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EMI Classics & Virgin Classics February releases

The reputations of Virgin Classics and EMI Classics as leaders in the field of opera and vocal recordings are further enhanced this month by important new releases from both labels.  From Virgin Classics, a collection of Richard Strauss songs sung by the extraordinary German soprano Diana Damrau, who is joined by Christian Thielemann and the composer’s hometown orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic.  Natalie Dessay plumbs the depths of one of Handel’s richest operatic scores, Giulio Cesare, with Cleopatra, a collection of arias reuniting the French soprano with Emmanuelle Haïm and Le Concert d’Astrée.  And Fabio Biondi is both intrepid re-constructor and conductor of Vivaldi’s Ercole (Hercules), which originally opened in Rome in 1723 and was later brought back to life by Biondi in Venice in 2007.  From EMI Classics come two special collections celebrating Plácido Domingo’s incomparable 50-year stage career: Viva Domingo! is a deluxe four-CD set featuring extensive liner notes, artist testimonials, and a career timeline, illustrated with rare production and photo-shoot images, all beautifully packaged in a double-tall hardcover book; The Very Best of Plácido Domingo is a two-CD collection of the Spanish tenor’s greatest hits, showcasing his peerless versatility in a wide range of repertoire from Verdi and Wagner to zarzuelas and popular song.  These and other releases from Virgin Classics and EMI Classics are described in detail below.
Richard Strauss: Poesie (Lieder)
Diana Damrau, soprano
Munich Philharmonic / Christian Thielemann
CD and downloads available February 15 from Virgin Classics
The dazzling German soprano Diana Damrau, who has won international renown for both the breathtaking agility of her voice and her dynamic stage presence, releases a new collection of songs by Richard Strauss, accompanied by the Munich Philharmonic under its General Music Director, Christian Thielemann, the leading German conductor of his generation.  The release, Poesie, features 16 live recordings of favorites such as “Ständchen,” “Wiegenlied,” “Allerseelen,” “Cäcilie,” and “Zueignung,” as well as six songs recorded in the studio.
Described by London’s Sunday Times as “the most dazzling star to have emerged from Germany in recent years,” Damrau, like Richard Strauss, was born in Bavaria.  It was in the region’s capital, Munich – the composer’s birthplace – that Damrau, Thielemann, and the Munich Philharmonic joined forces in March 2009 to perform a program of Strauss’s songs, including the featured live recordings.  The new album highlights the special chemistry between Damrau and the conductor, whose orchestra has long had Strauss’s music in its blood.
“Strauss loved female voices,” says Damrau, “and he explores some extreme possibilities in these many-layered songs, each with its different point of view.  Sensitivity to the words is vital to telling the story of each song, to capturing the rapid changes of mood and all the colors.”
Strauss’s operatic roles for lyric-coloratura soprano, notably Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos), Aithra (Die ägyptische Helena), and Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier), have played an important role in Damrau’s career.  As Opera News explained in its review of her last Virgin Classics album, Coloraturas:
“Zerbinetta…is one of Damrau’s calling cards, having served for her stupendous Met debut in 2005.  ‘Grossmächtige Prinzessin’ provides every opportunity to dazzle the listener, with stratospheric high notes, staccatos, roulades, and trills.  Every note and word reveals Damrau’s artistry, the result of constantly questioning and probing into the composer’s intentions; while the soprano has a knack for concealing or highlighting technical difficulties at will, here just enough self-absorbed delight breaks to the surface that we are as captivated by Zerbinetta’s own theatrical skills as by Damrau’s vocal athleticism.  Damrau/Zerbinetta even seems to be commanding the orchestra’s responses to her whimsical, moody outbursts.  This is a performance of transcendent art.”
Damrau discusses her new Strauss album in a video available here:
Damrau’s spring engagements include performances in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Rossini’s Le comte Ory (March 20 – April 30).
Track listing
1.   “Ich wollt’ ein Sträusslein binden,” Op. 68, No. 2 *
2.   “Waldseligkeit,” Op. 49, No. 1
3.   “Das Bächlein,” Op. 88, No. 1
4.   “Winterweihe,” Op. 48, No. 4
5.   “Morgen!” Op. 27, No. 4
6.   “Allerseelen,” Op. 10, No. 8
7.   “Cäcilie,” Op. 27, No. 2
8.   “Amor,” Op. 68, No. 5
9.   “Säusle, liebe Myrte” Op. 68, No. 3 *
10. “Freundliche Vision,” Op. 48, No. 1
11. “Ständchen,” Op. 17, No. 2
12. “Traum durch die Dämmerung,” Op. 29, No. 1
13. “Wiegenlied,” Op. 41, No. 1
14. “Meinem Kinde,” Op. 37, No. 3
15. “Muttertändelei,” Op. 43, No. 2
16. “Zueignung,” Op. 10, No. 1
17. “Das Rosenband,” Op. 36, No. 1
18. “Heimkehr,” Op. 15, No. 5
19. “Als mir Dein Lied erklang,” Op. 68, No. 4 *
20. “Des Dichters Abendgang,” Op. 47, No. 2
21. “An die Nacht,” Op. 68, No. 1 *
22. “Lied der Frauen,” Op. 68, No. 6 *
* Complete Brentano-Lieder, Op. 68, Nos. 1-6
Handel: Cleopatra – Arias from Giulio Cesare
Natalie Dessay, soprano
Le Concert d’Astrée / Emmanuelle Haïm
CD and downloads available February 8 from Virgin Classics
Soprano Natalie Dessay and conductor Emmanuelle Haïm team up once again, this time on a new album dedicated to music from one of Handel’s greatest masterpieces: the opera Giulio Cesare.  The new release, Cleopatra, features a dazzling collection of arias from the opera, which Dessay is performing for the first time in early 2011 with performances at the Paris Opéra.  The many facets of the Egyptian queen – captured by Shakespeare in the phrase “infinite variety” – are depicted in a sequence of contrasting arias, both lyrical and brilliant, that make the character a superb showcase for soprano Dessay’s undisputed talents as a great singing actress.
Haïm, who conducts Le Concert d’Astrée on the new recording, first collaborated with Dessay in the late 1990s when they were both involved in a Paris production of Handel’s Alcina – Haïm as répétiteur for William Christie and Dessay in the sparkling role of Morgana.  Since then, the two have developed a close working relationship that has produced a number of Virgin Classics recordings, including several featuring works by Handel.
Dessay describes Haïm as the metteur en scène – the stage director – for her voice, while Haïm describes Dessay’s voice as “an exceptional instrument that can take on a thousand forms… . Its virtuosity and flexibility make you forget all the difficulties presented by the music.”  Haïm goes on to say, “Handel is the composer for the voice.  He demands special qualities that Natalie possesses: an ability to create colors, to embody words in song, and to let the imagination speak.”
For excerpts from the album – and, for French-speakers, Dessay and Haïm discussing the music – visit:
Track listing
1.   Overture
2.   “Tutto può donna vezzosa”
3.   “Dov’è Niren…”; “Taci! Che fia”; “Cieli e qual dalle sfere…”; Sinfonia; “Giulio, che miri?”
4.   “V’adoro pupille”
5.   “Esser qui deve in breve”
6.   “Venere Bella”
7.   “Che sento, oh Dio!”
8.   “Se pietà”
9.   “Per dar vita”
10. Sinfonia “da battaglia”
11. “E pur così in un giorno”
12. “Piangerò”
13. “Troppo crudeli siete”
14. “Voi che mie fide”
15. “Forzai l’ingresso”
16. “Da tempeste”
17. Sinfonia à quattro cors
18. “Bellissima Cleopatra”
19. “Duo Caro! Bella! Più amabile beltà”
Vivaldi: Ercole su’l Termodonte
Rolando Villazón, Patrizia Ciofi, Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato, Vivica Genaux, Philippe Jaroussky, Romina Basso, Topi Lehtipuu
Europa Galante / Fabio Biondi
Two-CD set available February 15 from Virgin Classics
Italian Baroque specialist Fabio Biondi conducts a dazzling cast of international stars in Vivaldi’s opera Ercole su’l Termodonte, first heard in Rome in 1723.  The new recording was released digitally last month, and is available this month in a beautifully packaged two-CD set.
Biondi himself brought the score back to life, reconstructing it for performance in Venice in 2007, and subsequently in Paris in 2009.  Because no autograph score or contemporary copy of the opera was in existence, Biondi worked from the libretto printed for the first performances in Rome in 1723.  He was then able to identify various arias from other Vivaldi scores kept in libraries around Europe, principally in France and Germany.  In many cases, he also orchestrated the arias, extrapolating from their musical substance and his intimate knowledge of Vivaldi’s practice.  Where no source existed for an aria or chorus, he reconstructed the music by adapting and borrowing from other of the composer’s works.  He also composed all the recitatives.
Biondi is an internationally renowned and highly regarded conductor.  His Virgin Classics recording of Vivaldi’s opera Bajazet was nominated for a Grammy, and won multiple awards including the Grand Prix de l’Académie du Disque Lyrique in France, an ECHO Award in Germany, and a Midem Classical Award.
Special compilations, boxed sets, and reissues
Viva Domingo!
Plácido Domingo, tenor
Specially packaged four-CD set and downloads available February 8 from EMI Classics
“If I rest, I rust.” – Plácido Domingo
EMI Classics celebrates Plácido Domingo’s illustrious 50 years on stage with this exciting four-CD set, which includes extensive liner notes, artist testimonials, and a career timeline illustrated with rare production and photo-shoot images.  Beautifully packaged in a double-tall hardcover book, each CD is programmed thematically to highlight the multiple facets of Domingo’s career, with individual discs dedicated respectively to “Heroic Arias,” “Romantic Arias,” “Latin Songs,” and “The Great Duets.”
Now in his late sixties, the indefatigable Plácido Domingo is universally recognized as one of the finest and most influential singing actors in the history of opera.  His repertoire encompasses 130 stage roles – a number unmatched by any other tenor in history.  His more than 100 recordings of complete operas, compilations of arias and duets, and crossover discs include recordings of works for Wagnerian roles that Domingo has never sung on stage, including Siegfried in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and Tristan in a complete recording of Tristan und Isolde.
The Very Best of Plácido Domingo
Plácido Domingo, tenor
Two-CD set and downloads available February 8 from EMI Classics
Along with the deluxe Viva Domingo! set described above, EMI Classics also celebrates the 50th anniversary of Plácido Domingo’s incomparable career – and long and fruitful association with the label – with The Very Best of Plácido Domingo, a generous and far-reaching selection of the Spanish tenor’s greatest hits.
CD One begins with three lyrical arias by Mozart, followed by Domingo singing as a baritone in the famous duet “La cì darem la mano” from Don Giovanni with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham.  Also included is Domingo in Wagnerian Heldentenor mode with part of the Love Duet from Tristan und Isolde and the energetic Forging Song from Siegfried.  CD Two opens with a group of favorite arias by Verdi, starting with the stirring “Celeste Aida” and finishing with the Death Scene from Otello, one of Domingo’s greatest stage triumphs.  This multi-talented singer returns to his roots for a collection of arias from Spanish zarzuelas.  Although the zarzuela is thought of as a form of light opera, it can be quite dramatic and Domingo revels in bringing vitality and color to this program of widely varied items from some of the most popular examples of the genre by its leading composers, including Jacinto Guerrero, Francisco Alonso, and Pablo Sorozábal.
20th Century Classics series
Ten new titles
Two-CD sets and downloads available February 15 from EMI Classics
The sixth batch of releases in EMI Classics’ 20th Century Classics series surveys a wide range of music, both stylistically and geographically, in performances by acclaimed artists and orchestras from the EMI Classics catalog (repertoire details follow below).  The ten new titles feature popular as well as lesser-known music from France (Erik Satie and Claude Debussy), England (Sir Edward Elgar), Poland (Witold Lutoslawski), Finland (Jean Sibelius), Russia (Igor Stravinsky, Alexander Tcherepnin, Sergei Prokofiev, and Alexander Scriabin), and Austria (Alban Berg): a fascinating aural tour of Europe and a century marked as much by progress and innovation as by enormous upheaval.  Superb performances, striking covers, and budget prices make these sets a perfect introduction to the thrilling variety of 20th century music.
Berg: Violin Concerto; Three Orchestral Pieces; Piano Sonata No. 1; String Quartet No. 3
Franz Peter Zimmerman; Sir Simon Rattle; Ingo Metzmacher; Peter Donohoe; Alban Berg Quartet
Debussy: La mer; Images pour orchestre; Trois Nocturnes; Jeux; etc.
Herbert von Karajan; Carlo Maria Giulini; André Previn; Jean Martinon; Michel Plasson

Elgar: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2; Serenade; Cockaigne Overture
Bernard Haitink; Richard Hickox; Sir Adrian Boult
Lutoslawski: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2; Concerto for Orchestra
Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra; Witold Lutoslawski
Prokofiev: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7; Sinfonia concertante; Cinderella (ballet suite)
Han-Na Chang; Sir Simon Rattle; André Previn; Antonio Pappano
Satie: Parade; Relache; Mercure; Messe des pauvres; etc.
Aldo Ciccolini; Mady Mesplé; Gabriel Bacquier; Nicolai Gedda; Pierre Dervaux
Scriabin: Preludes; Piano Sonatas Nos. 2, 4, 5, 7, & 10; Etudes; etc.
Andrei Gavrilov; John Ogdon; Mikhail Pletnev; Simon Trpceski
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, 6, & 7; Tapiola
Paavo Berglund; Herbert von Karajan; Sir Simon Rattle
Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements; Violin Concerto; Symphonies of Wind Instruments; Capriccio for piano and orchestra; Pulcinella
Maxim Vengerov; Sir Simon Rattle; Mstislav Rostropovich
Tcherepnin: String Quartet No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 1; Suite for solo cello
Alexander Tcherepnin; Yan Pascal Tortelier; Paul Tortelier
Essential Classics
First five releases in new series
Two-CD sets and downloads available February 15 from EMI Classics
Essential Classics is a brand new series of two-CD sets drawn from the catalogs of EMI Classics and presenting the best-loved works by the great composers, performed by the world’s leading artists.  The series provides a good introduction to classical music and will appeal to those who are seeking the most familiar classical pieces that have been heard in the popular media such as major films and TV commercials.
This month sees the release of the first five titles in the series, exploring the music of four beloved composers – Puccini, Vivaldi, Rachmaninov, and Tchaikovsky – plus an extremely popular instrument: the violin.
EMI Classics and Virgin Classics artists in the news
Joyce DiDonato spoke with Guy Raz, weekend host of NPR’s All Things Considered, about her new and best-selling Virgin Classics album – Diva, Divo – and about the joys of being a mezzo-soprano:
Just into the New Year, New York’s premier classical music station WQXR named Gabriela Montero’s new EMI Classics album – Solatino its album of the week:
Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed gave high marks to David Fray’s new Virgin Classics recording of Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 22 & 25: “A hit at his Hollywood Bowl debut last summer, this stylish, cheeky, inventive young French pianist here confirms the emergence of a major new talent.  Uncontainable Mozart is fully and finely animated.  Jaap van Zweden conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in the same tantalizing spirit.”
In a Financial Times profile, countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, whose new Virgin Classics album – Caldara in Vienna – was released in December, speaks with Michael Church about people’s strong reactions to his voice-type (“I love the way we polarize people’s reactions”) and why he’ll never realize his dream of singing the title role in Ariodante. – axzz1CdIM59Mf
EMI Classics and Virgin Classics artists on tour
Feb 8
Joyce DiDonato: recital
Bass Performance Hall (Forth Worth, TX)
Feb 11
Joyce DiDonato: recital
Broad Stage Recital Series (Santa Monica, CA)
Feb 11
Gabriela Montero: recital
Olympia Theater at Gusman Center (Miami, FL)
Feb 13
Joyce DiDonato: recital
Harriman-Jewell Series (Kansas City, MO)
Feb 13
Gabriela Montero: recital
Pebble Hill Plantation (Thomasville, GA)
Feb 14
Gabriela Montero: recital
Turner Auditorium at Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
Feb 15
Joyce DiDonato: recital
Vocal Arts Society (Washington, DC)
Feb 17–19
Leif Ove Andsnes: Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2
Chicago Symphony / Muti (Chicago, IL)
Feb 18
Joyce DiDonato: recital
University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Feb 18–20
Gautier Capuçon: Schumann’s Cello Concerto
Los Angeles Philharmonic / Lionel Bringuier (Los Angeles, CA)
Feb 18 – Mar 5
Lawrence Brownlee: Rossini’s Armida
Metropolitan Opera (New York, NY)
Feb 20
Joyce DiDonato: recital
Spivey Hall (Atlanta, GA)
Feb 27
Xuefei Yang: recital
RiverCenter for the Performing Arts (Columbus, OH)
Feb 27
Ingrid Fliter: recital
92nd Street Y Tisch Center for the Arts (New York, NY)
Feb 28
Joyce DiDonato: recital
Perelman Theater (Philadelphia, PA)
March 3–26
Angela Gheorghiu: Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
Metropolitan Opera (New York, NY)
March 4–6
Gabriela Montero: Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Houston Symphony Orchestra / Juanjo Mena (Houston, TX)
March 5
Xuefei Yang: recital
Northwest Hills United Methodist Church (Austin, TX)
March 6
Joyce DiDonato: recital
Carnegie Hall – Stern Auditorium recital debut (New York, NY)
March 13
Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man
Hale Middle School (Stow, MA)
March 17–19
David Fray: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25
Dallas Symphony Orchestra (debut) / Jaap van Zweden (Dallas, TX)
March 20 – April 30
Diana Damrau: Rossini’s Le comte Ory
Metropolitan Opera (New York, NY)
March 24 – April 21
Joyce DiDonato: Rossini’s Le comte Ory (Isolier) (new production/role debut)
Metropolitan Opera (New York, NY)
March 25 & 26
Kate Royal: scenes from Adès’s The Tempest
Boston Symphony Orchestra (Boston, MA)
March 26
Joyce DiDonato: gala concert with Sam Ramey and Alan Held
Wichita Grand Opera (Wichita, KS)
March 30 – April 2
Yundi: Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1
San Francisco Symphony / Blomstedt (San Francisco, CA)
March 31
Ebène Quartet: Ravel, Fauré, Debussy
Savannah Music Festival (Savannah, GA)
April 2
Ebène Quartet: Mozart, Bartók, Debussy
Syracuse Friends of Chamber Music (Syracuse, NY)
April 3
Ebène Quartet: Ravel, Bartók, Debussy
Peoples’ Symphony Concert, Town Hall (New York, NY)
April 5
Ebène Quartet: Bartók, Debussy, jazz improvisations
Rhode Island Chamber Music Society (Barrington, RI)
April 6
Ebène Quartet: Mozart, Debussy, Mendelssohn
Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts at University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT)
April 7
Ebène Quartet: Ravel, Bartók, Debussy
Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (Philadelphia, PA)
April 8
Ebène Quartet: Mozart, Bartók, Mendelssohn
Carnegie Hall – Weill Hall (New York, NY)
April 9 & 10
Gabriela Montero: Schumann’s Piano Concerto
Cape Cod Symphony (Yarmouth Port, MA)
April 10
Ebène Quartet: repertoire TBA
Ladies Morning Musical Club (Montreal, Canada)
April 11
Ebène Quartet: Bartók, Debussy, jazz improvisations
University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada)
April 13
Ebène Quartet: Mozart, Bartók, Mendelssohn
Ensemble Music Society
Basile Theatre at the Glick Indiana History Center (Indianapolis, IN)
April 14
Ebène Quartet: Ravel, Fauré, Mendelssohn
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (Urbana, IL)
April 15
Ebène Quartet: Ravel, Fauré, Debussy
Da Camera of Houston (Houston, TX)
April 16 & 17
Gabriela Montero: Schumann’s Piano Concerto
Spokane Symphony (Spokane, WA)
April 17
Ebène Quartet: Mozart, Bartók, Mendelssohn
University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
April 21–23
David Fray: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2
Cleveland Orchestra (debut) / Kurt Masur (Cleveland, OH)
April 29 – May 14
Kate Royal: Gluck’s Orfeo e Euridice (house debut)
Metropolitan Opera (New York, NY)
April 29
Gabriela Montero: recital
Jaqua Concert Hall (Eugene, OR)
May 1
Gabriela Montero: recital
Florence Gould Theater (San Francisco, CA)
May 6
Gabriela Montero: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra (Columbus, OH)
May 7, 10, & 13
Joyce DiDonato: R. Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos (Composer) (house role debut)
Metropolitan Opera (New York, NY)
May 29 – July 3
Nina Stemme: Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen
San Francisco Opera (San Francisco, CA)
June 1 & 2
Gabriela Montero: Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Toronto Symphony / Peter Oundjian (Toronto, Canada)
June 2–5
Gautier and Renaud Capuçon: Brahms’s Double Concerto
Los Angeles Philharmonic / Dudamel (Los Angeles, CA)
June 4
Gabriela Montero: recital
Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival (Amelia Island, FL)
June 10
Gabriela Montero: Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto
Dallas Symphony Orchestra (Dallas, TX)
For further information:
Visit EMI Classics’ YouTube channel for video previews of many of its new and recent releases:

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