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The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
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.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
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.