Recently in Recordings
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.
22 Mar 2006
WHITACRE: Cloudburst and other choral works
There is little doubt about the popularity of Eric Whitacre’s music among North American choral ensembles. With the release of this Hyperion disc, the international choral scene may soon become enamored as well.
In fact, the exacting singing of Polyphony, under the direction of Stephen Layton, gives the world a better sense of Whitacre’s music than many American performances.
Most of Whitacre’s music can be described as tone poems. He paints with sound, moving to specific chords at just the precise moment to evoke the spirituality and sensuousness within the text. While words may not be set to specific colors, the overall sound and direction of the piece rely on a deep understanding of the poetry. Whitacre builds dense textures of sound that ebb and flow. He uses large cluster chords as structural pillars that develop from a sparse texture to a layered wall of sound.
With Polyphony’s accurate intonation, the clusters and clouds of sound shimmer with clarity. The music’s billowing and unique color shifts waft and settle in the ensemble’s perfect evenness of tone. Additionally, having been recorded in a large reverberant church, the music’s spaciousness is allowed to unfold into the air. Luckily, the words, the inspiration for such tone painting, are not lost in the dense texture because of the group’s crisp, clean diction.
While an entire compact disc of Eric Whitacre may seem monochromatic at times, Layton’s arrangement of the selections provides the greatest possible variety between the music’s emotional and spiritual centers. He precedes and follows many of the weightier works with lighter, simple pieces. The trauma, torment, and massive grief expressed in When David Heard are preceded by the elegantly simple Go, Lovely Rose, which conveys the opening of a flower. The disc’s title piece, Cloudburst, is arguably the most virtuosic and interesting selection. Polyphony’s incisive singing wonderfully evokes the many senses and sounds of a cloud bubbling with pressure and rupturing into rainfall.
When it comes to American choral music, sometimes there can be much to learn by allowing others to wrestle with it. The English sound and the Whitacre sonic universe form a happy union on this CD. The flawless intonation and clear, selfless tone quality of Polyphony, under their director Stephen Layton, bring a profound clarity and light to the dense flowing tonality of Eric Whitacre’s choral music.