Heitor Villa-Lobos' two numbered cello concerti come from the opposite ends of his output; the first Grande Concerto dates from 1915 and the second from 1953. In between there is another concertante work, the Fantasia for cello and orchestra, which is contemporaneous with the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 for soprano and eight cellos that remains Villa-Lobos' most popular work. In this MD&G issue, Heitor Villa-Lobos: Concertos for Violoncello and Orchestra, cellist Ulrich Schmid is heard with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie under conductor Dominique Roggen in the numbered concertos only, although there easily would have been enough room on the 42-minute-long disc to accommodate the Fantasia as well.
Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937) is an important contemporary voice in vocal music. In this new release, Silvestrov’s hauntingly beautiful vocal works are performed by the Latvian Radio Choir under their director Sigvards Kļava. During his artistic career, Silvestrov has explored a number of musical styles and techniques, such as avant-guard, post-modernism, neo-classicism, dodecaphony, aleatoric writing and pointillism. The fall of the Soviet Union, however, allowed Silvestrov to eventually compose spiritual works, inspired and influenced by his love of the Russian Orthodox Church music which Silvestrov imbues with his own unique sound and bursts of surprising harmonic moves. Silvestrov’s compositions are invested with the composer’s own unique personality, musical sensibility and sense of beauty.
A lot has been said about Anna Moffo's early vocal decline and mismanaged carreer but let's not forget what a lovely singer she was in her prime. This recital from the early 1970's let us hear "late Moffo" though she was not yet 40. There is a slight hoarseness and unsteadiness in the voice that was not present in earlier recordings but it is still by any means a beautiful instrument used with skill. This recital also reminds us what a verstatile artist she was - she sings arias from the italian bel canto and verismo repertoire, french lyric and also german operettas and she passes from one to the other with considerable naturalness, ease and charm..
This collection of short choral pieces by Johannes Brahms is an unusual one in present times, partly because many of the choral parts are quite demanding. For a choral club in the 19th century, however, it wouldn't have been so novel, and there are great beauties on offer here. After the fetching Ave Maria, Op. 12, the rest of the program is dense, metaphysical, and, with the partial exception of the Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53, concerned with death. There are two funeral songs, and two more about fate, and this is not the warm, humanistic Brahms of the German Requiem, Op. 45. The performances are profound and dignified, and the overall effect uncanny. The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir under choirmaster Henryk Wojnarowski has a gorgeous rich tone that is undiminished by the long lines of the music, and the Alto Rhapsody achieves real grandeur in the hands of contralto Ewa Wolak. But the real credit goes to the Warsaw Philharmonic and conductor Antoni Wit, who keep a consistent level of tension and momentum in difficult, dark material like the somber Nänie, Op. 82 (Funeral Song), a rarely performed late Brahms masterwork.
Stephen Layton and Polyphony have a long and fruitful relationship with the music of Arvo Pärt. Their recording of Triodion and other choral works (CDA67375) won a Gramophone Award and became a cult classic. The extraordinary purity of Polyphony’s singing is the perfect vehicle for music of such clean, elemental simplicity, such cathartic calm. This third Pärt album from Stephen Layton and Polyphony reaches right back, intriguingly, to the composer’s youthful modernist phase and spans nearly five decades—from 1963 to 2012—in the process. As with the album Triodion, it reflects an increasingly broad spread of languages and sources in Pärt’s chosen texts. Latin, German and English are joined here by Church Slavonic and Spanish. A range of biblical texts are set alongside ancient prayers.
This generously programmed disc provides excellent value and outstanding performances of both major and lesser-known masterpieces of French choral music. The Fauré Requiem has been recorded many times, and several excellent versions of the original orchestration are available on disc. This one is among them, owing to John Eliot Gardiner's experience and perfectionist mastery of details overlooked by less-successful choral conductors. The real bonus here is the inclusion of the popular but very difficult Debussy and Ravel chansons, and the rarely heard but eminently worthy little part songs by Saint-Saëns. These pieces are a lesson in how to achieve maximum effect with the simplest materials.