Recently in Recordings
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.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
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.
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.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
02 Dec 2005
Songs of Vaughan Williams and Ives
Ralph Vaughan Williams and Charles Ives; both known more for their symphonic music than anything else, receive superb tributes in these recordings of some of their early songs. Only two years separate the birth dates of these composers; but the musical language each speaks seems to put far more distance than that between them.
Vaughan Williams created his own musical speech out of an amalgamation of nineteenth-century Romanticism and modally-inflected figures that marks it as uniquely his own. Ives, on the other hand, is known for the twentieth-century cast to his music in which free dissonance plays a large role. That said, however, Ives’s eclectic musical rhetoric goes well beyond this simple categorization to include past, present, and (though he may not have given it much thought at the time) future as well.
The songs in these two collections, however, link RVW with Ives, for both composers brought English and American art song into the twentieth century, forever breaking with the classical song traditions of their respective youths: Vaughan Williams from Edwardian England and Ives from the sentimental nineteenth-century American song. Most of the songs in these two recordings date from the first two decades of the twentieth century and illustrate well those changes.
That the songs of RVW are better known than those of Ives is not in doubt. Perhaps this is because many may not yet have heard baritone Gerald Finley’s recent recording of these Ives pieces. Audiences have rarely had the opportunity to hear such superb singing of Ives. Add to this the dynamic, always sensitive, accompanying of Julius Drake and the result is one of the finest recorded tributes ever paid to Charles Ives. The thirty one songs that Finley and Drake have included constitute about one-fifth of Ives’s output and cover an astonishing range of moods, subjects, and musical language. Eclectic is the perfect word for these songs. Here is music modeled on that of nineteenth-century German romantics, a song about a cowboy, a fiery evangelist, the reclusive Henry David Thoreau, the bittersweet memories of youth, and of an eagle and a vampire, to mention only a few. The Romantic Ives, evident in such songs as Feldeinsamkeit, Weil’ auf mir, and Ich grolle nicht will surprise those listeners who know Ives primarily from his thornier songs like The Cage and Where the Eagle. If one thinks only of a common image of Ives as a curmudgeonly old bearded man with a cane, the poignancy of words and matching music in Tom Sails Away and The Greatest Man will come as a revelation. The humorous Ives turns up in The Side Show, where a musical quotation from Tchaikovsky underlines the moment when “poor Mister Riley look[s] a bit like a Russian dance.” For sheer loveliness and gentleness, it is hard to beat The Housatonic at Stockbridge and Remembrance. Then there is General William Booth Enters Into Heaven—a song that is undoubtedly Ives’s masterpiece. Ives’s music and poet Vachel Lindsay’s words evoke the founder of the Salvation Army, this “great preacher of redemption” in what becomes an operatic scene in its dramatic juxtapositions of moods and emotions.
Gerald Finley is a master at capturing the many moods of these songs, his interpretations matching perfectly Ives’s music, from its quirky moments to those of incredible serenity and loveliness. Pianist Julius Drake’s performance complements Finley at every move. The combination of Finley, Drake, and Ives in A Song—For Anything. Songs by Charles Ives will surely succeed in bringing new audiences to the songs of Ives and in reaffirming to Ives’s aficionados his stature as a major vocal composer of the twentieth century. It is difficult to imagine a finer recording of this music. Finley and Drake have set a very high standard for future interpreters of Ives’s songs.
What Gerald Finley and Julius Drake do for Ives in A Song—For Anything, Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside accomplish on behalf of Ralph Vaughan Williams.in their performance of twenty songs of this great English composer. The nine Songs of Travel, to texts by Robert Louis Stevenson and six of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poems in The House of Life scarcely need an introduction, having been recorded numerous times; this is equally true of the ever-lovely English folk song, Linden Lea. Williams and Burnside perform with such artistry in this recording for The English Song Series, however, that the songs sound fresh. Bright Is the Ring of Words and Silent Noon, for instance, recipients of too many hackneyed performances as staples of young singers’ repertoires, become magical once again to the listener; one hears them as if listening to them for the first time. I found myself surprised at how moving their magic can be in the magnificent voice of Roderick Williams and in the pianistic artistry of Iain Burnside.
Regrettably, the Four Poems by Fredegond Shove are not well known. They date from 1925—settings of words by the niece of RVW’s wife, Adeline. While the composer treats the texts to more word-painting than one finds in his settings of Stevenson and Rossetti, his musical language is one with that found in those earlier songs. These songs should be better known than they are.
Roderick Williams’s masterful performances of these twenty songs rank with the best of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s many interpreters.
Saint Mary’s College
Notre Dame, Indiana