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

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

XL. Choral Works
18 Oct 2005

XL—Œuvres pour grand chœur

The “XL” of the title of this recording is, as the program book notes, a double reference. First, read as Roman numerals, it points to the extraordinary number of voice parts in Thomas Tallis’ famous “Spem in alium” and its modern analogue here, Antony Pitts’ “XL,” a forty-voice setting of text from Psalm 40.

XL. Choral Works

Rundfunkchor Berlin, Simon Halsey, Dir.

Harmonia Mundi HMC 801873 [CD]

 

Second, read in merchandizing code, the “XL” also points to “extra large,” the size of the Rundfunkchor Berlin, whose sixty some voices certainly exceed Renaissance norms and also the norms of many ensembles performing modern music. Happily, I would suggest a third reference, as well, and that is that “XL” is also emblematic of the excellence of the program and much of its execution.

Conductor Simon Halsey’s theme here is a tightly constructed one: he has compellingly mated pre-modern works with contemporary compositions that in some fashion transform them, and the cumulative effect is stunning. While savoring the familiarity of long-established pillars in the repertory—the Tallis “Spem in alium,” Purcell’s “Hear My Prayer, O Lord,” the first Contrapunctus from Bach’s Art of Fugue, Bach’s chorale, “Komm, süsser Tod, and the chant “Veni, creator spiritus”—one marvels at the transformations by Dieter Schnebel, Jonathan Harvey, Knut Nystedt, Sven-David Sandström, and Antony Pitts. And the ebb and flow between old and new creates a gratifying rhythm as the program unfolds.

The transformations are of varied sorts. Schnebel, for instance, arranges the Bach Contrapunctus in a verbatim manner: all of the notes are there in their original sequence, but by dividing the notes between various vocal lines and varying the singers’ vowel configurations, he re-contextualizes the work in a way that gives it a decidedly new and spatial dimension. Harvey and Nystedt, by contrast, create soundscapes with haunting harmonies, aleatoric and undulating effects, that set the sound ashimmer and provide a decidedly new envelope in which to place the pre-existent material (“Veni, Creator” and “Komm süsser Tod”). Sandström adopts more the technique of paraphrase, developing themes and contours from Purcell’s emotionally charged orginal. And Pitts carves out a relation with “Spem in alium” in a way that evokes and salutes the original without, however, taking on elements of its specific content.

Oddly thrown into the mix, as well is Kodaly’s Laudes Organi, a large-scale work, whose connection to the programmatic theme is decidedly looser—its text is a twelfth-century hymn in praise of the organ and Guido of Arezzo. Thus, while it can claim ties to an earlier epoch, they are largely verbal, not musical. Moreover, Kodaly’s compositional language is of a decidedly conservative bent, which further separates the work from the more markedly modern idioms of the other composers.

The performances are accomplished and highly polished. The choir’s sound is reedy and sinewy in the older pieces, which serves them well, although close placement of the microphones gives a solo cast to some of the works—the Tallis in particular—that undermines what one suspects would be a satisfying ensemble cohesion heard in the hall. The newer pieces find the choir much at home, dynamically alive to the range of effects and techniques, and unflaggingly expressive in their rendition.

We have long admired the sixteenth century’s propensity and ability to adapt pre-existent material to new ends, heard in the large quantities of parody and paraphrase masses that characterize the late Renaissance. In “XL,” we see that a kindred spirit is alive in our own day, as well, with results that engage and satisfy in moving ways, indeed.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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):