Recently in Recordings
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.
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.
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