Recently in Recordings
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his
ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
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.
16 Jan 2006
Trinity Sunday at Westminster Abbey
Under the direction of James O’Donnell since January 2000, the Choir of Westminster Abbey has cultivated a robust singing style that well serves the music of this new recording and continues the Abbey’s position as one of the obvious standard bearers of the English cathedral tradition.
Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost, is an unusual day in the Anglican church calendar—the only feast devoted to a doctrine—and the present recording presents music that one “might hear if you visited Westminster Abbey on Trinity Sunday.” The range of composers and styles represented is wide: Thomas Tomkins and John Farmer from the “Golden Age,” the richly Victorian John Stainer and George Elvey, twentieth-century stalwarts like Edward Bairstow, Herbert Howells, Benjamin Britten, and William Walton, and even a “modern” Francis Grier, all arranged to give a musical sense of the three choral services of the day: Matins, Eucharist, and Evensong.
The range seems to reflect actual practice, with the Dean of Westminster in a program note even suggesting that the range is, in context, “Trinitarian.” He writes that “from Tomkins through Elvey to Britten and Walton is comprehensive, mixing different styles, while their distinctiveness remains. Does not that exemplify the Trinity? One liturgy but three distinct but non-competing styles?” So, the recording is tightly thematic, although that said, the recording also seems perhaps a bit at odds with itself. In some ways it attempts to give a sense of being at a service—the opening peal of the Westminster bells, for instance, or the “functional” Preces and Responses at Matins are what one might expect in a service recording. But by the same token, the Evensong section omits responses and prayers, providing only the more musically substantial items. Surprisingly—and regrettably—none of the liturgical sections include any hymnody.
Other aspects of the programming are curious. The cathedral repertory is one rooted in tradition, and thus the frequency with which certain works get recorded is not altogether surprising. However, two of the larger works on the recording, Grier’s Missa Trinitatis Sanctae and Howells’ Magnificat and Nunc dimittis from the Westminster Service have both been recorded by the Abbey Choir under O’Donnell’s predecessor, Martin Neary, as recently as the mid-1990’s. This seems too much repetition, too soon. And, if the recording is to include but only one anthem, one wonders if Stainer’s “I saw the Lord” is the best choice. Its Victorian vocabulary easily seems decidedly melodramatic today in a way that is difficult to overcome, though admittedly, “after the smoke clears,” his lyric section is a welcome reminder of the tunefulness of the age.
Certainly there is much to like in the performances. I thought the choir at its best in the “Gloria” from Grier’s evocative Mass, where the combination of brilliant treble sound and marked rhythmic verve were particularly memorable. And, in general, it was the exuberant moments in a number of pieces—the climax of the Britten Te Deum, for instance—that found the choir most satisfyingly at home.
Certain other aspects were less satisfying. The evensong psalm, Psalm 107, is one of the longer, with a demanding forty-three verses. Given its great length, one might have imagined a more varied approach to the chanting, though the organist’s rumblings to depict “they . . . stagger like a drunken man” were well aimed. Also, in some instances throughout the recording, the blend seemed to suffer from too much vibrato in the lower men’s range. This proved particularly distracting in the mystical, intertwining lines of the Grier “Sanctus.”
“Trinity Sunday at Westminster Abbey,” though not without some curiosities and minor flaws, remains a welcome document of the richness of a liturgical and musical treasure. The distinguished musical tradition of the Abbey is, as always, one to savor.