The NAB Blog
What a year!
By Nicolas Soames
1 December 2010
I don’t often look in my rear view mirror, but this, the sixteenth year of Naxos AudioBooks, has been rather amazing, with more new titles than ever before. We have released over 70 recordings, and some of these have been big! Anna Karenina (31 CDs), read by Kate Lock; Martin Chuzzlewit (26 CDs), and Barnaby Rudge (21 CDs), both read by Sean Barrett; Wives and Daughters (22 CDs) read by Patience Tomlinson and The Count of Monte Cristo (41 CDs) read by Bill Homewood, all unabridged, make perfect Christmas presents. These handsome boxes represent the core mission of Naxos AudioBooks, which is to present the great stepping stones of classic literature, as well as some just-as-satisfying byways. These major books are not recordings heard just once and then discarded, but a real investment in classics for life.
Of course, as I glance down the list of 70+ titles, it is not really about size but personal response. I have been involved, to a greater or lesser extent, in every one of these new recordings, and so naturally there are some which I simply haven’t been able to turn off, and I’ve consequently ended up on the running machine (where I do a lot of my listening) or in the car for far longer than planned. And, I can tell you, it has been a wonderful year of listening and learning.
This year, more than any other, we have departed from the central classics. In January, we released The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, based on the true story of a cellist who, in protest against a senseless massacre, played Albinoni’s Adagio in full view of pitiless Serbian snipers. An incredible story and read with effective dispassion by Gareth Armstrong.
I have got hooked on Roy McMillan’s reading of the Bulldog Drummond stories, classic English derring-do adventure. Great fun… and you can see where The Saint and even James Bond came from. The Black Gang, the second novel, is just as good, and I can mention that this very week, as I write, Roy delivered The Third Round, another encounter between Bulldog D. and arch-villain Carl Peterson. Also on the popular note, I loved Flanagan’s Run by Tom McNab. A bit of background here: when I ran the Dublin Marathon in 1985 (crikey, that’s a long time ago…) one of my inspirations was McNab’s fictional recreation of the Trans-America races of the 1930s. I wanted to listen to our new recording, which we offer in unabridged and abridged versions. I had read the book so I chose the abridged version just to make the most of time. But within an hour I switched… I wanted to re-live the whole thing, which, in the many voices of Rupert Degas, was a joy – all 16 hours of it! I certainly shed some calories during that lot.
I started listening when I was stand- ing in a bus queue heading towards a dinner party; but Brigadier Gerard was so much fun, I decided to walk.
However, the gym was not the right place for The Essential Remembrance of Things Past. Neville Jason’s reading of Proust is one of the pillars of Naxos AudioBooks, for all that it is an abridgement (at 39 CDs!). We thought that even that may be too daunting for many people and we wanted to devise a more concise way into this epic, so you can find a very skilful introduction/overview presented by Neville in The Essential… It certainly brought back the days, weeks, months we spent in the studio over a decade revelling in Proustian sentences.
Our Junior Classic non-fiction series is one of the best-selling sections of Naxos AudioBooks. We have had a number of new titles this year, led by Great Rulers of Ancient Rome and The Glory of Ancient Greece, read by Benjamin Soames (yes – my son). The author, Hugh Griffith, is a classics scholar with a light touch, and here he presents a highly entertaining yet informative introduction to a subject that each generation needs to connect with. A perfect Christmas CD – ideal for family listening in the car during those Boxing Day journeys.
To continue on the non-fiction theme: Peter Whitfield followed up last year’s The History of English Poetry with his equally authoritative The History of Science – 4 CDs taking you through the major subjects of biology, physics, astronomy, maths, right up to quantum physics and DNA. Phew! Totally comprehensible and memorable.
Richard Armitage has been, without a doubt, the single most popular reader on Naxos AudioBooks this year. Listeners on both sides of the Atlantic, Australia and elsewhere too, have been homing in on his recordings of Georgette Heyer. We hope that more will come next year… but it is dependent upon his availability as he is about to disappear to New Zealand for months on end to film The Hobbit. Nevertheless, we at the Naxos AudioBooks office would like to thank the kind anonymous person who, every time we release a new Armitage/Heyer audiobook, sends us a rather fine box of Belgian chocolates as a gesture of gratitude. We appreciate it!
Jan Morris, historian and journalist, is one of the UK’s greatest living writers. Her classic history/guide Venice is a joy to listen to; you will once again yearn to be on that vaporetto chugging its way to dock at St Mark’s Square, an unchallenged arrival in the most unique city on the planet. And I am glad to say that we start on her magnum opus, the Pax Britannica trilogy, in the new year.
My next selection reveals yet again, I am afraid, a penchant for the popular. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard gives us a vivid picture of a delightfully vain swashbuckling narrator, a hussar in the service of Napoleon. Once again, it is Rupert Degas who has brought this classic work (forerunner of Flashman!) alive. I started listening when I was standing in a bus queue heading towards a dinner party (as it happens, that of cellist and Venice reader Sebastian Comberti, to celebrate the CD release); but Brigadier Gerard was so much fun, I decided to walk. I tramped for miles through North London from my studio, listening with delight the entire way.
My Dickens of the year was Barnaby Rudge. Three of our regular readers, Anton Lesser, David Timson and Sean Barrett, have read our Dickens, and I thought Sean did a particularly fine job with this historical novel based on the Gordon Riots of 1780, delineating so clearly the principal characters, especially Barnaby himself and, of course, his raven, Grip.
A few more things in my personal round-up. For unadulterated fun for all ages: Favourite Poems for Children; the greats are all there: The Walrus and the Carpenter, You Are Old, Father William, The Pied Piper of Hamelin and many more.
Our new series, In a Nutshell, which offers 1 CD introductions to a variety of topics, is gaining ground. Jonathan Gregson’s Cathedrals is a fascinating look at these buildings. They dominate cities, we all visit them on holiday, but you will look at them with fresh eyes after listening to his unique and personal introduction.
A Dog’s Heart is our second Mikhail Bulgakov. Not so well-known as Master and Margarita, it is a hugely entertaining short novel about the transformation of a dog. Written in the 1920s, Bulgakov was satirising Soviet life, but it also successfully rattles along as a story. You can listen to the opening five minutes here!
To end on the same note that we began, R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone is a classic English historical adventure and it has been read for us, unabridged (though an abridged version is also available) by the accomplished Jonathan Keeble. Though he has read many things for us, and for others, this had a special meaning for him because he grew up in Devon, not far from the Doone valley. This is the authentic Lorna Doone.
So, what a year!
And then there is 2011…!
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