- 15 February, 2008
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When you work for a company like Naxos, life can be difficult. Unlike many of the other labels who only release a handful of titles each month, we have a whole catalog full of new releases each month. And as most of you know, in addition to the Naxos label, we distribute 24 labels (yes with Chandos coming on board on April 1, it is 24). The sheer volume of material is overwhelming and the choice of what to listen to and/or watch, grows more daunting–and delicious—with each passing month.
Additionally, I’m lucky enough to have access to Naxos Music Library, which allows me to stream even more labels than those for which Naxos has physical distribution. And, the best part—I can preview upcoming Naxos discs. This is a real treat for someone like me, who always wants to hear what is coming out in three months.
But rather than continue this train of thought, I’ll stick to some highlights of what’s coming out soon and what to look out for in the coming months:
At the end of this month, we are releasing a new disc on the LPO label of music by the British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage (LPO-0031). This recording features the LPO led by Marin Alsop in three superlative works by Turnage: Twice Through the Heart, a deeply-felt and disturbing ‘dramatic scena’ with poetry by Jackie Kay; Hidden Love Song, for soprano saxophone and orchestra; and finally, The Torn Fields, a song cycle with texts by five World War I poets. The music is classic Turnage (Twice Through the Heart from 1997; Hidden Love Songs, 2006; and The Torn Fields, 2002) and the performances are absolutely stellar.
Soprano Sarah Connolly (Grammy-nominated for her performance of Elgar’s Sea Pictures) gives an achingly beautiful performance of Twice Through the Heart, a cycle which tells the story of a woman who has been imprisoned for stabbing her abusive husband with a kitchen knife. The work was originally conceived as an opera, but Kay and Turnage realized that the strength lay in the poetry, so it became a ‘dramatic scena’ told from a woman’s point of view. Turnage composed Hidden Love Song for soprano saxophone (2005) when he became the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Composer-in-Residence. It is a brief ‘song’ for soprano saxophone and chamber orchestra with harpsichord. It was the first collaboration of his residency, commissioned by the Orchestra with Norwegian and German partners. The work was written for both the soloist on this recording, Martin Robertson, and Turnage’s wife (then fiancée), Gabriella Swallow. The disc’s final offering, The Torn Fields, features superb Canadian baritone Gerald Finley (whose Barber songs recording on the Hyperion label was selected for a January “Editor’s Choice” from Gramophone). The cycle consists of five First World War poems written by Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, Charles Sorley, and Siegfried Sassoon “that savagely attack the sweeping loss of war, often spiked with acerbic, critical humor.”
Another highlight, albeit a bit further down the road, is a new disc of music by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (one of my personal favorites, I admit). This recording (which is scheduled to be released in the US in late March/Naxos 8570069), features his shimmering Apotheosis (1996), which is a revision of the final movement of his Sixth Symphony; Manhattan Trilogy (2004/commissioned and performed for Juilliard’s centennial in October of 2005); and his Symphony No. 8 (1999/premiered by Wolfgang Sawallisch and The Philadelphia Orchestra in 2000). The music is performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra led by its very dynamic young conductor, Pietari Inkinen (a name to watch closely). Last month, Naxos released the first in a series of discs of Sibelius’ orchestral music featuring Inkinen and the New Zealand Symphony, so I’m hoping to hear a lot more from this very exciting young conductor.
Also, on American Classics in March (Naxos 8559360), Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat (whose February 2007 recording of John Adams’ piano music for Naxos won many accolades/Naxos 8559285) tackles Frederic Rzewski’s fiendishly difficult 60+ minute set of variations from 1975–The People United Will Never Be Defeated. This performance by van Raat crackles with excitement and virtuosity and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you love this work as I do, have a comparative listening with the already available versions. I’m sorry to say I’ve never heard the version with Rzewski playing (only available on a fairly pricey Nonesuch set; was on my Christmas list…), but I do own the Hamelin performance on Hyperion (670677), which I’ve always liked and there is another interpretation by pianist Stephen Drury on New Albion (#63), which I haven’t heard.
I continue to hope that The People United Will Never Be Defeated will one day find its way into the standard piano literature. In my opinion, it is one of the most significant piano works written in the past, dare I go out on a limb, and say 40 years? (Please fellow piano junkies, let me know what piano works you would like to see regularly programmed by pianists.) Considering its relative accessibility, I’m truly surprised more concert pianists haven’t programmed it on their recitals.