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.
20 Nov 2005
I’m told that, if an auditioning singer’s repertoire includes a Verdi piece, the auditors will very likely choose to hear it, because singing Verdi well requires the full catalogue of skills: musical exactness, dynamic range, breath control, sensitive phrasing, the ability to provide a variety of colors in the voice, and, if possible, a large enough personality to truly fill out whichever character is being portrayed.
Sloppy musicianship cannot be hidden behind rubato, as one might conceivably be able to do in a Puccini aria, and, if the rest is missing, the piece will not come to life as it should.
Last year, when Norah Amsellem sang Gilda in the Seattle Opera Company’s production of Rigoletto, I did not have this checklist explicitly in mind, but I do remember thinking during “Caro Nome” that, while her voice was not as big as might be desired for the Verdi dramatic soprano roles, as Gilda she had the range of color and dynamics needed to keep the aria alive throughout. On this CD devoted completely to Verdi’s smaller scale Composizione da Camera, the piano accompaniment puts fewer volume demands on the voice, while at the same time depending even more upon vocal color and dynamic range, since the full orchestra is not there to provide sonic variety.
It would follow that this disc would be a great showpiece for Amsellem’s talents, which in many ways it is. And yet, when I listened to it as a program from start to finish, it was not completely satisfying to me. It has been hard to pin down exactly why this is, as I could not fault the artists’ musicianship, and beyond that, whenever I looked for performance examples that I could responsibly criticize, I would hear other examples in which Amsellem beautifully did what I had set out to say that she did not do. “Ad una stella” is, to my ear, a fine example of Verdi singing: smooth legato, dynamic swells in all the right places, and an exquisite skip up a seventh on “sera” in the final verse. Similarly, “Perduto ho la pace”, which is an Italian translation of the scene in Goethe’s Faust where the erotically agitated Gretchen sits at the spinning wheel, is beautifully sung and phrased, and, while the music lacks Schubert’s unforgettable evocation of the moving wheel echoing the girl’s turbulent emotions, we hear a more subdued, but palpable, shiver in the piano part before the resumption of a ghostly quiet verse.
In the pieces that demand more coloratura, such as “La Zingara” and, to some extent “Lo spazzacamin”, the singing is less satisfying, perhaps because Amsellem brings too much weight into the sound. “La Zingara”, in particular, loses dynamic contrast and the notes at the bottom of the challenging skips are in some places virtually inaudible. And yet, in “L’abandonée”, which closes the program, the coloratura is clear and the ornamentation much lighter, which leads me to wonder whether the fact that the piece is in French is freeing Amsellem from a perceived requirement to force her voice into a spinto weight. In fact, throughout the disc, the places where I find myself less pleased with the sound I hear tend to be at the louder end of the dynamic range, as if, in an effort to make a larger sound, she is pushing her voice into a wider vibrato than is comfortable.
The only other quibble I might have with these performances is that in some places they could show more character. In many of the songs the emotion is expressed by the music itself, and here Amsellem’s bel canto proficiency shines, but “Stornello” and “Lo spazzacamin” cry out for some more imaginative character portrayal than she provides. Likewise, in “Nell orror del notte oscura”, it is hard to imagine that a character who is really thinking about the meaning of the word “maledetta” would perform Verdi’s repetitions of it in such a straightforward way, without injecting a marked emotion into at least one of its appearances.
I have focused on these details largely to make peace with my concerns about what is overall a fine sampling of the most significant of Verdi’s songs. They are presented in an order that attempts to provide an interesting musical progression and contrast. To understand where the individual songs fall chronologically and with respect to the rest of Verdi’s works, one reads the liner notes, which are provided in English and French. The texts are provided in Italian, English and French, and the liner is rounded out by biographies of Amsellem and Lydia Jardon, the pianist, as well as a summary of Amsellem’s career highlights to date.