We have many highlights from the Naxos Music Group label releases next month: Boris Giltburg’s completion of his survey of Rachmaninov’s piano concertos; the second volume of Vítězslav Novák’s orchestral works; Laurent Petitgirard’s new ballet entitled Si Yeou Ki (The Journey to the West); Andrea De Vitis performing Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s 21 Greeting Cards for guitar; Barrie Kosky’s staging of Puccini’s opera Tosca; Georg Goltermann’s cello concerto; Richard Strauss’ complete music for wind instruments and an audiovisual recording of his commedia lirica Ariadne auf Naxos; the second volume of Alexey Stanchinsky’s complete piano works; Melcher Melchers’ orchestral works presented by Gävle Symphony Orchestra under Jaime Martin; Shakespeare’s Richard III presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company; and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Pianist Boris Giltburg needs little introduction as one of Naxos’ leading artists. The artistic quality of his numerous releases for our label has been consistently matched by the warmth of the critical reception for each and every one. This album of Rachmaninov’s First and Fourth Piano Concertos completes his recording of the composer’s complete works for piano and orchestra; the programme also includes the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a concerto in all but name. Commenting on Boris’ Second and Third Piano Concertos (8.573629) BBC Music Magazine judged the Second ‘compulsive listening’, while Gramophone described the Third as ‘a vividly imaginative recreation of a score that lives and breathes with irresistible vitality.’ A bonus is that the insightful booklet notes have again been written by Boris himself. Conductor Vassily Sinaisky’s fine reputation in Russian music has been established over a career spanning five decades, including posts as principal conductor of the Russian State Orchestra and at the Bolshoi in Moscow.
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43: Variation 18. Andante cantabile
This second volume of orchestral works by Vítězslav Novák follows the acclaimed first volume (8.574226) that was released in December 2020. Fanfare noted that conductor Marek Štilec’s performance ‘can hold its head up high as an overall first choice, both interpretively and sonically’, while ClassicsToday.com judged the programme ‘juicy stuff, succulently performed here by Marek Štilec and the Moravian Philharmonic … lovely performances, warmly engineered.’ Novák’s music is surprisingly little known outside his native Bohemia, and most of the alternative recordings for the works on this programme are relatively old readings. This new Naxos edition of his orchestral works will certainly help raise the composer's reputation with a wider audience. You should note that the Moravian-Slovak Suite is recorded here for the first time following its rediscovery at the Czech Museum of Music by producer Jiří Štilec.
With six Naxos albums to his name as a composer, plus a distinguished discography as a conductor and producer of scores for popular TV series such as Maigret, it will come as no surprise that there’s already a wide following for new releases of Laurent Petitgirard’s compelling music. This latest album comprises a wonderful performance of his score for the ballet The Journey to the West. Based on the Chinese text Si Yeou Ki, it's a vast, immersive musical canvas that embraces both the high drama and spiritual evolution that accompany the monk Xuanzang on his travels. Highly accessible both in terms of harmony and rhythm, the score's large orchestra, which includes an extensive percussion section, reflects the fluidity of action and descriptive headings of each tableau – dream, destruction, murder, magic tournament, admission to Paradise. The recording has the ultimate stamp of authority, in that the conductor is Petitgirard himself. Creating music for The Journey to the West gradually evolved from his first encounter with the story at the age of sixteen. It’s a significant achievement by any cultural standards and will inevitably generate a great deal of interest both in Europe and China.
This album is devoted entirely to a single work by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco that comprises the 21 pen portraits he made of admired colleagues, immortalised in music – his Greeting Cards, Op. 170. It’s the first of two recordings in my selection for this month to feature Italian guitarist Andrea De Vitis. He’s considered one of the most talented guitarists of his generation and has won over 40 awards at prestigious competitions, including the Guitar Masters International Guitar Competition in Wrocław, the ‘Altamira’ Guitar Competition in Iserlohn, and the Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist Competition.
DIGITAL BONUS TRACK
This digital-only recording features Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Passacaglia ‘Omaggio a Roncalli’. Inspired by the 17th-century Italian composer Ludovico Roncalli, the work was commissioned from Castelnuovo-Tedesco by Andrés Segovia in 1956 following his disappointment with a passacaglia he had received from another composer. It’s again performed by Italian guitarist Andrea De Vitis, who already has two successful Naxos albums of music by Tansman to his credit.
This production of Tosca is the first in Dutch National Opera’s short Puccini cycle featuring acclaimed Australian director Barrie Kosky; Turandot will follow next season and Il trittico in 2024. Opera News wrote that ‘the principal impetus for the deafening ovations that greeted this Tosca was that the Amsterdam audience was completely swept off its feet by Kosky’s stunning production.’ Which isn’t to diminish the superb performances by a cast of eminent singers. The same reviewer noted soprano Malin Byström’s ‘radiant and polished singing’ in the title role and how ‘Armenian baritone Gevorg Hakobyan grew into a terrifying Scarpia,’ while ‘Joshua Guerrero’s Cavaradossi showed an impressive, more metallic timbre.’ So, no weak links here, and every confidence that collectors will be earnestly eyeing this release.
Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0166V)
I would venture to say that if you already know the name of Georg Goltermann (1824–1898) and his eight cello concertos, you’re either a cellist or married to one. So, here’s a chance to acquaint yourself with the rarely heard music of a cellist performer-composer who was sufficiently respected in his day that even the great Pablo Casals was happy to record his music. Although rarely performed in public today, his cello concertos still regularly form part of many students’ repertoire as a means to acquiring the relevant technique and style required by the genre. The other orchestral works on the programme include the Symphony in A minor, which was both well received and prized by Goltermann himself. It’s written in an attractive, Brahmsian vein, especially the exquisite, lively Scherzo with its sweeping Trio.
As the Staatskapelle Berlin currently commences the search for a new music director (only the fourth since 1955), this release finds the orchestra’s wind soloists featuring in performances of ensemble works by Richard Strauss, who occupied the post some 110 years ago. The programme comprises their old chief conductor’s complete music for wind ensemble, which includes rarities such as the sonatinas From an Invalid’s Workshop and The Happy Workshop, which Strauss dedicated to Mozart. Representing both Strauss’ very early and very late creative output, the five pieces on this double-CD issue give a fascinating insight into the development of Strauss the composer, who was himself the son of a horn player.
Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos is one of the early 20th century’s most distinctive operas. The plot is derived from the myth of Ariadne who, abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos, eventually falls in love with the god Bacchus. Strauss precedes this narrative, however, with an extensive modern prologue representing the eternal struggle between comedy and high art. Performed in the beautiful Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Matthias Hartmann’s new 2022 production was a triumph both for its extensive cast of singers and for conductor Daniele Gatti, who was appearing in his first season as chief conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Reviewing the performance, La Nazione Firenze noted Gatti’s ‘exemplary juxtaposition of ecstatic lyricism and the sparkling lightness of the comic inserts …. and the Orchestra del Maggio's superb playing.’
The tragic death of Alexey Stanchinsky (1888–1914) at the age of 26 allowed the acclaim given to fellow Russians Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich to obscure the phenomenal contribution the young composer had already been making to the piano repertoire. A composition pupil of Zhilyayev and Taneyev at the Moscow Conservatory, Stanchinsky’s initial works reflected the influence of Mussorgsky and Scriabin. His name has yet to reach a wide audience but this will surely be facilitated by Grand Piano’s edition of his complete piano works (this is the second of two volumes). As the first such edition, it includes numerous world premiere recordings and recent archive discoveries. The programme for this concluding album includes his two substantial Piano Sonatas and the Twelve Sketches, dubbed by soloist Olga Solovieva the ‘Twelve Universes’ on account of their evocative power. Both the repertoire and the artist were admired following the release of Vol. 1, and I expect a similar response for this concluding album: ‘The piano writing here is really exciting and needs a true virtuoso with strong sympathies towards Russian music to bring it off. Olga Solovieva very comfortably does that, playing with all the power and sophistication the music demands.’ (American Record Guide)
Swedish composer Melcher Melchers (1882–1961) has unfortunately been largely forgotten since his death, so here’s a rare opportunity to be introduced to his legacy. During his studies in Paris, Melchers’ circle of friends included not only members of Les Six but also other artistic luminaries, such as Matisse, Picasso and Modigliani. Although his style was quite conservative (think d’Indy, Chausson, Franck), Melchers had the biggest impact on French musical life among Nordic composers, both as a concert organiser and as music director of the Association de Lyre et Palette, which he helped to found in 1916. The three orchestral works on this programme include world premiere recordings of two colourful, contrasting symphonic poems together with a fine performance of Melchers’ magnum opus, the Symphony in D minor, Op. 19. With Jaime Martín directing the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, this recording exemplifies the highly fruitful partnership they enjoyed during Martin’s period as principal conductor, from 2013 to 2022.
This Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard III was hailed as ‘a triumph’ by The Daily Telegraph in its 5-star review. Shakespeare’s tyrannical tale documents how a young Richard of Gloucester uses the chaos of the Wars of the Roses to begin his unscrupulous climb to power: although manifestly unfit to govern, he seizes the crown as King Richard III. The play offers a savagely comic analysis of the exercise of power, reminding us both of the dangers of tyranny and of our duty not to let it go unchecked, matters not unrelated to the times in which we now find ourselves. Directed by Gregory Doran and featuring Arthur Hughes as Richard, the production enjoyed a rapturous reception by the critics: ‘Doran’s fine production … cracks through with the pace of a thriller … starkly powerful.’ (The Financial Times); ‘A production of magisterial stagecraft that builds to a powerful climax.’ (The Guardian)