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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.
06 Apr 2007
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Film music has become a sort of refuge for some music lovers turned off by the work of those serious music composers who have turned increasingly away from attempting an encounter with a broader public, retreating into an insular word of academic composition.
At least in a film
score, one can still hear snatches of melody, even if lacking in further development. However,
just as the world of “serious music” isn’t producing composers like Dimitri Shostakovich or
Samuel Barber these days, the world of film music lacks an Elmer Bernstein, a John Barry. There
are good composers out there, in both worlds - but that final touch of inspiration and originality
has gone missing.
Which brings us to the soundtrack for the film version of Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume,
which relates the creepy story of a man born with no body odor. He becomes fascinated with
scents, and his career as a creator of perfume soon develops into a serial killer’s obsessed pursuit
of the perfect aroma. One will have to employ some detective skills, probably employing a
magnifying glass, to identify the composer of the film’s score on the front, or even back, cover of
the CD. In fact, the credit goes to composers, for the film’s director, Tom Tykwer, also took on
the role of scorer, with the “collaboration of his two musical associates, Johnny Klimek and
Reinhold Heil,” as the booklet essay declares. Other than the film’s title, the primary cover credit
goes to the Berlin Philharmonic, under the leadership of Simon Rattle.
What we have here, then, is a world-class orchestra performing relatively simple music, both in
harmony and rhythm. Often short phrases are repeated over slowly altering chords. A wordless
chorus haunts many of the tracks, with two adult female sopranos (Chen Reiss and Melanie
Mitrano) and one boy soprano (Victor De Maiziere) contributing their own wordless spookiness.
For over seventy minutes and 18 tracks, a mood of subtly threatening lusciousness prevails, with
no fast music to speak of. Think of it as Bernard Hermann meets Vangelis.
To have Rattle and the Berlin Phil perform this music brings to a mind a gorgeous Maserati
purring at 25 miles per hour, gliding interminably through residential streets, encumbered with
stop signs every couple of blocks. Gorgeous to look at, in other words, but a waste of effort, not
to mention gasoline.
With DVDs so easily available and affordable, exactly why anyone would want an audio-only
version of this type of film score confuses your reviewer. But for anyone who would like some
insistently eerie yet sensuous background music for an evening of, well, romance, perhaps this is
just the disc. Hit “repeat.”