Recently in Recordings
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
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.
25 Feb 2005
BYRD: Consort Songs
This CD collaboration between the early music viol ensemble Fretwork and vocalist Emma Kirkby is devoted to songs of William Byrd composed in the vernacular to be sung with string accompaniment; interspersed with these is a selection of short instrumental pieces in various genres. As a composer whose work was associated especially with the English Catholics, many of Byrd’s compositions from the last quarter of the sixteenth century were based on sacred Latin texts. The less familiar English consort songs chosen for this recording represent a mix of both secular and religious themes. Topics in the song texts include the constancy of Penelope, the narrative of a pet dog who meets an unexpected end, an elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, and the execution of Mary Stuart as bound up with the vicissitudes of Fortune in this world. This selection is further balanced by vernacular songs of an overtly religious character focusing on topics such as the vanity of earthly pleasure and possessions, the Nativity, and a lengthy prayer for divine grace. Finally, some of the song texts draw on a thematic complex of both sacred and profane.
William Byrd, Consort Songs
Emma Kirkby, soprano, Fretwork
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907 383
This CD collaboration between the early music viol ensemble Fretwork and vocalist Emma Kirkby is devoted to songs of William Byrd composed in the vernacular to be sung with string accompaniment; interspersed with these is a selection of short instrumental pieces in various genres. As a composer whose work was associated especially with the English Catholics, many of Byrd's compositions from the last quarter of the sixteenth century were based on sacred Latin texts. The less familiar English consort songs chosen for this recording represent a mix of both secular and religious themes. Topics in the song texts include the constancy of Penelope, the narrative of a pet dog who meets an unexpected end, an elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, and the execution of Mary Stuart as bound up with the vicissitudes of Fortune in this world. This selection is further balanced by vernacular songs of an overtly religious character focusing on topics such as the vanity of earthly pleasure and possessions, the Nativity, and a lengthy prayer for divine grace. Finally, some of the song texts draw on a thematic complex of both sacred and profane.
Among the secular texts several stand out for both their expressive and narrative content. The song "My mistress had a little dog" tells of a pet trained as performer who also hunts after rabbits. Here the interplay of voice and accompaniment is especially effective between Kirkby and the players of Fretwork. In the first of five strophes the little dog's acrobatic talents are emphasized in Kirkby's melismatic decorations executed on the words "tumbler" and "might," in "A tumbler fine that might be seen." Just as the voice uses embellishment to suggest upward, athletic movements of the dog, the viols can be heard to follow the singer's decoration or to give their own accompaniment during her long, sustained notes. This technique prepares the listener for additional such decoration in subsequent strophes relating the dog's history. In the penultimate section the little dog has been slain which is reflected by a change in musical setting. Kirkby modulates her voice to effect a somber tone and the viols play a much slower, dirge-like accompaniment. To underscore the event the soloist focuses her repetitions on the earlier part of the strophe, where the sad news is imparted, and embellishes the word "shake" in imitation of her quivering emotions. The song ends with a call to justice for the slain pet of her mistress.
In their approach to the religious songs Kirkby and Fretwork make use of related techniques. As an example, "He that all earthly pleasure scorns" opposes in two equivalent strophes the vocabulary of sinful life - attracted to riches and "heaps of gold" - and that of the anchoritic existence typical of those saints abandoning this world for blessed solitude. In the first strophe decoration is placed on words such as "sinner" and - increasingly - on "heaps of" gold, as the phrase is repeated and varied. Such embellishment from the first part contrasts with the emphases in the second dealing with a sainted life of renunciation. Here those individuals following the model of Christ "upon the Cross" seek out a life apart from the temptation of possessions, "In woods and fields from men unknown." The words "upon" and "unknown" in these lines are highlighted with skillfully performed vocal decoration, thus serving as a counterweight to the introductory section on "earthly pleasure."
The five instrumental selections, spaced more or less evenly between the songs, are drawn from various collections by Byrd, some of which contained originally a mix of vocal and purely instrumental pieces. The three Fantasias, despite the freedom of form often associated with this musical type, show clearly repeating and varied structural elements, some related to dance rhythms. The strength of Fretwork as a period ensemble is reinforced by their performances of these intricate pieces, as well as the dance types represented by the Pavan and Galliard. These selections are an ideal complement to the consort songs, both providing the listener with a rich sampling of William Byrd's compositional legacy.