Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

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

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.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

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.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

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.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

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.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘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’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

08 Mar 2005

BRITTEN: Canticles I–V, The Heart of the Matter

Benjamin Britten is usually thought of as a musical dramatist on a large, operatic scale, but the instinct (or perhaps the inner necessity) to capture psychological conflict in music burst through in his smaller musical forms as well. His five canticles (not to be confused with the church parables) mirror Britten’s artistic growth in his operas and other large-scale works from the late 1940s until shortly before his death.

Benjamin Britten: Canticles I-V, The Heart of the Matter
Philip Langridge, tenor; Jean Rigby, alto; Derek Lee Ragin, countertenor; Gerald Finley, baritone; Dame Judi Dench, speaker; Steuart Bedford, piano; Osian Ellis, harp
Naxos 8.557202 [CD]

Benjamin Britten is usually thought of as a musical dramatist on a large, operatic scale, but the instinct (or perhaps the inner necessity) to capture psychological conflict in music burst through in his smaller musical forms as well. His five canticles (not to be confused with the church parables) mirror Britten's artistic growth in his operas and other large-scale works from the late 1940s until shortly before his death.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a "canticle" as "A song, properly a little song; a hymn" and secondarily as a hymn used on a recurring basis in church services. Britten didn't draw upon the Scriptures for the texts of his canticles, which resemble cantatas more than church hymns in scale and structure, but an intense religious spirit pervades them all.

Canticle I, My Beloved Is Mine, sets a text by the early-seventeenth-century Royalist poet Francis Quarles for tenor (originally composed for Britten's partner Peter Pears, of course) and piano. An interesting aspect of this canticle is the singer's references to a male lover ("So I my best beloved's am, So he is mine!" -- these words taken from the Song of Solomon). It has been assumed that Britten was expressing his feelings for Pears (publicly in 1947!) through the piece, especially its lovely ending, with the singer confident of his place in his lover's heart.

Britten biographer Humphrey Carpenter (who passed away recently) notes that Britten composed some of the canticles immediately after completion of an opera--in the case of Canticle I, Albert Herring -- forming an epilogue to the opera. The first scene of Herring has text taken from the same chapter of the Bible as Quarles drew upon, and of course Albert's sexual anxieties are relieved by the end of the opera, much as Britten's seem to be here. I think these pieces should more correctly be called pendants (quoting the OED again: "An additional statement, consideration, etc., which completes or complements another"; a companion piece) to the operas that precede them.

Canticle II, Abraham and Isaac, for tenor, alto (premiered by Kathleen Ferrier), and piano, is probably the most familiar of the set, as Britten reused parts of it in his War Requiem. Britten drew upon the Chester Miracle Play version of the story and turns the confrontation between Abraham and God into a true operatic scena. God (sung in a high union by the tenor and alto) and man are far apart here -- God in the key of E-flat, Abraham in the key of A -- but by the end God and man are reconciled in a hushed Be-still-and know-that-I-am-God E-flat major. Carpenter suggests that Canticle II forms a companion piece to the recently completed Billy Budd, as Melville's novella compares Vere's feeling for Billy to Abraham's for Isaac when he is commanded to sacrifice him.

Canticle III, Still Falls the Rain, sets a poem by Dame Edith Sitwell, "The Raids 1940. Night and Dawn," for tenor, horn, and piano. The most overtly religious text among the five canticles, this piece, achingly beautiful in its anguish, followed closely upon the completion of The Turn of the Screw and uses a similar twelve-note theme and variation technique. Britten set this canticle into a larger-scale work for the 1956 Aldeburgh Festival that he called The Heart of the Matter. In this adaptation, recorded here for the first time in a revision by Pears after the composer's death, Britten surrounds the canticle with readings from other Sitwell works (read here by Dame Judi Dench) and a sung prologue, song ("We Are the Darkness in the Heat of Day"), and sung epilogue. The additional musical numbers can't be said to stand up against most of the songs in Britten's oeuvre, but they are attractive in context here.

Canticle IV, The Journey of the Magi, breaks new ground in the canticles by using three voices: countertenor, tenor, and baritone, with piano. A setting of the T. S. Eliot poem, it echoes the themes of religious questioning in the previous two canticles as the wise men, years after their journey to Bethlehem, ponder the significance of what they had seen there. In this recording the exquisite Derek Lee Ragin sings the countertenor part; one can't imagine a more perfectly realized performance. The magical ending, as the three voices weave aethereal harmonies, must be much like what Prospero heard as Ariel kept watch over his island.

In the fifth canticle, The Death of Saint Narcissus, Britten returned to Eliot, this time a very early work of his aesthetic period. Here again we have a pendant to a just completed opera, Death in Venice. Narcissus is a "dancer before God"; of course, dance plays an important structural role in Britten's opera. Like Aschenbach, Narcissus is obsessed with beauty (namely, his own) and seeks out death. In this last of the canticles, Britten relies on harp accompaniment for the tenor, though it is more a harp commentary than an accompaniment.

Other recordings of the complete canticles precede this one, including one by Britten and Pears for Decca, one with Ian Bostridge (David Daniels singing Isaac in Canticle II) on Virgin Classics, and one with Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Michael Chance singing Isaac) on Hyperion. The new recording is notable on several counts, not least the elegant singing of Philip Langridge. The texts for the two Eliot poems aren't included, but they are hardly needed in Canticle V, Langridge's diction is so superb. Accompanists should never be slighted: Steuart Bedford and Osian Ellis (who premiered Canticle V) are first-rate partners, as are Dench, Ragin, alto Jean Rigby, and baritone Gerald Finley. This recording is the one to buy if you don't already own a recording of the canticles (and one to buy even if you do): most of all for the superb performances, but also the performance of Canticle II with a female alto as Britten conceived it and the expanded setting of Canticle III.

David Anderson

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):