Klaus Heymann Recommends January 2024

This month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include the rare pairing of symphonies by French composer César Franck and his student Ernest Chausson; rediscovered works of Franz von Suppé; the audiovisual recording of Oper Frankfurt’s production of Domenico Cimarosa’s opera L’Italiana in Londra; one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most popular operas Ernani; the final volume in our Antonín Dvořák String Quartets series; piano quartets by Gabriel Fauré and his pupil George Enescu; the newest addition to the acclaimed ‘Music of Brazil’ series and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.

Naxos 8.574536

César Franck’s Symphony in D minor is rightly considered one of the greatest French orchestral works of the late 19th century, but it has rarely – if ever – been coupled with the Symphony in B flat major by his pupil Ernest Chausson. As regards the latter, conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud has compared original manuscripts with the published edition and meticulously corrected numerous errors. These include significant discrepancies in tempo relationships and other major mistakes in the published score, so the results will be of great interest to scholars and record collectors alike. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin is one of Berlin’s leading orchestras, and ranked in the highest echelon of German radio orchestras. I confidently anticipate that this album will be eagerly snapped up by collectors of this repertoire.

Naxos 8.574538

This release continues our series of albums devoted to orchestral music for the stage by Austrian composer Franz von Suppé. Although born in Sweden, conductor Ola Rudner has spent many years working at the Volksoper Wien and as conductor of the New Year’s Concerts of the Tonkünstler Orchestra, an ensemble with more than a century-old tradition in Viennese music, and the one featured on this release. Ola has also received the order of merit for services rendered to the Republic of Austria, so you can confidently expect him to catch the very essence of this repertoire, which includes two world premiere recordings. One of those is of Suppé’s Fantasia Symphonica, the major work on the programme. Recently rediscovered by Ola in Viennese archives, it displays skilful orchestration, distinctive melodies and a mastery of counterpoint.

Listen to an excerpt from Dichter und Bauer (‘Poet and Peasant’) – Ouvertüre

Naxos 2.110739 [DVD]

L’Italiana in Londra was Domenico Cimarosa’s first international triumph, thrilling audiences all over Europe after its premiere in 1778. It later became eclipsed, however, by the even bigger success of Il matrimonio segreto and has become a rarity on stage today. This is the only audiovisual recording of the work – a highly entertaining intermezzo in musica – so I’m delighted to be presenting such a fine new production from Frankfurt Opera as part of our New Year release schedule. It’s in the hands of acclaimed director R. B. Schlather, who sums up the story as ‘an impeccable rom-com’, while Opera Canada hailed the production as ‘a runaway success and a rare delight … Let’s hope it remains in Frankfurt’s repertoire for years to come.’ Schlather’s collaboration with musical director Leo Hussain is tangible, with both of them absorbing Cimarosa’s clever observations of national stereotypes and rendering the opera's jokes as amusing today as they were centuries ago.

Also available on Blu-ray Video (NBD0155V)

Naxos 8.660534-35

Premiered in 1844, Ernani became Verdi’s most popular opera until he composed Il trovatore. This is the audio version of Dynamic’s DVD recording of the work, released in August 2023 (37972/57972), of a production from the 2022 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. It met with critical acclaim, not least with reference to conductor James Conlon, who already has over 500 performances of Verdi operas under his belt. The outstanding cast of singers is led by Francesco Meli in the title role, a singer widely considered to be today’s Italian tenor par excellence. Opera Traveller was certainly impressed by the performance: ‘Musically, this evening reflected the excellent standards one has come to expect from this house. The performance was led by James Conlon, one of the most experienced operatic conductors around, and that experience was evident in his superb support of the singers and the flexible elasticity he brought to his tempi.’

Naxos 8.574513

This album brings Naxos’ series of Dvořák’s fourteen string quartets to its conclusion. Performed by the renowned Fine Arts Quartet, the finale to the series couldn't be in better hands. The mixed programme opens with Dvořák’s five Bagatelles, scored unusually for string quartet and harmonium; they’re infrequently heard in concert, but contain some of the composer’s most attractive melodies. That immediate appeal is set against Dvořák’s more challenging Second String Quartet. Written in a deeply personal and, for its time, relatively avant-garde style, Dvořák considered it to be a failed experiment. He destroyed the manuscript score but, happily, the individual parts were discovered many years after his death. This is a Dvořák programme both for inquisitive newcomers to his chamber music, and for collectors on the lookout for new recordings by one of the finest string quartets around.

Listen to an excerpt from Bagatelles, Op. 47, B. 79: No. 3. Allegretto scherzando

Naxos 8.551477

Recorded specially for Naxos Deutschland in the superb acoustic of the Ölberg Kirche in Berlin, this programme couples two powerful Parisian chamber music works by teacher Gabriel Fauré and his student George Enescu. Pianist Cătălin Șerban has brought together three other outstanding musicians for the recording: Suyeon Kang (violin), Karolina Errera (viola) and Andrei Ioniță (cello), all of whom are engaged on international tours as seasoned soloists and chamber musicians. Although neither of these quartets is under-represented in record catalogues, their pairing is an unusual and highly effective one, revealing both composers’ affinity to German late Romanticism through the melancholy complexity of expression in what are chamber masterpieces.

Listen to an excerpt from FAURÉ, G.: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 15: I. Allegro molto moderato

Naxos 8.574459

The Naxos ‘Music of Brazil’ series, our acclaimed collaborative project with the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will ultimately comprise some 100 orchestral, chamber, choral and vocal works from the 19th and 20th centuries. Recorded by the country’s top orchestras, ensembles and artists, the works have been selected according to their historical importance for Brazilian music. Composer Almeida Prado (1943-2010) already has two titles in the series: Sinfonia dos orixás (8.574411) was judged ‘one of the most interesting and culturally important releases ever put on the market’ (The Art Music Lounge), and his First Piano Concerto (8.574225) was also widely admired for its ‘startling musical imagination.’ (BBC Music Magazine) This programme features his works for solo violin, and duos for violin and cello, which I’m certain will further enhance our project’s excellent reputation. The performers are prize-winning artists Emmanuele Baldini, concertmaster of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra, and Rafael Cesario, a member of the String Quartet of the City of São Paulo and one of Brazil's most versatile and expressive cellists.

BelAir Classiques BAC224 [DVD]

Rameau’s Platée is a thoroughly absorbing example of French Baroque opera at its finest – and zaniest. This audiovisual recording was made last year at the Palais Garnier in Paris and features an outstanding roster of musicians and contributors to the stage production. The title character is a conceited ugly frog who comes to believe that Jupiter has fallen in love with her. She’s eventually disabused of her error, by which time the audience has been captivated by her plight in what is essentially a cruel but moving farce. American tenor Lawrence Brownlee sings the part of Platée ‘as a totally believable, vain frog who sings her many airs like a goddess ... His Platée was of consummate charm.’ (Opera Today) Marc Minkowski and his renowned Les Musiciens du Louvre work wonders in the pit, while the delightfully whimsical production is by Laurent Pelly, one of France’s most sought-after directors of both theatre and opera. The bottom line: ‘It is a truly vintage production, grand cru indeed.’ (Opera Today)

Also available on Blu-ray Video (BAC524)

Capriccio C8092

This release continues Capriccio’s Complete Bruckner Symphonies Editions project that has enjoyed remarkable success to date. As is now well known, the finished project will include all versions of the symphonies either published or to be published under the auspices of the Austrian National Library and the International Bruckner Society in The New Anton Bruckner Complete Edition. This album features Bruckner's First Symphony, which was premiered (badly) in Linz in 1868 before being set aside until nine years and five symphonies later, when Bruckner revised it. A subsequent performance in 1884 was hailed as Bruckner’s most successful Viennese performance to date, which perplexingly led to a thorough revision that would become the 1891 ‘Vienna’ version. This recording uses the score of the original 1868 ‘Linz’ version. The orchestra is the Bruckner Orchestra Linz; the conductor and authoritative interpreter for the whole series is Markus Poschner, whose ‘idiomatic and clear-sighted interpretation of the [Eighth's] 1887 version’ (C8087) also had Gramophone declaring that ‘it’s the finest performance of the score now available.’

Capriccio C5514

Miklós Rózsa feared that success as a film composer might overshadow his reputation as a composer of classical concert repertoire. He was right, of course; the inevitable result of receiving Three Oscars and 17 Academy Award nominations for his fine film scores. The two strangely incompatible worlds forced Rózsa into what he called his ‘Double Life’, which served as the title of both a film for which he won an Oscar and that of his autobiography. This release therefore provides an engaging introduction to his less well-known, alternative output, comprising three orchestral works from his early, middle and late phases. Conductor Gregor Bühl and the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra already have several successful albums in the Capriccio catalogue, including three of works by Walter Braunfels: ‘Bühl and the orchestra give highly sympathetic and informed performances. There is great sensitivity in their playing, and their musicianship is impeccable.’ (Fanfare on C5354)

Dynamic DYN-37991 [DVD]

The Dynamic label has recently enjoyed a very fruitful association with the Sofia Opera and Ballet, producing a series of fine audiovisual recordings of Wagner’s four operas that make up the Ring cycle (37964/57964). The company’s acclaimed productions brought Wagner’s opulent vision to life with both daring visual language and overwhelming musical intensity. Now they present Der fliegende Holländer, one of the operas that helped Wagner to assert his place as the foremost German operatic composer of the time. Plamen Kartaloff’s visually stunning new staging was inspired by the famed English sculptor Barbara Hepworth; the musical director is Rossen Gergov, increasingly in demand as a conductor internationally; and the leading roles are superbly performed by bass-baritone Markus Marquardt (The Dutchman) and soprano Radostina Nikolaeva, ‘a first-class Senta ... strong charisma ... a beautiful timbre.’ (seenandheardinternational.com)

Also available on Blu-ray Video (DYN-57991)

Dynamic CDS8011

Francesco Cavalli was a central figure in the development of 17th century Italian music, becoming immensely successful as an operatic composer, and proving as popular in his time as Verdi was in his. But he also wrote important sacred works in the grandiose tradition of the chapel of St Mark’s in Venice, together with shorter, more intense spiritual works. These proved to be revolutionary in their individualism and Cavalli’s stylistic and expressive creativity can be heard in this selection of works from a single collection published in 1656. Significantly, it includes the world premiere recording of Confitebor, a setting of Psalm 100 for 8 voices, 2 violins, violoncino and basso continuo. The Coro & Ensemble Claudio Monteverdi di Crema are conducted by Bruno Gini, adding to their previous releases of Cavalli's sacred music: ‘Bruno Gini has delivered substantial contributions to a better knowledge of that part of his oeuvre. … Choir and favoriti sing very well; …The playing of the cornetts and sackbuts is excellent.’ (MusicWeb International on CDS7714)

Ondine ODE1450-2

This digital-only release is a collection of twenty-four tracks of music by Sibelius reflecting the theme of Winter; previous releases have followed a similar format for Spring (ODE 1415-2), Summer (ODE 1430-2) and Autumn (ODE 1440-2). Finland’s natural landscape provided an important source of inspiration for Sibelius, the country's ‘national composer’. ‘How strange! I can very clearly feel the smell of snow’, he's credited as saying. Sibelius’ music is often linked in peoples’ minds with winter and snow and, although he enjoyed the beauty of each season, he also suffered from bouts of depression during the winter months. This highly appealing programme features several of his winter-themed compositions, including three of the Christmas Songs, Op. 1.

* Only available for download and streaming

Opus Arte OA1371D [DVD]

Pious restraint comes face to face with sensuous hedonism in Camille Saint-Saëns’ greatest grand opera, Samson and Delilah. This Royal Opera production’s vivid retelling of the Bible story was described as ‘a surging biblical epic with star turns’ by The Times, not least with reference to Elīna Garanča as Delilah, whose performance ‘smoulders with vindictive passion.’ (The Financial Times) Multi-Olivier Award winning director Richard Jones returned to The Royal Opera to stage the spectacular fin-de-siècle masterpiece, which hadn’t been performed at Covent Garden since 2004. In the role of Samson, ‘SeokJong Baek ... makes a mightily impressive Royal Opera stage debut.’ (The Guardian) while ‘Music director Antonio Pappano draws huge power and passion from Saint-Saëns’s score.’ (The Financial Times) With superb singing, thrilling orchestral interludes and splendid choral numbers from the Royal Opera Chorus, this really is a performance to savour.

Also available on Blu-ray Video (OABD7315D)

Opus Arte OA1379BD [DVD]

This 2-disc special collection of classic performances from The Royal Ballet marries a fascinating background documentary with a programme of star performances by leading names from the world of dance. Essential Royal Ballet goes behind the scenes, spotlighting much-loved dancers such as Carlos Acosta, Marianela Nuñez, Natalia Osipova, Steven McRae, Francesca Hayward and Matthew Ball as they prepare to take to the stage, sharing stories of their artistic lives and thoughts on what these ballets mean to them. In Pas de Deux, the ‘steps for two’ so central to the form of ballet are celebrated further in sixteen exceptional examples from The Royal Ballet’s repertory, demonstrating the choreographic diversity, technical brilliance, show-stopping spectacle and artistry for which The Royal Ballet is acclaimed around the world. Irresistible.

Also available on Blu-ray Video (OABD7317BD)

Vox Classics VOX-NX-3033CD

The new medium of film with sound was developing at around the time Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union, where in 1933 he composed the music for his first film, Lieutenant Kijé. Prokofiev’s remarkable perception of the medium’s requirements was enhanced by his ensuing collaboration with pioneering Soviet film director Sergey Eisenstein on Alexander Nevsky. The music was of epic proportions and the resultant cantata remains one of Prokofiev’s most brilliant and popular works. It's heard here in a compelling interpretation by Leonard Slatkin and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. ClassicsToday.com noted that the performance’s ‘driving energy, first-rate orchestral playing, euphonious choral contributions, and heartfelt solo singing ranks among the best versions available.’ The digitally remastered recordings were originally made for Vox in the late 1970s by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz, considered by audiophiles to be amongst the finest sounding examples of orchestral recordings.

Listen to an excerpt from Lieutenant Kijé Suite, Op. 60: IV. Troika

Vox Classics VOX-NX-3032CD

Here we have another release in our series of digitally remastered recordings that were originally made for Vox by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz. With performances dating from the early 1970s, it’s Vol. 1 of Chopin’s complete works for piano and orchestra featuring legendary American pianist Abbey Simon, who died in 2019 at the age of 99. The eminent New York Times critic Harold C. Schonberg hailed him as a ‘supervirtuoso’, while Jonathan Summers wrote in the Naxos A–Z of Pianists: ‘Simon is a pianist in the great Romantic tradition … he has a virtuoso technique which he employs with effortless ease coupled with a smooth, clear sound … the complete works for piano and orchestra, recorded in Hamburg in 1972, afford many delights.’ This album really is a polished gem to treasure.

Listen to an excerpt from Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11: III. Rondo: Vivace

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