05 Feb 2007
BERLIOZ: La damnation de Faust
Why do some conductors make it and others don’t?
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 do occur.
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.
Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera.
A recent release by the Metropolitan Opera, this two-disc set makes available on DVD the famous performance of Berg’s Lulu that was broadcast on 20 December 1980 as part of the PBS series “Live from the Met.”
The novels of Sinclair Lewis once shot across the American literary skies like comets, alarming and fascinating readers of that era, but their tails didn’t extend far behind them.
Once the province of only the most dedicated opera fanatics, mid-20th century recordings of privately taped live performances have become more widely available.
Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.
Why do some conductors make it and others don’t?
Often luck and relationships play a more important role than talent. Lille (Rijssel in Dutch) is a magnificent city in the North of France and its architecture betrays the fact that for almost 800 years it was one of the four big cities of the county of Flanders till Louis XIV conquered it. The city had a fine opera house though until recently the company was in a bad patch and there was no season for several years. It is now slowly on its way back. In 1976 Jean-Claude Casadesus became the principal conductor of the newly formed Orchestre National de Lille to which ensemble he devoted a big part of his career. Of course he took conducting assignments elsewhere and I heard him conduct at the Flanders and the Walloon Opera. He struck me as exceptionally able in the French repertoire; having a lightness of touch without becoming superficial and I always thought he never got the career he deserved. He once more proves his mastering of such a score on this recording and one almost forgets that his orchestra is only second rate. The song of the flea gets the appropriate lightness while ‘L’amour, d’ardente flamme’ receives its portion of tragedy. Casadesus leads orchestra and singers in a way that makes ‘Damnation’ an opera, inevitably leading up to its redeeming end, instead of the somewhat unequal collection of arias, marches and ballet it can be in a lesser maestro’s hands.
It is a joy to finally meet Alain Vernhes in a big part on records. The French bass-baritone (and not a baritone as noted on the sleeve) had an unusual career. He became an opera singer but left the profession due to lack of engagements (not unusual in France for many years where ‘imports’ by definition were almost always considered to be better singers and where good French singers were often literally on the dole). After several years Vernhes tried again and this time he succeeded though as with Casadesus he didn’t get the big career. Although he is no longer young his rolling voice and tremendous acting capacities can still make quite an impression as I gladly noted last year when I heard him as Gounod’s Méphistophèles. Granted, the voice is somewhat rougher than José van Dam’s and his lower notes are, as proven on this recording, not his best ones. But he has the French style in his blood and masterfully characterizes each of his solos (sardonic in his flea song; threatening in his ‘devant la maison’) and he easily surpasses such exotic birds as Fischer-Dieskau, Lloyd or Pertusi. Moreover the voice is fuller than Cachemaille’s or Bastin’s and for those who don’t know him his interpretation will come as a nice surprise.
Michael Myers’ Faust is well-known as he already recorded the role in 1987 for Philips. The voice has become more manly and for a moment one confuses him with Gedda but the chinks in the vocal armour ( the voice becoming smaller above the stave; not always a firm line) soon tell the listener that Myers is somewhat of a poor man’s Gedda; especially if one compares with the early sixties highlights recording with Gedda and Rita Gorr.
Marie-Ange Todorovitch didn’t convince me. Yes, she is French and maybe a dugazon (a high mezzo like Von Stade or Von Otter) suits Marguerite better than a powerhouse like Gorr or Crespin but the voice has not enough beauty in it and sounds often somewhat slack. Her ‘Autrefois un roi de Thulé’ is unremarkable though she is more convincing in ‘D’amour l’ardente flamme’. Nevertheless I regret Naxos didn’t engage the formidable Béatrice Uria-Monzon whose performance in the house some years ago led me to believe here was Gorr’s successor. Sadly the lady is not much interested in recording as she told me herself.