Klaus Heymann Recommends July 2023

This month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include world premiere recordings of orchestral works by Claudio Santoro, Fabrice Bollon’s re-creations of operas by Leoš Janáček, new productions from Florence and Covent Garden, Leonard Slatkin’s legendary 1973 Gershwin recordings remastered in high definition, and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.

Naxos 8.574410

This is the fourth album in our Music of Brazil series to spotlight works by Claudio Santoro, widely recognised as one of the country’s most eminent and influential composers. The programme of world premiere recordings of orchestral works includes both the Eighth Symphony (furthering our first complete edition of his fourteen symphonies) and his stunning Cello Concerto. Another two engaging works complete the programme: Três Abstrações (Three Abstractions) is full of rich contrasts that showcase the orchestra’s string section; while the mathematically inspired Interações Assintóticas has the thrill of half the orchestra being tuned a quarter-tone lower than the rest. Conductor Neil Thomson and the Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra have featured on two well-received previous releases in the series: ‘The performances by the Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra under its principal conductor Neil Thomson are first-class, as is the quality of the recording.’ (Gramophone on 8.574402 / Symphonies 5 & 7); ‘Excellent, committed performances that are well recorded in fine sound.’ (MusicWeb International on 8.574406 / Symphonies 11 & 12)

Listen to an excerpt from Cello Concerto: III. Allegro deciso ma molto espressivo

Naxos 8.660526-27

This highly original project was a happy by-product of the COVID pandemic lockdown, when the use of large orchestras was limited. Fabrice Bollon, who enjoys a significant presence in our catalogue both as composer and conductor, devised a version of Janáček’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen using an accompaniment of just twelve instruments. Don’t think of it as merely a reduction, however; it’s a convincing and imaginative recreation with new combinations of sounds that might well have been used by Janáček himself. Fabrice’s version makes the work more accessible to a wider audience, and this splendid recording will certainly help it on its way to achieve that end. The other two works on the programme are heard in their first recordings: Šarka (a compression of Janáček’s opera into a duo) and Twelve Lillies for Leoš, a colourfully scored tribute comprising reminiscences from Janáček’s works.

Listen to an excerpt from The Cunning Little Vixen: Act II: There in the Mountains, it will be much better than here!

Naxos 2.110758 [DVD]

This distinctive feature film follows the life of an impoverished Richard Wagner as he works on his opera Tristan und Isolde in Zurich while exiled from his native land, following the failed German revolution of 1848. There he meets Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck, ardent admirers of his music; Wagner’s subsequent passionate and scandalous affair with Mathilde is tellingly explored in this production by director Jens Neubert. Singer/songwriter/actress Sophie Auster stars as Mathilde Wesendonck; a grand prize recipient in the 2016 John Lennon Songwriting Contest, she was also winner of the Cosmopolitan Singer of the Year award in Spain the following year. Equally versatile, Joonas Saartamo plays the part of Wagner. He’s renowned both as one of Finland’s most respected actors and for his work as the hip-hop artist Jonde. The producer/author/director is Jens Neubert whose 2010 Hunter’s Bride, a film based on the opera Der Freischütz, was nominated for a Montreal World Film Festival award. Torsten Rasch wrote the original music; Eckehard Stier conducts the London Symphony Orchestra.

Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0170V)

Naxos 8.574374

This release serves as an enjoyable reminder of our ongoing project to record all of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas on modern instruments, giving our edition a distinctive edge over other editions that are performed on harpsichord. This is Vol. 27 in the series, with five further volumes in the pipeline that will bring us to the conclusion of our extended undertaking. The programme comprises lesser-known works that incorporate elements of dance forms from Spain and Portugal; the colourful Sonata in D minor is heard in its first recording; and the Sonata No. 5 in C major brings the recital to a conclusion with a vivid display of musical fireworks. The pianist is Steinway Artist Sergio Gallo, who has already recorded several acclaimed albums for the Naxos and Grand Piano labels. The observation that ‘Gallo’s technique is pristine and flawless’ (American Record Guide on 8.574300 / works by Anton Rubinstein) flags up another winner in the pipeline for both Sergio and our Scarlatti edition.

Listen to an excerpt from Sonata in G minor, K.12/L.489/P.68

Dynamic DYN-37981 [DVD]

Here are two 20th-century works based on the Greek mythological figure of Oedipus Rex. Although the composers were contemporaneous, Italian Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880–1968) and the more cosmopolitan Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) produced scores that, although intended for very different contexts, sit together extremely well in this vibrant audiovisual recording. Pizzetti’s Three Orchestral Preludes for Oedipus Rex by Sophocles was commissioned for use in a theatrical production; it’s written with an austere sense of orchestral colour, devoid of the impressionism of the time. Composed some twenty years later, Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex was written in his neo-Classical style; there’s a central role for narrator, a starkly stylised setting, the use of Latin and the wearing of masks. Conductor Daniele Gatti proved central to the success of these 2022 performances from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino: ‘In more than fifty years of theatre-going I have rarely been so full of involvement and admiration. The credit goes to Daniele Gatti whose precision of sound and gesture united passion and lyrical sentiment… a triumph for all.’ (Toscana Eventi & News)

Also available in Blu-ray Video (DYN-57981), Disc and Streaming (CDS7981)

OehmsClassics OC1720

Carl Loewe fashioned his 1841 oratorio about the Bohemian theologian Jan Hus as a kind of ‘opera without scenery’. A century before the rise to prominence of religious reformer Martin Luther, Hus had taken a hard stance on the official church and was burned at the stake in 1415 in Constance, following his condemnation by the council. Loewe’s Jan Hus premiered in 1841 in a performance by the Berliner Singakademie. This rarely performed work, surely deserving of more attention, finally becomes widely available with this world premiere recording by the Arcis Vocalisten and the Baroque Orchestra L’arpa festante conducted by Thomas Gropper, whose recording of another Loewe work, Das Sühnopfer des neuen Bundes, was nominated for a 2019 ICMA Award.

Listen to an excerpt from Part I: O frohe Knabenzeit

Opus Arte OA1376D [DVD]

The Royal Opera excel in this stunning performance of Mussorgsky's masterpiece, Boris Godunov, hailed by the critics as ‘dramatically powerful, vocally refined…’ (The Daily Mail) The title role, one of the most rewarding bass-baritone parts in the repertoire, is performed by Bryn Terfel, ‘a powerful new Boris’ (The Observer), in Richard Jones’ new production of the original 1869 score. Antonio Pappano conducts an outstanding cast that also includes John Graham-Hall as the crafty Prince Shuisky and John Tomlinson as the vagabond monk Varlaam. ‘Pappano completely masters Mussorgsky’s idiom, contributing a powerfully restrained account of an outstanding score that, in his hands, is as much a requiem as a drama.’ (Mail on Sunday) Bonus footage has Terfel and Pappano in conversation about what makes Boris Godunov such a masterpiece. Not to be missed.

Opus Arte OA1375D [DVD]

Glyndebourne’s iconic 1985 staging of Benjamin Britten’s comic opera Albert Herring boasts a stellar line-up of Britain's finest singers of the time in Peter Hall’s landmark production of the work. As ‘a vintage production with a vintage cast’ (The Sunday Times), Albert Herring came full circle with this archive recording, having been premiered at Glyndebourne in 1947. With John Graham-Hall in the title role, Patricia Johnson as Lady Billows and Alan Opie as Sid, the uniformly strong cast brings freshness and enduring charm to the work in a performance that’s expertly conducted by the legendary Bernard Haitink, showcasing ‘British Opera at its best.’ (Daily Express)

Orfeo C240032

This might well be the first opportunity for many to experience ‘radio opera’, a genre that translates the essence of staged opera into an engaging aural experience utilising modern technology; ‘modern’ as in the 1960s when German composer Werner Egk wrote Columbus. Fascinated by the possibilities of the new medium, Egk wrote the libretto himself, drawing on texts from historical sources and clearly disassociating himself from the genre of opera with the subtitle ‘Report and Portrait’. Incorporating elements of oratorio and spoken theatre, it was likely modeled on Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. Egk himself conducts the work’s original 1963 recording in this release.

Listen to an excerpt from Act I Scene 1: Die hochgelehrten Erdkundigen

Vox VOX-NX-3018CD

Collectors will no doubt be keenly awaiting this latest release in the Vox series of recordings produced by the legendary team of sound engineers Joanna Nickrenz and Marc Aubort (who only recently passed away). Made some fifty years ago, they still stand as audiophile classics of orchestral recordings. The booklet notes for this all-Gershwin programme are a significant bonus. They were supplied by the eminent author Edward Jablonski who wrote The Gershwin Years (Doubleday, 1973) at around the same time this Vox recording was released; he subsequently wrote Gershwin in 1987, again for Doubleday. The piano soloist is Jeffrey Siegel, internationally acclaimed for his performances with the world’s finest orchestras and conductors and noted for his ‘massive technique, musical sensitivity and character, wide tonal resources [and] immense reserves of power.’ (The Los Angeles Times) Leonard Slatkin, a major Naxos artist and winner of multiple major awards, conducts the St Louis Symphony Orchestra. When the original album was re-released in 1990, flyinginkpot.com wrote ‘This recording is mesmerising from start to end … If you are even remotely interested in Gershwin or American music, grab this set when you see it!.’

Listen to an excerpt from Concerto in F: III. Allegro agitato

View all Features »