Recently in Recordings
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
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.
27 Sep 2005
MAHLER: Symphony No. 5
Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is a tour de force that can tax a conductor and orchestra in live performances. While it often takes several sessions in the studio for performers to match the required intensity of playing with exuberance that is also part of the work, some live performances convey that fine balance immediately.
Such is the case with this recording, which stems from concerts given at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, on 30 June and 1 July 2004. As noted in the accompanying booklet, this recording is the result of a conscious effort to preserve some of the fine performances given in France in a series of recordings issued in conjunction with the Institut National de l’Audiovisual.
The seasoned Mahler conductor Bernard Haitink gives this performance the shape that it requires. Since he recorded Mahler’s Fifth Symphony several times in his career, the music is certainly familiar to him. Yet the freshness and spontaneity he brings to some of the tempo changes and transitional passages enhances the sense of continuity that Haitink brings to the work. This is particularly apparent in the Scherzo, which needs thoughtful conducting to make it function organically, rather than give the impression of a number of ideas strung together. Clarity is the hallmark of this movement, and some of the details found in this recording are not present in others. While some conductors maintain the line as the motives move through the orchestra, Haitink goes further, to bring out the accompanying lines that are essential to the textures Mahler intended for the work. Mahler had discussed the primacy of counterpoint around the time he composed this Symphony, and this recording confirms his consciousness of that musical element. Likewise, the clarity of orchestration that Mahler wanted to include in the score emerges in this performance. The brass have a burnished color that fits well with the rest of the ensemble, and they do not dominate the movement. The listener gets a sense that they have the capacity to intensify the sound and that the conductor is reserving that ability for those places that absolutely require it. As a result, the details emerge in this performance are not always evident in others. Haitink has met the challenge of this movement very well, and each movement of this Symphony bears the stamp of his insightful conducting.
The Adagietto that follows is a character piece in comparison to the Scherzo. Not only is the Adagietto much shorter in duration, but the scoring is for a smaller number of instruments, strings and harp only, in contrast to the full orchestra that is part of the Scherzo that precedes it. Haitink performs the Adagietto at a thoughtful pace, placing it among the longer interpretations of the score. Yet his tempos allow him to bring out the intensity of the strings of the Orchestra National de France, an aspect of their ensemble that other conductors do not always achieve so well. For him, this movement is a song without words for the orchestra, and the slower tempos create a sense of timelessness that fits the text of the song that serves as its basis.
Likewise, the Rondo-Finale’s sprawling dimensions pose no problems in Haitink’s interpretation, which makes use of spacious tempos that allow the various tunes that comprise the movement to be heard clearly. He brings out the motives from Mahler’s settings of poetry from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, with an emphasis on the lyrical elements in this movement. By giving the thematic passages this slant, Haitink makes it easier for the listener to recall the music when Mahler dissolves those ideas into fragments later in the movement. Likewise, when Mahler reprises the chorale from the second movement, Haitink recalls the intensity that he had given its first occurrence. In fact, Haitink has given the first two movements a somber, imposing, character that allows the finale movement, the Rondo-Finale, with its well-paced tempos and clear form, to serve well as a foil for the earlier ones.
Again, it is the details that set this recording apart from others, since Haitink creates textures that are faithful to the score. Nowhere does a solo part or solo section overbalance the orchestra, which maintains its ensemble throughout. This approach is at once sensible and definitely satisfying. While some performances that make use of breathtaking, this recording presents a more measured interpretation of the score.
This recording taken from live concert performances benefits well from the hall, which is one of Paris’s finer ones. Audience sounds are imperceptible until the end, when the extended applause responds appropriately to the work. It is even possible hear the moment when Haitink must have returned to the stage or taken a solo bow, because of the audience’s suddenly increased enthusiasm. The audience clearly appreciated the performance and responded accordingly. This concert is memorable for a number of reasons, and certainly worthy of the criteria Radio France established for preserving this and other fine performances as a means of preserving those “unique moments, often highly charged with emotion.”
James L. Zychowicz