Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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.
05 Mar 2005
Schoenberg for lovers. Sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact there is enough passion in the too seldom heard Gurrelieder to make even Valentine blush. We know Schoenberg largely from the atonal and dodecaphonic later works (and most listeners know of these mostly by inaccurate rumor). But we forget all too often the fact that Schoenberg had an early period, much of which is readily accessible to conservative tastes. Gurrelieder is the sort of diamond in the crown of this period, a long cantata-like adventure, some two hours in full. Scored for an enormous orchestra, four choirs, and speaker, and five soloists, the work is the logical conclusion of the nineteenth-century penchant for Texas-style excess when it comes to orchestration: you can’t get any bigger than this without havin’ to build a second story.
Arnold Schoenberg: Gurrelieder
David Wilson-Johnson (Bass), Stephen O'Mara (Tenor), Melanie Diener (Soprano), Jennifer Lane (Mezzo Soprano), Ernst Haefliger (Spoken Vocals), Martyn Hill (Tenor)
Philharmonia Orchestra, Simon Joly Chorus, Robert Craft (cond.)
NAXOS 8.557518-19 [2CDs]
Schoenberg for lovers. Sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact there is enough passion in the too seldom heard Gurrelieder to make even Valentine blush. We know Schoenberg largely from the atonal and dodecaphonic later works (and most listeners know of these mostly by inaccurate rumor). But we forget all too often the fact that Schoenberg had an early period, much of which is readily accessible to conservative tastes. Gurrelieder is the sort of diamond in the crown of this period, a long cantata-like adventure, some two hours in full. Scored for an enormous orchestra, four choirs, and speaker, and five soloists, the work is the logical conclusion of the nineteenth-century penchant for Texas-style excess when it comes to orchestration: you can't get any bigger than this without havin' to build a second story.
Fortunately the recording engineers were wide awake on this one, notably so for Naxos. The balance overall is quite good, and this gives the work a kind of live presence, especially with the choirs. They have managed to create a depth that under good headphones rivals $200 seats in leading auditoriums. The strings in particular have a good silky sound appropriate to the work, and the low winds bubble along nicely.
This recording is a side foray by Robert Craft, an adjunct to the Naxos-ticketed recording of the Stravinsky complete oeuvre (see my review of Oedipus and Les Noces elsewhere on this site). Curiously his performance is much stronger here. Perhaps he is more at home with deeply romantic works (which might explain some of the controversy over his recordings of post-romantic works during his controversial career), or perhaps he simply has an affinity for this score. The result rivals (in both quality and price) its nearest competitor, the Ozawa Boston Symphony recording, on Philips (464-040-2). The voices on the Ozawa (McCracken, Norman, Troyanos) are a cut above those here, but tenor Stephen O'Mara and soprano Melanie Diener have a lot to offer the work, and the Philharmonia, a familiar London band, identifies well with the score.
The German text to the work is available on the Naxos website, under the libretti folder, which is a bit of an inconvenience, but understandable since it does run on in length and might have bulked too large in the CD booklet. Unfortunately, only the German text is provided there, no English. A very literal translation of the text is available at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/gettext.html?TextId=24028. It should be noted that this recording was previously released on the Koch International Classics label.
The text, by a Danish native-son poet Jens Peter Jacobsen, is a kind of death-and-transfiguration ode suitable to northern climates with long winters and sudden springs. Passion moves slowly but, like icebergs, runs deep. This massive emotion-in-large-chunks scenario suited the awakening expressionist in Schoenberg to a tee, and he rises to the occasion. Only in the readily comparable orchestral tone poem Pelleas und Mellisande do we see as clearly Schoenberg's apparently innate ability to squeeze the last drops out of an orchestra.
So, although its too late for Valentines, it's not too late to toss a log on the fire, crack open a bottle of finest, grab your squeeze, and head for the couch, saying, "Hey honey, let's kick back with a little Schoenberg." Just watch the eyes light up.
University of Ottawa