BIZET- BREINER: Carmen Concerto / GRANADOS: Valses Poeticos (Norbert Kraft/ Peter Breiner/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Tim Handley) (Naxos: 8.553114)
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Enrique Granados was born in Spain in 1867, and showed early promise as a pianist. He did not enter a major music school, but received almost all of his musical education privately in Barcelona and Paris. He also took lessons in composition, though his lack of self-confidence was reflected in his first orchestral work being orchestrated for him.
His first major success came in the popular Spanish form of opera, the zarzuala. 'Maria del Carmen' was considered as a masterpiece and established him as a major Spanish composer. He did, nevertheless, continue to earn a living as concert pianist and teacher. His greatest success came with the opera, Goyescas, first performed in New York in 1916. This was derived from a suite of piano works by the same name.
A missed boat, which would have taken him back from New York to Spain, required him to return via England. Sadly his ship from England was torpedoed by a German submarine, and Granados who had been saved, drowned trying to save his wife.
Peter Breiner was born in Czechoslovakia in 1957 and is now resident in Canada. He entered the Kosice Conservatory at the age of nine studying piano, and later he was to take composition lessons from Alexander Moyzes. He is a multi-talented musician equally at home in a wide range of music, his award-winning Baroque version of The Beatles greatest 'hits', just as important to him as his performances of Mozart. He is a fine pianist and conductor, and has worked extensively orchestrating, arranging and composing music.
Granados wrote the Valses poéticos in 1887 for solo piano, and it was one of his earliest works. It is in seven contrasting sections, all quite short, with two lasting under one minute. They are lightweight and of infinite charm, and have already attracted a number of arrangements including those for guitar. Here Breiner has created a work for guitar and orchestra in eight sections, the score concluding with a repeat of the opening waltz.
Breiner's own work is based on music from Bizet's famous ballet, Carmen. He is not the first person to be intrigued by Bizet's colourful treatment of the story, the most famous adaptation in recent times coming from the Russian, Rodin Shchedrin (Naxos 8.553038). This new score is in four very extensive movements which last for around 50 minutes, and scored for symphony orchestra and guitar. The music is so familiar that it needs no introduction, with the finale forming a medley of themes from the opera, and contains a long a brilliant guitar cadenza.
Norbert Kraft has been described in the Gramophone magazine as \technically flawless, supremely musical". He was born and educated in Canada, and has now been hailed as one of the great guitar players of all time. He was chosen as the musician to represent Canada at the World Expo '90 in Japan, and Expo '92 in Spain. He has made a number of recordings on the Naxos label including the most famous work for guitar, Rodrigo's Guitar Concerto, and in reviewing the disc, the magazine, Classical Guitar, wrote, "I can honestly report that I know of no existing version which I would rather hear". The ultimate accolade by the leading guitar magazine.
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra have now become the best known Polish orchestra by virtue of their many international tours. It is now resident in Katowice having been created in Warsaw in 1935. It has had several eminent Music Directors, and in 1983 they appointed Antoni Wit as Principal Conductor. The orchestra gives a regular concert series in Katowice, and is the country's chief broadcasting orchestra. It has appeared on a number of record labels, though in the past decade its major work has been for Naxos. In reviewing a previous recording the American Record Guide commented "that rich gutty East European string tone, the burnished brass, the tangy woodwinds, you know this is a fine orchestra".