Orchestral Spectacular (Adrian Leaper/ Brian Culverhouse/ Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550501)
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Spain exercised a curious fascination over the nationalistcomposers of the nineteenth century, with a particular appeal in Russia, a country thatwas finding again its own identity in literature and music, after the Westernisationinitiated by Peter the Great.
The French might be forgiven for a certain preoccupation withthe very different traditional music of their geographical neighbours. The nineteenth andtwentieth centuries offer various examples of this interest, from Saint-Sa?½ns, Lalo andBizet to Ravel and Debussy. Emmanuel Chabrier, like his Russian contemporaries, wasintended by his family for a securer career than any that music could offer. He showedexceptional ability as a pianist as a child, but studied law and took employment in theMinistry of the Interior in Paris. It was not until 1880, eleven years after the death ofhis parents, that he became a full-time musician. His colourful orchestral piece Espanawas written in the following year, its inspiration a visit to Spain. It has always enjoyedpopularity, a success not shared by the dramatic works by which the composer setconsiderable store.
Rimsky-Korsakov's famous Capriccio espagnol began as aFantasia on Spanish Themes for violin and orchestra, but was eventually completed in 1887in its present form. Rimsky-Korsakov belonged to the musical generation after Glinka andonce he had relinquished his original career as a naval officer devoted himself to thecause of Russian music with a professionalism that some of his contemporaries lacked. Hewas one of the five nationalist composers, Stasov's Mighty Handful, under the influence ofBalakirev, and possessed particular ability in orchestration, a gift he was later toexercise in removing apparent crudities from the music of Mussorgsky and in completingwhat Borodin had left undone. He stressed that the brilliant Capriccio espagnol wasintended as a display of orchestral colour, an aim which it achieves admirably.
The origin of the orchestral piece Night on the Bare Mountain
lies in music written for a play, The Witch, by a friend from Mussorgsky's time in thearmy. The composer later had the idea of writing an opera on a story by Gogol, St. John'sEve. In 1867, dismissed for the moment from the civil service, he found the leisure towrite an orchestral work based on the material he had composed to depict a witches'sabbath, held on the eve of the Feast of St. John, at mid-summer, on Bare Mountain.
Mussorgsky was to make use of the same music five years later for an abortive stage-work,in which he collaborated with Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Cui.
As seems usual on these occasions, the witches' celebrationstarts with relative decorum, before proceeding to more characteristic activities.
Throughout Mussorgsky derives his inspiration from Russian folk-song, an element never farfrom the musical idiom he employed. Borodin's professional career in chemistry left himrelatively little time for music. His first symphony had occupied him intermittentlybetween 1862 and 1867, while the second, started in 1869, reached its final form twelveyears later. From 1870 onwards he worked at his opera Prince Igor, for which Stasov hadsent him a scenario, writing music and words piece-meal, but without ever providinghimself with a full libretto. At his death in 1887 the opera was still unfinished and wasto be filled out by Rimsky-Korsakov and his young colleague Glazunov as best they could.
The Polovtsian Dances make up a sequence of choral dances inthe second act of the opera, where they provideentertainment for the Tartar Khan's prisoners, Prince Igor and his son. The opening dancewas orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov and the remaining dances by the composer, all makinguse ofrhythms of enormous vitality and melodic material that suggests vividly the scene in all its barbarous energy.
Ravel wrote the orchestral tour de force Bolero in 1928 for thedancer Ida Rubinstein, describing it on one occasion as an orchestrated crescendo and onanother as "une blague" and yet again as "vide de musique". It isbased on the insistent drum rhythm of aninvented Spanish dance and won immediate popularity.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was created by Sir ThomasBeecham three weeks before its first concert, which took place in the Davis Hall, Croydon, on 15th September, 1946. The orchestra was initiallyassociated with the Royal Philharmonic Society and involved in the Society's subscriptionconcerti series, later earning for itself the title"Royal", when this association came to an end. Beecham gave his last concertwith the orchestra in 1960 and was succeeded by Rudolf Kempe, who became principal conductor onBeecham's death the following year. The orchestra has from the beginning been involved inrecording, with a major international reputation supported by foreign tours and by association with conductors and soloists of thegreatest distinction.
Adrian Leaper was appointed Assistant Conductor to StanislawSkrowaczewski of the Halle Orchestra in 1986, and has since then enjoyed an increasinglybusy career, with engagements at home and throughout Europe.Born in 1953, Adrian Leaperstudied at the Royal Academy of Music and was for anumber of years co-principal French horn in the Philharmonia Orchestra, before turning his attention exclusively to conducting. He hasbeen closely involved with the Naxos and MarcoPolo labels and has been consequently instrumental in introducing elements of Englishrepertoire to Eastern Europe. His numerousrecordings include a complete cycle of Sibelius symphonies for Naxos.