The Glasgow Herald December 26 2007
by Michael Tumelty
You read it here first: now Naxos is ready to take over the world
Naxos has fashioned two superbly useful products out of all this. Both feature the writer and broadcaster Stephen Johnson, who, for many, is the authoritative British voice of classical music (pace James Naughtie and Charles Hazlewood).
For Naxos Books, Johnson has produced a superb, broad introduction to Wagner that has a readable contemporary relevance, covers all the operas, touches on all the raw spots where this most controversial of composers is concerned, and comes equipped not only with two packed Cds drawing on the full Wagner output but also with a link to a dedicated website that contains myriad tributaries of music and information. It's at once comprehensive and wholly accessible to the lay Wagnerian.
If, on the other hand, The Ring is your target of interest, and you're happy for other people to do as much for you as possible, then Johnson has also written, and reads in his distinctive, chocolatey voice, An Introduction to the Ring of the Nibelung. This is a double CD in the series of Naxos Audio Books, which does great business."
Classic FM September 2007
by Malcolm Hayes
Book of the Month: Wagner his Life and Music
Yet another introduction to Wagner? Yes, but there have been very few as good as this one. For all the punter friendly format, the quality and insight of Stephen Johnson’s writing also offers much food for thought to experienced Wagner buffs. Here’s one example: he points out that in Tristan und Isolde, the loosening of the traditional ties of classical rhythm is at least as radical and significant as the music’s much-heralded loosening of tonality. Exactly so. Rightly, Johnson in o way glosses over Wagner’s unsavoury side – the egomaniac opportunism, the anti-Semitism. Just as rightly, he presents these qualities within the wider fact of the composer’s wondrous musical achievement.
His outline of Wagner’s life is a model of how to present so much information clearly and readably. And writing about the music itself, he knows how to keep things simple, while coming up with one memorable phrase after another, like this one: ‘Part of the magic of Die Meistersinger is the sense it communicates of being posed between solid… reality an the realm of the imagination, from which music and poetry can come to us like the scent of lilac, drifting in the air on a midsummer’s eve’. Again: exactly so.