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Chairman’s Choice: Klaus Heymann spotlights some of February’s new releases

February 1, 2017


Kraggerud, Malmö Symphony, Engeset
Naxos 8.573738

This is the world première recording of the recently rediscovered Violin Concerto by Johan Halvorsen (1864–1935) which was long thought to have been lost. Also on the programme is Nielsen’s Violin Concerto, a work that combines emotive power with pastoral charm, plus one of Johan Svendsen’s best loved pieces, Romance. Naxos Artist Henning Kraggerud is the brilliant soloist. His previous Naxos recordings have certainly made their mark, witness his “strikingly successful” (Gramophone) arrangements of Grieg’s sonatas with orchestra(8.573137), and a Sibelius Violin Concerto(8.557266) described as “a masterly performance” by Edward Greenfield in Gramophone. Conductor Bjarte Engeset’s Naxos recordings of Grieg’s complete orchestral music with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra were described by as being “as fine as any in the catalog”.

BRAHMS Piano Quartet No 2
MAHLER Piano Quartet

Barakhovsky, Zemtsov, Schmidt, Nebolsin
Naxos 8.572799

Mahler’s Piano Quartet (1876) was rediscovered among the effects of his widow Alma after her death in 1964, in a folder labelled “early compositions”. It’s paired here with another early work, Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.2 in A major, Op. 26, which he wrote when he was in his late twenties. The recordings feature pianist Eldar Nebolsin at their centre. His highly-regarded Naxos releases include Liszt’s Piano Concertos and Totentanz (8.570517), which earned top place on the Naxos Bestsellers’ Digital Platform for six consecutive months; and his recordings of Chopin’s two piano concertos (8.572335 / NBD0011 and 8.572336 / NBD0012) are listed in Gramophone’s 50 Greatest Chopin Recordings. The other members of the quartet boast equally impressive credentials. Considered “a violinist ahead of his time” by the Washington Post, Anton Barackhovsky has been principal concertmaster of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks since 2009; violist Alexander Zemtsov is a professor at some of the finest music education establishments in Europe; while cellist Wolfgang Schmidt was described by Mstislav Rostropovich as “one of the leading cellists of his generation”. The ensemble’s November 2016 release of Brahms’ first and third piano quartets is on 8.572798.

MONIUSZKO Ballet Music
Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit
Naxos 8.573610

Poland’s leading 19th-century opera composer, Stanisław Moniuszko has been called the man who bridges the gap between Chopin and Szymanowski. This disc reveals that his essentially lyric style could function perfectly in the non-vocal medium. The programme comprises a unique selection of the best ballet music from Moniuszko’s operas, including dance interludes from his best-known opera, Halka. Referring to this work, a critic wrote in 1928 that “no Polish dramatic composer had previously expressed by dance-scenes the Polish national temperament so perfectly as Moniuszko.” The conductor is long-time Naxos stalwart Antoni Wit, who once again directs the Warsaw Philharmonic, held by many to be Poland’s finest orchestra.

KAPRÁLOVÁ Complete Piano Music
Giorgio Koukl
Grand Piano GP708

Despite her tragically brief life, Vítězslava Kaprálová (1915–1940) is now considered the most important female Czech composer of the 20th century. Her prolific output brimmed with ideas that were fresh and bold, combining passion, tenderness and energy. Influenced to a certain extent by Martinů and Stravinsky, the piano was Kaprálová’s natural instrument. This in-depth exploration represents some of the very best of her music, from early gems such as the April Preludes to the exquisite and sophisticated Variations, the momentous Sonata Appassionata, and her final Dance for piano, reconstructed by Giorgio Koukl from its only surviving sketch. Koukl is an ideal interpreter for Kaprálová’s music, with an acclaimed complete edition under his belt of the piano music of Bohuslav Martinů, who was Kaprálová’s teacher and friend.

MERCADANTE Francesca da Rimini [Opera]
Bonilla, Wakizono, Süngü, Di Matteo, Martinez, Rivas, Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia, Luisi
Dynamic CDS7753.03/DYN-37753/DYN-57753

This is a significant release on several accounts, since it’s both the first recording and the first ever staging of Saverio Mercadante’s opera Francesca da Rimini. A catalogue of incidents stalled the 1831 première of the work; it then fell into oblivion, resurfacing in Madrid only five years ago. This production—available in CD, DVD and Blu-ray format—gives the opera a resounding revival, with conductor Fabio Luisi and director Pier Luigi Pizzi at the helm. The singers in the lead roles combine virtuoso techniques with dramatic conviction, not least soprano Leonor Bonilla in the title role, who soars into her high register with dazzling effect while maintaining a poignant stage presence.

LEVINA Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2
Lettberg, Berlin Radio Symphony, Matiakh
Capriccio C5269

Born in Ukraine, Zara Alexandrovna Levina (1906–76) witnessed two world wars and the Russian Revolution, as well as the collapse and totalitarian reconstruction of her homeland. She lived under the constant pressure of state censorship, particularly in the 1920s and 30s. Remarkably, she succeeded in maintaining her unmistakable musical voice in the face of such overwhelming difficulties. Thirty years separate the composition of her two piano concertos. The first carries echoes of the grand Romantic piano concerto tradition, with its virtuosity and orchestration respectively calling to mind Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov. The second was written a year before Levina’s death from chronic heart disease and is consequently more introspective and enigmatic.

We hope you will enjoy these selections and more from Naxos Records.

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