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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.
16 Feb 2007
BRAHMS: Ein deutsches Requiem
In dedicating much of his creative life to the Thomaskirche, the German musician Günther
Ramin left his mark on the musical life of Leipzig, and his legacy includes a fine recording of
Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, op. 45.
Recorded live on 1 April 1954, this previously
unreleased performance makes Ramin’s efforts available half a century after his death in 1956.
Those familiar with some modern performances of this work should notice the somewhat
meditative tempos that Ramin used in this work. The opening conveys, for example, a more
atmospheric approach to the work, which is borne out in the choral textures that are evident in
this recording. Monaural by nature, the orchestral forces seem subdued, with the choral forces
more prominent than usual. It is not an unwelcome result, since the chorus is remarkably
nuanced, with the boys’ voices evincing a pure and solid tone that uniquely colors the
Ramin’s tempos with the first movement tend to be slower than usual, with the pacing of the
second movement seeming more marchlike in character. The quiet opening of the movement
conveys a sense of emotional distance that Ramin brings into his interpretation of this work. The
austere sonorities offer a different perspective than some give the work, thus reflecting the more
classically oriented side of Brahms, even within this less-than-traditional treatment of a Requiem,
with its idiosyncratic texts chosen from Scripture in lieu of the conventional Latin Mass.
The third movement is particularly revealing for the interplay between textures, with the solo
parts taken by the baritone Gerhard Niese. Niese’s performance is laudable, but sometimes
overshadowed by the choral forces that weave around the baritone part in this concerto-like
movement in which the text of Psalm 39 resolves, as it were in the verse from the book of
Wisdom, with its assurance of salvation for the just soul. In this movement, the counterpoint is
nicely clear, and it is in such places that the weaknesses of the original recording medium are
apparent. For some reason the sound improves with “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen,”
perhaps the best-known section of Brahms’ Requiem, and quite effective in Ramin’s treatment of
the music. Near the end of the work, in the sixth movement, the concluding section “Herr, du
bist würdig” is contrastingly more extroverted, with Ramin bringing out the spiritual assurances
implicit in Brahms work.
As a live performance, some ambient sounds are part of the recording, most from the activity on
or near the podium. Audience noise is rare, with the clicking of a baton emerging from time to
time to punctuate the choral timbres. A performance like this may never supplant the famous one
by Klemperer, but Ramin’s stands well on its own merits. Given the fame of the Thomaskirche
and the historically important role of its cantor, this recording offers a fine glimpse into the
musical traditions there in the mid-twentieth century.