The NAB Blog

The freedom of being independent!

By Nicolas Soames

1 June 2008

One of the features of an independent publishing company or record label is that individuals or odd ideas suddenly appear and adroitly bypass procedures. This has certainly been true of Naxos AudioBooks throughout its fourteen years. Many contributions, large and small, coming from unexpected quarters have made it what it is: the list itself demonstrates that it was often created apart from committee or consensus!

I meet someone by chance, face to face or by some other serendipity… or someone writes on the off-chance… and we move into an unexpected direction. This has been such a feature of Naxos AudioBooks that to name all these occasions and/or people would tend towards a history rather than a blog. But just looking at a few writers shows how often it has happened.

There is Benedict Flynn: translator of Dante, author of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Junior Homer and, more recently, the widely praised translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (among other things). We met when he was (briefly) manager of the classics department of Foyles in Charing Cross Road, London and got into conversation…

There is Ian Johnston, a remarkably prolific translator of Ancient Greek and German: his Homer has proved extremely effective on audiobook; his translation of sections from the Nichomachean Ethics in Aristotle: An Introduction is extremely clear; and all praise to his Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil comes in July. More Johnston translations will appear on the Naxos AudioBooks list, I am sure.

And sometimes I have been fortunate in coming across a hidden talent while working in the studio. David Timson is a fine example: clearly an accomplished actor, supreme in Sherlock Holmes, he also proved to be accomplished in other areas: he directs, writes and even sings! Just last week he recorded a song for our new recording of The Merchant of Venice due for release in October with Anthony Sher as Shylock.

This month sees the release of Volume 3 of David’s ongoing series Stories from Shakespeare. Essentially, this is intended to introduce Shakespeare’s plays to a younger audience. I remember well being given Charles and Mary Lamb’s précis of the plays – a dusty book which only too often I found rather unsatisfactory, even at the age of ten. Other, more modern, versions have been written, but never one designed for audiobook – and, frankly, there can be no better way to introduce plays! David (for whom Shakespeare has been the principal thread in a busy performing life) pays careful attention to the plots and characters but also incorporates many of the main speeches (unadulterated!) into his re-telling of each play. This third volume contains Much Ado about Nothing, Antony and Cleopatra, Measure for Measure, and others…

This month also sees the start of a new series – actually, a free series! Peter Whitfield, a prolific and interesting writer, has written a volume of introductions to major works of world literature and world figures. It is, it must be said, a rather gentlemanly diversion in an eighteenth-century way: diverse essays on topics which have clearly meant a lot to him.

Peter sent me his collection of essays called A Universe of Books and it sat on my desk for a bit, along with other unsolicited material and (many) demo CDs from actors. Being of large format, and taking up a lot of space, it demanded attention… and at the end of one day I dipped into it. I was quickly hooked: the easy writing style allied to an intelligent view on the subject made these more than just a set of workaday introductions.

We set up a meeting in Oxford during the Literary Festival and discussed a series of short recordings. By coincidence, Peter had recorded his pilot at the same studio (just outside Oxford) as that in which Anton Lesser has recorded many of his recent unabridged Dickens. Peter proved a natural reader, and some of his essays are now available for you to enjoy via the website. More will follow each month.

I urge you to download! I am sure it will encourage new readers/listeners to the topics he discusses; and those who have already read or listened to the works chosen will find it worthwhile to spend some time with Peter Whitfield.

Nicolas Soames

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