Grand Piano gets covered in style

In last week’s blog I touched on the matter of old LP record sleeves; this subsequently prompted a flash-forward to the Grand Piano label available here on Naxos. To explain…

Sgt_Peppers_Lonely_Hearts_Club_BandIn the world of pop music, a number of albums have gained immortality as much for their cover artwork as for their musical content. Think of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991). Classical albums have generally been more conservative on the exterior. Naxos itself, for example, is a repertoire driven label in headline terms, though its white-dominated frontage does put one in mind of The Beatles’ White Album (1968)!

On the recently launched Grand Piano label, however, there’s an attractive thread to follow, with each cover graced by one of the many figurative paintings by the award-winning artist Gro Thorsen. Grand Piano’s mission is to explore undiscovered keyboard repertoire; its current catalogue tally is 23 discs, of which 14 included world premiere recordings.  With around 20 new releases planned for each year, there’ll be plenty of opportunity to appreciate Thorsen’s artistic style and scope for a while yet. Why not check out the label’s three February offerings, both inside and outside the case! They are:

  • Allison Brewster Franzetti’s latest instalment in her critically acclaimed recordings of the complete piano works by the Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (GP611)
  • Duets and duos by Frenchman Florent Schmitt from the Invencia Piano Duo (GP622)
  • A double CD of Keyboard sonatas by the German composer Daniel Gottlob Turk (GP629-30) performed on important historical instruments by Michael Tsalka.

February’s new Naxos releases include two works that will act as interesting challengers to a couple of masterpieces that have long blocked out the sun from other comparable works. You’ll be able to judge for yourself whether or not they stand shoulder to shoulder with their historically better-known counterparts.

It would be hard to find an opera aficionado who isn’t familiar with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas; now there’s an opportunity to compare and contrast the work with Didone abbandonata, Johann Adolph Hasse’s opera seria on the same story (8.660323-25), written some fifty years later in 1742. Previously not to be found in commercial catalogues, now is your chance to hear the work with a tremendous line-up of soloists (including mezzo-soprano Theresa Holzhauser and counter-tenors Valer Barna-Sabadus and Flavio Ferri-Benedetti). Director Michael Hofstetter’s 2011 performance of the work won him the title of Conductor of the Year from Opernwelt.

Performance photos / © Naxos Rights US, Inc. — AT Schaefer (Naxos 8.660323-25)

Giovanni-BottesiniBottesini composed his Messa da Requiem (8.572994) in 1880, just a few years after Verdi’s namesake work; Bottesini used similar forces, though it never emerged from the shadow of his compatriot’s knock-out foray into sacred music. It’s now recorded for Naxos, however, by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Joyful Company of Singers conducted by Thomas Martin.

As a coda to this subject of gifted composers being overshadowed by the giants of their time: Chopin’s success with his Nocturnes owed much to John Field, the pioneer of the form, although the debt rarely gets paid to the Irishman; likewise his compatriot, William Vincent Wallace whose prolific and virtuosic output, however, is now happily recalled on Chopinesque (8.572776), released last autumn. The disc attracted positive reaction, and was December’s Holiday Critic’s Choice from Gramophone:

“…[a] substantial and varied collection, which Rosemary Tuck despatches with admirable grace and aplomb.” (Andrew Lamb)

If you have time for only a quick dip into the Naxos Music Library over a cup of coffee, try track 2, Nocturne mélodique.