Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

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):