Recently in Recordings
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.
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?
24 Oct 2005
DVOŘÁK: Tone Poems
In a richly Bohemian folk-style, the Czech poet Karel Jaromír Erben produced a collection of enchanted poetry that inspired Antonín Dvořák to compose his expressive array of hauntingly dark tone poems. Ultimately, the main character of each poem suffers a tragic consequence for their transgressions, ranging from the thoughtless utterances of a frustrated mother, to disobeying a parent, to murder.
Perhaps it takes a deep-rooted understanding of Bohemian culture to understand why Dvořák would choose such grim fairy tales of death and misery as his theme for a form of composition quite new to the otherwise prolific composer. Quite possibly, it is the somber mood emanating from these poems that make them so ideal for musical expression. Whatever the reason, Dvořák waited until the end of his career to explore a musical form that by definition, transforms composer into story teller.
Simon Rattle’s lyrical qualities are ideally suited for leading a performance that paints pictures of innocence, love, greed, corruption, and grief. In this Berlin Philharmonic production, the different sections of the orchestra took advantage of the opportunity to showcase their mastery of musical phrasing essential to program music. Certainly, the long legato lines were executed with careful attention to phrasing, and with an impressive sweetness to the sound. The only quality that could arguably be said to be lacking in this performance is the roughness and/or ugliness of sound during particular moments that depict horror. However, it is just as valid to say that any exaggeration in the performance would detract from the storyline.
The first of these poems, “The Golden Spinning-Wheel,” warns audiences of the terrible consequences brought by deception and greed. In this particular “wicked step-sister” tale, a king falls in love with a beautiful girl whom he intends to marry. Out of greed and jealousy, the girl’s step-sister and step-mother kill the girl and attempt to disguise the step-sister as the girl – the disillusioned king marries the step-sister. Fortunately, the girl is revived by a mysterious man who finds her body. When the deception is revealed to the king, he has the step-sister and her mother thrown to the wolves for their treachery. Dvořák composed music to express this poem phrase by phrase, and Rattle impressively paces the orchestra so that the music comes through like a poetry reading. A notable feature worth mentioning is the solo violin playing the role of the beautiful girl, the king’s love interest. The Concertmaster delivers a stunning performance using an expressive and varied vibrato. The orchestra contrasts this beauty through disturbingly mysterious passages in the cellos and basses.
Continuing with the theme of malice, “The Wood Dove” describes the guilt-ridden conscience of a young woman who murdered her husband so she would be free to marry her true love. Eventually, her guilt denies her any happiness in her new marriage and she is drawn to suicide. Beginning with a funeral march, this poem seems less structured than the first with an almost “stream of consciousness” quality. Rather than remaining completely faithful to the text, it seems Dvořák chose to convey the emotions, guilt, and conflict of the tormented widow. The horns and bassoons, and later the cellos and basses, commendably communicated the underlying “guilt” theme that seemed inescapable.
The “Noonday Witch” retells the story of a frustrated mother who threatens her restless child with the wrath of the Noonday Witch. As the mother verbalizes the threat, the noonday witch appears, delivering a lethal blow to the poor child. Filled with regret, the mother loses consciousness after the ordeal, only to be revived by her husband, who at the realization of the tragedy expresses his own anguish. A dramatic transformation can be heard from the initial themes of a playful child and stern mother, to the ugly and horrid themes of the merciless Witch, to the heart-wrenching grief of the mourning parents depicted by a fortissimo roar from the orchestra.
In “The Water Goblin,” a young girl takes a stroll by a stream against her mother’s advice. As she nears the stream, the Water-Goblin, ruler of an underwater world, abducts the girl and forces her to marry him and together they produce a child. After time passes and the girl shares her longing to be with her mother, the Water-Goblin allows her to visit her home on the surface as long as she promised to return. To insure that she would return, the Water-Goblin insists that the child remain with him. When the girl is reunited with her mother, the mother locks her in the house so that she does not return to the stream. Angry at the girl’s betrayal, the Water-Goblin murders his own child and throws the body to the surface to punish the girl. The motives expressing the Water-Goblins rage are undeniable and forcibly interjected in otherwise serene passages.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic honored Erben and Dvořák by remaining true to the stories so that the poet and composer’s intentions were realized. Having become familiar with the poems prior to listening, it was quite easy to form a mental story board filled with the images described musically by such a commanding orchestra and conductor.
University of Tennessee