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Next month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include operatic works by Alfredo Casella and Gioachino Rossini, works for wind band by John Philip Sousa, cello music by Richard Strauss, and William Shakespeare’s popular play in an all-female production. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Naxos 2.110631 [DVD]
Alfredo Casella’s mission was to stimulate innovation in Italy’s Puccini-dominated music scene during the first half of the 20th century. Dating from 1932, La donna serpente is his sole full-scale opera. Its fantastic plot blends tragedy, comedy, the sinister side of the fairy realm and the intense emotions of the human world. Newcomers to Casella’s music and collectors of rarely recorded operas will be equally bowled over by this new, superbly recorded 2016 co-production between Teatro Regio Torino and the Festival della Valle d’Itria; the conductor is Casella specialist Gianandrea Noseda. It supersedes the only other DVD version of the work, which was of an outdoor production. Arturo Cirillo’s dreamlike setting was admired by, together with Noseda’s pin-point conducting (‘What energy, what precision!’) and the excellence of the leading roles: tenor Piero Pretti (‘power…perfect diction…beautiful legatos’) and sopranos Carmela Remigio (‘subtle and charming’), Erika Grimaldi (‘impressive throughout’) and Francesca Sassu (‘a moving…imposing voice’).

Also available on Blu-ray (NBD0096V)

Naxos 8.660466-67
Rossini’s Eduardo e Cristina was a huge success in its day, so why has it languished, largely forgotten ever since? Probably because it was one of the last centone operas (works assembled from previously existing material) by a major composer. With no other CD recordings of the work on the market, I’m very happy that opera lovers can now experience this Rossini rarity that brims with his operatic ‘hits’ and proves a wall-to-wall bel canto delight. With an international cast conducted by Gianluigi Gelmetti, the 2017 production from the Rossini in Wildbad Festival was acclaimed by critics, prompting this comment from Opernfreund: ‘For the title roles, two real Rossini stars were introduced with the mezzo-soprano Laura Polverelli as Eduardo and the soprano Silvia Dalla Benetta as Cristina, who sang their parts with great brilliance and intimacy. Their two duets were among the absolute highlights of the evening.’

Naxos 8.559839
Although we have a few more volumes in the pipeline before our complete Sousa edition concludes, I particularly want to bring this latest release to people’s attention. There’s a variety of programme here, including narration and vocals, that serves as an attractive complement to his world-famous marches. There are two piquant humoresques, the first based on a popular song about commuting woes, the second comprising a witty parade of familiar tunes. Then there’s the sonorous Second Fantasia from El Capitan, showcasing the band’s bravura qualities; The Fighting Race, featuring a trombone solo; and some charming musical explorations of rural Americana. Our Sousa edition boasts a tremendous mix of seasoned conductors in the wind band repertory, and this release welcomes back Keith Brion, one of the world’s most knowledgeable and most-recorded Sousa conductors. London’s Royal College of Music Wind Orchestra is on tip-top form.

Opus Arte OA1223D [DVD]
Produced in 2016, The Tempest is the final instalment in the Donmar Warehouse all-female Shakespeare Trilogy; the previous productions were Julius Caesar (2012, OA1224D) and Henry IV (2014, OA1226D). Set in a women’s prison, all three feature a diverse female company. The Trilogy enthralled theatre audiences in London and New York and was shared with women and girls in prisons and schools across the UK. The film versions were shot live in a specially built temporary theatre in King’s Cross in 2016 so that we can now offer screen audiences unique access to these groundbreaking productions. The Tempest stars Harriet Walter as Prospero; Phyllida Lloyd is the director; and the captivating production features a glowing score by Joan Armatrading. There’s no wonder that The Observer hailed the Shakespeare Trilogy as ‘One of the most important theatrical events of the past 20 years.’

Orfeo C968191
While only three of Richard Strauss’ works for cello have survived, they proved critical to the composer’s development. We have two of them on this release: the early Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 5 and the late tone poem Don Quixote, Op. 35. Between them, they mark Strauss’ progress from late Romanticism to the modern era in music. Many collectors will need little introduction to the extraordinarily gifted soloist here, Daniel Müller-Schott, who has already made numerous, well-received recordings for the Orfeo label. He not only delivers first-rate performances of the works mentioned, but also provides his own exquisite arrangements for cello and piano of two Strauss songs. The orchestral presence in Don Quixote is no less distinguished, featuring the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under the redoubtable direction of Sir Andrew Davis.

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