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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.
02 Feb 2006
BRUCKNER: Symphonie no. 6
The symphonies of Anton Bruckner deserve excellent performances to convey the intensity that the composer intended for them, and sometimes an individual performance can offer the opportunity to understand them more clearly.
Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony is probably found most often in complete sets of Bruckner’s symphonies and less often released separately, as occurs with this CD. Issued by itself, this CD gives listeners an opportunity to appreciate this work on its own merits. While Bruckner’s Symphony no. 6 in A major (1881; first performed, 1883 [second and third movements only], with the entire work given its premiere in 1899, three year’s after Bruckner’s death) may not be as familiar as the ones that succeed it chronologically, it is an impressive work. Composed at the time when Anton Dvořák had just finished his own Sixth Symphony and Johannes Brahms his first two, Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony is separated from the composer’s previous one by five years. During that time Bruckner had revised his Third Symphony between 1876-77, before proceeding to compose the Sixth between 1879 and 1881.
While Bruckner’s Fourth, Seventh, and Eighth Symphonies are, perhaps, better known to modern audiences, the strength of this performance of the Sixth makes a case for returning from time to time to this somewhat neglected work. It resembles the composer’s other symphonies, in that the Sixth is a four-movement work, with the overt structural weight placed on the outer movements. Beyond the distinct theme groups that Bruckner customarily uses in his treatment of the first movement, the Sixth possesses a driving that is the result of both harmonic motion and rhythmic activity. The shifts of mood that may be seen to characterize the first movement of the Fourth Symphony are less dramatically different in Sixth, where transitions are essentially to the musical narrative of the piece.
The second movement is an extensive Adagio, which commentators like David Tovey have praised. In constructing this movement, Bruckner sets it apart from his other slow movements by employing sonata form, instead of a simpler binary or ternary structure. This movement merits attention as an orchestral Adagio possesses its own drama. It has a weight of its own through its formal structure and length. In this sense the point Scherzo offers the contrast in its lighter and more playful character. Where more sustained timbres occurred in the Adagio, the Scherzo is full of contrasts in which Bruckner allows various groupings of winds and brass to intersect some of the powerful tuttti sections in this movement. It is, perhaps, a less weighty Scherzo than is convention associates with a symphony by Bruckner, but it also fits wholly into the overall structure of the Sixth.
With the final movement, Bruckner opens the movement in a somewhat restrained way, as fragmentary ideas occur before he moves to the more extended theme groups. Some of the passages anticipate in a sense the drama that Bruckner would contribute to the concluding movement of the Eighth Symphony. Yet the Finale of the Sixth possesses its own character. Modal inflections color the harmonic structure as Bruckner explores the tonal possibilities of the movement. At the same time, some of the thematic ideas are redolent of a composer who appreciated fully the music of Richard Wagner, with echoes of ideas from Tristan und Isolde juxtaposed with original themes that only Bruckner could conceive. As driving as the first movement, the Finale is wonderfully effective in this highly convincing work that stands well among the middle of its composer’s symphonies.
In this performance Kent Nagano makes a strong case for Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony with a reading that demonstrates the power and lyricism of the work. Fully in command of the Orchestra, Nagano gives a powerful reading of the score. It is, perhaps, the Adagio that stands out as particularly effective. In that movement Nagano manipulates the string textures to wonderful effect, allowing the various woodwind timbres to emerge subtly. Those interested in this work will appreciate the way Nagano allows the Adagio to unfold in what is as evocative a slow movement as the one Bruckner composed in his Eighth Symphony.
Likewise, the pacing of the concluding section of the Finale shows the conductor’s masterful approach to this work and his sensitivity to Bruckner’s style. The brass chords are buoyant and precise, with a tone that complements the strings instead of standing apart from it. Woodwinds, when prominent, blend well and idiomatic. In fact, these colors emerge with marked distinction at the beginning of the Finale and set up the tone of the Symphony’s conclusion. Not only drawing on the strength of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin for the characteristically Brucknerian fortes, Nagano also arrives at some intimate chamber-music sounds in the outer movements, just as he had in the Adagio. Like Nagano’s recent Harmonia Mundi recording of the original version of the Third Symphony with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi CD HMC 901817), this recording of the Sixth is another fine addition to recent recordings of Bruckner’s works.
James L. Zychowicz