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

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Elida
11 Sep 2005

BITTOVÁ: Elida

First impressions are important. For instance, one expects certain things from Bang on a Can and their four-year-old record label Cantaloupe – there are graphics, ideas, names, and especially musical styles that have become predictably associated with the New York...

Iva Bittová: Elida

Performed by the composer with the Bang on a Can All-Stars – Robert Black, bass; David Cossin, percussion; Lisa Moore, piano; Mark Stewart, guitars; Wendy Sutter, cello; Evan Ziporyn, clarinets.

Cantaloupe CA21027 [CD]

 

First impressions are important. For instance, one expects certain things from Bang on a Can and their four-year-old record label Cantaloupe – there are graphics, ideas, names, and especially musical styles that have become predictably associated with the New York festival/coterie since its inception in 1987. The cover of Elida manages to confound those expectations – it looks like a restrained library edition, or perhaps the documentation of an old live performance, using a single color (deep turquoise) and classic fonts. In fact, in a pleasant if not arresting postmodern twist, the coolly antiquarian fonts are perhaps the clearest indication that this is a ‘new’ work.

As for my first impression of the music, it was even more memorable. A lovely wash of piano and violin that suggests a marriage of Victorian parlor music and eastern European busking is shattered by a voice that sounds as though it belongs to an otherworldly descendant of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and for that matter one that is having a rather blithe nervous breakdown. With more time to absorb and reflect, the listener becomes acclimatized to this odd and not unpleasant universe – many of the sounds would be familiar to devotees of romanticism, others would fit well in a klezmer band, and many passages suggest gestures derived from a constellation of minimalism, new age, and folk ballads. In fact, the overall aesthetic concept seems most like that of progressive rock, or fusion jazz – a set of gestures freely assembled from a variety of styles and references that hold together mostly because of their mutual amiability, as though several different musical genres could build up good-humored, easy-going relationships over long acquaintance.

As a matter of fact, Elida is a collection of tracks by a Czech violinist/vocalist who has a background in classical, folk and various kinds of community performances. Bittová openly presents her personal life in her music, as well as in her publicity material; one has the impression she would be pleasant to make music with, and pleasant to know – in her biography she focuses on her country home, on growing up with music and dance, and on what appears to be a deeply integrated approach to living and playing. She seems, in fact, to be a skilled, flexible performer who has moved into composition – which is perhaps why the compositional side of this record, though competent, is not particularly innovative, nor does it outline a completely distinctive musical persona. In fact, after that startling first track, the rest of the CD settles down into a series of milder, less remarkable hybrids – at times I thought of Jane Siberry, at others Kate Bush, but when those singers came to mind it was with a certain longing to go hear their work instead.

Aside from that, this album is not like most of the music that comes out of the Bang on a Can composers and their circle. This is in fact a loose collection of songs, based on short, private lyric poems by Richard Müller and Vera Chase – it might be useful to think of Elida as a gentler, more popular version of one of those Kurtág song cycles, with their charged female musings and comparably spare textures. Unfortunately the poems themselves are rather adolescent and clichéd, except for the last lines of Müller’s ‘Painters in Paris’. As for Bang on a Can, although it was founded as an all-inclusive contemporary music festival (I was lucky enough to live in New York for several months the year it began, and still remember with pleasure the odd mixture of uptown and downtown styles that was so radical at the time, along with a gorgeous piece by Lois V Vierk performed by accordionist Guy Klucevsek), it has in the long run drifted towards something more predictable, and distinctly more limited. Bang on a Can has, in fact, settled down to a particular kind of post-minimalism that runs smack in the middle of the now very, very wide stream of musical works produced by the many clones of Louis Andriessen. I had expected Elida to be somewhat like Lost Objects (2001), the collaborative post-minimalist opera by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, Bang on a Can’s three founders; although Lost Objects is not as consistently interesting as, say, most of John Adams’ stage works, it nevertheless includes some solo-with-chorus sections that remain for me, even after numerous rehearings, disturbingly beautiful.

This is not, however, That Kind Of Thing. Bittová is undoubtedly talented and pleasant as a violinist and as a singer, with a flexible voice that employs several strongly contrasted colors – although it would be nice if she could bring more body and depth up into her high ‘chipmunk’ range, which becomes less enjoyable after one hears it for a while. And Elida is also pleasant, interesting at times, and always very musical – it is clear that this is a record made by good musicians who are doing the kinds of things they enjoy. Given all that, it may be mean of me to point out the limitations of the work; but, frankly, I have heard so many varieties of post-minimalism, hybridity, folk integrated with contemporary and popular, and playful vocalization, that it seems only fair to expect something more remarkable than this. Perhaps I’ve gotten jaded, as it seems that the postmodern styles I used to love continue to run and run, without growing or developing beyond boundaries that were too familiar ten years ago. But, let’s face it: so many people are engaged in all of these stylistic tropes these days, including many of my university students, that it doesn’t seem unfair to expect that a well-hyped new work produced in New York and featuring well-known names should have something, well, surprising about it. Unless, given that many contemporary musicians seem to have been marking time since the millennium, waiting until the next Big Idea pops up, while busily digging up grants, corporate sponsors, and trendy connections with formerly distant cultures, that is simply too much to ask?

Paul G. Attinello, Ph.D.
University of Newcastle upon Tyne

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):