Klaus Heymann Recommends February 2024

This month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold staged by award-winning director Stefan Herheim; Rossini’s rarely performed opera Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra; GRAMMY Award-winning conductor David Alan Miller presenting three classic George Gershwin pieces; Antoine and Max Bohrer’s works; the fifth instalment of Johannes Brahms’ Complete Songs series; the ninth and the penultimate volume of Béla Bartók’s Piano Music series presented by pianist Goran Filipec. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.

Naxos 2.110740 [DVD]

Deutsche Oper Berlin’s acclaimed Ring cycle was issued in DVD and Blu-ray sets by Naxos in November 2022. Now, the four operas are being made available for purchase separately, starting with Das Rheingold. This tremendous production is directed by Stefan Herheim, recognised as one of the most important directors of the moment; he's been named Opera Director of the Year three times by the German magazine Opernwelt. The cast comprises an outstanding line-up of world-class singers, while the music director is Sir Donald Runnicles, a proven Wagner authority 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. Little wonder that this production was hailed as ‘intense, propulsive and full of dramatic sweep.’ (seenandheard-international.com)

Also available on Blu-ray Video (NBD0157V)

Naxos 8.660538-39

Rossini’s rarely performed Elisabetta regina d'Inghilterra was his first opera for the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. With the composer showcasing and indeed recycling some of his best music, it provided the success that established him as Italy's leading opera composer. Naxos’ recordings of productions from the annual Rossini in Wildbad Festival have become a pillar of our operatic output, and I’m delighted that this recording takes us a step nearer to completing our noted project to record every single one of Rossini’s 39 operas. Musical direction is again in the hands of Antonino Fogliani. He was appointed music director of the Rossini in Wildbad Festival in 2012, since when he has established himself on the international opera scene as one of the most appreciated musicians of his generation. Collectors are already well aware of his numerous acclaimed Rossini opera recordings in our catalogue and will certainly greet this release with enthusiasm.

Listen to an excerpt from Sinfonia

Naxos 8.559934

This album presents the premiere recordings of three classic Gershwin pieces using the new Gershwin Critical Edition. It seeks to create the most accurate representations of the composer’s intentions using all existing manuscripts and other sources, such as piano rolls. The release is also timely in that 2024 marks the centenary of the first performance of Rhapsody in Blue. The solo pianist is Kevin Cole, a leading Gershwin interpreter who has given sold-out performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, and with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. His Naxos recording of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F (8.559875), which similarly featured David Alan Miller conducting the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic, was hailed by Fanfare: ‘Kevin Cole’s piano playing is filled with fiery energy, the rhythms clearly articulated and overall perfectly balanced with the transparent opulence of Miller’s orchestra.’ The programme also features Joan Tower’s 1920/2019, a propulsive study in rhythm and texture, and Steven Stucky’s ghostly waltz evocations, Dreamwaltzes.

Digital Pre-release Single
9.50314 *

Cuban Overture

* Only available for download and streaming

Naxos 8.574048

You'll be hard pressed to find recordings of music by brothers Antoine and Max Bohrer in any catalogue, which makes this programme a delightful opportunity to get acquainted with some of their long neglected output. Active in the first half of the nineteenth century, violinist Antoine (a student of Rudolphe Kreutzer) and cellist Max would occasionally co-compose, as exemplified by their boldly virtuosic Grande Symphonie Militaire. Violinist Friedemann Eichhorn and cellist Alexander Hülshoff dazzle as the soloists in the two concertos that follow. Both artists already have a number of well received Naxos albums to their credit, including a duo album of French works for violin and cello: ‘Hülshoff and Eichhorn brilliantly capture this notion [of equality] with their impeccable sense of balance, pristine and polished intonation (even in extensive passages played entirely in unison), and crisp articulation.’ (AllMusic.com on 8.572188)

Listen to an excerpt from Grande symphonie militaire

Naxos 8.574490

Our edition of Brahms’ complete songs continues with four sets that offer both thematic unity within themselves and poetic contrasts as a complete programme. They're beautifully interpreted by our two soloists who have already distinguished themselves in previous instalments. Alina Wunderlin, a noted coloratura soprano from the world of opera, transitions to chamber intimacy with consummate ease: ‘Alina Wunderlin [gives] us all the beauty of sound one could hope for.’ (Fanfare on Vol. 2, 8.574345); and tenor Kieran Carrel, who is ‘perfect for this repertoire.’ (Classical Explorer on Vol. 3, 8.574346) Performing on a fortepiano of Brahms’ time, renowned Lieder accompanist Ulrich Eisenlohr provides the constant thread throughout the edition and ‘does not put a finger wrong (he provides the fine booklet notes, too).’ (Classical Explorer on Vol. 3)

Listen to an excerpt from Fünf Gesänge, Op. 71: No. 4. Willst du, dass ich geh?

Naxos 8.574420

This ninth and penultimate volume in our project to record all of Bartók’s works for solo piano is dominated by two important works. The first is his Zongoraiskola or ‘Piano Method’, comprising 48 perfectly formed and charmingly refined miniatures. The other is Bartók’s substantial and ambitious late-Romantic Piano Sonata, Op.19, BB 12, a very early work, composed when he was around seventeen. Long thought to be lost, it's heard in a performing edition prepared from the manuscript by our album soloist Goran Filipec. Goran is well known for his recordings on both the Naxos and Grand Piano labels, which include the programme of Paganini Studies (8.573458) which was awarded the International Grand Prix du Disque F. Liszt by the Ferenc Liszt Society of Budapest. It's hard to select just one of the glowing reviews he has constantly attracted, so I suggest collectors simply sit back and enjoy Goran’s latest offering.

Listen to an excerpt from Piano Sonata, Op.19, BB12 /DD 51: III. Presto

Capriccio C8093

Capriccio’s recordings of Bruckner’s symphonies in the Complete Versions Edition includes all versions 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). This latest addition to the label’s highly regarded series features Bruckner’s Second Symphony. Rarely heard even in its 1877 revision, it has remained virtually unperformed in the 1872 original version that features here. That’s a pity, because it’s well worth discovering the original qualities of Bruckner’s early masterpiece, which collectors are now able to do with this authoritative performance directed by Markus Poschner (the conductor for the entire series) and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra: ‘This is one of the best entries in Poschner’s ultra-complete Bruckner symphony cycle – a performance full of characterful ideas, perfectly executed.’ (ClassicsToday.com on C8090, Symphony No. 5, 1878 version)

Listen to an excerpt from Symphony No. 2 in C minor: Allegro. Ziemlich schnell

Dynamic DYN-37987 [DVD]

Despite the triumphant reception Donizetti received for his first opera, Enrico di Borgogna (1818), he was still young and inexperienced when, four years later, he was commissioned by La Scala to write Chiara e Serafina. Composed in haste, it met with disapproval at its premiere and subsequently disappeared without trace. So, I’m delighted to introduce this revival of the work that took place at the Bergamo Donizetti Festival exactly 200 years after its first performance. It’s a fine new co-production between the Fondazione Teatro Donizetti and the Accademia Teatro alla Scala, accompanied on period instruments and representing the world premiere audiovisual recording of the work. Bringing to life an entertaining tale of pirates, lovers, disguises, deceit and peril in 17th-century Majorca, ‘the entire cast, comprising young people from the Advanced Academy for opera singers of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, is both tight in delivery and well blended.’ (OperaLibera)

Also available on Blu-ray Video (DYN-57987)

Dynamic CDS8001

Orfeo Vecchi was held in high regard by his contemporaries for the sacred music he produced towards the end of the 16th century. The twenty pieces that comprise his third book of Motets for Six Voices form a rich, eclectic programme, and these performances elegantly express the pictorial aspects of the texts that Vecchi achieved through subtle dialogue, antiphony and counterpoint. Conducted by Don Denis Silano, the voices of the Cappella Musicale Eusebiana duly reflect Vecchi’s compositional mastery and religious inspiration. The performances also represent a contribution to the recovery of the wealth of unpublished materials held in Vercelli Cathedral, where Vecchi studied and worked for much of his career.

Listen to an excerpt from Motectorum, Book 3: Consolamini popule meus

Marco Polo 8.225382

This is the third volume in our series of recordings of music by Eduard Strauss who, although enjoying a lower profile than his distinguished brothers Johann II and Josef, nonetheless proved his genius for orchestration and his mastery of the polka and galop dance forms. The programme continues the rediscovery of his music with a succession of highly entertaining pieces, only one of which has been recorded previously, which readily conjure the atmosphere of Vienna’s most glittering balls and carnival festivities. Conductor Marek Štilec has already assembled a fine Naxos discography that features the music of a range of composers, so you can be confident that he and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, Pardubice capture the very essence of this repertoire.

Listen to an excerpt from Herz und Welt. Polka-Mazur, Op. 131

Orfeo C220021

Here’s an attractive opportunity for collectors – a rare pairing of two concertos by Benjamin Britten in immaculate performances by star performers. Britten began work on his Double Concerto for Violin and Viola as a very young man, but he never quite finished it, even though the work had made considerable progress. It was only after his death that the premiere took place, in 1997, in Colin Matthews’ edition of the work. The violin soloist, both here and in the Violin Concerto, is Baiba Skride, internationally renowned for her immaculate technique and refreshing interpretations. She performs the Double Concerto with violist Ivan Vukčević, who has appeared in some of the most important European venues and festivals. They are accompanied by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by veteran Naxos artist Marin Alsop, whose performances have won her many Gramophone Awards and who surely needs no further introduction.

Listen to an excerpt from Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 15: II. Vivace – Animando – Largamente – Cadenza

Opus Arte OA1381BD [DVD]

This box set showcases three award-winning contemporary productions by Christopher Wheeldon that represent his most acclaimed recent work for The Royal Ballet. Each features designs by Bob Crowley and music by Joby Talbot, now an established stellar creative team alongside Wheeldon. Lauren Cuthbertson dances the inquisitive title role in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2018), a spectacular reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s ever popular story; The Winter’s Tale (2014) reflects the profound emotional trajectory of Shakespeare’s play through strong performances, notably from Edward Watson, Zenaida Yanowsky and Sarah Lamb; and in Like Water for Chocolate (2022), Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé lead the full company in an engrossing new ballet where passion, mystery and magic combine.

Also available on Blu-ray Video (OABD7319BD)

Vox VOX-NX-3035CD

The great 19th-century violinist Joseph Joachim connects Dvořák’s Violin Concerto with that by Brahms, in that he gave invaluable advice to both composers regarding the works. Dvořák fused Czech spirit with Slavonic vitality to create his masterpiece, performed here by legendary violinist Ruggiero Ricci, ‘[in] a characteristically febrile, coiled and intense performance.’ (MusicWeb International) The Piano Concerto reflects the younger Dvořák. It was long championed by soloist Rudolf Firkušný, whose reputation for placing cultured musicianship before extrovert virtuosity suited the work perfectly, and whose ‘phrasing ... is the perfect mixture of affectionate lyricism and aristocratic control.’ (MusicWeb International) This classic Vox recording remains one of the finest versions of the Piano Concerto available, played by the work’s greatest advocate. It continues our series of remastered Elite Recordings, which were made for Vox by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz and are still considered by audiophiles to be amongst the finest sounding examples of orchestral recordings.

Listen to an excerpt from Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53, B. 108: I. Allegro ma non troppo

Vox VOX-NX-3034CD

Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is considered the finest of his concertos (and arguably the greatest of all such works for the cello), with its majestic character, imposing themes, and contrasting moods of intense drama and affectionate lyricism. The soloist on this classic recording is Zara Nelsova, one of the great 20th-century cello prodigies, performing here in perfect harmony with conductor Walter Susskind: ‘You will gain a great understanding of the work’s strength and meaning when you listen to Nelsova and Susskind, and much more besides.’ (MusicWeb International) The violin soloist in Dvořák’s Romance in F minor and the Mazurek in E minor is Ruggiero Ricci, whose performing career spanned 75 years, with more than 6,000 concerts in 65 countries, and over 500 recordings. The album is another in our series of remastered legendary Elite recordings by producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz that are being eagerly sought out by audiophile collectors and the many fans of these vibrant and classic performances.

Listen to an excerpt from Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191: III. Finale: Allegro moderato

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