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Klaus Heymann Recommends April 2024

This month’s highlights from the Naxos Music Group include John Adam’s works presented by conductor Marin Alsop directing the ORF Vienna Radio Orchestra; Joaquín Turina’s orchestral works performed by Concerto Málaga under Gil de Gálvez; Vol. 6 in Daniel-François-Esprit Auber overtures series; Gaetano Donizetti’s La Favorite starring mezzo Annalisa Stroppa and tenor Javier Camarena; Stefan Herheim’s innovative production of Richard Wagner’s Siegfried; an audiovisual presentation of Tchaikovsky’s The Enchantress starring celebrated soprano Asmik Grigorian; Opus Arte’s new Critics’ Choice series featuring some of their most outstanding releases; and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.

Naxos 8.559935

This release represents an irresistible meeting of minds. The programme is of orchestral music by John Adams, whose output continues to capture the admiration of listeners for its inimitable American qualities, while the conductor is major Naxos artist Marin Alsop, probably Adams’ leading champion today. In fact, the final item on the programme, a capricious ‘Spider Dance’ with a memorable rhythmic drive, was written expressly for her. There are two other works: City Noir was inspired by the cultural and social history of Los Angeles, with Adams calling it ‘an imaginary film score’ in its evocation of a melodramatic, menace-drenched sound world; and Fearful Symmetries, an example of Adams’ steamroller motor rhythms, endlessly inventive in their shifts of timbre, texture and colour. The orchestra is the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Marin is their chief conductor. Yet another great meeting of minds.

Listen to an excerpt from Fearful Symmetries

Naxos 8.573391

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Turina’s death, this album presents some of the composer’s most admired works. They’re heard in arrangements for strings that honour the colour, richness and vivacity of the originals that were conceived for quartet, quintet and sextet with piano. Two of his best-known works open and close the programme – La oración del torero (The Prayer of the Bullfighter) and Orgía, from Danzas fantásticas. Other examples include a sinuous Andalusian Tango and a rare example drawn from his incidental music, Aparición del Arcángel. You might note that the booklet notes for this release were prepared by Turina’s grandson, the composer José Luis Turina.

Listen to an excerpt from Danzas fantásticas, Op. 22 – No. 3. Orgía

Naxos 8.574532

This is Vol. 6 in our series of recordings of overtures by French composer Daniel Auber. The project is spearheaded by conductor Dario Salvi who has been roundly commended for his musical and scholastic input to the series: ‘Salvi’s interpretation of Auber’s music is very refined indeed and one can hear the attention to detail and level of personal research that has gone into the performance in every track on the disc.’ (The Light Music Society on Vol. 2, 8.574006) Auber’s overtures were once as popular as those by Rossini and Suppé, with no less a figure than Tchaikovsky commenting on the ‘elegant clarity of his harmonisation, his delightful and striking melodies… and beautiful instrumentation.’ You’ll find plenty of supporting evidence for that in this release.

Listen to an excerpt from Don Juan: Act II: Divertissement: Minuetto allegretto – Trio

Naxos 8.660549-51

Written for the Paris Opera, Donizetti’s La Favorite contains some of his most thrilling arias, and although its much-reduced Italian version has continued in popularity, this superb production from the Donizetti Opera Festival in his birthplace of Bergamo is sung in French. Using Rebecca Harris-Warrick’s critical edition, it returns the work to its rarely heard 1840 origins in French grand opera, retaining all the ballet music and restoring the cuts. The production was widely admired by critics who noted conductor Riccardo Frizza’s ‘emotive reading of the score’; a chorus that was ‘spectacular’; Javier Camarena in the role of Fernand singing ‘with an elegance and a mastery of the bel canto style which I honestly had never heard from him at this level’; and Annalisa Stroppa as Léonor, ‘perfect for this role ... her interpretation heartfelt, very moving.’ ( There’s a serious gap in the market for an authoritative modern recording of this work, especially one that embraces the original French version. This is that recording.

Naxos 2.110743-44 [DVD]

Naxos issued Deutsche Oper Berlin’s acclaimed Ring cycle on DVD and Blu-ray in November 2022. The individual operas are now being made available to buy separately: Das Rheingold will be released in February, Die Walküre in March, and Götterdämmerung will follow this April release of Siegfried in May. The complete cycle comes in a new interpretation of Wagner’s iconic work by award-winning stage director Stefan Herheim, recognised as one of the most significant directors of the moment. The cast of world-class singers is directed by conductor Sir Donald Runnicles, a proven Wagner expert who is currently continuing his Ring interpretations at the opera houses of Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna and San Francisco, and at the BBC Proms in London, the Edinburgh International Festival and The Metropolitan Opera in New York. Commenting on the complete cycle, The WholeNote rightly observed that ‘it’s a stunning production, a visual knockout with an international cast of the best singers available today, masterfully conducted by Donald Runnicles.’

Also available on Blu-ray Video (NBD0159V)

Naxos 2.110768-69 [DVD]

Originally set in the 15th century, Tchaikovsky’s The Enchantress is updated to the present day in this innovative production from Frankfurt Opera. The outstanding cast of singers is headed by soprano Asmik Grigorian, recipient of the prestigious 2023 Opus Klassik Singer of the Year award, alongside baritone Iain MacNeil, hailed as a World Star by HR-2 Kultur for his interpretation of the Prince in this very production, and Claudia Mahnke, one of today's leading mezzo sopranos, noted not least for her magnificent performances at the Bayreuth Festival. The production was a triumph, both for the staging and the performers, with Neue Musikzeitung reporting that ‘At the end, [there were] storms of enthusiasm, the likes of which are rare even at Oper Frankfurt’, hailing Grigorian as a ‘miracle’ and MacNeil as ‘world class’.

Also available on Blu-ray Video (NBD0180V)

Capriccio C8091

Arthur Nikisch conducted the 1884 premiere of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, declaring that ‘since Beethoven, nothing has been written that even comes close!’ That performance led to the first significant international recognition for the sixty-year-old composer; during his lifetime, it was his most popular symphony, and it remains among his best loved and frequently performed works. This recording continues Capriccio’s Complete Versions Edition of Bruckner’s symphonies either published or to be published under the auspices of the Austrian National Library and the International Bruckner Society in the Neue Anton Bruckner Gesamtausgabe (New Anton Bruckner Collected Works Edition). The project concludes later this year, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Bruckner's birth. The sole conductor for the project is Markus Poschner. Of the two orchestras used throughout the project, he here directs the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Their collaboration for the Fifth Symphony (1878 version) was judged by Gramophone to be ‘one of the finest recordings of the Fifth to have come my way for some time.’

Dynamic DYN-37993 [DVD]

Donizetti’s comic opera L’aio nell’imbarazzo (The Tutor in a Jam) was hugely successful at its 1824 premiere, becoming one of the composer’s first great successes, both in Italy and abroad. Modelled on operas by Rossini but already displaying the psychological depths of Donizetti’s mature work, it relates how the overprotected sons of a strict Marquis (Alessandro Corbelli) are entrusted to their tutor Don Gregorio (Alex Esposito) to shield them from female company. Everything unravels into emotional chaos in the best opera buffa tradition, with its universal themes of romance and social politics colourfully transported to the year 2042. This performance in a new staging by Francesco Micheli, conducted by Vincenzo Milletari, was well received by the critics: ‘The show… is intelligent, fresh, colourful, fun, conducted at a frenetic pace and with the undeniable sense of theatre that is typical of Micheli. The interpretative and vocal personalities of Alex Esposito and the veteran Alessandro Corbelli dominated the stage.’ (

Also available on Blu-ray Video (DYN-57993)

Dynamic CDS8015

Comprising both well-known works and several that are entirely new, this remarkable programme of violin works by Paganini boasts seven world premiere recordings of painstakingly reconstructed manuscripts and unpublished discoveries. The most important of these is the Sonata a preghiera, performed here for the first time with its original orchestral accompaniment. The other fascinating works include the Sonata a Violino Scordato, that requires the violin to be re-tuned; Capriccio and Agitato, miniatures that were in fact casually handed out by Paganini as gifts; and the stunning Introduzione e variazioni sul tema ‘In cor più non mi sento, which incorporates all of the most spectacular effects that hallmarked the composer’s legendary violin technique.

Listen to an excerpt from Sonata a violino scordato, MS 118: I. Allegro spiritoso

Marco Polo 8.225381

A student of Dvořák, Julius Fučik quickly emerged as one of the great ‘march kings’ of his time. Although he gained worldwide fame for his immortal Entry of the Gladiators, Fučik’s music collection was acrimoniously broken up by his family following his death in 1916, with many scores subsequently lost. Half the contents of this album come from handwritten manuscripts preserved in Prague that have no known printed parts. Painstaking editorial work has been carried out allowing us to hear a range of Fučik’s works in these premiere recordings. Conductor Marek Štilec and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Pardubice are well represented in the Naxos catalogue with albums of Czech music: ‘these superb musicians deliver committed, enthusiastic accounts of the fifteen incidental rarities featured here.’ (Classical Lost and Found on 8.574454, Wranitzky Orchestral Works, Vol. 6)

Listen to an excerpt from Elbtalgruss, Marsch, Op. 246

Opus Arte OA1262D [DVD]

Many directors shy away from staging Verdi’s Il Trovatore on account of its complex plot and the demands made on the principal singers, so here’s a wonderful opportunity to experience a Royal Opera production by stage director David Bösch that enters ‘an atmosphere in which the canons of ordinary reality do not apply.’ (The Daily Telegraph) Conductor Richard Farnes leads a quartet of world-class singers that bring the principal characters of this searing opera to life, ensuring that ‘the evening’s musical credentials are unequivocally outstanding.’ (Opera Online) American tenor Gregory Kunde, regarded as one of the most accomplished singers on the international opera stage today, stars as the troubadour Manrico; taking the role of his courageous lover Leonora, Lianna Haroutounian is considered one of the most promising Verdi sopranos of her generation. This release is part of Opus Arte’s Critics’ Choice series that will revisit a range of previous catalogue entries being re-released at a special price during 2024 and 2025.

Also available on Blu-ray Video (OABD7238D)

Opus Arte OA1100D [DVD]

Our Critics’ Choice series is a diverse range of past titles that spotlights some of the many classic, innovative and perhaps less well-known productions that the label has long been renowned for. Romeo and Juliet was Kenneth MacMillan’s first full-evening ballet for the Royal Ballet, premiering in 1965 and quickly becoming one of its signature works; it has enjoyed great global popularity ever since. Although The Royal Ballet has performed Romeo and Juliet over 400 times, each performance and pairing of the lead characters is subtly different. Here, Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli prove utterly captivating in the title roles in this ‘technically exemplary performance.’ (Independent Dance Reviews) Commenting on the overall production, International Record Review noted its ‘breathtaking impact … with consistent excellence to savor from both principals and corps, magnificent costumes and stage scenery, and spot-on camera direction … If you have been waiting for a truly outstanding Romeo and Juliet to appear on Blu-ray, then look no further.’

Also available on Blu-ray Video (OABD7116D)

Opus Arte OA0992D [DVD]

First performed in 1789, La fille mal gardée is the oldest and one of the most important works in the modern ballet repertory. The work has enjoyed many revivals, but Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1960 production for The Royal Ballet is widely regarded as the 'traditional' version and has become a much celebrated classic. Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta would be show-stoppers in almost any suitable role, but as Lise and Colas they're superb; William Tuckett and Jonathan Howells, in the comic roles of Simone and Alain respectively, are equally arresting, as are Osbert Lancaster’s vibrant designs. BBC Music Magazine’s verdict was to the point: ‘La fille mal gardée is sheer perfection. Nuñez and Acosta are unsurpassable.’

Also available on Blu-ray Video (OABD7021D)

Opus Arte OACD9051D

This is an audio recording that’s well worth exploring. It’s of Russian composer Alexander Glazunov’s rarely performed score for the ballet Raymonda, heard in an adaptation of the original music by Gavin Sutherland and Lars Payne that was used by English National Ballet for their performance in 2022. The original Raymonda is very rarely performed in the UK, where no dance company generally performs it in its entirety. This new adaptation produced a ‘big, juicy score [that] sounds magnificent.’ (The Times) It retains the best of Glazunov’s original 19th-century score, while updating it to match the dramatic new narrative that was choreographed by Tamara Rojo. The Evening Standard declared the result ‘a stunner, and the [English National Ballet Philharmonic] under Gavin Sutherland relishes its lush and sparkling textures.’ The Daily Telegraph hailed it as ‘a modern classic.’

Opus Arte OA1377D [DVD]

I’m pleased to be able to introduce this wonderful new production of Shakespeare’s Henry V, his thrilling study of nationalism, war and the psychology of power that was captured in a live performance at London’s Donmar Warehouse. The title role is played by Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), who ‘thrills and chills in this broodingly intelligent take on Shakespeare’s war play.’ (Time Out) Directed by Max Webster (Life of Pi), the exciting modern production is ‘carefully structured to make the story as lucid as humanly possible.’ (ibid) With its exploration of the searching question of whether we ever get the leaders we deserve, The Daily Telegraph declared the production ‘A victory.’

Opus Arte OA1223D [DVD]

Donmar Warehouse’s Shakespeare Trilogy, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, is unique. It began in 2012 with an all-female production of Julius Caesar that was set in a women’s prison. Two further productions followed – Henry IV in 2014 and The Tempest in 2016 – again featuring a diverse company of women, with the latter production hailed by The Guardian as ‘a glorious reminder that genuine diversity on stage offers astonishing creative benefits.’ Harriet Walter gave a riveting performance as Prospero in The Tempest’s evocation of the struggle for freedom, morality and justice, and I can do no better than let the critic from The Independent have the final word: ‘There have been many high-profile Shakespeare productions to mark 400 years since his death. Lloyd’s ‘’Tempest’’ is my personal favourite.’ This recording is part of our Critics’ Choice series, a competitively priced selection of re-leases featuring many of the classic, innovative and perhaps less well-known productions that Opus Arte has long been renowned for.

Orfeo C380012

Here’s an exciting find for collectors. It’s the only recording of Franz Schmidt’s forgotten opera Fredigundis, the libretto for which was inspired by Felix Dahn’s novel of the same title, itself loosely based on historical events of the 6th century. Schmidt worked on the project from 1916 to 1921, with the premiere taking place in Berlin in December 1922 before sinking into oblivion, only to reappear in the form of extracts and concert performances. The score is characterised by extensive chromaticism, pushing the boundaries of tonality; it also features dense counterpoint and wonderful vocal artistry. The conductor is Ernst Märzendorfer who gave many premieres of works by great composers such as Hindemith, Orff, Bartók and Britten; this recording is of him directing a live 1979 performance of Fredigundis at Vienna’s Musikverein. At the head of an excellent cast of singers, mezzo-soprano Dunja Vejzovic was ideally suited to the title role, having achieved fame for her Wagner roles in Bayreuth and Salzburg and performed on all the world's major opera houses and concert stages.

Listen to an excerpt from Fredigundis: Act I: Overture

Vox VOX-NX-3038CD

Edvard Grieg almost single-handedly brought the riches of a Norwegian national style to worldwide attention with the use of folk music in his works. The ambitiously scaled Symphonic Dances, for example, use a compelling selection of regional melodies and jaunty rhythms to brilliant effect. Elsewhere on this programme, Grieg’s music ranges from the eloquent drama of Sigurd Jorsalfar to the deeply felt intimacy of the Two Elegiac Melodies, with the remarkably prescient Klokkeklang an impressionist outlier within a ‘dream-world’ individuality and harmonic freedom. This classic Vox recording by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra was originally issued in 1976 and has been newly remastered from the original tapes. Those Elite Recordings for Vox by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz are considered by audiophiles to be amongst the finest sounding examples of orchestral recordings.

Listen to an excerpt from Symphonic Dances: IV. Andante – Allegro molto e risoluto

Vox VOX-NX-3041CD

Bedřich Smetana is revered as the musical personification of his country’s national spirit and the founder of its modern musical character. Má vlast is an unprecedented cycle of six related symphonic poems that evoke Czech legends and celebrate the beauty of the country’s landscapes. Received with ‘unending storms of applause’ at its 1882 premiere, Má vlast reflects the unique characteristics that form the heart and soul of the Czech nation. This acclaimed 1975 recording by the St Louis Symphony under Walter Susskind has been given a new lease of life by returning to the original Elite Recordings master tapes and producing a high definition transfer of the original sound. The Washington Post’s obituary for Susskind in 1980 made a succinct, specific reference to this release: ‘Outstanding.’ I need say no more.

Listen to an excerpt from Šárka

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