Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

William Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and of Experience
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.

William Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Soloists, choirs, University of Michigan School of Music Symphony Orchestra, University Musical Society, Leonard Slatkin (cond.)

Naxos 8.559216-18 [3CDs]

 

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.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):