05 Feb 2007
BERLIOZ: La damnation de Faust
Why do some conductors make it and others don’t?
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
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!).
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.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
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.
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’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
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.
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.