It’s always reassuring to come face to face with the evidence of a particularly impressive claim – and that happened to me earlier this year when I visited the Ueno Gakuen, a private university in Tokyo with a very strong music programme. The claim? That Naxos’s Music Library was now an essential educational tool in music colleges around the world. And the evidence? A row of computer terminals in the college’s library all logged into the NML. I must say I find it an invaluable research tool – the depth of its catalogue (basically all the labels that Naxos’s distribution network handles, plus quite a few others) is extraordinary and clearly a must-have resource for students as well. Now Naxos has launched a Naxos Video Library and I can see that I’m going to spend many hours exploring its catalogue.
Again, the library mines the Naxos labels with videos drawn from the catalogues of EuroArts, Medici, Opus Arte, Christopher Nupen Films, Naxos, Ondine and quite a few more. And there are filmed concerts, operas, ballets, documentaries and feature films. Each loads into a media player that expands to fill your computer’s screen if you want – and of course the quality is very much determined by the quality of the original film, so recent Opus Arte productions look really very impressive (and sound good too). That said, I watched a film of a youthful Claudio Abbado conducting the Pergolesi Stabat mater with the Scala orchestra and soloists Katia Ricciarelli and Lucia Valentini-Terrani from 1979 (clearly a dummy run for the DG recording) and it looked splendid.
With the death of Sir Charles Mackerras still sinking in I watched part of Nicholas Hytner’s enchanting production from Paris of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen – a real visual (designer: Bob Crowley) and aural feast, though I suspect the Orchestre de Paris must have had to work hard to get to grips with an idiom that British orchestras now take in their stride (thanks to Sir Charles). I was also intrigued by a studio film of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s rather charming Christmas opera The Gift of the Magi. The musical language falls easily on the ear and the central performances by Jaako Kortekangas and Pia Freund are pure delight. Many of the videos allow you to choose subtitles in your language.
At the moment the Naxos Video Library is aimed at academic institutions and journalists but, like the Music Library, which is now available for the general public, it must surely be launched more generally soon – I hope so because we’ve long needed an opportunity to watch music online as well as listen to it. And Naxos, as so often, has shown us the way.
One of the great examples of a conductor and orchestra really striking sparks off each other can found in Minnesota. British listeners will need little evangelism on behalf of Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä – he was a charismatic and thrilling musical boss of the BBC Scottish SO and his many recording for BIS with the Lahti SO speak for themselves. And with the Minnesota Orchestra (an ensemble with quite a heritage in its former guise as the Minneapolis Orchestra) he has recorded, again for BIS, a cycle of the Beethoven symphonies that magnificently fuses tradition with new thinking about these perennial favourites. To mark the launch of the orchestra’s own download store, two works are being made available free of charge: Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (they will be available for download until October). Five works have been selected from the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2010-11 season for download (at 256kbps). They are Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (available in November), Mozart’s Symphony No 41, Jupiter (January 2011), Brahms’s Symphony No 4 (February), Sibelius’s Symphony No 5 (April) and Orff’s Carmina Burana (June).To download the two free works, simply register at the Minnesota Orchestra’s website – minnesotaorchestra.org/musicondemand. The Bruckner Seventh strikes me as quite as impressive as their Bruckner Fourth, described by Richard Osborne elsewhere in this issue as “vintage Vänskä”.
I’ve written about the subject before, but it’s something that impresses people every time they encounter one: a Network Music Player. It’s a little gadget you attach to your hi-fi and, having installed some software on your computer, it will locate your sound files wirelessly and play them in lossless sound through your usual hi-fi. Apart from the ease of use and the quality of sound, it liberates your music from the computer and, once again, puts your hi-fi at the centre of your listening. I really would recommend exploring an NMP as part of your kit: there’s an excellent introduction on Gimell’s website (gimell.com) which also offers studio-master quality downloads. I use a Squeezebox but there are many alternatives.
The DG label is running an initiative on its website to create a bespoke Mahler symphony cycle drawing on its back catalogue and those of its sister labels Philips and Decca. Log on to deutschegrammophon.com to have a go at creating the perfect cycle – but be quick because the closing date is mid-September. You can also see how other Mahler fans have assembled their cycles: I’ve had a go below.
The Essential Download Playlist No 35 – Mahler
Symphony No 1 BRSO / Kubelík (DG)
Symphony No 2 Lucerne Festival Orch / Abbado (DG)
Symphony No 3 VPO / Abbado (DG)
Symphony No 4 Alexander; Concertgebouw / Haitink (Philips)
Symphony No 5 VPO / Bernstein (DG)
Symphony No 6 BPO / Abbado (DG)
Symphony No 7 Concertgebouw / Haitink (Philips)
Symphony No 8 Chicago SO / Solti (Decca)
Symphony No 9 BPO / Karajan (live rec, DG)
Symphony No 10 Berlin RSO / Chailly (Decca)