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

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

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.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

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.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘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’.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

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.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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.

Lalo: Complete Songs

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.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

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.

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

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.

A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

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.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

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” with herself!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

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.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

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.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

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.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

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’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

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.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

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.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Renée Fleming: Sacred Songs
21 Dec 2005

Christmas with Renée and Bryn

Though singers have always recorded some of these arias and songs, it was young Leontyne Price who first started a trend by devoting a whole LP to the genre more than 45 years ago.

(1)Renée Fleming: Sacred Songs
(2)Bryn Terfel: Simple Gifts

(1)Renée Fleming, with Susan Graham and Mark O’Connor, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Andreas Delfs (cond.).
(2) Bryn Terfel, with Simon Keenlyside, John Williams and Aled Jones, London Symphony Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth (cond.).

(1) Decca 475 7177 (US and Australia); 475 6925 (Int'l) [CD]
(2) DG 477 5563 (Int'l) 4775919 (UK)

 

She judiciously mixed some of these songs with specific Christmas items and made it a bestselling classical album. Since that time all major singers have recorded recitals of “canti sacri.” Depending upon the number of carols, these were sometimes presented as Christmas albums, though even then there was usually no escaping the two Ave Marias, Louis Niedermeyer’s Pieta Signore, Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Händel’s ode to the shade of a tree and a few Mozart or Bach items — none of which has anything to do with Christmas. Decca’s marketing division and Renée Fleming have decided that it’s better to split these things more rigorously and so together with these “sacred songs” she recorded a “carol album only,” which corresponds with her current concert tour.

Fleming’s repertoire on this CD is almost wholly traditional, while Terfel is more adventurous, though it nevertheless roams along in the same sphere. And there is indeed no escaping Bach/Gounod, César Franck or Amazing Grace on both records. So why did I feel such a marked difference when listening to those two great vocalists? It starts with the title of their albums. I don’t think there is anything sacred to Humperdinck’s Hänsel and a lot of the other items on Fleming’s CD were definitely written by their composers to catch some not very sacred money. Therefore a less pretentious title like “Songs of Faith and Devotion” would maybe have been a better idea. Though “The Lord” and “God” is as much present on Terfel’s CD, his “Simple Gifts” someway makes a more sympathetic impression. Then there are the sleeve photographs: just Terfel looking earnestly into the camera while Fleming is photographed with eyes closed into what looks far more to be an orgasmic moment than a prayer of faith; and I have a feeling that some of the less enthusiastic reactions to Fleming’s CD were initiated by title and photo.

But of course Fleming got a lot of flack on her singing as well. Some comments on those venomous opera-forums spoke of Händel à la Duke Ellington. This is simply not fair as she doesn’t glide or scoop. True, she uses all kinds of allowable vocal tricks like rubato and a good trill, which are arms not all sopranos have. The first impression after her first tracks Ave Maria and Jesus bleibet is one of “how exquisite, how refined” and then first weariness and finally boredom makes its entrance. So what’s wrong in a CD-recital that would not have been boring on 78-records? Well, by the third track one realizes that she is not going to use her full voice and that she will never sing out; that everything will stop at mezza-voce while in that half voice she tries hard to unveil all hidden meanings in each word, if necessary in each syllable by voice inflexions. Moreover as she is nowadays the female star of the label, she suffers from what I’d call Kohnanization, though Domingo and Eugene Kohn are not the only perpetrators. Classical stars nowadays prefer to bring either their own maestros with them or otherwise want to be indulged by the conductor whom they honour by allowing him to have their name as well on their records. So Andreas Delfs nicely follows Fleming but definitely was not engaged to tell her some truths and to bring some vitality to the recording sessions. Once upon a time, Karajan conducted the Price Christmas recital, Gavazzeni led Bergonzi in his début recording and Molinari-Pradelli put the fear of the gods in Sutherland and no singer would have got away with these kind of easy tempi. Levine, Solti, Mackerras, Eschenbach, Tate were the conductors of Fleming’s many successful earlier recordings; and in retrospect one realizes that they were sympathetic to the artist without sapping all rhythmic liveliness from the CD, indulging every whim of the singer (and you didn’t need a looking glass to find their names on the sleeve).

terfel_simple.jpg
That too is one of the differences with the Terfel recording. Barry Wordsworth may not be a big name either as a conductor but he doesn’t linger on and at least gets his photograph in the booklet (or Terfel himself has a far better sense of tempi). Not that everything is perfect in this record as it shows some serious vocal problems. The bass-baritone who came in second after Dmitry Hvorostovsky in the Cardiff competition in 1989 has made some far fetching decisions. Though the voice has the tessitura of a real bass-baritone (I heard him do a fine Dulcamara in Amsterdam a few years ago), Terfel was blessed with good top notes and he couldn’t keep his hands off real baritone territory. His Amsterdam outing as Scarpia was not really a success. Moreover he has now stepped into heavy Wagner with some successes in Rheingold and Walküre but recently he withdrew as Wanderer in Siegfried. The low and middle register are still very beautiful but the voice really makes a clearly unmusical jump which sometimes almost becomes a shout to reach an F; and, as he does it several times on this record, it is clear he has somewhat damaged his vocal means.

Terfel doesn’t have Fleming’s intrinsic beauty of voice, indeed his timbre is somewhat indistinct, but his sense of phrasing and words is far greater. His Sondheim-song is particularly impressive. He too sings a lot in warm toned pianissimo but realizes that parts of some songs demand full voice. And then there is the repertoire: maybe not very adventurous but still known to most opera buffs who collect drawing room songs and ballads by Crooks, Kullmann and friends; and one can easily savour Terfel’s fine English pronunciation without his losing the vocal line. The CD offers us two duets with baritone-colleague, Simon Keenlyside, who clearly makes a bigger noise than Terfel (on record at least), though the voice has nothing of the beauty and the subtlety of the Welsh singer. Clearly I could easily have done without his part; but it is a nice reminder that Terfel, notwithstanding some vocal problems, is still a great artist.

Jan Neckers

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):