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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.
02 Aug 2006
Ann Murray and Malcolm Martineau: Schumann, Mahler, Britten
Recorded in early May 2005 at Crear, an artists’ community in Argyll, Scotland, this CD contains selections of Lieder and songs that fit well the supple voice of the mezzo-soprano Ann Murray, who is accompanied facilely by the Scottish pianist Malcolm Martineau.
The program is varied,
which starts with Mahler set of five Rückert-Lieder, songs that date
from the first decade of the twentieth century. Murray’s thoughtful
performance of these songs is a good reminder of how fresh the pieces can be
in the hands of a musician like her, who is sensitive to both the melodic
line and the text. Nowhere does she overstate what is implicit in the text,
especially in “Liebst du um Schönheit,” a subtle song that works
well with Murray’s understated approach to the piece that requires the
control of an experienced Lieder singer.
At times the music reaches beyond the intimacy of the fine acoustic used
for this recording, as with “Um Mitternacht,” with its hymn-like
echoes that call to mind the orchestration Mahler made. If Murray is
sometimes overtly extraverted in interpreting this piece, her subtlety is all
the more apparent in “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” a song
that the composer himself thought to be one of his finest efforts. Martineau
certainly creates a fine ensemble with Murray in delivering this song, and
the nuances he contributes anticipate the way he approached some of the other
music on the CD in what is essentially a recital at Crear.
It is unusual to find a work from an earlier period following such a
modern one as Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, and the placement of Robert
Schumann’s cycle Frauenliebe und Leben at the center of this
recording is a wise choice. Albert von Chamiso’s texts point out some
moments in a woman’s existence, which receive a fine treatment from
Murray and Martineau. While the room sometimes swallows a few of
Murray’s lines, it also offers a good ambiance to the piano. The
performers give the pieces a proper ensemble, as occurs in the second song of
the cycle, “Er, der Herrlichste von allen.” The understatement in
“Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben” fits the tone of
the piece well and shows the supportive role Martineau can offer when playing
this repertoire. All in all, this is a solid performance of this familiar
cycle that benefits from the even and appealing treatment of the vocal line
that Ann Murray brings to the recording.
Yet the pieces by Britten on this CD are treasures. Less familiar than
either the pieces by Mahler or Schumann, the Charm of Lullabies is a
work that deserves to be part of more programs, placed, perhaps, after music
that is more traditional. Murray brings personal and effective expression to
the English poetry Britten set, with the charming Scottish tones of
“The Highland Balou,” a setting of Burns that cannot be missed
for its incessant Scotch-snap rhythm in the accompaniment. In the hands of a
composer like Britten, English is a highly lyric language, and that aspect of
the pieces is not lost on Murray. The patter-song influence on “A
charm,” a setting of poetry by Thomas Randolph, is effective in
rendering a different kind of lullaby. “Sleep! Or I will make Erinnys
whip thee with a snake” and the lines that follow are hardly the kind
of verse an earnest parent would offer before sleep. Yet the final piece,
“The Nurse’s Song,” with version by the sixteenth-century
poet John Philip contains some wonderfully seductive harmonies.
Restful as that piece may be, the first of Britten’s Cabaret
Songs, “Calypso” can rouse anyone’s attention with its
strident whistle. The archness of the texts of this song, as well as the tone
of the others in the set, sounds as though the music was conceived for
Murray, who delivers them with panache. Martineau accompanies her with
finesse, as these somewhat popular-sounding songs round out this engaging
program. Britten’s effort in these songs, as well as the others he
composed, shows the development of the artsong in the twentieth century. Not
precisely Lieder in the strictest sense, these pieces are enjoyable because
of the way in which the text and the music balance each other smartly. As
with the Charm of Lullabies, the composer chose his texts carefully,
an aspect of his song output that makes the music attractive to performers
and their audience.
James L. Zychowicz