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Next month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include operas by Ottorino Respighi and Johann Strauss II, early cantatas by Beethoven, orchestral works by Weinberg and Morton Gould, Bernstein’s monumental Mass, West African soul music courtesy of Awalé, and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Naxos 2.110655 [DVD]
Respighi’s opera La bella dormente nel bosco (Sleeping Beauty) has to be one of the composer’s least known scores, which is difficult to understand when you experience for the first time its distinct charm, lyrical inventiveness and magical atmosphere. Search for an alternative recording and you will probably find only our Marco Polo audio release from 25 years ago. The members of the superb cast in this Teatro Lirico di Cagliari audiovisual production truly inhabit an enchanted world, in which director Leo Muscato takes the audience on a voyage of the imagination. Donato Renzetti, one of Italy’s most respected conductors, also directed our 2018 release of Respighi’s La Campana sommersa (2.110571 / NBD0072V), which prompted Classical CD Choice to ask: ‘Surely it’s time that Respighi’s neglected operas began to receive their due?’ I wholeheartedly agree.

Also available on Blu-ray (NBD0106V)

Naxos 8.660434-35
Blindekuh (Blind Man’s Buff) is Johann Strauss II’s sixth operetta and his least known. Neglected for well over a century it was revived by Dario Salvi and the forces on this album in January 2019. This is the world premiere recording of the work, and I hope it will whet the public's appetite for another Strauss operetta, Waldmeister, that Salvi is also soon to record for Naxos. Blindekuh’s initial lack of success is hard to explain but it may have been caused by a confusing libretto; the music itself is vibrant and captivating with waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, marches and bel canto arias. Performed in a concert version without dialogue this production restores the work to its status as one of Strauss’ most melodically attractive scores.

Listen to an extract from Act I: Es kommt ein Wagen an

Naxos 8.574077
When Emperor Joseph II died in 1790, Beethoven was already a member of the court musical establishment in Bonn and, to mark the occasion, he was commissioned to write two cantatas: one to mourn Joseph’s death and the other to celebrate the new emperor's accession to the throne. Although Beethoven was only 19 years old at the time, both works display signs of his future greatness: intense expression and control of structure in one, and an almost operatic panache in the other. Neither piece was performed during Beethoven’s lifetime and both remain among his most obscure, rarely performed and seldom recorded works. I can think of none better than our well-established team of conductor Leif Segerstam, the Turku Philharmonic and the choral forces of The Key Ensemble and the Chorus Cathedralis Aboensis to raise their profile during Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year. Critics and collectors should prepare for another hit performance.
Listen to an extract from Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II, WoO 87

Visit and bookmark our Beethoven 250th anniversary mini-site, which will be regularly updated with new content.

Naxos 8.574192
This release continues Naxos’ successful survey of works by Mieczysław Weinberg (1919–1996), who for long remained an unknown figure in the West but is now happily enjoying a renaissance. Our series featuring his symphonies has been widely welcomed; and in October we delighted the market with the first complete recording of Weinberg’s entire output for accompanied flute (8.573931). We now turn the spotlight on the clarinet as solo instrument; and it should be noted that this is the first time Weinberg’s three works featuring the clarinet have appeared on a single release. The programme comprises his powerful Clarinet Concerto, the expressively poised Clarinet Sonata, and the impassioned Chamber Symphony No. 4, with its heart-wrenching chorale theme and role for obbligato clarinet. The distinguished soloist is Robert Oberaigner, principal clarinettist of the Dresden State Orchestra.
Listen to an extract from Clarinet Concerto, Op. 104: I. Allegro

Naxos 8.574124
This is our second release of music by the multiple award-winning Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. The first, The Doors of Heaven (8.579008), was extremely well received by both music lovers and the press: ‘The Portland State Chamber Choir and excellent soloists are magnificent, as is the recorded sound.’ (Audiophile Audition) The same forces now present this follow-up programme that again features the composer’s exquisite 21st-century choral sound that has made him so popular, not least in the US. The line-up includes The Heavens’ Flock, which the choir itself commissioned from the composer; the enchanting Translation (in its premiere recording) complete with shimmering handbells; and the ravishing In Paradisum with its angelic roles for solo viola and cello. Following the choir’s previous release, Gramophone wrote: ‘This is a superb disc, containing impassioned performances, beautifully recorded, and I very much hope that it will bring the work of the PSCC and [conductor] Ethan Sperry before the wide international audience it deserves.’ I have no doubt that goal has now been achieved.

Listen to an extract from O salutaris hostia

Naxos 8.559869
These works by Morton Gould are performed with convincing authenticity, in that conductor Arthur Fagen was a good friend of the composer. Gould was an American musical phenomenon, equally at home in classical, crossover and film genres; he received both GRAMMY and Pulitzer awards during his long and distinguished career. Working with the superb ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, this is not only Fagen’s tribute to the composer, but also part of his mission to make Gould’s music accessible to an international audience. The Symphonettes represent Gould’s best crossover work: No. 4 derives its character from Latin American dance forms to make it one of his most popular compositions; the first movement of No. 3 has been described as ‘a collection of dance band licks, full of bent notes and syncopations’; and the central Pavane of No. 2 with its bluesy trumpet motif proved one of Gould’s biggest hits.
Listen to an extract from Symphonette No. 4, ‘Latin-American Symphonette’: I. Rhumba

ARC Music EUCD2885
This release from ARC Music adds one more colourful entry to our growing store of world music recordings. With the unmistakable essence of West African soul music, the members of Awalé intertwine elements of Senegalese and Latin American music, funk, jazz and influences from the London music scene, where they are now based. Yewoulen is a call for leaders of the world and everyday people alike to Wake Up and work together for the sake of humanity. I have no doubt that listeners will be completely hooked by Awalé’s ‘truly magical and uplifting cross-cultural collaboration.’ (Jazz FM/Musica Macondo)
Listen to an extract from Yewoulen

Capriccio C5370
When Leonard Bernstein was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to compose the inaugural work for the opening of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., he wrote: ‘The Mass is also an extremely dramatic event in itself – it even suggests a theater work.’ Premiered in 1971, with additional words by Stephen Schwartz of Godspell fame, Mass is a remarkable, visionary work with a kaleidoscope of musical styles that touches on themes of political protest, existential crisis and religious faith lost and found. Any new recording of the work is a cause for interest, not least when its unique exuberance and theatricality is so powerfully interpreted as in this performance by an outstanding line-up of singers and instrumentalists featuring the dynamic Czech actor and musician Vojtěch Dyk as the centre-stage Celebrant.
Listen to an extract from Gloria: Gloria tibi (Celebrant, Boys’ Choir)

Naxos DYN-37867 [DVD]
Fortunately for us, Verdi’s thoughts of abandoning music after the failure of his second opera were knocked off course by a commission to compose Nabucodonosor. Retitled, it became his iconic Nabucco, which was a triumph at its premiere at La Scala in 1842 and has proved enduringly successful ever since. This recording of the production from last September’s Festival Verdi in Parma is not only musically superb, but also powerfully creative, the result of an engaging project by the directing partnership of Ricci/Forte; the duo won the coveted Abbiati Prize in 2018 for their production of Turandot at the Macerata Festival. A striking feature of the staging is that the action takes place in 2046 on a military ship; Nabucco is portrayed as an oppressive dictator, obsessed with his own image; the Hebrew slaves are portayed as refugees – you get the updated picture. Opera Now gave the performance a resounding thumbs-up: ‘Amartuvshin Enkhbat defined Nabucco with his sonorous baritone. Saioa Hernández as Abigaille sang with a voice of steel, both in fury and sadness. Michele Pertusi made a convincing Zaccaria. Francesco Ciampa conducted with determination and grace.’

Also available on Blu-ray (DYN-57867); audio-only version is available for streaming and download (7867).

Orfeo C999201
The conductor Michael Gielen died only last year, aged 91. It’s a timely treat, therefore, that we can now appreciate his skill and insight on this significant new release from the archives of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) that also features four solo singers who were all at the top of their game at the time. It’s a recording made in 1985 of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, one of the greatest masterworks in the history of music. It makes considerable technical demands, particularly of the soloists and the choir, and was regarded by the composer as the summit of his artistic achievements. It’s a work of enormous proportions and extraordinary emotional and musical contrasts, alternating passages of tense drama with interludes of blissful serenity. This release is certain to quickly become a coveted collector's item.
Listen to an extract from Kyrie

Opus Arte OA1299D [DVD]
This powerful original production from the UK’s Northern Ballet is concerned with passion, tragedy and fierce devotion. At the centre are the diaries of Queen Victoria who, as death approached, entrusted the journals to her daughter Beatrice. They document her fascinating life and the monarch’s irrepressible love for her husband, Prince Albert, whose untimely death brought the world's most powerful woman to her knees with grief. With music by Philip Feeney and choreography by Cathy Marston, noted for her new perspectives on old narratives, this 2019 celebration of the bicentenary of Victoria's birth was enthusiastically received: ‘cinematically scored and danced with nuance.’ (The Guardian); ‘another success for a company going from strength to strength.’ (The Independent); ‘Terrific creation… a class act.’ (The Telegraph)

Also available on Blu-ray (OABD7264D)

Naxos OA1308D [DVD]
Die Walküre is the most performed work in Wagner's Ring Cycle, esteemed for its nuanced and intelligent exploration of complex family entanglements through music of astonishing emotive power. Every aspect of the work’s musical and dramatic force is interpreted with rare authority in this exceptional audiovisual production from Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House. Any collaboration between renowned conductor Antonio Pappano and such a stellar line-up of soloists, headed by Stuart Skelton (Siegmund) and Emily Magee (Sieglinde), will stir widespread interest. This performance certainly achieved that among the press, whose reactions were encapsulated by this 5-star verdict from Bachtrack: ‘From the very first notes, we knew we were in safe hands, with the pounding, driving cellos and basses and the soaring brass... With vocal performances at the very highest level, this was a Walküre to remember.’

Also available on Blu-ray (OABD7270D)

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