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

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

09 Jun 2005

A Portrait of Ernst Gruber

Up to now Ernst Gruber was only a name to me. During the fifties and sixties his career was centered in the houses of the defunct German Democratic Republic; first Dresden and Leipzig and later on at the Deutsche Staatsoper in East-Berlin. Usually he rated one or two entries each year in Opera Magazine; mostly just barely mentioning his name as even in those times reviewers concentrated almost exclusively on the antics of director Felsenstein and some of his copycats. So I thought of him as one of those somewhat to be avoided German tenors like Hans Günther Nocker who, while acting their heads off, sang in that barking way that got them epitaphs like “intelligent, thought-provoking” while words like “beauty of tone” were anathema to them and the critics. Mostly they remained behind the Iron Curtain, unless at the last moment they had to run to the rescue in Western Europe or the US when Windgassen or Thomas fell unexpectedly ill. They were always happy to comply as they mostly got 20% of the fee, immediately handing over the remaining 80% to the Stasi officer accompanying and controlling them, who would always remind them of the fate of their families who had to stay home as hostages.

A Portrait of Ernst Gruber.
Arias and scenes from Der Freischütz; Il Trovatore; Otello; Sly; Dalibor; Tiefland; Rienzi; Tannhäuser; Lohengrin; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Die Walküre; second act of Tannhäuser.
With Maria Croonen, Sonja Schöner, Wilhelm Klemn, Robert Lauhöfer, Rainer Lüdecke, Theo Adam, Elisabeth rose, Kurt Rehm, Dora Zschille,Christa-Maria Ziese, Brünnhild Friedland, Rudolf Jedlicka, Martin Ritzmann.
(radio recordings 1955 - 1965)
Ponto PO-1033 [3CDs]

Up to now Ernst Gruber was only a name to me. During the fifties and sixties his career was centered in the houses of the defunct German Democratic Republic; first Dresden and Leipzig and later on at the Deutsche Staatsoper in East-Berlin. Usually he rated one or two entries each year in Opera Magazine; mostly just barely mentioning his name as even in those times reviewers concentrated almost exclusively on the antics of director Felsenstein and some of his copycats. So I thought of him as one of those somewhat to be avoided German tenors like Hans Günther Nocker who, while acting their heads off, sang in that barking way that got them epitaphs like "intelligent, thought-provoking" while words like "beauty of tone" were anathema to them and the critics. Mostly they remained behind the Iron Curtain, unless at the last moment they had to run to the rescue in Western Europe or the US when Windgassen or Thomas fell unexpectedly ill. They were always happy to comply as they mostly got 20% of the fee, immediately handing over the remaining 80% to the Stasi officer accompanying and controlling them, who would always remind them of the fate of their families who had to stay home as hostages.

Well, I was wrong in more than one way. Ernst Gruber was an authentic Viennese who made his début aged 29 in Graz in 1947, never gave up his nationality and his Viennese dialect. He lived in Berlin (where there was no wall till 1961) and could easily cross the frontier. So he from time to time he popped up in the West as with his 1967 performance as Tristan in Philadelphia; now even available on CD (Ponto PO 1026). He died in 1979 of the complications of routine surgery.

And I was wrong on the quality of the voice too. It is a big voice as can be clearly heard from the several ensembles on these recordings. The amazing thing is the ringing free top which has no problems at all with high C in "Lodern zum Himmel (= Di quella pira)". The color is somewhat dark, not very refined, a lot of metal though no sweetness or real beauty in it. He belongs, too, to the old German school where each word has to be understood so that from time to time beauty of tone surrenders to spitting out the right consonants. He reminds me of his contemporary, Ernst Kozub, who made a bigger career. Still, and I know readers must by now be dead tired of this cliché, he would have made quite a career nowadays. Even in those tenorricher times, it is strange he didn't make more of an impression. I looked up his name in my Chronik der Wiener Staatsoper and to my surprise he never sang in the main house in his city of birth while far lesser tenors as Janko, Lustig, Pöltzer, Söderström were employed in the roles of his repertory.

The recordings, all in good sound as they are derived from radio sources, give us a full idea of the voice's evolution between 1955 and 1965 and it is a fascinating one. In the earlier recordings like Trovatore the voice is very forward, sometimes sounding a little throaty with very open sounds which sometimes grate a bit. Gradually the voice becomes rounder, more beautiful until in the middle register it sometimes has an uncanny resemblance to the Vickers sound in the same repertoire with the difference that Gruber's high notes above the staff are much stronger and fuller. As can be expected, he is at his best in his German roles, especially where a lot of declamatory music is in attendance like d'Albert's Tiefland. Kollo, Schock and Hoppe in their official recordings cannot compete with his big incisive sound. In more lyrical roles like Lohengrin and Walther he is less successful though he succeeds in singing some fine pianissimos but the lack of pure beauty in those well known arias is a handicap.

One of the joys of this recording consists in finely having a testimony of other female singers like Elisabeth Rose or Maria Croonen; they too only names up to now. Not that they are singers of genius but both are honest pleasure giving artists though Rose is a shade too lightweight in Tannhäuser on the third disc. We get the whole second act and I fail to see why this is included as Tannhäuser's role is somewhat limited and Rudolf Jedlicka's Wolfram is not so unforgettable as to be preserved for eternity. A two-disc set would have given us a fully satisfying portrait of the tenor and would have been cheaper.

Jan Neckers

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):