Grammy Award-Winner Fabio Luisi Launches Philharmonia Zurich’s New Label with Berlioz & Wagner CDs

Under the auspices of Grammy and ECHO Klassik Award-winner Fabio Luisi, now serving in his third season as General Music Director of the Zurich Opera, the New Year brings the launch of Philharmonia Records, the new recording label of the Philharmonia Zurich. Released on the heels of the orchestra’s 30th-anniversary celebrations this month, the first three titles all feature the Italian conductor in repertory for which he has been justly celebrated. Due for release today (January 27), Verdi’s Rigoletto on DVD and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique on CD both capture his incisive leadership of the orchestra in live performance, while a double album of Wagner’s Preludes and Interludes, scheduled for release in February, marks their first studio recording together. Philharmonia Records – the latest example of the new paradigm by which orchestras record and issue their own performances – will be distributed by Naxos. Future releases include Rachmaninoff’s complete piano concertos with Zurich’s artist-in-residence, Lise de la Salle, in October, and starting next year Luisi and the orchestra look forward to issuing three new recordings annually.

The conductor comments: 

“The Philharmonia Zurich is an outstanding opera orchestra, but this recording project re-launches them into the symphonic repertoire, where I am confident they will successfully project their personality as a great symphonic orchestra. The Berlioz album marks the first time they have recorded a symphonic work, and the responses we have begun to receive, including a ‘Disc of the Month’ selection by the German music magazine Concerti, indicates that we can perform symphonic music at a very high level. These recordings are just the beginning, with more exciting projects to come, providing the orchestra with an important tool to share with presenters and promoters for orchestral concerts by the Philharmonia Zurich being planned in Switzerland and abroad.”

Filmed live last summer, the DVD release of Rigoletto captures Zurich Opera’s “consistently exciting, at times even gorgeous” (Basellandschaftliche Zeitung) original staging of the opera by Tatjana Gürbaca, Opernwelt’s 2013 Director of the Year [a video excerpt and interviews about the production are available at the label’s website]. Starring George Petean in the title role, with Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Saimir Pirgu as the Duke of Mantua, the production owed its success in no small part to “Luisi’s conducting, [which] was more than a magnificent breath of fresh air: it revealed a whole new side of the work” (Basellandschaftliche Zeitung). Similar accolades greeted Aida, another of Zurich’s Verdi productions, when “the Philharmonia Zurich played at its usual high standard, revealing Verdi’s orchestration in all its glory, from chamber-music delicacy to overwhelming outbursts of power and energy, all under the knowledgeable direction of Fabio Luisi” (Opera News).

The conductor’s Verdi has also drawn praise at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where he serves concurrently as Principal Conductor. In the company’s recent Macbeth, the vehicle for Anna Netrebko’s role debut as Verdi’s anti-heroine, the New York Times pronounced his leadership “distinguished and authoritative,” and the Wall Street Journal proclaimed him “a consummate interpreter of Verdi.” 

Luisi is an equally passionate advocate of Hector Berlioz, in whose music he has won comparable acclaim. His account of the Symphonie fantastique with the Philharmonia Zurich – recorded live in September 2013 and soon to be issued as Philharmonia Records’ first audio release – prompted the Neue Zürcher Zeitung to observe: “He met the mood of each scene with pinpoint accuracy and his presentation of the symphony’s program was gripping.” Likewise, when Luisi took the Met podium for Les Troyens, the Huffington Post singled out his “exacting and fast-paced conducting,” and the Classical Review praised his “vibrant, quicksilver reading of Berlioz’s miraculous score.” 

Asked how the choice of repertoire was made for this first recording, Luisi explains, “After brainstorming with the orchestra, we had to choose the work to start our project.  We decided that something from the French repertoire would be ideal. Zurich Opera is often described as either the southernmost German opera house, or the northernmost Italian house, so performing one of the great French masterpieces meant showing no favoritism to either point of view.  So we programmed the Symphonie fantastique with the idea of also recording it."

Luisi and some of the orchestral musicians discuss the Symphonie fantastique in a video trailer available on YouTube and at the label’s website

For Philharmonia Records’ inaugural studio recording, a two CD-set, Luisi and the Philharmonia Zurich perform Wagner’s Preludes and Interludes. It was owing to his leadership of the two last operas of Wagner’s epic “Ring” cycle that Luisi took home his first Grammy Award, when Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD release of the full cycle, recorded live at the Met with a star-studded cast, was named Best Opera Recording of 2012. Luisi’s masterful direction of the German composer’s operas has also been widely recognized in the New York press; New York magazine noted his ability to “bring out the score’s three-dimensional detail and animal heat,” and the New York Times reported that he “led an exciting, insightful, and assured performance, … always aware of the instincts and needs of the performers.

Luisi comments:  

“We dedicated four days of studio work to this Wagner recording, and it was a powerful experience for everyone involved. This kind of intense focus, which required six very demanding hours a day from the musicians, was entirely new for the orchestra. But they responded brilliantly. Aiming for this goal together – to produce a compelling recording of music that we care about deeply – was a shared experience that was truly wonderful for the relationship between me and the orchestra.”

These three new recordings with the Philharmonia Zurich expand Luisi’s already extensive and distinguished discography. Besides Siegfried and Götterdämmerung with the Met, this includes rare Verdi operas (Jérusalem, Alzira, and Aroldo), Salieri’s La locandiera, Bellini’s I puritani, a critically lauded Deutsche Grammophon recording of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi with Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca, and the symphonic repertoire of Honegger, Respighi, and Liszt. He has also recorded all the symphonies and the oratorio Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln by neglected Austrian composer Franz Schmidt; several works by Richard Strauss for Sony Classical; and an ECHO Klassik Award-winning account of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony with the Staatskapelle Dresden.

Philharmonia Records’ new web site, which features numerous photographs, videos and additional information, may be accessed here. Meanwhile, details of the label’s three inaugural releases, and of Fabio Luisi’s upcoming engagements, follow below, and more information is provided at the websites listed.

Fabio Luisi and Philharmonia Zurich on Philharmonia Records

Verdi: Rigoletto (DVD)
Release date: Jan 27

Filmed live at the Opernhaus Zürich, June 2014

Stage director: Tatjana Gürbaca

Set and Lighting Designer: Klaus Grünberg

Costume Designer: Silke Willrett

Il Duca di Mantova: Saimir Pirgu

Rigoletto: George Petean

Gilda: Aleksandra Kurzak

Sparafucile: Andrea Mastroni

Maddalena: Judith Schmid

Giovanna: Julia Riley

Il Conte di Monterone: Valeriy Murga

Marullo: Cheyne Davidson

Borsa: Dmitry Ivanchey

Il Conte di Ceprano: Yuriy Tsiple

La Contessa di Ceprano: Deanna Breiwick

Pagio della Contessa: Dara Savinova

Usciere: Roberto Lorenzi

Chor der Oper Zürich

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique (CD)

Release date: Jan 27

Recorded live at the Opernhaus Zürich, September 2013

Wagner: Preludes and Interludes (2CD-set)

Release date: Feb (TBA)

Studio recording

Fabio Luisi: upcoming engagements

Jan 31; Feb 3, 6, 8, 12, 15 & 21

Zurich Opera

Bellini: Norma

Feb 14, 17, 19, 22, 24, 27; March 1 & 4

Zurich Opera

Martinu: Juliette (new production)

Feb 15, 18, 22, 28; March 3

Zurich Opera

Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

March 12 & 14

Cleveland Orchestra

Luca Francesconi: Cobalt, Scarlet: Two Colors of Dawn

Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7

March 13

Cleveland Orchestra

Luca Francesconi: Cobalt, Scarlet: Two Colors of Dawn

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7