This month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include George Antheil’s Violin Sonatas performed by violinist Tianwa Yang and pianist Nicholas Rimmer; Saint-Georges’ Violin Concertos featuring violinist Fumika Mohri; Charles Ives’ Complete Sets for Chamber Orchestra conducted by James Sinclair; Władysław Żeleński’s opera Janek featuring tenor Łukasz Gaj in the title role; audiovisual presentation of Francesco Cavalli’s opera Il Xerse and Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin; Sigrid Faltin’s film Vivace documenting the life and work of Anne-Sophie Mutter; George Gershwin’s orchestral works presented the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
American composer George Antheil (1900–1959) is best remembered for his deliberately shocking orchestral score Ballet mécanique, composed during his avant-garde early years in 1920s Paris. His four Violin Sonatas represent both this daring early period and his more Romantic, yet still spiky output after his return to the US in 1936. You can expect to hear a range of juxtaposed styles, from the barbaric ferocity of Stravinsky, to jazzy elements deriving from musical cubism, and the influence of Baroque and Classical models. Although the works have been recorded before, complete editions are something of a rarity. Whatever the competition, such as it is, none achieve the musical and technical brilliance of violinist Tianwa Yang. I’m certain that this release will be an instant attraction to the myriad fans she has gained through her numerous highly successful Naxos releases to date. ‘With violinist Tianwa Yang you can always count on a mixture of dazzling technique, colour, tone and musical intelligence.’ (The WholeNote on 8.574107)
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799) might not yet be a household name, but with a major film in the offing about this remarkable black composer/violinist/swordsman/athlete, and a drama about him having already played out in London, this latest in the Naxos series of recordings of his works will hopefully feed into the public’s growing awareness of him and tempt people to explore our growing back catalogue of his works, alongside the published editions of all his concertos and chamber music by Artaria Editions, an affiliate of Naxos. This latest release features more examples of his violin concertos that were showpieces designed for himself to perform, to dazzle the audience with his exceptional agility and to seduce with expressive lyricism. The soloist is Fumika Mohri, who in 2012 took first prize in the violin category of the Seoul International Music Competition, becoming the youngest ever and very first Japanese winner in the history of the competition. She also went on to win second prize at the 2015 Paganini Competition.
Conductor and scholar James Sinclair is an undisputed authority on the music of Charles Ives. He has conducted the world premieres and first recordings of sixteen Ives works, for example. He’s also partway through a project to record for Naxos all of the composer’s works for orchestra, which will eventually run to eight albums. This latest in the series comprises Ives’ complete Sets for Chamber Orchestra. The programme contains world premiere recordings of new realisations and editions of the works, which are largely based on Ives’ songs and display a panoply of style and technique that places them among the most colourful and creative of his entire output. I have no doubt the critical reception for this album will echo that given to James’ previous Naxos releases, typically: ‘James Sinclair has been a dedicated Ives scholar and performer for more than 30 years, which means this disc has to be something special ... Vintage Ives, all played with completely idiomatic feeling.’ (Gramophone on 8.559175, Symphony No. 1 and Emerson Concerto)
Although the name Zelensky is currently widely associated with a terrible theatre of war, the name of Władysław Żeleński, together with this new release of his opera Janek, provide a happy diversion in a more amenable, parallel theatre in neighbouring Poland. This was where Żeleński (1837–1921) established himself as a neo-Romantic composer of works infused with evocative national colour and character. There’s very little of Żeleński’s music to be found in catalogues, so this world premiere of a complete modern recording of Janek is something of a coup. Janek achieved popularity within Poland following its selection as the first work to be staged at the newly opened Lviv Opera in 1900, and with its blend of folk music and high drama Janek has all of the tragic weight you could ask for in a Romantic opera from any country.
Kurt Weill intended The Prophets to be the last act of his profound opera-oratorio The Eternal Road, a musical extravaganza that proved a sensation in New York in 1937. It was the last work Weill composed in Europe and in the German language before moving to America. Musically, he drew on a number of his previous major works – Mahagonny, The Seven Deadly Sins, Symphony No. 2 – while hinting at the Broadway productions that were yet to come. This is the world premiere recording of the concert adaptation of The Prophets devised by musicologist and Weill scholar David Drew in 1998, affording a perfect introduction to Weill's neglected masterpiece. (It might also be enjoyed alongside Naxos 8.559402 which includes highlights from The Eternal Road and excerpts from The Prophets.) Also on the programme are Weill’s touching Four Walt Whitman Songs, that meld German Lied with American theatre, Berlin with Brooklyn.
Francesco Cavalli’s opera Il Xerse (1655) has been standing in the wings for far too long, overshadowed by Handel’s later setting of the same plot, Xerxes (1738). Now, however, we have a wonderful production of Cavalli’s masterpiece to enjoy that was recorded at last year’s Festival della Valle d’Itria. Cavalli succeeded Monteverdi as the most influential composer of the new genre of opera that emerged in mid-17th-century Venice. Il Xerse’s plot is an entertaining and intricate comedy of crossed loves, court intrigues and disguises. The work’s original popularity even led to it being staged in Paris at the wedding of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain. Directed by Leo Muscato, this is the first performance of Il Xerse in the new critical edition of the work; it’s also the world premiere audiovisual recording of what was the first performance in modern times. It received a rapturous reception and a standing ovation in recognition of the significance of Cavalli’s long-overlooked gem: ‘We waited so long, but it was worth it.’ (Noi Notizie)
Also available in Blu-ray Video (DYN-57983)
This landmark performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin will surely be of great interest to collectors. It’s Glyndebourne’s 1994 production of the work, directed by Graham Vick and described by Gramophone as ‘riveting’. Coincidentally, it was filmed during the company’s first season in its new opera house, and that sense of a defining occasion is felt throughout the production. Andrew Davis conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in an ‘absorbing performance’ (MusicWeb International) that boasts spectacular choruses and dances. The title role is taken by Wojciech Drabowicz, one of the leading operatic baritones of his time, while the role of Tatyana is movingly performed by soprano Elena Prokina: ‘Elena Prokina’s Tatyana, eagerly awaited, more than filled expectations.’ (OPERA)
This new work from The Royal Ballet was succinctly described by The New York Times as an ‘arresting … big spectacle ballet’ that weaves a tale of love, passion, food and magic. This 2022 production represents the world premiere recording of the ballet that reunited choreographer Christopher Wheeldon with the stellar artistic team of composer Joby Talbot and designer Bob Crowley (their previous collaborations brilliantly transformed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Winter’s Tale into dance). Based on the novel by Mexican writer and politician Laura Esquivel, the central character’s emotions influence everyone around her in startling and dramatic ways, energising ‘Christopher Wheeldon’s delectable take on a magic-realist love story ... full of buoyant movement and visually arresting coups de theatre.’ (The Guardian)
Also available in Blu-ray Video (OABD7312D)
Carl Orff wrote Prometheus in 1968. It's a unique work, difficult to classify. Shunning the simple tags of opera, oratorio, or a play with music, it’s an extremely individual musical interpretation of Aeschylus’ tragedy that concentrates on the symbolic imagery of the scenes which, as Orff himself said, ‘is accentuated and visualised by the music.’ It requires huge, somewhat eccentric, orchestral forces that include, for example, fifteen percussionists and four tenor banjos. The score also features eight solo singers, plus a role for speaker and a women's choir. Renowned conductor Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra made this recording of the work in 1975, following a very successful performance given as part of the celebrations marking Orff's 80th birthday: ‘No question about it – of all the celebrations accorded to Carl Orff in Munich following his 80th birthday on 10 July, this was the most splendid: the concert performance of his Prometheus under Rafael Kubelik.’ (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter is one of the greatest musicians of our age, who for the last five decades has appeared at the world’s most prestigious concert venues. Many leading composers have written music specifically for her, including Thomas Adès, Henri Dutilleux, Sofia Gubaidulina, Witold Lutoslawski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wolfgang Rihm, Jörg Widmann and John Williams. She’s also a four-time GRAMMY winner and the recipient of numerous international prizes and awards. This audiovisual release, however, presents an alternative portrait of the classical music superstar, alongside archive material of her stellar career. We see her in the company of tennis star Roger Federer and New York magician Steve Cohen, as well as musicians Daniel Barenboim and John Williams. Film-maker Sigrid Faltin believed that by bringing the artist into conversation with people she was familiar with, or who were exciting to her, one would learn more about her. And we do.
Also available in Blu-ray Video (SWR19133BD)
Here we have another instalment in the series of classic Vox recordings that are high-definition remasters of original tapes made by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz. Featuring multiple GRAMMY-winning conductor Leonard Slatkin with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, this album of orchestral works by George Gershwin was first released in 1974. You’ll find that Slatkin’s masterly readings are well complemented by the authoritative booklet notes written by the eminent writer Edward Jablonski, who published The Gershwin Years at around the same time as this Vox recording was released. The reviewer for allmusic.com noted that ‘Slatkin and the St. Louis’ feel for Gershwin was unaffected and affectionate, and their interpretations here are delightful, exciting, and often quite captivating … well worth hearing by anyone who loves Gershwin.’