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

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.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

07 Jul 2005

BRITTEN: Folk Song Arrangements

Britten’s folksong arrangements, which span much of his career from 1943 to 1976, provide unique insights into the composer’s oeuvre. Having been strongly encouraged by his teacher, Frank Bridge, to at all times be true to himself and to develop his own voice, one might expect Britten to eschew the folksong tradition, which had been so used (and misused?) by the generation before him. But Britten, following more in the line of Grainger than Vaughan Williams, voiced his distinctive style in these arrangements with appealing results. Sometimes making merely subtle changes and the simplest of accompaniments, Britten’s arrangements display artistic grace and sensitivity that has made them some of the most beloved choices of singers and audiences alike.

Benjamin Britten: Folk Song Arrangements
Felicity Lott (Soprano), Philip Langridge (Tenor), Graham Johnson (Piano), Carlos Bonell (Guitar)
NAXOS 8.557220-21 [2CDs]

Britten's folksong arrangements, which span much of his career from 1943 to 1976, provide unique insights into the composer's oeuvre. Having been strongly encouraged by his teacher, Frank Bridge, to at all times be true to himself and to develop his own voice, one might expect Britten to eschew the folksong tradition, which had been so used (and misused?) by the generation before him. But Britten, following more in the line of Grainger than Vaughan Williams, voiced his distinctive style in these arrangements with appealing results. Sometimes making merely subtle changes and the simplest of accompaniments, Britten's arrangements display artistic grace and sensitivity that has made them some of the most beloved choices of singers and audiences alike.

Reproduced from a three-CD Collins Classics set, Naxos's newest release of Britten's collected folk songs culls out a few of the lesser known pieces in order to facilitate a two-CD format. The first disc consists of arrangements of folk songs from the British Isles: Volume 1 (published in 1943), Volume 3 (1947), and Volume 5 (1961). The second disc contains Volume 4 (Moore's Irish Melodies, published in 1960), Volume 2 (French Folksongs, 1946), and Volume 6 (English Folksongs, 1961). Peppered through both discs are pieces selected from "Tom Bowling and Other Song Arrangements," a collection of songs performed during the composers lifetime but not published until 2001. An unidentified folk song ends the second disc, which, in absence of a text, is performed with cello and piano only. This release unfortunately doesn't include Volume 7 of the folk songs, the eight-song set arranged for high voice and harp that Britten wrote near the very end of his life.

The ordering of songs generally works well, with a mix of solos for tenor and soprano accompanied by piano forming the body of both discs, followed by two duets at the end of the first disc, and mixed instrumental ensembles (tenor/guitar, tenor/cello/piano, and cello/piano) at the end of the second disc. The choice to end the collection with a wordless arrangement for cello and piano seems a curious one, since, by the end of two CDs filled with song, the absence of vocal sonorities and texts is difficult to overcome.

Naxos supports this release with a detailed CD booklet. Britten's brief biography begins the notes, and historical details of the compositions follow. Particulars of first performances and song dedications complement publication details. Biographies of the performers (with the exception of cellist, Christopher Van Kampen) confirm historical details and summarize long lists of well-earned credentials. The German translation of the notes follows, and the complete lyrics (with translations where necessary) fill the remainder of the booklet.

Among the most imaginative pieces on this release are those that begin with simple, sparse accompaniments, but that then give rise to more dissonant, distinctively Britten harmonies, enacting a subtle but telling shift from folk song to art song. Examples can be found in The trees they grow so high and The Ash Grove. Complementing these songs, are those pieces that begin with Britten in full voice, like O the sight entrancing, The Shooting of his Dear, and O can ye sew cushions?. My favorite of this type, The Brisk Young Widow, opens with a bitonal canon that makes for a fascinating comparison with the original folk song collected by Cecil Sharp.

The arrangements as a whole vividly project the diegetic worlds of the texts, with the piano at times simulating objects like spinning wheels, mill wheels and other instruments such as guitar and harp. The sounds of bells, in At the mid hour of night, enact the last line of the song by "faintly answering still the notes which once were so dear," echoing Schoenberg's "bells" in his piano pieces Op. 19, No. 6 (up a half step here). Imbued with the colors of distinctive scenes, the songs employ a variety of textures and harmonies -- from canon to solitary chords, from clusters to tender monophony -- to evoke a multiplicity of moods ranging from ridiculous (Oliver Cromwell and The Crocodile) to chilling (Quand j'étais chez mon pére and Eho! Eho!) to tenderly beautiful (Sally in our Alley and Sail on, sail on).

Philip Langridge sings the lion's share of songs (34 of the 52 including two duets with Lott). His extensive experience with Britten's music (his recordings include a Grammy award winning performance of Peter Grimes) shows in these songs. Many critics have compared Langridge's lithe tenor with that of Peter Pears, and although the voices are quite distinct (for starters, Langridge's vibrato is less heavy and his consonants dryer), moments that highlight similarities can be found in Pray Goody, The Plough Boy, and particularly Greensleeves. Langridge's crystal clear enunciation and technical facility serve him well on these discs. Intonation flags a bit in a few spots, but perhaps with expressive result, especially when donning the persona of the sailor praying for beer in The Soldier and the Sailor. His dramatic pacing and lyrical phrasing lend an intimacy to the songs that makes them all the more compelling.

Felicity Lott's soprano voice sparkles on her selections (19 of the 52). Although a bit harsh on the highest notes of O can ye sew cushions?, selections such as O Waly, Waly and The last rose of summer compensate with exquisite beauty. The rolled r's in her Scottish accent in The Bonny Earl o' Moray distinctively complement the rolled piano chords in the accompaniment, and while her diction is excellent throughout, her French vowels (Voici le Printemps, Fileuse, etc.) are especially convincing. The duets with Langridge (Soldier, won't you marry me? and The Deaf Woman's Courtship) offer good-humored closure to the first disc.

Graham Johnson's accompaniments evidence his long association with Britten and Pears. Although not quite as colorful a pianist as Britten himself, his renditions here prove articulate and not overly presumptuous. Accuracy and technical facility characterize his playing, as does sensitivity to the pacing and phrasing of both soloists. It is clear that he understands this genre inside and out. Guitarist Carlos Bonell ably accompanies Langridge in the Volume 6 songs, originally written for Pears and Julian Bream. Christopher Van Kampen, cello, rounds out the list of players, accompanying a German folk song, The Stream in the Valley (sung in English), and soloing on the final unidentified folk song.

While a certain elegant simplicity characterizes the folk song genre, Britten's creative arrangements in the hands of these expressive performers exude music that is both sophisticated and full of meaning. More than just charming, the folksongs are delightfully clever and, at times, deeply moving. Even the most casual listeners will find that these songs seduce their attentions and reward careful listening.

Shersten Johnson, Ph.D.
University of St. Thomas

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):