Recently in Recordings
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera.
A recent release by the Metropolitan Opera, this two-disc set makes available on DVD the famous performance of Berg’s Lulu that was broadcast on 20 December 1980 as part of the PBS series “Live from the Met.”
The novels of Sinclair Lewis once shot across the American literary skies like comets, alarming and fascinating readers of that era, but their tails didn’t extend far behind them.
Once the province of only the most dedicated opera fanatics, mid-20th century recordings of privately taped live performances have become more widely available.
Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.
Since his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1971, conductor James Levine has come to represent the house’s commitment to artistic excellence — reliable, professional, and immaculately presented.
12 Dec 2005
GAY: The Beggar’s Opera
Benjamin Britten’s identity as a decidedly “national” composer is formed in part by his well-known engagement of pre-existent English music, old English texts, and subjects rich in the English legacy, as a glance at works like the Purcellian The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the Chester mystery play, Noyes Fludde, or the Elizabethan opera, Gloriana, all confirm.
Thus, there is little surprise in his taking on a modern realization of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, an undertaking that, as Philip Brett observed, “signifies the culmination of a process of self-conscious rapprochement with history and national identity, part of what Britten thought necessary, as a newly connected and ‘located’ artist, to fulfill his role.” Certainly The Beggar’s Opera claims a special place in the English musical legacy. First performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in January, 1728, its satirical volley aimed at Walpole’s administration, the aristocracy, and the Italian opera struck a responsive chord in London audiences—audiences that could have seen it performed an impressive sixty-two times during its first year alone! And London audiences would find it performed annually throughout the remainder of the eighteenth century. The best-known “ballad opera,” The Beggar’s Opera combines spoken dialogue and popular tunes drawn from English ballads, Irish, Scottish, and French airs, and melodies from composers like Purcell, Handel, and Bononcini, all intertwined in a tale of “low life.”
The musical content was originally skeletal—melodies with bass lines devised by Johann Pepusch. Britten’s realization gives the tunes a content-rich accompaniment, employing harmonies, effects, and inflections far-removed from the eighteenth century. Pepusch is left behind here, and what emerges is not a dressed-up neo-classicism—Pepusch with modern spice—but rather a fresh re-imaging of the melodies’ harmonic and dramatic propensities.
Britten created his Beggar’s Opera for performances by the English Opera Group in 1948, the year after its founding by Britten, the artist, John Piper, and librettist-director, Eric Crozier. This present CD offers a digitalized recording made from acetates of the 1948 production. Peter Pears takes the role of Captain Macheath, and it is wonderful to savor his voice in moments of lightness and ease, as in the second act air, “The first time at the looking-glass.” But by and large, the biggest presence on the recording seems to be Britten himself. The radical transformation of the airs through such highly inflected accompaniment transforms the nature of the work itself. In part this has to do with the manner of performance. The amount of “information” in the orchestra goes hand-in-hand with a necessary slowing of the airs, and as a result, one misses their often-times lilting quality. But additionally, the sophistication of the accompaniments and their amount of information transforms the aesthetic from one of engaging popular simplicity to a more complex, multi-layered affair, seemingly rich with meaning and inflection. In short, the eighteenth-century ballad opera has here taken on the language of opera, that which it had originally lampooned.
If one’s interest lies in The Beggar’s Opera itself, the Britten 1948 version will be of only tangential interest, I suspect. But, if one’s interest lies in Britten and his ability to transform and create within the constraints of pre-existent material, this is a rich sample, indeed, and a valuable historical artifact of English musical life in the early years after World War II.