Charles-Valentin Alkan: The Complete Vianna da Motta Transcriptions
The Portuguese piano virtuoso and composer José Vianna da Motta (1868–1948) understood the importance of Alkan’s music long before its current rise to prominence and made a number of transcriptions to foster its performance, arranging eight of the organ Prières for solo piano and some of the music for pédalier – the obsolete pedal-piano – for piano duo and duet.
François Couperin: Les Nations, Volume One
François Couperin published two collections of pieces – the Concerts royaux in 1722 and Les Nations in 1726 – in what today would be called open scoring, so that they could be performed by whatever instruments were to hand. But he confessed in the preface to a later publication that he himself preferred to perform them on two harpsichords, although that suggestion had to wait for this series of two CDs to be taken up in a recording. Here they are presented with a number of his Pièces de clavecin, also in rarely heard realisations for two harpsichords.
Maurice Emmanuel: Chamber Music and Songs
These three early works of the French composer Maurice Emmanuel (1862–1938) show him emerging from the influence of César Franck to find an individual voice, with an ambitious violin sonata (here receiving its first recording), a suite of arrangements of Greek folksongs, wiry and winsome by turn, and an atmospheric, large-scale song-cycle to texts by the poet, geologist and historian Louis de Launay – a polymath like Emmanuel himself.
Fernando Lopes-Graça: Complete Music for String Quartet and Piano, Volume One
As a committed socialist, the Portuguese composer Fernando Lopes-Graça (1906–94) faced repression from Salazar’s right-wing dictatorship: his works were banned and he was stripped of his official positions. Lopes-Graça responded in music, evolving a feisty, wiry Bartókian style that drew on Portuguese folk-music. This recording features Lopes-Graça’s own Bechstein piano, played by Olga Prats, who worked closely with him.
Mozart by Arrangement, Volume Two
The violinist and conductor Andrew Manze recently remarked that the six violin sonatas published as Mozart’s Op. 2 in 1781 might also be effective as sonatas for piano duet. The Australian composer Stephen Yates has taken him up on the idea, adding six sparkling new two-piano sonatas to the single original one that Mozart himself produced.
Nikolai Peyko: Complete Piano Music, Volume One
The Russian composer Nikolai Peyko (1916–95) studied with Myaskovsky at the Moscow Conservatoire, where he later became Shostakovich’s teaching assistant and then an important teacher in his own right. Peyko’s piano music shares Shostakovich’s fondness for irony and Prokofiev’s for driving march-rhythms and playful good humour and, as with so many Russian composers, the sound of bells can often be heard. Each of the two CDs in this complete recording of his piano music ends with one of Peyko’s two works for two pianos – the first time that any of this music has been heard in its entirety.
Marcos Portugal: Choral Music
The Portuguese-Brazilian composer Marcos António Portugal (1762–1830) was best known in his day for his fifty or so operas, but he also composed a huge body of more than 160 religious choral works. The two here illustrate his conservative Classical style as well as revealing operatic influences, but the absence of female voices from the chorus and violins from the orchestra bring an unexpectedly dark colour.
Julius Röntgen: Chamber Music, Volume One
The vast output of the German-Dutch composer Julius Röntgen (1855–1932) has at last begun to emerge from obscurity, with a number of recordings attesting to his astonishing craftsmanship and exquisite sense of melody, balancing skill and spontaneity with the hand of a master. The works recorded here confirm his extraordinary ability to write one gorgeous tune after another.
Harold Shapero: Piano Music
Harold Shapero (1920–2013) reacted against the dominance of modernism in American musical life in the mid-twentieth-century by using a Neoclassical language with its roots in Beethoven and Schubert, initially animated by Stravinsky. These three early piano works – two of them receiving their first-ever recordings – reveal Shapero’s superb craftsmanship and his ready wit, in music which embraces the past instead of rejecting it.
Mieczysław Weinberg: Music for Orchestra
The music of the Polish-Soviet composer Mieczysław Weinberg (1919–96) is much more familiar than it was only ten years ago, but much in his huge output remains to be discovered. This CD presents the first recordings of two striking orchestral works, early and late: the catchy suite Polish Tunes (1950) and the Symphony No. 21 (1991), the last he completed, dedicated to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Malcolm Williamson: Organ Music
Malcolm Williamson (1931–2003), Master of the Queen’s Music from 1975 until his death, was a gifted pianist and organist as well as a prolific composer. His music, which began to make an impact soon after his arrival in Britain from Australia in 1953, naturally includes a substantial number of works for the organ, among them the monumental Symphony of 1960. His writing for organ is strikingly powerful in its originality and its eclectic mix of styles, ranging from lyrical introspection to dazzling virtuosity.
Amy Woodforde-Finden: The Oriental Song-Cycles
Amy Woodforde-Finden (1860–1919) wrote a number of ‘oriental’ song-cycles, one of which, the Four Indian Love Lyrics of 1902, contained the ‘Kashmiri Song’ – beginning ‘Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar’ – that became a runaway success in its own day. These ballads have long since fallen from favour, but they contain plenty of honest sentiment, good tunes and splashes of local colour – and their hints of inter-racial love and lesbian romance must have given a real frisson to their contemporary audiences.