This month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include Deutsche Oper Berlin’s production of Richard Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; world premiere of Louis Wayne Ballard’s works presented by John Jeter and the Fort Smith Symphony; four iconic 20th century American composers’ works conducted by JoAnn Falletta; the second recording of Brahm’s Baryton Trios by the Valencia Baryton Project; Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Christmas Eve conducted by Sebastian Weigle, and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Deutsche Oper Berlin’s production of Wagner’s only mature comic opera is seen here in a visually provocative new staging by production trio Jossi Wieler, Anna Viebrock and Sergio Morabito that is ‘entertaining throughout [and] thought-provoking.’ (BR Klassik) It’s also fronted by a truly magnificent line-up of distinguished singers of Wagnerian and high Romantic roles. Johan Reuter, who sings the part of Hans Sachs, was judged by MusicWeb International to be ‘outstanding … virile, exciting and lyrical’ as Kurwenal in a performance of Tristan und Isolde under Marek Janowski. The role of Pogner is taken by Albert Pesendorfer, who sang Hagen in Naxos’ Ring cycle: ‘vocally and physically imposing ... wonderfully baleful in his night watch.’ (MusicWeb International) As Beckmesser we have Philipp Jekal, who played Don Estoban in Naxos’ acclaimed recording of Zemlinsky’s opera Der Zwerg: ‘(Jekal) ... throws himself admirably into the part.’ (Opera News) And Walther is sung by Klaus Florian Vogt, ‘one of the premiere Wagnerians of the moment.’ (Opera Wire) Musical direction is in the experienced hands of John Fiore. A regular guest at many of the world’s leading opera houses, he has conducted over 100 performances at New York's Metropolitan Opera.
Also available on Blu-ray Video (NBD0178-79V)
Louis Wayne Ballard (1931–2007) – or ‘Honganozhe’, which means ‘Stands With Eagles’ in the Quapaw language – was the first indigenous North American composer of art music, and his extensive knowledge of the music, dance and mythology of this culture informed his compositions and coloured their titles, such as Two Indians, One Navajo, One Taos and Fantasy Aborigine, “Kokopelli”. Ballard’s eclectic style embraced tonal and twelve-tone elements, and the selected pieces on this album, all in world premiere recordings, reflect the unique variety of his achievement. You can count on benchmark readings since both conductor John Jeter and the Fort Smith Symphony Orchestra are well versed in recording newly rediscovered American repertoire for Naxos. Their albums of symphonic works by Florence Price and William Grant Still were extremely well received: ‘These are excellent performances – possibly the best I have heard of Florence Price’s music. Conductor Jeter has a good feel for it, the Fort Smith Symphony acquits itself in stellar fashion.’ (American Record Guide on 8.559827)
This is the sixth recording in an ongoing partnership between Naxos and the National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic to release an album of American music each year. The orchestra comprises highest-level conservatory students from across the United States and abroad who gather each June at the University of Maryland, working with noted guest conductors to produce concerts of extraordinary focus and intense energy. Previous albums have been greeted with consistent enthusiasm, witness the orchestra's recording of Randall Thompson’s Second Symphony (8.559822), described by ClassicsToday.com as ‘powerful and gripping’ and ‘a performance that grabs you and won’t let go’ by Gramophone. This latest album brings together four noted mid-20th-century composers who helped shape America’s musical destiny. The programme includes two world premiere recordings: Paul Creston's thrilling Saxophone Concerto, and Ulysses Kay’s Pietà, a beautiful elegy inspired by Michelangelo’s masterpiece. The conductor is renowned Naxos artist JoAnn Falletta.
Seldom performed or recorded, Haydn’s Baryton Trios exemplify the composer’s seemingly limitless powers of invention in every medium. The baryton is a cross between a viola da gamba and a lirone, and this is the Valencia Baryton Project’s second album to spotlight an unknown corner of Haydn’s output. The series will present a selection of the best trios for baryton, viola and cello from the 100-plus that Haydn wrote for his employer Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, who was a proficient baryton player. The ensemble, comprising musicians from the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía opera house in Valencia and the Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier, is led by Matthew Baker, one of only a handful of baryton performers in the world today. ‘The trio prove themselves a well attuned team, always alert to the music’s mercurial nature,’ with the programme ‘very well chosen to demonstrate Haydn’s inexhaustible creative fantasy.’ That was the verdict of The Strad on Vol. 1 (8.574188). A similar reception for this second album is guaranteed.
This Naxos Deutschland release of German Passion music is a follow-up to the Margaretha Consort’s excellent album A German Christmas (8.551398), admired by ClassicsToday.com for its ‘thoughtfulness, creativity and knowledge of repertoire that promises its listeners an experience both impressive and informative.’ The recording was made in the magnificent acoustic of the 15th-century Helenakerk in Aalten, the Netherlands, recreating the majestic sound that would have been enjoyed by people attending services in the cathedrals of North Germany at the time. You should also note the contribution of award-winning organist Sietze de Vries, who has earned himself a reputation for being a star improviser in any given style, making him a perfect fit for this programme of music for Easter that unusually conjures new colours and surprising effects through improvisation and adaptation of the manuscripts.
‘This staging … gets everything right.’ That comment from Opera magazine formed part of the warm reception for Naxos’ audiovisual recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Christmas Eve, which we issued last year on 2.110738/NBD0154V. This album is the audio edition of that production. I’m sure it will be welcomed by many opera lovers as a highly enjoyable diversion for the festive season, something the work delivers with aplomb, setting the folk traditions and music at its core against a fantastical backcloth of whimsy and magic. The audiovisual recording won the German Record Critics Quarterly Critics Choice award, not least for its musical direction: ‘Sebastien Weigle leads the excellent Frankfurt orchestra and chorus in a spellbinding account of Rimsky-Korsakov’s score,’ wrote MusicWeb International. As for the singers, I need do no more than quote American Record Guide: ‘The entire cast is superb.’
This is volume 9 of Capriccio’s remarkably successful Complete Bruckner Symphonies Editions project. 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 latest instalment features Bruckner’s Fifth, a contrapuntal masterpiece with a tour de force of a finale and the grandest symphony until we reach his Eighth. There will be many other compendiums of these symphonies in the pipeline ready to mark the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth next year, but the Capriccio edition is setting the pace, marrying scholarship, completeness, a shared vision of two fine orchestras (the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Linz Bruckner Orchestra) and the singular insight of conductor Markus Poschner, the latter duly reflected in reviews: ‘I’m inclined to think it’s the finest performance of the score now available.’ (Gramophone on the Eighth Symphony's 1887 version/C8087)
Composed in 1840 for the Paris Opera, Donizetti’s grand opera La Favorite is set during the Moorish invasions of Spain and the power struggles between religion and state in the 14th century. The novice Fernand (tenor Javier Camerena) abandons his monastery having fallen in love with the noble Léonor (soprano Annalisa Stroppa) not knowing that she is the King’s mistress and favourite referenced in the title. The score is noted for Donizetti’s innovative use of the orchestra and for some of his most enthralling arias. This production by Valentina Carrasco won the 2023 Abbiati Prize for Best Production; it opened the 2022 Donizetti Opera Festival in Bergamo and uses the work’s original French libretto. Bachtrack judged Camarena’s performance ‘brilliant and exciting … explosive in moments of rage, with laser-like high notes’, and noted Stroppa’s ‘sensual quality, perfect for this role ... her interpretation heartfelt, very moving.’ Musical direction is by Riccardo Frizza who extends his already significant presence in the Dynamic catalogue: ‘Upbeat, supple conducting from Riccardo Frizza rounds off one of the most pleasing releases to date from this dynamic and imaginative company.’ (BBC Music Magazine on Donizetti’s L'Elisir d'amore/CDS7944)
Also available on Blu-ray Video (DYN-57992)
Saverio Mercadante (1795–1870) wrote some 60 operas, encouraged initially by no less a figure than Rossini to concentrate his talents on the genre. During his student days, however, Mercadante had devoted himself to composing instrumental music. The flute quartets on this album are a product of that period and are heard in their world premiere recordings. Four exceptional musicians – Mario Carbotta (flute), Mario Hossen (violin), Marta Potulska (viola) and Attilia Kiyoko Cernitori (cello) – join forces to deliver performances that are both technically flawless and emotionally captivating. The quartets exemplify the quatuor brilliant style, particularly the Quartet in E minor in which all the instruments play equally decisive roles in capturing both the gravity and excitement of the music.
Lovers of ballet will certainly not want to miss this release, which was recorded live at London’s Covent Garden earlier this year. Frederick Ashton was the Royal Ballet’s founding choreographer and his classic production of Cinderella, first staged in 1948, is seen here enhanced by magnificent new sets and costume designs. A creative team steeped in the magic of theatre, film, dance and opera (Alexandra Byrne, Finn Ross, Chris Fisher) bring new atmosphere to the work that marries Ashton’s deft musicality and Prokofiev’s transcendent score. The production was universally well received, not least by The Financial Times: ‘A triumph. A handsome new production cast to the hilt and led with smiling grace by the dream casting of Marianela Núñez and a show-stopping Vadim Muntagirov.’
Also available on Blu-ray Video (OAB7316D)
This album features historic performances by Leonard Slatkin and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra of works by Rachmaninov. Recorded some forty years ago, they exemplify the outstanding achievements of recording engineers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz. Long acknowledged as being among the finest orchestral recordings ever made, they have been further enhanced through recent digital remastering. There are two works on the programme: Rachmaninov’s First Symphony portends the brooding intensity, lyricism, yearning, orchestral colour and grandeur that typify his later works; and his symphonic poem Prince Rostislav similarly exemplifies the composer’s hallmark shifts between moods. Here's what one critic observed: ‘At the very start of his career in St. Louis, he’s already fully in tune with the composer's darkly brooding, but also deeply Romantic sound world. Slatkin’s work revitalized the St. Louis forces, and it’s really not hard to see why.’ (Classical Net)
This historic recording features outstanding performances by Leonard Slatkin and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra. Leonard is now a major Naxos artist with an extensive portfolio of recordings, but the items on this album take us back some 40 years – to the late 70s and early 80s – and to the legendary achievements of recording engineers Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz. Audiophiles consider their orchestral recordings to be amongst the finest ever made, and they’re now further enhanced by recent digital remastering. This programme comprises Rachmaninov's Third Symphony with its pervasive lyricism and colour; his single-movement Symphony in D minor, ‘Youth’; and The Rock, an early example of Rachmaninov’s powers of descriptive intensity. The original recording was well received: ‘Slatkin’s light and energetic approach to [Symphony] No. 3 underlines the work’s magical sense of new within the old while revelling in its glittering orchestration – all vividly rendered by the St. Louis Symphony, which provides finely honed and animated playing throughout the set.’ (ClassicsToday.com)