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Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

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The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

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Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,



10 Feb 2005

Il primo dolce affanno… The first sweet pain

True to the intent of its series, Il Salotto, Opera Rara offers in this seventh volume a delightful sampling of art songs from the mid- to late-nineteenth-century repertory. Performing them are sopranos Elisabeth Vidal and Laura Claycomb, mezzo Manuele Custer, tenors Bruce Ford and Willliam Matteuzzi, baritone Roberto Servile, and bass Alastair Miles, accompanied on piano by David Harper.

Il primo dolce affanno... The first sweet pain

Elizabeth Vidal, soprano; Bruce Ford, tenor; Laura Claycomb, soprano; Manuela Custer, mezzo-soprano; William Matteuzzi, tenor; Roberto Servile, baritone; Alastair Miles, bass; David Harper, piano.
Opera Rara CD ORR230

True to the intent of its series, Il Salotto, Opera Rara offers in this seventh volume a delightful sampling of art songs from the mid- to late-nineteenth-century repertory. Performing them are sopranos Elisabeth Vidal and Laura Claycomb, mezzo Manuele Custer, tenors Bruce Ford and Willliam Matteuzzi, baritone Roberto Servile, and bass Alastair Miles, accompanied on piano by David Harper.

The obvious highlights of this recording are the three settings of Petrarch's sonnets by Franz Liszt. Originally sketched during his years in Italy, he revisited the pieces several times, leaving both vocal and solo piano versions. One is likely to hear Liszt the vocal composer in larger choral works, so these offerings add a refreshing new perspective for audiences. When performed in recital, the sonnets are generally done in order, but Patric Schmid, the producer and artistic director, explains that, because they are all in the same key, they were separated to avoid "the impression that one flows into another." While this is strange inasmuch as CD track technology generally provides a separation, they are nevertheless heard on tracks 1, 9, and 17, which listeners can play in order if they so desire.

Vidal sings exquisitely in all of her solo selections; among the most elegant are her interpretations of Saint-Saens' "Thème Varié" and "Pourquoi rester seulette." Inexplicable is her performance in the Meyerbeer duet "La Mère Grand" with Custer. It is as though Vidal simply could not hear her colleague. The result of what would otherwise be an enchanting duet is that, while Custer remains on key, Vidal's intonation is hit-or-miss. This problem does not occur in their duet of Ricci's "Mi vuo trasformar"; admittedly, there are far fewer vocal acrobatics in Vidal's melodic line. Unfortunately, the Meyerbeer duet is the weakest selection on the recording.

Although not for intonation woes, another troubling song is the Buzzolla barcarola, "Tace il vento." Paired with Ford and bass Miles, tenor Matteuzzi is positively outclassed. His voice is unsure and thin in contrast, affecting the overall balance and total effect of this charming song. This is unfortunate for one rarely hears Buzzolla, a man among those Verdi selected to represent contemporary Italian composers in the ill-fated Rossini requiem. Perhaps as a soloist Matteuzzi fares better; we get no chance to hear on this recording, however.

With a very different vocal color from Vidal, Laura Claycomb offers a splendid rendition of Józef Poniatowski's "Cantami, cantami," remarkable in its delicate tone and dynamic control. Equally compelling is her duet of the composer's "Le Rosier" with Ford. Servile offers a solid and powerful interpretation of Gomes' "Realtà," but in the end, the real stars of the recording are Ford, Custer and Claycomb. Throughout David Harper accompanies with precision and grace, always present but never intrusive. Especially noteworthy is his elegant accompaniment of Ford in the Petrarch settings.

A comment is necessary about Michael Quinn's liner notes. In his introduction to the Verdi mélodie "Prends pitié de sa jeunesse," he notes the suspicion that this song may actually have been an aria for Rigoletto's Maddalena. Patric Schmid discussed this issue in a 1978 article in the Verdi Newsletter. Bearing only the title "Mélodie" the range designation "Mezzo-Soprano," and Verdi's name, the number appeared in a mid-nineteenth century Escudier piano-vocal edition of selections from the opera. As Schmid explained, in reality, the piece is Verdi's song "Il poveretto" (1847) with a new French text. Other than his identification as the music's composer, however, there has been no proof that he himself intended this piece for the opera. Absence of any mention of it in the Verdi Critical Works edition of Rigoletto places the song even deeper in the shadows. It would have been helpful to include the piece's full history or, at the very least, cite Schmid's article for those who wished to locate the music.

Questionable are comments on Meyerbeer (see the notes for "Le ricordanze."). Quinn suggests that the composer's "late entry" into the Salotto series is justified; "how out of place and possibly vulgar might his penchant for what Wagner decried as 'a wearisome heaviness' [...] have seemed in the discrete confines of the drawing room. Yet," he continues, "how welcome he should be made, for his is salon music of a distinctly superior and appealing kind." Given Wagner's unabashed anti-Semitic attacks on Meyerbeer, why bother to cite his evaluation for listeners? Quinn further suggests "Few would argue that Verdi has no place in a collection of songs about love." In truth, most would argue, especially those now writing on the Italian art song, that Verdi most certainly belongs there. He spent a lifetime composing about love, and, as this fine recording demonstrates, the line between art song and aria is a very fine one indeed.

Denise Gallo

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