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.
22 Dec 2005
LUTOSLAWSKI: Twenty Polish Christmas Carols
Witold Lutosławski (1913-94) composed vocal works throughout his career, and recording collects several pieces that involve female voices. His set of Twenty Polish Christmas Carols for soprano, women’s choir and orchestra is a late composition compiled between 1985 and 1989 and given its premiere in 1990.
It is based on the collection of twenty Christmas carols for voice and piano that Lutosławski arranged in 1946, a time when the politics dictated that the arts create works like this for the people. Only someone as steeped in Polish culture as Lutosławski could approach arrangements of these carols with the aplomb that they deserve and, at the same time, introduce elements that do not make them caricatures. The collection is as reminiscent of some of the folksong settings of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the appeal of the music resides in the masterful settings that he gave each piece.
While some of the melodies may be familiar, others are more insular in nature. The carol entitled “Hurrying to Bethlehem” The delicate timbres and floating harmonies of “Lullaby, Jesus” is one of the outstanding selections on this recording. Likewise angular melody of “This is our Lord’s birthday” evokes a Slavic idiom that hints at the kind of choral number a composer like Prokofiev have used in one of his cantatas, while Lutosławski’s orchestration suggests Shostakovich’s style. The wind colors used in “Shepherds, can you tell?” is engaging, especially when they occur with the interplay between solo voice and choral writing. The arrangements by Lutosławski make some wonderful Polish carols available to a broader audience.
This masterful combination of the familiar with a modern touch makes the collection attractive not only as a recording, but also for performances during the Christmas season. The performance preserved on this recording is taken from concerts given on 5 December 2001. In fact, the other pieces on the CD were part of another concert, which was given on 15 January 1997) and include Lutsławski’s Lacrimosa for soprano, choir, and orchestra, as well as his Five Songs for female voice the 30 solo instruments.
The Lacrimosa is one of two settings from the Requiem completed in 1937 by Lutosławski, and as a fragment it offers a glimpse at the composer early in his career. The melody given to the soprano is reminiscent of some of the music Ginastera used in his Bachianas Brasilieras. The overt simplicity that Lutosławski uses in this piece is part of its attraction. As much as it is unmistakably modern, the Lacrimosa is also engaging in its clear presentation of the text, and masterful use of solo voice in contrast to choral passages, all of which are supported by a carefully composed accompaniment. It is unfortunate that the other setting from the Requiem was destroyed and that Lutosławski did not pursue the setting of the entire piece. Those unfamiliar with the work will find this performance to be extremely effective.
Another work that deserves further attention is the set of Five Songs to texts by the contemporary poet Kazmimiera Iłłakowicz (1892-1983). The only nominally secular pieces on this CD, the Five Songs are essentially revisions of children’s verses that have a modern slant, and Lutosławski’s music accentuates that aspect of the texts. Composed in 1957, the Five Songs are a product of a time when Lutosławski benefited from the cultural openness that occurred after Stalin’s regime ended. As with the other pieces collected in this recording, the performance is convincing and conveys the spirit of the music well.
This and the other pieces are performed by the Polish Radio Chorus, Kraców, and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice) conducted by Anoni Wit. The soprano for the set of Twenty Polish Christmas Carols and the Lacrimosa is Olga Pasichnyk, with the alto Jadwiga Rappé serving as soloist for the Five Songs. The diction is clear and serves the texts well, but it is unfortunate that the texts and translations are not provided with the recording. With the exception of Lutosławski’s Five Songs, the texts are available at the Naxos website (www.naxos.com/libretti/20carols.htm), the publication of the materials with the CD makes a difference. At the same time it would also be useful at least to have the titles of the pieces and their components in the original language and also in translation. Nevertheless, this recording makes available some fine music and in turn, it shows yet another side of one of the most important Polish composers of the twentieth century.
James L. Zychowicz