Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Recordings

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

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!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

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.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

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.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

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.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

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’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

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.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

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.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

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.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

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: Notturno

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 Sings Mahler Lieder

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.

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hänsel und Gretel

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.

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

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 Magdalena Kožená.

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

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.

Amore e Tormento

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.’ 

Rivals—Arias for Farinelli & Co.

In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi. 



Songs of Amy Beach
20 Nov 2006

Songs of Amy Beach

I can remember a time when Amy Beach was primarily known as a favorite among performers (largely female) whose mission was to present the work of neglected women composers.

Songs of Amy Beach

Patrick Mason, baritone, Joanne Polk, piano

Bridge 9182 [CD]

$17.98  Click to buy

With the revival of interest in American Romantic music, Beach has begun to appear on more recital and concert programs. Now, this recital disc devoted entirely to Amy Beach’s songs, performed by baritone Patrick Mason and pianist Joanne Polk, should bring Beach squarely into the mainstream of serious American art song composers. It is refreshing to hear her songs in a man’s voice, and a special treat to hear the accompaniments, written by a composer who began life as a child piano prodigy and who clearly has a sensitivity for the instrument, performed by an artist who has already made a name for herself recording Beach’s complete piano works for the Arabesque label.

The program is presented chronologically, with an ear for contrast in mood, so that the 56-minute program gives a satisfying sense of the largely self-taught composer’s range and development. While her songs may not have broken much new ground musically, she was very good at what she did, and these songs are quite interesting and satisfying to listen to. Through Patrick Mason’s extensive notes, for which he acknowledges the help of Adrienne Fried Block, Beach’s biographer, we get a real sense of the composer as a person, and of her relationship with her husband, whose poetry she sometimes set and to whom each year, on his birthday, she dedicated a song, which he would sing as she accompanied him.

Block’s biography of Beach is entitled Passionate Victorian, which describes the songs on this disk quite well. The texts are for the most part contemporary with Beach herself, or from a generation earlier, so the poetic diction of some of the earlier songs contains some Victorianisms that may sound dated to us today. But the poems’ resonance with Beach’s passionate nature shows up clearly in the musical treatment she gives them. Mason points out in his notes on “The Summer Wind” (1891), “the sensuality of Amy Beach’s music…the eroticizing of Nature in poetry encourages unashamed expression of sexual feelings not otherwise appropriate at the time (for a woman at any rate). Amy seems liberated by these texts to reveal her true self.”

Mason’s straightforward, authentic delivery of these texts helps keep a song like “Baby” from slipping into simple sentimentality, instead profoundly expressing a parent’s wonder at the miracle of a newborn child. The singer’s diction is for the most part excellent, and I found it easy to follow most of this all-English-language program without having to consult the texts. My one regret is that, perhaps in an effort to achieve this clarity, Mason covers his higher notes more than I would like, making a less resonant sound at the tops of the soaring phrases than the music deserves. In the middle and lower range, however, his voice is quite beautiful (I particularly enjoyed the long held word “past” in his low range in the opening song, “Twilight”).

Listeners interested in exploring Amy Beach’s songs have a choice between this disc and another all-Beach collection on the budget Naxos label by mezzo-soprano Katherine Kelton and pianist Catherine Bringerud. Naxos’s disc is about half the price of this one and contains about twenty more minutes of music (36 songs, compared with 22 on this Bridge release). While there is some overlap between the two programs, many of the songs on each disc are not duplicated on the other, so the two may be considered supplemental rather than direct rivals. If I had to choose between the two, I would probably choose the Naxos disc if my interest were largely in getting intelligent, professional performances of the most songs, including songs in French and German, for a very reasonable price. On the other hand, while Katherine Kelton is an expert on Beach’s songs, the Naxos budget constraints don’t allow for the booklet to contain notes that are anywhere near as extensive as Mason’s. Thus, the Bridge disc enables us to feel that we’ve really gotten to know the woman whose photograph at age sixteen graces its cover. Furthermore, while Catherine Bringerud is comfortable in the Beach accompaniments, Joanne Polk’s extensive experience with her solo music gives the highly important piano parts of these songs a level of detail and excitement that helps to make the performances on Bridge more memorable and the overall program more interesting to listen to as a complete program.

Barbara Miller

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):