Recently in Recordings
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.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
15 Jun 2005
Immortal Fire: Music for Female Saints
The recording “Immortal Fire” presents a varied anthology of music for female saints, excellently sung by the Girl Choristers and Lay Clerks of Winchester Cathedral under the direction of Sarah Baldock. Much of the music is Marian, with additional pieces in honor of St. Cecilia, St. Margaret of Scotland, and St. Ursula. Some of the works are highly familiar — Britten’s youthful “A Hymn to the Virgin,” and his popular setting of Auden’s “A Hymn to St. Cecilia” for instance — and the performances seem familiar, as well. As the pieces are canonical within the cathedral repertory, so too are the interpretations, sung with polish and high accomplishment, but few surprises. However, other works are new or less familiar. For example, Judith Bingham’s “Margaret, Forsaken,” a work commemorating Margaret of Scotland, was commissioned for this recording. The composer’s imaginative use of patterned repetition and ornamental organ effects are evocative of a North Sea moodiness, and the choir responds with an impressive reading that is both intense and dramatic. Herbert Howells — never far from the cathedral choir folder—is represented by two works, a “Hymn for St. Cecilia” and a “Salve Regina.” The former is an expansive hymn tune with a wonderfully uplifting descant to its final verse. The “Salve” is an early work whose chordal gestures are reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, but in the main it is a work showing the developing harmonic fingerprints of Howells’ musical signature, with sweet dissonant propensities and chromatic inflection. Howells graces the concluding acclamations with a memorable treble solo — the embodiment of the text’s “dulcis” — gracefully sung by Tempe Nell.
Immortal Fire: Music for Female Saints
The Girl Choristers and Lay Clerks of Winchester Cathedral.
Sarah Baldock, Director; Andrew Lumsden, Organist.
Griffin GCCD 4049 [CD]
The recording "Immortal Fire" presents a varied anthology of music for female saints, excellently sung by the Girl Choristers and Lay Clerks of Winchester Cathedral under the direction of Sarah Baldock. Much of the music is Marian, with additional pieces in honor of St. Cecilia, St. Margaret of Scotland, and St. Ursula. Some of the works are highly familiar — Britten's youthful "A Hymn to the Virgin," and his popular setting of Auden's "A Hymn to St. Cecilia" for instance — and the performances seem familiar, as well. As the pieces are canonical within the cathedral repertory, so too are the interpretations, sung with polish and high accomplishment, but few surprises. However, other works are new or less familiar. For example, Judith Bingham's "Margaret, Forsaken," a work commemorating Margaret of Scotland, was commissioned for this recording. The composer's imaginative use of patterned repetition and ornamental organ effects are evocative of a North Sea moodiness, and the choir responds with an impressive reading that is both intense and dramatic. Herbert Howells — never far from the cathedral choir folder--is represented by two works, a "Hymn for St. Cecilia" and a "Salve Regina." The former is an expansive hymn tune with a wonderfully uplifting descant to its final verse. The "Salve" is an early work whose chordal gestures are reminiscent of Vaughan Williams, but in the main it is a work showing the developing harmonic fingerprints of Howells' musical signature, with sweet dissonant propensities and chromatic inflection. Howells graces the concluding acclamations with a memorable treble solo — the embodiment of the text's "dulcis" — gracefully sung by Tempe Nell.
Much to its credit, "Immortal Fire" has been put together with welcome attention to variety of program. Two large-scale organ works on Marian themes, Flor Peeters' somewhat predictable "Toccata, Fugue and Hymn on Ave maris stella" and Marcel Dupré's improvisational "Magnificat" with chant in alternatim, are interspersed among the motets and anthems to good effect, and they are played with flair by Andrew Lumsden. Also intertwined among the vocal polyphony are several monophonic antiphons by Hildegard of Bingen. The choir seems decidedly less at home with these chants than with the other works; the rhapsodic nature of the lines are constrained here into a business-like rush, showing neither the pieces nor the singers to their best advantage.
Where do the singers seem most at home? The performance of Holst's "Ave Maria," a stunningly rich eight-voice piece for upper voices, is a remarkable demonstration of this choir at its best. The sound wafts and soars; phrases are finely contoured; the high range is seemingly effortless — all in all, a memorable high point in a recording of many outstanding performances.
It may well be that in the present day we cannot hear this recording without also being aware of its broader context: music celebrating female saints, sung by girl choristers, conducted by one of the few women to gain a musical position in the traditionally all-male bastion of Anglican cathedral music is a combination that brings into focus a dynamic juncture in the history of Anglican cathedral music. Ardent traditionalists have resisted the advance of girl trebles into the cathedral choir stalls, citing among other things the added drain on already tight resources, the feared erosion of the participation of boys, and with that the loss of training of future altos, tenors, and basses, and the demise of a tradition that has been both defining and long cherished. In the past few years, however, more progressive voices have prompted the introduction of girl choristers into the life of a number of English cathedrals — Wells, Salisbury, Coventry, Peterborough, Southwark, and Winchester, among them — and the result, as demonstrated by this present recording,, is very rewarding, indeed.
The Anglican treble sound varies from place to place, be it from girls or from boys, and thus generalizations can be slippery to formulate. However, the emphasis on pure, largely straight-toned singing has long been fundamental, and the introduction of girls has not altered the basic aesthetic assumptions of the tradition. The girls do sing as choristers until an older age, however — seventeen or eighteen years old, long past when boys' voices would have changed — and thus the girls' sound may in some instances have a more mature quality. To my ear this takes the form of a sound more lithe; a sound subtly more substantial and textured, as evidenced by the Winchester girl choristers. One wonders, too, if at some subliminal level we don't listen to boys' and girls' voices in a different way, as well. We may perceive in the boy's treble sound a certain poignance, because it is so obviously ephemeral — we hear it, and — at some level--we know it will not last; someday the boy will be a tenor or a bass. Girls' voices, too, certainly undergo changes at maturation, but those changes seem more a part of a perceived continuity — high voices remain high voices — and thus we don't perceive the girl's voice as emotionally tinged with the same degree of irrecoverability. Thus, the present juncture seems to represent the continuity of a basic aesthetic tradition, yet with subtle changes in the sounds that bring it to life and significant change in those who do the singing. There is much to praise in this evolving of the cathedral tradition: certainly the "social" advances and the enriching of the range of sound are notable. Moreover, as this recent recording from Winchester so amply shows, the present moment is one characterized by a high quality of singing, and this will gratify long after the transient polemics have fallen silent.
Dr. Steven Plank