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.
29 Jan 2006
DEBUSSY: La Mer
Inspired by the elitist poets of late nineteenth century Paris, Debussy was eager to join their ranks by developing musical ideas that evoked the same emotional response as the poetry he admired. Originally, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was a collaborative project between Debussy and Stéphane Mallarmé, a poet highly regarded by the composer.
The joint work was to be premiered in Paris in February 1891; however, for unknown reasons, the performance was cancelled.1 The result was two separate works with the same title, each expressing the same imagery without the limitations and constraints of the other medium. That is, the music was somehow liberated from the text and vice versa. However, the separation of the music from the text was not absolute. In fact, the use of the flute to represent the faun comes directly from the line in Mallarmé’s poem, “a single line of sound, aloof, disinterested.”2 In this recording, flutist Emmanuel Pahud depicts Debussy’s faun with lyrical gentility for a delightful effect. The balance of the winds and brass is quite impressive, demonstrating Simon Rattle’s delicate and thoughtful interpretation of this musical poem that is most accurately characterized by its tender moments.
Debussy’s La mer expresses the composer’s romantic fascination with the ocean. In a letter Debussy wrote to his friend, André Messager, Debussy confessed his childhood dreams of becoming a sailor and his utter adoration of the sea. When studying the score, it is evident that Debussy eagerly wanted to capture the organic and rhythmical flow of the ocean in his music. For this reason, Debussy went through the painstaking effort of providing precise instructions for tempo modifications throughout the work. For example, Debussy would instruct performers to ritard for four measures and/or very gradually accelerando in sections that did not necessarily constitute a phrase, but rather a wave-like contour. If well-executed, the resulting performance should closely mimic the flow of oceans waves. Simon Rattle deserves a standing ovation for this brilliant performance that pays the utmost respect to the composer and demonstrates an intimate understanding of nature.
Among the most difficult feats to accomplish in La mer are the long legato lines that must blend in with their surroundings. In other words, given that the ocean never starts or stops abruptly, neither can the music. Certainly, this recording demonstrates the orchestra’s unquestioned ability to sustain a musical idea for an inordinate amount of time. In one particular section, the cellos take over the melody in a four-part divisi to form a rich texture of fleeting motivic passages. The seamlessness from one motif to another further emphasizes the remarkable ability of the players to follow the natural current of this musical odyssey.
In contrast to the fluid presentation of La mer, Debussy’s La Boîte à joujoux can be described by its sudden changes in character, as well as by the juxtaposition of a number of musical fragments and gestures. Rather than depicting nature, La Boîte à joujoux has a more rambunctious story to tell, inspired by his own daughter’s playful antics. The role of the piano is essential to establishing a youthful element in this work, particularly in the mischievous “1er Tableau: Le Magasin de jouets.” Pianist Majella Stockhausen-Riegelbauer delivers an enjoyably capricious performance that simply radiates with liveliness - the orchestra certainly echoes her spirit. The best way to describe this piece, particularly in this performance, is simply to say that it is “fun and carefree.” The placing of this piece immediately after La mer was also a commendable decision since it showcases Debussy’s and the orchestra’s diverse talents.
The final work of the recording is an orchestration by Colin Matthews of three of Debussy’s Preludes. There are many examples of famous orchestrations of piano works, most notably, Ravel’s orchestration of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Quite often, the orchestral version is preferred by audiences for its grandiose presentation. However, there are many works that do not naturally lend themselves to orchestration. When listening to recordings of the preludes performed on piano, it is difficult to imagine an orchestral manifestation of such pianistic pieces. The result of Colin Matthew’s treatment of Debussy’s Preludes is a pleasant and unexpected surprise.
The orchestration of the three preludes is quite remarkable, generating some powerful moments through a seemingly perfect choice of instruments. Still, it is worth mentioning that it was sometimes difficult to recognize the original work for piano. Somehow, the relationship between the orchestration and the preludes for solo piano is obscured by the dramatic elements from a wide-range of timbres. In many ways, it is easier to hear the voice of the orchestrator in these pieces than that of Debussy. While still captivating, perhaps even more so in this dramatic setting, the images conveyed are unlike those of the original work. After attempts to compare the two works, the inescapable conclusion is that there is no comparison. Each version is simply a pleasure to listen to in its own way.
University of Tennessee
1 Barbara L. Kelly, “Debussy’s Parisian Affiliations,” in The Cambridge Companion to Debussy, ed. Simon Trezise (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 33-4.
2 Ibid., 34.