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?
30 Mar 2006
Jumalaa kiittää sieluni—Hymns in Finnish
In 2001, Finland observed the 300th anniversary of the Finnish Hymnal. As a part of the celebration, YLE (the Finnish public broadcasting company) launched a project to record a substantial portion of the hymnal in performance by soloists or ensembles.
Soprano Soile Isokoski, whose recent disc of Strauss orchestral songs came as a revelation to many, participated in this project, along with her accompanist Marita Viitasalo, both artists drawing upon their childhood and professional experience with church music to record over forty hymns together. Twenty of them compose the program on this Ondine disc.
There is no question that these hymns are sung and played beautifully. However, it is in the nature of hymns that they are written to be sung by everyone in a congregation, so ranges tend to be limited and melodies, while often quite beautiful, are usually simple enough to be grasped in the course of a few verses by untrained singers. This does not leave much room for Isokoski to dazzle us with vocal technique, even assuming that she wanted to do so. Quoting from Isokoski’s remarks in the CD booklet: “Singing hymns makes you feel small and humble. It is really difficult, because it is so open and exposed. There is nothing but that simple melody that you have to sing purely.”
She lives up to this commitment to purity, lovingly spinning out each phrase with even tonal coloring and subtle dynamic variation. Viitasalo’s accompaniment, varying among the hymns between piano and harmonium, supports the vocal line with the same purity and subtlety. Occasionally there are interesting interludes, but often the accompaniment simply provides harmonizing chords underneath the main vocal melody, as is fitting for this kind of music.
The difficulty for non-Finnish speakers (and that, regrettably, is most of us) is that, while the texts of the hymns are all reproduced in the CD booklet, they are only printed in Finnish. (About three pages of notes about the recording and artist bios are also translated into English.) The sole clue as to content that we draw right away from the pure singing style is a generalized feeling of heartfelt reverence, although it is also clear that Isokoski knows exactly what she is singing and really cares about it. I was not familiar with any of these hymns, although most of them sound familiar enough, being generally from the same northern European tradition as the Presbyterian church hymns I grew up with. (Lutherans may recognize more of them than I do.) An exception is the short “Ilta on tullut luojani”, which is sung a capella, emphasizing the somewhat exotic nature of the melody itself. (The information about each hymn is supplied in Finnish only, so I can only guess at this hymn’s history, but its presentation is evocative of folk song, rather than a standard Protestant hymn).
So the result is a beautifully performed program that may not be able to hold the undivided attention of the non-Finnophone classical music listener for its entire 62-minute duration. For most, the choice to acquire this disc will most likely depend upon one’s individual listening habits, appreciation for hymns in general or for the sound of Soile Isokoski’s voice, and/or familiarity with the Finnish language. But I expect that, if one even partially fits the profile of Finnophone lover of sacred music performed with devotion and integrity by a fine interpretive duo of classical song, this disc will be a welcome addition.