Recently in Recordings
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.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
01 Dec 2006
Sweet was the Song
I doubt that this recital disc, recorded in 2004, could have been intended as a memorial to Arne Dorumsgaard, who died in March of 2006, but the composer’s centrality to the program, and the poetic themes of death, sleep, and mortality that recur in the Elizabethan texts, enable such an interpretation.
The recital’s actual theme is Elizabethan poetry as set
by British composers of the period or of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries, all performed by tenor Robert Bracey and pianist Andrew Harley.
The final 15 minutes of the 70-minute program are given over to a performance
of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Four Hymns for Tenor, Piano and
Viola, where they are joined by a fellow member of the University of
North Carolina faculty, violist Scott Rawls.
Within the vocal music world, Dorumsgaard is best known for his 22-volume
Canzone Scordate, sensitive arrangements for voice and piano of a
wide variety of songs that would not otherwise be available to artists in
vocal-piano recitals: European folk songs, old songs in French, Italian, and
German, as well as the songs on this disc, most of which were originally lute
songs by Elizabethan-period composers John Dowland, John Bartlet, and John
Attey. Other artists who have recorded his arrangements include Frederica von
Stade and Gerard Souzay, as well as Kirsten Flagstad, who recorded a recital
of Dorumsgaard’s original songs in Norwegian along with a selection of
his arrangements. (The best source of information on him that I have found
online is his obituary.)
The present disc begins with five settings of Elizabethan poetry by Roger
Quilter, whose skillful settings of the texts and interesting but unobtrusive
accompaniments draw us in and introduce three texts that we will hear again
later in the program: Shakespeare’s “O Mistress Mine” and
“Come away death”, and the anonymous “Weep you no
more”, all of which intertwine the themes of love and death, through
grief for the beloved, grief for oneself at being scorned by the beloved, or
an exhortation to love now as death will come soon enough.
This set is followed by a generous selection of Dorumsgaard’s
arrangements. As the tunes, if not the arrangements, are contemporary with
the poetry itself, this section gives a taste of the musical environment in
which the poets wrote the texts. The difficulty I have with this section is
that there is insufficient contrast among the songs to keep my interest
engaged all the way through. With the exception of the minute given over to
the energetic “What thing is love?” the music is fairly languid.
There are ten English lute song arrangements available in the Canzone
Scordate; the artists present six here, then wisely follow with
Dorumsgaard’s arrangement of Thomas Arne’s eighteenth-century
setting of Shakespeare’s “Come away death”, which adds some
stylistic contrast and eases the transition toward the more modern music.
We re-enter the twentieth century with Eric Thiman’s “The
Silver Swan”, a bird whose song in dying makes the statement
“More Geese than Swans now live—more fools than wise”,
which is curmudgeonly but perhaps fitting as a follow-up to the work of
Dorumsgaard, who gave up original composition and devoted himself to
arrangements of earlier music. As if to emphasize the contrast between the
earlier era and the present, the next song is Gustav Holst’s
“Weep you no more”, a text heard twice before as set by Quilter
and Dowland, but noticeably different from either in Holst’s
Wagner-influenced harmonies. The Germanic influence continues into Ivor
Gurney’s delicately lush setting of “Sleep”, a text which
reappears two songs later in an equally fine setting by Peter Warlock, who
counted among his many musical influences both Roger Quilter and the music of
the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Thus it is fitting that the
Elizabethan-inspired section of the program closes with several more of
Warlock’s songs to Elizabethan texts, finishing with the lively
“As ever I saw”.
By this point in the program, we have spent about 55 minutes hearing a
variety of musical styles unified by the poetry of a single glorious era in
English literature. Bracey sings the songs in an engaged but straightforward
style that doesn’t vary in color much beyond a consistently ringing
timbre that grew a bit tiring for this listener after a while. But when the
sonic landscape opens out with the addition of the viola and the more
triumphant, extroverted music of Vaughan Williams’ 4 Hymns,
Bracey comes into his own. According to the CD booklet, he won first prize in
the Oratorio Society of New York’s Annual International Solo
Competition in 2002, and his skill with that style of music translates well
to this piece, which opens with the two instruments playing at full volume
and the voice cutting through as a triumphant recitative. In the more
meditative second and third songs, the warmth of the viola brings out a
warmth in Bracey’s voice which, if it was there, was not as pronounced
earlier in the recital, when it would have been welcome. An echo of the
triumph of the first song is heard in the concluding “Evening
Hymn” with its evocative ground bass in the piano part of the first and
last verses of the voice, continuing under the viola’s postlude that
gradually fades into quiet as evening falls.
The booklet includes texts of the songs and notes on the composers
represented in the program, as well as biographies of the artists and
publication information on the songs.