This month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include the first instalment in Adam Fischer’s new Haydn Late Symphonies cycle, the world premiere of a new percussion concerto by Jennifer Higdon, revivals of music by Polish composers Stanisław Moniuszko and his pupil Zygmunt Noskowski, the Trumpet Concerto by celebrated film music composer John Williams, and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Considering the critical acclaim that conductor Adam Fischer received for his Naxos editions of the complete symphonies of Brahms (8.574465-67: ‘fresh, engaging recordings’ The Guardian) and Beethoven (8.505251: ‘utterly fascinating’ Gramophone), I’m optimistic that this follow-up series of all of Haydn’s late symphonies will to a large extent sell itself. The project’s scope starts at the six ‘Paris’ Symphonies (Nos. 82–87) and proceeds to the two sets of ‘London’ Symphonies (Nos. 93–98 and 99–104). Adam again directs the Danish Chamber Orchestra, bringing new levels of excitement to the works facilitated by their two decades of working together. The twelve ‘London’ symphonies delighted audiences of their time and history will surely repeat itself in this series. Volume 1 features Symphonies 93-95 in revelatory recordings of passion, drama and emotion.
A Pulitzer Prize and three-time GRAMMY Award winner, American composer Jennifer Higdon continues to write what the Chicago Sun-Times describes as music ‘both modern and timeless’. You may recall some of the accolades she received for her previous Naxos albums: ‘Jennifer Higdon is one of the most consistently important composers creating music today,’ (Fanfare on 8.559823, concertos); ‘music that really grabbed my attention and made a lasting impression upon me.’ (Fanfare on 8.559752, early chamber works). You’ll find that the programme of orchestral works on this latest album continues in the same impressive, innovative style. There’s the scintillating, high-speed virtuosity of her concerto for two pitched percussion instruments, Duo Duel, written only last year; and the Concerto for Orchestra, a true virtuoso tour-de-force that demands the utmost in technical accomplishment from all members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra under conductor Robert Spano.
While Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera Hänsel und Gretel brought him enduring worldwide fame, his starkly contrasted Königskinder (‘The King’s Children’) has only recently begun to enjoy a revival. It’s a tragic account of the love of a goose girl and a prince as they battle prejudice and are obstructed by magic, ending in their deaths and a rebuke to the villagers who rejected them. Tenor Daniel Behle (2020 Opus Klassik Singer of the Year) and soprano Olga Kulchynska (‘a revelation’, www-operamagazine-nl) take the lead roles at the head of ‘a cast who all act as well as they sing.’ (Bachtrack) Of equal significance is the quality of the production by German director Christof Loy, one of the most sought-after opera and theatre directors of his generation. His meticulously crafted productions have earned him numerous awards, including Director of the Year several times by Opernwelt magazine. That reputation is certainly maintained here. Conductor Marc Albrecht, Opus Klassik’s 2021 Conductor of the Year, will no doubt attract plaudits similar to those received for his recording of Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane (2.110584-85/NBD0083V): ‘this is a major and essential addition to the recorded Korngold legacy.’ (Opera)
Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0171V)
Renowned in his native Poland, and increasingly recognised internationally as an opera composer of significance, Stanisław Moniuszko (1819–1872) can always be relied on for superb music drama. Despite this reputation, his final opera Paria long remained his least frequently staged. Now, however, its touching story of love, exclusion and the power of social rules can be relished in this concert version that was awarded First Prize in the Rediscovered Work category at the 2021 International Opera Awards. There are very few recordings of Paria available. Conducted by internationally acclaimed Jacek Kaspszyk, and with a star cast in an all-Polish production from the superb Poznań State Moniuszko Opera Orchestra and Chorus, I believe that this new recording surpasses any alternative versions in the catalogue and will be immediately attractive to collectors.
Despite the compelling nature and attractiveness of his music, Alberto Williams (1862–1952) is still barely represented on recordings today. Often referred to as ‘the grand old man of Argentine music’, he nevertheless remains almost entirely unknown outside his native land. So, I’m pleased that our increasingly popular Latin American Classics series is now presenting the world premiere recordings of two of his three violin sonatas. I hope this might even lead chamber musicians to take up the works in recital as romantic outpourings worthy of César Franck (Williams’ teacher). They deserve a much wider audience, as you’ll hear from these persuasive performances by violinist Alejandro Aldana, first concertmaster of Brazil’s São Paulo Municipal Theatre Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Fabio Martino, who has taken first prize in more than twenty piano competitions.
The four Greek composers on this album of orchestral works may have lived and worked in different countries, but what draws them together is the musical ‘topoi’, or folk music of their native land. If their names are unfamiliar, then I refer you to previous recordings of their music in our Greek Classics series and the critical commentary they received: ‘You really must hear this. It’s a revelation.’ (ClassicsToday.com on Skalkottas’ orchestral works, 8.574154); ‘A superb ear-opener.’ (MusicWeb International on Kalomiris’ Symphony No. 3, 8.557970); ‘an interesting byway in the woodwind quintet literature.’ (American Record Guide on Constantinidis’ music for wind quintet, 8.579037) Zoi Tsokanu conducts the Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra, Greece’s premier symphonic ensemble, noted by Gramophone for its ‘silky strings and poetic woodwinds’ in an album of music by Christos Hatzis (8.573091).
I’d like to draw your attention to the latest recording from Portara, a Naxos label imprint that offers digital-only releases. It’s the sixth in a series of performances of concertos by the GRAMMY and Academy Award-winning American composer John Williams. Renowned for his celebrated film scores, Williams has also produced splendid works for the concert hall. Here we have his Trumpet Concerto in a performance that's an all-American affair, with Naxos artist Leonard Slatkin directing the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and with the orchestra’s principal trumpet Hunter Eberly as soloist. The same conductor and orchestra feature on the previous concerto recordings in the series for bassoon, cello, horn, tuba and violin, details of which can be found on the Naxos website by following this link.
* Only available for download and streaming
I imagine few people will recognise the name of composer Zygmunt Noskowski (1846–1909), even though Szymanowski featured among his distinguished students and Moniuszko among his renowned teachers. So, this new album provides the perfect opportunity to discover music by the man who for most of the 19th century was the foremost exponent of modern symphonic music in Poland. As a conductor and concert organiser, Noskowski championed the cause of forgotten Polish composers. Now it’s the turn of Naxos artist Antoni Wit to raise the profile of his late-romantic colleague; Antoni succeeded Noskowski as musical director of the Warsaw Philharmonic almost a century after Noskowski’s retirement in 1908. The programme comprises the first two of Noskowski’s three symphonies. Antoni notes that ‘they are almost unknown in Poland even to this day.’ So, it’s high time to correct that situation.
Recorded last year at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, this splendid production of Verdi’s opera Ernani was the first to be staged there since 1965. Premiered in 1844, Ernani was an immediate success and soon became Verdi’s most popular and frequently performed opera. Contemporary critics reported that ‘as they came out of the theatre, people were already singing its catchy tunes … Few scores have made a more powerful impression.’ Now we can all appreciate the work's dramatic tale of rebellion and romance courtesy of this wonderful new audiovisual recording. Stand-out performances from Francesco Meli in the title role and James Conlon in the pit were duly recognised by the critics, who praised ‘the dazzling, precise attention to detail from musical director James Conlon [and] Francesco Meli’s clear, robust voice, sonorous throughout and with sustained sensitivity to vocal colour and shading.’ (toscanaeventinews.it)
Also available in Blu-ray Video (DYN-57972)
Swedish-Finnish composer Bernhard Crusell (1795–1838) is probably best remembered for his three clarinet concertos, so I hope this new album's programme of three other, later works will help reappraise him. The Bassoon Concerto confirms Crusell's expert command of the capabilities of all woodwind instruments, while his overture to the opera The Little Slave Girl is heard in its first commercial recording. Finally, there’s the world premiere recording of one of Crusell’s last works, his Viking-themed The Last Warrior, scored for narrator, choir and orchestra. Prior to this recording, it hadn't been heard since its first performance in 1837. The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra performs on period instruments under their artistic director Aapo Häkkinen.
The Royal Opera brings new energy to Mozart’s great comic opera Le Nozze di Figaro with their latest audiovisual release. Musical director Sir Antonio Pappano lends his perspective to Mozart’s effervescent score and a young, predominantly Italian cast – including Ricardo Fassi (Figaro), Giulia Semenzato (Susanna) and Germán E. Alcántara (Count Almaviva) – give a magnificent performance in this revival of David McVicar’s sumptuous and hugely popular period staging. The Independent gave the production a 5-star rating, describing it as ‘an exceptional, exhilarating revival.’; The Daily Telegraph judged it ‘fizzy, funny, hugely accomplished’; and The Daily Express praised the ‘brilliant young cast, a great conductor and a terrific performance from the orchestra ... pure joy from start to finish.’ I need add no more.
Also available in Blu-ray Video (OABD7304D)
Peter Hall’s captivating 1981 Glyndebourne production of Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night's Dream, described by The Guardian as ‘the definitive staging of the work’, is beautifully captured in this landmark audiovisual recording. Conductor Bernard Haitink directs the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a superb cast headed by legendary singers James Bowman in the role of Oberon and Ileana Cotrubas as Tytania, the quarreling king and queen of the fairies. Britten’s opera is a brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, and in Peter Hall’s remarkable staging the very wood comes alive as logs and trees move and rustle, creating ambiguous silhouettes in the dark mysterious woodland, lit only by designer John Bury’s wonderful rising sun and moon. Pure magic.
These classic Vox recordings of Tchaikovsky's First and Second Symphonies by the Utah Symphony Orchestra were originally released as quadraphonic LPs in 1974. They remain much admired to this day for conductor Maurice Abravanel’s fresh and direct interpretations. The album follows on from our June 2023 release of the Fourth (VOX-NX-3022CD) and the Fifth in July (VOX-NX-3023CD), both from the same series. This new edition, however, enjoys the advantage of supplementing Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular six symphonies with overtures and other orchestral works. The recordings have also been given a new lease of life in the form of high-definition transfers to CD of the original Elite Recordings master tapes, considered by audiophiles to be amongst the very finest examples of orchestral recordings. ClassicsToday.com’s admiration for these Vox recordings is clear: ‘As a Tchaikovsky interpreter, Abravanel was superb, full of good ideas about pacing and balance … [these are] sensational performances of the first three symphonies.’