Recently in Recordings
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
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?
01 Mar 2005
Mosaic: African-American Spirituals
Angela Brown has attracted the attention of those eager for the appearance of the next great Verdi soprano, and she continues to live up to the high expectations. Appearances with the Opera Company of Philadelphia as Leonara in Il Trovatore, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, and Strauss’s Ariadne evoked high praise from local and national critics, and her recent debut as Aida at the Metropolitan Opera was well received. All have noted the powerful and richly expressive voice in early bloom as well as Brown’s commanding stage presence. So this recent recording of spirituals, sung only with guitar or piano accompaniment (they all three contribute to the final “Ride Up in the Chariot”), is an interesting release. Brown is minimizing resources in search of what, in the liner notes, she calls an “intimate recording” of “songs of personal introspection.” The results are a little more mixed than her operatic reception.
Mosaic: African-American Spirituals
Angela Brown, soprano, with Joseph Joubert (piano) and Tyron Cooper (guitar).
Albany Records TROY721 [CD]
Angela Brown has attracted the attention of those eager for the appearance of the next great Verdi soprano, and she continues to live up to the high expectations. Appearances with the Opera Company of Philadelphia as Leonara in Il Trovatore, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, and Strauss's Ariadne evoked high praise from local and national critics, and her recent debut as Aida at the Metropolitan Opera was well received. All have noted the powerful and richly expressive voice in early bloom as well as Brown's commanding stage presence. So this recent recording of spirituals, sung only with guitar or piano accompaniment (they all three contribute to the final "Ride Up in the Chariot"), is an interesting release. Brown is minimizing resources in search of what, in the liner notes, she calls an "intimate recording" of "songs of personal introspection." The results are a little more mixed than her operatic reception.
The sheer beauty of the voice is never in question. This is a remarkable and wisely used instrument. And Brown occasionally relaxes into her lower register and reveals a bluesy quality that makes the listener wish she would let down her guard more often. Indeed, that is a recurring wish as the disc plays on.
The program has an exuberant opening. "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit," co-arranged by Moses Hogan, Brown, and guitarist Tyron Cooper, introduces Brown in a relaxed yet rhythmically driven performance, the voice charged with energy and the guitar intricate but unobtrusive. The next selection, however, seems as if it is by another artist. The voice is heavy and the performance mannered, and Brown for the first time, but not the last, exhibits a tendency to sing a note under pitch until the last nanosecond before releasing it. "My Soul's Been Anchored" ends with some stunning vocal flourishes - the high notes are rich, clean, and motivated - but "City Called Heaven," which follows, again reveals a weightier and pitch-challenged sound. This quality persists in "Give Me Jesus" until Brown soars back into the stratosphere for some singing that is lighter and cleaner and highly effective. It is not until the eleventh selection, "Walk Together Children," that the energy and excitement of the opening track are recalled. Here, as at the top, the tempo and rhythmic demands don't allow Brown time to get in the way of the song, and the result is unadulterated joy. Much of the remaining performances are nothing special, but "Lord, How Come Me Here" is. This is performed - but never over performed - almost as a dramatic monologue. Brown gives the song-scene musical and dramatic shape, and she uses her voice better here than anywhere else on the recording. This is a singing actress at work, and the results are quite effective. Despite the swinging gospel feel of the guitar and piano on the final track ("Ride Up in the Chariot"), Brown sounds constricted in their company, and the final fadeout seems like a cheat. Perhaps Brown should have saved one of her previous big finishes for the last song.
Essentially a program of encores, this recording would benefit from shuffling. All the guitar collaborations are on the first half, and, after the opening number, they are all slow and contemplative. While Tyron Cooper plays with a wonderful breadth of style and beauty of tone and always provides sensitive collaboration for Brown, a little more variety would make a better program. The guitar-voice balance is always just right; both establish a close but comfortable presence. Pianist Joseph Joubert at first suffers from bad sound engineering - on "Come Down Angels" the piano sounds as if it were in a different room than the microphone -- and occasionally his arrangements sound perilously like supper club arrangements. On "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word" and "Lord, How Come Me Here," however, he is a dignified and complimentary partner to Brown, and his playing with Cooper on the last track is thrilling.
Angela Brown is to be applauded for recording a collection of spirituals in such interesting and often excellent settings. Her choice of guitar and piano in mostly small-scale arrangements is a refreshing nod towards the integrity this repertoire demands but doesn't always get. Incorporating blues and jazz elements into the arrangements adds to the cultural richness of songs already culturally rich. But sometimes it all sounds like work. Much of the time Brown sounds like an opera singer trying to scale down, working from the outside in, as it were. While she mentions, as noted above, that she thinks of these as "songs of personal introspection," not enough of these performances are introspective. The frequent lack of spontaneity precludes any introspection. This recording might be a labor of love for Ms. Brown, but it still too often sounds like a labor. Still, when it works, the soul soars.
Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University