1967). His release is titled Migrations. It’s a 3-work programme that connects people and musical styles in transit from one location in the world to another. The eclecticism used to achieve this features classical forms, world music, jazz, blues and American folk music. The opening piece, in five movements, is headed Migration series and depicts the movement of African Americans from the south to the north of the United States in search of a better life during the first half of the 20th century. Here’s the fourth movement, Riots and Moon Shines.

Riots and Moon Shines (8.559871)


If you’re familiar with the name Casals that would probably be in reference to Pablo Casals (1876-1973), the legendary Catalan cellist. Pablo, also referred to as Pau, is the subject of dedication for a cello recital by Yorick-Alexander Abel. But his release, Hommage à Pablo Casals, contains one work by Pablo’s younger brother Enrique (Enric), who was a violinist, composer and conductor. He lived from 1892 to 1986, so was already at a ripe old age when he wrote his Suite in D minor for cello solo in 1973, in remembrance of his late elder brother. Enric’s suite has four movements, and while it stands in the tradition of Bach’s cello suites, its language is unmistakably 20th-century Catalan. Let’s hear the second movement, Scherzando.

Scherzando (8.551418)


The Italian composer Franco Faccio (1840-1891) wrote his opera Amleto in 1865 to a libretto by Arigo Boito; the work is based on Shakepeare’s Hamlet. The two men were united in their keenness to develop a new form of Italian opera, which they presented as nuovo melodramma. Amleto was to serve as a prime example of this new form in which a greater degree of musical unity within acts accompanied a more equal relationship between libretto and music. There were those who doubted that the plot of Shakespeare’s play could easily lend itself to a transformation into the world of opera, not least Richard Wagner, who wrote: “A musician need not concern himself with what is no concern of his. Hamlet is of no concern to a musician.”

Amleto was first staged in 1865. It’s next production was at La Scala in 1871 where it was dogged and delayed by the indisposition of the leading tenor, leading to a statement by the work’s publisher that “Amleto was performed without Hamlet.” Faccio would not publish another note, concentrating instead on his very fine conducting activities. Amleto remained forgotten until a few years ago. Happily, it can now be relished again, and here’s a taste – Hamlet’s soliloquy Essere o non essere (To be, or not to be) from Act II Part I.

Essere o non essere (8.660454-55)


While it’s possible people may have heard of the name Leopold Hofmann (1738-1793), they certainly won’t have heard recordings of his three flute concertos on this month’s release, since they are all world premiere recordings. Many contemporaries of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven tended to be overshadowed by that mighty trio, a situation that then continued down the generations. During his day, however, Hofmann succeeded in sustaining a most distinguished career both in Vienna and throughout Europe. We hope that flautist Uwe Grodd’s first recordings of this month’s three featured concertos will help reinstate him to that level for today’s audience. See what you think with this performance of the finale of Hofmann’s Flute Concerto in G major, Badley G1.

Flute Concerto in G major (8.573967)


Now to a new release in the Naxos American Opera Classics series, Louis Karchin’s opera Jane Eyre. Composing a work based on one of the vast, iconic novels of the 19th century, by the beloved author Charlotte Brontë, presented both a challenge and an unparalleled opportunity, as Karchin describes:

Jane Eyre was composed between 2010 and 2014, and it is, by far, the largest project I have ever undertaken. The libretto itself was a feat of compression, and it was librettist Diane Osen’s idea, both from a dramatic and practical standpoint, to introduce Jane as a governess, already serving Edward Rochester. Her inspired decision to open with a fire raging in Rochester’s bedroom recreated only one of many dramatic scenes that faithfully echo Brontë’s narrative and distinctive syntax.”

Here’s part of that opening scene, that has the following stage direction:

The curtains part to reveal a darkened stage. At center stage, flames are beginning to spiral up the curtains of the massive canopy bed in which Mr Rochester sleeps; smoke wafts through the air. Jane, wearing only a night dress and a shawl, enters at a run from a door at the left.

Jane Eyre (8.669042-43)


Music by George Kontogiorgos is featured on the latest recording from the Naxos Greek Classics series. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Greek mythology plays its part in the programme with the inclusion of Dancing with Centaurs, a suite for soprano saxophone and piano. Kontogiorgos introduces the sixth movement as follows:

“The movement Infidelity refers to the centaur Nessus. According to Plutarch, Nessus, after carrying Heracles’s wife Deianeira across the river, tried to rape her. Heracles was furious, and quickly shot a poisoned arrow straight into Nessus’ chest. In revenge, Nessus persuaded Deianeira that his blood would ensure that Heracles would leave Iole, a woman he had fallen in love with, and Heracles would be faithful to her in eternity. Thus, Deianeira, instructed by Nessus, dipped Heracles’s shirt into the blood flowing from Nessus’ wound and sent it to him. However, the poisoned shirt stuck in the flesh of Heracles’ body, and consumed it. After being tortured by horrible pains, he died on a funeral pyre of oak branches. The so-called ‘Heracles Fireplace’ is located at the top of the Mount Oeta, which I used to observe every day from my window during my childhood and adolescence.”

Infidelity (8.579047)


Nowadays, the name Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) is rarely mentioned without a reference to Ludwig van Beethoven. Ries’ father, Franz Anton Ries (1755–1846) was the archbishopric concertmaster in Bonn, Germany, and one of Beethoven’s teachers before the young master left for Vienna in 1792. When Ferdinand Ries arrived in Vienna ten years later, he became Beethoven’s pupil, secretary and copyist. From 1811 to 1813 he performed as a pianist all over Europe before becoming one of the directors of the London Philharmonic Society in 1815. While he seemed busy as a performer and was also highly active as a composer, not much of his music was performed. When he died in Frankfurt on 13 January 1838, he was virtually forgotten. His oeuvre contains more than 200 compositions including nine piano concertos, chamber music of all genres, three operas and seven symphonies.

This month sees the release of Vol. 2 in the Naxos series of recordings devoted to Ries’ complete works for cello. As a taster, here’s part of the finale to his Cello Sonata in C minor.

Cello Sonata in C minor (8.573851)


Next, we fast-forward two centuries to music by the Albanian-British composer Thomas Simaku (b. 1958) who has been described as ‘visionary and entirely original’ and is one of the most fascinating and important of contemporary composers. His blend of intensity and modernism is exemplified in the selection of chamber and instrumental works on our latest recording of his music, for solo piano, solo violin, piano and violin duo, and for solo alto recorder doubling tenor recorder.

I’ve chosen a short piece for solo piano to exemplify his music. It’s the second of 2 Esquisses (Sketches) that’s marked to be played rhythmically and with precision.

2 Esquisses (8.579035)


While Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is undoubtedly a quintessential national virtuoso showpiece, other Russian composers such as Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev (1856-1915) have also made important contributions to the genre of works for solo violin and orchestra. Taneyev was a student of Tchaikovsky and had the distinction of being the soloist in the first Moscow performance of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. He rose to eminence in Moscow and wrote a memorable Suite de Concert for solo violin and orchestra in 1909. It followed the model of the Baroque suite while imbuing it with warm lyricism and brilliant variations. To play us out this week, here’s the fifth and final movement of the suite, titled Tarantella.

Tarantella (8.579052)


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