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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.
14 Jan 2006
SCHEIDT: Ludi musici I, II, III & IV
I suspect that when we survey the musical landscape of the early seventeenth century, it is opera, monody, and madrigal that come most quickly and lastingly into view, and given the contemporaneous attention given to the relationship between music and word, it is unsurprising that this would be the case.
However, a significant aspect of the early seventeenth century concerns the flourishing of instrumental music, much of which is vocally inspired, much of which is in continuity with sixteenth-century forms, but at the same time a repertory that is increasingly moving towards independence, sophistication, and idiomatic style.
One of the major composers of early seventeenth-century instrumental music is Samuel Scheidt, a pupil of Sweelinck, and a court musician at Halle in the service of the Margrave Christian Wilhelm of Brandenburg. Scheidt’s four volumes of Ludi musici appeared between 1621 and 1627—collections of dances, intradas, and canzonas—and it is the music of these collections that Musica Fiata, under the direction of the virtuoso cornettist, Roland Wilson, performs with stunning flair and sense of style. Bringing this music to life in this case involved more than the performing of the pieces, for a substantial portion survives only in parts; Wilson has thus had to be adept at reconstruction, and has handled that task with convincing results.
As the majority of this music has no specified instrumentation, Wilson has taken the liberty to put together the recording with an ear towards timbral variety: cornetts, trumpets, dulzians and trombones are joined by violins, viols, lutes, and organs, with diversity of configurations the order of the day. Particularly striking and memorable are the several pieces performed by four dulzians or four trombones, all in close, low-register voicings. And if the timbres are diverse, so too are the nature of the pieces themselves. Some are explicitly dolorous, some are extended variations on popular melodies, some are animated dances. To the seasoned ear, it is a satisfying program; however, the language and musical idiom at first blush may seem rather uniform, and some may find the recording more a collection to sample than a “concert program” to hear at one sitting.
In any event, the performances are stellar. All the works show a characteristic close attention to style, especially in the gracefully suave shaping of phrases and the command of fluidly “verbal” articulation. The playing is often wonderfully spirited—the opening intrada is the epitome of buoyancy—and impressively virtuosic. Never more so, perhaps, than in Scheidt’s famous “Galliard Battaglia." Here “dueling” violins and cornets display a vigor in the exchange of figuration that transforms a genre piece that sometimes lapses into predictability into a thrilling tour de force. Scheidt dedicated this piece to the court cornettist, who hopefully enjoyed the workout as much as Wilson and his colleagues seem to do!