Recently in Recordings
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.
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
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.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
02 May 2007
BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 26 (Whit Sunday and Whit Monday)
Among the virtues of hearing Bach cantatas performed in liturgical order—one of the hallmarks
of John Eliot Gardiner’s stunning Cantata Pilgrimage of 2000—is the chance to savor Bach’s range of approach to unified text themes.
In this present volume Gardiner presents seven
cantatas, all for Pentecost Sunday and Monday, with a chronological span of 1714 to 1746/7.
Thus we hear not only the development and refinement of Bach’s own abilities, but also his
development of specific material. For instance, the opening duet of Wer mich liebet, BWV 59 is
amply fleshed out later as the opening chorus of Wer mich liebet, BWV 74, an expansion in both
vocal and instrumental scoring, rather like Bach discovering a newly rich palette of hues and
returning to re-color an earlier image. (Three of the cantatas, BWV 173, 68, and 174, adapt
material, as well, including a splendid reworking of part of the third Brandenburg, although the
models are not recorded here.)
The variety within the cantatas of the collection can be impressive. Erschallet, ihr Lieder, BWV
172, for example, presents a festive chorus, appealingly brilliant and exuberant, an aria with
some of Bach’s most virtuosic trumpeting, a duet in the form of a love scene between the Soul
and the Spirit, akin to the sensuous duets of Ich hatte viel Bekummernis, BWV 21 from the
previous year or Johann Christoph Bach’s wonderful Meine Freundin, du bist schön, and also a
richly adorned chorale, a setting of Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern with violin descant. An
early work dating from 1714, it shows Bach in full control of varied resources and having no
shortage of ideas in response to an imageful text.
Performed and recorded in June, 2000, this installment of the Cantata Pilgrimage falls midway
through the year’s tour of (primarily) European churches. And though personnel will vary
throughout the year, it is significant that here at the midpoint the ensemble’s “house style” is well
established and the performances show no sign of fatigue with the project nor staleness in the
rendition. Among the solo singers, tenor Christoph Genz, a former chorister at St. Thomas
Church in Leipzig, is particularly memorable for his brilliant sound and nimble execution, as
well as his lyrical sensitivity. Soprano Lisa Larsson draws the task of singing one of Bach’s
best-known arias, the chestnut “Mein gläubiges Herze” from Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt,
BWV 68. Her performance sparkles and smiles, especially in collaboration with David Watkin’s
spry violoncello piccolo accompaniment. Also notable is countertenor Derek Lee Ragin’s
dramatic rendition of the highly theatrical aria “ Nichts kann mich erretten” from cantata 74.
Ragin has a flair for the dramatic propensities here and the deft technique to “laugh at Hell’s
anger.” The dynamic variation with his register shifts may detract on occasion, but this
extraordinarily gestural aria is well-served by his commanding interpretation.
The choir is seasoned and fluent in its singing—Bach seems to be for them a “native tongue.”
Gardiner has a wonderful capacity for investing his performances with rhythmic excitement,
especially evident in the choruses. However the line between this rhythmic excitement and a
harsh articulative exaggeration is not always well gauged, as in the final chorus of cantata 68.
All in all, however, the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage remains a most impressive undertaking. Its
legacy of recordings document music-making of high distinction, indeed.