Recently in Recordings
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.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
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.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
09 Nov 2005
Khachaturian was one of the few Soviet composers of the Stalin regime to overcome his public demotion in 1948. Even though he was removed from his job and his works disappeared from the theatres, Khachaturian moved to the world of film music and waited for the storm to blow over.
Early in 1950, he was allowed to travel to Italy with a Soviet delegation, where he was inspired by the Roman Coliseum to compose a ballet on the life of Spartacus. Working with the author and critic Nikolai D. Volkov (1894-1965), Khachaturian assisted in the construction of a libretto that was based on two main sources, which had also been consulted by Karl Marx: the Roman civil war history by the Alexandrian civil servant and barrister Appian (2 A.D.), and the biography of Crassus by Plutarch (1 A.D.). These two sources described the story of a Thracian prisoner of war who led an uprising out of a gladiator school in 73 B.C., raised an army of peasants and other marginal societal groups, and defeated nine Roman legions and generals before finally being defeated by Roman general Crassus. Volkov gave Spartacus a fictional lover named Phrygia, and Crassus a fictional lover named Aegina. Aegina embodies the moral depravity of the Roman Empire, while Phrygia stands for the freedom and good of the common people. Khachaturian finished the score in 1954, but the original has never been performed. At its premiere in 1956 in the Kirov Theatre, the choreographer Leonid Jacobson (1904-1975) cut the work into a series of friezes, using a pantomime-like style of movement similar to the Isadora Duncan school. The production staged by Igor Moiseyev in 1958 with a huge ballet corps and three extra scenes won Khachaturian the Lenin Prize in 1959. The staging most often used for performances today is the one by Yuri Grigorovich in 1968, and it is the one performed on this DVD.
The ballet is divided into three major acts. The first act has 20 scenes, and centers around the introduction of Crassus, Spartacus, Phrygia, and Aegina as the main characters. The plot focuses on the slave market, where Phrygia and Spartacus are separated and sold. Act 1 ends with Spartacus initiating the revolt in the gladiator’s barracks, and the oath they all take to fight the Romans. Act 2 centers around one of the two major battle scenes in the ballet, where Crassus and Spartacus fight each other, but both survive the encounter. Spartacus’s election as the revolt leader, and Aegina’s depravity towards the revolution, are also depicted. Act 3 is the huge final battle scene between Spartacus and Crassus, where Aegina is able to seduce some of Spartacus’s lieutenants and discover his battle plans. At the end of the ballet, Spartacus is killed and there is a huge victory celebration for Crassus in Rome.
The performance on the DVD was magnificent. The costumes, staging, scenery and dancing were wonderful to watch. Given that most people remember the excellent movie version of this story which starred Kirk Douglas, this ballet version is also a visual experience and adventure. The four main dancers/characters kept the attention and focus of the drama, supported by the supporting cast of dancers. It is a dramatic retelling of an actual historical event, recreated by a Soviet composer which attempts to depict the continual trials and repression of the common people by bureaucratic and depraved governments.
Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas