Recently in Recordings
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his
ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
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.
08 Jul 2006
Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait
2006 is a centenary year of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) - a great Russian composer of the 20th century, and a complicated and tortured soul whose posthumous legacy has been a subject of heated ideological debates in recent years.
This new offering from Naxos is an unusual addition to a growing Shostakovich discography: it offers an overview of the composer's life and work in a 92-page (booklet-size, of course) biographical essay, illustrated by 26 tracks of listening examples supplied by an accompanying two-CD set. One of several similar projects recently undertaken by Naxos (others include the "portraits" of John Taverner and Arvo Pärt), Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait presents an overwhelming and emotionally exhausting journey through the composer's life and creative work.
The list of compositions includes sample movements from symphonies nos. 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, and 15; the passacaglia from the 1st violin concerto, and the Andante from the 2nd piano concerto. Chamber music is represented by a movement each from the string quartets nos. 8 and 12; a scherzo from the piano quintet in G-minor; 2nd movement from the 2nd piano trio in E-minor, and the 1st movement of the viola sonata. Among examples of the solo piano repertoire, there is one of the early Fantastic Dances, and excerpts from piano preludes op. 34 and from the 24 preludes and fugues op. 87 - the latter in the composer's own rendition. Film and theater music is represented by excerpts from the ballet suites Bolt and The Golden Age, and the film suites Gadfly and Hamlet. Finally, a brief 1941 radio address in which the composer mentions his work on the "Leningrad" symphony acknowledges, if you will, his "public persona."
The biographical essay penned by Richard Whitehouse is the centerpiece of the experience (the reader may choose to see this project as a compact version of a music appreciation-style textbook with accompanying CDs). Based on material provided by the Shostakovich Society of the United Kingdom, the essay offers a discussion of an enormous number of compositions (some - but not the majority - of which are included on the CDs). It also aims to present an overview of historical and social conditions that shaped the composer's life and informed his work. A Russiannist (or a Russian) may notice quite a few factual inaccuracies in this overview, as well as some questionable interpretations of historical events - some misrepresented, others dismissed or omitted; for instance, one may find it hard to forgive a glib, perfunctory reference to the premiere of the 7th symphony by starving musicians in blockaded Leningrad. Yet overall, Whitehouse's essay is an admirable attempt at a balanced "portrait" of Dmitri Shostakovich that, while acknowledging the competing one-dimensional views of the composer as either a loyal puppet or a closet dissident, thankfully subscribes to neither.
The musical selections included on the two CDs may raise a few eyebrows. Many choices are obviously informed by space limitations and a desire to cast the broadest net possible. Yet, some decisions still seem questionable - for instance, including one of the op. 34 piano preludes instead of the 1st piano concerto arguably much more representative of Shostakovich's style during the same time period. Perhaps the most glaring omission - as I am sure, any subscriber to Opera Today would agree - is vocal music. There are no excerpts from either operas or art songs (even though both genres are discussed at length in the essay); in fact, the composer's contribution to vocal repertoire is represented only by a movement each from the 13th and 14th symphonies, both of which include voices. Another weakness of the recordings - unfortunately a common complaint for Naxos - is the sometimes questionable quality of performances. While the selections by the New Zealand Symphony and much chamber music are very nicely done, and the composer's own performance of excerpts from the op. 87 preludes and fugues that frame the recording is a welcome addition, performances of the symphonies by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra are frequently problematic with respect to their basic quality as well as interpretation (particularly of the 1st and 15th symphonies).
Overall, the way one approaches Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait will determine the quality of the experience. Do not buy the recording if you are looking exclusively for a listening experience - the fragmentary nature, as well as the quality of the selections would ultimately leave one unsatisfied. Meanwhile, approaching the packet in the spirit in which it was created - that is, reading the essay along with the listening examples that are cued to the text - is a surprisingly powerful experience, even for a true Shostakovich devotee. For a Shostakovich novice - the kind of listener Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait appears primarily to address - it will provide an eye-opening introduction to the great composer's life and work.
University of Maryland — College Park