Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.

Jonas Kaufmann : Mahler Das Lied von der Erde

Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.

The "Lost" Songs of Morfydd Owen

A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

The Tallis Scholars: Josquin's Missa Di dadi

‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

Félicien David: Herculanum

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

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):