Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Combined CD and Book Review

The A to Z of Classical Music
CD1 Gregorian Chant to Rossini  CD2 Schubert to Glass
A package comprising a 2 CD set of classical music excerpts drawn from the Naxos collection plus a 564 page CD-sized book, 'The A to Z of Classical Composers edited by Keith Anderson.
NAXOS 8.555319-20 [CD playing time: 151:22]
Crotchet  £8.50 Amazon US  $10.49

The cynical critic might dismiss this enterprise as merely a sales promotion tool designed to sell the maximum number of Naxos and Marco Polo titles because all the excerpts are exclusively from these labels.

However, the book (in its second expanded edition as the cover proclaims) has genuine merit and is a useful resource especially for those just beginning to explore classical music. It is also of considerable interest to film music enthusiasts for it has 45 pages devoted to 360 films and their source classical music. There is also a useful glossary of musical terms which is not quite as exhaustive as it might be; for instance, if you wanted to know what tessitura means, you would have to look elsewhere.

The A to Z composer entries which make up the main body of the book occupy some 450 pages and cover the lives of hundreds of composers from Adolphe Adam to Bernd Zimmerman. Brief biographical notes are followed by a discussion of the main categories of their music. For instance Richard Addinsell's film music is covered and a recommended recording stated all in less than half a page. Haydn, on the other hand, merits a colour portrait and over six pages devoted to his church music, oratorios, stage works, vocal music, orchestral music and chamber music - and, of course many Naxos recordings are mentioned. No problem with this because so many Naxos Haydn recordings are first class - and they are no strain on the pocket either!

The author of the book is Keith Anderson familiar to Naxos and Marco Polo fans as the writer of booklet notes for many of their releases particularly for Naxos. Anderson has served as chief editor for Naxos and Marco Polo and associated labels of HNH International since the foundation of the Company.

The CDs parallel the book giving 2½ hours of music from the Naxos catalogue.

The 38 excerpts are arranged across the two CDs, in chronological order, commencing with Gregorian Chant and Hildegard von Bingen through to works by Britten and Glass.

An ideal stocking filler for those new to classical music.

Ian Lace

Track Listings
Disc: 1
1. Gregorian Chant: De Profundis
2. Hildegard of Bingen - O virga mediatrix
3. Palestrina - Missa papae marcelli "Gloria"
4. Byrd - Pavane for 6 viols
5. Pachelbel - Canon & gigue
6. Corelli - Christmas concerto
7. F Couperin - Premier concert
8. Vivaldi - Spring "Allegro"
9. Telemann - Trumpet Concerto

10. JS Bach - Air on the G string
11. Handel - The Messiah "Hallelujah"
12. Haydn - London symphony
13. Von Dittersdorf - Sinfonia in F major
14. Mozart - Eine kleine nachtmusik
15. Beethoven - Moonlight sonata
16. Weber - Clarinet concerto no.2
17. Rossini - Stabat mater "Quis est home"

Disc: 2
1. Schubert - Ave maria
2. Berlioz - Symphonie fantastique
3. Mendelssohn - A midsummer night's dream "Wedding March"
4. Chopin - Minute waltz
5. Schumann - Symphony no.1 Spring
6. Wagner - Ride of the valkryies
7. Verdi - La traviata
8. Brahms - Hungarian dance no.3
9. Tchaikovsky - Swan lake
10. Dvorak - Slavonic dance no.1

11. Elgar - Enigma variations "Nimrod"
12. Debussy - Clair de lune
13. R.Strauss - Also sprach Zarathustra
14. Rachmaninov - Prelude in C# minor
15. Respighi - The fountains of Rome
16. Stravinsky - Pulcinella suite
17. Orff - Carmina Burana
18. Britten - Simple symphony
19. Glass - Violin concerto

and Rob Barnett adds:

This set (and its companion A-Z of Opera) are aimed at the festive shopping season already in full swing. Each is a 2 CD set and each is matched with a substantial book both in a light card slip case.

The sequence of tracks is chronological to follow the development of classical music over the centuries. The present set does not steer clear of operatic extracts and the (rather slack) Valkyrie Ride is the same version featured on the opera set. The tracks are all from Naxos's high, wide and deep catalogue (excluding the historical series): features 1980s and 1990s DDD material.

The chronological reach is wide: Gregorian Chant, Hildegard von Bingen, Palestrina, Telemann, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Respighi, Orff, Britten and Glass.

I will not list everything. However here is a sample of my reactions to individual tracks.

The first three tracks (Gregorian Chant, Bingen, Palestrina) are choral and are all studiously done with Jeremy Summerley's Oxford Camerata putting in a very good showing. The Byrd and Couperin retain the austere line. The Pachelbel Canon is given an unsentimental treatment which it bears far better than the soupier approaches so common now. Similar comments apply to the Capella Istropolitana's way with Bach's Air On A G String. The Corelli Vivace from Christmas Concerto is the first onset of a new emotionalism. Takako Nishizaki's Allegro from Spring of Vivaldi's Four Seasons is lively - a standout track. The Handel Hallelujah Chorus is rather splashy while the Haydn London Symphony excerpt seems rather heavy-handed in Barry Wordsworth's direction. Jeno Jando neatly spins the Adagio from the Moonlight Sonata. Ernst Ottensammer warbles lovingly in the Weber Clarinet Concerto No 2 (andante).

On the second disc we are in the safe hands of Ingrid Kertesi (familiar from the opera set) who sings the Schubert Ave Maria. Pinchas Steinberg could have done with being fleeter and lighter of foot in the Bal from Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. Istvan Bogar no doubt benefits from the idiomatic touch of the Budapest SO in Brahms' Hungarian Dance No 3. Similar spirit lights up Balazs Sokolay's Dvorak Slavonic Dance No. 1. Ondrej Lenard (who recorded a superb version of the Havergal Brian Gothic Symphony on Marco Polo) is rather off form in the stolid Scene from Swan Lake. The George Hurst Enigma is given with extremely hushed poise. Keith Clark directed at a rather too pacey rate the orchestral version of Debussy's Clair de Lune. Zdenek Kosler has the privilege of directing in determined style the Slovak PO in the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Idil Biret's version of the Rachmaninov C sharp minor prelude is also very deliberate. Enrique Batiz's version of the Respighi Roman Poems was always a sound bargain price choice. The Medici Fountain at Sunset shimmers in Debussian tones but with a neon light playing below the waters. Stefan Sanderling (what relative of Kurt and Thomas?) and the Bournemouth orchestra take us through Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite overture. The tone of the otherwise very fine Slovak Philharmonic Chorus is for me rather recessed in Orff's O Fortuna from Carmina Burana. The famous Britten Playful Pizzicato takes us back to Bournemouth with Richard Studt and they revel in the pizzicato hailstorm. Lastly Adèle Anthony takes us through the first movement of Glass's extremely accessible Violin Concerto.

Wot no Sibelius, Hovhaness, Bax, Martinu, Janacek, Nielsen …. The road towards appreciation (read 'love') of classical music does not have to be mapped out by the conventional Bs and Ms. One day it would be good to see an alternative approach reflected in a set of this type. I attach my own alternative list.

Unlike in the Opera set the list of tracks directs you to the relevant page reference in the accompanying book which is CD sized but circa one inch thick. The coverage is wide including all the major composers and quite a few allegedly minor ones. There are 451 pages of composer profiles with basic biographical information and recommendations. There is also a good glossary of technical terms, quite a few colour illustrations and a list of classical music used in films.

All for ten pounds or less.

A great present for someone who has just taken an interest in classical music. The book is useful but less so than the opera one. The same comment applies to the set as a whole. The rewards are not as consistent in the case of this set. The satisfaction level overall is a few settings lower than that for the Opera A to Z.

Rob Barnett


Sibelius Symphony 2 first movement

Bax Symphony 5 second movement

Hovhaness extract from Majnun Symphony

Rimsky Antar (first movement)

Janacek finale Sinfonietta

Moeran scherzo from G minor symphony

Elgar Introduction and Allegro

Pettersson finale Symphony No 7

Barber Knoxville - Summer 1915

Howard Hanson Symphony No 2 first movement

Glazunov Symphony 5 first movement

Stanford Bluebird

George Lloyd first movement Symphony No 6

Medtner Sonata Romantica

Vaughan Williams Symphony No 6 first movement

Pärt Cantus in Memoriam BB

Martinu Symphony 4 (finale)

Novak In The Tatras

Korngold Symphony - scherzo

Reviews from previous months

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