Nicola Porpora, a contemporary of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Haydn (and a very young Mozart) is best remembered today as a famous singing teacher and opera composer. During his long career (he lived to age 81) he suffered many employment-related difficulties and disappointments that caused him to move frequently. Naples (where he was born), Venice, Dresden, and Vienna (where he taught Haydn) all enjoyed Porpora's reputable presence, and he even spent a period in London at the behest of a group seeking to unseat Handel and his opera company from its preeminent position. In addition to his operas and vocal music, Porpora wrote instrumental works such as the six violin sonatas featured here, which are drawn from a set of 12. Although anyone familiar with Italian Baroque and early Classical-style solo violin music will discover nothing particularly original on this generally fine recording, if you enjoy that genre and period you'll find much here to indulge and satisfy your taste.
Teodorico Pedrini is the only 18th century composer of which we know that he wrote European music in China, where he arrived after an eight year long journey from Italy to the Canary Island, Chile, Mexico, Peru and the Philippines. After his arrival in Beijing in 1711, he worked for the emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong until his death in 1746. Until today, he has been appreciated as one of the most important cultural ambassadors for Western music in Asia of all times.
Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.
Maxim Vengerov now confronts - and conquers - one of the supreme challenges all great violinists must face: The Brahms violin concerto. This beautiful, virtuosic work has defined careers from Heifetz to Perlman. Vengerov's turn has come, and his rich, burnished tone and impassioned phrasing make this one of the standout concerto CDs of the year. The soulful partnership of Vengerov and Barenboim (one of his most important mentors) is also a strong selling point.
The G major Anton Rubinstein violin concerto is a fine and powerful work, quite as good as many a lesser-known Russian example in the same genre, and easily as deserving of wider currency as, say, the Taneyev Suite de Concert, which is just as rarely heard these days. Nishizaki gives a committed and polished reading, though you often feel that this is music written by a pianist who had marginally less facility when writing for the violin. Still, here’s a well-schooled performance, full of agreeable touches of imagination (the Andante shows Nishizaki’s fine-spun tone to particularly good effect) delivered with crisply economical urgency that makes good musical sense even of the work’s plainer and less idiomatic passages.
The Gemini Series features an impressive roster of singers, conductors, soloists, and ensembles of international renown, all from the incomparable EMI Classics stable. EMI's rich legacy of recording expertise comes to the fore in performances from the 1960s to the 1990s. Gemini titles are predominantly collections of single composers and fantastic value with well over an hour of music on each CD, making them the ideal place to start or develop a collection of classical music. Each 2-CD set contains over two hours of music for a fantastically low price. Attractively designed and packaged in space-saving brilliant boxes, each set includes three-language booklets with detailed notes on the music.
Although he is fondly remembered for his many exemplary film scores composed during the Second World War, Korngold's more "serious" concerto works – particularly those written after the war – are becoming increasingly well-respected and widely performed. Chief among those works gaining tremendous popularity is his violin concerto. Hints of the sweep and grandeur of the film genre can still be heard in the concerto, but never to the point where Korngold's music sounds trite or unpolished. Rather, Korngold casts the violin in a decidedly Romantic style while still managing to include snippets of previous film scores, making for an easily accessible listening experience. Contrasting sharply with Korngold's increasing popularity is Lithuanian composer Balys Dvarionas.