Monday, March 2, 2015

March 2015 - Featured Playlist: Keeping Time

Percussion instruments may be the oldest music makers outside the human voice, but it took some time for Western classical music to embrace them. Even in the 18th and much of the 19th centuries, they were seen as tools for adding a little extra oomph to big moments, or as a way of conjuring up an exotic atmosphere—a novelty, and not much more. But as composers sought new ways to express themselves, percussion came more to the fore, becoming firmly entrenched as not only an essential—and exceedingly exciting—part of the orchestra, but also as a viable participant in chamber and solo repertoire. Enjoy this very cursory glimpse of percussion in classical music, with each thump of a drum or mallet a moment in the history of Keeping Time.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. W.A. Mozart – Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Overture – The sound of the Janissary band (military music from Turkey) reached Europe in the mid-18th century, and it didn’t take long for composers to employ its characteristic bass drum, cymbal, and triangle whenever a rousing Ottoman flavor was desired. Ever the maverick, Mozart was more than happy to spearhead this new trend in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which was set in Turkey.

2. Ludwig van Beethoven – Wellington’s Victory: The Battle – Generally dismissed today as one of Beethoven’s lesser compositions, Wellington’s Victory did make spectacular use of percussion as a means of illustrating a battle scene, causing it to be a popular novelty in its day. And to be fair, the composer’s response to critics of the piece is spot on: "What I s%!# is better than anything you could ever think up!"

3. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich – Peanuts Gallery: III. Snoopy Does the Samba – In 1990, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich was referenced by Charles Schulz in a Peanuts strip, and a few years later she returned the favor with her Peanuts Gallery, for piano and orchestra. A driving samba rhythm on a drum set is used to portray Snoopy, because, like the samba, he is both hot and cool, sophisticated and fun.

4. Mark Duggan – Gamelan Solo: II. Delicate – The gamelan is a traditional Indonesian percussion ensemble, but Duggan drew much of his inspiration for this piece from the landscape of rural Canada, where it was written. In his words, “The intended mood is one of open spaces, simplicity, and elegance… The overall aesthetic is not at all Indonesian but rather, draws from a dramatic, minimalist language.”

5. Joseph Schwantner – Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra: I. Con forza – It’s always fun to hear a concerto performed by the soloist for whom it was written, and that makes this recording of Schwantner’s Percussion Concerto quite special. Percussionist Christopher Lamb displays his mastery of a variety of instruments throughout this colorful work; featured here is the exciting opening movement.

6. Philip Glass – Concerto Fantasy for 2 Timpanists and Orchestra: III. — – Timpanists Ji Hye Jung and Gwendolyn Burgett take center stage in this recording, which features a wind band transcription of the original orchestral version. Glass’s trademark repetition is restrained here, but the music itself certainly isn’t, with this final movement employing a thrilling bombast that gets the adrenaline surging.
7. Béla Bartók – Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion: III. Allegro non troppo – Composed in 1937, this work is another fine display of Bartók’s innovative instrumentation. Two percussionists accompany the pianists with side and bass drum, timpani, cymbals, xylophone, tam-tam, and triangle, providing a relatively early example of how percussion can carry its own weight in a chamber music context.
8. Hans Söderberg – Arietta for Vibraphone and Strings – Swedish teacher and composer Hans Söderberg only has a couple recordings in NML, both on this same compilation album, but his Arietta is certainly worth hearing. The sweet, lullaby-worthy melody from the vibraphone rests on a simple bed of strings, demonstrating that percussion doesn’t always have to be about flash and bombast to make its point.
9. Evelyn Glennie – Little Prayer – Probably more than any other classical percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie has made a hugely respected name for herself as a soloist, and she has also crossed over into the pop world at times to collaborate with Björk, Béla Fleck, and others. She has been responsible for the commissioning of a wide array of works for percussion, but here we feature a lovely composition of her own for marimba.

10. Georg Druschetzky – Timpani Concerto: II. Andante con variazione – Druschetzky’s several works to feature timpani feel like an anachronism, their light sound and style very firmly set in the Classical Era, but their need for 6-8 timpani predating Berlioz’ grand demands by two generations. The movement included here also has prominent mallet percussion parts, another unusual idea for the day.
11. Hector Berlioz – Grande Messe des Morts: Tuba Mirum – Speaking of Berlioz, it was his Symphonie fantastique and Grande Messe des Morts that changed the game for timpani usage by demanding larger forces than ever seen before. The latter work calls for a whopping sixteen timpani played by ten musicians, a thundering roar that can be heard in the passage here.

12. Kalevi Aho – Symphonic Dances, Hommage a Uuno Klami: IV. Dance of the Winds and Fires – Finnish composer Kalevi Aho is noted for his broad and colorful use of orchestration. His Symphonic Dances is based on an incomplete ballet by Uuno Klami that told of the forging of the Sampo, an artifact from Finnish mythology. The percussion is integral in establishing a fierce, primeval atmosphere.
13. Tan Dun – Water Passion (after St Matthew): Water Cadenza – Tan Dun is certainly not afraid to use non-traditional instrumentation for both symbolic and aesthetic reasons, so it would make sense that he’d choose to use the cyclical nature of water to represent a story of death and resurrection. Whether his Water Passion in actually listenable is a matter of taste, but this cadenza is a chance to dip a toe into this sound world.

14. Steve Reich – Nagoya Marimbas – Steve Reich is another composer whose work is polarizing; the concepts are often quite revolutionary, but it sometimes seems more about the process than the product. This selection is quite enjoyable, however. Reich describes Nagoya Marimbas as having “repeating patterns…one or more beats out of phase, creating a series of two-part unison canons.”

15. Jason Treuting – July – Sō Percussion is one of the better-known percussion ensembles in the classical or art music spectrum, and they utilize everything from standard mallet percussion (struck and bowed) to duct tape and amplified cactus (which is exactly what you think it is). While they frequently collaborate with others, this particular piece is an original composition by an ensemble member.
16. Ney Rosauro – Marimba Concerto: III. Dança (Dance) – Ney Rosauro is a percussionist and composer who blends Western classical traditions with the music of Brazil. He is currently Director of Percussion Studies at the University of Miami, and his Marimba Concerto is his best-known work, included here in an arrangement for soloist and percussion ensemble.

17. Toshiro Mayuzumi – Xylophone Concertino: III. Presto – Mayuzumi frequently explored themes of Japanese tradition and Buddhism in his work, something clearly heard in his Xylophone Concertino from 1965. This particular recording is of an arrangement replacing the Western orchestra with a Chinese orchestra, and Evelyn Glennie is the featured soloist.

18. Arvo Pärt – Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten – After a playlist full of percussive bombast, one might wonder why this work is included. In typical Pärt style, the arrangement is sparse and unflashy, and the percussion is limited to a tolling bell throughout. But what it demonstrates is the power percussion can have, even when it is used sparingly. The simple gesture of this bell lends the piece a special gravitas perfect for the subject matter.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.5 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery!  

Monday, February 2, 2015

February 2015 - Featured Playlist: Many Splendours

Love is patient, love is kind, love is a battlefield, love is a verb, love is all around, love is all you need, love is… Love is a reliable artistic inspiration, that’s what it is. And we don’t mean only that twitterpated kind of love, though plenty of cash will be coughed up this month roses and chocolates and chintzy teddy bears bombarded with hearts and glitter. Love also means sacrificing oneself for family, putting their needs first. It means sticking together even when you’ve both become all sags and wrinkles. It means reflecting fondly on those who’ve left this world too soon. It means sharing your life, both the happy and the heartbreaking parts of it.

Immerse yourself in this music, study the stories behind these songs, and see how love truly is a thing of Many Splendours.

To hear the playlist, access NML as usual, go to the Playlists section, and select the Playlist of the Month folder under the Naxos Music Library Playlists tab. If you are on your institution's premises, you may also be able to access it if you CLICK HERE.

1. Chen Gang, He Zhanhao - The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto: Adagio cantabile – Released from censorship following the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, this concerto became one of the most recognizable classical works to come from China. It recounts a popular Chinese folk tale about two lovers who were united in death when their spirits turned into butterflies and flew off together.

2. Jules Massenet – Le Cid, Act III: Ah! Tout est bien fini…O souverain! – Rodrigue has been forced to kill his lover Chimène’s father to avenge his own father’s honor. Understandably she isn’t too happy with him. In this aria, he laments his fate and dedicates himself to the will of God before heading off to fight. Will he be victorious in battle? Will he reconcile with Chimène? Or will it all end in tears?
3. Giacomo Puccini – Tosca, Act I: Recondita armonia – Cavaradossi, a painter creating a portrait of Mary Magdalene, sings this aria about the “hidden harmony” between the blonde subject and his lover Tosca, who has dark hair. This recording features one of the great operatic tenors of his day, Mario Lanza.

4. Benjamin Britten – 7 Sonnets of Michelangelo, No. 3: Sonetto XXX – Veggio co’bei vostri occhi un dolce lume – Britten found a faithful muse in his partner Peter Pears, a tremendous singer, and his 7 Sonnets of Michelangelo were the first songs he wrote specifically for Pears. Translated to English, the final words of this gorgeous passage say “Alone, I am like the moon in the sky, which our eyes cannot see save that part which the sun illumines.”
5. Lili Boulanger – Le retour – Part of Boulanger’s brilliance was how her songs often told parts of the story the lyrics did not. The text of “Le retour” simply tells of Ulysses’ departure for home and his desire to see his beloved young son. However, the ominous waves penned for the piano portend a return that will not be so simple as Ulysses hopes.

6. Leoš Janáček – String Quartet No. 2, “Intimate Letters”: II. Adagio – Over the final decade of his life, Janáček developed an intense attraction to Kamila Stösslová, a married woman nearly forty years his junior. She remained aloof to his love, but nevertheless much of his late work was inspired by her. Composed shortly before his death in 1928, his String Quartet No. 2 is a musical depiction of his near-daily letters to her.
7. Jón Leifs – Erfiljóð (Elegies): III. Sjávarljóð (Sea Poem) – Leifs was estranged from his family when his teenage daughter Líf drowned in 1947, and he composed four different works as a way of seeking forgiveness from her. In Erfiljóð, composed for a male chorus accompanied by female soloist and violin, one can hear both his profound grief and his tender love for her, and the song ends with “I shall gladly await my own death…long hours I think of you.”

8. Georgy Sviridov – 3 Choruses from Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, No. 2: Sacred Love – Sviridov is best known in the West for his choral work, including his set titled Pushkin’s Wreath and his 3 Choruses from Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, based on Tolstoy. The second of these three choruses is featured here, its text translating to “Sacred love, you are persecuted, soaked in blood. You are sacred love.”
9. Peter Lieberson – Neruda Songs, No. 5: Amor mio, si muero y tu no mueres (My love, if I die and you don’t) – This song cycle, taken from poetry by Pablo Neruda, was composed for Lieberson’s wife, singer Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and she gave the premiere performance in 2005. The work is rendered all the more poignant when considering that Hunt Lieberson was battling breast cancer, to which she succumbed a year later.

10. Friedrich Von Flotow – Martha, Act III, Aria: Ach so fromm, ach so traut – Martha tells the story of two rich girls who, for amusement, take up work as maids. The farmers who hire them quickly fall in love with them, and recognizing this, the girls run away. One of them, Lyonel, sings this aria upon encountering his “Martha” in her real life as lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne.

11. Clara Schumann – Am Strande (On the Bank) – Clara Schumann’s Am Strande is based on a German translation of a poem by Robert Burns. She gave it to her husband as a gift for their first Christmas as a married couple, writing “in deepest modesty dedicated to her most fervently beloved Robert at Christmas 1840 from his Clara”. His response? “How the clarity of my heart brings me such delight with this present.” Awww.
12. Ludwig van Beethoven – Andante in F Major, “Andante favori” – Beethoven’s love for Countess Josephine von Brunsvik is well-documented, and she is the most likely candidate to be his mysterious “Immortal Beloved”. His Andante in F Major is one of his many musical declarations of love for her, a love that went unfulfilled, largely due to his lower social status and lack of title.

13. Sergey Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64, Act I: Balcony Scene – There is certainly no story more widely associated with young love than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Apparently the epitome of romance involves teenagers dying in the end. Prokofiev’s imposing “Montagues and Capulets” portion might be the most immediately recognizable, but the lovely passage here, depicting the star-crossed lovers’ balcony scene, is also quite noteworthy.
14. Richard Strauss – Symphonia domestica, Op. 53, Part I: Introduction: Thema I (Bewegt) – If Ein Heldenleben is Strauss’ depiction of himself as a hero, Symphonia domestica shows his “happily ever after”. In Part I we are introduced to themes representing him, his wife, and their child. As the work goes on we get a glimpse into his idealized home life, where they are alternately merry, loving, and argumentative (though Strauss wins, of course).
15. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich – Chamber Symphony – Zwilich’s Chamber Symphony was composed in 1979, and in her words, “the ultimate meaning of this Chamber Symphony is in connection with the fact that it was written not long after the sudden death of my husband…” One can hear the intense grief, sorrow, and love she experienced during that time etched in every note.
16. Henryk Górecki – Symphony No. 3, "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs": II. Lento e largo – Tranquilissimo – This text uses words scrawled on a prison wall by Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna, a teenaged Gestapo prisoner in 1944: “Oh Mama do not cry – Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always.” Said Górecki, “The whole wall was covered with inscriptions screaming out loud: ‘I’m innocent’…while here is an 18-year-old girl…[who] only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair.” Now that is love.

Each month, Naxos Music Library presents a themed playlist for our subscribers to enjoy. We know that a database of over 1.5 million tracks can be a bit daunting, so we'd like to highlight some of the amazing music that is available to you. Let it kickstart discovery! 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2014 Q4 MARC .XML Records Now Available

And that's 2014 in the books. MARC .XML records are now available for your cataloging pleasure.

You can download only the latest set of records, or you can obtain the complete set combined by the month or year. As always, they are in .XML format, allowing you the freedom to process them to fit your system best.

Here are the links:

If you have any questions about these records, don't hesitate to contact us.