Recently in Reviews
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
01 Nov 2005
BIBER: Missa Christi resurgentis
In 1682 the Archbishopric of Salzburg celebrated its 1100th anniversary with an appropriately festal service in the Cathedral, depicted in an engraving by Melchior Küsel. Küsel’s engraving is a striking image, bringing into harmony the grand scale of the building (not yet one hundred years old), the ornamental richness of the interior, and the strong subdivisions of its space.
In many ways the image also seems iconic of Heinrich Biber’s Missa Christi resurgentis, recorded here by the English Concert under the direction of Andrew Manze. The Mass itself is for large forces—two vocal choirs, a wind choir of trumpets, cornetti, and trombones, and a choir of strings—all deployed in a rich antiphonal array. The Küsel engraving also documents the divided placement of musicians in the cathedral’s galleries, and certainly the Mass would seem well served by this model.
Biber spent the vast majority of his career in the service of Prince Bishops, first at Kremsier where the bishop, Karl, Count Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn of Olomouc, maintained a strong interest in music—the library there remains a rich trove of Biber’s works—and later at Salzburg, where Biber served the Archbishop Maximilian Gandolph, Count Khüenberg and his successors for over three decades.
The Missa Christi resurgentis likely dates from early in Biber’s time at Salzburg, with a possible performance in the Cathedral at Easter of 1674. The festal circumstance of the liturgical occasion naturally would prompt a splendid display, but equally so would the princely context of the bishopric itself. (The bent towards splendor is perhaps most dramatically seen in a slightly later work, the fifty-three-part Missa Salisburgensis, now thought to be most likely by Biber, and probably performed in 1682.) The Easter Mass presents big swaths of color in alternation with more figural, smaller textures, where instruments and voices are in dialogue among themselves, as well as with the larger textures. Reflecting Biber’s status as a great violin virtuoso, the instrumental parts are prominent here with extended interludes and also in counterpoint with the voice, as in the compellingly intertwined writing of the Benedictus. Moreover, the prominence of trumpets here underscores not only the celebrative nature of Easter, but additionally the courtly ethos of the bishopric. The effect is dazzling! As is the performance. The choir, an ensemble of soloists, leans towards color and vibrancy rather than homogeneity, and given the emphasis on splendor and variety, that priority seems well chosen. The instrumental playing is highly polished, attaining both a high degree of elegance and verve. There is the occasional stylistic oddity, however. For instance, the solo trumpets have an odd tendency to push weak beats into strong ones, and thus seem to undermine a characteristic rhythmic hierarchy. That said, the trumpet playing remains brilliant and glorious, with a fine command of high range, passage work, and ornamental detail.
The recording includes a large number of sonatas in addition to the mass. In part, this reflects Biber’s own instrumental interests, but it also reminds of the degree to which instrumental music figured in festal liturgies. Biber’s sonatas are well represented here, but perhaps the best of the lot is that by Heinrich Schmelzer, the twelfth sonata from his 1662 Sacro-profanus concentus musicus. With grand writing for winds, its sumptuous tuttis, toe-tapping dance figures, ornamental passage work, and forays into the high register are gratifyingly memorable.
Manze and the English Concert evoke the splendor of seventeenth-century Salzburg with great flair. And in so doing, they continue to confirm that the English Concert remains in the front rank of period ensembles.