Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Ernst Krenek: Lieder
19 Nov 2005

KRENEK: Lieder

While I was listening to this recording of Krenek’s song cycles Durch die Nacht (op. 67) and Gesänge des späten Jahres (op. 71), I started to think about art and memory.

Ernst Krenek: Lieder

Liat Himmelheber (mezzo soprano), Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir (soprano), Axel Bauni (piano), Isabel Fernholz (piano)

Orfeo C 123 041 A [CD]

 

When you listen to a piece, or watch a movie, or go to a play or opera, shouldn’t you think about it afterward, if it’s to have some significance for you? For instance, the other night I watched the movie Stage Beauty, about an actor who played women’s roles right during the English Restoration when all of a sudden Charles II decreed that women could perform on stage. No more work for him. In spite of a rather formulaic plot, lots of interesting dialogue was bantered around about “the artist” and gender roles. I’ve been thinking about the film since, and repeating some of the bon mots (“Whenever we’re about to do something truly horrible, we say that the French have been doing it for a long time”). Memory and repetition.

Now, if a piece of music can be said to make an impact on you, beyond just thinking about it, shouldn’t you also be humming snatches? Or at least approximating a “la la la” when you’re telling a neighbor why you liked it? For millennia music was passed along orally. Homer’s tales went from storyteller to storyteller. Plays were passed from actor to actor. If people couldn’t tell their neighbor a couple of the best lines in something they’d just heard or seen, then the Joneses surely must have wondered if it was really all that hot. Memory and repetition.

Twentieth-century classical vocal music, on the other hand, doesn’t tend to be very hummable. Not like something by Rodgers or Kern or Berlin or Sondheim (well, generally hummable). How many college freshmen run in and tell their roommate, “I just heard this great piece! Pierrot lunaire!” “Can you hum a few bars?” It may make an impact, but if we can’t reproduce any of it, how significant is it to us? We can’t all sing “Di quella pira,” but most of us can la la la la-la-la-la-la the opening line. Do we have to be able to hum a few bars for a piece to be significant? Perhaps this decline and fall of hummability is one reason for the current abyss between the public and classical music. Memory but not repetition.

Ravel is hummable. And Poulenc. Is hummability in modern music one of those truly horrible characteristics of French composers? Britten is hummable only some of the time: “O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness ...” Still thinking about the gender roles, apparently. Berg: we don’t usually think of him as a hummable composer, but his early setting of “Schliesse mir die Augen beide” sticks in my resonators for some reason. Othmar Schoeck, the very under-appreciated Swiss composer of many beautiful songs: I can hum almost all of his Hesse setting “Im Nebel.” Maybe because the words mean something to me, in addition to my liking their musical setting. There’s another setting of the same poem by the Austrian Gottfried von Einem, but I can’t hum that one; it’s tonal, but it just isn’t as significant to me.

So now to Krenek. I can hum one snippet of Krenek, from his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf. But Krenek moved on from his jazz style to a more expressionist style, heard in the two cycles in this recording, to serialism, then to an individualistic post-serialist style. Passages of these songs are very Romantic, in the style of, say, Berg, but Krenek puts his study of Schoenberg to good use; the vocal lines tend to be angular, and triads are the new dissonances.

The other issue with these songs, and with all songs, is the text. The first set are based on poems by Karl Kraus, the voice of early-twentieth-century Vienna through his editorship of the journal Die Fackel. Kraus was very influential on other literary and artistic types at the time and for a decade or two following, but he seems awfully dated nowadays, more so than Wilhelm Mueller’s poems when we hear them sung to Schubert’s music. Krenek wrote his own poems for the second set: “the artist” again, the dark night of the soul, etc., etc. I’m not going to argue that it helps in remembering and repeating a song if it’s happy (“Im Nebel” gives the lie to that argument), but, God, so many twentieth-century songs are so dreary! Lorenz Hart may have been a cynic, but then we are “Bewitched.” And it’s always a danger when a composer thinks he or she should write both words and music (Richard Rodgers didn’t have much luck with this). It encourages them to say in 45 minutes what they should have said in 15.

So, taking this admonition about prolixity to heart, I will urge devotees of the twentieth-century lied to add this disc to their collections, even though you probably won’t be able to hum the best bits later. If you know Krenek’s operas of the twenties, these songs show how he made his way to his later important works like the opera Karl V, the ravishing choral work Lamentation Jeremiae Prophetae, or the later piano sonatas, championed by Glenn Gould. The performances are first rate by all concerned; soprano Hanna Dóra Sturludóttir brings a particularly beautiful voice to the first set of songs. I may not be able to hum my favorite passage, but I certainly would be inclined to listen to her performance again. Maybe in this post-oral-transmission age, that’s the best we can hope for nowadays from memory and repetition.

David E. Anderson

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):