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Next month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include the 90-disc Beethoven Complete Edition, a collection of pieces for children performed by Marin Alsop, operas by Ambroise Thomas and Verdi, orchestral works commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, concertos by Villa-Lobos, film scores by Shostakovich, the latest Beatles Go Baroque release, and many more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Naxos artist Marin Alsop is the pivotal force behind what I predict will be a resounding success for this release; the fact that the excellent orchestra comprises some of the finest young instrumentalists in the UK is an added boon. Both as conductor and narrator she finds the perfect wavelength to connect with the younger audience for which the four works were written – and you won’t find them in this combination on any other audiovisual release. Marin is one of the world’s most inspirational musical communicators. Her proven expertise in this area of programming underpins her superb presentation of the works’ vivid melodies, witty instrumental characterisation and ingenious use of spoken texts to illuminate the music’s narrative. And I can guarantee that older listeners will be captivated, too.
Also available on Blu-ray (NBD0102V)
Shakespearean operas were all the rage in 19th-century Paris, as reflected in Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet that went on to prove one of the most successful operas in the French repertoire. It’s currently going through an enthusiastic revival with performances taking place around the world, from New York to Vienna. This superb recording of the Opéra Comique’s 2018 production will therefore delight home listeners; and it should be noted that there’s only one competing DVD alternative on the market. With Stéphane Degout ‘terrific in the title role’ (bachtrack.com), conductor Louis Langrée leads an impressive assembly of singers through virtuosic arias and stunning ensembles, while director Cyril Teste’s multi-layered production both reinstates the opera’s powerful original ending and includes cinematic techniques to create ‘a very palpable hit.’ (bachtrack.com)
Also available on Blu-ray (NBD0103V)
I’m delighted that this release marks the Boston Symphony’s first entry in the Naxos catalogue. The orchestra has a long tradition of commissioning important new music, and the four works on this album were commissioned and premiered by the orchestra and its conductor Andris Nelsons during the first year of his tenure. The programme is as intriguing as the performances are compelling: Eric Nathan’s the space of a door takes us on a journey through a series of interconnected worlds; George Tsontakis’ Sonnets for English horn and orchestra marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death; Timo Andres’ Everything Happens So Much conducts ‘conversations’ with past composers; while five giants of artistic modernism provided the inspiration for Sean Shepherd’s Express Abstractionism.
Peter Breiner’s many arrangements on the Naxos label are supreme examples of their type. Released some twenty years ago, his multi-platinum Beatles Go Baroque (8.555010) is still frequently performed and broadcast worldwide. The millions of fans of this recording will leap at the chance to add this sequel to their collections. Similar in spirit to the first volume, but markedly individual in substance, this follow-up volume takes the original concept even further. Eighteenth-century masterpieces such as Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Bach’s beautiful Violin Concerto No. 1 are kept largely intact, but are then elegantly combined with the Beatles’ most enduring melodies to create what I can only describe as a genuinely joyous 21st-century mash-up.
This release continues Mark Fitz-Gerald’s critically acclaimed work in reconstructing Shostakovich’s film music with two scores from the 1930s. Written while still a young composer, his incidental music for The Bedbug accompanies a surreal, farcical satire on bourgeois corruption and vulgarity; its irresistible knockabout score draws on local firemen’s bands and American dance music. From his powerful middle period we have the score for Love and Hate that reflects female fortitude during the 1919 Civil War. Mark Fitz-Gerald’s restorations and orchestrations go far beyond the suites left by the composer, making any such release an instant new reference for Shostakovich scholars and fans alike. Widespread interest is guaranteed.
Anyone who thinks they have the full measure of Villa-Lobos’ compositional palette will do well to refer to the two chamber works on this recording, Sexteto Mistico and Quinteto Instrumental, in which new and daring sonic combinations enhance the composer’s seductive lyricism. The programme also has two concertos that feature outstanding soloists. Written for Segovia, the Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra was Villa-Lobos’ last work for the instrument; soloist Manuel Barrueco has been hailed by American Record Guide as ‘one of the leading guitarists of his generation’. The Concerto for Harmonica explores the instrument’s full harmonic and chromatic possibilities; Le Monde de la Musique considered soloist José Staneck ‘the David Oistrakh of the harmonica’. With many award-winning recordings already in the catalogue, conductor Giancarlo Guerrero needs no introduction to Naxos followers. All in all, there’s never a dull moment here, either in the music’s conception or execution.
Music-making doesn’t come more spontaneous than on this release from the Naxos World label. Jon Hemmersam and Asal Malekzadeh had never met prior to the recording session, which produced a profoundly affecting and entirely improvised set. Asal Malekzadeh gives a masterly performance on the Daf, a Kurdish drum; she’s the recipient of numerous awards, including first prize for her solo performances at both the Daf Navazi festival in Kermanshah, Iran in 2007, and the Avaye Mehr festival, Iran in 2009. Jon Hemmersam is a world-renowned guitarist, musician, composer and improviser from Denmark. His credits include albums with some of the greatest names in modern jazz and contemporary classical, one of them on the Naxos label with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, The Core-tet Project (8.573804), which was released last year.
Kalibé is an imaginary musical society where elements of different cultures and traditional instruments from Africa, South America, Europe and the Middle East come together in a real melting-pot of a performance by two multi-talented artists. Matteo Crugnola accompanies on guitar, cavaquinho, kalimba, sitar, bass and oud, while the heart and voice of the album is Mãe da Lua, a poet, singer, and activist from Brazil. With her deep and intense voice (and contributions on flutes and ngoni) and some timely references to the Amazon, she sings about the need to preserve the environment, the meaning of existence, and the importance of universal love.
You won’t find a better celebration of the Christmas spirit than this comprehensive 5-disc set of seasonal music. There’s a hundred classical Christmas titles to enjoy, whether you’re looking for religious inspiration or easy listening. From Christmas oratorios by J. S. Bach and Camille Saint-Saëns to traditional favourites and all stops in between, this is a rare programme of both familiar and not so familiar works. Capping it all is an artist roster of world-renowned singers, choirs and orchestras that includes the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the Dresden Kreuz Choir, the Regensburg Cathedral Choir, the Dresden Philharmonic, the London Academy, baritone Hermann Prey and soprano Edita Gruberová. This is a wonderful opportunity for collectors to secure a Christmas collection that will last for many years ahead.
Nicolas Horvath is one of Philip Glass’ greatest champions who has performed cycles of the composer’s music in concert (including alongside Glass himself) as well as recording the complete works. The programme on the latest volume in his edition is certainly striking. It contains his single most demanding piano piece, the ferocious but lyrically meditative Concerto for Piano No. 2 ‘After Lewis and Clark’, as well as one of his most neglected - the mysterious A Secret Solo 2. Wichita Vortex Sutra, a joyful and transcendent study, is heard in both its original version and that for narrator, with words by the poet Allen Ginsberg; and from his experimental years comes Music in Contrary Motion with its mesmerising variety of pulse patterns. International Piano’s verdict on Vol. 4 (GP692) says it all: ‘Glass enthusiasts need not hesitate.’
Lars Vogt continues his excellent series of concerto recordings with the Royal Northern Sinfonia with this performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, again conducting from the keyboard. Since being appointed the first Pianist in Residence by the Berlin Philharmonic for their 2003-04 season, Vogt has gone on to establish a reputation as one of the world’s leading soloists and chamber musicians. Critical reaction to his recordings for Ondine has been uniformly glowing since he kicked off with a major critical success in 2015: tracks from his recording of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (ODE 1273-2) have been streamed over 6 million times. A string of Gramophone Choice recommendations for his Ondine releases followed his nomination for Gramophone’s Artist of the Year award in 2017. Quality and success are assured here, both in the dramatic concerto and the profound Four Ballades Op. 10 for solo piano.
This production of Verdi’s La traviata boasts some big ticket names. It was recorded earlier this year in a revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 classic Royal Opera House production. Soprano Ermonela Jaho, one of today’s most impressive operatic singer/actors, stars as Violetta; tenor Charles Castronovo takes the role of Alfredo; and baritone Plácido Domingo plays Giorgio, his unyielding father. The stunning naturalistic set designs are by Bob Crowley. La traviata is one of the most popular of all operas; Verdi’s sublime score contains some of his most inspired arias and duets that here receive outstanding performances. And I would like to flag up a treat in store for fans of Ermonela Jaho, namely that we have a documentary and concert in the audiovisual pipeline featuring ‘the world’s most acclaimed soprano.’ (The Economist)
Also available on Blu-ray (OABD7260D)
This latest release from cellist Daniel Müller-Schott is proof again that you just can’t get enough of a good thing. It’s his 17th album for ORFEO, this time with a recital programme that includes for the first time one of his own compositions, Cadenza; previous albums have regularly evidenced his excellent skills as an arranger. Daniel is one of the most sought-after cellists in the world, who can be heard on all the great international concert stages. He has built a significant following over the past twenty years through his live and recorded performances. This programme of 20th-century works cannot fail to build on that and to enhance further the reputation of ‘a fearless player with technique to burn.’ (The New York Times)
It didn’t take long for the ORFEO label to recognise that Andris Nelsons would without doubt become one of the finest conductors of his generation. His first recording for the label, of Shostakovich’s violin concertos with Arabella Steinbacher, was released in 2007. This 9-disc box set contains both that album and all the previously published recordings he made as the principal conductor and music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, from 2008 to 2015. This collection of his great performances of works by Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Shostakovich leaves the listener in no doubt that the GRAMMY Award-winning artist is one of the most renowned and innovative conductors on the international scene today. Strongly recommended.
Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group