Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Dmitri Shostakovich: Execution of Stepan Razin; October; 5 Fragments, Op. 42
24 Jul 2006

SHOSTAKOVICH: The Execution of Stepan Razin

This new Naxos recording offers a rare opportunity to hear three little-known works by one of the 20th century's greatest composers - The Execution of Stepan Razin op. 119, October op. 131, and Five Fragments for orchestra op. 42, by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75).

Dmitri Shostakovich: Execution of Stepan Razin; October; 5 Fragments, Op. 42

Charles Robert Austin, Abraham Kaplan, Seattle Symphony Chorale, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Gerard Schwarz (cond.)

Naxos 8.557812 [CD]

$7.99  Click to buy

The works, recorded over the last decade, are performed by the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz; Stepan Razin also utilizes the Seattle Symphony Chorale under the direction of Abraham Kaplan, with Charles Robert Austin as the soloist.

All three pieces seem to have suffered neglect over the years, not because of their unquestionable quality, but rather for the sake of ideological expediency. The Fragments, a series of aphoristic gems composed in 1935 as experimental sketches to the ill-fated 4th symphony, might have shared the symphony's fortunes then and are still rarely heard today. Which is unfortunate: this is a fabulously quirky little suite, and a wind lover's paradise. The opening moderato is written exclusively for the woodwinds, while the following andante combines their crisp, whimsical lines with an energetic double bass solo; no. 4, another moderato, is a contemplative fugue for a wind trio. The strings take the lead in a pensive, moody, lyrical Largo (no. 3) - a beauty even by the standards of a spoiled Shostakovich fan. The Allegretto finale opens with a tongue-in-cheek duet for a solo violin and a snare drum, followed by a violin-double bass duet - both combinations straight out of Histoire du soldat, although the violin sounds more like a Mahler scherzo than a Stravinsky "fiddle."

The other two pieces on the CD belong to a later period in Shostakovich's career - the 1960s. The 1967 symphonic poem October, dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution, is unlikely to be found on concert programs today, both Western and post-Soviet orchestras evidently embarrassed by the obvious ideological connotations. October is a high quality symphonic work, although perhaps lacking in either the biting irony or the gut-wrenching depth of its composer's greatest masterpieces. The main theme is an appropriate quotation of a so-called "partisan song" that Shostakovich appropriated from his own early film score, Volochayevskie Dni. Yet the overall mood of the piece is dark and somehow hollow - not at all appropriate for a laudatory offering the subject should have inspired and the reason for the composition's lack of popularity when it first appeared. It may not prove to be anyone's favorite, but it is an intriguing piece of a Shostakovich legacy, and the Seattle Symphony should be commended for resurrecting it.

The title track of the recording is the monumental 1964 Execution of Stepan Razin - an unusual and conceptually difficult work, billed by the composer himself as a "symphonic poem" for a baritone soloist, mixed chorus, and orchestra. Conceived as a sort of companion piece to the 13th symphony, it shares many characteristics of the earlier work: both set the edgy poetry of Yevgeni Yevtushenko; both include a solo male voice and a chorus; both confront the themes of victimization, indifference, and sacrifice. Yet the approach to those themes taken in Stepan Razin is arguably more complex than in the symphony, due to the ambiguous nature of the protagonist - for some, a terrorist, for others, a freedom fighter who kills for a just cause and sacrifices his life for the people who scorn him. Shostakovich himself reportedly struggled with his character's image, and repeatedly asked the poet if, in his opinion, Razin was a good man.

The composer's setting may best be described as, in his own words, "the Russian style" typical of several compositions of the early 1960s, in which elements of pseudo-folksiness (such as the use of plagal cadences and natural minor characteristic of the Russian folk tradition) combine with a more recognizable Shostakovich idiom - flat-degree scales, dark orchestral hues with much use of low register and sharp high/low contrasts. Frequently dry instrumentation with an emphasis on winds and percussion is reminiscent of Stravinsky (an open homage to Histoire is recognizable in an orchestral interlude that illustrates the text "even the skomorokhi fell silent"). More evidently perhaps, the treatment of vocal declamation, the powerful choral scenes, and the overall structure of this unstaged "folk drama" suggests a pervasive influence of Mussorgsky whose opera Khovanshchina and song cycle Songs and Dances of Death Shostakovich was studying and orchestrating in the years immediately prior to composing Stepan Razin.

The Execution of Stepan Razin is an emotionally compelling and intellectually complex work that ought to be much better known than it has been to date. Hopefully, this recording will help change that. The only drawback perhaps is a sorely inadequate booklet that provides next to no help to the listener. I therefore direct my readers wishing more information on the composer and the pieces to Laurel Fay's excellent biography and other examples of first-rate Shostakovich scholarship of recent years.

Olga Haldey
University of Maryland — College Park

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):