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Critics’ Choice for Christmas

December 9, 2008

Two very different Naxos titles have been selected as ideal Christmas gifts by Gramophone critics. And there are plenty more highly praised Naxos recordings to please music lovers of all tastes.


Peter Dickinson writes on Lennox Berkeley’s String Quartets Nos. 1–3 (Naxos 8.570415): “This is an outstanding contribution to British chamber music of the mid-20th century. Everything that Berkeley stood for is realized in these ideal performances. He mostly dismissed his early music, but the First Quartet is as good as the others: no wonder his chamber music is now being so widely performed.”

Of a striking marriage between the madrigals of Monteverdi and a daring performance of them set in a modern-day restaurant, The Full Monteverdi (Naxos DVD 2.110224), Richard Lawrence comments that “nothing has lingered in the mind more than this brilliant film by La Bouchardière, who takes Monteverdi’s madrigals and turns them into a study—beautifully sung and acted—of couples breaking up.”



Also highly praised in the December issue of Gramophone are Leroy Anderson’s Orchestral Music Volumes 4 (Naxos 8.559381) and 5 (Naxos 8.559382). “Previous volumes in this series have included suites of carols [Vol 2, Naxos 8.559356, includes Suite of Carols for strings; Vol 3, Naxos 8.559357, includes the versions for brass]; however, the arrangement of less devotional melodies within the Christmas overture heard here [A Christmas Festival on Vol 4, Naxos 8.559381] seems to me much the most attractive of such seasonal offerings.

Another of Anderson’s Christmas selections (this time for woodwind) appears on Volume 5 [Naxos 8.559382]…Those who have followed the series so far will find these successors no less superbly performed, recorded and annotated.” (Andrew Lamb)

If you’re interested in historical recordings, Artur Rubinstein’s extraordinary accounts of Chopin’s Piano Concertos (Naxos Historical 8.111296) is sure to delight for what Bryce Morrison calls Rubinstein’s “Jaw-dropping pianism” and award-winning Mark Obert-Thorn’s audio restoration, “a model of remastery”.

Rob Cowan enjoyed the first two volumes of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas (Naxos Historical, Vol 1 8.111251; Vol 2 8.111252) performed by Joseph Fuchs and Artur Balsam. “The nearest violinist to Fuchs I can think of in terms of style is Szymon Goldberg. Both players favoured a profoundly classical approach and both produced a warm, often sweet sound which never lapsed into sentimentality…Balsam was an evident soul-mate for Fuchs, musically speaking, and the first two volumes of Naxos’s survey cover Sonatas Nos 1-4 and Nos 5-7, respectively.”

“Persuasive performances of neglected early works make this an essential CD” wrote Peter Dickinson of Marin Alsop’s new recording of Copland’s Symphonies (Naxos 8.559359). This release presents his Dance Symphony, Symphony No. 1 and Short Symphony and was also praised by The Daily Telegraph as “a revelatory and richly recorded disc.”

If you think you’ve heard it all before, then try the “new hues and colours as Slatkin rehangs Mussorgsky’s exhibition” when the acclaimed conductor brings together no fewer than 15 different orchestrations of the movements from Pictures at an Exhibition, many of which challenge received wisdom that “to out-Ravel Ravel is a mission impossible”. This disc also introduces the “scarily accomplished” 16-year-old wunderkind Peng Peng as the soloist in Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 (Naxos 8.570716).

In their recording of Stanford’s Symphony No 1 and Clarinet Concerto (Naxos 8.570356), conductor David Lloyd-Jones “shows real flair for the classical architecture of Stanford’s art but at the same time he responds to the underlying and inescapable passion that exudes from the scores.” Clarinet soloist Robert Plane is “nothing short of exceptional” and he has “a special affinity for this music”. (Jeremy Dibble)

More adventurous listeners are sure to enjoy what Andrew Achenbach callas “a gripping instalment in Max’s Naxos odyssey” (Peter Maxwell Davies Naxos Quartets Nos 9 & 10, Naxos 8.557400): “The Maggini [Quartet] perform with the no-holds-barred commitment and jaw-dropping technical acumen we have come to expect from them throughout this massive project. Splendidly rich sound and a most truthful balance, too.”

Andrew Whittall found much to enjoy in Ralph van Raat and Maarten van Veen’s recording of Magnus Lindberg’s Complete Piano Music (Naxos 8.570542). “Ralph van Raat is admirably attuned to the music’s intricate voicing and weighting, helped by a recording that gives the piano just the right amount of presence and space.”

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Great Christmas gift ideas from Naxos

More great Christmas gift ideas from Naxos


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