ORFEO International – New Releases

New Releases briefly introduced

January 2018 – July 2018

July 2018

ORFEO 2 CD C 936 182 I

Richard Wagner: The Flying Dutchman

The slimmest Senta in the world

Although Wagner himself made it quite clear to King Ludwig II of Bavaria that the Flying Dutchman was among those works of his deemed fit to be performed in Bayreuth, the “Romantic Opera in three Acts” was not staged there till 1901, as the last of those ten. C 936 182 I
C 936 182 I
1959 was a special year in “New Bayreuth”: by producing the earliest, Wieland Wagner had now presented all ten works under his own direction, in the first “Ring-free” year since the 1951 reopening – an abomination to hard-bitten old-school Wagnerians, for whom only the Ring and Parsifal genuinely belonged on the “green hill” of Bayreuth. There was once again heated discussion over the guiding principles governing the presentation of the festival – as reported, along with much else, in the well-informed and lively booklet-note by Festival public relations officer Peter Emmerich. But Wieland confounded and convinced his critics yet again with a “rediscovery” of his directorial idiom, described by him as “magic realism”. Musical success was achieved on the grand scale by the brilliant exponents of Senta (dubbed by Wagner “the woman of the future”) and the Dutchman – and by the musically modern slim-line conductor, who had made his successful Bayreuth debut not long before in the new production of Tristan (now on CD ORFEO C 951 183). Leonie Rysanek, whose singing gave vivid meaning to all the drama’s emotional aspects, also had the figure for the part – in her own words, she was the “slimmest Senta in the world”. With his powerful voice and darkly glowing male timbre, the inimitably elegant and empathetic George London remains without peer on this recording as elsewhere. Just as convincingly cast in its other roles, the work soon established itself in this second “New Bayreuth” staging even in its spiritual home. We would make a special point of observing that this historic audio document was captured not at the premiere performance, but during a second live recording on August 5, 1959.

Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge, Berlin


June 2018

ORFEO 2 CD C 931 182 I

Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

The global careers of not one but two Slovakian singers were launched on March 23, 1978 in Vienna’s State Opera: that of then-27-year-old tenor Peter Dvorský, and above all that of 31-year-old Edita Gruberova, hers a career which has endured to this day. Despite her success there in the role of Zerbinetta just eighteen months earlier, she was then still an insider tip for such a large bel canto role. C 931 182 I
C 931 182 I
Although studio recordings from subsequent years (1984, 1992 and 2003) exist of this role which would later become Gruberova’s hallmark – one she sang eighty-eight times in Vienna alone – this early live recording has a quality that is missing from later recordings: the maidenly determination and yet stupendous vocal perfection (including her flawless high E flat) that Gruberova delivers in her portrayal, her inimitable sonorous timbre – which she retains to this day – alongside the wonderfully intimate and yet tense partnership with Dvorský, whose passionate, burning tenor provides a unique highlight in his first duet with Gruberova’s Lucia and supplies a further high point in the tricky final scene on a recording not short of such brilliant climaxes. Matteo Manuguerra’s reading of Lucia’s brother Enrico is a perilously relentless, masculine tour de force. Last but not least, the quickening touch of Giuseppe Patanè’s baton makes this a gem among the treasures of Edita Gruberova’s discography, one never short of outstanding testimony to her consummate vocal skill and is a wonderful addition to that of Peter Dvorský, whose discography is sadly not so bountiful. The Neapolitan conductor, who was highly regarded in Munich for his performances of Italian repertoire, transforms a singing festival into an exciting music drama in the way that he leads the Vienna Philharmonic in a highly flexible and dynamic manner through the musical narrative.


May 2018

ORFEO 3 CD C 951 183 D

Wagner, Tristan und Isolde

A vocal quality to die for

There are few artists who have dominated a particular vocal field of highly challenging roles unrivalled for so many years as the Swedish soprano Birgit Nilsson in her highly dramatic roles in the operas of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. That dominance has continued to resonate in the decades since her retirement in 1984 and the years since her death in 2005; indeed, it has been reinforced – one could even say her reputation has been immortalized – by numerous benchmark recordings.

In her C 951 183 D
C 951 183 D
witty memoirs Nilsson recalled how, after her first audition in Bayreuth, Wieland Wagner knelt before her in his office and, to her great astonishment, offered her any role she wanted – amusingly adding “but never Isolde or Brünhilde”. As history recalls, things turned out differently in the end. There are several things that are remarkable about this Tristan performance released here officially for the first time. It documents her Bayreuth debut in one of the aforementioned roles in which she was to shine, one which she embodied to such an extent that until 1970 she was effectively Isolde. Her initial success in Bayreuth – as we can hear on this recording – came in productions under Wolfgang Wagner, before her now legendary collaboration with Wieland. Musical direction in this case was in the hands of the young Wolfgang Sawallisch, whom Nilsson admired greatly. Surprisingly, the production was not a great success until its second year, from which this recording derives. Alongside great singers like Wolfgang Windgassen, Grace Hoffman, Josef Greindl and Fritz Uhl, who would later frequently partner her, fellow Swede Erik Saedén gave a convincing reading of Kurwenal, though only in that year.

To mark the 100th birthday of this outstanding singer on May 17, 2018, it is worth recalling Wieland Wagner’s characterisation of the three great post-war Isoldes: “Martha Mödl was the tragic Isolde dogged by fate, Astrid Varnay was the vengeful Isolde, and Birgit Nilsson was the loving Isolde.”


May 2018

ORFEO 1 CD C 915 181 B

Bruckner, Symphony No. 7

Before the great wave of Bruckner conducting that has taken place since the 1970s, it was Hans Knappertsbusch (1888–1966) who stood out as unquestionably one of the most important Bruckner exponents, and Bruckner was part of his core repertoire. C 915 181 B
C 915 181 B
There are several recordings by him of the 3rd to 5th and 7th to 9th Symphonies, two in the case of the Seventh, a live recording from the 1949 Salzburg Festival with the Vienna Philharmonic (Orfeo 655061) and this transfer direct from the original tapes of 1963 (and not “off the air”) with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The Seventh is particularly suited to comparison with older recordings insofar as there is no question of the alternative versions and editions we otherwise associate with Bruckner. The difference between the two recordings is substantial, which is no particular surprise when it comes to “Kna”. His later reading released here is painted on a broader canvas, goes into less individual detail; at the same time, one can appreciate how comprehensively Knappertsbusch plans the grand design while noting with amazement – especially at the brass-scored fortissimo climaxes typical of Bruckner – how energetically the conductor shapes, phrases, “turns into music” even here, something one does not hear these days.
The orchestra is impressive for its exceptional solo contributions. It is the same orchestra that would record the Bruckner symphonies complete with Günther Wand a decade later.


April 2018

ORFEO 1 CD C 944 182 I

Franz Liszt, Années de pèlerinage

Francesco Piemontesi i s a pianist of exceptional refinement of expression, which is allied to a consummate technical skill. C 944 182 I
C 944 182 I
Widely renowned for his interpretation of Mozart and the early Romantic repertoire, Piemontesi’s pianism and sensibility has a close affinity too with the later 19th century and 20th century repertoire of Brahms, Liszt, Dvořák, Ravel, Debussy, Bartok and beyond. Of one of his great teachers and mentors, Alfred Brendel, Piemontesi says that Brendel taught him “to love the detail of things”.
Born in Locarno, Francesco Piemontesi studied with Arie Vardi before working with Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Cecile Ousset and Alexis Weissenberg. He rose to international prominence with prizes at several major competitions, including the 2007 Queen Elisabeth Competition, and between 2009 –11 he was chosen as a BBC New Generation Artist.
Francesco Piemontesi appears with major ensembles worldwide: Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, DSO and Berlin Radio Symphony, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Vienna Symphony, Czech Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, Danish National Symphony, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, St Petersburg Philharmonic, London Symphony Orcherstra, London Philharmonic, Philharmonia, BBC Symphony, The Halle, Tonhalle-Orchestra Zurich, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Israel Philharmonic, NHK Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, Pit tsburgh Symphony, Dallas Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
He has performed with conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Nicholas Collon, Charles Dutoit, Sir Mark Elder, Iven Fischer, Mirga Gražinytė- Tyla, Manfred Honeck, Marek Janowski, Neeme Jarvi, Ton Koopman, Andrew Manze, Zubin Mehta, Sir Roger Norrington, Gianandrea Noseda, Sakari Oramo and Yuri Temirkanov. Piemontesi is also a natural and keen chamber musician and plays with a variety of partners – Leif Ove Andsnes, Yuri Bashmet, Renaud and Gautier Capucon, Emmanuel Pahud, Daniel Muller-Schott, Christian Tetzlaff, Tabea Zimmermann and the Emerson Quartet.
In solo recital, he has appeared in many prestigious venues including London’s Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Rotterdam De Doelen, Berlin Philharmonie, Zurich Tonhalle, Vienna Konzerthaus and Musikverein, Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in New York, and Suntory Hall Tokyo. In January 2016, Piemontesi launched his complete Mozar t Odyssey at the Wigmore Hall, performing the sonatas in a series of recitals over the course of three seasons. Piemontesi has performed at the Verbier Festival, Edinburgh International Festival, La Roque d’Antheron, Chopin International Music Festival in Warsaw, Lucerne Festival, Schubertiade, Aix-en-Provence Easter Festival, Rheingau and Schleswig-Holstein festivals and New York Mostly Mozart Festival.
Since 2012, Piemontesi has been the Artistic Director of the Settimane Musicali di Ascona.

Francesco Piemontesi with Année de Pèlerinage by Franz Liszt on YouTube:


March 2018

ORFEO 1 CD C 945 181 A

Widmann • Mendelssohn

Seldom has one heard one of the best known works of Mendelssohn, the brilliant Hebrides Overture, so wild, gruff and raw, so fissured even, as in this concluding instalment of Mendelssohn symphonies with Jörg Widmann. This is without question a thoroughly contemporary interpretation; C 945 181 A
C 945 181 A
we get the now universal sense of hearing anew that comes with period instruments, even though none are being played here. It must have been a real stimulus to the composer at the conductor’s desk – a music analyst in the highest degree – to take this music tamed by over-familiarity and strip it of everything that is pseudo-obvious and safely middle-of-the-road. And it is that principle, faithfully followed in the earlier releases, of quite deliberately comparing and contrasting Mendelssohn’s works with the clarinet-playing conductor’s own that must have been what struck the spark and audibly kindled the music-making spirit of the Irish Chamber Orchestra. A drama otherwise reserved for the concert hall here comes across admirably on disc: the well-known early-19th-century works sound like new – almost alien – which is a compliment to their interpreters. Widmann’s two early works, now a part of his own history, turn out to be good, even exhilarating, listening; inspired by the young composer’s disco nights, “180  beats” goes well with the fascinating “Fantasie”, played by the composer himself, which effortlessly surmounts the limits seemingly set on the harmonies of a monophonic wind instrument. We may easily go astray when “placing” a piece of music, as the lively booklet-text tells us Schumann did when he credited the “Scottish” with an Italian flavour. Be that as it may, this is a spine-tinglingly new way to listen to Mendelssohn’s music.

Translation: Janet and Michael Berridge, London


February 2018

ORFEO 2 CD C 930 182 I

Gottfried von Einem: Der Besuch der alten Dame

The “tragic comedy” recorded here goes back to the middle of the twentieth century and is based on a work by an author who was of the view that “a story is only fully thought through when the plot has taken a turn for the very worst”, and who as a result decided that he could only write comedies. C 930 182 I
C 930 182 I
The pleasant simplicity of the language, the entertaining, apparent harmlessness of the plot, as manifested in the comic-like names of some of the protagonists, such as Toby, Roby, Koby and Loby, are in the sharpest possible contrast to the unmatched cruelty of the concept and action of the characters – that is to say, an utterly excessive, archaic campaign of feminine revenge. It is therefore quite appropriate that the composer, born 100 years ago, was no pioneer, any more than his librettist, of a bombastic avant-garde style that took itself too seriously. On the contrary, the unfathomable aspect of these merciless events is emphasised here by means of a clearly comprehensible and not entirely unentertaining approach. The premiere at the Vienna State Opera in 1971 was an unprecedented success that, according to the reviews, by far outshone popular repertoire opera premieres of previous years, and the production staged by Otto Schenk enjoyed a run of 39 performances. That success was no doubt thanks in part to its cast: accompanied by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra under Horst Stein, a first-rate ensemble with Hans Hotter as the teacher, Eberhard Wächter as the lamentable Alfred Ill, and above all, the outstanding Christa Ludwig as the richest woman in the world, Claire Zachanassian. Her name, according to the original play’s author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, is a conglomerate of Zacharoff, Onassis and Gulbenkian, and one might easily conclude that the lady whose birthday we are marking commands similar riches, embodying as she does the qualities of several top-flight singers. The artist, who will celebrate her ninetieth birthday this year, has contributed to the CD booklet notes personally, providing memories of the production, which are further proof of the magnitude of her artistic personality.


January 2018

ORFEO 2 CD C 918 182 I

Mozart, Così fan tutte

Beethoven was shocked

Even in its opera-buffa manifestation, the utterly disastrous wife-swapping experiment in “Cosi fan tutte” so scandalized the entire 19th century, from Beethoven to Wagner, that desperate attempts were constantly made to conceal the work’s frivolity under any number of respectable rewrites. C 918 182 I
C 918 182 I
It was Hermann Levi and Richard Strauss who recreated the original work for Munich with through-composed recitatives instead of spoken dialogues. Amazingly, it took this Munich production of the 1970s to bring Mozart’s absolute masterpiece to life in its original language; yet anything else –   from a great master of musically subtle, rapid-reaction word-play – is sheer sacrilege!
In any case, the acoustic account captures an almost unbearably intense moment in the history of music theatre. The music director of those days, true to local tradition and to his own history, once again shows himself to be not only a consummate Wagner and Strauss conductor but also, as in the previously released “Don Giovanni” from that era (Orfeo C846153), a hugely skilled interpreter of Mozart. The piece’s ensemble qualities, lifting it from the chasms of deep disgrace to a pinnacle of Mozart’s operatic writing, are brought out with breathtaking drama and vivid versatility, due not least to the cumulatively sensational qualities of the various protagonists. These were so highly regarded by the maestro himself as to justify a transfer from the customary Cuvilliés-Theater – where the first Munich production had been staged in 1795 – to the Nationaltheater itself: “With soloists such as these, we can sell out the house.”


January 2018

ORFEO 1 CD C 929 181 A

von Einem, Philadelphia Symphony

The longer the modern era lasts, the older “New Music” grows, and the more versatile it becomes. Upon closer listening, one quickly becomes aware of the many byways and backroads of the genre, in addition to the principal trends, and one composer who trod his own path decisively, with great success, is Gottfried von Einem. C 929 181 A
C 929 181 A
Since his breakthrough with the premiere of his opera Dantons Tod (the death of Danton) at the Salzburg Festival in 1947, through to the composer’s death in 1996, many of his works have been performed on the international music stage, as witness recordings featuring the likes of Böhm, Karajan and George Szell on this label. However, everyone knows that for a composer to continue to develop his artistic skills he needs more than glittering premieres, and so the Orfeo label is delighted to mark the 100th birthday of the composer born in 1918 by releasing, alongside other new recordings of his works from its catalogue, a retrospective of von Einem’s work featuring the very best performers of today.
The earliest work on this new release is the choral work with orchestra Stundenlied, which originates from a highly interesting cultural and historical source: a collaboration with the playwright Bertolt Brecht who from 1949 lived in the German Democratic Republic. The story of Christ’s passion is witnessed and presented in a popular, naive way as a dreadful event and brilliantly depicted by von Einem using simple and stringent compositional means to produce a work that is haunting and authoritative, performed here by the Singverein and Philharmonic Orchestra of Vienna under Franz Welser-Möst.

Written between 1962 and 1973, his Geistliche Sonate (sacred sonata) for soprano, trumpet and organ, is in a quite different category, with scoring in which the composer unites contrapuntal concentration in the layout with tense expressivity. This is music that comes alive in an impressive way thanks to the expressive skills of the soprano, the “modern” (female) Baltic concert organist and the phenomenal world-class trumpeter.

Finally, we hear the Philadelphia Symphony, a work named after the city where it was commissioned and where it was originally to have been premiered, but which after some discord there was premiered in the Musikvereinssaal in Vienna in 1961 with the city’s Philharmonic under Sir Georg Solti – and is now to be heard on the “remake” recording in the same venue under Franz Welser-Möst, who has plenty of stateside experience to offer. Conceived in the dimensions of a three-movement Haydn symphony, this work wins over the audience with its moderately modern ingenuity and suggests that these days, the post-modern can boast a longer history.