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Next month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include outstanding performances of operas by Henze, Korngold, Landi and Massenet, Beethoven’s symphonies, orchestral works by Feldman and Fibich, violin showpieces by Vieuxtemps, a Lieder collection performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and more. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Overshadowed by Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, but of a comparable stature, Stefano Landi’s opera La morte d’Orfeo is a genuine rarity, both in live performance and in recordings; indeed, there is no audiovisual alternative to this tremendous new production. Monteverdi fans will be keen to hear where his younger contemporary took the new form of music theatre, investing it with greater emotional depth and preparing a way for the operatic forms we know today. The fine cast of singers, accompanied by the period instruments of Les Talens Lyriques, is directed by Baroque music specialist Christophe Rousset, whose ‘superb, alive pacing ... brought the work to life’, while Seen and Heard International declared that it had ‘never before encountered such technical perfection’ in this Pierre Audi production from Amsterdam.
Also available on Blu-ray (NBD0111V)
Massenet’s hastily written and ill-fated comic opera Don César de Bazan has for many years been known only by its famous show-stopping soprano aria Sevillana. The work was rarely staged after its initial run in 1872; the orchestra parts were destroyed by fire in 1887; Massenet then produced the revised version we hear today. So, I can recommend without reservation this milestone 2019 Frivolités Parisiennes production from the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin. It affords the invaluable opportunity to hear the complete opera in what is the only commercially available recording of the work, a performance that was judged ‘an astonishing renaissance’ by forumopera.com.
Listen to an extract from the Overture
This release brings to a close our much appreciated series of Domenico Cimarosa’s complete opera overtures, together with his expressive and moving overtures for his oratorios. Prior to the arrival of Rossini, Cimarosa was the most successful operatic composer of his day and one of the last exponents of the Neapolitan School. The orchestra on this final volume, the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice, will certainly add to the critical appreciation they attracted for their performances on Vols. 4, 5 and 6, Infodad.com noting its ‘considerable elan’ on Vol. 5 (8.573568) and American Record Guide observing on Vol. 4 (8.573459): ‘playing [that] is fleet-footed or pensive when necessary.’ Having recorded extensively for Naxos over many years, conductor Michael Halász needs no further introduction.
Listen to an extract from Judith – Overture
Here we have the last instalment in another example of Naxos’ celebrated series of complete cycles, namely the orchestral works of Czech composer Zdeněk Fibich; the main item on this programme is his Third Symphony, written just two years before his untimely death in 1900. Note that most of the competing recordings of the symphonies are decades old, so this release will have a correspondingly fresh impact. Previous releases in the series have all been under the direction of conductor Marek Štilec and you can expect him to attract the same positive critical reaction he received for his previous volumes. The performances of Symphony No. 1 (8.572985) and Symphony No. 2 (8.573157) were both named a ‘Recording of the Year’ by MusicWeb International that declared ‘The performances surely cannot be bettered. The orchestra and conductor … are deeply empathetic to this music.’
Listen to an extract from Symphony No. 3: I. Allegro inquieto
Part of our American Classics series highlights the contributions made to the repertoire by African American composers, a focus that this release continues with works by a teacher and his pupil. There is only one other recording of William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony available, a release from more than 25 years ago. The two works by Ulysses Kay have no competing versions. The music itself intrigues through its contrasts: Dawson’s traditional form and remarkable transitions and syncopations contrast with Kay’s expressive dissonance and highly colourful scoring.
Listen to an extract from Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony: The Bond of Africa
Although the name of Henry Vieuxtemps may be unfamiliar to some today, he was an undisputed star among 19th-century violinist-composers; even the likes of Wagner, Chopin and Berlioz were among his admirers. And I’m sure that anyone hearing this recording will also become an instant admirer of the violin soloist, Reto Kuppel, who has already made his mark with a previous recording for us of Vieuxtemps’ violin solo works (8.573339): ‘This is some of the best music of its kind that I have heard … Reto Kuppel is an ideal interpreter with technique to burn.’ (American Record Guide) We already have recordings of Vieuxtemps' violin concertos in the catalogue (8.554506, 8.554114, 8.570974), so this programme of his other concertante works conceived on a rich symphonic scale is the perfect complement. Please note that this is also the debut recording for Naxos by the first-class Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra.
Listen to an extract from Souvenir de Russie, Op. 21
Henze’s opera Der Prinz von Homburg (The Prince of Homburg) premiered in 1960. The libretto is based on a story by Heinrich von Kleist that pits the crushing 17th-century discipline of Prussian military society against the aspirational dreams of the Prince; Henze’s score responds with his hallmark blend of serial and tonal styles. This production from the Staatsoper Stuttgart could not be in better hands than conductor Cornelius Meister’s, musical director of the opera house since 2018, when he was also named Conductor of the Year in the Opus Klassik awards. ‘The glowing intensity and sensitive musical interpretation of the work by Cornelius Meister and the Stuttgart State Orchestra is outstanding … With his high baritone, Robin Adams impresses as the Prince of Homburg’. (Online Merker)
Listen to an extract from Der Prinz von Homburg
Morton Feldman was a preeminent member of the 20th-century American avant-garde movement that attained international significance. His association with John Cage was particularly influential in his stylistic development away from previously conventional compositional techniques into a redefinition of specific pitches and note durations. This release gives vivid accounts of his essential musical character, with both works using large-scale orchestral forces. String Quartet and Orchestra (1973) was commissioned by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and its principal conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. The performance features the Arditti Quartet who enjoy a world-wide reputation for their spirited and technically refined interpretations of contemporary and 20th-century music. Coptic Light (1986) was Feldman’s final completed work. Both performances feature the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Listen to an extract from Coptic Light
Here we have a remarkable rediscovery of a gem of an opera in its Italian premiere by Teatro Regio di Torino. Violanta, a love drama in verismo style, is Korngold’s second opera and one of the masterpieces of the early twentieth century. He wrote it in 1914, at the age of 17, but you will find no trace of immaturity in its remarkable score that fuses German high romanticism, operetta, touches of Debussy and echoes of Schoenberg and Bartók, by which Korngold perfectly captures the contrast between the oppressive world of its setting and sudden glimpses of heightened sensuality. Commenting on the performance in January of this year, concertonet.com wrote: ‘Annemarie Kremer was an ideal Violanta, endowed with a powerful … voice … at ease in the many passages with high tessitura. Pinchas Steinberg’s musical direction was exemplary.’
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Listen to an extract from Symphony No. 9, ‘Choral’: IV. Finale
The distinguished German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925–2012) is still widely regarded as the leading interpreter of art song, even a quarter of a century after the end of his active career. His lieder performances set standards that continue to command huge respect, so I’m very happy to recommend this 4-disc set that makes up the second volume of the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Lied-Editon. The programmes perfectly reflect Fischer-Dieskau’s consummate art of placing special emphasis on the songs’ texts as the source for his musical inspiration, notably poems by Goethe, Eichendorff and Dehmel. The line-up of accompanists is world-class and includes pianists Hartmut Höll, composer Aribert Reimann and conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch.
Listen to an extract from Beethoven’s 8 Songs, Op. 52: No. 4. Maigesang
This Glyndebourne Festival production of Massenet’s opera Cendrillon (Cinderella) will undoubtedly attract considerable attention. With its combination of an enchanting love story and broad, burlesque comedy, Massenet’s sensuous fairy tale boasts lavish orchestral textures and glittering vocal writing, drawing on everything from Baroque dances to Wagner-inspired chromaticism to bring its colourful story to life. The cast is led by star singers Danielle de Niese as Cendrillon and Kate Lindsey as her Prince; John Wilson delivers vibrant music direction; and Fiona Shaw’s production dives deep into the psychological aspects of Massenet’s glittering Cinderella story, producing ‘A savvy modern-day makeover.’ (The Times)
Also available on Blu-ray (OABD7267D)
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