03 May 2007
American Choral Music
The commitment of Naxos to American music is substantial and admirable.
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.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
The commitment of Naxos to American music is substantial and admirable.
In their best recordings, the company’s reputation as a budget-price label becomes almost incidental. The performances are professional, often inspired, and the repertoire not limited to more popular composers such as Copland or Bernstein.
The disc “American Choral Music” is a fine example. James Morrow leads the University of Texas Chamber Singers in a program of pieces by Persichetti, Ives, Corigliano, Foss, and yes, Copland — but even then, the seldom-heard Biblical setting, In the Beginning.
A demanding group, choral music fans should find much to enjoy here. Some works are for chorus alone (Ives’s Psalm 90), one has organ accompaniment (Foss’s Behold, I Build a House), and the others employ the University Chamber Orchestra. With Susanne Mentzer as soloist in the Corigliano and Foss works, this disc has an enjoyable variety of structure and technique.
Nonetheless, some pieces will appeal more than others, and your reviewer found the opening set of short e.e. cumming’s settings by Persichetti, Flower Songs, to be an absolute delight that the rest of the material does not quite match. Persichetti tends to lay a mist-like instrumental fabric under the vocal line, so that the words come through distinctly. As all the works center on floral imagery, the pastel colors of the scoring feel appropriate, though having at least one more rhythmically charged piece might have been advised.
In Psalm 90, the Ives piece, the denser writing for chorus means that often individual words get lost. This music doesn’t come from Ives in bold iconoclast mode, and a dreariness sets in as the work proceeds to its conclusion at the 11-minute mark. Perhaps dreary is how Ives heard religious music.
Whereas the Ives piece comes from late in the composer’s career, Corigliano’s Fern Hill is an earlier work. Your reviewer heard some of the melancholy lyricism of Samuel Barber in the gentle music here, and the chorus admirably sustains a lighter approach.
With an insistent organ part (played by Seung Won Cho), Lukas Foss’s Behold, I Build an House also requires much full chorus contribution, and with Naxos unable to provide texts, most of the words pass by in an aural blur.
Setting the familiar lines of Genesis, Aaron Copland’s In the Beginning uses a call-and-response structure, with Mentzer leading the chorus. Just as the piece starts to become somewhat repetitive, Copland speeds things up. While that helps to keep the listener’s interest, as might be expected the words run together as the chorus speeds through them. With this piece as with the other religious settings on the disc, there is more of a sense of writing in a tradition than through actual spiritual inspiration.
Admirers of choral music will probably find much of interest on the entire disc, but for most listeners, the greatest rewards will come with the Persichetti Flower Songs. At Naxos’s prices, that still earns the entire disc a warm recommendation.