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Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
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.
19 Sep 2005
GOUNOD: Musica Sacra
The 19th Century French composer Charles Gounod is best known for his lyric dramas / operas Faust (1859) and Roméo et Juliette (1867), and the very popular Méditation sur le 1er prélude de piano de J. S. Bach (1852), arranged as an Ave Maria in 1859. Yet the dominant portion of Gounod’s creative output was church music, the amount of which surpassed that of any other composer of the 19th Century. In spite of this, the church music of Gounod remains an obscure portion of his oeuvre.
Among the 21 Masses and 4 Requiems of Charles Gounod, his most memorable and popular work is the Messe solennelle de Ste Cécile (1855), a large-scale setting for soloists, orchestra and organ, filled with marvellous melodies. This composition is the concluding work of that group of Masses referred to as the “first collection.” The two Masses featured on this CD, are from the “second collection” or those composed during the last years of his life: Messe brève no. 5 in C aux séminaires (soli TBB, Choir TBB, and organ) first published in 1871 and re-issued in 1892 with the phrase séminaires; and Messe brève no. 7 in C aux chapelles (soli TB, Choir SATB, and organ), first published for two equal voices and organ in 1877, re-worked and re-issued in 1890 with the phrase aux chapelles and arranged for soli and mixed choir. Both works are atypical settings as they omit the Credo, which the congregation sang. Further, in Messe no. 7, Gounod takes a liturgical liberty by replacing the text of the Benedictus, the second half of the Sanctus, which is often treated as a solo or even a separate movement, with the first verse of O salutaris hostia (O Saving Victim). This hymn commonly sung at Benediction, is composed of the last two verses of Verbum supernum, one of the five Eucharistic hymns written by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) at the request of Pope Urban IV (1261-1264) for the newly instituted Feast of Corpus Christi in 1264. Given its liturgical history and use, the substitution of this Eucharistic text for the Benedictus makes sense only if its performance occurs during the consecration, which would have required impeccable timing. Even then, it is a deviation that borders on personal piety rather than corporate worship, the latter of which is the purpose of the Mass.
The delightful and lyrical Noël (1866), a Christmas song for equal voices, soli and chorus, received some notoriety in 1948, when sung by the Robert Mitchell Boy Choir in the MGM classic The Bishop’s Wife. This rendition by the women of I Vocalisti has potential but is compromised by the tense, piercing sound of the soprano soloist and the soprano section. In addition, the French is difficult to understand even when utilizing the booklet.
One of the redeeming selections on this CD is Les sept paroles du Christ sur la croix (1855, a capella, soli SATB, Choir SATB / SATB). Profoundly influenced by the music of Palestrina during his years in Rome (1840-1842), the close connection between text and music characterizes this period of Gounod’s compositions and this work. Predominantly homophonic in texture, Gounod’s descriptive musical figures, which ornament and illustrate the texts, are effectively rendered vocally, e.g., in No.4, the cascading phrase Eli, lama sabachtahni (“My God, why have you forsaken me?”) and in No. 5, the biting chromaticism on the word Sitio . . . “I thirst.”
Perhaps the best performance on this CD is Béthléem (1882-1884), a Christmas choral work (SATB) of three verses with organ interludes. Its simplicity is its joy; the obvious goal when one conducts and composes for amateur choirs.
I Vocalisti presents itself as performers of “demanding sacred and secular choral music on a professional level.” The selections presented here, highlights of Gounod’s affiliation with and affection for amateur choirs, seem at odds with the stated mission. While the general ensemble of the choir is good, there are vocal problems not worthy of “professionals”. Diction is less than desirable; pronunciation problems affect intonation, most noticeably with the tenors; placement of open vowels, particularly with the tenors and sopranos, is harsh and unpleasant; and there are actual intonation concerns. The lack of melodic contour by the choir, principally in the Mass settings, burdens the music unnecessarily. The over riding fault however, is the sound engineering (Tritonus Musikproduktion, Stuttgart, Stephan Schellmann, sound engineer). Volume levels are irritating, particularly when the soli, choir, and organ are in dialogue. In general, performance of the choir suffers at the hands of the engineers.
Even among his admirers, Gounod is known for his predictable rhythms, ordinary chromatic harmonies, particularly at the frequent cadences that illustrate what Gounod defined as avoiding “disproportion long windedness,” and what Martin Cooper terms “short-breathed” melodies. While this recording serves musicological and historical interests—demonstrating national and stylistic differences—aesthetically, it is bland.
Geraldine M. Rohling