Klaus Heymann Recommends June 2024

This month’s highlights from the Naxos Music Group include Margaret Brouwer’s orchestral works conducted by Marin Alsop; Vol. 4 in Toshio Hosokawa’s Orchestral Works series; Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez’s orchestral works presented by Fabio Mechetti and the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra; the third instalment in our series of Mozart’s Complete Masses; Gioachino Rossini’s Ermione from the Rossini in Wildbad festival; the penultimate volume of Ferrucio Busoni’s Piano Music series; Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Complete String Quartets presented by Quartetto Adorno; the Royal Opera’s new production of Verdi’s Aida on Opus Arte; and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.

Naxos 8.559933

This is another highly attractive programme of orchestral music that's masterfully directed by leading Naxos artist Marin Alsop and performed by the brilliant ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. The composer is Margaret Brouwer, renowned for her music’s lyricism, imagery and emotional power, and in constant demand to write new works for prestigious ensembles and organisations, including the Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony and Rochester Philharmonic. The five works on this album span a period of 24 years. They're all heard in their first commercial recordings and encapsulate a wide range of expression, from sparkling sonorities to virtuosic challenges and beautiful evocations of nature. Gramophone gave a good snapshot of the composer following the release of one of her previous Naxos albums (8.559904, songs and chamber music): ‘The American composer has the expressive skills to evoke the passions she sets out to describe – love, ecology, racism, even being trapped in telephone hell.’ I warmly recommend newcomers to her music to sample this most attractive programme.

Naxos 8.574543

Toshio Hosokawa is Japan’s leading living composer. This is the fourth volume in our collection of his orchestral works, and Hosokawa has been present at all the recording sessions. His music is admirably served by the top-flight performers. At the helm is conductor Jun Märkl, a major Naxos artist with numerous acclaimed albums already in our catalogue, including the previous three volumes in this series: ‘Märkl responds unreservedly, drawing magically delicate colours and rich textural intricacies from what is a profoundly attractive score.’ (Gramophone on Vol. 1, 8.573239) The two soloists are violinist Paul Huang, admired for his ‘unfailing attractive, golden and resonant tone’ (The Strad); and trumpeter Jeroen Berwaerts, who has appeared as soloist with numerous European orchestras. If you've never sampled Hosokawa’s unique orchestral sonorities, then this programme of two concertos and two orchestral works provides the perfect opportunity to do so.

Naxos 8.574412

We’re now five years into our celebrated Music of Brazil series that features some 100 recordings of important works by Brazilian composers. Critical acclaim began pouring in within months of the series launch, and the project has become a symbol for both vibrant recordings of exciting performances and major discoveries of new repertoire. Vol. 21 showcases the music of Oscar Lorenzo Fernández (1897-1948), who was a key figure in the cultural life of Rio de Janeiro. He gained international fame with Batuque, a piece championed by conductors such as Toscanini, Koussevitsky and Bernstein. It became something of a stand-alone hit, but it's heard here in the context of the entire Reisado do Pastoreio suite. Fernández’s two symphonies suffered neglect after the composer’s untimely death at the age of fifty. These recordings of both those works are premieres: there's the world premiere recording of the powerful First Symphony, and the first modern studio recording of the programmatic Second Symphony.

Naxos 8.574514

This third volume in our series of Mozart’s Complete Masses will surely be another winner under the artistic leadership of conductor Christoph Poppen. His opening volume (8.574270; it received an ICMA nomination) prompted BBC Music Magazine to comment that ‘under Poppen, K 262’s Kyrie bowls along at quite a lick, its counterpoint muscular and surprisingly bouncy … soprano Carolina Ullrich is given space to float the “Figaroanticipating” Agnus Dei with serene eloquence.’ Vol. 2 (8.574417) also impressed: ‘Christoph Poppen leads a fine team of soloists, as well as the Cologne Radio Choir and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra … Lively tempi, light textures, and reserve characterise these small-scale, modern-instrument performances.’ Those same forces now feature again on Vol. 3 which focuses on three masses written in Salzburg when Mozart was in his late teens and early twenties. You might want to listen out for the Parisian gavotte Mozart mischievously uses in the Missa Brevis, K.275, and which ended his employment with the Archbishop of Salzburg on a provocative note.

Naxos 8.660556-57

This is a significant release for a number of reasons, not least that it's the penultimate issue in our long-term project to record all 39 operas in the official Rossini canon; Adina will be the final title that crowns our undertaking and I look forward to announcing its release date soon. Ermione comes here in another of our noted Rossini in Wildbad recordings that have consistently impressed the critics, this one from the 2022 Festival. The production was declared ‘well worth the trip!’ by forumopera.com, with other journals underscoring how the casting of Italian-born soprano Serena Farnocchia in the title role will catch the ears of Rossini’s innumerable fans. Now established as a star of the Rossini in Wildbad festival stage, she was previously winner of the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition and is regularly invited to perform in the most prestigious international theatres. Online Musik Magazin noted Farnocchia’s ‘razor-sharp coloratura’, with Interlude confirming her as ‘the linchpin to this opera’s success.’

Listen to an excerpt from Sinfonia: Troia! qual fosti un dì!

Naxos 8.574579

Our collection of Ferruccio Busoni’s piano works has been rolling out over many years, during which time it has gradually earned great critical respect, not least for the inclusion of rarely heard early works, transcriptions and the outstanding performances throughout by Wolf Harden. Vol. 11 (8.573982) impressed with playing of ‘absolute conviction’ (Gramophone) and performances that are ‘exquisite and beautifully played.’ (The Sunday Times, UK) We now reach the penultimate volume in the series with Vol. 12 and a programme that duly includes the seminal presence of J. S. Bach, three strikingly original sonatinas, a robust interaction with Schoenberg, and a little-known nugget of Christmas charm in his Nuit de Noël. As ever, the mix of early and mature works makes for a superbly satisfying programme, with Wolf Harden’s excellent performances captured in the Wyastone Concert Hall, universally acknowledged as an ideal acoustic for piano music.

Listen to an excerpt from Prelude and Fugue in C major, Op. 36, BV. 180: Prelude

Naxos 8.574580

Naxos’ albums of music by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco are remarkable in their variety, from works for guitar to transcriptions for cello, violin concertos, piano works and orchestral music. This album marks his turn to chamber music during the late 1920s, when he wrote his First String Quartet that embodied a countryside panorama, with rustic serenades and processional themes reminiscent of a village festival. By contrast, his Second String Quartet reflects the dissonance and restlessness engendered by the Second World War, yet is tempered by dancing rhythms and notes of optimism. Both works are heard here in their world premiere recordings. Castelnuovo-Tedesco's final Third String Quartet was inspired by memories of his homeland and the friendships he had enjoyed. These authoritative performances are by Italy's noted Quartetto Adorno.

Capriccio C8095

We’re now approaching the end of Capriccio’s magnificent Bruckner Symphonies Complete Versions edition, which comprises 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 penultimate Vol. 16 (the final album will be released in July) is a recording of the 1877 version of his Third Symphony. Throughout the series, conductor Markus Poschner and the two featured orchestras have received unstinting critical praise: ‘[T]his is one of the finest recordings of the Fifth to have come my way for some time. …from the start, one feels an impressive sense of conviction in the reading.’ (Gramophone on C8090); ‘The Linz Bruckner Orchestra is a fine ensemble… this is supple, natural music-making.’ (Fanfare on C8087); ‘[T]he ORF Vienna Radio Symphony is clearly an outstanding ensemble.’ (MusicWeb International on C8086). I’m also delighted to report that the series recently received an ICMA Special Achievement Award, the jury affirming it as ‘an exceptional project because it questions our listening habits and musical tradition. It combines musicological research with artistic excellence, while bringing together Austria’s leading musical institutions. In short, the sound of Bruckner, yet innovative, too.’

Dynamic DYN-38031 [DVD]

You might say that Donizetti had big shoes to fill when he arrived at Naples’ Teatro di San Carlo in 1823, shortly after Rossini’s departure from the city’s opera scene. Full of promising talent, but yet to find his true voice, Donizetti’s Alfredo il Grande might show Rossini’s influence, but it also evidences great things to come. The narrative is a celebration of heroism and magnanimous royalty in 9th-century England, where King Alfred the Great is on the run from the Vikings. Revived two centuries after the failure of its premiere, this little-known opera seria offers a timely reflection on humanitarian values and gestures of resistance against the destructiveness of war. This world premiere audiovisual recording of the work boasts a new staging by Stefano Simone Pintor and an excellent cast, with the title role sung by ‘Antonino Siragusa, a solid vocal protagonist with a confident stage presence, who confirms once again how his voice - in terms of line, taste and expressiveness, both in recitatives and in coloratura passages - is perfect for the Italian repertoire of the early nineteenth century.’ (Connessi all’Opera)

Also available on Blu-ray Video (DYN-58031)

Opus Arte OA1383D [DVD]

Verdi fans won’t want to miss the opportunity to enjoy this spectacular Aida that comes in a powerful new Royal Opera production directed by Robert Carsen, in which power struggles and toxic jealousies are framed within a contemporary, totalitarian state. Antonio Pappano conducts Verdi’s glorious, monumental score, and the title role is sung by soprano Elena Stikhina, who continues to make waves in the opera world following her impressive debuts at the Paris and Metropolitan Operas and the Salzburg Festival. Critical reaction to the production was glowing: ‘On all levels a stimulating, outstandingly professional and well-realised evening.’ (The Daily Telegraph); ‘A five-star performance of a five-star opera.’ (The Daily Express)

Also available on Blu-ray Video (OABD7321D)

Opus Arte OA1330D [DVD]

Opus Arte’s Critics’ Choice series is a diverse range of past titles that spotlights some of the many classic, innovative and perhaps less well-known audiovisual productions for which the label has long been renowned. So, here’s another opportunity to enjoy a fine performance of Gounod's operatic masterpiece Faust in a grand production by the Royal Opera. David McVicar’s richly layered and theatrically exuberant staging sets the action in Second Empire Paris, replete with spectacular sets and costumes, and with extensive dance. Featuring Michael Fabiano in the title role, Erwin Schrott as Méphistophélès, and Dan Ettinger conducting Gounod's glorious score, BBC Music Magazine gave the production a five-star rating: ‘This is a top-flight cast. In a sensitive, intelligent and finely articulated interpretation, Michael Fabiano humanises the doddering old philosopher … Stealing a number of scenes is Erwin Schrott, swaggering around in what is genuinely a tour de force … Ettinger’s approach is dynamic yet supple, pointing up the alternate punch and delicacy of Gounod's admirable scoring.’

Also available on Blu-ray Video (OABD7285D)

Opus Arte OA1226D [DVD]

This is another fine production from Opus Arte’s Critics’ Choice series, a collection of past titles featuring many of the classic, innovative and perhaps less well-known audiovisual productions for which the label has long been renowned. Forming the second part of the acclaimed Donmar Warehouse Trilogy, Henry IV met with significant critical acclaim on its release a decade ago. Adapted from Shakespeare’s plays about King Henry IV, Prince Hal and Falstaff, Phyllida Lloyd’s bold, contemporary realisation is presented as if played by inmates of a women’s prison. With Harriet Walter in the role of Henry, the production was hailed as ‘astonishing’ (Independent) and ‘a searing triumph.’ (Observer) Summing up Lloyd’s ground-breaking approach, the Financial Times noted that ‘This isn’t Henry IV set in a prison; it is prisoners acting Henry IV.’

Vox VOX-NX-3043CD

First released in the mid-1970s, these classic recordings in the Vox Audiophile Edition feature two former music directors of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in their prime – Walter Susskind, who directs four works by Smetana, and Jerzy Semkow, who leads a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, one of the most popular suites in the entire orchestral canon. Founded in 1880, the St. Louis Symphony is the second-oldest orchestra in the United States and is widely considered one of the country’s finest. Their recordings have been honoured with numerous GRAMMY awards and nominations over the years. The violin soloist in Scheherazade is Max Rabinovitsj, formerly concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony, who was famed throughout the US and Europe as a performer and educator; also as founder of the St. Louis String Quartet. Newly remastered from the original tapes, these Elite Recordings for Vox by legendary producers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz are considered by audiophiles to be amongst the finest sounding examples of orchestral recordings.

Vox VOX-NX-3040CD

This is an audio recording that’s well worth exploring. It’s of Russian composer Alexander Glazunov’s rarely performed score for the ballet Raymonda, heard in an adaptation of the original music by Gavin Sutherland and Lars Payne that was used by English National Ballet for their performance in 2022. The original Raymonda is very rarely performed in the UK, where no dance company generally performs it in its entirety. This new adaptation produced a ‘big, juicy score [that] sounds magnificent.’ (The Times) It retains the best of Glazunov’s original 19th-century score, while updating it to match the dramatic new narrative that was choreographed by Tamara Rojo. The Evening Standard declared the result ‘a stunner, and the [English National Ballet Philharmonic] under Gavin Sutherland relishes its lush and sparkling textures.’ The Daily Telegraph hailed it as ‘a modern classic.’

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