Recently in Recordings
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
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.
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.