Recently in Recordings
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his
ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
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.
17 Nov 2005
An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther
For anyone who is remotely familiar with opera, the first question would be, “What is the need for a recording like this?” Of course, not being familiar with the CD justifies the question, but once it has been played, the realization sets in that the answer was there all along.
For sure, not a CD which most people would play every day, and though, Thomson Smillie has not re-invented the wheel, therein lies the beauty. Most opera aficionados do not know the little secrets Smillie so casually and cleverly points out. Who would have thought that Meyerbeer, Halevy, Herold or Auber did not start the trend later known as Grand Opéra? Who would have thought that French “musical style,” as uniquely French as Champagne, is not really French? And the food? Of course don’t ask a Frenchman.
This overview, as written by Smillie, is clever, instructive, humorous, detailed, extremely interesting, and though fact filled, it is not boring. Smillie takes the listener from the beginning of opera, in Florence Italy, to the present. Different phases of the art form are touched upon, and the author provides plenty of examples of different operas, and vocal, or instrumental snippets to pique one’s interest.
Smillie goes on to explain the sequence and relationship between the different French composers (some of whom were not born in France!) finally settling on Massenet, and his opera, Werther. The author provides background information on Goethe, and how he came to write The Sorrows of Young Werther, upon which the opera is based. Prior to detailing the plot of the opera, Smillie provides some information on other Massenet operas and his progress as a composer.
From the opening chords in the overture to the last note of the opera, Smillie explains the important, and not so important details in the story and in the music, along with other interesting bits of information. Again, the listener is treated to many musical examples that directly relate to the explanation of the work, and of the musical moments being discussed. By the end of the CD, the listener feels as familiar with Werther, as one who has listened to the opera countless times.
Thomson Smillie, better known for his involvement with Wexford Festival, the Opera Company of Boston, and the Kentucky Opera, has written the “Opera Explained” series for Naxos, which includes two dozen titles.
Side by side with Smillie is the “voice” of the story, David Timson, who narrates the “Opera Explained” series. Timson studied acting and singing, and has taken part in several successful stage and television presentations, in addition to recording a series of audio books for Naxos. Timson’s unique voice is well suited for this kind of platform; he has a slight “English” accent which is never pompous, or difficult to understand; he has a fantastic sense of timing; his diction is impeccable, and his pronunciation of “foreign words” is accurate, but never affected. The timbre in his voice is quite pleasant, and it adds enough sophistication to the recording to make it, in addition to Smillie’s text, well worth listening to the complete CD.
The musical excerpts of Werther are from a Naxos recording of the opera (Werther-Naxos 8.660072-73) with Marcus Haddock, Béatrice Uria-Monzon, and René Massis leading the cast.
Even though there is never too much information, this CD is not for those who live and breathe opera. This series, “Opera Explained” is the ideal vehicle for someone who is starting to develop a taste for opera, or for those who would not venture to buy an opera recording without knowing anything about it, or simply, when wanting to have some general background information on a composer, or a particular work.
The liner notes are informative, and provide a synopsis of the opera.
Daniel Pardo 2005
Liner notes by Thomson Smillie
© 2005 Naxos