30 May 2006
“What a difference a sound makes” goes the song (or something like that).
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” with herself!).
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 twentieth-century France
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.
“What a difference a sound makes” goes the song (or something like that).
Up to now I only knew this opera by the San Carlo recording of 1957, which is an acceptable one. I never invested in the Queler-Hungaraton issue as I didn’t think such a rather difficult work would be served by Hungarians, even though there were some good singers in it. And I never saw the Zagreb DVD with former boy wonder, tenor Kruno Cigoy. But this set under review changed my perspective due to the excellent sonics, as Bongiovanni got the original tapes RAI made, which MRF didn’t have when they launched this performance as a pirate.
The first time I heard Nerone, my reaction was probably a common one: that someone who composed splendid arias like ‘Dai campi’ ‘Giunto sul passo’’Ave Signor’ and the hauntingly beautiful ‘L’altra notte’ had given all his inspiration to that one Mefistofele. But, even a second and a third hearing didn’t change much. This set did. Of course, the composer of 1902 (when La Scala announced a production) or 1912 when Boito asked Caruso to sing the title role was not the same one as the young man of 1868 (première of Mefistofele) or 1876 (reworked version for tenor, which is nowadays always performed). Too much had changed in those 30 years. There was Boito’s collaboration with Verdi and the revolution Mascagni wrought with his Cavalleria. But especially there was the all overwhelming influence of Wagner whose scores were now widely available for study and performance. The results of all those influences are clear to hear in this performance. There are melodies but they are not the long sweeping arches of before. The balance between orchestra and voice is far more equilibrated and often the parlando is more accompanying the orchestra than vice-versa; and that makes perfect sound so important if one wants to pick up the tune. Granted, there are several dry patches where ‘Sprechgesang’ takes over. Yet there are many fine parts as well and in his choral writing we surely recognize the composer of that grandiose Mefistofele-prologue.
The cast is a strong one. By 1975, Bruno Prevedi’s big international career was over. He mainly sang in Germany and Austria and some fine but still smaller Italian houses. He gladly accepted RAI-invitations to sing tenor roles in rarely performed operas like Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Fernando Cortez and this Nerone. In fact, between February, when he sang Maurizio at Bari, and this RAI-broadcast, no performance is to be found in his chronology. So he definitely took his time to learn this difficult score. The voice is still as we remember: a true Italian lirico-spinto that always betrayed his baritone origins. Though he is never unmusical, there are certain details that cloud some of his singing. He uses an unremitting forte and his technique with a lot of glottal attacks is somewhat crude. Picchi in Naples is a more accomplished singer and brings more nuance to the role but he hasn’t the power of Prevedi in some of Nero’s outbursts.
The real star of the set is Ilva Ligabue. During her heyday, she was shamefully neglected by the big labels. She recorded 3 MP-recitals in not always typical repertoire (together with tenor Nicola Filacuridi) and then there was the Solti-Falstaff. As more and more documents become available (an unforgettable Forza with Bergonzi at his very best on Bongiovanni) we realize what a great singer she was. The moment she starts her long scene in the first act, one sits up and takes notice. Here is a soprano with her own typical sound, basically a lyric voice but with enough steel in it to climb all vocal hurdles and to dominate the temple scene in the second act or the orchard scene in the third act. One regrets Boito wrote the libretto for a fifth act where her death scene is the culminating point of the opera and then never set it to music.
The rest of the opera, too, is cast from strength. Agostino Ferrin as Simon Mago has not the house rattling amplitude of Nicolai Ghiaurov but the voice is fine, cultivated and rolling along. In fact it is a bit too sympathetic for the bad guy he is supposed to be. Alessandro Cassis is nowadays mainly remembered as Michonnet in the DVD of the classic La Scala Adriana with Freni. But he had one of the best Italian baritone voices in the seventies and eighties, firm and rounded and with more than one hint of Bastianini. For reasons unknown to me he never had a big international career (or he didn’t want one) but his singing as Fanuel, leader of the Christians (not to be mixed up with the Magician in Massenet’s Hérodiade), is exemplary. The same can be said of Ruza Baldani’s performance in the lesser soprano role of Rubria. This recording is witness to the dying of a great Italian tradition. The many smaller comprimario roles are taken up by sometimes first class voices like mezzo Anna Di Stasio (Suzuki in the Bergonzi-Scotto Butterfly), tenor Corradi, mezzo Corinna Vozza (Lola in the Corelli Cavalleria) etc. Most of these singers would nowadays have major careers.
Gianandrea Gavazzeni was already a veteran at the time of recording and one of the last great Italian Maestri Concertatori with direct ties to the creators. Though he conducted the famous Corelli-Callas revival of Poliuto, he was something like a specialist of verismo; a love he later shared with his 50-years younger wife Denia Mazzola. This opera with hints of late Verdi, Wagner and Puccini of Fanciulla or Mascagni of Amica or Isabeau fits him to a T; and he brings it forth with a firm hand that reveals a score and a recording worth investing in.