HIGDON: Violin Concerto. TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35.
GOETZ: Piano Concerto in B flat, Op. 18. WIENIAWSKI: Piano Concerto in
G minor, Op. 20.
TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker
WAGNER: Rienzi Overture. Prelude to Act I and Liebestod from Tristan
and Isolde. Preludes to Acts I and III of Lohengrin. Wesendonckj-Lieder. Prelude
to Die Meistersinger. The Ride of the Valkytries from Die Walküre.
FRIED: Prelude and Fugue for String Orchestra, Op. 10. The Emigrants (Melodrama
for speaking voice and orchestra). Fantasy on Humperdinck's Hansel
and Gretel. Transfigured Night.
Jennifer Higdon and Hilary Hahn first met when the violinist was 16 and studied 20th century music history with Higdon at Curtis University. Even then, the two discussed the possibility of a violin concerto, and the project eventually took place. . The concerto was co-commissioned by the Curtis Institute and the Baltimore, Toronto and Indianapolis orchestras; the latter presented the premiere in February 2009. The concerto was a tremendous success and went on to win the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in music. It is a is a work of remarkable substance, with three movements. the first called 1726 (no explanation for the title), the second called Chaconne, and a dazzling finale, Fly Forward. This is a big-scale major work for the instrument—no note-spinning here, and we can be sure that this recording, made in May 2009, is definitive. Higdon obviously knew she was writing a concerto for a virtuoso, and Hahn gives an amazing performance. The familiar Tchaikovsky concerto is given a fresh, individual reading. Accompaniments by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under its dynamic conductor Vasily Petrenko, could not be bettered. Petrenko has a particular affinity for Russian music as evidenced by his magnificent recent recordings of music of Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Excellent sound, with a perfect balance between soloist and orchestra. This is a major release in every way that gives us the opportunity to hear a concerto that doubtless will have a permanent place in the concert hall.
Hyperion is to be congratulated for their many recordings of concertos for piano and violin that have been long neglected. Volume 52 in their piano concerto series features concertos by German-born Hermann Goetz (1840-1876) and Polish-born Jozef Wieniawski (1837-1912). Goetz's Concerto B-flat concerto was premiered in 1867. Jozef, brother of the more famous Henri, completed his 1858. Both concertos have occasional interludes of virtuoso display, but their melodic content is limited. Both should stay in the archives, in spite of the splendid performances and excellent recorded sound.
Of the numerous commercial recordings of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet, my favorite remains the Antal Dorati/Concertgebouw 1975 recording which, in spite of its age, has splendid sonics. A major plus in it's CD issue is inclusion of the Pierre Monteux/London Symphony 1962 recording of a suite from Sleeping Beauty. These currently are available via a Philips Duo set mentioned on this site (REVIEW). Dorati's 1962 recording with the LSO also is available, sounding better than ever in its SACD issue (REVIEW). It also has a filler, the Serenade for Strings. EMI's new issue with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic isn't as generous in playing time—we have only the ballet, one act to each disk. Act II was recorded live during a 2009 New Year's concert; Act I is the result of studio sessions. The performances are magnificent as one would expect. There are two editions of this set; the one listed above is the standard version which sells for the price of two mid-price disks. The Deluxe edition, which is priced accordingly, contains a 52-page hardcore book (in three languages) with features that include the history of the ballet, costume and set sketches, and an introduction by Sir Simon. This is a lavish issue that doubtless will appeal to many collectors. You also can see Rattle/BPO in selections from Nutcracker on a Waldbühne concert (REVIEW).
Franz Welser-Möst's Wagner collection was recorded during concerts in February 2010 in Cleveland's Severance Hall. These are fine-textured performances of utmost clarity and there isn't a trace of an audience. Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman's wide vibrato in the Wesendonck songs is not a plus; it is fortunate she did not sing the Liebestod. There are numerous Wagner collections available including several with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra recorded more than four decades ago that are preferable to this new one.
Oskar Fried (1871-1944) was best known as a conductor although he also was highly regarded as a composer. A major work of his for chorus and orchestra, Das trunkene Lied, was premiered in 1904 with Karl Muck and the Berlin Philharmonic. Shortly after that, Fried wrote a setting for soprano, tenor and orchestra of Richard Dehmel's poem Verklärte Nacht, which also inspired Arnold Schoenberg's work of the same name. Fried was a friend of Gustav Mahler, studied all of his symphonies with him, and conducted the Berlin premieres of Symphony No. 6 in 1906 and Symphony No. 8 in 1910. Mahler's influence can clearly be heard in some of Fried's music, particularly Die Auswanderer.
In 1924 Fried became the first conductor to record a symphony by Mahler, the Resurrection, and he also made premiere recordings of many other major works including Strauss's An Alpine Symphony and Bruckner's Symphony No. 7. His expertise as a conductor is evidenced by the quality of these recordings in spite of their primitive audio. Four of Fried's orchestral works are featured on this intriguing new CD. The Prelude and Fugue, Op. 10 is the least interesting work, a pedantic piece that shows little imagination. Fried also was a friend of Englebert Humperdinck and put together this fantasy on Hansel and Gretel, which he recorded in 1928 with the Berlin Philharmonic. Fried's major work The Emigrants, a melodrama for speaker and large orchestra, was premiered in 1913. In this the narrator tells a tragic story of despair and doom. If you enjoy Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (which was premiered the previous year), you doubtless will like this as well. Transfigured Night dates from 1901, several years after Schoenberg wrote his setting for string sextet, and is scored for a mezzo-soprano and a tenor. In a most effective way, this tells the story of a woman who confesses to her lover that he is not the father of the child she is carrying and is forgiven. Excellent performances of all of this music and these premiere recordings are welcome. Complete texts are provided. How welcome are recordings such as this: superb performances of neglected repertory much of which deserves resurrection.
R.E.B. (December 2010)