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Ann Burns
Library Journal, November 2001

"Siepmann presents the lives of Beethoven and Chopin through two musical biographies. Combining each composer's music with narrative, he demonstrates the development of each musician's skills and growth as an artist. Each audiobook contains an eight-page booklet, which discusses the artist's role in the Romantic Movement, his music, and some information on his life. Also included are musical credits and an outline of each cassette, as well as the best-known works of each composer. The diction is clear and precise with either minimal or no accent on the part of narrators Bob Peck, Karen Archer, and Neville Jason, among others. While neither of these tapes provides startling new insights into the composers, they do present a thorough and interesting sound portrait that will hold the at tention of nonmusicians. This series would be of special interest to academic libraries and of use to large public libraries. Recommended."

Marc Shulgold
Rocky Mountain News, September 2001

"A new series on Naxos also offers considerable illumination on music and music makers. Actually, there are three series: "Opera Explained, "Classics Explained" and "Life and Works." Most ambitious is the latter collection, which consists of multidisc box sets devoted to Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt. Given all that recorded space, it's no surprise that the narration is richly detailed. Recitations of observations by contemporaries (Including words by the composer himself) are mixed in, as are musical examples. Nicely written companion books provide a look at the world of each composer, along with the printed text of the narration. These are thoroughly listenable collections, if you don't mind the heavily British speakers (Jeremy Siepmann is narrator, while fellow Englishmen Anton Lesser and Bob Peck portray Chopin and Beethoven...). In humanizing their subjects, these discs offer more than mere biographical information--they bring us closer to the men behind the music. Similarly, the opera and classics sets provide an understanding of such masterpieces as Verdi's Aida, Ravel's Bolero, Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Brahms' second Piano Concerto. In these discs, the narrator walks the listener through the music, offering historical background, plot synopsis and plenty of excerpts. In the orchestral works, the complete music is presented following detailed examinations. Naxos is thinking big with this project, promising nearly three dozen releases-including examinations of orchestral instruments and several volumes devoted to conductors, string players, pianists and opera singers."

Iain Fenlon
Gramophone, September 2001

"Naxos has been edging into the educational market with three cleverly conceived CD series, all of them calling on Naxos recordings that are already available separately. Life and Works is just that, a multi-pack set with a fat book and a spoken narrative interspersed with relevant chunks of music. Of the ones I've so far sampled, Chopin is portrayed by Anton Lesser, Beethoven by Bob Peck and Liszt by Neville Jason. All three commentaries are written and narrated by writer and broadcaster Jeremy Siepmann and it's a measure of his success that the result is gripping even in cases where particular facts, or stories, are already familiar.

"The books are very well designed, with biographies, historical background, a graded listening plan, recommended readings, a chronology, a glossary and the full spoken text. The discs are pitched at the usual super budget price point but the documentation warrants an additional charge which bumps the price up to around budget or 'lower mid'...These are expertly presented, richly documented productions, and well worth the money..."

Frank Behrens, August 2001

"An excellent introduction to both the life and the work. Not having known very much at all about Chopin, I cannot vouch for the accuracy in the Naxos entry in their CD and cassette Biography series; but I can vouch for the enjoyment afforded me.

"Written and produced by Jeremy Siepmann, this audio-bio not only tells the strange story of Chopin's life but also includes generous examples of his music, drawn from the bottomless pit of Naxos musical CDs. An excellent idea was to use actors for the voices of Chopin (Anton Lesser), George Sand and other females in his life (Elaine Claxton and Karen Archer), and other male acquaintances (Neville Jason). It is the kind of reading that would fascinate even if the work were fictional. His letters are particularly fascinating, especially as they are read dramatically by the small cast; and one would rather hear about all his faults--physical and psychological--from people who knew him well. Perhaps his strange epistolary relationship with his Titus is dwelt upon a bit too much, but such are the times (then and now). My only criticism in a negative direction is the length of the musical examples. I do not really think the entire 'Revolutionary Etude' had to be played or the entire 'Funeral March'; a minute or two with a fadeout would have been fine, especially on repeated hearings where one wants the facts. Nevertheless, highly recommended.

Karen Robinson
, July 2001

"The spoken-word publisher Naxos is part of the classical music label of the same name, and cross-fertilisation provides a rich musical content for its audiobooks. With his Life and Works of the Great Composers series, Jeremy Siepmann, the former head of music at the BBC World Service, makes liberal use of the Naxos catalogue (the pianists unfortunately are not credited on the sleeve notes). But however ravishing and emotional the music, he warns us not to fall for the "Chopin the Romantic" myth. The virtuoso player-composer, a contemporary of Liszt and Mendelssohn, looked to classical discipline -and the character of the piano itself -to give form to his work. Ill-health - he died of consumption in 1849, aged 39 - and his affair with the writer George Sand dominated the other life of the Paris-based Pole in exile."

Gerald Fenech
Classical Net

"Chopin's life is almost like reading out of some fantastic romantic novel, if full of excesses and petulance, there is no denying that he was a composer of unmatched brilliance. Siepmann's account is quite delightful to listen to and...the pieces of music are well chosen and blend perfectly with corresponding narrative. The voice of Chopin is also superbly portrayed by Anton Lesser, that doyen of readers who is definitely one of the finest actors around, and who does this Naxos series so proud in many ways. The life unfolds like some tragic doom laden fantasy, the early beginnings in Poland, disaster at home when Chopin fled to France, the rise of his genius, the liaison with Georges Sand and the end of the affair. I was particularly taken in by the Corsica episode in which the realms of romanticism are breached with such nonplussed intensity, the music takes on an almost heroic nature here. Siepmann is well attuned to Chopin's moanings and groanings, these are obviously meat and drink for Lesser who portrays all with unmatched leering. To sum up, this is an account that will be in place as one of the definitive biographies of Chopin, whose life is so colourful and interesting that you cannot but imagine that it is all a dream."

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