Recently in Recordings
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
30 Jan 2005
A Batallar Estrellas — Music in Spanish Cathedrals of the Seventeenth Century
Interest in the music of “New Spain” (the Spanish colonies in the Americas) has blossomed in the last decade, with a number of fine recordings of sacred music composed by musicians who emigrated to the New World in support of the mission of the Catholic church. A parallel interest in the music of those who stayed in Spain – indeed, who set the tradition that was exported to the Americas – has been slower to build, so this recording is especially welcome, since it provides an opportunity to hear a tradition seldom performed outside of Spain, whether in the Baroque era or in the present.
A batallar estrellas — Music in Spanish Cathedrals of the Seventeenth Century
Al Ayre Espanol, dir. Eduardo López Banzo
Harmonia Mundi Spain HMI 987053
Interest in the music of "New Spain" (the Spanish colonies in the Americas) has blossomed in the last decade, with a number of fine recordings of sacred music composed by musicians who emigrated to the New World in support of the mission of the Catholic church. A parallel interest in the music of those who stayed in Spain - indeed, who set the tradition that was exported to the Americas - has been slower to build, so this recording is especially welcome, since it provides an opportunity to hear a tradition seldom performed outside of Spain, whether in the Baroque era or in the present.
Spanish music of the seventeenth century has been characterized in history books as "conservative", and it is perhaps true that the works featured on this CD often reflect a sensibility that hearkens back to Renaissance harmony and counterpoint: absent are the virtuoso fireworks of the Italian tradition, nor do we encounter the subtly shifting ornamentation and rhythmic nuance of the French "not-Baroque". Because of this relatively counterpoint-oriented tendency in the repertory, the instrumental tracks are the least outstanding musically - though they are played sensitively, bringing out the details of the complexity of texture that seems to be a hallmark of Spanish instrumental works of this era.
The vocal tracks, however, are truly wonderful - musical phrases are often simple and short, which could lead to monotony, but in the hands of Al Ayre Espanol becomes an opportunity for the display of a wide variety of timbres and scorings. Typical of the Spanish basso continuo ensemble was heavy used of plucked and strummed instruments - especially guitars and harps - and this feature not only suits the excerpts remarkably well but also provides a new soundscape for those of us more used to harpsichord or even theorbo / chitarrone accompaniment. Especially in the villancico A batallar estrellas ("To battle, stars"), which gives the collection its title, the rhythmic drive of the rasgueado (strummed) guitars energizes the quick alternations of solos and chorus, resulting in a musical experience unlike any more "mainstream" Italian, French, or German work from the time. No wonder that this tradition became such a crucial part of the message of Catholicism in South America!
The ensemble approaches this repertory with energy and passion: it is clear that they particularly enjoy the characteristically Spanish genre of the villancico, and works in that genre are the absolute highlights of this recording, each singly worth the price of the entire collection. Some tracks are more tightly executed than others; the soloist countertenor, in particular, appears to strain and his vocal style is not especially refined - which works perfectly in the more "rough and tumble" pieces such as the villancicos, but a little less so in the more staid motet Maria Mater Dei. Soprano soloists are more uniformly excellent, and employ a wide range of techniques - including a well controlled vibrato and what seem to be pointedly "Andalusian" musical swoops - to remarkable effect. Balance between instrumentalists and vocalists is well calculated, and the recording itself seems to be technically solid, with no problematic audio issues. While not every track of this recording bears repeated listening, it is a crucial addition to the library of those who love the Baroque and want to expand their repertory of seventeenth-century soundscapes.
The University of Texas at Austin