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

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.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

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):