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

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

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

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):