Swiss-born Bloch, a pupil of Eugène Ysaÿe, emigrated to the United States in 1916. Written in 1926, two years after Bloch had become an American citizen, America: An Epic Rhapsody, is the composer’s tribute to his adopted country. This romantic and patriotic score vividly surveys the history of the US from the native American melodies of pre-colonial days to the modern era of 1920s jazz and beyond. The Concerto Grosso No 1 is a bold statement which unites the eighteenth-century concerto grosso form with a modern tonal language.
Giorgio Strehler was one of Europe’s most celebrated theatre directors. In his Piccolo Teatro in Milan he created outstanding interpretations of Bertolt Brecht and William Shakespeare. As an opera director he worked at all the major international opera houses, most notably the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, where he was responsible for productions of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (1971), Macbeth (1975) and in 1980 for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. This legendary production of Mozart’s masterpiece is now available as a 2006 recording, featuring the wonderful Diana Damrau as Susanna and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Figaro.
Most of Schubert’s operas were written without a specific commission, in the hope that, once completed, some theatre might find them interesting simply by virtue of their musical value. This unrealistic optimism proved almost always wrong and Schubert suffered bitter disappointments, very often working for nothing. Begun on 20th September 1821, Alfonso und Estrella was completed on 27th February 1822 but was first staged, on the initiative of Franz Liszt, only in 1854, after Schubert’s death. Alfonso und Estrella has the characteristic climate of a romantische Oper. If it is true that Schubert lacks the sense of theatre which is typical of the best operatic composers of his day (for example Weber), the power of his creativity and beauty of many arias cannot be denied.