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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

28 Apr 2005

LARSEN: love lies bleeding — Songs by Libby Larsen.

This CD, entitled "Love Lies Bleeding," is a companion to the fascinating recording by the same soprano and pianist, entitled "With All My Soul" (The Orchard 6003).

Libby Larsen: The Cowboy Songs; Sonnets from the Portuguese; Try Me, Good King (with four lute songs by Dowland, Praetorius, and Campion)

Eileen Strempel, soprano; Sylvie Beaudette, piano; Alexander Raykov, lute.

Centaur CRC 2666 [CD]

 

(Total disclosure: I know both performers and asked them for review copies of the CDs because of my interest in music by women composers.) The earlier release presented songs by three important French women from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Marie vicomtesse de Grandval, and Lili Boulanger — and was remarkable in at least three respects: the Viardot songs handled their German texts persuasively, the Grandval songs (world premiere recordings) proved to be consistently interesting if a bit conventional, and the Lili Boulanger cycle is one of the major statements by that important composer who died all too young at age 24.

The present CD, by contrast, is devoted almost entirely to a single woman composer and a living one at that, Libby Larsen (1950- ). The works — including one that is new to disc — prove to be just as fascinating and nearly as diverse as the contents of the previous CD, as might well be predicted by those who know some of Larsen's previous pieces, such as her 1990 opera Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, her song cycle for mezzo-soprano Love after 1950 (Koch International Classics 3-7506-2 H1), or her 1988 orchestral work Collage: Boogie (on the Baltimore Symphony's widely circulated Dance Mix CD: Decca 444 454-2/Argo D 108669), which show her use of what New Grove calls "liberated tonality without harsh dissonance, and pervading lyricism."

The first of the three Cowboy Songs of 1994, "Bucking Bronco," has a seductive, tango-like lilt for a poem (by Belle Star) of a Western gal who was courted and then abandoned by her rider beau. "Lift Me into Heaven Slowly" is a powerful four lines of verse (by Robert Creeley) made truly gripping by Larsen's decisions about which words to repeat and when to have the vocal line pause for rhetorical effect; Larsen also gives the piano a sweet-sad "cowboy" tinge through a loping rhythm. "Billy the Kid," makes a fascinating contrast to other, better-known works about that varmint, namely Aaron Copland's ballet (1938) and Andre Previn's recent Sally Chisum Remembers Billy the Kid (London 455 511). Whereas, in those two works, Billy comes across as something of a doomed charmer, here the bustling, ferocious music bans all melancholy, as befits an anonymous folk text that spares no regret: "One day he met a man / A whole lot badder / And now he's dead. / And we ain't none the sadder."

The Sonnets from the Portuguese are based on poems from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous collection of that name (1846) that, written a few years after she married fellow poet Robert Browning, recall their courtship, which had been carried out often in secret because of violent opposition from Elizabeth's father.

Larsen's cycle, originally for soprano and chamber orchestra, was written at the request of, and with the close cooperation of, the wonderful soprano Arleen Augér. (See David Mason Greene's review of her "live" recording of the orchestral version, Koch International Classics, 3-7248-2H1, in American Record Guide, March/April 1994.) The present CD is the recorded premiere of the remarkably effective piano version.

Sonnets is a major work and a deeply earnest one, about the joys and fears inherent in a close but sometimes unequal loving relationship. The poems' meter is unvaried iambic pentameter; the rhyme pattern, though different from that in Shakespeare's sonnets, is tightly repetitive and interlocking (abba abba cdc ded). Larsen lets both (verse-)meter and rhyme work at a subliminal level, focusing instead on the text's shifts in gut emotion and gestural energy.

Particularly striking, and not at all dated, is the poet's worry that she is giving herself to someone who may not be willing or able to sacrifice as much in return, a worry that is made all the more poignant by recurrent expressions of her needfulness: "If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange / And be all to me? . . . / I have grieved so I am hard to love. / Yet love — wilt thou? Open thy heart wide, / And fold within [it] the wet wings of thy dove." Larsen reflects the poet's vulnerability at that final phrase with a soft high note. Eloquent also is the composer's decision to highlight musically through near-Tchaikovskyan rising sequences the words of the man whom the poet is beseeching. At these moments, the cycle almost becomes a mini-opera played out in the mind of one of the characters. Augér, from the beginning, had asked Larsen for a cycle that "spoke about the finding of mature love, as opposed to the young girl's feeling for the promise of love in [Schumann's] Frauenliebe und [-]Leben." The task is brilliantly, movingly fulfilled.

The CD concludes with the world premiere recording of Larsen's Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII (2001). Larsen decided not to set any words of the sixth wife, Katherine Parr, who outlived the monarch. Instead, she focused on letters and gallows speeches of the remaining (or, rather, non-remaining!) five. Stressful documents they are, ranging from Anne Boleyn's "Let me have a lawful trial, and let not my enemies sit as my accusers and judges" to Katherine Howard's frank words at her execution, as transcribed by an unknown Spaniard: "Long before the King took me, I loved Thomas Culpeper. I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper."

The songs contrast sharply in tone and make occasional and effective use of melismatic singing and virtuosic leaps that never feel superficially "archaic" but rather responsive to the particular woman and her specific anguish, such as the sarcastic leap up an octave and then down again at the end of Anne of Cleves's declaration: "I neither can nor will repute myself for your grace's wife. Yet it will please your highness to take me for your sister." Larsen also subtly worked musical phrases from four sixteenth-century lute songs into the Try Me cycle, again more for expressive purposes than for some kind of self-consciously "neo-" effect. These four songs — Dowland's "In Darkness Let Me Dwell" and "If My Complaints Could Passions Move," Michael Praetorius's "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming," and Thomas Campion's "I Care Not for Those Ladies That Must be Wooed" — are performed on the CD just before the Try Me cycle, giving the listener all s/he needs to catch yet another aspect of Larsen's artistry. Strempel sings them in the gorgeous mid and lower end of her range and is artfully accompanied by Russian-born lutenist Alexander Raykov.

In the Larsen works themselves, Strempel handles the vocal lines with confident professionalism and communicative thrust, including subtle use of portamento, speechlike inflections, and so on. (Larsen coached the duo, attended the recording sessions, and even adjusted the vocal line of one song for greater depth of characterization.) One suspects that Strempel would be able to cope handily with the additional challenge of the orchestral version of the Sonnets: she performs often in oratorios and has scored a hit as Violetta with the Bolshoi Opera. The voice comes across, through speakers or earphones, as rich and brilliant, with a few particularly vivid full-voiced high notes and a few exquisite "floated" ones; this is not the thin, artsy type of "recitalist's" voice whose notes nearly vanish after a consonantal puff of air.

Richness of voice, of course, can carry its own disadvantages, especially when vividly recorded: here the vibrato can become a touch obtrusive, and pitch is sometimes a shade flat on held notes. Nonetheless, the warmth of the voice is a plus overall, and somehow does not prevent Strempel from conveying the words and their sense to the listener's ear. Her readings feel not laboratory-perfect, like so many recordings these days, but alert and alive.

Throughout the piano-accompanied songs, the soprano is brilliantly partnered by Québec-born Sylvie Beaudette, who brings immense oomph and ease to her part, which the engineers have balanced very satisfyingly with the voice. Her playing in the Cowboy Songs is enchanting, drawing one right into Larsen's mind-world from the start. (Beaudette recorded this short cycle once before, with Nanette McGuinness, on Centaur CRC 2461. Yet another Cowboy performance, by soprano Louise Toppin and John B. O'Brien, is on Albany Records TROY 385. Both of these are anthology discs of music by various women composers.) Similarly, in the Sonnets, it is to Beaudette's great credit that one rarely finds oneself trying to guess what the colors might be in the orchestral version. And, in Try Me, one is carried along by her responsiveness to the ebb and flow of feeling and drama in this portrait gallery come to life.

Ralph P. Locke
Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester)

THIS REVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE MARCH/APRIL 2005 ISSUE (VOL.68, NO.2) OF AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE (ARG). IT IS REPRINTED HERE WITH THE KIND PERMISSION OF ARG AND THE AUTHOR. FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON ARG, GO TO ITS WEBSITE AT www.americanrecordguide.com.

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):