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

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Charles Gounod: Musica Sacra
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.

Charles Gounod: Musica Sacra.

Raphaela Mayhaus, Soprano; Christa Bonhoff, Alto; Tobias Götting, Organ; Kammerchor “I Vocalisti,” Hans-Joachim Lustig.

Carus Verlag 83.161/00 [CD]

 

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

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):