Recently in Recordings
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
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.
27 Dec 2005
Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise has been performed by many fine singers, who keep the work alive in the repertoire and in the imagination of audiences. In recent years the work has been subject to a variety of interpretations, and with this recording, the well-known tenor René Kollo offers his perspective on the work, accompanied by the young pianist Oliver Pohl.
Those familiar with René Kollo’s work might associate him more with opera, but he has recorded other kinds of works as well. This release is Schubert’s Winterreise is a recent effort that was created for and released by Oehms in 2004. Kollo recorded it between 17 and 19 February. His statement about the performance is included in the booklet that accompanies the CD, and in it he calls attention to his perspective of the music. As he states,
With my interpretation of Winterreise, I hope to present listeners with a new view of Schubert’s Lied cycle. For me, Winterreise is not primarily a story of farewell and the longing for death. I see it much more as the wrathful flight of a man, who – beset by the realities of class differences – must leave the one he loves. He fails in the face of social tensions; the rich girl is unattainable for him. . . . At the end, I sing of a beginning – not of a standstill. In the person of the hurdy-gurdy grinder, the search finds one who has certainly traveled a similarly fateful path. He now sings his songs with him. The mood is lighter and tends slightly towards optimism. . . .
Yet in concluding his remarks, Kollo acknowledges that the CD is expressly intended as a fund-raiser for the Deutsche Kinderhilfe Direkt (the German Direct Children’s Aid Association). The purpose is stated on the cover of the CD, and the first thing that one finds inside is the statement by Georg Ehrmann that the purchase of the recording is intended to benefit German Children’s Aid, with the address, contact information and even Konto codes for further donations. As a means of calling attention to a cause, this is certainly a unique involvement of the arts, which are often concerned with raising money for their own purposes.
Notwithstanding the reasons for the recording, it merits attention for the mature and well-thought perspective that Kollo brings to a familiar work. This is a sound approach to the work that the performers have borne out well in this recording. As a studio recording, the performance is lacks hall noise and other distractions that sometimes occur, even in the best of circumstances. Yet the sound levels are sometimes extremely close to the voice, thus missing the ambiance that comes from having some distance between the performances and the microphones. The kind of resonance that has been preserved in some other recordings of Schubert’s Lieder is not easy to find on this CD, and it is sometimes difficult to hear the accompaniment blend with the voice.
As to the accompaniment, the performance on this recording suggests that Oliver Pohl has much to offer in the area of Lieder. The nuances that Pohl brings into the fourth song, “Erstarrung,” the one which Kollo holds to be the turning point in the cycle, is effective. This stands in contrast to the sometimes relentless execution he gives to the first three songs, the ones that Kollo states depict the angry flight [zornige Flucht] of the protagonist. The lighter tone that the performers introduce after the first songs culminates in an exceptionally thoughtful conclusion, with the final song “Der Leiermann” fading away in a manner that fully contrasts the opening pieces. Pohl is responsible for this convincing dénouement, and he has clearly worked out the interpretation with Kollo. Overall Pohl supports Kollo solidly, matching the tenor’s intensity with similarly strong playing, which is evident in the exposed passages for piano, like the one in the center of “Der Lindenbaum.”
The liner notes for the CD include the full text of the song cycle, but without any translations. With a familiar work like this, the lack of a translation is not a problem, but it points, perhaps, to the intended audience of the CD in Germany or, at least, in German-speaking countries. In fact, the note by Pohl appended to his biography reinforces the intention of the performers’ support of the Deutsche Kinderhilfe Direkt, and this leads into Kollo’s statement about the interpretation of the cycle.
All in all, this recording has much to recommend, not the least of which is the overtly divergent approach that Kollo offers. In a mature, polished singer conveys his well-considered approach to familiar music. Enthusiasts of Lieder and specifically Schubert’s music may find this recording of interest. At the same time, those familiar with Kollo as an opera singer may want to hear him in the context of this fine recording of Schubert’s Winterreise.
James L. Zychowicz