Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Olivier Messiaen: Turangalila-Symphonie; Quatuor pour la fin du temps; Le Merle noir
26 Aug 2005

MESSIAEN: Orchestral Works

As part of their "Gemini--the EMI Treasures" series, EMI has re-released recordings of some of Olivier Messiaen's greatest hits: the Turangalila-Symphonie (1946 - 48), Quatour pour la fin du temp (1940 - 41), and Le Merle Noir (1951, for flute and piano). This two-disc release features the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, with Tristan Murail playing ondes martenot and Peter Donohoe on solo piano in the 1986 recording of Turangalila-Symphonie. Quatour pour la fin du temps was recorded in 1968 by Erich Gruenberg (violin), Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), William Pleeth (cello), and Michel Beroff (piano); Le Merle Noir was taken from a 1971 Abbey Road session with flutist Karlheinz Zoller accompanied by Aloys Kontarsky. These performances in their various manifestations on earlier albums have consistently received rave reviews, and with good reason. The performances are exceptional in their interpretation and the recordings have been beautifully remastered.

Olivier Messiaen: Turangalila-Symphonie; Quatuor pour la fin du temps; Le Merle noir

Peter Donohoe, Tristran Murail; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle. Michel Beroff, Erich Gruenberg, William Pleeth, Gervase de Peyer, Karlheinz Zoller, Aloys Kontarsky.

EMI Classics 7243 5 86525 2 9 [2CDs]

 

Rattle was famously dedicated to the CBSO from 1979 to 1998, during which time as conductor and music director he endeavored to build relationships between himself and the orchestra and between the orchestra and the audience. Furthermore, Rattle was and still is committed to a broad range of repertoire that includes a heavy dose of twentieth-century works and composers. Rattle's devotion to both the CBSO and modern music is perceptible in the high quality of this recording of Turangalila, which because of its enormous scope of emotional and technical expression, is a challenging work to perform convincingly. It is this very drama inherent in the work that caused many of Messiaen's admirers to scorn Turangalila. For example, Boulez would concede to conduct only the first three movements of the symphony, and these only because Messiaen utilized in them serial techniques to a greater or lesser extent.

As with other albums in the Gemini series, the liner notes to this recording are minimal. The small space that is dedicated to information about Quatour repeats the mythology that has grown up around the work, namely, that its very existence is somewhat miraculous because of the wartime conditions under which it was conceived. James Harding reports on the battered piano on which Messiaen performed, the terrible cold weather, and the audience of some 5,000 prisoners--all circumstances that recent studies by musicologist Leslie Sprout and clarinetist Rebecca Rischin have demonstrated to be somewhat hyperbolic.

In her book on Quatour Dr. Rischin supplements Messiaen's statements about the composition and premiere of Quatour with the stories told by the other performers[1]. Rischin interviewed Messiaen's widow and fellow perfomers at the Nazi camp, most of whom had narratives that were far less exciting than Messiaen's version. For example, Messiaen often repeated that the cello at the first performance was so battered that it only had three strings. Cellist Etienne Pasquier recalls with certainty that the instrument he used to perform the quartet had all four strings. He himself chose the instrument from a local music store to which he had been escorted by a Nazi guard who help was crucial in facilitating the performance.

In a forthcoming paper Dr. Sprout points out that Quatour, while it was composed in captivity during World War II, is not really about the captivity or his sufferings as a prisoner of war. Rather, the process of composing Quatour was an escapist maneuver for Messiaen, one that enabled him to forget temporarily the cold, the boredom, and the hardship that plagued the POWs. Sprout compares the reception and myths surrounding Quatour to the works of another French POW, Andre Jolivet, whose Trois complaintes were much more directly related to captivity and war. Sprout's observation on the relationship between music and captivity is worth quoting at length, as it speaks to the enduring musical power of Quatour:

bq. If what we really wanted was immediacy, we too would embrace Jolivet's Trois complaintes, but they are at once too literal and too dependent on topical references we no longer understand. The voices of wartime listeners to the Quartet remind us that the catharsis we experience in Messiaen's music today says more about us than it does about the Quartet[2].

The three pieces on this EMI release exemplify several of the main themes in Messiaen's musical life and compositional processes. Turangalila-Symphonie is one of three works dealing with the Tristan Legend and the joyfulness of human love. Quatour pour le fin du temps is an expression of Messiaen's Catholic devotion, a passion that deeply influenced most of his musical output. In 1951 Messiaen expressed his lifelong obsession with birdsong in the flute piece, Le Merle Noir. Eventually his interest in birdsong would take Messiaen to seven continents, including North America, where there is a mountain in Utah named after him by a group of fans with whom he had become acquainted while transcribing bird songs there.

Any Messiaen aficionado would probably already have these well-known pieces in her collection, but this CD could serve as a delightful introduction to Messiaen and his most popular pieces.

Megan Jenkins
CUNY - The Graduate Center

1. Rebecca Rischin, For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003).

2. Sprout, "Messiaen, Jolivet, and the Soldier-Composers of Wartime France," Musical Quarterly [forthcoming].

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):