FR-735COVER

Alexander Nevsky op. 78
1 Russia under Mongolian Tyranny 3:29
2 Song of Alexander Nevsky 3:50
3 The Crusade in Pskov 7:28
4 Arise, People of Russia 2:06
5 The Battle on the Ice 13:46
6 The Field of the Dead 6:13
7 Alexander enters Pskov 4:31
Lieutenant Kijé Suite op. 60
8 Kijé’s Birth 3:58
9 Romance 3:51
10 Kijé’s Wedding 2:33
11 Troika 2:42
12 Kijé’s Funeral 5:22

Total Time= 60:06 FR735SACD

Sergei Prokofiev (1891- 1953) was Ukranian born to an agronomist father and a mother who was devoted to music and theater. Because of this, he started playing at the age of three, wrote his first composition at the age of five, and his first opera at the age of nine.

At eleven he was introduced to Reinhold Gliere who began teaching him composition for two years. At fourteen he was introduced to Alexander Glazunov and the Saint Petersburg Conservatory where he remained for ten years, composing ballets, operas, and concertos.

In 1917 he wrote his first symphony “Classical” a work written in the style of Haydn yet incorporating modern elements making it truly unique. In 1918 he left Russia for San Francisco and spent the next eighteen years in America and Paris finally returning to Moscow in 1936 where he remained until his death in 1953 also the same day Joseph Stalin died. He was convicted of formalism along with others in 1948 forcing him to withdraw from public appearances.

The two works presented on this CD were from his film days, “Alexander Nevsky” (1938) is a product of the famous Russian director Sergei Eisenstein and Lieutenant Kije (1934). Both works were turned into symphonic works and are two of his more popular works. He even had a hand in mike placements to determine trumpet sounds (distorting them in Nevsky).

Since both films are available on the internet for free you should watch them seeing where the music is placed even though they are suites that you’re listening to. It will also give you an idea of how far we’ve come in terms of audio quality. The results will shock you.

In 1242 Alexander Nevsky was summoned to save the federation of Rus by the knights of the Livorian order. Prokofiev wrote a twenty-seven part soundtrack for the film which he reduced to a seven-part cantana for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and orchestra. Frank Strobel introduced the original film score in 2003 and gave a stoic performance.  What is included has no musical interest or improvement to the cantata.

  1.  “Russia under Mongolian Tyranny” sets the scene by Prokofiev with an atmospheric motif in c minor as the camera pans over burnt villages, human bones, swords, and rusty lances all depicting the war. The motif switches between the heavy brass and a folk tune from the winds.
  2.   “Song of Alexander Nevsky” is embedded into the film as part of the commentary by Eisenstein’s decision not to synchronize the music to the film. The chorus talks about the victory over the Swedes but Nevsky warns about a more dangerous foe Germany.
  3.   “The Crusade in Pskov” is filled with heavy brass dissonant chords mixed in with chants from the chorus. The lower register passages will rumble your woofer and the major strings will switch your mood almost instantly, mourning for the dead.
  4.   “Arise, People of Russia” is a march full of resolution and hope a bolstering of the troops predicting victory. Nevsky has made his plans to capture the enemy on the ice.
  5.   “The Battle on the Ice” is the longest of the movements at nearly fourteen minutes and is also the most popular part of the work. It begins with the dawn and sinister strings followed by a constant playing of a low register theme that signals the German army arriving. The German theme is distorted on purpose with the brass, grating to the ears. The movement, after much turmoil, segues into a quiet peaceful string elegy.
  6.   “The Field of the Dead” mourns the death of war. The Mezzo-Soprano promises to wed a warrior whose bravery will never end instead of one who is handsome. There are no chords of triumph.
  7.   “Alexander Enters Pskov” continues the dirge as the dead are brought through the city. The music continues with a compilation of the previous themes and ends on a victorious note.

Lt. Kije (1934), a farcical film was the first attempt at a soundtrack for Prokofiev. He was intrigued by the storyline and ended up writing a series of leitmotifs totaling fifteen minutes that were satirical by this caustic and witty composer. The story was perfect for him and led him to his return to Russia two years later.

Because of a mistake on a roster list the fictitious Lt. Kije is created and he somehow marries the daughter of the tsar Gagarina and has lots of fortune available to him. Eventually, he is found out which solves the problem. but the story shows the stupidity of the royal family and the displeasing of one’s superior.

While it is seldom played the suite is scored for a baritone which is sung in Romance and Troika tracks.

  1. “Kije’s Birth” begins with a distant cornet barely audible to introduce the track. The piccolo introduces a march type theme that extends itself to the strings and brass. We hear a solo from a tenor saxophone (new at the time). It ends as it started with the cornet in the background.
  2.  “Romance” is a song The Little Grey Dove is Cooing which Prokofiev adapted to fit this movement. It starts with double bass, viola, tenor saxophone, horn and bassoons, and celesta. The flute offers a counter-melody and the strings end the sentimental movement.
  3.  “Kije’s Wedding” begins with a brass phrase followed by the wedding theme. The middle section is a soulful tenor sax solo before the leitmotif returns in a witty fashion. The brass ends the movement as it began.
  4.  “Troika” is a Russian three-horse sleigh and with tempo changes, Prokofiev goes from very quickly to slow to reproduce motion. Its theme has been used many times in jazz arrangements, commercials, television, and films. As you listen to it you can hear the bells jingling and the clicking of the hooves.
  5.  “The Burial of Lt. Kije” begins like the first movement a distant cornet and then Prokofiev arranges the four tunes like a highlight reel including all the nuances and subtleties they have to offer. There is a part where the strings and the cornet are playing two of the melodies at the same time. It’s a very clever well thought out arrangement.

     There have been many recordings of this suite including 78 recordings, 331/3 LPs, cassettes, 8 tracks, and CDs.  There are many fine recordings available, one of which is this recording with the Utah Symphony. What sets this one apart is the new recording quality from Reference recordings. The instruments just sound better and this is very important with Prokofiev and the instruments he chose for these compositions especially the tenor saxophone.

30 years 30 CD

30cd set

Hong Kong – Naxos was launched in 1987 as a budget classical CD label, offering CDs at the price of an LP at a time when CDs cost about three times more than LPs. The focus was on recording the standard repertoire in state-of-the-art digital sound with outstanding, if unknown artists and orchestras, initially mainly from Eastern Europe. From these humble beginnings, Naxos developed into one of the world’s leading classical labels, recording a wide range of repertoire with artists and orchestras from more than 30 countries.

The Naxos Music Group will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the launch of Naxos with events in Munich and London, including a gala concert on May 16 at the Court Chapel in Munich featuring Naxos artists Boris Giltburg, Tianwa Yang and Gabriel Schwabe.

Today, at the gala event in Munich, Klaus Heymann, the founder of Naxos, will receive the Special Achievement Award of the International Classical Music Awards (ICMA) awarded to him on April 1, 2017. Says ICMA President Remy Franck: “Klaus Heymann has changed the recording industry and without him it would never have achieved the dynamic it has today, despite all the problems which might exist. Due to his strong visions, his incredible efficiency and has profound love for the music he became the industry’s major player.”

Naxos releases about 200 new titles per year, offering many world première recordings but also installments of huge complete works projects such as the complete piano music of Liszt and the complete symphonies of Villa-Lobos. The Naxos catalog now consists of more than 9000 titles of mostly unduplicated repertoire recorded in state-of-the-art sound by well-known artists and orchestras, prize-winners and other rising young stars. The label features many series targeting specific national markets, none more important than its American Classics whose composers, orchestras, conductors, soloists and producers among them have won 19 GRAMMY® awards.

A major Naxos project is a complete recording of Wagner’s Ring with the Hong Kong Philharmonic conducted by Jaap van Zweden and featuring soloists such as Matthias Goerne, Michelle deYoung, Stuart Skelton, Simon O’Neill and others. In a video interview with Klaus Heymann, Music Director Designate of the New York Philharmonic, van Zweden had this to say about this important undertaking: “I am enjoying this [journey]. I want to thank Klaus for having the courage, in the times we live in now, to do this [Ring cycle] with us… I’m so proud of this project.” Das Rheingold was released in 2015 and Die Walküre in 2016, both to great critical acclaim. Siegfried was recorded in January 2017 and will be released in November this year.

Parallel to the growth of the label, Naxos built a worldwide infrastructure for its own and most other independent classical labels. It offers these labels a wide range of services ranging from physical and digital distribution and logistics to marketing and promotion, licensing, royalty administration and collection of public performance royalties. Naxos also has brought a number of independent classical labels under its umbrella offering them its infrastructure while maintaining their artistic independence. Among these labels are Capriccio, Dynamic, Ondine, Orfeo and 13 others.

Naxos is also the industry leader in the digital presentation of classical music. In 1996, it made the complete catalogs of Naxos and its sister label, Marco Polo, available for streaming, the first labels in the history of the industry to do so. In 2002, the company launched Naxos Music Library, the industry’s first subscription streaming platform, four years before the launch of Spotify. Since then, streaming platforms for jazz, world music, spoken word and audiovisual productions were launched.

The Naxos online libraries are used by thousands of educational institutions and music professionals around the world. They offer not only music listening but also a wide range of reference material including an interactive music dictionary, pronunciation guides, guided tours and many other resources. Beyond these libraries Naxos has made big investments in music education ranging from books with CDs to e-books and apps. The hardcover My First Classical Music Book has been published in 10 languages and the App based on the book has been one of the most successful ever in classical music.

A limited edition box set offering 30 CDs selected from the vast Naxos catalog has been released worldwide. It offers landmark recordings from the 30-year history of the label.

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About Naxos Music Group
Celebrating 30 years in 2017, Naxos has evolved from its beginnings as a budget label to a leading classical music group.  Headquartered in Hong Kong with distribution and marketing subsidiaries in fifteen countries, the group distributes its Naxos, Naxos AudioBooks and Marco Polo labels and provides distribution and licensing services to more than 200 independent and major CD and DVD labels.  The Naxos Group is also an industry leader in music education boasting a wide range of physical and digital educational products.  The Naxos Group’s digital platforms include the Naxos Music Library, Naxos Spoken Word Library and Naxos Video Library subscription services. Please visit www.naxosmusicgroup.com.

About Naxos Records
Launched in 1987 and currently offering over 9,000 titles, Naxos celebrates 30 years as the world’s leading classical music label in terms of number of new releases and breadth of catalog.  Its strategy of recording exciting new repertoire with exceptional talent has been recognized with 24 GRAMMY® awards, over 800 Penguin Guide 3-star recommendations, 184 Gramophone Editor’s Choice Awards and numerous other honors.  Naxos is a truly international label and produces over 200 new recordings a year in more than 30 countries. Naxos has developed a wide range of educational products and services including the Naxos Music Library; today’s most important classical subscription platform.  Please visit www.naxos.com.

franck symphony in d minor 001

RCA has been releasing many of their Living Stereo albums from the 60’s many of which I still have on lp. The two released on this CD are both good ones and should be added to your collection, especially the Franck which in my opinion is the recording that all others should be judged. Ted Libbey, who writes musical guides for NPR, agrees with me 100% as well as conductor Adriano.

scriabin 1

PENTATONE PTC5186514 SACD [78:00]

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) is to be classified in the second wave of Russian composers who wrote material in the early 20th century that had an impact on Russian classical music. He had the same piano teacher Nikolai Zverev as Rachmaninoff in their early teenage years and both went to the Moscow Conservatory studying counterpoint from Taneiev and composition with Alexander Arensky. Both went on to have extraordinary careers in completely different directions. While Rachmaninoff continued in the tradition of Tchaikovsky Scriabin at first wrote wonderful small pieces Chopin like for the piano and then wrote in a traditional sonata form which Copland  praised Scriabin’s thematic material as “truly individual, truly inspired”, but criticized Scriabin for putting “this really new body of feeling into the strait-jacket of the old classical sonata-form, recapitulation and all”, calling this “one of the most extraordinary mistakes in all music.” His first symphony falls into this category having been written during the time period of 1899-1900. In 1903 Scriabin moved to Switzerland and this was when he composed his 4th Symphony “Poem of Ecstasy” which I reviewed https://sdtom.wordpress.com/2015/12/30/scriabin-symphonies-nos-3-4/ for LSO.

Symphony No. 1 in E major, op. 26 begins with a Lento a clarinet offering the theme until the strings takeover. One can hear the fluttering of flutes in harmony with the orchestra and a solo violin and clarinet with the orchestra in the background. Scriabin was a believer that the musical notes were tied into color and e major was red-purple which ties into the mood of the movement. The second movement allegro drammatico  certainly lives up to it’s name with a melodrama rising up and down.  One can very easily picture this in an opera as I’m reminded of Wagner. The third movement another lento is slowly played and quite moving offering a yearning feeling of hopelessness.  The fourth movement, only four minutes, is titled vivace and it doesn’t disappoint. It is a lively dance of sorts that reminds you of something that Glazunov might have written. The fifth movement is titled allegro as Scriabin returns to the tempo of the third movement with less of an emphasis on the dramatic. The sixth and final movement begins with the flute, clarinet, and oboe offering the theme until the singing (mezzo-soprano and tenor) talks about the divine being and art coming together. It is quite moving.

Symphony No. 4 (The Poem of Ecstasy), op. 67 was written in 1908 in Brussels just before his return to Moscow. By now he was moving toward atonality and his color code of fifths played a prominent role. I’m reminded of Gustav Holst and his work “The Planets.” It is written in a sonata form the there are smaller melodic cells and it definitely has a feeling of not of this world. I prefer the trumpet of this recording to the one offered by the LSO.

This newly recorded work is in my opinion far superior to my previous CD recorded on the Naxos label with the Moscow Symphony conducted by Igor Golovschin. The sound is much brighter with excellent instrument separation. The Russian National Orchestra under the direction of Mikhail Pletnev do an extraordinary job on this CD.

Scriabin Symphonies Nos 3 & 4

December 30, 2015

scriban 3&4

SACD LS00771

 

Much of the music of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) has been recorded and performed this year to acknowledge the 100th year anniversary of his death and this new live London Symphony Orchestra recording offers his 3rd and 4th symphonies written during the time frame when Alexander had become interested in mystical and occult ideas which had a direct influence upon his music.

Scriabin and Rachmaninov were born a year apart and for a time were linked together as both attended the Moscow Conservatory and both were concert pianists with some of the same teachers. However, while Scriabin was convivial and elegant Rachmaninov was taciturn and stoic. Scriabin tried to take music to a new level combining religion, arts, and color. Scriabin had chromesthesia, the ability to sense colors in musical notes.  Rachmaninov followed in the footsteps of Tchaikovsky but his colors were traditional. Both were successful but in diverse directions.

Symphony No. 3 (“The Divine Poem”), op. 43 was written between 1902-1904 at a time in his life when ideas of the occult and mystical ideas began to absorb his life. The opening movement offers two themes which you’ll hear throughout the three movements. The movement is filled with feeling and strong emotion depicting human life with its trials and tribulations. The second movement titled “Delights” uses the theme from the first movement but this time Scriabin focuses on the use of individual solos within the orchestra which brings out the heart felt emotion. One can hear the chirping of birds in the springtime in this overall tranquil movement. The third movement “Divine Play” also uses the themes that you heard in the first movement only this time it seems that Scriabin goes all out in the ultimate grandiose manner attempting to bring out the maximum amount of feeling blended with a bit of humor.

Symphony No.4 (“The Poem of Ecstasy”), op. 54 was written in 1908 but Alexander was already thinking about it before he had completed his third. By now Scriabin had been completely absorbed in as he states”… An ocean of cosmic love encloses the world and in the the intoxicated waves of this ocean is bliss…”  The opening melody with the solo trumpet offering the melody is quite reminiscent of parts of The Planets from Holst. One can also hear the strains of Debussy in some of the quieter moments. Scriabin appears to have broken this 20 minutes down and written the material in cells that somehow end up being quite cohesive when the work ends.

Having heard these works before the thing that sticks out in  my mind most is the superb recording job done by the people at Classic Sound Ltd. This is a live recording but one can’t hear that to be the case. If you have multi channel 5.1 it will sound even better as these works from Scriabin are large grandeur pieces lend themselves to multi channel systems. This CD is nicely conducted by Valery Gergiev and would be a good choice if one wishes to have this in your collection.

 

Orch. Works Volume 3/ Zador

December 24, 2015

cd-zador2015-270x270

This Naxos recording #8.573274 is volume 3 in the series of orchestral works of composer Eugene Zador (1894-1977) which include his “Festival Overture,”” Dance Symphony,” and “Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song” written between 1919 and 1963 written in Hungary, Vienna, and the United States. Zador was a truly unsung composer as he did the majority of his work for the film composer Miklos Rozsa with little credit being bestowed upon him.

The CD begins with his “Festival Overture” (1963) which was performed during the inaugural opening week of the Los Angeles Music Center in December of 1964. Whether this work was specifically written for this occasion was unknown other than Zubin Mehta had selected it. The work begins with a brass fanfare which is also the main theme for the work as it returns throughout the 10 minute work. If you’re a fan of the film music of Rozsa you’ll hear references to some of his films such as Ben Hur and The Lost Weekend. While it does have some periods of darkness it lives up to its title as a very bright and upbeat work. For me it will be added to my festival compilation CD which many composers have written.

“Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song” (1919) is given its world premiere of the complete version of all eleven variations. Zador chose to offer each one in a different style including fugato, serenade, scherzo, and eight others. This was written in 1919 while Zador was still in Hungary but first performed in Vienna when he was living there in 1927. It is a work that is easily digestible and will perk up your spirits. My favorite variation is also the longest, the serenade featuring a gypsy style violin solo before it settles into music of peace and tranquility. One is reminded of a spring morning by a lake with a gentle breeze. It is also a happy uplifting work.

“Dance Symphony” (1936) is given it’s world premiere recording by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mariusz Smolij. This was written by Zador after he had lived in Vienna for many years and while there was much turmoil afoot he wrote of much happier times in Austria. The first movement, an allegro could easily have been mistaken for something that Strauss could have written. The second movement is an andante cantabile with the opening theme performed softly by the clarinet. The strings take over and offer their romantic lushness. Again one can hear the strains of something that could be cinematic. The third movement is a scherzo without the benefit of a trio. Filled with counterpoint from both the horns and the strings we’re listening to three different things going on at the same time. The fourth and final movement opens with strings and a clarinet solo which reminds you of the second movement before the brass introduce the rondo theme. It concludes with a theme in the style of Korngold.

As I stated earlier this is a very welcome addition to the series and I look forward to more releases from Naxos in the future.

 

Mahler 10

November 26, 2015

Silhouette of birds

Mahler said he wanted to express the entire content of his life through his symphonies. His final symphony #10 had only one movement completed, the adagio, but sketches were started for the other four movements, completed later by musicologist Deryck Cooke. It was written during a turbulent time in his life. He had diseased arteries which took away most of his moving around and he discovered that his wife was having an affair. All of this contributed to the general sound and flavor of this work which is one of the saddest Adagio that I’ve ever heard. There is such emotion that Mahler was going through with what must have been more than he could bear that he turned to music to express himself. What an incredible piece of music and this unsung orchestra performs it so well under the baton of a conductor who I’m not familiar with.

The remaining four movements were arranged and orchestrated by Cooke in a manner he thought that Mahler might have done. When one listens multiple times there is an obvious difference between the completed Mahler movement and the completed material of Cooke. That is not in anyway to criticize what he did but to point out that it is an interpretation of what might have happened. This reviewer for one would like to see what he could have done with the sketches from the first movement if there were any.