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Battles in Music rec. venues not specified, 1989-2014 NAXOS 8.578293-94 [2 CDs: 145:32]
Battles in Music is a marketing ploy to pull together two discs of musical excerpts from the Naxos catalogue with tenuous links to battles. The Dambusters by Eric Coates for example is shoehorned into the collection because of its link to the Second World War. Likewise Mars from The Planets is included because of its war connotations. However there are some real battles included such as the Beethoven Battle Symphony and some imaginary or fictitious battles as portrayed in Hary Janos and The Golden Cockerel. I suppose Battles in Music is a snappier title than Music Linked with War and Conflict so I see where Naxos is coming from. One glaring omission is Walton’s superb Charge and Battle from Henry V. Naxos has an excellent recording of Henry V in its catalogue and I find its failure to make an appearance on this compilation rather strange. The full track-listing is included below so that readers can judge for themselves and decide whether this set is of interest purely from a musical standpoint.
Performance standards are variable but the good news is that nothing is less than good and many of the extracts are up there with the best. Mars is taken from a highly recommendable version of The Planets by David Lloyd-Jones and Sarka is from Anton Wit’s stunning complete recording of Smetana’s Ma Vlast. As a film music buff I particularly enjoyed the Korngold and Steiner pieces and Prokofiev’s technicolor Battle on the Ice is very spectacular; am I alone in thinking that this music was virtually copied and pasted into the later Star Wars scores? The Dambusters sets off at an alarming lick and then the brakes are slammed on for a very slow rendition of the famous tune. Balada's Guernica, an evocation of an airborne attack on Spanish town during the Spanish civil war is new to me. It’s a fine work, chilling, haunting and percussive but somehow at odds with the rest of the collection. This is disturbing music and it reminds me of St. Thomas Wake in which Maxwell Davies recalls the bombing of his native Manchester in the Second World War. It’s a strange bedfellow for Hary Janos and Coppelia.
The recordings date from 1989 to 2014 and are a good representation of the high technical bar set by this iconic label over the years. There can be no complaints about the sound quality some of which is of demonstration standard. The earlier items recorded by Lenard and his Slovak Radio Orchestra still sound very good. The Russian performances have great impact and presence and Mars and Sarka are superb by any standards.
I’m not sure where the market would be for this sort of compilation. Serious collectors will already have the majority of the complete works in their collections anyway. Snippets and individual movements will have no appeal. There are one or two unusual items included here such as the Roy Harris Symphony No.6 (extract) and Balada’s wonderful Guernica, but they wouldn’t be enough to tempt established classical music buffs into making a purchase. I assume that the target market is for those who are exploring the world of classical music for the first time and are looking for a way to get into it. If these short extracts tempt listeners to dig deeper and acquire the complete works then these CDs will have served their purpose admirably. On that basis I wish Naxos every success.
Just to finish there is already a CD called Battle Music in the Naxos catalogue (8.550230) by Lenard and the CSR Symphony Orchestra. Some of the items on this latest compilation are taken from this earlier release. It includes the complete Battle Symphony and a rather special Richard III Overture by Volkmann. John Whitmore
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Wellingtons Sieg oder Die Schlacht bei Vittoria, op.91 (1813) I. The battle [8:12] Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) The battle of Poltava from Mazeppa (1883) [5:54] Leonardo BALADA (b. 1933) Guernica (1966) [11:20] Roy HARRIS (1898-1979)
Symphony no.6 Gettysburg (1944) II. Conflict [6:14] Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Alexander Nevsky, op.78 (1938) The battle on the ice [12:12] Gustav HOLST (1874-1934) The planets, op.32 (1914), I. Mars, the bringer of war [6:57] Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967) Háry János suite (1926), IV. The battle and defeat of Napoleon [4:04] Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957) The adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The battle - The duel - The victory [5:36] Aram Il'yich KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978) The battle of Stalingrad suite (1950), IV. For our motherland; To the attack! Eternal glory to the heroes[6:35] Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Hungarian battle march, S119/R437 (1875) [4:47] Eric COATES (1886-1957) The dambusters march (1954) [3:53] Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) The fall of Berlin, op.82 (1950) (ed. Adriano), XI. Storming Seelov Heights [6:26] Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Berceuse héroďque (1915) [4:56] Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928) Taras Bulba, JW VI/15 (1918), I. The death of Andrij [9:12] Alfred NEWMAN (1901-1970) Beau Geste (1939) (reconstructed by William Stromberg), VI. Battle [3:16] Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884) Ma vlast (1879), III. Šárka [10:02] Léo DELIBES (1836-1891) Coppélia (1870), Act 3 - La discorde et la guerre [3:39] Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) The golden cockerel (1907), King Dodon on the battlefield [4:21] Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Ein Heldenleben, op.40 (1898), IV. The hero's field of battle [9:38] Mikhail IPPOLITOV-IVANOV (1859-1935) Caucasian sketches suite no.2, op.45 (1896), IV. Georgian war march [4:53] Max STEINER (1888-1971) They died with their boots on (1941), XXII. Little Big Horn [6:44] Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Die Walküre (1870), Act 3 - The ride of the valkyries [5:26]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ondrej Lenárd (Beethoven, Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, Ippolitov-Ivanov)
Barcelona National and Catalonia National Orchestra/Ondrej Lenárd (Tchaikovsky)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Salvador Más i Conde (Balada)
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop (Harris)
Russian State Symphony Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky (Prokofiev)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Lloyd-Jones (Holst)
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz (Kodály)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg (Korngold, Newman, Steiner)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adriano (Khachaturian)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Leaper (Coates)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Adriano (Shostakovich)
Orchestre National de Lyon/Jun Märkl (Debussy)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit (Janáček)
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Antoni Wit (Smetana)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Mogrelia (Delibes)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Gerhard Markson (Strauss)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Mund (Wagner)