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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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
19 Jul 2006
GUERRERO: Missa Surge Propera
The composers Morales, Guerrero, and Victoria form a holy trinity of sorts, dominating Spanish church music in what we have come to see as a “Golden Age,” a time in which sixteenth-century liturgical polyphony assumed a classical perfection.
Moreover, given the flourishing of
mysticism (Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, for example) and the
rich body of religious paintings associated with El Greco, we can place this
“holy trinity” in a cultural milieu where religion assumed an
unusually strong hold.
There are several things that make Guerrero distinctive among this three,
not least the biographical color that derives from his trip to the Holy Land
and his confrontation with pirates on the voyage. He also is, of the three,
the only one to compose a significant body of secular works in addition to
masses and motets, a notably wider range of compositions. And while this
recording from Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars restricts itself to
liturgical works, it is Guerrero’s range that once again seemss
notable. We are treated here to music that ranges from abstract counterpoint
to highly affective, emotional expressions, and the affective qualities
themselves span luxuriant dolor to exuberant joy.
The Missa Surge Propera is a more abstract work than the motets,
with closely controlled counterpoint and long stretches of uniform texture
and procedures. Phillips, however, remains alert to the text and sculpts the
architecture of the piece with dynamic and tempo inflections, and also a fine
ear for large-scale effects. Sometimes Guerrero points the way, as in the
Credo where the incarnation section becomes simpler, but in all cases,
Phillips is intent—successfully so—in uniting classically
constrained contrapuntal writing with engagingly dynamic interpretation.
Occasionally, when the interpretation evokes strength, the reading seems
perhaps overly strong. For example in the “pleni sunt caeli”
section of the Sanctus, long notes are unusually intense and square shaped in
a way that seems less rather than more expressive. This is all the more
apparent in that the well-contoured, shapely line is a hallmark of
Phillips’ beautiful conceptions of the motets.
Some of the motets are lamentative, like “Usquequo, Domine”
and “Hei mihi, Domine,” and this musical lamentation was
particularly resonant with the Spanish spirituality that defined the
“dark night of the soul.” “Usquequo” is poignant with
its lachrymal descents and homophonic settings of individual phrases, all of
which receive a finely attentive response from Phillips and the Scholars.
(And the last chord is simply sublime!) At the other end of the emotional
spectrum, the “Regina caeli” highlights a joyful richness of
sound, and the performance dazzles with its brilliant dynamism.
The Tallis Scholars, now in their thirty-third year, remain among the best
interpreters of sixteenth-century liturgical polyphony. And in this Guerrero
anthology, it is the commitment to an expressive mode of interpretation
itself that marks the recording with trademark distinction.