Recently in Recordings
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
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.
10 Oct 2005
“Teseo” is one of those “might have been” Handel operas that for one reason or another has never quite made the big time in a high profile, major house performance during our current period of baroque revival. However, this is not something that worries the enterprising likes of the Lautten Compagney Berlin and its Music Director Wolfgang Katschner nor the countertenor-turned-stage director Axel Kohler: for them this rather rare oddity of Handel’s genius is simply too good a chance to miss.
Why odd? Well, for one thing it is something of a throwback to an earlier French dramatic form, having a full five Acts (rather than the more usual three) wherein the major characters often sing arias or ariosi back to back. Also unusual is the complete lack of a significant bass-baritone or tenor role: all six protagonists are within the range of countertenor, mezzo-soprano or soprano — both male and female varieties. A single lower male voice appears in the very last scene as the convenient “deus ex machina” to neatly solve the lovers’ tangled situations — although the singer doesn’t appear to get a credit on this DVD recording.
This is a televised version of the original performances at the Halle festival in 2003, and of a later tour to the UK in 2004, although the singers are, with two exceptions, from the later performances. Having seen the London performance last year, this DVD certainly enhanced many aspects of the production that had failed to engage at the time — notably the acting of male soprano Jacek Laszczkowski in the title role and the production dynamic of the “Furies” scenes — both very much lacking that evening.
Overall though, the production for the camera is frustratingly mediocre — too many chances missed by the director to enhance the viewer’s sense of the drama going on before their eyes, too many meaningless close ups and sometimes it’s almost “cutaways by numbers” — someone sings about their hands, you get a shot of their hands….and so on. However, more successful are the low-key but efficient sets, (sliding panels, reflective materials) and colourful “textbook mythic Greece with added camp” costumes which help to create and maintain an atmosphere of rising passions and threatening danger from the Underworld.
Here the “wicked witch” figure of Medea is ravishingly played by Maria Riccarda Wesseling who certainly takes the honours for full-on acting and, together with Laszczkowski and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir as the woman that, in true Handel/Haym style, two men love, dominates in vocal distinction too. Unfortunately, there is a wide gap in quality between the high male voices: the Polish male soprano is here very secure and effective, sounding amazingly clear-toned even up at his highest reaches (and he sings remarkably high), and he does it all with admirable dramatic commitment. However, young Thomas Diestler’s alto (as Arcane) suffers until the latest Acts with that unfortunate, but all too common, affliction of the nervous or inexperienced CT: the “yodelling” tone that barely hides the root baritone below. Interestingly, this almost disappears, and you hear what he could sound like, in a faster, more assertive aria in Act Four, “Benche tuonie l’etra avvampi” so perhaps there is better to come. In London we had Johnny Maldonado as the weedy King Egeo, but here it is the less successful Martin Wolfel — a pale and rather unmemorable CT voice and a singer who looks uncomfortable on the stage. If Wesseling shows her vocal and dramatic experience as the conniving Medea, relishing the coloratura throughout, then she is matched in vocal dexterity and appeal by Rostorf-Zamir singing the role of the heroine Agilea. The role of second female lover, Clizia, is accurately and sweetly sung by a young Miriam Meyer.
Despite the vocal unevenness, and occasionally exasperating TV direction, this production is still one to recommend to all Handel enthusiasts: one feels that everyone is batting for the same side, the music is paramount (in spite of the almost de rigueur current European delight in adding superfluous sex scenes) and the composer is well served by an excellent period band under Katschner. It may not convince anyone that “Teseo” is the next “Rodelinda”, “Rinaldo” or “Guilio Cesare”, but at least we have another Handelian opera safely into the modern visual catalogue.
© Sue Loder 2005