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The WSCL Blog, September 2012

Through narration, dramatic readings of letters and diaries, and performances of his music by varied great artists, we’ll find out a lot more about Franz.

…take time to check out the rest of this excellent and informative Naxos “Life and Works” series. Other composers in this series: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Verdi and many more! © 2012 The WSCL Blog Read complete review

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

"Naxos is doing a wonderful job with its emerging 'Life and Works' series. Quite some time ago, we had a Life/Works of Mozart, more recently one of Chopin and now two more, Liszt and Beethoven. Both are even better packaged than are the earlier sets, with a thick booklet that offers us essays on the historical background, the position of the composer in his time, a look at the major works, a listening plan, recommended readings, personalities, a calendar of the artist's life, a glossary, a discography--and finally something I thought I would never see, the text of the recording's narration. This booklet is worth the price of the set alone.

"By the way, the Liszt set starts off with the sound of artillery, the Beethoven with the sound of a cork popping. A good way to get your attention and/or to convince you that you have purchased the wrong recording. Written and narrated by Jeremy Siepmann, the production enlists some excellent actors to play the people in the composer's life. In the 'Franz Liszt' set (8.558005-06), we have Neville Jason as the voice of Liszt, who is joined by David Timson, Raphael Clarkson, Elaine Claxton, and Karen Archer as the voices of Liszt's friends, critics, and especially loves. The musical selections are drawn from the bottomless well of Naxos recordings. As I commented with regard to the Chopin set, the music is well chosen but some of it simply lasts too long for those who are eager to get on to the facts of the composer's life. On the other hand, this IS called the Life and Works series, and perhaps a balance is to be maintained between the two aspects.

"Liszt's idiosyncrasies make a good comparison with those of Chopin, the former doing everything he could to call attention to himself, the latter withdrawn--but both acting like bloody fools in so many ways. Perhaps that is the price of genius. The tale of Liszt and his Countess Marie is both funny and painful, especially in the way they neglected their children (one of whom was Cosima, the future wife of Wagner). You will note that this set is on 2 CDs where the others are on four. I draw no conclusions from that other than the obvious. A wonderful buy, all things considered."

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