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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.

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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.

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Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

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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’.

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Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

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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.



G. F. Handel: Messiah
16 Dec 2006

HANDEL: Messiah

Undoubtedly the appearance of Handel’s Messiah in late December means different things to different people.

G. F. Handel: Messiah

The Taverner Choir & Players; Andrew Parrott, Director

Virgin Veritas 7243 5 62084 25 [2CDs]

$11.98  Click to buy

Some will find the first notes of the “Sinfony” to be the welcome knock at the door of a friend whose absence has been too long and whose seasonal visit, charged with associations of bygone days, will feel all too short. Others will find the sounds like the houseguest for whom hospitality has become a routine obligation—not unwelcome, but uneventful and unbidden. And one suspects that this range itself is a relatively long-standing one. The 1980s stirred things up, however, with the introduction of period-performance Messiahs. Now the “knock at the door” seemed to bring the old, bewhiskered uncle who, after decades of a beard, suddenly arrived clean shaven. The new visage admittedly played on our notions of familiarity, but also sparked a new engagement.

The new visage—Messiah shorn of symphonic notions—brought tempos that danced with buoyance, verbal inflection of musical lines, new degrees of timbral clarity, ornamental grace, fluency of embellishment, and new approaches to articulation, at once more subtle and yet more clear. And now, twenty years down the road, the new visage has become not only familiar, but expected.

Andrew Parrott’s period Messiah from the late 1980s was re-released a few years ago by EMI Virgin Classics, and the re-release amply documents the richness and staying power of this generation of Messiah performances—a richness now removed from the aura of novelty—the “uncle” has been clean shaven for quite a while now. In part, the richness of this performance derives from Parrott’s soloists, then the unrivalled stars of the English early music scene, including soprano Emma Kirkby, countertenor James Bowman, and bass David Thomas. Thomas’s renowned profundity combines here with his wondrous ability to spin a melodic line and his ever commanding melismatic prowess, marking the bass solos with memorable distinction. Similarly, Bowman’s electrically-charged melismas on “For he is like a refiner’s fire” are excitingly dynamic, and his vowel-rich grace in “And he shall feed his flock” is one of the high points of the recording.

The choir and orchestra are unflaggingly responsive to Parrott’s vision of the work—a vision that moves things along with dramatic urgency and vividly drawn affective content—and they respond with the stylistic fluency that we have long associated with the various Taverner ensembles. To this one can only add: “Hallelujah!”

Steven Plank

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