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Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894). composer, teacher, performer, lived a full life. The head of the school in St. Petersburg, the very first to offer Russian classes in harmony, composition, melody, etc., to the delight of people such as Rachmaninoff, Gliere, and Chopin, the list goes on. However, while a good composer, his promoting himself as a pianist proved to be a downfall for him as the powers that be in Russia didn’t approve, and the composing and touring proved too much for him. For those interested, there is an excellent biography by Philip Taylor that covers his life very well, good and bad. While a good teacher, he didn’t get along well with his students, and as a result, he formed no lasting relationships with any of them.

Born in

Anton Stephanich Arensky (1861-1906) was born to wealthy parents who took advantage of the conservative system formed by the Rubenstein’s in Moscow and St. Petersburg during a good time for music in the mid to late 19th century. After writing songs and works, many of which showed a real talent by the age of 9, the family moved to St. Petersburg. He learned counterpoint, harmony, composition, and instrumentation from Rimsky-Korsakov at the Rubenstein run school during the 1870s.

At 21, he graduated and was given the highest mark in harmony by Tchaikovsky, Arensky went back and forth between the two cities) a lifelong advisor, till his death promoting his work even to his own publishers. His twelve years teaching Gliere, Rachmaninoff, and others proved a plus in his life. Rachmaninoff, who dedicated the C-sharp minor op. 3 ( Morceaux de Fantaisie) to him, again was a feather in his cap, and his work with Scribian proved well for him.

In 1888 obtained the position of Russian Choral Society Director, a position he held until 1901 when he retired on his 6000 rubles per year pension, twice the amount Balakirev received because he worked long and hard hours. In addition, he wrote a book of “Collection of 1000 tasks for the Practical Study of Harmony,” something still used today.

Alcohol, not to the extent of Moussorgsky, but enough to have him hospitalized in 1887 for a mental breakdown, to the happiness of friends Taneyev and Tchaikovsky hoping for a cure. While it lasted for a short time, being a true alcoholic, as well as a gambler and carouser, he returned to his old ways until consumption forced him to a sanatorium. He died in St. Petersburg at the age of 44, leaving 70 opuses and a trail of poor judgment behind him; Scriabin and Lyapunov come to mind as examples. Both Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky said what might have been.

Considered by many to have an incredible melodic talent, he produced some well-known chamber works, along with operas, a piano concerto, symphonies, songs, and a ballet this review is about. Written in 1900, first performed in 1908 at the Marllinsky theater in St. Petersburg with choreography by Mikhail Fokin. The work was taken from William Lane’s “An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians,” music taken from overture in the book, which sets the stage for the story of Cleopatra and Amoun, who became quite smitten so far he would give his life for one kiss. While Cleopatra finds him attractive but grants he wishes not quite to his extreme, even though the I love you arrow got her attention, she does end up sailing away with Antony, Amoun throwing his feet at Bernice, who takes him back to who he was going to marry until he saw Cleopatra. Finally, Amoun is saved from dying by the high priest, and you have your story.

The ballet is a series of 13 dances plus the overture, played twice, a rousing feel-good horn-driven melodic theme. Arensky uses the harp to bring out the softer quiet passages along with a solo violin and cello, which I approve of. It has the sound of being a lot more modern sounding than 1900. Again, Max Steiner comes to mind. Between his trips from Moscow to St. Petersburg, he developed a unique sound combining Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Slavic with a light, airy touch, plus his melodic talent.

After the opening Ouverture, which sets the mood for the ballet, the 1st dance is ‘Scene and Coquetry Dance,’ a soft pretty melody played by flute and finally solo violin with a feeling of tranquility and romance filling the air. Part of this theme is included in his Suites. ‘Entry of Cleopatra and Scene as she takes her place on the stage majestically and dramatically. ‘Dance of Arsinoe and the Slaves‘ is a series of divertissements featuring winds and strings. It is one of two Arsinoe dances, the other being ‘Snake-charmer: Second Dance of Arsinoe’ mildly exotic as Berenice entertains Cleopatra. ‘Dance of the Jewish Girls‘ is taken from “Miriam’s Song of Joy,” a pretty Yiddish melody. ‘Dance of the Egyptian Girls’ gives away his Russian heritage though not out of place, and ‘Dance of the Ghazis‘ is a standard eight-note melody pleasant enough, a dance for the victorious warriors. Finally, there is a pretty Tempo di Valse waltz salon piece.

‘Solemn Entry of Antony’ is a fitting piece of music with a Rimsky-Korsakov style to it, a short Harp cadenza, and the Finale to this pleasant piece.

I have always found the playing and conducting of Yablonsky and the Moscow Symphony to be filled with energy and enthusiasm performing lesser-known Russian works. Therefore, I am happy with this recording and can recommend it to you.

I can also suggest two Naxos recordings of more Arensky recordings #8553768 and 8.570526 fine recordings in the Yablonsky tradition.

  

Auber: Overtures, Vol. 3

December 24, 2020

Daniel Francois Esprit Auber (1782-1871) was a French opera writer who composed fifty-one of them, many comic, in the 19th century. Naxos has taken the task to record overtures to all of the operas, not necessarily in order. In my review, I will include the six opera numbers. It was listed in the first two volumes. Included is the overture to the 1862 Grand Exhibition.

While quite unknown today except by the active opera listener, it is hoped that these recordings will spark interest in Auber.

  • Grande Ouverture pours l’inauguration de l’Exposition a Londres was written for the 1862 World’s Fair in England and works by Bennett and Meyerbeer premiering on May 1, 1862. It opens with a full horn ensemble, switches to a smaller horn group, which offers a different theme. The violins offer a different theme with pizzicato string playing, almost cartoon-like, before the full orchestra offers another theme majestic and proud. It is played, developed, and repeated before it ends in a rousing fashion. This is an excellent example of the fine work Auber has to offer.
  • La Barcarolle, ou L’Amour et la Musique is #38 and was written in 1845. This is a world premiere recording also including Overture and Entr’acte to Act 11. The theme is from Kunslerleben. The overture offers two themes from act 111 and acts 1. The entrecote uses the theme from act 1. While the opera was popular in Germany, it only lasted for 27 performances in France.
  • Les Chaperons Blancs is #27 from 1836 and had twelve performances. The Overture is bright and cheery with several tempo changes, including an andante and waltz. The theme is well developed. Entr’acte to Act 11 is a very short staccato with threatening tremolos of things to come. Entr’acte to Act 111 is an enchanting theme, catchy, one of the best he ever wrote, that Auber reused in Marco Spada (1857).
  • Lestocq, ou L’Intrigue et l’Amour is #24 and written in 1834. The overture begins with a fanfare followed by a pretty theme on the oboe, fully developed with the full orchestra. The second part of the overture is a brisk military galop, a statement of a soldier’s life. Entre’acte to Act 11 is a brief introduction to the aria for Catherine.
  • La Muette de Portici is #16 and written in 1828. It was performed 505 times. This is regarded as Auber’s masterpiece, the originality of the music, the style. It begins with a bombarding beginning, crashing. It continues back and forth between the assault and the woodwinds backed by busy strings developing the work. The main theme of the Overture is offered a stirring march. A coda brings the finale to a rousing conclusion.
  • Reve d’amour is #51 and was performed, but twenty-seven times, perhaps due to the Franco-Prussian War (1870). The overture is filled with several ideas, including an andante, a waltz, and a very lovely pastoral. Entr’acte to Act 111 offers us a perky staccato theme in the winds, which continues for several minutes, one of Auber’s longer entr’acte. Is #22 and was performed 100 times beginning in 1832.
  • Le Serment, ou Less Faux monnayeurs, is #22 from 1832 and was performed 100 times. Overture is divided into three sections pastoral, allegro, and military. It offers a wonderful coda. It offers an unusual effect of tapping the bows on the wood for the effect of the counterfeiters.

I applaud Naxos for taking on this fine project of bringing Auber material to many people. He was so popular in the 19th century and should be a lot more well known. I found the recording to be well done and performed, and I enjoyed listening to him very much. It was a light classical style with a pondering serious side to it.

The release date is 01-29-21

Nikolay Tcherepnin was born 5/3/1873 in Isbork an ancient town in the Pskov province in an estate that had been passed down to them by grandfathers to their father who was an active doctor in the city. He was the doctor who treated Dostoevsky during his last illness and knew Mussorgsky with Tcherepnin eventually editing and orchestrating Sorochinsky Fair for him. Both his son Alexander and his grandson Ivan were composers having done recordings for Olympia, Grand Piano, and Naxos.

Nikolay time-wise was in the 19th and 20th century so he fell under romantic, impressionism, and modernism so there was a combination of all three, Rimsky-Korsakov being the teacher. He also had a fondness for Tchaikovsky, Liadov, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev. Nikolay was the first in Paris to do The Golden Cockerel, and the following year his very own Fantastic Ballet ( takes place during the reign of Louis XIV) being performed by Diaghilev Ballets Russes, a first being staged by Mikhail Fokine from the short story Omphale. He was eventually replaced by Stravinsky as a composer of choice certainly a far more biting quality than Tcherepnin but how do you compete with the triad of Firebird, Petrushka, Rite of Spring even though his ballet had greater popularity than the Stravinsky ballets.

His most famous work Le Pavillon d’Armide was composed in 1903 and first performed at the Marinsky Theater in 1908 before premiering the Diaghilev in 1911. He also premiered Kikimora and Enchanted Lake for Liadov, two popular tone poems in 1909.

Le Pavillon d’Armide” Introduction and First Theme” opens with a drumroll followed by a powerful forceful theme from the strings and orchestra. It is said that the Marquis Susanne de Fierbois soul is represented by a Gobelin tapestry. As the theme continues a harp provides harmony and a second theme is introduced she appears to smile and the tapestry glows as a crescendo is reached. The original theme is repeated with the woodwinds carrying the melody followed by the violins. The tuba ends the track with a fine solo.

“Dance of the Hours” is performed by twelve dancing boys in gold and silver who come out and then disappear back into Saturn, an old clock. The music is bright and cheery Tchaikovsky ballet like with an upbeat theme that provides excellent background music for the dancing boys.

The Goblein Tapestry Comes to Life” we hear a new theme from the horns with woodwinds harmony as a new French like theme in a Debussy style modernism shifts to one of tension and danger before it settles into calmness with the harp and strings leading the way. The harp plays an important role in this ballet as we will see.

“Armida’s Lamentation” produces music from the tapestry and Armida appears in human form in her garden. The harp offers chords and the strings offer a new melody. The music is bright and upbeat in a major key, a Rimsky-Korsakov type theme.

Adagio” offers harps for her beloved knight Rinaldo with a new melody from the strings bright, cheery, and full of hope, a good adagio of yearning and some sadness.

Grand Valse Noble is a fine salon type waltz with sweeping music.

“Variation-Allegro” is a series of musical cells of different styles of music with a celeste beginning the track with a sprightly tune followed by the flute and violins. Following is an Allegro followed by a dance and then a vivace with syncopation. To end the track there is a Baroque style music with trumpet calls.

“Little Ethopian Slaves” is similar to the second track with a xylophone carrying the melody.

” Dance of the Armida Ladies is a slow waltz

Bacchus et la bacchantes” is a frantic dance that is also exotic and vicious The horns loudly play low notes with accompanying from the timpani. The trumpets offer a solo a respite from the savage pounding from the brass.

“Entry of the Magicians and Dance of the Shades ghosts that disappear at the waving of a wand pretty varied music.

“Dance of the Clowns” is yet another style and music not to be confused with circus music. It is a soft horn driven theme followed by flutes and violins. It is tranquil in nature offering a time of tranquility and peace.

“Scarf Dance” is a soft horn driven theme followed by flutes and violins. It is tranquil in nature offering a time of tranquility and peace.

“Pas de deux” returns to the blaring horns not a trait of Tchaikovsky but Rimsky-Korsakov. It switches to a solo clarinet and oboe

“Grand Valse Finale” ends the ballet in grand fashion with a rousing theme. In the theater the things the count thought he saw disappear one by one making him wonder?

Some reviewers who I have read compare this work as a poor imitation of a Tchaikovsky ballet. It lacks the spark. Gramophone comments on the use of a celesta which could have been used at the same time Tchaikovsky included it stating the opposite to be true. Chausson used it in 1888. Is there a patent on the use of musical instruments? Perhaps Tchaikovsky went to school on Tcherepnin? Who knows as it was invented in 1886. I found the recording (complete) to be quite varied in the selections of material and kept my attention for the full sixty-seven minutes. The Olympia recording is only thirty-four minutes plus eight minutes for the suite written as a separate piece, op. 4 instead of op. 2. In this case more is better and I welcome this re-recording of valuable historical material. There was room for the Suite highlights on this CD as track one from the suite is different from the highlights. I admit to getting confused between the two as they are both eight minutes in length but now have it straight in my head.

Available for purchase on 1/15/2021

NAXOS 8.573955

Cesar Franck (1822-1890) was born in Liege which is now Belgium and showed amazing ablities by the age of eight entering the Liege Academy and rapidly progressed in fugue and organ winning prizes and awards that his father withdrew Cesar and brother Joseph from the Academy proving to be a setback for him. Married to actress Felicite Saillot in 1848 he remained religious and very self disciplined for the last 42 years of his life. He was appointed organist in 1858 to Sainte-Cloitide and   finally achieving the position of organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire in 1872 which ended in his pupils such as D’Indy and Chausson knowing more about composition than he did. It seemed to envigorate him and the last 10 years of his life he was very productive producing his best works such as Symphonic Variations,(perhaps his best work) Symphony in D Minor, Quartet in D major, and Le Chausseur maudit. He also produced many organ works. He was involved in a street accident which ended up taking his life in 1890 as he contracted pleurisy which he couldn’t handle because of his fragility. His funeral was attended by anyone classical in music in France such as Saint-Saens, Delibes, and Faure.

He is best known for his Symphony in D Minor (1888) which was met with much outrage when first introduced, but today it has been well recorded and performed having achieved its place in the major repertoire of many symphony orchestras. It is a fine example of the cyclic method which he adopted quite well in his compositions. He would even link movements in his cyclic method melodically and rhythmically in a very tight organization.

This CD offers three of his other orchestral works written in 1875, 1882, and 1887 all during his tenure as professor but prior to his Symphony in D Minor. The first is Le Chausseur maudit from 1882 based on the poem ‘The Accursed Huntsman’ by German poet Gottfried Burger. While the work is played in one movement there are four parts to the story. It was first performed on March 31, 1883 in Paris by Nationale de Musique.

  1. The Peaceful Sunday Landscape
  2. The Hunt
  3. The Curse
  4. The Demons’ Chase

The entire orchestral work, which is really underrated in this author’s opinion, is a Rimsky-Korsakov/Wagner colorful composition that performs like a Hollywood soundtrack to an action film. It begins with “The Peaceful Sunday Landscape” the calling of horns and a very soft melody of people going to services with church bells that are played along with the horns still calling to each other as the Count of the Rhine begins his journey. “The Hunt” begins with more frantic horn calling with much agitation from the woodwinds and orchestra. A new theme appears in “The Curse” which dooms him forever for his Sunday defiling of going out on a holy day. No matter where he turns fire is upon him and in “The Demons Chase” we can hear references to the Berlioz Symphony Fantastique, the witches sabbath section. The orchestra is turned up to full volume as the count tries to escape we hear he has met his fate. The orchestra plays a B minor andante, there is a return to the G minor ride theme. The piccilo cuts it with thrilling descending passages and the orchestra plays an infernal dance.  Then nothing but a final chord to end the work.

Psyche et Eros was written in 1887 and the longest of his orchestral pieces not without controversy as the story hardly depicts the religious nature of Franck but relates the story of Eros and her carnal desires for Psyche, the chorus warning not to look at her which he violates. Written in three parts the first is while she’s asleep yearning for Psyche. The choral part, included in this recording, whispers the power of love in the ear of Psyche recalling the motives from Eros and the dream. In the third part, there is a pardoning and a happy ending. This author can hear parts of the D Minor Symphony throughout parts of the score. One can hear the vast improvement in the work with the addition of the chorus.

Les Eolides, written in 1875, again this was written about a poem Gods of the Winds (Aeolids-Breezes). Some have called this an impressionistic work like Debussy and I can understand why some feel that way about this particular work. The color and texture are outstanding, hardly an example of an organist in a church.

 

  1. Le chasseur maudit (The Accursed Hunter), 00:13:55
  1. Part I: Le Sommeil de Psyché 00:09:17
  2. Part I: Psyché enlevée par les Zéphirs 00:02:36
  3. Part II: Les jardins d’Eros 00:03:55
  4. Part II: Amour! Source de toute vie! Dieu jeune et fort aux traits vainqueurs! 00:06:47
  5. Part II: Psyché et Eros 00:08:27
  6. Part III: Amour, elle a connu ton nom 00:04:35
  7. Part III: Souffrances et plaintes de Psyché 00:06:56
  8. Part III: Eros a pardonné 00:04:37
  9. Les Éolides, 00:10:06

Total Playing Time: 01:11:11

This is another fine example of Naxos taking three related works and bundling them together for a nice concert, this time Franck. A nice addition to your library. While one could find better recordings such as the Munch cycle keep in mind they are 60 years old and are quite harsh analog recordings in comparison with the new digital recordings.

 

BIS 2342

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) wrote his first tone poem, in Sonata style, “Macbeth” op. 23 in 1886-1888 listening to Wagner and Lizst and came up with a ‘symphonic poem’ It is really a symphonic movement as it tells the story of the character Macbeth and his wife and the not the story. While his first attempt at writing for characters of literature didn’t go as well as he expected it is certainly worth listening to.  However, it lacks the color and tonal quality of a true tone poem, along with the story telling. What it does offer is lots of action if you like your music this way.

At the request of conductor Hans von Bulow in 1888, who thought little of the work, and wasn’t afraid to give his opinion, Strauss revised the work on several occasions once to change the ending from a major key to a minor one at the end of the ‘symphonic poem.’ He conducted it in 1890 with the Weimar Orchestra after “Don Juan” and “Death and Transfiguration” had their premieres even though “Macbeth” was written before. It wasn’t until 1892 that Strauss became satisfied with it and it is this version that you hear performed.

By creating repeating motifs to create dramatic action in such a dissonant way to bring out the in stabilities of the characters. There is no adherence to the plot of the story only the two main characters and Macduff at the end of the work where we do hear a climax.

We hear Macbeth straight away with a fanfare of trumpets but a note of anguish to it and the second played by cellos, basses, and low woodwinds which bring out the sinister side of the man.

Enter Lady Macbeth who begins with very soft and restful flutes and clarinets over a horn note. What follows is her turmoil in this conflict and there is lots of it brewing.

Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,
And chastise with the valour of my tongue,
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown’d withal.

There is a clashing of the two motifs going back and forth which builds to a climax only  to be climaxed by Macduff leaving the two Macbeth’s destroyed by their own plan.

The conclusion is a triumphant march to end the work.

Written in the summer of 1888  “Tod und Verklarung” (‘Death and Transfiguration’) op. 24 is the third of his tone poems and a completely different very mature work that has seen its way to catalogs of symphony orchestras thus well performed due to its superior quality.Strauss was in excellent health when he wrote this and didn’t come down with pneumonia until 18 months after the completion of the work, contrary to the wives tales of the day.

Could it be as one writer put it that Strauss found poetry in his tone poems and it truly told a story? With the help of his friend Alexander Ritter, who wrote the poem below the reader and listener gets an idea of the work.

I. Largo. “In a small bare room, dimly lit by a candle stump, a sick man
lies on his bed. Exhausted by a violent struggle with death, he lies
asleep. In the stillness of the room, like a portent of impending
death, only the quiet ticking of a clock is heard. A melancholy smile
lights the invalid’s pale face: does he dream of golden childhood as he
lingers on the border of life?”

The mood is quiet and there is a steady, yet syncopated, pattern played
by the violins and violas. This is often thought to be the death motive,
though it can also be associated with a ticking clock and a failing human
heartbeat. Arching woodwind solos over horn and harp accompaniment
signal a sad smile and thoughts of youth.

II. Allegro molto agitato. “But death grants him little sleep or time for
dreams. He shakes his prey brutally to begin the battle afresh. The
drive to live, the might of death! What a terrifying contest! Neither
wins the victory and once more silence reigns.”

Harsh blows of the brasses and a faster tempo signify the struggle
with death. Motives that describe this struggle, including a fast paced
version of the death motive from the opening, are battered about the
orchestra. Just as death is about to triumph we hear a glimpse
of the transfiguration theme presented in the harp, trombones, cellos
and violas, the ideal that can only be achieved after death. But death
has not yet come. The music settles again as calm returns to the room.

III. Meno mosso, ma sempre alla breve. “Exhausted from the battle,
sleepless, as in a delirium, the sick man now sees his life pass before him,
step by step, scene by scene. First the rosy dawn of childhood, radiant,
innocent; then the boy’s aggressive games, testing, building his
strength—and so maturing for the battles of manhood, to strive with
burning passion for the highest goals of life: to transfigure all that
seems to him most noble, giving it still more exalted form—this alone
has been the high aim of his whole existence. Coldly, scornfully, the
world set obstacle upon obstacle in his way. When he believed himself
near his goal, a thunderous voice cried: ‘Halt!’ But a voice within him
still urged him on, crying: ‘Make each hindrance a new rung in your
upward climb.’ Undaunted he followed the exalted quest. Still in his
death agony he seeks the unreached goal of his ceaseless striving,
seeks it, but alas, still in vain. Though it grows closer, clearer,
grander, it never can be grasped entire or perfected in his soul. The
final iron hammerblow of death rings out, breaks his earthy frame, and
covers his eyes with eternal night.”

This section begins quietly with solos traded throughout the orchestra
building to a more marchlike section that describes the man’s maturation
to adulthood. The orchestra swells, and at the high points of phrases we
hear the trombones and timpani proclaim the death motive. In the midst
of the chaos the transfiguration motive is also heard, signaling that the end
is near. Another outburst occurs, the final struggle with death, the storm
and fury of the orchestra dying away and capped off with the sound of the
gong, the death knell, announcing the soul’s departure.

IV. Moderato. “But from the endless realms of heavenly space a mighty
resonance returns to him bearing what he longed for here below and
sought in vain: redemption, transfiguration.”

Beginning quietly, the transfiguration theme is presented and is, itself,
transformed. The sound grows as instruments are added and the sound
climbs higher and higher, with all of the symbolic imagery implied, to
the uppermost reaches of the brass, woodwinds and strings. The work
ends peacefully and tranquilly, with death having won the battle but with
the soul’s deliverance and transformation surpassing all.

60 years later Strauss lying on his deathbed says to his sister that death was as I had composed it to be but he only got the dying part right.

1911 produced the opera Der Rosenkavalier (‘The Chevalier of the Rose’) which was a radical departure for Strauss, a comedy. Apparently he was bored writing serious music and for a change followed the path of Mozart although this was quite a bit different from something Amadeus would compose.

Arranged for suite in 1945 likely by the conductor Artur Rodzinski the suite plays all of the tunes we have grown to love and appreciate. As I close my eyes and listen I conjure up a Max Steiner movie from the ’40s. What an influence Strauss had on Hollywood.

While there are 5 parts and 25 minutes it is played with little pause between the movements. The strings are lush in all the right places and one can easily see why this was his most popular piece.

The Singapore Symphony has come a long way from the Marco Polo days of 30 years ago. It is a first class orchestra and the new recording on the BIS label certainly does them justice. The performance is bright and well paced a pleasant listening experience.

 

 

 

 

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.