Recently in Recordings
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his
ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
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”
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.
21 Feb 2007
Victoria de los Angeles performs Ravel, Debussy & Duparc
Carmen was one of Victoria de los Angeles’ favorite roles and she brought to it much that we
hear on this recording of French songs: a winsome voice without heavy vibrato, a close attention to musical detail, and an evident understanding of the French words that she conveys, if not with an impeccable accent, at least with a convincingly understandable pronunciation.
As a Spanish
singer in a French opera set in Spain, her interpretation had an organic integrity that added
authenticity to the operatic visit to her home country.
We enjoy a similar musical voyage on this EMI re-release of songs by Ravel, Debussy and
Duparc. The Ravel songs provide an ethnic travelogue in Tristan Klingsor’s fantastic text to
Shéhérazade and in actual ethnic songs from around the Mediterranean region in the Cinq
Mélodies Populaires Grecques, the Chants Populaires, and the Deux Mélodies Hébraïques. The
Debussy songs provide imaginary time travel to the worlds of Watteau paintings in the Fêtes
Galantes and to an imaginary ancient Greece in the Chansons de Bilitis. The Debussy songs and
the Ravel Chants Populaires are accompanied by Gonzalo Soriano on the piano; the rest have
These songs were recorded in 1963 and 1967 when the singer was in her prime vocally and we
hear none of the roughness that crept in as financial concerns caused her to extend her career.
Still, it has to be acknowledged that in the upper registers, her voice, while retaining a beautiful
purity, does not really blossom. Thus the sound that transports some listeners does not excite
everyone. To my ear, this pure tone works very well in most of this repertoire. Ravel’s ethnic
songs have a directness from which a heavier vibrato would detract. Thus the Chants
Populaires, infrequently recorded, are very successful. The ubiquitous Cinq Mélodies
Populaires Grecques bring out the endearing warmth of her personality, but the orchestral
accompaniment, while adding color, perhaps makes a bigger production of these songs than they
should have (only two of the orchestrations are by Ravel himself). The Deux Mélodies
Hébraïques are simple and, especially in the case of the Kaddisch, worshipful. A quick
comparison with Cecilia Bartoli’s performance of these songs and the Chants Populaires on her
1996 Chant d’Amour disc shows Bartoli having a richer sound but less clearly understandable
texts. Bartoli also sings these songs in Hebrew rather than French, and noticeably modifies her
voice to sound childlike in the son’s section of the dialogue in the Chanson Hebraïque.
There is also much to like in De los Angeles’s performance of the Debussy songs. Again, the
purity and containment of her vocal sound bring out the ironic detachment as well as the charm
of the Fêtes Galantes set. Her performance of the Chansons de Bilitis beautifully evokes what
Graham Johnson calls their “Delphic spirituality”, where the eroticism is “veiled, understated,
and under-age”. Her ability to sound vulnerable while using her whole voice draws us into the
heart of the young woman encountering the birth, consummation and death of erotic passion.
Again, one can compare with more recent performances. Dawn Upshaw on her 2004 Voices of
Light presents a more sharply defined emotional range: more intensely passionate in “La
Chevelure,” while backing off the (already fairly transparent) sound to sound more childlike in
places. By contrast, René Fleming on her 2001 Night Songs has a less focused sound with more
pronounced legato than either of the others. There is more shimmer in the higher registers, but
less personality in the interpretation. De los Angeles’s final Debussy song is the troubled “Noël
des enfants qui n’ont plus de maison”, written by the aged Debussy in horror at the devastation of
World War I. Again, De los Angeles’s sincerity and pure timbre allow her to sing unaffectedly
as one of the displaced children regretting the loss of “our little beds” (as well as the rest of their
villages, families, and daily lives).
It is in the Ravel Shéhérazade, and the orchestrated Duparc songs that admirers of a richer
sounding voice may be disappointed in this program. In the expansive “Asie”, which opens the
entire disc and describes a fantasy voyage across the continent, exploring every dark nook and
cranny before returning home to tell one’s friends about it, the changing colors of the travelogue
are heard in the orchestra rather than in the singer’s voice. However, the two more intimate
songs that follow are quite effective, particularly when one takes into account that they both deal
with erotic passion that under the circumstances cannot or will not be pursued, so the singer’s
contained sound works well.
There is no faulting de los Angeles’s emotion, musicality or technique in the Duparc songs that
close the disc. Duparc himself might object to the performance, since he apparently was annoyed
to hear a woman’s voice sing a man’s song. And of course, those who are drawn to Duparc
among French composers because he is more like their real love, Wagner, than many others, will
want to hear a bigger vocal sound than de los Angeles offers. Nevertheless, she does bring off
the intimacy of the opening of “Phydilé” very well, and when the sonic landscape opens out in
the climax, she is able to fill it effectively without pushing her voice, reminding us once again of
her very successful operatic career.
It should be noted that this disc, released as part of EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century”
series, has been completely remastered at Abbey Road studios. Fans of Victoria de los Angeles
should know that all of these performances are also available on the multi-disc set entitled The
Fabulous Victoria de los Angeles. Since I had that set already, I compared some of the tracks on
my own equipment and that of my audiophile brother-in-law, and he and I both agreed that her
middle voice in particular is better captured on the older discs, so I wouldn’t advise buying this
disc if you have the older set, or are enough of a fan to consider acquiring it (last I checked it’s
still available). The new release includes a 2006 essay by John Steane (in English and in German
translation) discussing the songs and the singer, as well as texts and German and English
translations of the songs.