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Otto Nicolai: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2


Release Date: 10/13/2009 
Label:  Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog #: 6011268   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Otto Nicolai
Performer:  Johannes Pieper
Conductor:  David Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  South Westphalia Philharmonic
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The performers enter into the spirit and style of the music which is worthy of committing to a disc, which has clean, spacious sound.

Otto Nicolai may be remembered only for the opera Merry Wives of Windsor and as the first conductor of what became the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, but had an early death at 39 not intervened, he clearly was a force to be reckoned with as a skilful and talented composer. His works, seven operas and a dozen in the instrumental and choral genres, span the two decades of the 1830s and 1840s. The locations of his musical activity were Berlin, Rome and Vienna, so Mendelssohn, Bellini and Donizetti were contemporary influences with Weber and Beethoven inevitably casting their shadows.
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Following the earlier MDG disc (Volume 1) containing his Symphony in D and a Fantasy with variations on themes from Bellini’s opera Norma for piano and orchestra, we have here a follow-up of bits and pieces, overtures for chorus and orchestra, and another set of variations but this time from the same composer’s Norma. The soloist - here accompanied by string orchestra by an unknown hand from Nicolai’s original with piano - now a clarinettist, which brings us much closer to the pyrotechnics of the coloratura soprano. The excellent clarinettist, Johannes Pieper, undertakes this role. It’s a work which provides a vivid illustration of how such transcriptions fed popular taste in the nineteenth century. The gem of the selection is the overture to the opera, the subject of which is Shakespeare’s play. It may have much Weber in it, but it also sets a path for the Strauss family to follow. Quite why this opera should be so popular in Germany (with Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel it is a first experience of opera for many children there), yet despite its quintessentially English subject matter, remains one which has never caught on in the UK I do not know. Two productions I have conducted - a concert performance for a private club and a fully staged one for one London’s music colleges - delighted both performers and audiences alike. One has to ignore the unassailable greatness of the later work on the same subject, Verdi’s Falstaff. As far as that composer is concerned, a further irony had already arisen when Nabucco, originally intended for Nicolai in 1841 was instead preferred to Verdi, so he wrote Il proscritto instead which turned out a complete flop.

The opening and closing overtures on this disc, containing choruses based on traditional Lutheran chorales, reflect the growing interest in Bach and Handel in the 1830s culminating in Mendelssohn’s revival of St Matthew Passion. Nicolai takes the opportunity to flaunt his contrapuntal skills with fugues and choral preludes on the respective melodies leading to grand climaxes. Performers, whether orchestral or choral, enter into the spirit and style of music which, despite the lean amount of music provided - totalling just under 50 minutes - is worthy of committing to a disc, which has clean, spacious sound. On balance, my only gripe is the too-distant, and therefore indistinct chorus.

-- Christopher Fifield, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Kirchliche Festovertüre über "Ein feste Burg" by Otto Nicolai
Conductor:  David Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  South Westphalia Philharmonic
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1844 
Length: 6 Minutes 38 Secs. 
2. Variazioni concertanti from Bellini's "La Sonnambula", Op. 26 by Otto Nicolai
Performer:  Johannes Pieper (Clarinet)
Conductor:  David Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  South Westphalia Philharmonic
Period: Romantic 
Written: Germany 
Length: 15 Minutes 10 Secs. 
3. Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor: Overture by Otto Nicolai
Conductor:  David Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  South Westphalia Philharmonic
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Berlin, Germany 
Length: 8 Minutes 24 Secs. 
4. Die Heimkehr des Verbannten: Overture by Otto Nicolai
Conductor:  David Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  South Westphalia Philharmonic
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1849; Berlin, Germany 
Length: 7 Minutes 57 Secs. 
5. Weihnachts-Ouvertüre über Vom Himmel hoch by Otto Nicolai
Conductor:  David Stern
Orchestra/Ensemble:  South Westphalia Philharmonic
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833; Germany 
Length: 10 Minutes 2 Secs. 

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