Recently in Recordings
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
14 Feb 2005
SCHUMANN AND BRAHMS: Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden
The CD entitled Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden contains a selection of music by three friends who composed Lieder: Robert Schumann, his wife Clara, and their colleague Johannes Brahms. Their friendship is well known, and this recording is an attempt to pay tribute to what Berner calls “the manifold interactions between this artistic trinity” by presenting music by each of them; the pieces include Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 24, seven Lieder by Clara Schumann, and ten of Brahms’ Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33.
Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden
Clara & Robert Schumann, Brahms: Lieder & Briefe.
Werner Güra, tenor, Christoph Berner, piano.
Harmonia Mundi CD HMC 901842
The CD entitled Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden contains a selection of music by three friends who composed Lieder: Robert Schumann, his wife Clara, and their colleague Johannes Brahms. Their friendship is well known, and this recording is an attempt to pay tribute to what Berner calls "the manifold interactions between this artistic trinity" by presenting music by each of them; the pieces include Robert Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 24, seven Lieder by Clara Schumann, and ten of Brahms' Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33.
This recording is based on a semi-staged recital that involved both of the performers on this CD, Werner Güra and Christoph Berner, and also the actress Meriam Abbas. As mentioned in the notes that accompany the recording, the original program was not only a performance of Lieder by these three composers, but also readings of excerpts from their correspondence. While none of the readings are included on the CD, the extensive booklet bound with the CD includes excerpts from relevant letters in the original German, along with translations in French and English.
Beyond the unique concept behind this particular CD, the recording itself contains some fine performances of Lieder in general. Güra is known for some of his interpretations of tenor roles in operas by Mozart and Rossini, and he has also given Lieder recitals. This particular CD offers an excellent opportunity to hear him perform both familiar music, like the cycle by Robert Schumann, and works that are less well known, like the songs by Clara Schumann. With Brahms, Güra has chosen some excellent songs that show various moods and styles, and Berner is quite deft at handling the sometimes intricate rhythms Brahms used in these settings. Yet the selection of music by Clara Schumann offers some fine examples of her Lieder, which show her mastery of the genre. These songs deserve the kind of striking performances that Güra provides along with the discreet and supportive accompaniment by Christoph Berner. For those unfamiliar with Clara's Lieder, the seven presented here are a good introduction to her work in this genre.
Güra and Berner work well together in Robert Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 24, and it is from the setting at the center of this cycle, "Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden" ("Beautiful cradle of my sorrow") that the CD takes its name. This is an effective performance of the cycle for the clarity of the melodic line that emerges from some of the more involved keyboard writing. Some of the pieces in this cycle are highly dramatic, but even when the music demands a loud dynamic level, Güra does not resort to histrionics, but rather stays within the lyrical parameters that are essential to Schumann's style. Likewise, his diction is always clear, and the inflections he uses with the text contribute to the overall musicality of the performance.
All in all, the music on this CD is well chosen, and both Güra and Berner show themselves to be adept at interpreting Lieder by three composers who approach vocal music individually. Those familiar with Schumann's Lieder should find this performance of the Liederkreis, op. 24, to be engaging; likewise, the selection from Clara's songs and also Brahms' settings of folktunes make this recording worthy of attention.
James L. Zychowicz