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

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.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Szymanowski: Piano Music
26 Oct 2005

SZYMANOWSKI: Piano Music

Piotr Anderszewski is a talented young pianist, who makes Szymanowski’s music come alive in his recent recording of three of the composer’s major pieces.

Karol Szymanowski: Masques, Op.34; Piano Sonata No.3, Op.36; Métopes, Op.29.

Piotr Anderszewski, piano.

Virgin Classics 5457302 [CD]

 

Anderszewski’s performances of these works are compelling for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is his fine sense of style the composer’s style that he conveys so clearly. This is an important contribution that merits attention to both the performer and the literature he interprets so well.

For some Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is the proverbial watershed between late nineteenth-century Romanticism and twentieth-century modernism, especially when it comes to musical developments in Poland. Szymanowski composed music for piano throughout his career, and the three pieces that Piotr Anderszewski recorded on this collection emerge from a three-year period between 1915 and 1917, and they look both backward and forward in the composer’s oeuvre.

Some of Szymanowski’s earlier compositions use traditional forms, albeit imbued with his unique content, and only later did he take inspiration from program music and impressionism. Along these lines, while the Third Piano Sonata is traditional in structure, the other two pieces contain extramusical elements that suggest images rather reach beyond music, with references to women from Homer’s Odyssey in Métopes and fictional personas like Sheherazade, Tristan, and Don Juan in Masques.

As character pieces, each of the Masques possesses an individuality that belongs to the descriptive title. The playfulness of the second piece, “Tantris le bouffon” (“Tantris [Tristan] the clown”) calls to mind the legendary episodes when Tristan reversed the syllables of his name and disguised himself as a clown so that he could return to King Mark’s court to catch a glimpse of Isolde. Not a literal retelling of the Tristan story, the title offers a clue to interpreting the music, which resembles a Scherzo in style and proportion – it is half the length of the more serious “Schéhérazade” that precedes it.

The image of Schéhérazade evokes various characterizations, from the romantic depiction of the storyteller’s persona by Rimsky-Korsakov in his four-movement symphonic poem to Ravel’s extended setting for voice and piano that subtly evokes the exotic – the other – and our attraction to it. In his “Schéhérazade” Szymanowski uses the solo piano to explore those exotic aspects of the character by developing various motifs and fragments throughout the piece. Starting with relatively brief elements, the composer arrives at increasingly longer themes that are the subjective, in turn, of further development in the central section of the piece. Once he has given those ideas shape, he allows the music to dissolve into shorter fragments that call to mind the way the piece began.

The music of “Schéhérazade” has a parallel in the last of his Masques, the piece entitled “Sérénade de Don Juan.” Again, this calls to mind the various depictions of the Don and, overtly, suggests the strumming of a guitar. This approach frames his rondo-like form of the pieces that returns to the same theme. If a programmatic association must be given, it is the insistent return to the same theme, which can be likened to Don Juan’s incorrigible nature. More than program music, the “Sérénade” demands a solid interpretation, which Anderszewski provides in his fine performance this piece and the others in the set.

Similarly evocative, the Métopes also consist of three pieces, each referring to women in The Odyssey. The architectural term “métope” refers to the spaces between the triglyphs on a Doric frieze and implies something significant in the linkages. While Szymanowski is nowhere explicit about his use of the term, he offers points of departure in the descriptive titles for the three pieces in this set. The first, “L’île des sirenes” evokes French impressionism with its use of whole-tone sonorities and goes even further with passages that are polytonal. Its subtlety and ambiguity makes the piece attractive; and it not only reflects some of the music of Debussy, but also looks forward to some stylistic traits associated with Messiaen. In “Calypso” Szymanowski makes use of non-traditional tonality, but instead of the short ideas that permeate “L’île des sirenes” he uses longer themes in “Calypso” that recur as refrains. Of the three pieces, “Nausicaa” offers a clearer sense of form and less dissonant idiom. Nevertheless, Szymanowski makes use of colorful dissonances within the structure of this satisfying conclusion to Métopes.

Szymanowski’s Piano Sonata no. 3, op. 36, is a more abstract work in four movements. It contains no programmatic association, and is, instead, more formal in orientation. It is the latest of the three works on this CD, and in it Szymanowski evokes a kind of timeless modernism. The first movement is a traditional sonata that makes use of colorfully dissonant sonorities and extremes of register, while the second is a slow movement with continually full sonorities at various dynamic levels that require a sensitive performer to execute well. The third movement is essentially a Scherzo that puts other demands on the player with its mercurial themes and repeated-note figures. As a final movement, Szymanowski creates a modernist fugue that forms a satisfying conclusion to the Sonata. At times the music evokes the kind of sardonic style that would be later associated with Shostakovich. It is immediately engaging, and those unfamiliar with Szymanowski’s music may wish to start with this movement, which is one of the composer’s finest pieces.

As with his style in general, the musical idiom that Szymanowski uses for all three of the works included on this CD is rooted in tonality, but his mode of expression involves expressive dissonances, ostinatos, and other devices associated with early twentieth-century modernism. Szymanowski did not endorse any single technique in his music, but used various elements to create an individual idiom that reflects, at times, some aspects of French impressionism. At times, though, his use of percussive dissonances suggests some aspects of eastern European composers, like Béla Bartók. Formally, Szymanowski is rooted and tradition, and while he may blur the sectional divisions that would have been less ambiguous for a composer of the previous generation, the overall structure is nonetheless traditional. As innovative as it can be, Szymanowski’s music nonetheless accessible, albeit demanding for both the listener and performer.

In this recording the young Polish music Piotr Anderszewski (b. 1969) gives a convincing reading of all three pieces, which calls to mind the incisive style found in his other performances of more traditional repertoire, like Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and selected repertoire by Chopin. For those unfamiliar with Anderszewski’s playing, his recent recording of a selection of Chopin’s ballades, mazurkas, and polonaises (Virgin Classics CD 7243-5-45620-2) has much to recommend, including an incisive reading of the well-know Polonaise no. 6 in A-flat major, op. 53. The clarity that Anderszewski commands in the performance of this “Polonaise héroique” contributes to his effective interpretation of later recording of Szymanowski’s music. Yet his fascinating interpretation of Szymanowski’s stands apart, for its masterful approach to literate that clearly deserves to be heard more often in recitals. With this recording of Szymanowski’s music, Anderszewski has shown himself to be a performer who has much to offer.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

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):