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Michele ESPOSITO (1855-1929)
Violin Sonata in G major No. 1, Op. 32 (1890s?) [19:16]
Violin Sonata in E minor No. 2, Op. 46 (1907) [19:03]
Violin Sonata in A major No. 3, Op. 67 (1920-21) [22:46]
Cello Sonata, Op. 43 (1899) [18:26]
Mia Cooper (violin); William Butt (cello); Lance Coburn (piano)
rec. 3-5 September 2012, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK
CHAMPS HILL RECORDS CHRCD066 [79:44]

Hardly a household name, Esposito, though born in the Naples area, was a significant figure in the Irish musical world for practically the whole of his professional life. He was a teacher, conductor and composer. James Joyce was numbered among his friends. I owe it to Malcolm Macdonald’s illuminating and clearly deeply researched liner-note that I can tell you that in the 1890s Esposito conducted the Moscow premiere of Mussorgsky’s Khovanschina and the world première of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko. His numerous pupils included Hamilton Harty. It was the Harty connection that meant that Esposito’s name was not completely unknown to me. He gets an honourable mention in David Greer’s (editor) Hamilton Harty: His Life and Works (Blackstaff, 1979) and no doubt will receive further slipstream in Jeremy Dibble’s imminent Hamilton Harty - Musical Polymath (Boydell & Brewer, 2013). Harty was to play an honoured role in the Esposito story. He conducted the première of his teacher’s Piano Concerto in 1913 and was the dedicatee of Esposito’s Third Violin Sonata. The Piano Concerto sounds as if it might be a ‘natural’ for Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series.
 
I thought that these Harty-centred references in the Greer book would be the last I would hear of Esposito. Wrong. This is, however, the first recording of any of his works; I would be happy to hear of any others. After all, his work-list includes a cantata for solo singers, chorus and orchestra, Dierdre (1897) and a Sinfonia Irlandese or Symphony on Irish Airs (1902); Harty was to write his own Irish Symphony in 1924. To this we can add an orchestral Irish Suite and two one-act operas, The Tinker and the Fairy and The Post Bag. There are said to be plenty of songs, chamber music and pieces for solo piano.
 
The First Sonata’s lovely first movement is in fresh and constant song - a blend of Brahms, Fauré and bel canto although the violin’s tone could have been more fruity. The Lento is a reflective meditation yet accommodating passing grey clouds. It is followed by a vivaciously chafing Allegro with a calmer central aside and a rhetorical finish. The Second Sonata is also in three movements. We start with a capriciously twisting and turning Allegro moderato. The mood is troubled and restless rather than ‘allegro’. The succeeding Andantino is a delicately dancing faery creature. The finale is a confident Con fuoco with glittering work for the piano and a typically triumphant pay-off. The Third Sonata does not break expectations raised by the two earlier sonatas, despite being written in the 1920s - just five years before its composer’s death. Delicacy and darkness are in play in the first of its four movements. The two short central movements are a halting Allegro moderato and a pensive Andante. The finale is a slowly flowing and smiling Allegretto grazioso. The Cello Sonata takes us back to the late 1890s - then again, these works never really left that haven. This is satisfying and polished, mellifluously Brahmsian. It’s very well played indeed as are the violin sonatas. The writing overall in these works is generally fairly conventional although Esposito’s predilection for gently thoughtful slow movements with pauses along the way leaves a memorable impression.
 
We owe thanks to all who made this project a reality. Particular recognition is due to Mia Cooper who re-discovered these scores while scanning the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s scores for its online catalogue. She is an eloquent advocate and her shared delight in these discoveries is patent. Champs Hill, producer/engineer Michael Ponder and all the various artists here are also to be thanked for not stopping with the three violin works. The pleasing Cello Sonata takes this disc to approaching eighty minutes.
 
An eloquent, generously-timed and valuable summation of the work of an all-but unknown Irish composer of Brahmsian sympathies.
 
Rob Barnett 

Postscript
I am grateful to Peter Caffrey for pointing out that in fact a selection of Esposito's piano music has been surveyed on CD by Miceal O'Rourke. His all-Esposito recital, running to some 79 minutes, can be heard on Chandos CHAN 9675.



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