03 May 2007
American Choral Music
The commitment of Naxos to American music is substantial and admirable.
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” with herself!).
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 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.
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.