This was to be the end of the line for Italian word-setting by Viennese composers: once the confident sentiments that belonged to the poet Metastasio's opera seria felt the chill and threatening wind of Enlightenment and Revolution, their time was up. Even we, for the most part, prefer to remember the German-speaking Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn. So it is good to be reminded of their responses to the Italian muse (usually as part of their craft-learning student work) in this particularly well-cast recital. Central Europe, in the person of Andras Schiff meets Italy, in Cecilia Bartoli, to delightful, often revelatory effect.
Everything on this CD is receiving its first commercial recording. Armstrong Gibbs's most famous piece is the once very popular little orchestral movement called 'Dusk', which was recorded on our first 'British Light Music Classics' CD. Looking for suitable repertoire to introduce Guildhall Strings into the Hyperion catalogue we asked their programmer, Ben Buckton, to investigate Gibbs's other music. The composer's granddaughter, Anne Rust, told Ben that, for safekeeping, she had sent some scores many years ago to the Britten-Pears Music Library in Aldeburgh where they have remained untouched ever since. Ben's request for 'anything for strings' by Gibbs resulted in the production of a stack of dusty folders containing the handwritten manuscripts. The work on the top of the pile was the Threnody for Walter de la Mare, and it immediately became clear that the journey to Suffolk was going to lead to more than anyone had expected. This is attractive, well-written music in a lighter vein, dating from the first half of the century.
The Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is one of the most charming and talented singers to appear on the scene in recent years, and this collection of Italian songs by three great opera composers–Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini–is a most deserving bestseller. There are many small pleasures in the selections, which reflect the bel canto predilections of their authors, and Bartoli renders them artfully. Some will be familiar even to casual listeners (Rossini's La Danza, the famous tarantella); others will be new to most, but equally deserving of a hearing. The sensitive and skillful accompaniment is by conductor-pianist James Levine.
The death of Henri Dutilleux on 22 May 2013 robbed the musical world of one of its most distinctive voices. Dutilleux was renowned for his exquisite craftsmanship and feel for instrumental colour, as well as for an extraordinary generosity of spirit that was invariably reflected in his music. Indeed, pianist Akanè Makita describes Dutilleux as a 'generous, sensitive man' who, when the artists involved in this recording wrote to him to tell him about the project, replied to say how 'greatly touched' and 'moved' he was. This warm and unexpected response from such an eminent composer inspired the musicians to put their all into the recording; the fact that it was completed on the day of Dutilleux's death makes it all the more fitting a tribute to him. The chamber works featured on this disc demonstrate Dutilleux's superb command of instrumental timbre – as flautist Andrea Oliva says, 'Dutilleux is brilliant at custom-designing the music to suit the specific characteristics of each instrument'.
The odes that Purcell wrote for annual concerts in honor of St. Cecilia (the patron saint of music) are among his most celebrated works. Chief among them is Hail! Bright Cæcilia, which calls for the "Warb'ling Lute … airy Violin … Am'rous Flute," and all the Harmony of War," along with chorus and a bevy of soloists, to demonstrate their prowess… –Matthew Westphal