Press releases: September 2016

(1) Wagner: Overtures, Preludes and Orchestral Excerpts
(2) Roussel, Debussy, Poulenc. Orchestral works
(3) Fantasies, Rhapsodies and Daydreams


Overtures, Preludes and Orchestral Excerpts
Marek Janowski , Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

PENTATONE  PTC 5186551 (2016).

CD Information

Celebrating the conductor Marek Janowski’s triumphant Ring cycle at this year’s Bayreuth festival, PENTATONE rounds off his groundbreaking survey of Wagner’s operas with the release of a double album featuring orchestral highlights from the series. Recorded in PENTATONE’s state of the art multi-channel surround sound, the album contains the popular overtures and preludes from Der fliegende Holländer, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Tristan und Isolde, and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, as well as orchestral excerpts from Siegfried, Götterdämmerung and Parsifal. Also included is the previously unreleased Siegfried Idyll, the symphonic poem that Wagner wrote for the birthday of his wife Cosima.

Marek Janowski is one of today’s foremost interpreters of Wagner. His recordings of the ten mature operas for PENTATONE have been universally praised, the music critic Michael Tanner hailing Janowski as “…the most reliably impressive Wagner conductor of our time.” The BBC Music Magazine described the Tannhäuser release as “…the best recording since that made in Bayreuth in 1962.” And Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker, rated the Tristan und Isolde release among his all time favourite Wagner recordings, evidence as he put it that “…first-rate Wagner recordings are not extinct.”

Key to the success of this ambitious series has been the collaboration with the Rundfunk- Sinfonieorchester Berlin and Deutschlandradio Kultur. By producing concert performances of the operas in the superb acoustics of the Philharmonie Berlin (and without the distractions of staging), the nuances and subtleties in Wagner’s scores are clearly articulated to give a recording of exceptional fidelity and immediacy. “The recorded sound is sensational”, wrote Michael Tanner of the Parsifal release, “so realistic as to be almost alarming.”

The overtures, preludes and interludes in Wagner’s operas have always had broad appeal with audiences for their heady, intoxicating atmosphere and vivid orchestration. During Wagner’s lifetime, his contemporaries made arrangements and potpourris from the operas to satisfy an ever enthusiastic public, bowdlerising Wagner’s scores in the process. In these vibrant recordings, however, Janowski remains faithful to Wagner’s original vision and uses conclusions either written or authorized by Wagner himself.

This release is accompanied with notes on the music by the dramaturge and musicologist Steffen Georgi. It is additionally available for immediate download from the Pentatone web site.

roussel-coverRoussel, Debussy, Poulenc

Roussel – Bacchus & Ariane
Debussy – Six Épigraphes Antiques
Poulenc – Les Biches

Kazuki Yamada , Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.

PENTATONE PTC 5186558  (2016).

CD Information

Vibrant, striking colours, sensuous harmonies and coruscating wit abound in this irresistible collection played by the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR) under the baton of the young rising star Kazuki Yamada. Hailed by Gramophone magazine as a “gifted, budding maestro” with “interpretative nous, strength of personality and scrupulous attention to detail”, this is Yamada’s fourth outing for PENTATONE following his three critically acclaimed releases of dance music.

The three works featured are firmly rooted in the past, whether in the sources for inspiration or the sometimes neo-classical style. But the musical language is unmistakeably from the 20th century and, above all, quintessentially French.

Featuring incisive rhythms, expressive melodies and daring harmonies realised with a sumptuous orchestral palette, Albert Roussel’s exotic suites for the ballet Ariane et Bacchus are popular showpieces with orchestras and audiences alike, especially the famous Bacchanale ¬– an uninhibited romp which closes the work. Debussy’s nod to classical Greece in his beguiling Six épigraphes antiques, sometimes described as a conspectus of his compositional technique, is heard here in luxuriant detail in a rarely performed orchestration by Ernest Ansermet, the founder of the OSR. And Poulenc has never been in more high spirits than in Les Biches, a heady, infectious concoction which bristles with sophistication, charm and irrepressible Gallic wit.

“The BBC SO have found a star in the making,” wrote The Telegraph of Kazuki Yamada “let’s hope we hear more of him.” Winner of the prestigious 51st International Besançon Competition for Young Conductors in 2009, Yamada’s rise on the international stage has been rapid. With his busy schedule, he is one of today’s most sought after conductors and in September 2016, he takes over as principal conductor and artistic director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo.

“Sometimes in my head, I try to imagine how I would like the ideal orchestra to sound,” mused Yamada in an interview from 2014. “The same idea always comes to me … perfect cohesion in a single timbre, uniform and scalable, fantastically expressive … that of the human voice.”

Following his sensational debut in 2010 with the OSR, their recording for PENTATONE of Bizet, Fauré and Gounod ballet music was praised for playing which was “both exquisite and passionate … grace abounds” (BBC Music Magazine) and “tastefully refined” (Gramophone). No wonder that the Thüringer Landeszeitung wrote of Yamada that “the young man is full of music from head to toe”.

For further information, see

Notes on the music

All three works on this release were originally conceived as dance music for the stage or in private performance and represent the composers writing at the height of their creative powers.

Claude Debussy’s Six épigraphes antiques (1914) have their origins in a collection of scandalously erotic poetry by his friend, the writer Pierre Louÿs. In a brilliant and elaborate literary hoax, Louÿs passed off a volume of his own prose poems as translations of ancient Sapphic verse with the title “Les chansons de Bilitis, translated from the Greek for the first time by P.L.” Published in 1894, the 143 poems (“all flutes and flesh”) proved hugely popular with the public and Debussy adapted three of the poems for his Chansons de Bilitis for soprano and piano (1897-8). Then in 1910, he wrote music to accompany a private recitation of ten of the poems in a series of tableaux vivants featuring scantily-clad dancers. He later reworked this material for his Six épigraphes antiques for piano duet. This beautiful and enigmatic work, full of symbolism and ritual was orchestrated by Ernest Ansermet in the 1930s.

Albert Roussel composed his music for the ballet Bacchus et Ariane (1930) to a scenario by Abel Hermant which he later reworked as two orchestral suites. They are written with a vibrant and distinctive orchestral palette and a fine attention to detail. They demonstrate Roussel’s mastery of conceiving the music in purely symphonic terms: the music does not depend on the dramatic action for its effect, in fact there is little change to the content from the original ballet music.

“Your work is foul and inept,” thundered Poulenc’s teacher Paul Vidal, “it’s squalid rubbish!” Ever one to “épater la bourgeoisie” (‘shock the bourgeoisie’), uproarious and uninhibited fun naturally ensued when Poulenc was commissioned by Diaghilev to write music for the ballet Les Biches (1924). Poulenc described this sophisticated, tongue in cheek entertainment “a modern fêtes galantes … twenty charming and flirtatious women frolicked about there with three handsome, strapping young fellows dressed as oarsmen.” With a musical style that is neo-classical, influenced by Stravinsky and with borrowings from Mozart and Chopin (among others), the end result is a hoot. It established Poulenc the darling of Les Six and it remains his most popular work, here played in the orchestral suite version from 1939-40.

steinbacher-coverFantasies, Rhapsodies and Daydreams

Camille Saint-Saëns, Maurice Ravel, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Pablo de Sarasate, Jules Massenet

Arabella Steinbacher (violin), Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Lawrence Foster (conductor)

PENTATONE PTC 5186536 (2016).

CD Information

Thrilling flights of fancy abound from violinist Arabella Steinbacher in Fantasies, Rhapsodies and Daydreams.

Spectacular virtuoso playing, bravura passagework and show-stopping melodies are balanced with wistful lyricism and sublime tone painting in this irresistible programme of perennial favourites, played with élan by the violinist Arabella Steinbacher with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, conducted by Lawrence Foster in this new release from PENTATONE.

From the high jinks and outrageous showmanship of Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie and Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, to the fearsome technical demands of Ravel’s Tzigane and the exquisite refinement of Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise and Introduction et Rondo capriccioso, this album harks back to an earlier era of violin playing.

“Great violinists like Heifetz, Kreisler, Menuhin … played virtuosic pieces in their concerts,” recalled Steinbacher in a recent interview. She lamented that such pieces are infrequently played owing to the perception that “…this kind of repertoire is ‘not serious enough’ which I find is really a pity and also not true.” For the scintillating Carmen Fantasie, Steinbacher freely admitted that Heifetz was her inspiration. When she heard, that the piece was composed for him mid-career, she was very impressed and decided to make that journey as well “…and I am very glad I did it!”
In a change of pace, the album also features the work which has topped Classic FM’s listeners’ “Hall of Fame” for the last three years running: the much-loved and achingly lyrical The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams. Ever the listeners’ favourite, this beautiful piece with its soaring violin part has never been bettered for its sublime depiction of an English rural idyll and it seems fitting that Vaughan Williams completed it following the horrors of the First World War. In a similar spiritual vein, the Méditation from “Thaïs” is included, Massenet’s most famous and imitated work which retains the power to this day to spellbind audiences.

On Steinbacher’s previous collaboration with Foster for PENTATONE in the Korngold and Bruch Violin Concertos, Gramophone magazine noted Steinbacher’s “easy virtuosity with concern to find the right tone and nuance for every phrase” and Foster’s “beautifully balanced accompaniment with notably expressive individual lines”. For her playing in the Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky violin concertos, again for PENTATONE, Gramophone commented “one could hardly wish for a more expressive account of both concertos”. Following such critical acclaim, this release looks to bolster her status as one of today’s leading violinists on the international stage.

For this recording Arabella Steinbacher plays the “Booth” Stradivari from 1716, a generous loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.

For further information, see

Notes on the music

The allure of the Roma (gypsy) street musicians (especially their prowess on the violin) proved irresistible for nineteenth century composers who imitated their improvisatory music albeit through a decidedly conventional lens. Like other dance music of the time, it found its way from the street into salons, ballrooms and concert halls. Liszt freely used Roma melodies (intentionally or otherwise) in his Hungarian Rhapsodies and it comes as no surprise that notable violin composers also tried to capture the same invigorating rhythmic abandon in their pastiches and potpourris, extending these with exotic Spanish influences.

The Spanish composer Pablo Martín Melitón de Sarasate y Navascués (1844 – 1908), known as Pablo de Sarasate, was a violin virtuoso famous throughout Europe and the Americas whose peerless technique “left criticism gasping miles behind him”. Saint-Saëns and fellow violinists Joachim and Wienawski all wrote for him and he was a source of inspiration for Bizet’s Carmen (which contains Roma elements) and Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole, the latter work dedicated to him. His influential Zigeunerweisen is a dazzling showpiece for violin, full of memorable melodies and show-stopping turns.

The German-American Franz Wachsmann (1906 – 1967), known as Franz Waxman, was a distinguished and prolific composer of film music for which he received 12 Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars. Like the composers Erich Korngold and Miklós Rózsa who also wrote film music, he was invited to America by a theatrical producer. He originally wrote his Carmen Fantasie for Jascha Heifetz in 1946 and incorporated it the film Humoresque where the actor John Garfield goes through the motions of playing the fiendish violin part for which Isaac Stern made the recording.

Saint-Saëns wrote his Introduction et Rondo capriccioso in 1863, while teaching piano at the Ecole Niedermeyer. He dedicated this along with his first and third violin concertos to Pablo de Sarasate and it is infused with warm Spanish rhythms and felicitous violin writing. It is among his most popular compositions together with the Havanaise,

Ravel wrote his famous Tzigane in 1924 for the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi, originally for violin and piano but later orchestrated. This “violinist’s minefield” does not incorporate authentic melodies; rather it attempts to imitate the improvisatory Roma style and in doing so stretches the limits of the performer. D’Aranyi’s own improvisations were incorporated in the work, Ravel remarking that he “he had no idea what she was doing … but he liked it.”

Kevin Painting