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Rossini’s ‘Il barbiere di Siviglia’ – Work No. 97 in our collection

Gioachino Rossini (29.02.1792 – 13.11.1868) was an Italian composer who gained fame chiefly for his thirty-nine operas; the most popular of which is Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). He also wrote many songs, some chamber music, including his six delightful string sonatas, piano pieces, and some sacred music including the Stabat Mater and the Petite Messe solennelle.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is frequently performed in opera houses around the world and there are currently nearly thirty versions currently available on CD and over twenty video versions available on either DVD or Blu-Ray disc. The Barber of Seville is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The plot centres around the beautiful Rosina who is kept all but prisoner by her guardian Bartolo. But when Count Almaviva falls in love with Rosina from afar, he enlists the help of cunning barber Figaro to help him outwit Bartolo. A comic battle of wills ensues, but will love or greed be triumphant? You must listen to the opera to find out!

Verdi considered Il barbiere di Siviglia to be the greatest operatic comedy – a perfect marriage of wit, energy and exhilarating musical invention. Rossini’s score fizzes with virtuosic brilliance, combining bravura solo arias, set to some of the composer’s best-loved melodies, with breath-taking, intricate ensembles, weaving together the story’s many strands into glittering musical and dramatic harmony.

Fortunately there is a 3 CD set issued by Naxos, at bargain price, and conducted by Will Humburg that in many respects is the equal or in some cases superior to all of the other versions available. We would strongly urge you to try this version.

If you wish to watch the opera as well as listen to it then we can recommend a dramatic version captured at London’s Royal Opera House with an unbeatable cast in a sparkling, colourful production. In this production Joyce DiDonato sings an astonishing Rosina from a wheelchair after breaking her ankle on the opening night. This works surprisingly well; as DiDonato wrote ‘being trapped in the wheelchair was a quite literal way of demonstrating Rosina’s frustration and huge desire to break free’.

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Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 – Work No. 96 in our collection

Johannes Brahms (07.05.1833 – 03.04.1897) was a German composer and pianist and is considered to be one of the leading composers in the romantic period. He was born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, though he spent most of his career in Vienna, Austria. His most popular works include four symphonies, the Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80, two piano concertos, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 and his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77.

Both of Brahms’s piano concertos are gargantuan works. His Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 was composed some 22 years after his first piano concerto. Brahms began work on the piece in 1878 and completed it in 1881 while in Pressbaum near Vienna. He dedicated his second piano concerto to his teacher, Eduard Marxsen.  The work received its first performance in Budapest on 9 November 1881, with Brahms as soloist with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. At nearly fifty minutes in duration, this concerto lasts longer than any other major Romantic piano concerto by quite some stretch.

Brahms was a master at writing music for the piano and as this four-movement concerto demonstrates, he was able to blend beauty with fire and tenderness with drama. In this expansive work Brahms takes his time to unveil his musical themes and ideas before we reach  the well-known thrilling, energetic finale. However this popular finale produces even greater enjoyment when heard as the culmination of that which precedes it.

If you have only ever heard the finale do set aside the time to listen to the entire work and in a wonderful performance such as that by Nelson Freire with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly you will be richly rewarded!

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Richard-Hamelin and Nagano excel in Chopin’s Piano Concertos

Chopin: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Charles Richard-Hamelin (piano), Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano (conductor)

Charles Richard-Hamelin is a young Canadian pianist who was born in Quebec. In 2015, he competed in the XVII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, where he received not only the second prize but also the Krystian Zimerman Prize for the best sonata performance. This led to Richard-Hamelin touring throughout Canada performing works by Chopin and the Fryderyk Chopin Institute subsequently released a 2 CD set containing his audition performances for the contest.

On this current Analekta release we have Richard-Hamelin performing both of Chopin’s piano concertos, recorded live in the new Maison Symphonique in Montreal, with Kent Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. These are Chopin performances not to be missed. Richard-Hamelin follows Chopin’s markings with great precision whilst showing a clear grasp of the overall architecture of the works. At no stage does one feel that one is listening to an exhibition of pianism but rather to a refined performance of great originality. He is superbly accompanied by Kent Nagano and the orchestra whose playing manages to dispel any doubts regarding the quality of Chopin’s orchestration. The recording concludes with an encore piece, Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor, Op. post. All of this has been captured, by the Analekta engineers, in sound quality that enables you to fully appreciate these beautiful performances. These will not replace Martha Argerich’s performances with the same orchestra under Charles Dutoit (see Work No. 83 in our collection) but I shall return to them frequently and I suspect that many Chopin lovers will wish to add this release to their collection no matter if they have a number of recordings in their collection already.

This release comes complete with a useful booklet containing notes¹, by Florence Brassard, on the two works  together with helpful notes about the soloist, orchestra and conductor and a full listing of the members of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

iClassical rating: (revised rating)

¹ Our download was originally supplied without a booklet and this is being investigated by the sales and marketing team at Analekta.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major – Work No. 95 in our collection

Franz Peter Schubert (31.01.1797 – 19.11.1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his early death, arising from from typhus and syphilis, Schubert left behind a vast output of fine music. He wrote more than 600 songs (or lieder), more than a dozen string quartets and 21 piano sonatas; he completed seven symphonies, with many more left unfinished; he wrote operas, masses, piano trios and duets. Yet there was only one public performance of his music during his lifetime.

Franz Peter Schubert

His most important works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D667 ‘The Trout’ (see Work 6 in our collection), his last three Piano Sonatas Nos. 19 – 21, his two great song cycles Winterreise D911Die schöne Müllerin, D795 (see Work 62 in our collection), his String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’ (see Work 72 in our collection) and his two outstanding symphonies: the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’ and the Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 ‘The Great’.

Schubert would almost certainly be amazed to learn that he has come to be regarded as a great symphonist. His first two symphonies were written for his school orchestra, in which he played the violin and sang in the choir, and the next four for an amateur group assembled by the composer. All were intended to be heard once and then forgotten! However his last two symphonies have justifiably gained status as masterpieces of the symphonic repertoire.

The Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944, known as the ‘Great’ is the final symphony completed by Franz Schubert. The Great is Unusually long for a symphony of its time, a typical performance of the work lasts just under an hour although it can be much shorter depending upon the tempo chosen and whether the repeat sections, indicated in the score, are observed or not. D 944 is often considered Schubert’s finest piece for orchestra, this symphony is certainly one of his most innovative pieces. The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A and C, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in C, 2 trumpets in A and C, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings. Whilst Beethoven had used the trombone for effect in Schubert’s two final symphonies the trombones become essential members of the orchestra playing throughout the piece, and even receive important melodic roles.

In terms of recordings the listener is spoilt for choice. There is a truly electrify live account from Günter Wand and the Berliner Philharmoniker, a controversial account from Roger Norrington and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra that splits opinion, a restrained, but revealing account from Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Ultimately we find ourselves turning towards Claudio Abbado for whom Schubert remained one of his favourite composers throughout his life. There is a hugely enjoyable account that he recorded with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe but if we had to select one performance it would have to be Abbado’s ‘live performance’ with the Orchestra Mozart recorded in a series of concerts at the Auditorium Teatro Manzoni, Bologna in 2011.

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