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

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

11 May 2005

BRUBECK: Songs

This problematic recording is another in Naxos’s “American Classics” series, an important body of releases that demonstrates the broad reach of American music across two centuries. While some of the recordings are decidedly novelties, they are welcome as such. William Henry Fry’s “Santa Claus” Symphony, for instance, deserves to be heard as well as mentioned in textbooks. The songs of Dave Brubeck, however, are certainly more than novelties, despite their not being as well known or as widely heard as the music of his justly famous quartet.

Dave Brubeck: Songs
John De Haan, tenor; Jane Giering-De Haan, soprano; Dave Brubeck, Cliff Jackson, piano.
Naxos 8.559220 [CD]

This problematic recording is another in Naxos's "American Classics" series, an important body of releases that demonstrates the broad reach of American music across two centuries. While some of the recordings are decidedly novelties, they are welcome as such. William Henry Fry's "Santa Claus" Symphony, for instance, deserves to be heard as well as mentioned in textbooks. The songs of Dave Brubeck, however, are certainly more than novelties, despite their not being as well known or as widely heard as the music of his justly famous quartet.

Brubeck's wide expressive reach is evident here. Some of the songs recall his study with Darius Milhaud and the influence of early-to-mid-twentieth-century French music in general. "The Things You Never Remember" is one of these, as is "There'll Be No Tomorrow," an exceptionally beautiful song that begins with a Chopin-inspired introduction and displays its Romantic roots unashamedly. Other songs, such as "So Lonely," reveal the depth of Brubeck's harmonic versatility. "So Lonely" is a truly amazing song, in fact. Set to a simple lyric by Iola Brubeck, the composer's wife and frequent lyricist, its chromatic, wandering melody perfectly reflects the neurotic denial of the text. It offers much for a sensitive interpreter. The four songs to texts by Langston Hughes are art songs influenced by, but well outside, the style of jazz for which Brubeck is best known. And yet "Strange Meadowlark," perhaps the best-known selection on the CD, is well known from the instrumental version on the legendary Time Out CD, and later from a sung recording by the inimitable Carmen McRae. In other words, this is a jazz classic as well as a finely crafted and expressive song.

So, with all this extraordinary musical material, why is the recording problematic? The question begs several, more fundamental questions. Why is nearly every American singer trained in art song and / or operatic repertory incapable of singing convincingly in vernacular American English? Why are these singers incapable of successfully singing in any popular music-influenced style, let alone singing popular music? Why, when American music has in large part been a fusion of what American musicologist H. Wiley Hitchcock has called our "vernacular" and "cultivated" traditions, can American concert singers only sing in the "cultivated" style, or what has come to be accepted as such? And, finally, if these singers cannot sing this music, why do they insist on doing it anyway?

This is not the place to argue the success of some singers who have been critically lauded for their "crossover" recordings or performances. (I would argue that none have been successful, but I'm not arguing.) However, this recording is a demonstration of how badly a project can backfire if the singer is not at one with the repertoire and instead approaches it as if it were something it is not.

Are these songs "art"? Decidedly yes. They are art songs drawing from wide stylistic sources, and they are all perfectly and sometimes profoundly expressive of their texts. Does that mean, however, that they must be performed in such a wooden, inexpressive manner? John De Haan has a somewhat attractive tenor voice, but he seems clueless as to what he is singing. In the song "So Lonely," mentioned above, he merely skates over the top of the song's emotional content, providing no sense of emotion and suggesting no interpretive ability at all. Since Dave Brubeck is himself brilliantly and sensitively playing the piano for half these performances, we are left to wonder if this is how he imagines the songs being sung. Surely not. In "Strange Meadowlark," De Haan crosses the line and sounds genuinely parodistic of an "art song" singer performing a jazz-pop song. If anyone can listen to him sing the phrases "To be singing oh so sweetly in the park tonight" or "You can sing your song until the dawn brings light" and not laugh out loud, he or she is of stronger stuff than I. De Haan performs as if he is doing the music a favor by "elevating" it to the status of art. What he doesn't seem to realize is that it already is art. Carmen McRae signing "Strange Meadowlark" is art; De Haan singing it is pretentious.

De Haan does have some less troublesome moments, however. His performance of "Tao," a setting for unaccompanied voice of lines from the Tao te Ching, is quite effective. Here, he seems to sing without his usual pose, and even his diction relaxes, allowing the singer to find the beauty in the sounds of the words as well as in their meaning. And the four songs to texts by Langston Hughes (which are not included in the accompanying booklet, presumably due to copyright restrictions), because they are composed in a style more demonstrative of what we might think of as "art songs," do not seem as stilted or stiff as the other songs. Jane Giering-De Haan joins Mr. De Haan on some of these songs; her diction suggests that she, too, should stay away from the jazz influenced material, although her performance on these particular songs is fine.

Ultimately, this is not a recording I shall ever listen to again. I am happy to have discovered many of these songs, and I kept thinking of other singers I'd like to hear sing them. "So Lovely" would be devastating performed by Ute Lemper, for instance, and young African-American soprano Angela Brown could do lovely things with the Langston Hughes songs. What seemed to me to be the inappropriateness of Mr. De Haan's style, however, made it a chore to get through the entire CD in one sitting. Whether you treasure the intellectual jazz of Dave Brubeck and the sensitive cool that comes through in so many of his quartet's legendary recordings, or if you prefer his ambitious serious works like The Light in the Wilderness, this recording will disappoint. Because, unlike this composer, or many other American composers, who have so deftly fused the "vernacular" and "cultivated" traits in American music to create something unique, the principal singer of this set has no idea how to fuse anything. The stylistic imperative of "serious" singing prevents much of the singing from being taken very seriously at all, and it certainly prevents the singing from being appropriate.

Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University

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):