Recently in Recordings
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.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
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.
20 Mar 2007
Das Gänsebuch (The Geesebook): German Medieval Chant
In their attempt to recreate a combination of musical styles typical of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Nürnberg, Schola Hungarica and its directors László Dobszay & Janka Szendrei have chosen selections from the Gänsebuch, described as the “only complete extant source for the pre-Reformation liturgy of the mass in Nürnberg.” [CD liner-notes, p. 3]
manuscript, preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, derives its name from an
internal illustration here reproduced on the cover of the CD-booklet. In the featured scene a
group of geese singing in choir is assembled before a music-lectern upon which rests an open
score. To this presumably liturgical musical piece a wolf points with his baton as he directs the
geese in chant. Standing behind this choral group a fox is positioned in astute observation of the
performance. The Gänsebuch’s commission has been traced to the church of St. Lorenz,
although the masses included in the gradual were associated with parish churches of both St.
Lorenz and St. Sebald in late medieval Nürnberg. Feast days in honor of specific saints or
blessed figures who were of special importance to the city were incorporated in this extensive
compilation, which also represents the larger context of the medieval Roman liturgy. As such,
the Gänsebuch represents both local and more wide-ranging cultural traditions and has further
been recognized as a significant document for theological, hagiographic, and musicological
studies. For the present recording a selection of masses from the Gänsebuch has been chosen,
some of which celebrate blessed figures whose official association with churches in Nürnberg
was recognized only in the century or so before the commission of the book. These choral
selections are performed in the style of traditional chant, indeed hearkening back to an earlier
period. In order to underscore the late medieval intent of the performance, the masses are here
interspersed with shorter hymns and liturgical selections by fifteenth- and sixteenth-century
composers and here performed by the organist Matthias Ank. As a concluding band a brief
performance features the famous bells of the Church of St. Lorenz.
The intricate mass for St. Sebaldus, included here in its world-premiere performance, makes
evident the importance of this blessed figure in fifteenth-century Nürnberg especially after his
official canonization in 1424. Most versions of the vita of Sebaldus locate his youth in Denmark
where he was betrothed to a French princess. An early decision to renounce this potential union
and to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome marks the beginning of a series of miracles associated
with Sebaldus both during and after his life. A selection of these is narrated in the present mass
especially in the Sequentia after the introduction of Sebaldus in the “Alleluia.” As the liturgical
order is here presented, an intricate alternation of male and female choral parts is used as a
structural device in the six parts from Introit to Communion. The actual narration of the “Vita
Sebaldii” proceeds in the fourth division of the mass, or Sequentia, as a relatively unadorned
declamation. In opposition to the regular rhythmic patterns in this narrative part of the mass,
those symbolic associations connecting the blessedness of Sebaldus and the divinity are
performed with much greater decorative emphasis. Before the citation of Sebaldus’s name in the
Alleluia, the Gradual of the mass features the phrase “Lex Dei … in corde ipsius” (“the law of
God resides in his heart”). The phrase is performed by male chorus with an extended, and here
skillfully performed, melisma on the words describing the heart of Sebaldus. Likewise in the
Offertorium a female chorus recites the symbolic phrase “in capite eius coronam de lapide
pretioso”(“upon his head a crown of precious stones”) with significant decoration in contrast to
the actual vita. The performance by Schola Hungarica emphasizes the inner, spiritual beauty of
Sebaldus as an exemplary figure. Corporeal symbols are thus performed here as a magnification
of internal sanctity. In consequence, the events of his life and death are given credence, such as
the narration of his post-mortem transportation by oxen to a chosen spot in Nürnberg. According
to legend and the text of the present mass, the animals refuse to move further until the designated
area is declared as hallowed ground. The Church of St. Sebaldus was allegedly erected later in
this very location.
In the mass from the Gänsebuch dedicated to St. Martha aspects of her vita are integrated
throughout all the individual segments. Already in the Introit and the Gradual Martha is named
and her legendary encounter with a serpent is noted. By contrast, the actual narrative of the
deeds of Sebaldus in his corresponding dedicatory mass begins only in the Alleluia and the
Sequentia. The bipartite nature of legends surrounding the figure of Martha, and the attempts to
integrate both traditions into the service here presented, could explain the more expansive
treatment of the saint in her titular mass. As mentioned in the Gospel of John, Martha is
identified as the sister of Lazarus and Mary. In their home in Bethany Martha serves the supper
during which the feet of Christ are anointed by Mary. The behavior of Martha here would
explain domestic associations with the saint, just as she had gone out to welcome Christ when
His arrival in Bethany was made known earlier in John’s Gospel. Her attributes in this report
include both a ladle, or similar kitchen tool, and a set of keys, in either case indicating
associations with the home. An alternate legend associated with Martha locates her together with
Lazarus and Mary in a boat which lands at Marseilles. Since this journey occurs after the death
of Christ, it is generally associated with Martha’s contribution to spreading the new belief. After
leaving the boat, Martha frees the people of Aix from the repeated attacks of a dragon and
converts them simultaneously to Christianity. She was allegedly able to defeat the beast by
holding forth a cross or by sprinkling it with consecrated water. Both symbols are reckoned as
attributes of Martha in this version of her legend, in addition to her depiction with a dragon in a
tamed or defeated pose. Such associations of Martha with physical and spiritual strength are
featured in the Introit of the Gänsebuch mass: here a chain or girdle, with which Martha bound
the dragon, is related to her personal commitment to the sign of the cross. The succeeding parts
of the mass alternate between both versions of Martha’s legendary nature, signifying either
domesticity or spiritual power. After reference to the dragon’s fury in the Introit, both divisions
of the mass which follow immediately, the Gradual and the Alleluia, highlight Martha’s skills at
hospitality. In the performance by Schola Hungarica these are assigned for the Gradual to a male
and for the Alleluia to a female choral group. In the first of these two parts Martha’s solitary
duty is emphasized by the choral decoration extended on the word “solam” in the phrase “soror
mea reliquit me solam ministrare” (“my sister leaves me alone to serve”). The Alleluia features
similar melismatic decoration of the names Martha and Mariae Filio, Son of Mary. Here
Martha’s hospitality to welcome Christ in her home is a precursor to the future joy that she will
sense when welcomed by Christ in heaven. The female chorus in this performance expresses the
ideal mutual exchange of domestic welcome as a symmetrical effect in both worlds.
Other pieces chosen from the Gänsebuch for this rich sampling by Schola Hungarica give a
picture of late medieval religious culture in central and southern Germany. As an example, the
Mass for the Holy Lance and the Nails, originating at the court of Emperor Charles IV in the
fourteenth century, survives as one of the most significant religious feast days in fifteenth-century
Nürnberg. Its premiere recording here leaves open the welcome prospect for future attention to
the specific mass, its liturgical and cultural importance, and its potential relation to other
religious celebrations in the late Middle Ages.