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

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.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Cox and Box; Trial by Jury
14 Sep 2005

SULLIVAN: Cox and Box; Trial by Jury

This new recording of two somewhat early works with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan provides a taste of Sullivan just before and just after the beginning of his famed collaboration with W. S. Gilbert. Cox and Box was produced in 1866. Trial by Jury debuted in 1875, four years after Thespis, Gilbert and Sullivan’s first work as a team. The difference is apparent if not glaring. It is mostly noticeable in Sullivan’s more nuanced response to Gilbert’s libretto, which is far more sophisticated and clever than Burnand’s nonetheless amusing effort. The transition from the end of the earlier work to the opening chorus of Trial by Jury, which immediately places us in the identifiable musical world of G&S, is remarkable. With Burnand, Sullivan is broader in his parodic musical pastiche; with Gilbert, he lets the words take over most of the satire and composes in a subtler, and even more delightful, vein.

Cox and Box; Trial by Jury

Sir Arthur Sullivan, Cox and Box (libretto by F. C. Burnand, from J. Maddison Morton’s farce) and Trial by Jury (libretto by W. S. Gilbert). With Rebecca Evans, soprano; James Gilchrist, tenor; Donald Maxwell, baritone; Neal Davies, baritone; et al. Chamber Choir of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Richard Hickox.

Chandos 10321 [CD]

 

Cox and Box, which is billed as “a Triumviretta,” is a trifle designed as such. This recording replaces the dialogue with narration for Sergeant Bouncer. While Donald Maxwell handles it well, the dialogue would be nice. The plot, such as it is, involves Bouncer letting a flat to two men simultaneously, one (Box) who works at night and sleeps during the day, and one (Cox) who works opposite hours. The problem is solved through predicable complexities that result in the discovery that the two men are brothers. All live happily ever after, joining in Bouncer’s recurring chorus of “Rataplan.” (He is formerly of the Dampshire Yeomanry, seemingly by way of the chorus to La Fille du Regiment.)

The score is a sly pastiche of several recognizable styles. Bouncer’s opening aria, as the excellent booklet notes by David Russell Hulme inform us, is a parody of Handle’s heroic style, and other operatic styles are parodied in several arias. Sullivan also got effect, not to mention double duty, from setting several arias in the style of popular parlor songs of the era. Box’s lullaby to his morning bacon, for instance, was published separately as a song, although with different words. (Tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of this lovely moment, sung with exquisite simplicity and charm – not to mention beauty – is perhaps the highlight of the entire recording. Gilchrist is also superb in Trial by Jury. His is a name I’ll look for in the future.) Nothing in the score, however, jumps out as quintessentially Sullivan. The sure sense of rhythm is there, and the setting of the words is skillful, but we are not yet on the playing field with the pro we have come to know from his later works.

But when the chorus, at the top of Trial by Jury, begins to sing, “Hark, the hour of ten is sounding,” there is no doubt what, or, rather, who, we are listening to. The unique combination of words and music that characterizes the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan is at once apparent, as is Gilbert’s sly take on the society of his time. The Judge, for instance, who delightfully puts a stop to all proceedings to inform the court (and, more importantly, the audience) of how he reached his elevated station, is a delicious parody of the ineptness of the judiciary. (Although, since the Judge eventually winds up with the ingénue, perhaps inept is the wrong word.) Gilbert’s good-natured parodying is not without an occasional sting, but it maintains its tongue squarely in its cheek, as it does in the works that follow.

The performances in the second work are also recommended. Although if I were casting the Plaintiff I would look for a lighter voice than Rebecca Evans’s, I certainly would find no lovelier voice, and I doubt if I would find a richer performance, either. Gilchrist, as mentioned above, is again exceptional, and Donald Maxwell skillfully handles the patter of the Judge, creating a delightful character where many opt for a more generic approach. Matthew Brook also provides some wonderful moments as the Counsel for the Plaintiff. All the performances are arch without being self-conscious, and the vocal quality is generally excellent.

Recent recordings and / or performances of works by Gilbert and Sullivan have something in common with recent performances, especially by the British, of classic American musicals. They are not afraid to go beyond tradition and reexamine the works, finding elements that are not always apparent when performances concentrate more on well-established performance style than on the works themselves. This is not to say that tradition is thrown out the window – this recording is unmistakably G&S and is all the better for it. Instead, tradition is being enriched by a generation of performers who are capable of a dramatic (and comic) depth previously unexplored. Certainly this recording demonstrates new nuances being brought to works we thought we knew already.

Chandos’s Brian Couzens (recording producer) and Ralph Couzens (sound engineer) have provided a recording with sound as crisp as the singers’ superb diction. Aided by conductor Richard Hickox’s sense of balance and energetic tempos that are never frenetic, the recording sounds fresh and provides readings of one well-known work, and one not so well-known, that are worthwhile additions to the library of Gilbert and Sullivan’s beloved operettas.

Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University

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):