Richard Stoltzman’s Phoenix in Flight is pretty much what you’d expect from the world’s foremost clarinet soloist: a solid hour of classical repertoire that reminds us why he won the two Grammys and we didn’t. A world away from the squawks and squeaks of our high school band memories, Stoltzman manages his instrument with the kind of breadth and ease that makes composers write music specifically with him in mind. While this isn’t one of those CD’s, it’s still a great disc. With a solid assist from the Slovak Symphony Radio Orchestra, Stoltzman breaths new life into pieces by Weber, Bottesini, Debussy, and Tchaikovsky.
Clarinet virtuoso aside, the most intriguing thing about this album for classical music lovers is where it comes from. Phoenix in Flight is one of the debut releases from Navona records, the label imprint of the brand spanking new PARMA Recordings in Hampton, NH. It’s not every day that someone puts up venture capital to jump into the lukewarm classical music business — especially in the shadow of established heavy weight MMC — but never say never on the ever creative New Hampshire seacoast. Founded by Bob Lord, the more-eclectic-than-thou bassist and composer for prog-rock trio Dreadnaught, Navona is trying to apply the grassroots philosophies of the indie music scene to classical recording. It’s far too soon to tell how that will turn out or what it will mean for classical music lovers, but the fact that they were able to come out swinging with a heavyweight like Stoltzman makes me hopeful for more great recordings in the future. As far as coups go in the classical recording industry, this is a fairly big one.