Recently in Recordings
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.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
28 Nov 2005
MACMILLAN: Seven Last Words from the Cross
The compositions of John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, and Henryk Górecki have accustomed us to the degree that religious spirituality has found serious musical voice in the late twentieth century. In their works, a profound language of musical mysticism is wed to various liturgical evocations, creating compositions that seem both authentic in their expression and unusually personal in their genesis.
In the next generation, the Scottish composer James MacMillan has emerged as a strong heir to this tradition, and in the present recording his “Seven last Words from the Cross,” “On the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin,” and “Te Deum” are striking examples of the ways in which this is so.
“The Seven Last Words” is a large-scale work, commissioned by the BBC in 1994. Its overall power and control of scale may remind one of Pärt’s Passio, but where Pärt is intensely minimalistic, MacMillan employs strong contrasts and juxtapositon to address the drama of the Crucifixion. Often haunting, the score takes one into the reflective inner depths that surround the words of Jesus on the cross, while at the same time immersing one in the dramatic progression of events on Golgotha. The dynamic interplay of dramatic progression and inner reflection is, of course, familiar from works like the Bach Passions, but there it is a textual division of duty—alternating prose narrative and poetic reflection—that elicits and brings order to the interplay; MacMillan’s texts, on the other hand, are the scriptural words from the cross with various liturgical texts from Holy Week (mostly Good Friday), and their weave is generally a smooth one: the interplay is unitive and organic—not bi-modal. Chant-like formulas, voluminous climaxes, medieval evocations of early counterpoint, English pastoral string writing, angular aggression—all of these are employed by MacMillan in a way that animates both the drama and the reflection in a powerfully integrated composition, with voice and orchestra sharing equal portions of the expressive burden.
I was struck by this same sense of integration in the setting of the Te Deum, as well. The opening (“We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord . . .”) juxtaposes slow-moving, low, male chordal declamations—reminiscent of Russian liturgical music—with a rhapsodic soprano line. The chordal texture seems to describe and narrate—“we praise”—while the soprano lyricism enacts the praise.
The choir Polyphony is admirably well suited to the demands of MacMillan’s challenging scores. Their leanness of tone and pliancy of sound position them to bring a high degree of control to their singing, and while their softness is perhaps most notable, the powerful, free resonance of their loud passages is memorable indeed. This is music-making of a very high order, and MacMillan’s extraordinary vision surely deserves nothing less.