Nicola Porpora, a contemporary of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Haydn (and a very young Mozart) is best remembered today as a famous singing teacher and opera composer. During his long career (he lived to age 81) he suffered many employment-related difficulties and disappointments that caused him to move frequently. Naples (where he was born), Venice, Dresden, and Vienna (where he taught Haydn) all enjoyed Porpora's reputable presence, and he even spent a period in London at the behest of a group seeking to unseat Handel and his opera company from its preeminent position. In addition to his operas and vocal music, Porpora wrote instrumental works such as the six violin sonatas featured here, which are drawn from a set of 12. Although anyone familiar with Italian Baroque and early Classical-style solo violin music will discover nothing particularly original on this generally fine recording, if you enjoy that genre and period you'll find much here to indulge and satisfy your taste.
Pianist and composer Anton Batagov is one of the most influential Russian musicians of our time. As a performer Batagov introduced the music of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass to Russian audiences. On this his debut recording with Glass s record label Orange Mountain Music, Batagov offers a recital of Glass s music which is personally important to him, music which has never been heard on solo piano. Three of the four tracks offered on Batagov s program are from Glass s epic opera Einstein on the Beach - Trial, Night Train, and Knee Play 5. These pieces capture the sound of a particularly expansive moment in Glass s career as he transitioned from hard core Minimalism to a more expressive medium. That artistic pivot is captures in Batagov s mystical reading of Prophecies from Koyaanisqatsi. In 2009, after a hiatus of 12 years from live performance Batagov returned to the stage presenting a series of unique solo programs including this program which was recorded in Moscow in November 2015.
The G major Anton Rubinstein violin concerto is a fine and powerful work, quite as good as many a lesser-known Russian example in the same genre, and easily as deserving of wider currency as, say, the Taneyev Suite de Concert, which is just as rarely heard these days. Nishizaki gives a committed and polished reading, though you often feel that this is music written by a pianist who had marginally less facility when writing for the violin. Still, here’s a well-schooled performance, full of agreeable touches of imagination (the Andante shows Nishizaki’s fine-spun tone to particularly good effect) delivered with crisply economical urgency that makes good musical sense even of the work’s plainer and less idiomatic passages.
Swiss pianist Ingrid Karlen makes her ECM debut with Variations, of which the program is as provocative as the title is vague. Beyond variations in the traditional sense, these are, rather, mise-en-abymes of abstractions. Or so they might at first aural glance seem, for within these sometimes troubling clusters of false starts breathes a unity at once organic and contrived. Anton Webern’s Variations for Piano, op. 27 (1935/36) is the primary example, for the only variations they seem to engender stem from that which cannot be notated. These pieces behave as might a solo violin sonata, jumping fluidly and bow-like through their ephemeral 12-tone links. They are the anti-motif, a stretch of childhood unable to be sifted.
In his final performances with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in August 2013, Claudio Abbado conducted Anton Bruckner's unfinished Symphony No. 9 in D minor, and this recording is drawn from the best takes from those concerts. Considering that this rendition came near the end of Abbado's life and stands as a worthy testament to his achievements, it's easy to read too much into the interpretation, and to view it as a mystical or transcendent reading because of the circumstances. On the one hand, Abbado's understanding of this symphony was as thorough as any conductor's, and the Lucerne musicians played with seriousness and dedication, offering a version that has impressive power and expressive depth. On the other hand, there are many competitive recordings that either match Abbado's for strength and feeling, or surpass it in purely technical terms of sound quality and reproduction. Certainly the sound is exceptional, according to Deutsche Grammophon's high standards, and this stereo recording is exceptionally clean and noise-free.
Precious few countries can boast of a Christmas repertoire as ample and colourful as that possessed by the Czech Republic. The Baroque era imbued the texts of songs with enchanting, tender poetics with awestruck yet perplexed shepherds enthusing about the beautiful infant Jesus. Later on, a growing number of formally more complex pieces (pastorales) were written, most of them taking the form of arias or duets with instrumental accompaniment. A notable composer in this respect was Josef Antonín Sehling. Although still anchored in the Baroque world, he paved the way for the accession of a new musical style. He studied in Vienna and subsequently worked in Prague as a member of Count Václav Morzins renowned orchestra and as second violin at Saint Vitus Cathedral, although standing in as Kapellmeister over the long term (an interesting parallel can be drawn with Zelenka, the counter-bassist at the court orchestra in Dresden). Sehling was Kapellmeister of several Prague churches, including the Church of Our Lady under the Chain, where the present world premiere recording was made.
The creation of Daphne was not a simple affair, especially for what concerned the poetic text (due to the modest talent of the librettist Joseph Gregor), but on 15th October 1938 the opera was finally premièred at Dresden’s Staatstheater. On the podium was the young conductor Karl Böhm. Daphne is a masterpiece of early 20th-century vocal music. Structured in a single act, this opera is a solid work with a rich musical vein. Strauss’s orchestration appears, as always, remarkably refined. The vocal writing is demanding for all the main characters, but especially so for the protagonist, here interpreted by a magnificent June Anderson. Filmed in high definition at Venice’s La Fenice, the present production is directed by Paul Curran.