Recently in Recordings
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
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.
25 Aug 2006
MENDELSSOHN: Sacred Choral Music
The English “Oxbridge” choral tradition tends to be a cohesive one, most often with choirs of men and boys receiving similar training, singing a largely shared repertory in similar venues and in similar contexts.
Amid the unified tradition, however, certain choirs have claimed a sound more individualized than the traditional ideal, with St. John’s, Cambridge being one of the classic instances. Under the leadership of George Guest from 1951 to 1968, the choir became well known for its more continental timbre and directness of sound, a parallel development to the style in favor at London’s Westminster Cathedral under George Malcolm.
Guests’s organ scholars have included both Stephen Cleobury and David Hill, two of the leading figures in modern English church music. Interestingly, both Cleobury and Hill were at one time Masters of Music at Westminster Cathedral, where the continental style had long found a warm reception. Cleobury went from Westminster to King’s College, Cambridge, the standard bearer of what we might call the “traditional” sound; Hill, after fifteen years at Winchester Cathedral, returned to St. John’s in 2003. Interestingly, as this present recording under Hill’s direction shows, the sound at St. John’s has changed, with a more modulated treble in evidence and also a more pure blend. Thus, the recording is an opportunity to be reminded that no matter how rich the tradition in a given place, change, to a degree, is a part of keeping the tradition alive.
Mendelssohn’s choral music draws on diverse musical influences. J. S. Bach seems, naturally enough, often peering over Mendelssohn’s shoulder, as in the contrapuntal chorale fantasia form of “Aus Tiefer Not,” or the second half of the “Ave Maria,” whose running-note bass line under slower-moving choral writing reminds of the Credo from the B-minor Mass. In other instances, it is the chorale-rich Reform tradition itself that seems to be a guiding force, as in “Mitten wir im Leben sind,” an earnest and powerful work that seems to partake of Reformation zeal. Still in other pieces, however, Mendelssohn draws on early nineteenth-century melodic propensities, and writes beautiful chorale Lieder. One of the best instances of this on the recording is surely “Verleih’ uns Frieden,” and the choir’s performance unfolds with a remarkable naturalness and sense of line. This diversity is discernible in the program, but, that said, there is also a degree of sameness in many of the pieces, where eight-voice, rich textures in chordal style predominate.
The most familiar work on the recording is surely “Hör mein Bitten” (commonly “Hear My Prayer”). It may be a hearty perennial, but how welcome is this absolutely splendid performance. The treble soloist, Quintin Beer, who must carry much of the piece on his shoulders, is a joy. He sings with a big sound, well handled, with sensitive phrasing and an unforced high range. His sense of line and his ability to sustain—sustainability of line is one of the signature virtues of the recording—seem quite mature, and the confidence he brings is surely well deserved. “Hear my Prayer” was featured on the first of the sixty recordings that George Guest made on the Argo label. As this present recording is the first that St. John’s has made for Hyperion, we might excitedly await the next fifty-nine!