Recently in Recordings
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.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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.
20 Apr 2006
MASCAGNI: In Filanda
Last year was the 60th anniversary of Mascagni’s death. When I wrote a big commemoration article for a Dutch operatic magazine, I wondered if we would ever hear a full version of the 18-year old Mascagni’s first work: a cantata called “in the weaving mill.”
And lo and behold,
the Bolognese firm of Bongiovanni, itself celebrating its 100th anniversary,
has been so nice to record a performance given a few years ago that to my
best knowledge had not found its way in the pirate circuit.
The liner notes (Italian/English) tell in great detail the genesis of the
work and are well worth reading. They omit, however, the story that young
Mascagni thought himself a genius à la Mozart who had nothing more to learn.
He dedicated the piece to Amilcare Ponchielli and happily accepted the elder
composer’s invitation to come to Milan. To his dismay, Mascagni found
out that nobody was eagerly awaiting for the appearance of an Italian
equivalent of Wagner, Beethoven and Weber in one person. Though Ponchielli, a
professor at the conservatory, acknowledged Mascagni’s talent, he was
not ready to introduce him to music publishers, but had only thought of
enrolling the young man in his alma mater. Within a few months, a
disillusioned Mascagni went home only to return half a year later, ready
after all to go the long hard way and start with his formal studies.
The reason for Mascagni’s conceit was that In Filanda that
had been performed in his home town Livorno (Leghorn) with resounding
success, probably helped a lot by the generous financing of his uncle
Stefano. Would Bongiovanni have thought of resuscitating this 47-minute
cantata if the composer had been called Bizelli, Bossi, Brero, Bucceri or
other worthies who once tried to compose operas without any success? Probably
not, as this is clearly a work by a talented young man but not more. Is there
anything distinctly Mascagnian to the score? Yes, the young man already knows
how to write a tune that vaguely hints at post-Cavalleria operas
like the still unjustly neglected masterpieces, Zanetto and
Silvano. Interesting, too, are the fine chorus for the workers that
points a little to the famous “Gli aranci olezzano” and two
preludes that are intermezzi in reality. The big tenor solo was the
most successful part at the time of the première; but it sounds a little too
laboured to me. And the finale concertato is just bombast. Contrary
to Puccini, Mascagni was very young when he saw a lot of performances in the
local opera houses (courtesy of his uncle too) and, though he somewhat later
called Wagner the pope of all composers, it is clear he was far more
influenced by some Verdi (end of the second act of Traviata) and
Ponchielli concertati (end of the third act of Gioconda). Years
later Mascagni would use some of this music for a first opera,
Pinotta, that went unperformed until almost fifty years later when
old Mascagni, despised by his modernist rivals and without inspiration, sent
the opera on its unsuccessful way. Therefore, not a masterwork or even an
important piece of work; but, as with everything from young Mascagni, worth
hearing as the composer is never boring.
Orchestra and conductor are fine and so are soprano and baritone. Tenor
Antonio De Palma though won’t be to everybody’s taste. He clearly
has a big, somewhat beefy, voice with strong top notes that happen to flatten
now and then. But, unless you are an adamant fan of verismo-tenors
like Nicola Zerola, Giovanni Chiaia or Vittorio Lois, I fear De Palma’s
rough style will make you less than happy. This is evidently not
Bongiovanni’s fault. Many of their worthwhile sets with real
discoveries in the verismo repertory are hampered by singers who are
not equal to the role; but, nowadays, the very few singers who can cope with
this repertory won’t think of studying difficult parts for a single
performance that is almost a world première at a fee that mostly consists in
honour only. So the Bolognese firm often has to take whomever is willing to
As 47 minutes is short shrift, there are two bonuses. The first one is the
magnificent, melodious intermezzo from Mascagni’s second
opera, Guglielmo Ratcliff (premièred, however, several years after
Cavalleria) and it proves how much the composer had refined his art
in the two and a half years at the conservatory. It was his undoing, too, as
conductor Franco Faccio was much impressed with the score and wanted to
perform it during a La Scala concert. Students had to ask permission at the
conservatory to have their music performed unless they chose a pseudonym
(Pigmeo Sarcanti was Mascagni’s ridiculous choice for some of his café
compositions). But Faccio insisted on the real name, the conservatory refused
permission and Mascagni left for good in a towering rage to start his
wandering years. A second bonus is one of the composer’s finest pieces:
intermezzo and tenor aria from Silvano, once only known in
the truncated version by Enzo De Muro Lomanto; but currently available in a
complete recording of the opera. It is a hauntingly beautiful melody that
would have been in any tenor’s repertory if the opera had become more
popular; and I fear that Mr. De Palma’s somewhat rough style
doesn’t fit completely with the unearthly melancholy.