Recently in Recordings
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his
ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
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.
13 Nov 2005
STRAVINSKY : The Rake’s Progress
This production, from Glyndebourne in 1975, is a treasure of literate, artistically informed stagecraft. Opera is meant to be seen as much as heard, and productions like this prove that good staging brings a score alive.
Indeed, it was the visual that inspired Stravinsky in the first place. During a visit to the Chicago Art Institute in 1947, Stravinsky saw Hogarth’s eight copper engravings. He saw the potential of using the formality of early, classical opera to structure a moral fable that defies time and convention. The libretto, by W H Auden and Chester Kallman, would follow. Their libretto respected Stravinsky’s instructions to adhere to a stylised model. The syntax may be archaic, but this serves to highlight Stravinsky’s fundamental modernism. Like A Soldier’s Tale, structure belies content. Basic ideas break through as universal.
This production, designed by David Hockney, leaps in and out of one dimensional space. First we see a stage in simple black and white, like the Hogarth engravings, crudely etched in lines and cross hatching. Perspectives aren’t quite right, as in the originals. Then figures appear, their costumes reflecting the graphics. Film technology being what it is, lines flicker as the eye adjusts. Unintentionally, this serves only to underline the surreal effect of old film and old print. The further the narrative descends into inner madness, the more striking Hockney’s designs. In the auction scene the characters are shown in muted neutrals, wigs and clothes like paper cartoons. Only the auctioneer is fully coloured, for his is the role of observer. Even more striking is the remarkable staging of the madhouse scene. The asylum’s inhabitants pop in and out of boxes, like typepieces in typographers’ trays. Boundaries between real and surreal are overturned, just as the music subverts its formal constraints. Remarkably, this staging makes the voices in the chorus surprisingly human and personal, adding another element of insight.
Performances, as one would expect, are very good. Felicity Lott makes Ann Trulove memorable, slight and sentimental as the role may be. She even manages to express a parody of the role in her aria in the asylum. Leo Goeke convinces as a wholesome wastrel, but less so as a ravaged rake. Nonetheless, the plot isn’t actually “about” him so much as his inability to withstand the temptations of the world. Looking bemused is a valid part of the characterisation. The really dominant figure is Nick Shadow. Sam Ramey brings truly venomous richness to the part, his voice almost hypnotic with colour and menace. His acting is magnetic, and evocative. In the scene where he confronts Tom in the graveyard, I was powerfully reminded of his Don Giovanni. When he turns to speak to the audience, stepping out of the play into “reality”, he comes over as much more sympathetic than the thwarted lovers. Rosalind Elias, as Baba the Turk, almost steals the show. Her singing and acting are superb, and she fills the role with manic joie de vivre. She is an invention of almost divine inspiration, adding further layers of surrealism to the plot. She comes from the world of theatre where illusion rules. She’s a woman with a beard after all, whose sexual allure is supposed to make men melt. She collects the weird and wonderful with genuine gusto, while her husband has no gusto for anything. He abuses her by covering her up and trying to sell her. Symbolically, though, she revives and turns the tables. It’s not a big role in terms of time on stage, but a pivotally important one. The crowd scenes, too, are sensitively choreographed, and extremely well sung, as one would expect from Glyndebourne.
This is an extremely robust and intellectually satisfying performance. With Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, there is very fine playing. The trumpet solo at the beginning of Act Three, accompanying Lott on her wanderings is especially evocative. But it is the marriage of music and visual imagery that makes this film such a treat. The grid patterns and lines in Hogarth’s drawings seem to come to life in the staging. The play of reality and unreality on many levels brings out the dynamic interplay between classical form and modernism in Stravinsky’s score. After this apotheosis, it’s not surprising that he didn’t feel a need to top this with more of the same.