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.
13 Jan 2005
Now, who needs another Aida? There are (or there have been) available 65 complete recordings (commercially available pirates included) and I don’t take into account the staggering amounts of non-commercial recording now widely circulating among collectors. Another Aida therefore can only interest buyers interested in specific singers. Happily, this set indeed fills a gap and it is not centered upon il divo himself, as the nice sleeve notes make clear. This set is for the admirers of Julia Varady, though not only for them.
The Hungarian soprano has a reputation. As the fourth Mrs. Fischer-Dieskau she was undoubtedly helped in her career in the early seventies by this connection. But I presume this asset soon turned into a liability. Allow me to digress a few moments.
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Julia Varady, Luciano Pavarotti, Stefania Toczyska, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Matti Salminen, Harald Stamm, Ruthild Engert, Volker Horn.
Orchester und Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond.
Recorded live at Berlin, March 22, 1982
Ponto - 1028 (2 CDs)
Now, who needs another Aida? There are (or there have been) available 65 complete recordings (commercially available pirates included) and I don't take into account the staggering amounts of non-commercial recording now widely circulating among collectors. Another Aida therefore can only interest buyers interested in specific singers. Happily, this set indeed fills a gap and it is not centered upon il divo himself, as the nice sleeve notes make clear. This set is for the admirers of Julia Varady, though not only for them.
The Hungarian soprano has a reputation. As the fourth Mrs. Fischer-Dieskau, she was undoubtedly helped in her career in the early seventies by this connection. But I presume this asset soon turned into a liability. Allow me to digress a few moments.
There is a website by a devoted fan of Dieskau who followed her hero all over the globe. She tells the story of a rather aloof man, pretending to live in the artistic clouds, whose wife has to do all the dirty deeds (protesting a hotel room, wiping away the fans etc) to enable him to attain his artistic goals: somewhat like the story of Kleinchen and Lauritz Melchior, though I suspect the German baritone is far less naïaut;ve than the Danish heldentenor.
Of course this wheeling and dealing doesn't endear Varady to a lot of people. A few years ago she was to give two concerts in Antwerp and Ghent. Though everything went fine on rehearsal day, she became ill on the day of the first concert and cancelled the second one as well. She left and gave the management the cryptic message that "they needn't look any further for a substitute at short notice if ever they had problems with a soprano".
The enraged management, which had found no traces of illness, asked some discreet questions at her hotel and learned that she had received more and more frantic phone calls from a German speaking gentleman. So it dawned upon the concert organizer that Mr. Dieskau was in need of assistance and didn't want to be without his wife. Thus the alliance Dieskau-Varady has probably not helped her in her stage and recording career. Probably there had to be something for Dieter as well, like there always had to be something for Nicolai whenever one wanted to engage Freni.
Though, in his own admission, he was fully unsuited to anything less exalted than Schubert, he sang a ridiculously bad Peter Homonay on the Der Zigeunerbaron recording with his wife. And in this Aida, too, he succeeds in making a travesty of Amonasro. He hectors and shouts, though this has probably more to do with his age and shortness of breath than with bad style. Still, no provincial Italian baritone would dream of taking such liberties with note values. His high baritone had by 1982 lost all colour in the lower register and he sounds like another lover of Aida. Only now and then is there a fine phrase reminding us that he once was a good Verdian.
But, it's Varady who is the raison d'etre of this recording and she surely deserves it. Once more, was it Dieskau's fault or had most record producers hampered ears in the seventies and eighties? So many Verdi recordings are handicapped by less inspiring singing of Caballé or Millo and are downright worthless when Ricciarelli or Plowright sing roles far too heavy or too difficult for their instruments or technique. And all the while there was this formidable soprano who had to do with one Santuzza on a major label (Decca with Pavarotti) and nothing of Puccini and Verdi. First of all, there is the fine rounded and exciting sound of her voice; not an instrument of torrential power but nevertheless able to come through in all concertati. But she is a subtle artist as well. When the score asks for a piano or a mezza-voce she is almost as fine as the young Leontyne Price. Moreover the top is free and that soprano-terror, the high C in O patria mia, is no problem for her. In this live recording I was struck by the fact that the voice had a little bit more vibrato than on her official recordings. Nevertheless this is a set worth investing in just for this magnificent Aida.
But there is more. When I first heard Polish mezzo-soprano, Stefania Toczyska, I was sure she would have a world career. Well, she had a good career but a household word among collectors she has not become and listening to her magnificent singing I fail to see where it went wrong. The voice is magnificent: a cross between the bright shattering sound of Fiorenza Cossotto and the more sensual one of Agnes Baltsa. The top rings free. She succeeds in making us understand that Amneris loves deeply and has a right to be understood and sympathized with. She goes fearlessly into the Temple Scene and makes it one of the high points of this set.
And then there is the great man himself. He starts somewhat tentatively. The Celeste Aida is well sung though he takes the high B forte and if there was a tenor in his generation who could sing a messa di voce, it was Pavarotti. And that remains the problem for the rest of the evening. He is in fine ringing voice; indeed he sounds fresher and more involved than in his official Decca recording which was produced three years later and in this business three years can make a big difference. But he seldom goes down to a mezza-voce and misses opportunities where lesser voiced tenors as Bergonzi always scored: no hint of soft sung regret in La, tra le foreste vergine where Varady is at her most Milanov-like. He never sounds overtaxed by the role though he has not the guns of Corelli or even Domingo. Agreed, he was a lirico unlike Gigli who took Radames on when he was in his late forties as well, Pavarotti always had a hint of steel in the voice. Only in the last act does he use the fine pianissimo he has at his disposal. Still, Pavarotti fans will be glad with the recording for the sheer healthy amount of voice and the perfect (as always) enunciation.
Harald Stamm is a good king and Marti Salminen markedly improves through the evening: wobbly at first, steady in the Judgment scene. Daniel Barenboim has a nice grasp, though he sometimes mixes up quick tempi with excitement. The sound of the recording is very fine though it markedly favours the voices. I wonder at the source of this sound as it is so wonderfully clear. Was this meant to be a recording? I have the impression that the applause is not genuine and was mixed in afterwards. Anyway, apart from three formidable soloists, the recording has the advantage of 2 CDs instead of the usual three.