08 Oct 2006
The Art of Elaine Bonazzi
This is a recital disc notable for the compelling presence and intimacy of the vocal performance.
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.
This is a recital disc notable for the compelling presence and intimacy of the vocal performance.
From the opening phrase declaimed on virtually a single pitch in Monteverdi’s “Io ch’armato sin hor” we are captured and simply have to hear what the next note will sound like, and the next, and the next. Whether or not we approve of this and the other Monteverdi pieces that begin the program is another matter and will likely depend upon our concerns about authenticity in early music performance. Elaine Bonazzi doesn’t hold back from using her whole voice to sing these pieces, nor does she shrink from shaping the phrases of the three Scherzi Musicali with a flowing legato that frequently becomes full-fledged portamento, set off by the spare piano accompaniment. This was an “old-fashioned” approach to music of this period by the time this disc was recorded in 1985, but it works remarkably well here, probably because the artist’s concern is with shaping the phrases into beautiful lines that express the emotion of the text without sacrificing the integrity of the music’s essential purity. That this was a stylistic choice is clear when we hear the Messenger’s scene from Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo, which is beautifully phrased without portamento to bring out the drama of the extended declamation. To my ear the artists do an admirable job of performing early music in a way that resonates with modern sensibilities while not forsaking the fundamental emotional integrity of the music.
The description of Euridice sinking into death sets us up for a program of more recent music united by a theme of sleep or dreaminess. Britten’s A Charm of Lullabies opens with “Sleep, sleep, beauty bright”, with a gently rocking accompaniment that can make us think we’re hearing a conventional lullaby—until Bonazzi’s excellent English diction brings out Blake’s unsettling text that hints at “dreadful lightnings” when the child wakens into adulthood. We get a better idea of what these might look like in “The Highland Balou”, where a poor highland woman imagines her young son stealing livestock in raids into the more prosperous lowlands, sung in a Scottish accent (the authenticity of which I can’t evaluate) over a humorous syncopated dance rhythm. “Sephestia’s Lullaby” alternates tender consolation to the child too young to know adult sorrow with a frantically abbreviated history of how the baby’s arrival has ultimately led to the father’s departure. Bonazzi handles the mood swings very effectively, pattering out the frantic sections, and beautifully sustaining the last note of the penultimate phrase of the final slow section. In the humorously hostile “A Charm”, the frustrated mother or nurse threatens the child with the vividly described wrath of the Furies if it does not quiet down and sleep. After the energy of these two songs, a peaceful sleep would seem impossible for any child, but then we hear “The Nurse’s Song”, a quietly spectacular song of reassurance that the child’s nurse will be there to take care of it. The vocal line is extremely exposed, beginning with several unaccompanied lines of melodic but unusual intervals that must be sung with supreme musicality so that, when the piano enters at the end of the first verse, it is a perfect meeting. Bonazzi’s artistry is well up to the challenge, spinning a vocal line that combines the improvisational sound of the nurse singing alone with the sure musicality that allows the audience to relax with the child at the moment the piano enters in perfect tune with the voice, reassuring us that the nurse will always be right where she needs to be.
Following the spare precision of the Orfeo scene and the Britten songs, the listener is invited to bask in the sheer beauty of Brahms’s Opus 91 songs for voice, piano and viola, which set two texts that continue the theme of sleep and rest. First is a setting of a Rückert poem seeking rest from yearning, and in the second, the viola begins playing the old German Christmas song “Joseph lieber, Joseph mein” as the voice takes the part of the Virgin Mary asking the winds to be quiet so that her baby may find rest from the sorrow he came into the world to bear. Interwoven with the viola line, sensitively executed by Karen Tuttle, Bonazzi’s rendition of Brahms’s gorgeous vocal melodies flows seamlessly while allowing every German consonant to be clearly heard. In listening to these pieces I am struck by some similarity I hear between the timbre of Bonazzi’s voice and that of the string instruments, which I confess makes it less pleasant to me than the sound of some other mezzos. This is largely a matter of personal taste however, and I have to say that at all times on this recording she brings out the best in her instrument.
A phrase by another string instrument, in this case the cello, opens the Chansons Madécasses of Ravel, easing the rather abrupt transition from the lush Brahms songs to the twentieth-century dissonances of Ravel’s late work. The first and third songs in the set, which Ravel set as a quartet for voice, cello, flute, and piano, are languid and dreamy with more than a little eroticism expressed in these spare musical lines. The dream turns temporarily to a nightmare in the dissonant “Aoua!” that separates them, whose text is a lament upon the effects of colonialism. In all three songs the ensemble is seamless, making the disc a true showpiece of the talents of the faculty at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where Bonazzi was teaching when this performance was recorded. My one quibble at this point is that, while the Chansons Madécasses bring together the most instruments with the voice and might therefore be expected to be a fitting climax to the recital, the fact is that “Il est doux”, which closes the set, so perfectly expresses the indolence of the tropical afternoon that it describes, that it peters off into a single a capella vocal phrase before dropping into complete silence, bringing the recital to an abrupt end.
The CD booklet includes texts and English translations, and some brief notes on the songs, but the bulk of the booklet is given over to a summary of Elaine Bonazzi’s career, with photographs from her personal collection. Given the number of world premieres in which she participated and the high level of her artistry that is clearly demonstrated by this recital, this information is a valuable adjunct to the recording and a welcome memento to those who enjoyed her work during her performing career, as well as an impressive introduction for those who will be encountering it for the first time in this recital performance.