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.
24 May 2006
Orchestral Excerpts from Wagner Operas
Among the plentiful selections of orchestral music from the operas of Richard Wagner, it is rare to find recordings that truly stand out, and this recent release of performances conducted by the late Klaus Tennstedt merits distinction.
Taken from the 1992 Proms concerts by the London Philharmonic, these live recordings
from that season demonstrate the famed conductor’s master hand at presenting
familiar works with energy and style.
The pieces included on this CD are the prelude to the opera Die Meistersinger
von Nürnberg; the overtures to Rienzi and Tannhaüser,
along with the “Venusberg” music from the latter opera; “Dawn
and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” along with “Siegfried’s
Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung; and the concert
version of the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre.
As familiar as these excerpts are, the performances preserved here are quite
vivid and immediate with regard to the quality of the sound and, more importantly,
the interpretation Tennstedt contributed to these performances.
The level of quality found in this CD is hardly unusual for Tennstedt, who
left a number of solid recordings of various works that remain engaging. Most
of all, Tennstedt’s legacy includes performances that are memorable for
solidly musical reasons. Without resorting to artifice or innovation for its
own sake, Tennstedt brought a certain vitality to familiar works like these
by not sacrificing the musical line to sheer effect. At times Tennstedt would
bring out details that may be less distinct in more routine performances of
works like these. Yet the descending line of the upper strings at the end of
the first section of the “Venusberg” music reinforces the transition
to the more expressive middle section that offers a signal to the perceptive
Likewise, Tennstedt’s treatment of the familiar overture to Rienzi
stands out for the way in which the drama emerges in this interpretation, which
is notably slower than some of the more familiar recorded versions of the piece.
By approaching this overture in this manner, Tennstedt brought out some details
that contribute to the sense of drama implicit in the score. The gradual crescendo
toward the full orchestral statement of the principal theme is noticeable and
thus highly effective. At the same time, the slower tempos help to accentuate
the drum rolls that are critical for the way they suspend the pulse of the work
– an effect Mahler would use to a similar end in the last movement of
his Second Symphony. At the same time, the careful tempos found in this performance
of the Rienzi overture allow the orchestra to shape lines. Thus, in
this piece and the other examples a vocal quality emerges from these exquisite
orchestral pieces from Wagner’s operas, such that the interpretations
reflect the nuances that are in the score, but difficult, at times, to achieve
in other circumstances.
Those familiar with Tennstedt’s fine recordings of Mahler’s symphonies
will appreciate his similar command of the London Philharmonic Orchestra in
these pieces by Wagner. They exhibit the level of performance mentioned in the
program notes, in which the critic Hugh Canning is quoted as referring to the
“exalted” quality of music-making in these performances. Released
by the London Philharmonic’s own archives, this is one of the Orchestra’s
own releases, and not a recording made through a commercial agency. It is laudable
that the London Philharmonic has brought out such a fine set of performances
that stem from a single season, rather than selections from various years which
might involve some variance in execution and sound quality.
Granted, this is Wagner presented in concert and in excerpt, with the selections
presented out of the context of the operas and music dramas to which they belong.
Even so, performances like these have been instrumental in bringing the music
to a wider audience and also in attracting audiences to the full versions of
the works to which they belong. The quality of these performances certainly
communicated the music effectively, as evidenced by enthusiastic applause retained
in the recordings conveys the intensity in this recent release of some exceptional
James L. Zychowicz