Recently in Recordings
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
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?
02 Aug 2006
Haitink conducts Elgar and Britten
Commemorating some of its outstanding concerts of the 1980s and Bernard Haitink, its principal conductor (from 1967-1979), the London Philharmonic Orchestra has released on its own label a single CD that includes several
pieces that brought notice to the ensemble.
Introduction and Allegro was recorded on 27
November 1984, the Enigma Variations was recorded two years later,
at a concert on 28 August 1986; Britten’s Our Hunting Fathers
is an even earlier recording, which dates from 14 August 1979. These are
recordings unique to the London Philharmonic Orchestra that have not been
previously released commercially.
Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47 (1904-5) may be
less familiar to American audiences, but this is a fine example of the
composer’s work for string orchestra with its concertato style that
plays a string quartet against the entire ensemble. This work demonstrates
the fine string ensemble that is typical of the London Philharmonic, and the
sound quality on the CD gives a fine sense of the timbre. It is a work that
deserves to be performed more often, and this release may inspire other
orchestras to include this turn-of-the-century work on future programs. The
interplay between the chamber group and string orchestra creates some
intensive sonorities that anticipate scorings that Elgar would take up later
in other works, like the Enigma Variations included in this release.
While the liner notes suggest a concerto with the concerto grosso, this
remains a single-movement work that drives to a wonderful conclusion, which
is capped with the audience’s enthusiastic applause.
With more a familiar work, like Elgar’s Enigma Variations,
op. 36 (1898-99), several fine recordings exist. Yet a live recording of a
performance conducted by Bernard Haitink is welcome for the spontaneity and
finesse that emerges in this release. Significant as it is to recall the
puzzling aspect of the allusions in this music, knowing all the details is
not as important as hearing the techniques Elgar used to develop his thematic
ideas in the fourteen variations. In the tradition of the great orchestral
variation sets, like Brahms’ Haydn Variations, Elgar’s
piece remains popular because of both the strength of its content and the
orchestration, which emerge colorfully in this live performance. Haitink
offers a fine reading, where the winds and brass never overpower the string
texture at the core of this work. The mercurial “Troyte”
variation is telling for its precision – never do the brasses overwhelm
the musicality that must occur in such a successful performance.
Haitink’s shaping occurs at various levels, with clear articulations
punctuating Elgar’s sometimes angular phrases, while also giving
breadth to the sweeping phrases that are central to a variation like
“Nimrod.” In that piece, Haitink has demonstrated his sensitivity
to the larger structure while also attending to the details that must be in
place. It is unfortunate that some audience noises intrude on the final
section, “EDU,” in which Haitink brings the work to a majestic
conclusion. Nevertheless, this is a solid performance that merits repeated
hearing for the nuances that are part of it.
The third piece on this recording is Britten’s orchestral song cycle
Our Hunting Fathers, Op. 8 (1936), which is a setting of texts by W.
H. Auden. In this work Britten addresses the theme of hunting by treating it
with gusto. No sacrosanct treatment of the topic, Auden used the opportunity
to take the sport to task, and Britten underscored the ironic tone with music
that sharpens the meaning further. At the same time Heather Harper offers an
effective reading of this fine score. There are moments in which her ringing
tones suggest timbres one encounters in Strauss’s operas – roles
that she has been known to execute with aplomb. The five songs in this set
benefit from Haitink’s sensitive tempos that allow the text to be heard
clearly. Harper’s diction is clear from the start, such the texts
published in the liner notes are not absolutely necessary. When the music
demands a more lyric, rather than declamatory, approach, as in
“Messalina,” Harper’s enunciation remains exemplary, and
the line is always present. “Rats Away!” is telling for the
prominent part the orchestral plays in tone painting, to which Harper
responds well. It is a delight to know of this recording, which, like the
other pieces included has the added quality of spontaneity from the concert
performance now available through the London Philharmonic’s own
Again, this release of material from the London Philharmonic’s
archive makes available some fine performances that deserve to be known
better. Like another of its releases, a collection of excerpts from
Wagner’s operas conducted by Klaus Tennstedt, this recording also
celebrates Bernard Haitink, whose association with the Orchestra brought
forth some fine concerts, like the ones represented by this selection. Those
not yet familiar with the London Philharmonic’s own recordings can
start with this fine compilation of three excellent examples of English music
from the last century.
James L. Zychowicz