Recently in Recordings
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his
ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
07 Jan 2005
BOLCOM: Songs of Innocence and of Experience
William Bolcom is arguably the preeminent American opera composer of today. His third commission for Lyric Opera of Chicago, A Wedding, recently opened to mostly positive reviews. His previous work in the form, A View from the Bridge, had a successful run at the Metropolitan Opera following its premiere in Chicago.
Along with his other pieces for voice, Bolcom's operas reflect a keen, creative mind in love with the possibilities of the human voice as a means of communication. Why, then, has his largest work for voice taken so long to be recorded?
Although not by any means an opera, Bolcom's musical settings for William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience offer a tremendous amount of vocalism from soloists operatically trained and otherwise. Composed in a kaleidoscope of shifting styles, from modern techniques to Broadway to Country/Western, the work has now appeared on disc, courtesy of Naxos (and the cooperation of the composer's professional home, the University of Michigan Music School). Lasting around 140 minutes and spread over three discs, Bolcom's Blake settings inundate the listener with what the composer calls (in a booklet essay) a "synthesis of the most unlikely stylistic elements," and the result is fascinating, exciting, and perhaps ultimately, somewhat frustrating.
The fascination is prompted by Bolcom's extraordinary grasp of a cornucopia of musical genres. From the opening orchestral explosion, marked by strong dissonance, the work glides in and out of musical styles with commanding confidence. There are country fiddles in The Shepherd, soaring soprano lines over a complex orchestral background in Earth's Answer, and lovely, hymn-like choral pieces such as The Little Girl Found, while the concluding piece, A Divine Image, lays down a rock-flavored reggae beat. With only two of the 55 tracks being over 5 minutes, and many under 90 seconds, no listener impatient with any one particular compositional mode has long to wait before a different one appears.
The excitement is generated by the sheer energy and dedication of the huge performing forces gathered for this recording project. The singers range from professionally trained voices such as Christine Brewer to Nathan Lee Graham, an actor/singer who declaims The Chimney Sweeper and provides the Broadway-type rock voice for A Divine Image. Conductor Slatkin leads the University orchestra through some thorny, though always expressive, orchestral passages, and also guides the more "naïaut;ve" musical settings with enthusiasm and not a hint of condescension. Unfortunately, the recording does little favor to the electric guitar or rock drums, which have the cheesy feel of 1960s or '70s Broadway attempts to sound "hip."
And that's where the frustration starts to creep in, especially with repeated listening. For amid this wild burst of creativity, Blake's creation wanders in and out of focus. When the huge choral forces are singing out, or the soprano voices (which also include Marsha Brueggergosman, a new and exciting artist) soar high, Blake's words become almost incomprehensible. As a result, it is only in the simple settings that Blake's poetry can be fully heard, and this tends to overemphasize the "naïve" quality of the poet.
When the work ends with A Divine Image, all that is worthy and questionable about Bolcom's achievement becomes evident. First there is a transitional passage of contemporary orchestral texture, and then the off-kilter beat of a reggae song begins. It's a decent tune, but as the concluding piece, it offers no musical sense of resolution or restatement.
The question becomes then, how successfully has Bolcom achieved his goal of a "synthesis of the most unlikely stylistic elements." Ultimately, the differing styles are segregated in individual settings. Most of the denser orchestral passages come as transitional pieces. The simpler music tends to be self-contained. Perhaps Bolcom wants to heal the divisions between "serious" and "popular" music that have widened so dramatically over the last century or so. Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, with its blend of sometimes naïve form and language in expressions of deep, complex themes, provides ample opportunity for Bolcom to employ all the contrasts and contrary impulses of modern orchestral and folk music. Whether Bolcom has achieved his goal or only provided a mix of styles without bringing them all into a cohesive whole, each listener must decide.
But spending time with Bolcom's Songs of Innocence and of Experience is sure to provide listeners, no matter how they decide the above question, more than enough excitement and fascination to make up for any perceived frustration. Naxos deserves commendation for making this work available at last.