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

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.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

John Dunstable: Sweet Harmony:  Masses and Motets
28 Aug 2006

DUNSTABLE: Sweet Harmony — Masses and Motets

The music of John Dunstable embodies many of the characteristics that so dramatically set the music of the emerging Renaissance apart from its Medieval forebears.

John Dunstable: Sweet Harmony: Masses and Motets

Tonus Peregrinus; Antony Pitts, Director

Naxos 8.557341[CD]

$7.99  Click to buy

The fullness of sound, the sweet amenity of full triads and vertical thirds, and a more highly controlled sense of consonance all combine to create a novel sound world. The novelty of the sound, however, did not reject all continuities: cantus firmus technique, isorhythm, and the genres of motet and mass movement remain integral to the early fifteenth-century style and remind us that even where innovation is pronounced, it is often couched in forms that are familiar.

Sweet Harmony, the present recording by Antony Pitts and Tonus Peregrinus, in part plays on that very idea, for while Dunstable’s music is generally well known, Pitts has compellingly taken that familiar repertory and interpreted it in ways that invite us to hear it anew. This takes several shapes. One is the amount and nature of the musica ficta that he employs. Musica ficta refers to performer-added accidentals, sung to make voice leading smoother and vertical sonorities more agreeable. Pitts applies his accidentals liberally, with the result that his readings are perhaps more harmonically colorful than is often the case.

A second example has to do with the register in which he performs some of the works. Three mass movements, a Sanctus and a Credo-Sanctus pair on the chant Da gaudium premia are sung in the treble range, a notably higher tessitura than usual. The unexpected shift in range is stunning in its effects. To the imaginative, it imbues the Sanctus movements with an angelic aura, resonant with the tradition that the Sanctus is the song of the seraphim. Moreover, the register renders the counterpoint particularly clear; because of the shift in register, the sound takes on new degrees of brightness that allow the intertwining of lines to be heard in a more transparent way than is often the case with more resonant lower voices. And additionally, the shift sends the top treble into the extreme high range—often thrillingly so here—and in so doing presages the sound of the Eton Choirbook later in the century.

A final bit of innovation surfaces in the recording’s last work, a canonic Gloria recently reconstructed by Margaret Bent. Pitts adds to the canon a repeating ostinato in the form of a descending scale through the octave. While lower-voice repeating patterns have much precedence—the liner notes cite the example of the well-known Sumer is icumen in—the full octave descent seems anachronistic, both in its melody and also occasionally in its harmonic implications. Admittedly, in this case the innovation is difficult not to like, but it sounds perhaps more of Pitts than Dunstable.

“Sweet Harmony” offers rich interpretations of foundational Renaissance works. The interpretations are sensitive and creative, and also, in no small measure, refreshing.

Steven Plank

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):