Telarc's world premiere recording of Liszt's complete St. Stanislaus with James Conlon and the Cincinnati May Festival wins the 30th International F. Liszt Record Grand Prix, given by the F. Liszt Society of Budapest, Hungary. This recording with the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is the first complete recording of the two scenes Liszt finished for his last great project: an oratorio on the martyrdom in 1079 of Poland's patron saint. Liszt composed the music for Scene 1 in 1874. After an eight-year hiatus, during which various poets helped him improve the libretto, Liszt returned to the music in 1882. Just weeks before he died in 1886, the composer sent the finished score of Scene 4 to his publisher. No music exists for the middle portions of the oratorio, Scenes 2 and 3.
In this recording, Scenes 1 and 4 are performed just as Liszt wrote them, with one exception: the end of Scene 1, the bishop's mother's aria, which Liszt left in piano-vocal score, has been orchestrated in a manner consistent with his other orchestral works from the 1870s. The orchestration reconstruction was done by Paul Munson.
In Scene 1, a crowd gathers in front of the cathedral in Krakow and complains to the bishop, Stanislaus, about the cruelty of King Boleslaw II. Encouraged by his mother, the bishop declares that he will confront the king.
In the missing Scenes 2 and 3, Stanislaus rebukes the king for mistreating his subjects. The king tries to get rid of the bishop by accusing him of theft and putting him on trial. God raises from the dead a witness who testifies to the bishop's innocence—whereupon the king, frustrated and enraged, murders the bishop in a fit of passion.
Scene 4 begins with an expansive orchestral interlude that programmatically depicts the king's remorse over the murder and his penitential pilgrimage to a monastery in Carinthia, Austria, where he lives his last years. The fast second half of the interlude is based on the Polish national anthem and celebrates the healing and future glory of the nation. Its rousing conclusion is followed by a remarkable shift in mood, when the penitent King Boleslaw sings Psalm 129/130 (Out of the Depths I Cry to You, O Lord) accompanied by organ and monastic choir. The oratorio ends with the exclamation "Hail Poland!" sung by Boleslaw and the chorus, at first soft and sweet, then exultant.
Although there are nationalistic and devotional elements in St. Stanislaus, it is also a political drama. It is a tale of what Liszt called "the eternal conflict between the Church and the State." In Scene 2 (not set to music), the bishop warns the king of an impending rebellion and advises him to show mercy.
James Conlon, one of classical music's pre-eminent conductors, has distinguished himself internationally in a highly diverse repertoire of operatic, symphonic and choral works. Mr. Conlon has been Music Director of the Cincinnati May Festival, America's oldest choral festival, since 1979.
He has also spent the major part of the last two decades in Europe, serving as Principal Conductor of the Paris National Opera since 1995; General Music Director of the City of Cologne, Germany (1989-2002), where he was simultaneously Music Director of the Gürzenich Orchestra and the Cologne Opera; and Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic (1983-1991). He has been appointed Music Director of Ravinia Festival, beginning in the 2005 season.
Since his New York Philharmonic debut in 1974, Mr. Conlon has appeared with virtually every major North American and European orchestra. Associated for over twenty-five years with the Metropolitan Opera, he has conducted more than 200 performances with that company. This season in the United States Mr. Conlon leads the Cleveland Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.
In an ongoing commitment to raise the consciousness of the public to the significance of composers affected by the Holocaust, in 2004 Mr. Conlon leads his second annual three-concert series in New York highlighting the works of these composers, and devotes the year to the programming these works with as many American and European orchestras as possible.
In 1999, Mr. Conlon received the Zemlinsky Prize for his efforts in bringing the composer's music to international attention. In September 2002, in recognition of his work with the Paris Opera, he received the Legion d'Honneur from French President, Jacques Chirac.
The May Festival Chorus - 150 members strong - has been the core of the Cincinnati May Festival since 1873. This premier ensemble has gained critical acclaim for its ability to perform an extensive repertoire that represents the vast diversity of musical styles within choral literature. The May Festival Chorus is an exciting and vibrant part of the Cincinnati arts community. In addition to the May Festival concerts, the Chorus is well known for its Carolfest concerts in December other community performances. Throughout the year, the May Festival Chorus performs and frequently records with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. In addition to concerts in Cincinnati, the chorus has performed in Europe, at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, and in Carnegie Hall with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The Chorus has also appeared in several national PBS broadcasts.