Next month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group includes two new superb additions to the ‘Music of Brazil’ series in celebration of Brazil’s independence bicentenary, operatic masterpieces by Francesco Cilea and Claudio Monteverdi, the latest in Peter Breiner’s Calm Romantic Piano Music series, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ string quartets, and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Continuing our unique, extended edition spotlighting the Music of Brazil, this tenth volume features works by 19th-century Brazilian composers that reflect the vogue for writing suites based on ancient dances, and in styles absorbed during their extended studies in Europe. Nepomuceno’s attractive Ancient Suite, for example, was premiered at Grieg’s home, while Braga’s Madrigal-Pavana evokes ballrooms of the Belle Époque. September marks the bicentenary of Brazil’s independence, which is reflected in the veritable feast of Brazilian music on offer from Naxos in that month, so read on ...
… and having just referenced the fact that Brazil gained its independence in 1822, I’m pleased to present a programme of engaging works by the man who achieved that milestone for his country – Dom Pedro I, founder and first Emperor of Brazil. Pedro is one of the very few monarchs who is also remembered as a composer. When a performance of his Independence Overture was organised in Paris in 1932, some in the audience were convinced that it had been composed by Rossini. That work is joined on this programme by the operatic Te Deum, written to celebrate a royal baptism, and the joyous Credo, which remains one of Pedro’s most frequently performed works. There are few, if any, modern commercial recordings of the works on this album, so I confidently predict it will quickly become a collector's item.
Façade, an eccentric entertainment piece for speakers and instrumentalists, was William Walton’s first notable composition and remains one of his most popular scores; British poet Edith Sitwell provided the verses. First recorded nearly a century ago, it can now be heard in this singular release from conductor JoAnn Falletta, a prolific Naxos artist noted for presenting unusual repertoire. The programme includes not only the original Façade – An Entertainment as it was left by its creators, but also the verses and settings that were re-worked for Façade 2 – A Further Entertainment in the 1970s, making this recording as complete an edition of the whole piece as anyone could hope for. The narrators are Hila Plitmann (a two-time GRAMMY award-winning soprano and actress), Kevin Deas (one of America’s leading bass-baritones), and Fred Child (host of Performance Today, the most-listened-to classical music radio show in the USA). The superb instrumentalists are members of the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players.
Franz von Suppé is remembered today mostly for his operetta overtures, but what is less well known is that he composed a great deal of incidental music for plays; his facility for vivid musical description was much admired in 19th-century Viennese theatrical circles. The stage version of Jules Verne’s Die Reise um die Erde in 80 Tagen (Around the World in 80 Days) was made not long after the original novel’s publication, but while the latter has become an iconic tale through numerous classic films, Suppé’s expressive music for the story has until now been largely forgotten. This world premiere recording of a musical journey alongside Phileas Fogg, Passepartout and the rescued Princess Aouda is sure to grab the attention of a wide audience, and I’m delighted to be able to add it to the Naxos catalogue. This is the second volume of Suppé’s Music for the Stage from the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dario Salvi. The first, released in May, features the incidental music for Mozart (8.574383).
Francesco Cilea’s opera Adriana Lecouvreur was inspired by the real-life story of a celebrated actress at the Comédie-Française who was much admired by Voltaire. Hailed as a masterpiece, the opera was triumphantly staged around the world following its premiere in 1902. It then fell out of fashion, notwithstanding its highly dramatic plot and abundance of lyrical arias. Recent successful revivals and recorded performances, however, have firmly established it as Cilea’s best-known and most popular work today. This production was superbly filmed at the 2021 Maggio Musicale Festival, an event enriched by the presence of renowned conductor Daniel Harding. The outstanding singers certainly made their mark: ‘Ksenia Dudnikova as Princess de Bouillon … was powerful in every way’; ‘Tenor Martin Muehle … sang with great mastery’; ‘Alessandro Spina and Paolo Antognetti were also highlights … bringing humour and style to the stage.’ (operawire.com), and in the leading role of Adriana, ‘Maria José Siri ... is simply extraordinary … a show therefore absolutely not to be missed.’ (totalita.it)
Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0153V)
Jordi Savall has done more to popularise early music than perhaps anyone else alive, so it should surprise no-one that this audiovisual recording of Monteverdi's 1607 opera L’Orfeo stands comparison with any other on the market. That's not only on account of Savall's expert musical direction, but also the production’s refined mise en scène, the sumptuous costumes by Bernadette Villard, and Pascal Noël’s striking lighting design. An excellent cast is headed by the magnificent Marc Mauillon interpreting a title role that fits him like a glove. Filmed at the Opéra Comique in Paris, this June 2021 production met with wide critical acclaim, including this observation by Olyrix: ‘Jordi Savall directs his Orchestra of the Concert of Nations and the Capella Reial de Catalunya Choir with energetic clarity, full of expression and flexibility.’
Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0152V)
This generous programme of Russian works for cello and piano performed by two outstanding artists is certain to attract wide attention. A bonus is the premiere recording of Evgeny Kissin’s Cello Sonata, Op. 2. Kissin is followed by droves of fans as a renowned virtuoso pianist but he has returned to composing in the last decade. While the cello sonatas by Prokofiev and Shostakovich are both well-known and popular, they are infrequently paired together on one album. The addition of Prokofiev’s improvisational Ballade and the Adagio, Op. 97b from the ballet Cinderella further enhance this album's programme, which is brilliantly performed by cellist Gabriel Schwabe (‘one of the most promising cellists of his generation’ – Klara) and pianist Roland Pöntinen, here making his debut recording for Naxos.
Here’s another welcome release from Peter Breiner, one of Naxos’ most successful artists, not least for the sales figures generated by his 200-plus recordings. To date, these have sold over two million copies, with his Beatles Go Baroque album (8.555010) alone accounting for a quarter of a million. Peter features again as the pianist on this solo album, which is the third volume in his Calm Romantic Piano Music series. The programme comprises two dozen of his original works and arrangements with evocative titles that take the listener from Monday Morning to a View From the Top via some Late Night Ice Cream, Melting. Irresistible.
For anyone unfamiliar with the music of Leo Blech, here’s the perfect opportunity to fill that gap. This is the world premiere recording of the German composer's fifth opera Alpenkönig und Menschenfeind (The Alpine King and the Misanthrope), which was first performed in Dresden in 1903. Highbrow opera meets folksy farce in the work, with sumptuous and splendidly orchestrated music that lies somewhere between Wagner and Humperdinck. Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies forced Blech into exile in 1937. All of his music was subsequently banned and, once the Nazi horror was over, it never returned. Now you can hear what we've all been missing in this splendid Aachen Opera House production conducted by Christopher Ward.
This is the latest instalment in Capriccio's project to record all 19 available versions of the Bruckner symphonies under the unifying force of conductor Marcus Poschner. Critical response to the albums released to date confirm that we have a world-beating edition in the making: ‘I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed by this superb recording.’ (MusicWeb International on Symphony 4/C8083); ‘This performance is impeccable.’ (BBC Music Magazine on Symphony 0/C8082); ‘This is without a doubt one of the finest versions of this epic symphony available.’ (ClassicsToday.com on Symphony 8/C8081; ‘This [interpretation] succeeds in an astonishingly relaxed way between the big line and the detailed work.’ (Pizzicato on Symphony 6/C8080) Now we have the Third Symphony in its original 1873 version. Poschner will present the work at all stages of its subsequent pruning, but this is the obvious point at which to start.
This release will certainly turn the heads of Verdi collectors, being the first audiovisual recording of the opera that began life as Gustavo III, before the Neapolitan and Roman authorities censored the work, demanding its libretto, location and title be changed. The opera premiered in 1859 as Un ballo in maschera. The libretto used for this production, however, is Verdi's original that sets the action in Sweden, before the censors demanded it be moved to Boston. This recording, filmed at the Teatro Regio di Parma during the 2021 Verdi Festival, features an excellent cast of singers and ‘the magnificent conducting of Roberto Abbado.’ (La Repubblica.it)
This is the third instalment in a four-volume edition of Medtner's complete piano sonatas, considered by many to be the most significant achievement in the genre by any major composer since Beethoven. Canadian pianist Paul Stewart will no doubt impress the critics as convincingly as he did in his first two volumes: ‘unfailing mastery and acute stylistic awareness … Paul Stewart adds a voice of exceptional distinction, finely presented and recorded.’ (Gramophone on Vol. 1/GP617); ‘His ability to bring out the poetry in Medtner is impressive … a hugely satisfying experience.’ (MusicWeb International on Vol. 2/GP618) Stewart has been an acknowledged master of Medtner for many years and has performed his solo works, chamber music and concertos around the world. All of which marks this latest release an unmissable part of a stand-out series.
This 6-CD box set of Villa-Lobos' 17 string quartets joins the popular Naxos editions of his Complete Symphonies (8.506039) and the Bachianas Brasileiras (8.557460-62). With only one other complete recording of the quartets available, these fresh and detailed performances by the Danubius Quartet represent strong competition, not least because of the excellent production standards the recordings achieved in the Rottenbiller Studio, a legendary venue considered to be the ‘Abbey Road’ of Budapest. While drawing on Brazilian musical folklore in the quartets, Villa-Lobos also displays daring artistry and spontaneous invention in music that ranges from austere polyphony to compelling expressiveness and virtuosity. The result is one of the most distinctive bodies of chamber works in 20th-century music, with this compendium of the repertoire arguably the most distinguished.
This is the fourth and final volume of Ondine’s project to record for the first time all the eight numbered symphonies of Tālivaldis Ķeniņš; the programme comprises Symphonies 2, 3 and 7. Conductor Andris Poga again draws magnificent performances from the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (‘superbly played and recorded performances of substantial works.’ MusicWeb International on Symphonies 5 and 8/ODE1388-2) Ķeniņš was one of the most prominent post-WW2 composers in both Latvia (his country of birth) and Canada (where he spent the significant latter part of his life). With concertante parts for flute, oboe and clarinet, the Second Symphony is very close to being a triple concerto, while the Seventh, an intensely personal and intimate work, conjures the composer’s emotional trauma on the occupation of Latvia by Soviet troops.
Christian Tetzlaff needs little introduction as one of the greatest violinists of his generation. Reflecting the critical acclaim that greets any recording he makes, Christian was named ICMA Artist of the Year in 2015, the ECHO Klassik Instrumentalist of the Year in 2017, and received GRAMMY nominations in 2015 and 2016. Here he offers profound interpretations of two deeply dramatic and lyrical concertos, by Brahms and Berg. If at first they seem unusual bedfellows, here is what Christian says about the pairing: ‘The Brahms contrasts ecstasy and total isolation, and has a lot to say about pain, which is rare in violin concertos, but links it to that by Berg. I’ve been playing both concertos for 40 years and performed them together more than 300 times.’ He describes the experience as life-changing. Here's the perfect opportunity for everyone to decide for themselves.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is the only comedy that Shakespeare set in his native country. Elle While's 2019 Globe Theatre production consequently draws on influences from British 1930s fashion, music and dance (with a notable lively jazz score by Frank Moon) and sports a witty mix of verbal and physical humour. Revelling in traditions that extend to the contemporary English sitcom, you can expect double-meanings, disguises and dirty laundry aplenty in this irresistible performance that was duly recognised by the critics: ‘Like fighting fire with fire, the Globe has taken Shakespeare’s silliest comedy and made it even sillier ... Pearce Quigley’s Falstaff is a dream.’ (The Times)
Three works by two major Polish composers on this release all share the character of a lament: Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater reflects the suffering of Christ's mother during his crucifixion; Penderecki’s Dies irae is subtitled the ‘Auschwitz Oratorio’ in commemoration of those murdered in the concentration camp; and his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima speaks for itself. A unifying uplifting element, however, can be found in the peerless musical direction of Michael Gielen, who elicits wonderful performances from the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, choirs and soloists. Taken together, the music and the musicians achieve a level of excellence in this repertoire that is difficult to match.
This all-Grieg album is cellist Daniel Müller-Schott's twentieth release on the Orfeo label, and I have no doubt that it will be equally well received as the previous nineteen. His #CelloUnlimited album (C984191), for example, received a 2020 Opus Klassik Award for Best Instrumental Performance. Grieg wrote comparatively little for cello but, in addition to his single Cello Sonata and the Intermezzo that appear on this album, Daniel has transcribed Grieg's Violin Sonata and a number of his songs to produce a highly attractive programme for cello and piano. The pianist is his longstanding duo partner Herbert Schuch.