Next month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include Marin Alsop and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra performing Schumann’s First and Second Symphonies in Mahler’s rarely heard orchestrations, the Vasari Singers’ celebration of Vaughan Williams’ 150th anniversary, concertos for violin and percussion orchestra recorded by the ‘thrilling, vibrant, and captivating’ (The New York Times) soloist Nicholas Kitchen, acclaimed pianist Susan Kagan’s complete recordings of Ries’ sonatas and sonatinas, the Scottish Ballet’s production of Starstruck honouring the legendary Gene Kelly, and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Robert Schumann’s symphonies are deservedly popular, and today’s historically informed performances have brought us closer to Schumann’s original conception. Yet the undeniable quality of the works has always carried a question mark over aspects of Schumann’s original orchestration. Here we have performances of the first two symphonies that use Gustav Mahler’s subtle adjustments to the original scores. They were made in the light of instrumental developments and the increase in size of the typical symphony orchestra towards the beginning of the 20th century. The tasteful modifications receive equally sensitive interpretations from noted Naxos artist Marin Alsop and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. There are perhaps surprisingly few recordings of these Mahler re-orchestrations, none of them issued in the last fifteen years, which gives this release a distinct appeal. Symphonies 3 and 4 will be released early in 2023.
As part of the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams, I’m delighted to introduce this latest programme from the Vasari Singers, one of our most successful choral groups and one of the UK’s leading chamber choirs. Directed by Jeremy Backhouse, their releases invariably meet with high critical praise. Their Heaven Full of Stars (8.574179) album, for example, was much admired by the American Record Guide: ‘The whole programme is mesmerising and the performances are exquisite – perfect intonation, blend, expression, musicality, and sheer beauty of choral sound.’ This latest album, a selection of gems from 19th- and early 20th-century English church music, is crowned in Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs by soloist Roderick Williams, one of the UK’s most sought-after concert and opera baritones and winner of the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society’s Singer of the Year Award.
Eagerly anticipated in operatic circles, Jan Schmidt-Garre’s film Fuoco Sacro takes us closer than any other director to what lies behind those emotionally gripping performances by sopranos such as Barbara Hannigan, Asmik Grigorian and Ermonela Jaho. You may recall their outstanding performances on previous releases from the Naxos Music Group, not least on our affiliated Opus Arte label: ‘Ermonela Jaho’s Violetta is a creation of the highest artistry imaginable.’ (Opera Now on OA1292D); ‘Barbara Hannigan [combines] vocal trapeze-work with a thoroughly modern dramatic intensity.’ (Gramophone on George Benjamin’s Written On Skin OABD7136D); and you should get ready for Asmik Grigorian’s stunning performance in the title role of Janáček’s Jenůfa, soon to be released on OA1351D. We’re given the privilege of observing these great singers close-up: how do they rehearse their roles? how do they spend the day before an opening night? what does their dressing room look like? what happens before the performance? This film had its cinema release in October 2021 but was inevitably restricted to smaller art house venues. Its appearance on DVD will be of great interest to opera fans all over the world, and I anticipate it will have considerable impact as a priority purchase for opera fans.
Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0141V)
This release joins a catalogue of more than 25 Naxos recordings of Simon Mayr’s music, with L’accademia di musica, his 1799 farsa giocosa, providing yet another significant world premiere and an attractive introduction to his operatic style. It also adds to our ever popular recordings from the Rossini in Wildbad Festival, which on this occasion sees a welcome return of the stylish Passionart Orchestra, the festival’s orchestra in residence since 2019. Singers and instrumentalists are gathered under the experienced baton of Nicola Pascoli to create a production of a virtually unknown opera that generated much acclaim: ‘I particularly liked the agile voice and sparkling stage presence of Maria del Mar Humanes. Filippo Morace combined sound acting skills with solid technical preparation, while Ricardo Seguel was impressive in the role of Cecchino.’ (Il giardino di Armida)
Collectors of Meyerbeer’s music will find this release of mostly unrecorded orchestral music highly attractive. The main item is the ballet score for Der Fischer und das Milchmädchen, his first stage work. The selection of overtures completing the album evoke more dramatic impulses. The use of the original conducting score for extracts from Meyerbeer’s second opera Wirt und Gast adds to the authority of the performance; it contains corrections made by Meyerbeer’s fellow pupil, Weber, who conducted the work. The conductor on this release is Dario Salvi who has numerous highly successful Naxos recordings to his credit. I hope the album may also stimulate interest in the many other recordings we have of Meyerbeer’s music in our catalogue, such as the operas L’étoile du Nord (8.660498-500 ‘performances are wonderfully engrossing from start to finish’, Classical Music Daily) and Romilda e Constanza (8.660495-97 ‘This much-needed release will give opera lovers and music historians lots to think about and lots to enjoy.’ American Record Guide). Recordings of Meyerbeer operas are also represented on our sister labels: ‘superior singing, instrumental playing, and sound quality…highly recommended.’ Fanfare on Robert le Diable OA1106D; ‘dramatic impact, momentum, and a celebration of Meyerbeer’s rich ... instrumental and vocal canvas.’ Fanfare on Le prophète OC971)
This album presents an excellent introduction to the music of Czech composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859–1951). While not generally a household name today, Foerster was a pivotal figure in the history of Czech music. His output comprised some 200 works across all the major genres, and the performances of the orchestral works on this varied programme could not be in better hands. Marek Štilec is a specialist Czech conductor for Naxos who recently began a Vítězslav Novák series for us (8.574226). It immediately earned critical praise: ‘I can’t imagine better performances than we encounter here from Marek Štilec.’ (Fanfare) Marek teams up once again with the Janáček Philharmonic for this latest album. Their successful collaboration for Zdeněk Fibich’s complete orchestral works was duly recognised: ‘Marek Štilec leads exciting and confident performances ... while the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava performs magnificently. I enjoyed this CD immensely.’ (Fanfare on Vol. 5, 8.574120)
Time to enter a new sound world with the unique form of these three works for violin and percussion orchestra that was pioneered by the innovative Lou Harrison. His 1959 concerto for the combination encapsulates a wide-ranging cultural aesthetic in which more conventional instruments work alongside calibrated extras such as wash tubs and flowerpots. The result is a work of colour, elegance and energy. The companion works were composed in its honour: Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s Xochiquetzal evokes the ancient Mayan world in imaginary folk music, whilst the serenity of Kati Agócs’ concerto also includes bitonal effects and zesty syncopation. The violin soloist is Nicholas Kitchen, one of the most active and innovative performers in the music world today, described as ‘thrilling, vibrant, and captivating’ by The New York Times.
I’m very pleased to announce the release of this box set of Ferdinand Ries’ complete piano sonatas and sonatinas, not least because the set perfectly complements the complete edition of his piano concertos/works for piano and orchestra that we released earlier this year (8.505257 ‘A real discovery!’ Stretto). Central to this set of solo keyboard albums is the outstanding talent of pianist Susan Kagan, an acknowledged authority on Ries. Critical acclaim has been sustained, from Vol. 1 (8.570796 ‘Kagan navigates them flawlessly.’ Fanfare) to Vol. 6 (8.573063 ‘one of the more enjoyable releases to come my way in a long time’ American Record Guide) The set has also done much to help bring Ries out of the shadows of contemporaries such as Beethoven and Schubert and into a fully deserved spotlight of his own.
I’d like to remind people of our excellent new Naxos series, Great Composers in Words and Music, by highlighting this fourth volume that focuses on the life and music of Fryderyk Chopin: blessed with extraordinary talent; consumed by the flame of genius; tormented by tempestuous relationships; and doomed to an early death. But how much of the story is based on fact? This audiobook account of Chopin’s life and times separates myth and reality with the benefit of author Davinia Caddy’s signature approachable style. Drawing on numerous recorded examples of Chopin’s music, the narrative takes us from his youthful beginnings as ‘a second Mozart’ to the darkness and light of his life and the brilliance of his work. Each instalment in the series is being released as a single CD and a digital album. Debussy and Mussorgsky are the subjects of the next two volumes.
Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck completed L’Oiseau bleu (The Blue Bird) in 1908. Several of his previous works had proved popular as operatic subjects (Pelléas et Mélisande and Ariane et Barbe-Bleue) so it’s no wonder that composers jumped at the opportunity to set his latest creation to music. In 1912, the noted theatre director Max Reinhardt adapted it as a Christmas play and staged a production in Berlin, inviting no less a person than Engelbert Humperdinck to write the incidental music for it. The music was never published, but Steffen Tast (the conductor on this album) eventually located the score and salvaged it for us all to enjoy; the narrator is Juri Tetzlaff. The bonus CD contains the Seven Symphonic Pictures which rework and compact the incidental music’s many short scenes into seven more substantial movements.
Louise Farrenc was one of the most respected pianist/composers of 19th-century Paris, and the four sets of Études featured on this new release are her most important works for keyboard. Although Farrenc is by no means absent from record catalogues – Naxos, for example, has released acclaimed performances of her three symphonies on 8.574094 and 8.573706 – the piano works have been less comprehensively covered. This is evidenced by the substantial number of world premiere recordings on this first volume of Grand Piano’s complete edition, which I’m sure the market will welcome as a long overdue project. Greek pianist Maria Stratigou, one of Louise Farrenc’s greatest exponents, makes her Grand Piano debut with fine interpretations of these exquisite rarities.
This album follows on from the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s (FRSO) enterprising staging of a Thomas Adès festival in Helsinki last year. One of the highlights of the programme was the world premiere performance of Adès’ Märchentänze in its version for violin and orchestra; the soloist was Pekka Kuusisto, a long-time artistic partner of Adès. That work, with the same soloist, is included on this release. The programme comprises four orchestral works Adès composed between 2016 and 2021, all heard here in world première recordings directed by Nicholas Collon, the FRSO’s recently appointed chief conductor. The orchestra has been the recipient of several GRAMMY nominations and was the winner of a 2018 International Classical Music Award for its album of Sibelius tone poems and songs (ODE1289-5).
Starstruck is a new film that honours the creative legacy of Gene Kelly (1912–1996), whose pioneering choreography and much-loved style influenced a generation of directors and dance-makers in Hollywood, Broadway and beyond. I’m confident that you’ll be completely won over by this Scottish Ballet production that lovingly revives Kelly’s Pas de Dieux, an original work he created for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1960. Rarely performed since, it now has a new set of wings. Combining live performance capture with cinematic filming techniques and additional elements not seen in the stage production, Starstruck is directed for screen by Oscar Sansom, who fully recreates the sparkle and Hollywood glamour of a world where jazz meets ballet, and the stars align. The Telegraph’s 5-star verdict: ‘heavenly … joyful … gloriously graceful.’
Also available in Blu-ray Video (OABD7311D)
Here’s the first of two re-releases from the Orfeo label of recordings that have continued to prove extremely popular over the decades. Judas Maccabaeus is widely considered one of Handel’s most successful oratorios and it receives a five-star interpretation here in a historic live recording made in 1963. It features the celebrated conductor Rafael Kubelík and the legendary Fritz Wunderlich in the title role, alongside soloists Agnes Giebel, Julia Falk, Naan Pöld and Ludwig Welter. Of additional interest to collectors is the fact that Kubelík uses the Handel Edition of the work by the north German music scholar Friedrich Chrysander, which features a German translation of the text and the significant cuts Chrysander made to the score.
This recording will be of interest to anyone whose knowledge of Hans Pfitzner’s stage works is restricted to his weighty opera Palestrina. Premiered in 1917, Pfitzner’s fairy-tale opera Das Christelflein takes ‘The Little Elf of Christ’ of the title through a heart-warming Christmas story that opens with traditional carols and concludes with happy family celebrations, while detailing a journey through grief, illness and redemption in between. Pfitzner was captivated by the warmth of the story and its picture-book atmosphere, which is admirably caught in this 1979 recording featuring the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus directed by Kurt Eichhorn. The cast is headed by the renowned American soprano Helen Donath. The performance is delivered in German, while the accompanying booklet contains a synopsis in English.