24 Sep 2006
VERDI: La Forza del Destino
The better can be the enemy of the good and this recording proves it.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
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.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
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 twentieth-century France
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.
The better can be the enemy of the good and this recording proves it.
As parts of this radio broadcast have circulated before, this means that the original acetates left the cupboards a few times and were put on tape. The sonic quality of the CD’s under review is high and I’m fairly sure the producers didn’t want to use some older tapes but employed the acetates. Unfortunately, acetates can be very fragile and some of them were already slightly damaged as one can derive from the hiss at certain moments. Several times this results in heavy blasts which are quite painful to hear, especially during some of the Stella-solos in act 1 and 2. So the better (using the originals all the time) is less than the good (using some older tapes).
Moreover, the sound picture is not exactly helped by Antonietta Stella. The soprano had made her début one year earlier and she is still finding her way. She gives the impression of singing her heart out in the Verona Arena instead of the rather intimate and not overly big Concertgebouw. She sings unrelentingly loud with almost no nuances. She often lashes out with a glottal bang and the voice doesn’t resemble much the fine Verdi soprano she would become later on. Indeed, only five months later she sang Amelia in Simon Boccanegra far more subtle and there the voice is immediately recognizable as witnessed by the recording Cetra years later put on the market (with Carlo Bergonzi in his first year as a tenor).
Loudness is the main quality of José Soler as well. Most collectors will know him from his Cetra Chénier with Renata Tebaldi and some from his aria album on the same label. An old hand at the Verona Arena told me he was present back in 1949 when Soler sang Manrico. The tenor had good high notes and he encored ‘Di quella pira’. Still the public didn’t let him go and clamoured for another encore. Soler however pointed at the pyre and shouted: “ My mother is burning” and off he ran. The Uruguyan tenor has the right material though he is more a lyric than a real spinto tenor. But he unmercifully puffs up his voice at every high note and has a tremendous success with a public starved of international tenor singing since the war. Soler is not really unmusical, using far less sobs than most tenors did at the time in the same role but phrasing is not his forte. Good strong tenor singing, yes, but bland at the same time.
The only one of the three title singers for whom less is sometimes more is baritone Rolando Panerai. With his lyric baritone he is less inclined to rely on volume and he succeeds in singing with style and nuance. His aria is well done and puts forwards the doubts Carlo has. It is a pity EMI asked the aging Carlo Tagliabue three years later for the Callas-Tucker Forza as Panerai would undoubtedly been an improvement. As far as I know this is his only known recording of the opera and so it is a pity that the second baritone-tenor duet was still cut at the time.
Enzo Feliciati starts out well as Padre Guardiano but soon proves himself to be a rough-and-ready bass. In the last act there is no smoothness at all, no consolation in the voice but just barking along. Amalia Pinta as Preziosilla has one of the biggest vibratos I ever heard which probably explains her lack of a career as the basic colours of the voice are fine. Melchiorre Louise is one of those comprimario-singers we remember well from the legendary recordings of the fifties. He sang Benoit in Bohème or Sacristan in Tosca but Melitone is a league higher and his exaggerated utterances are probably meant to hide his lack of a true baritone or bass voice. Aad de Rijk takes on three roles in one Verdi opera which must surely be some record. The Netherlands had a most austere economic programme after the war and this is one of the results: a bass completely strange to Italian roles. Argeo Quadri drives on his forces without any problem though he too is not too subtle and therefore not a conductor who can demand some lowering of the volume by his two main singers.
Forza is a difficult opera for labels. Even a cut version is still some 10 minutes longer than two CDs can bear and therefore some bonuses are necessary. The first one is quite a contrast with the complete performance. The idiosyncratic style of Helge Rosvaenge never appealed to me in Italian roles; nor does his permanent use of explosive sounds. Heinrich Schlusnus had the most Italian of all pre-war German baritones and he succeeds very well in overcoming the German translation and Hilde Scheppan has a better ear for nuance than Stella though the sound is not very Italian and reminds one of Gundula Janowitz. The second bonus is a strange one: ten minutes of the first act of a Covent Garden Forza of 1975; not exactly the most popular part. Still in those few moments Carlo Bergonzi gives us more real Verdi phrasing than Soler and Rosvaenge combined, even though by that time he flattened every time above the stave.