The Naxos Music Group will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the launch of Naxos with events in Munich and London, including a gala concert at the Court Chapel in Munich featuring Naxos artists Boris Giltburg, Tianwa Yang and Gabriel Schwabe. Naxos was launched in 1987 as a budget classical CD label, offering CDs at the price of an LP at a time when CDs cost about three times more than LPs. The focus was on recording the standard repertoire in state-of-the-art digital sound with outstanding, if unknown artists and orchestras, initially mainly from Eastern Europe. From these humble beginnings, Naxos developed into one of the world’s leading classical labels, recording a wide range of repertoire with artists and orchestras from more than 30 countries.  Continue reading

The Italian Job from Avie

New from Avie: Gramophone Award-winning Adrian Chandler and his period-instrument ensemble La Serenissima present The Italian Job, a feast of instrumental colour featuring oboes, bassoons, trumpets, trombone, timpani, strings and continuo, by some of the finest composers of the Italian baroque. The music on this recording comes from four cities, each with a rich musical heritage: Venice (Albinoni, Caldara, Vivaldi), Bologna (Torelli), Padua (Tartini) and Rome (Corelli). 

Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles Wins Grammy

PENTATONE has announced that John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles has won Best Opera Recording and Best Classical Engineered Album in the 59th Grammy Awards. Commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the opera received its premiere at the Met in 1991. The success of Ghosts resulted in many performances throughout the world in the 25 years to follow, one of which took place in February 2015 at the LA Opera.  Performed with soloists Joshua Guerrero, Christopher Maltman, Lucas Meachem, Patricia Racette, Lucy Schaufer and Guanqun Yu, conducted by James Conlon, and produced by Blanton Alspaugh, this production was recorded live and released for the very first time by PENTATONE in a double album release.

New BIS & Chandos

SIBELIUS: Kullervo, Finlandia (choral version); KORTEKANGAS: Migrations, Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo-soprano), Tommi Hakala (baritone), YL Male Voice Choir, Minnesota Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä (conductor) BIS SACD

Ever since its first commercial recording in 1970 Sibelius’s Kullervo Symphony Op.7 has been blessed by a remarkable number of perceptive interpretations on disc, five of which have been issued on SACD in high resolution multi-channel sound, providing fierce competition to any newcomer. Now, following on from Osmo Vänskä’s superb cycle of the seven numbered Sibelius Symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra, we have his latest thoughts on this monumental five movement work. This new live recording is taken from three concerts (4th, 5th and 6th of February 2016) given at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis and is in every respect a serious challenger to existing versions. Osmo Vänskä first recorded Kullervo in 2001 with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra as part of his first Sibelius cycle for BIS and excellent though it was, I have no hesitation in declaring that this new one is even better on a number of counts. Continue reading

Davis Takes Up the Vaughan Williams Challenge

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Job / Symphony No. 9, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis/ CHSA 5180  There are those (such as this listener) who found the death of the late Richard Hickox particularly affecting as his commitment to English music was particularly strong, and his advocacy had been immortalised in a series of remarkable readings for the Chandos label. A particular jewel in his crown was the series of recordings of the Vaughan Williams symphonies, cut short by Hickox’s death. Over the years, rumours that other conductors would complete the cycle had been rife, so it’s fortunate indeed that it is Sir Andrew Davis who has taken up the RVW baton in this impressive surround sound coupling of the composer’s final symphony and his ballet masterpiece Job. The result is particularly cherishable, even if (in the final analysis), Davis’s reading of Job lacks the monumental quality of Hickox’s stereo-only recording. On the other hand, the recording here is infinitely richer and more powerful than the Hickox, with the organ passage for Satan particular cataclysmic in its impact. The Ninth symphony, too, receives a performance of great distinction. The late Hickox left a remarkable legacy in the Vaughan Williams discography and he has posthumously found the perfect successor in Davis.

WEINBERG: Chamber Symphonies, Piano Quintet (Orchestrated), Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer: violin, Yulianna Avdeeva: piano, Mate Bekavac: clarinet, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla: conductor/ ECM New Series 2538/39 2-CD 0289 4814604 8  if you are a completist (like so many classical music lovers), it’s particularly easy to obtain all the symphonies of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mahler — many recordings of each, of course, in the cases of those composers. But if you’re one of the steadfast (if restricted) band of admirers of the Russian composer Weinberg, it’s a considerably more ambitious job, as he was practically as proficient as Haydn in the symphonic medium. In fact, more and more of the symphonies are currently becoming available – and, thankfully, the work of this talented colleague of Shostakovich is gradually appearing on disc. This latest addition from ECM is particularly welcome, and not just because it plugs some symphonic gaps. There have previously been serviceable recordings of Weinberg’s Chamber Symphonies three and four, but this very welcome disc provides us with superb readings of the first and second symphonies in performances by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla which find all the plangent feeling located deep in the core of the composer’s music. The recording, too, is exemplary, although one might wish for SACD sound – but perhaps that’s looking a gift horse in the mouth. However, the real pleasure of this two disc set is not in the chamber symphonies, welcome though they are: it is in the newly orchestrated version of the Piano Quintet (arranged for piano, string orchestra and percussion), which turns out to be a remarkably winning new version of the piece; It’s this new find as much as the chamber symphonies which makes the disc an essential purchase for admirers of Weinberg.

DVORAK: Symphony No. 9, The Noon Witch – Staatsphilharmonic Nurnberg, Staatsphilharmonie Nürnberg conductor Marcus Bosch/Coviello Classics COV91618  When competition is so fierce, something special has to be pulled out of the hat to make any new recording of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony one to be reckoned with – even in the surround sound medium, in which there are several excellent readings. The Marcus Bosch cycle is proving to be highly distinctive, although perhaps without the rigour and freshness of his recent much-acclaimed Bruckner sequence. Nevertheless, this is a competitive ninth. With the nickname “From the New World” it is, of course, one of the most popular of classical pieces; the lesser-known symphonic poem, “The Noon Witch”, is the colourful fill-up. Hopefully, we can look forward to the completion of the cycle with the Brahmsian first Symphony, which has not yet appeared in the SACD medium.

SHOSTAKOVICH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77; Violin Concerto No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 129, Frank Peter Zimmermann, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Alan Gilbert/ BIS2247  Although the BIS label is not trumpeting the fact, this is the first time that Shostakovich’s two violin concertos have appeared on the same SACD, and this is a highly competitive issue, if not quite in the same category as some of the great readings of the past. Nevertheless, the recording here has all the nuance and drama of the troubled Russian composer’s style, and the sound palette (in excellent surround sound) is immensely faithful. If the notion of having both concertos on one disc appeals, you have no reason to hesitate. Shostakovich completed his Violin Concerto No. 1 in 1948, at a time when he had fallen out of grace with the Soviet authorities. Throughout the work there are allusions to the composer’s situation, such as the D-S-C-H motif that appears in so many of his works and which in the second movement is closely related to a theme reminiscent of Jewish popular music, as a symbol of Shostakovich’s identification with the suppressed Jewish culture. He completed his Violin Concerto No. 2 in 1967 after suffering a heart attack only the year before. Strong, focussed performances from Frank Peter Zimmermann with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, conducted by Alan Gilbert.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 2, Overtures, Beethoven Orchester Bonn, Stefan Blunier /MDG SACD 937 1977-6  It seems strange to report the fact that one of the greatest (if not the greatest) of all composers has yet to have some key works available in the SACD medium. Not the symphonies, of course, of which there is a plethora of choice, but some of the overtures. This distinctive disc goes some way to redressing that balance with powerful, authoritative performances of some of the less recorded overtures alongside a strong and characterful reading of the Second Symphony. As a conductor of Beethoven, Stefan Blunier proves himself to be sui generis.

SMETANA: Ma Vlast, Bamberger Symphoniker, Jakob Hrusa/Tudor SACD 7196  There are a wide selection of recordings of this colourful, nationalistic masterpiece available, but the choice in the SACD medium is more restricted. If this reading by the Bamberger Symphoniker under Jakob Hrusa is not quite in the upper echelons, it still crammed full of drama and energy, making it a competitive issue. The recording has a suitably wide dynamic range, typical of the Tudor label.

BE GLAD THEN, AMERICA: Robert Russell Bennett, William Schuman, National Symphony Orchestra, Antal Dorati/Eloquence 482 2884  This is a particularly enterprising programme, showcasing two remarkable American composers, neither of whom has quite received the due to which they are entitled to. William Schuman’s calling card piece, the New England Triptych, here receives a vid and kinetic reading (as might be expected from Antal Dorati, always masterful in American music) and the piece by Robert Russell Bennett despite its unfortunate title, ‘The Fun and Faith of William Billings, American’, has much of the charm of the composer’s little-known music — proving once again that there was much more to him than the definitive orchestrator of Richard Rodgers and Cole Porter shows.

MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Soloists, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir John Eliot Gardiner/LSO Live SACD & Blu-Ray 822231179221  First, the good news. This is as pointed and full-blooded a performance of Mendelssohn’s orchestral music to Shakespeare’s play as one is likely to hear, finding both the poetry and the exquisite delicacy of the orchestration. And now, the caveat — and it’s a major one. Why on earth did the producer opt to interject great chunks of Shakespeare’s text in between the musical passages? While the Bard may be our greatest writer, most listeners of this piece will not want to hear these lengthy sections again and again, and while it works admirably in the accompanying Blu-ray, the text quickly becomes tiresome on the SACD. Nevertheless, there is no denying the appeal of the performance of the music and if the text is not a problem for you, then you need not hesitate.

CASELLA Divertimento per Fulvia, DONATONI Music for Chamber Orchestra†, GHEDINI Concerto grosso†, MALIPIERO Imaginary Orient† Orchestra della Svizzera italiana (OSI), Damian Iorio, †WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING/Naxos  Minor stuff here, but mostly attractive, with the Casella and Malipiero items unsurprisingly being the most accomplished pieces on the disc (the uningratiating Donatoni is not likely to detain many listeners for long). This programme of four complementary works for small orchestra enshrines the lighter side of four twentieth-century Italian composers, concentrating on Alfredo Casella’s Divertimento for Fulvia, composed for his young daughter. Casella’s friend Gian Francesco Malipiero wrote Oriente immaginario (Imaginary Orient) for a Futurist play by Achille Ricciardi (1884-1923).

HOLBROOKE: Auld Lang Syne (Variations for full orchestra, Op. 60); Concerto for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 59 ‘The Grasshopper’; The Raven (Poem No. 1 for orchestra, Op. 25), Judith Ingolfsson, Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, Howard Griffiths/ CPO 777636-2  Holbrooke is something of a discovery among neglected composers, although his actual level of achievement can be (it has to be said) hit or miss. This selection is not quite in the higher reaches of his achievement, but will be welcomed by those who have been collecting his other orchestral tone poems, notably those inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. The Raven here is particularly winning. When this symphonic poem after Poe, celebrated its premiere in London in March 1900, the critics extolled the virtues of its young composer. His sole violin concerto, The Grasshopper, can also be heard here.

TISHCHENKO: Symphony No. 8, Concerto for violin, piano and string orchestra, Three Songs to Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, Yuri Serov/Naxos The find here is the symphony, which is a piece that most purchasers of this disc will be returning to most often. Obviously written in the shadow of Shostakovich, it nevertheless has its own individual character, even though the more famous composer’s fingerprints are all over it. Tishchenko was an important Russian composers, whose star has dimmed compared to that of his mentor. The Symphony No. 8, one of his last completed works, was written to be performed immediately after Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, to which it makes reference. Also on the disc are his Concerto for violin, piano and string orchestra and Three Songs to Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva. Tishchenko set the words of this important Russian poet to music three years ahead of Shostakovich.

GARRIDO-LECCA: Peruvian Suite, Andean Folk Dances • Laudes, Symphonic Tableaux, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Miguel Harth-Bedoya/Naxos  Colourful and appealing pieces are offered on this unusual disc; certainly, they are not (by any stretch) undiscovered masterpieces, but make a very beguiling programme. A native of Peru, Celso Garrido-Lecca is one of the foremost Ibero-American composers, integrating a unique blend of musical elements that include serialism, the native sounds of the Andes, and the influence of the ‘Nueva Canción Chilena’ movement.

SZYMANOWSKI: Concert Overture, Op. 12; Slopiewnie, Op. 46bis; Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony No. 4), Op. 60; Nocturne and Tarantella, Marisol Montalvo, Ewa Kupiec, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Karl-Heinz Steffens/ C 5280  The first few bars of Szymanowski’s Concert Overture will have the listener convinced that they are hearing a little-known tone poem by Richard Strauss, but many composers were under the German master’s influence. The piece enjoys an exhilarating performance here, coupled with an intelligent and sympathetic reading of the Fourth Symphony, which is much more in the characteristic refulgent Szymanowski style. The composer’s earliest works were clearly influenced by the late Romantic style, but, halfway through the First World War, he became particularly attracted to Impressionism. From then on he remained committed to tonality, but pushed it to its very limits with lush, seductive blazes of colour that find their closest parallels in the music of Alexander Scriabin, attested to by this recording.

REIJSEGER: The Volcano Symphony – Forma Antiqva, Winter & Winter, Ernst Reijseger (cello) Forma Antiqua conductor Aarón ZapicoJosef/Winter & Winter 9102402 8.95/0025091024025  Despite the jeremiads that bedevil the classical recording industry, many labels still have enterprising recording programs – and not just reheatings of well-worn repertoire pieces. Here, for instance, is an opportunity to discover a composer and a piece most listeners will not have heard of. I have to say that I did not find the music distinctive or individual, but it is certainly given the best possible advocacy here. And if you’re more persuadable, you may find this an interesting issue. Composer and cellist Ernst Reijseger presents his first symphonic poem, “The Volcano Symphony”, written for the Baroque orchestra Forma Antiqua conducted by Aarón Zapico. The symphony (we are told) ‘tells of death and life’’. Soprano Eugenia Boix embodies the voice of Pele — not a footballer but the goddess of the volcanoes, according to Hawaiian belief.

THE FILM MUSIC OF WILLIAM ALWYN, VOLUME 4, BBC Philharmonic | Rumon Gamba/ CHAN 10930  Chandos’ commitment to recording the film music of William Alwyn has been particularly commendable, given that his music for the cinema has not enjoyed the currency of better known composers such as Vaughan Williams and Walton. Alwyn, in his dramatic vein (as opposed to the more disposable light music-style items on offer here) is a match for his better-known contemporaries. This fourth volume is a particularly arresting issue, bringing new recordings of music from the prolific decades of the 40s and 50s, during which Alwyn scored a number of famous films. These scores show to perfection Alwyn’s supreme skill in providing music totally attuned to the subject.

STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos† (Symphony-Suite, arr. D. Wilson Ochoa), Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme – Suite, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, †WORLD PREMIÈRE RECORDING  If, like me, you are a collector of orchestral suites drawn from operas, you need not hesitate with this charming confection drawn from Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. The cohesion between the various pieces is persuasive, and the performance finds the gentle charm of the composer in his more companionable vein. Richard Strauss’ Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme suite was one of his own favourite scores, incidental music that combines the composer’s romanticism with his admiration for the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully.

HOLST: The Planets / STRAUSS: Also Sprach Zarathustra, CBSO Youth Chorus / National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain / Edward Gardner/Chandos CHSA 5179 see also Graham Williams review opposite    For its first album on Chandos, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain brings enthusiasm to a dramatic programme with playing that prioritises energy over finesse. Edward Gardner marshals his youthful forces with skill, utilising the acoustic of Symphony Hall, Birmingham in a surround-sound recording markedly different from most of the company’s SACD recordings.

DEBUSSY AND HOSOKAWA: Point and Line, Momo Kodama: piano/ ECM New Series 2509 CD 481 4738  Listeners may not be attracted by the little-known pieces by Hosokawa recorded here but they will find them a very pleasant surprise – particularly when recorded alongside very persuasive readings of the better-known Debussy piano pieces. Kodama proves to be the most sensitive of interpreters, both in Hosokawa and Debussy, Born in Osaka, educated at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris, Momo Kodama is well-placed to approach music from both Eastern and Western vantage points, as she does in this album.

Can ATILLA: Symphony No. 2 ‘Gallipoli – The 57th Regiment’, Angela Ahıskal, Soprano • Onur Şenler, Cello Bilkent Symphony Orchestra • Burak Tüzün  Another enterprising issue from Naxos, although this listener was not seduced by the straightforward and workmanlike music of the Turkish composer Can Attila, one of the leading Turkish composers of his generation. Success in film and television music has been accompanied by comparable achievement in the orchestral repertory. The Gallipoli campaigns in the First World War have always held particular significance for Atilla, and Symphony No. 2 ‘Gallipoli’ – The 57th Regiment is a war symphony, composed for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the battle. This powerful elegy, in which the first two movements have an important role for solo cello, commemorates the tragic Turkish 57th Regiment and is also dedicated to the Anzac soldiers who perished in the battle.

BARTÓK: Concerto for 2 Pianos, Percussion & Orchestra, Victor BABIN: Concerto for 2 Pianos & Orchestra Piano Duo Genova & Dimitrov, Dobri Paliev, Plamen Todorov, Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Yordan Kamdzhalov/ CPO 555001-2  An earlier performance of Bartok’s transcription of his Sonata for Two pianos and Percussion by Simon Rattle had more point and precision, but this is a still a powerful and persuasive reading, making for an attractive disc. Particularly, in fact, when coupled with the winning Babin Concerto which will be unfamiliar to most listeners The Hungarian composer, pianist, folk music researcher, editor, and teacher Béla Bartók moved the piano or pianos closer to the percussion family.

LOKSHIN: Symphony No. 5 ‘Shakespeare’s Sonnets’; Quintet for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello; Variations for piano, Ivan Mozgovenko, The Komitas Quartet, Maria Grinberg, Yan Kratov, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai/ MELCD 1002446  . This is unusual repertoire which is unlikely to be on the radar of most listeners. It is mostly intriguing stuff, well performed by the great Rudolf Barshai, a friend and admirer of the composer, and creator of the first Soviet chamber orchestra – the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.

SIBELIUS: In the Stream of Life, Gerald Finley | Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra | Edward Gardner/ Chandos CHSA 5178 [PREMIERE RECORDINGS]: see also Graham Williams review opposite  One has to admire the imagination which this particular program was put together. Sibelius’s songs, particularly in a baritone iteration, require careful handling to avoid aural monotony — and that is precisely what they receive in these exquisite orchestrations – not to mention the clever interpolation of some of the composer’s tone poems to balance them. The exceptional collaboration and friendship between the late Einojuhani Rautavaara and the internationally acclaimed bass-baritone Gerald Finley culminates in this unique album of orchestral songs by Sibelius, on which the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Edward Gardner. The album offers orchestrations, by Sibelius and others, of songs which Sibelius originally wrote for voice and piano, and includes the premiere recording of In the Stream of Life, seven songs orchestrated by Rautavaara for his friend.