Recently in Recordings
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.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
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?
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.