Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Recordings

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

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,



Hyperion CDA67559
31 Aug 2006

BRAHMS: Missa Canonica

The program for this recent recording from the choir of Westminster Cathedral presents sacred choral works by Brahms and Rheinberger, anchored at one end by Brahms’s youthful Missa Canonica and at the other by Rheinberger’s Mass for Double Choir in E-flat, Op. 109. with a handful of motets by Brahms in between.

J. S. Brahms: Missa Canonica; Rheinberger: Mass

The Westminster Cathedral Choir, Martin Baker, Director

Hyperion CDA67559 [CD]


Somewhat problematically, however, neither of the “anchors” seems to have sufficient interest or weight to support the recording as a whole. Brahms’ Missa Canonica consists of only a Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, and derives from the 1850s when Brahms was in his early twenties. The study of counterpoint and the influence of Joseph Joachim helped fortify Brahms for significant aspects of this musical chapter, and the Missa Canonica, a work that lay dormant until the middle of the twentieth century, bears the stamp of his contrapuntal immersion. The Kyrie seems to announce Renaissance ideals that are wed to melodic lines with a compelling Romantic sweep. And the conclusion of the Agnus is quite beautifully constructed. However, too much of this incomplete “Missa” feels like student exercise. We should welcome its modern rediscovery, publication, and recording, but I suspect its interest will lie as much in what it tells us about Brahms as the music itself.

Similarly, Rheinberger’s E-flat Mass will certainly present interesting moments—the halo effect of the “et incarnatus est” in the Creed is effective, as is the “sepultus est” that follows, and the intertwining of the voices of the Agnus Dei is wonderfully engaging—but much of the Mass is economical (the Gloria takes only a little over three minutes) and offers little that will substantially engage the listener.

Fortunately, the Brahms motets are jewels all, including both “Es ist das Heil” and “O Heiland reiss,” works that show Brahms’s affinity for the German motet tradition—they are chorale based and impressively contrapuntal—and his fluency in making that tradition his own. None of the motets are lovelier, however, than the Geistliches Lied, “Lass dich nur nichts nicht dauern.” Richly canonic—it comes from the same period as the canonic mass—it nevertheless veils its canonic richness with wonderfully unfolding lines and a congenially supportive organ accompaniment. The sense of return in leading to the final strophe is nothing short of magical, and the rich chain of suspensions that comprise the final Amen is breathtaking.

The trebles of the Westminster Choir sing with a decidedly “continental” edge to the sound, an often observed aspect of their tradition. Characterized by a bright timbre, the treble sound can indeed be thrilling in some contexts, but in the present recording the line separating brilliance and shrillness is sometimes too narrow, especially at loud volume and in the upper register. By analogy, too, the overall interpretive approach favors a high-energy level that in some instances is engagingly full of verve—the freudige Geist section of “Schaffe in mir” is a good example--but in other instances, the line that separates verve from aggression is also a narrow one, and sometimes misjudged here.

In the final reckoning, the program itself will perhaps leave the listener wanting a bigger serving of more substantial fare, and the choir’s style is at times overly brilliant and energized where warmth and a more graceful line might serve well. There are many beautiful moments, however, and the listener who seeks them out will find reward.

Steven Plank
Oberlin College

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):