Recently in Recordings
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?
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.
16 May 2006
MAHLER: Symphony no. 6
In recent years the Sixth Symphony of Gustav Mahler has gained some prominence with the declaration by the internationale Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft about the only correct order of the internal movements, a position that has inspired some discussion among enthusiasts.
To release a recording of this work now almost
requires that the Andante precede the Scherzo. While this is the way
the composer himself performed the work and also the order in which Mahler saw
the revised edition of the Symphony into print, the work has been also performed
and recorded for decades with the inner movements in the other order.
Without dwelling on editorial issues, it is indeed difficult to dispute the
authority of the composer’s own choices for performance. However, it remains
for succeeding generations to deal with the editorial decision made by Erwin
Ratz, the editor of the first critical edition of the Sixth, who returned the
inner movements to the original order. More importantly, his edition influenced
at least a generation of conductors. Thus, the discography of Mahler’s
music includes some fine performances that follow the critical edition of in
having those inner movements reversed. Jascha Horenstein’s recording of
the work with the Stockholm Philharmonic is one of those performances earlier
of the earlier version of the score, and it still comes up in various comparative
assessments of recordings.
Other performances aside, the present recording of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony
by the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Ivan Fischer offers a fine reading
of the work. It is a creditable performance by this ensemble, which Fischer
has shaped in the mold of other festival orchestras, like the famed one in Lucerne,
Switzerland. The liner notes include some comments about Fischer’s rehearsal
techniques with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and his emphasis on chamber-music
ensemble textures. Such an approach should be useful for works like Mahler’s
Sixth Symphony, in which the composer used various smaller groupings of instruments
within the larger structure of a four-movement symphony.
Fischer’s reading of the first movement is intense for its relentless
pace, which fits the music well. This approach certainly keeps the ensemble
tight, but it also lacks the shape that occurs in some other conductors, where
the phrases stretch, and short pauses offer cues to the audience to apprehend
the structure of the music. Those kinds of nuances are welcome, but certainly
not part of the notated score, to which Fischer adheres faithfully.
Likewise, the second movement, the Andante moderato, is paced well,
but it is ensemble, rather than tempo that is crucial for this piece. At times,
some of the winds seem a bit overbalanced, as oboe passages soar out uncharacteristically
from some of the supporting string textures. In fact, the winds are, perhaps,
a bit richer sounding than might occur in an actual performance. This is not
to detract from this performance, but rather the way it was preserved in this
recording. It is a minor point, but the balance seems off when the cowbells
enter, later in the movement, giving the impression of being, perhaps closer,
than the effect the Mahler wanted of suggested sounds in the distance in a more
evocative than direct sense. A similar directness may be found at the conclusion
of the movement, where entire orchestra seems to be recorded perhaps a bit closely,
with some of the sonorities seeming closer to the speakers than might occur
in a live performance.
With such a presentation in place, there is no question about the direct opening
of the Scherzo, which opens unequivocally. In his extroverted approach to this
movement, it is possible hear some thematic connections with the Seventh Symphony
that result from the balance of sonorities that Fischer brings to this movement.
After the opening, the textures thin as if to offer a sense of release, and
this approach to timbre allows the nuances of the Scherzo to emerge. While the
brass can be quite forward in the middle of the Scherzo, they strings often
match them in intensity. As much as commentators quibble about the success of
various conductors’ interpretations of this movement, the approach Fischer
has taken sounds convincing.
Likewise, the Finale of this cyclic work offers challenges in concert that are
successfully overcome in a studio recording like this one. To convey the structure
of this complex movement requires the sensitivity to thematic connections, as
Fischer has done. At times the string textures are, perhaps, less resonant than
found with other orchestras, but the ear can compensate for that weakness. What
emerges is a well-connected rendering of the movement in which the various thematic
linkages relate to each other while they also evoke ideas from other movements.
Fischer presents a vivid concept of the Finale, which is one of Mahler’s
more complex structures.
It is difficult to think of a single recording of this work that overshadows
the rest, but those who appreciate the work will find some insights in Fischer’s
interpretation. Again, his sound is generally forward, and those who want to
find their concert experiences reproduced on recordings may be disappointed
with sometimes unrealistic balances. Nevertheless, the ear can accommodate those
moments where the trumpet might be a bit too prominent or the overly percussive
entrance of the low strings. At the same time, this allows the conductor to
capture the drama of the work in this recording, which Fischer maintains throughout
the final measures in the incredibly intense code with which Mahler ended this
James L. Zychowicz