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Next month’s release highlights from the Naxos Music Group include a collection of calm romantic piano music by Peter Breiner, a new ballet inspired by Bizet’s beloved Carmen, André Messager’s hit comic opera, orchestral works by Jules Massenet and Richard Strauss, an anniversary album from the Vasari Singers, the world premiere recording of a Bernard Herrmann score, piano concertos by Max Bruch and Tālivaldis Ķeniņš, the world’s legendary pianists in a special 10-disc set from Orfeo, Delibes’s classic ballet Coppélia from The Royal Ballet, and Shakespeare’s immortal Hamlet. Klaus Heymann, founding chairman of Naxos, puts the spotlight on his personal picks.
Naxos 8.574256
Anyone familiar with the Naxos catalogue needs no introduction to the name of Peter Breiner. He’s one of the world’s most recorded musicians, with acclaimed releases such as Beatles Go Baroque (Naxos 8.555010) accounting for millions of albums sold. This latest release of his will be a guaranteed hit. It’s the first in a set of projected albums with the theme of soothing romantic piano music – possibly ideal for a global audience beset by the depressing challenges of the current pandemic. Most of the items on this opening programme are world premiere recordings of original new pieces. It also contains several piano versions of music from Breiner’s orchestral album Slovak Dances, Naughty and Sad (8.574184-85), due for release in September.

Listen to an extract from Latvian Romance

Naxos 2.110664 [DVD]
Bizet’s immensely popular opera Carmen is recast in this completely new two-act ballet, filmed in Rome’s beautiful Teatro dell’Opera and performed to a freshly conceived score that also includes music by Albéniz, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Falla. Jiří Bubeniček’s sensationally dramatic choreography (including a spectacular on-stage horse) was conceived in close collaboration with Gabriele Bonolis, who both orchestrated and contributed to the new score. Gramilano noted that ‘Rebecca Bianchi as Carmen…has a personality that hits you between the eyes,’ while Amar Ramasar as Don José 'is impressively charismatic, a fine actor, and moves beautifully.’ Musical director Louis Lohraseb proves why he is one of the most promising young conductors of his generation, with Classical Music Daily describing the performance as ‘a triumph … at the end [the audience] erupted into almost ten minutes of ovations.’

Also available on Blu-ray (NBD0114V)


Naxos 2.110672 [DVD]
I’m delighted to present an audiovisual recording that shines an overdue spotlight on Fortunio, a tremendous opéra comique by André Messager. Premiered in 1907 at the Paris Opéra-Comique, it met with a level of acclaim that was to last for decades. It was laid aside in 1948 until a revival production in 2009, and a follow-up performance (recorded here) in 2019. On both occasions the conductor was Louis Langrée, who in many ways has been the principal driving force behind Fortunio’s rehabilitation; and you should note that there are no competing audiovisual versions of the work. You may recall Langrée’s name as the musical director of Ambroise Thomas’ opera Hamlet (2.110640/NBD0103V), which prompted Gramophone to comment: ‘Louis Langrée really knows how to make this music live and breathe … Buy it and watch it.’ (Editor’s Choice)

Also available on Blu-ray (NBD0119V)


Naxos 8.574178
Jules Massenet is noted for his series of 27 operas that include Manon and Thaïs, but he also wrote a significant portfolio of orchestral music which include ballets, orchestral suites and incidental music. You’ll find Massenet’s versatility and lyricism on display in every item on this programme, which includes his one-act ballet Espada, a work saturated in Iberian colour and beguiling rhythms. I can think of no-one better than Jean-Luc Tingaud to be on the podium. A French music specialist, he’s already scored several notable successes with his previous releases for Naxos. His album of music by d’Indy (8.573522) received plenty of critical approval, including from Gramophone, who judged it ‘Superbly done’. I’m certain the media will be reaching for superlatives once again on hearing this release.
Listen to an extract from Brumaire – Overture

Naxos 8.574217
The coupling of Strauss’s Tanzsuite and Divertimento is unique to this album. Tanzsuite comprises eight arrangements of music by François Couperin that served as Strauss’ score for a new ballet, following his appointment as co-director of the Vienna State Opera in 1919. Divertimento was written much later and is characterised by Strauss’ distinctive orchestration. Orchestra and conductor both have fine track records in their recordings for Naxos. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has a wide range of critically acclaimed recordings of standard repertoire to its credit, while Jun Märkl has established an international reputation as a conductor of French repertoire, as reflected in his recordings of Debussy’s complete orchestral works and an ongoing series of world premiere recordings of works by Saint-Saëns.
Listen to an extract from Tanzsuite, TrV 245: I. Einzug und feierlicher Reigen: Pavane

Naxos 8.574179
This fine album marks the 40th anniversary of the Vasari Singers, one of Britain’s leading chamber choirs. It’s their sixth album for Naxos and continues with the usual superb performances under founding conductor Jeremy Backhouse that will surely prove uniformly ‘stimulating, accessible and inspiring.’ (MusicWeb International on 8.573111) The programme presents a sequence of remarkable anthems, most with a star-based theme, many by living composers. Lovers of choral music will be immediately won over by the rich variety of the music: from the ecstasy of Ēriks Ešenvalds to the serenity of Jonathan Dove, the shimmering harmonies of Eric Whitacre, and the ethereal beauties of Paul Mealor.
Listen to an extract from Ēriks Ešenvalds’s Stars

Naxos 8.559883
Bernard Herrmann was famous for his film scores, but he was also an important figure in music for radio, bringing his inimitable palette of mood and sonority to the medium. This is exemplified in Whitman, that takes as its subject Walt Whitman’s collection of poems Leaves of Grass. It was a 1944 radio drama, a genre now much neglected but revived in this newly restored version. Two works for strings complete the programme. The album adds to the numerous audio and audiovisual recordings for Naxos by conductor Angel Gil-Ordóñez and the PostClassical Ensemble, which he co-founded with music historian Joseph Horovitz. Their niche programming has met with sustained praise from the critics, such as that received for their album of music by Lou Harrison (8.559825) which was an ICMA nominee: ‘The performances are second to none.’ (ClassicsToday.com)

Listen to an extract from Whitman: Perpetual Journey: I tramp a perpetual journey

Capriccio C5420
This year marks the centenary of Max Bruch’s death. His long life (1838⁠–⁠1920) shadowed a period in history marked by scientific progress and comprehensive industrialisation – developments that also found their expression in art. While ground-breaking works by Stravinsky and Schoenberg were rocking the musical world at the turn of the century, Bruch met the tide of events with stoicism: he remained conservative, patriotic and, above all, adhered unconditionally to the tradition of Romanticism in music. This programme was recorded during a Max Bruch Jubilee Concert in Halle. It includes both the famous Suite on Russian Themes and the rarely performed Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra.
Listen to an extract from Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra, Op. 88a: IV. Andante – Allegro

Ondine ODE1350-2
This release from Ondine is currently my top recommendation for getting to know the music of an unfamiliar but significant composer: Tālivaldis Ķeniņš (1919⁠–⁠2008) was born in Latvia, studied with Messiaen in Paris and then spent most of his life in Canada. The Concerto di camera No. 1 (1981) reveals his passion for chamber music, the highest art form in his opinion; the Concerto for Piano, Strings and Percussion (1990) reflects Latvia’s struggle for independence at the time of its writing; and his First Symphony (1959) is built on Latvian folk music. Latvian conductors Andris Poga and Guntis Kuzma direct the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra – six-time winners of the Latvian Grand Music Award – guaranteeing a fully authentic interpretation.
Listen to an extract from Concerto for Piano: I. Molto vivace

Opus Arte OA1316D [DVD]
This audiovisual release will serve as a perfect Christmas treat for the whole family. Coppélia is a classic ballet that is seen here in a revival of Ninette de Valois’s 1954 production, danced by the Royal Ballet for the first time in nearly fourteen years. It’s a charming and funny interpretation of a story of love, mischief and magical dolls, which ‘set in Osbert Lancaster’s colourful world of embroidered aprons, red-heeled boots and the occasional tutu, has an energy all of its own.’ (The Independent) Marianela Núñez, principal dancer with the company for the past eighteen years, gives a captivating performance in the role of Swanilda.

Also available on Blu-ray (OABD7275D)


Opus Arte OA1322D [DVD]
Hamlet represents a significant landmark in the history of the English language and a full representation of Shakespeare’s genius. The work encompasses political intrigue and sexual obsession, philosophical reflection and violent action, tragic depth and wild humour. This exceptional performance by members of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre should not be missed by anyone either new to the drama or revisiting it for ‘a production that places clarity of verse and emotion over directorial fireworks.’ (The Stage) The cast is led by Michele Terry in the title role, her first since becoming the Globe Theatre’s artistic director, and which supports her artistic aim of creating a gender balanced company. ‘Terry is fiercely intelligent and wonderfully funny.’ (The Independent ★★★★)

Orfeo C200071 [10 Discs]
To mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of ORFEO, the label is releasing boxed sets of unparalleled historic recordings as it embarks on the next phase of its development as part of the Naxos Music Group. They began with a taster in the form of a double-album mixed bill, 40 Ultimate Recordings (C200032), followed by box sets of Legendary Conductors (C200011) and Legendary Voices (C200021). This latest 10-disc set in the series focuses on performances by Legendary Pianists. The line-up of artists, which is certain to prove hugely attractive to collectors, comprises Géza Anda, Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Friedrich Gulda, Wilhelm Kempff, Oleg Maisenberg, Konstantin Lifschitz, Carl Seemann, Gerhard Oppitz and Rudolf Serkin. You might also make a note that the series concludes in January 2021 with a highly attractive box set of Opera Rarities.
Listen to an extract from Chopin’s Fantasy-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op. 66, performed by Wilhelm Kempff


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