Recently in Recordings
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
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 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.
24 Jan 2007
MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer; Symphony no. 1 in D
A welcome addition to the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s own line of releases, this CD is a compilation of two works by Gustav Mahler that the late Klaus Tennstedt performed with the ensemble and which have not been issued previously.
Presented in two discrete concerts, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen was recorded on 26 September 1991, and the First Symphony from 12 February 1985, with both given at the Royal Festival Hall, London.
A fine interpreter of Mahler’s music, Thomas Hampson was in fine voice for the 1991 performance, and the recording captures his sound quite well. If anything, his voice sounds more forward than the ensemble accompanying him, with the orchestral timbres blended appropriately. Tennstedt’s tempos support the vocal line well, with the interludes sometimes shaped to enhance the texts. With “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld,” for example, the orchestral slowing before the final strophe is essential to the emphasis that Hampson gives to the final two lines that convey the reversal of tone at the end of the song: “Nun fängt auch mein Glück wohl an? / Nein, nein, das ich mein’, / Mir nimmer blühen kann!” Here the vocalist and conductor must work hand-in-glove, and the performance is exemplary in conveying the shift in mood that is crucial to understanding the song and the rest of the cycle.
As to Hampson’s vocalism, the upper range is quite effective, and demonstrates the kind of lyricism that endeared him to audiences around the world. He shows his capacity to use register as an expressive device, and thus enhances Lieder like these without forcing onto the music affectations that compete with the musical text. A full voice, Hampson is by no means reluctant to start the third song aggressively, and thus suggest the almost hallucinatory state of mind that is crucial for “Ich hab’ ein glühen Messer.” Yet when the music calls for subtlety, he has the capacity to do so with full support, as in the subdued, but never vapid, approach he has given to “Die zwei blauen Augen.” Likewise, Tennstedt’s control of the orchestral never ventures into the singer’s realm, and always serves to support the characteristically Lieder-like style of this orchestral song cycle.
With the recording of Mahler’s First Symphony, a work for which Tennstedt was well known, and this performance predates the esteemed recording of the piece that he made with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1991. As difficult as it can be to describe conductors’ approaches, it is otherwise with Tennstedt. In this work he offers a spaciousness that allows the ensemble to render this demanding score effectively. The relatively slow opening movement allows the various motives to emerge clearly, without forcing the passage that translate the vocal line from “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld.” At the same time, the pacing gives the brass – especially the trumpet – the opportunity to use a sweet, ringing sound that comes across clearly as an individual color. Likewise, it is a fine tempo for demonstrating the cohesiveness of the strings that Mahler relied on to for the timbral core of much of the first movement.
The second movement, the Scherzo, conveys the sense of a Landler in its easy, almost rocking tempo. This movement has its challenges in the lengthy stretches that have no tempo markings to guide the conductor and, at the same time, shorter passages that are in contrast overly marked by Mahler. The conductor must resolve the issues himself, and Tennstedt has done so well, with nuances of accelerandos and ritardandos that underscore the music without become mannered or unnatural. Ultimately the Scherzo must accelerate the weight of its own texture to the climax that precedes the central, lyrical section, and Tennstedt did so well in this performance, with the center of the movement convincingly delicate.
For some Mahler’s innovation is the ironic funeral march of the third movement, and the recording captures that tone. The slow tempo that Tennstedt took in the opening section forced the unusual solo instruments to become prominent. There is a hint of a reaching in the tuba that does not sometimes occur, and that is entirely appropriate to the style of the piece. Likewise, the Bohemian wind band sounds – sometimes suggested to be influenced by Klezmer ensembles – is sufficiently colorful without becoming a caricature. The details, which are always essential in successful performances of Mahler’s music, are evident here, with trills that are long enough to be heard clearly, but never out of character. Yet the middle section, the passage that Mahler derived from “Die zwei blauen Augen” has a cantabile quality that sets it apart from the wry humor with which the movement opened. Here, the quotation of the song is as crucial to the direction found in the rest of the Symphony as the ritardando – almost a piacere style – that must occur before the final few lines of “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld.” It is as this point that Tennstedt sets the tone that is resolved and developed in the Finale. Thus, the attacca connection between the third and fourth movements is a critical element that must occur, and it is handled well in this concert performance, where no audience noise is evident.
Again, the aspect of spaciousness that Tennstedt brought to the opening movement is essential to his interpretation of the Finale. Never do the brass sound rushed or pushed prematurely to the brink of their abilities. At the same time, they never overbalance the string textures that Mahler used the movement, but rather color it. Here and there it is possible to hear some entrances that betray the recording as a live performance, but overall it holds together in ways that have sometimes escaped conductors in studio recordings. The anthem-like tone of the final section of the movement takes the listeners to the musical climax without allowing the coda to seem an afterthought. It is an effective performance that deserves to be heard in order to appreciate both Tennstedt’s legacy and the capacity of the London Philharmonic for performing this repertoire.
James L. Zychowicz