Recently in Recordings
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.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
10 Nov 2006
VIVALDI: Sacred Music 2
A recording of the complete sacred music of Antonio Vivaldi is a welcome prospect, not least because it offers an opportunity to go beyond the fame and familiarity of Vivaldi’s concertos and the ubiquitous “Gloria.”
And with the
second volume in this complete series from Naxos, the Canadian Aradia Ensemble
under the direction of Kevin Mallon, with soprano Tracy Smith Bessette and
contralto Marion Newman present a cohesive program of solo works.
Some of the music is sublime: the opening stanza of the Stabat Mater,
for instance, with its expressive use of chromaticism, augmented-sixth
harmony, and sumptious sequences is memorable by any standards. Other works,
by contrast, fail the memorability test--the “Alleluia” to “Canta in prato,,”
for instance, never rises above the pedestrian--but in a recording of the
complete sacred works, the mighty must be taken along with the meek.
The performances, like the music itself, are also uneven. Both soloists
execute Vivaldi’s florid writing—writing that Denis Arnold long ago aptly
likened to Vivaldi’s violinistic passage work—with confidence, although the
vibrancy and fullness of their tones makes it seem like hard work. Smith
Bessette’s gentler passages, like the “Sit nomen” from “Laudate pueri” are
more successful, for here she can bring her attractive warmth of sound to the
fore. Elsewhere the extent of her vibrato creates stylistic issues,
particularly where the vibrato on weak syllables in a “strong-weak” pattern
subverts the rhythmic contour, as in the “Excelsus super” in “Laudate pueri.”
Newman’s tone is beautifully rich. However, the richness occasionally detracts
from the contours of Vivaldi’s sinewy lines, as in the opening of “Stabat
Mater.” For many, I suspect, the touchstone performance of the “Stabat Mater”
remains James Bowman’s with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient
Musick (L’Oiseau-Lyre 414 329 2), a performance difficult to rival in terms of
sheer sonic beauty. In referencing the earlier recording an important contrast
emerges: that between female alto and male countertenor. Generalizations are
both difficult and unwise—falsettists and “contraltos” come in all sizes and
shapes and make a wide variety of sounds. In this particular case, however,
the contrast is between a rich female timbre, sometimes in an awkwardly low
register, and a highly focused, lean, vowel-rich falsetto sound. The clarity
of the line and its contours seem advantageously served by the latter.
The Aradia Ensemble is an orchestra that plays with a fine sense of historical
style. However, too often here one seems to want more . . . more
rhythmic exhilaration in those passages of typical Vivaldi drive, and more
extravagant tone in sensuous passages. In the final reckoning this is a
recording perhaps more welcome for presenting the repertory than for the
actual renditions themselves. The performances are competent and more,
certainly, but rarely are they distinctively compelling.