For her second recording with
the Bay Area's conductor-less chamber orchestra, NADJA
SALERNO-SONNENBERG, renowned violinist and Music
Director of the NEW CENTURY CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
(NCCO) has chosen extremely well. This recording
of works of extraordinary profundity and transcendence by
three giants of classical music--SAMUEL BARBER, RICHARD STRAUSS,
and GUSTAV MAHLER--showcases the depth of the ensemble's musicality,
the range of its repertoire, and the individual member's talent
as solo performers. The second recording on the NSS Music
label, it is most definitely a valuable addition to NCCO's
growing CD catalog of works (now seven altogether), mostly
by 20th/21st century composers, that reflect the ensemble's
fresh and innovative "new century" approach to concert
the CD is the tenth in the catalog of NSS Music, the record
label founded in 2005 by SALERNO-SONNENBERG-- the creative
and entrepreneurial outgrowth of her well-known passion for
sharing beautiful music that spans across musical genres.
The CD title echoes the label's emphasis on recordings of
live performances; in this case it refers to the recording
of the ensemble's LIVE performance of "METAMORPHOSEN,"
RICHARD STRAUSS' unique composition for solo strings that
is the album's centerpiece. Purposely subtitled "A Study
for 23 Solo Strings" and scored for 10 violins, 5 violas,
5 cellos, and 3 basses--each playing as a solo instrument,
NOT as an ensemble or orchestra member even if there are some
moments in the piece when they do play together. It is unmistakably
a piece for grieving, composed in the last years of Strauss'
life and completed in 1944 when much of Germany lay in ruin,
his beloved homeland having suffered a most catastrophic metamorphosis
as a result of unspeakable Hitlerian excesses. Indeed, at
the passage in the score that echoes the Funeral March of
Beethoven's Third Symphony ("Eroica"), Strauss himself
inscribed the words "In memoriam."
LISTEN to an excerpt from "Metamorphosen"
by RICHARD STRAUSS.
It is flanked in this album
by what must be among the world's most plaintive music...
...on the front end by SAMUEL BARBER's Adagio
for Strings, the very first notes of which are
enough to stimulate the tear glands, setting the album's intensely
elegiac mood. Composed for string orchestra from the second
movement of his string quartet when he was in his 20s, the
Adagio is Barber's most popular orchestral work. World-premiered
by Toscanini in 1938, it has since been played at the funerals
of prominent public figures (e.g., ALBERT EINSTEIN, LEONARD
BERNSTEIN, PRINCESS GRACE) or in commemorative radio broadcasts
(e.g., on the deaths of FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT and JOHN F.
KENNEDY) and more recently, in a ceremony memorializing 9/11.
The emotional yet peaceful intensity that builds up with the
melodic line as the piece progresses can send copious tears
streaming down one's cheeks. No small wonder that this Adagio
was voted as "the world's saddest music" in a 2004
BBC listener poll.
LISTEN to an excerpt from "Adagio
by SAMUEL BARBER.
The album's final piece is
the tender, heart-wrenching Adagietto
from the 4th movement of GUSTAV MAHLER's Symphony No. 5. Scored
for string orchestra and harp, it is perhaps the most familiar--because
most frequently used (or "abused" - as some would
say)-- extract from his great works. Often heard as a stand-along
piece. It was played by Leonard Bernstein at the funeral service
for ROBERT F. KENNEDY and is the dominant theme in Luchino
Visconti's 1971 film Death in Venice, based on Thomas
Mann's novella of the same title . The mood is one
of intense longing, which was most likely the emotion that
inspired its writing by Mahler as a musical love letter to
his future wife, ALMA SCHINDLER.
LISTEN to an excerpt from the "Adagietto"
from Symphony No. 5 by GUSTAV MAHLER (also the background
music heard on this page).
There may be a curious twist of irony in the choice of the
title "LIVE" for a CD of outwardly funereal music.
But on second thought, and more intent listening--and as NADJA
SALERNO-SONNENBERG notes in her program note, there are in
the pieces "countless moments of exuberance and transcendence
and joy." And why not? Death after all, may not necessarily
be the end or opposite of life but a joyous transfiguration,
as in the mystical "Liebestod" (or "love-death")
exemplified in Wagner 's Tristan und Isolde.