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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.
11 Mar 2005
BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra
A spare and yet splendid masterpiece, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings doesn’t seem to make it into concert halls as often as it deserves. In the recording studio, however, it has fared well. Besides the classic recordings from the composer and his partner Peter Pears, esteemed versions from Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Robert Tear, Ian Bostridge, and others have a place in the catalogue.
Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra
Philip Langridge, tenor; Frank Lloyd, horn; Ann Murray, mezzo-soprano
Northern Sinfonia; English Chamber Orchestra
Stuart Bedford, conductor
NAXOS 8.557199 [CD]
A spare and yet splendid masterpiece, Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings doesn't seem to make it into concert halls as often as it deserves. In the recording studio, however, it has fared well. Besides the classic recordings from the composer and his partner Peter Pears, esteemed versions from Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Robert Tear, Ian Bostridge, and others have a place in the catalogue.
Naxos has resurrected a 1994 release from Collins Classics, featuring Philip Langridge and Frank Lloyd in the Serenade, with Langridge also singing the later Nocturne, and Ann Murray as Phaedra in a translation by Robert Lowell (perhaps for copyright reasons, the latter's text alone is not provided). A highly regarded Peter Grimes of recent years, Langridge has a knowledge and comfort with Britten's music that makes this an essential version for lovers of the Serenade, and with fine versions of the other pieces and at Naxos' very affordable cost, none should resist.
Stuart Bedford and the English Chamber Orchestra must be commended as well. Every detail of Britten's scoring must be sensitively rendered. In the bare, ghostly space Britten creates, any inadvertent scrape or miscue would tell, and harshly. Recorded in atmospheric, natural sound, a palpable chill sets in with the horn's initial tired, lamenting call. The strings perfectly render the glittery dew effect in the Tennyson "Nocturne" of the Serenade ("The splendor falls on castle walls..."). And when the "Dirge" begins to grow harsh, almost manic in its insistent rhythm, the orchestra has the tightly reined power called for.
Langridge doesn't force for effects. One listener may detect a slight irony in the dry pronunciation of "a mighty polypheme" at the end of a stanza in the Serenade's "Pastoral," but another may not hear that at all. Perhaps the vibrato widens a tad too much near the top, but the mood remains undisturbed. No one performer can inhabit all the moods and subtleties of such a masterpiece, but Langridge's version earns the highest distinction: it must be heard.
The two other works on the disc also receive first-class performances. The Nocturne of 1958 may not match the Serenade as an achievement, but it cannot be slighted. Naxos might have done well, however, to place Murray's Phaedra in the middle rather than at the end, at least for tonal variety. A very late piece - 1975 - Phaedra's spectral scoring and eerie effects - including a harpsichord - come across with insidious vitality.
Naxos deserves our thanks for reviving this fine recording, but we need other companies to step forward and record some of the other fine tenors of today in the Serenade. Just thinking of English-speaking singers, Michael Shade could well give a fine performance, as could another tenor making a name as Grimes, Anthony Dean Griffey. Or if the recording companies aren't interested, shouldn't the various symphonies and philharmonics be? Surely something other than the Four Sea Interludes, for example, can represent the work of this great composer in our concert halls.
In the meanwhile, the home concert hall of the lover of Britten's music can echo with the haunting music of this splendid disc.
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy