Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 2 (
31 May 2007

MAHLER: Symphony no. 2

Given the fine recent recordings of Mahler’s Second Symphony on both CD and DVD, the release of Pierre Boulez’s performances from 26 and 27 March 2005 at the Philharmonie, Berlin, is a further contribution to the interpretations of this important work.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 2 “Resurrection”

Diana Damrau, soprano, Petra Lang, mezzo-soprano, Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin, Staatskapelle Berlin, Pierre Boulez, conductor.

Euroarts 2054418 [DVD]

$22.99  Click to buy

This recording dates from the celebrations in Berlin of Boulez’s eightieth birthday, and shows the conductor as a vital artist who is not content to be feted in the concert honoring him, but to continue his own music-making by conducting it himself. The intensity that Boulez brings to live concerts is captured in this video which was made in conjunction with the ARTE France, which brought its own quality to the visual presentation of this milestone performance. The titling actually gives the occasion first, that is, the celebration of Boulez’s eightieth birthday, with the name of the working following it.

As to the timing of this concert, this video predates the performances Boulez made in June 2005 when he recorded Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic for a CD released in 2006 by Deutsche Grammophon (with Michelle De Young and Christine Schäfer). Both recordings demonstrate the fine attention to detail that Boulez brings to this score, along with a subtle intensity in allowing the nuances to emerge. In fact, it is possible to perceive Boulez shading the dynamics and balance throughout the performance — sometimes it would be preferable to see more of Boulez than the shots of the orchestra that focus too often on close-ups of instruments rather than the players or their sections.

The performance itself is quite effective. Boulez set the tone well in the first movement, which moves along with the sense of urgency that is implicit in the score. The playing clean and precise, with the clear direction from Boulez present throughout the movement. In addition, the sound is nicely balanced and the dynamic range appropriately fully, thus conveying the sense of the live hall that the audience experienced. While the forward motion is evident in this reading, the concluding passage is paced so that it emphasizes the descending gesture, rather leaving it sound as though it were a tacked-on gesture. That bit of drama draws in the audience, and it is a detail like this that sets Boulez’s live performances apart from other conductors.

With the second movement, Boulez captured the tone of the piece from the start, and the chamber-music-like sound from the string is rich in this reading. Subdued in volume, this idyllic piece is still intense for its tight ensemble and unified gestures. Unlike the more extroverted movements that Mahler used to frame this Symphony, the economy of gesture and theme are essential to the interpretation of this piece that becomes, in Mahler’s erstwhile programs for the work, a reminiscence of the past. It is, perhaps, an idealized image of the protagonist’s life, as suggested by the form and style Mahler for the movement. This is a fine example of the close ensemble that Boulez drew from the forces at his disposal.

The third movement differs in its move outgoing nature. An instrumental reworking of Mahler’s song Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt, the movement also contains an extended quotation from the Scherzo of his colleague Hans Rott’s Symphony in E. While Mahler’s programs for the movement had someone from the outside looking into a ballroom scene — as could be imagined through the invocation of Rott, the narrative text intersects the memory of the song that is at the core of Mahler’s Scherzo. Lyricism is evident in this movement and, if a weakness may be found, it is in the somewhat subdued entrances of Rott’s Scherzo theme — music that suggests the rollicking dance from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.

With the fourth movement, the Wunderhorn song Urlicht, Mahler sets into motion the vocal elements that are essential to the choral Finale of the entire Symphony. Petra Lang offers a solid reading of the solo piece, with a rich dark tone that can be easily heard over the accompaniment. It may be the recording, but the DVD sound does not capture entirely the enunciation of the text, which is essential for understanding Mahler’s intentions in using Klopstock’s text for the final movement. Yet the camera has captured Lang’s strongly pronounced entrance of the passage in the Finale with the text “O glauben,” which becomes a duet with Damrau’s entrance.

The cantata-like canvas of the fifth movement is wonderfully evocative, and Boulez’s performance is laudable for its unified approach to the first part, the one in which the instrumental forces alternate between passages of thematic development and sheer effect (like the percussion rolls that signal the dead march). With the entrances of the solo voices, Boulez allows the text to emerge clearly. In shaping the choral forces, Boulez was as sensitive to the softer passages, as he was to the string textures of the second movement. He gradually builds the movement to the critical passage “Sterbe ich um zu leben,” with music that anticipates the choral Finale of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, both of which share the “Auferstehungs” motif from Wagner’s opera Siegfried. Here the instrumental and vocal forces are unified in conveying Mahler’s music succinctly in the powerful conclusion of this work.

Well-recorded videos of concerts like this are welcome, and this is especially true for those of a conductor like Boulez, whose almost legendary finesse deserves such documentation. The visual element helps to demonstrate the command of the ensemble that must occur with successful performances like this one. Details, like the physical dimensions of the hall, images of the attentive audience, and such elements reinforce the focus of the video which, necessarily, emphasizes the conductor and the musicians he is leading. Nevertheless, some elements are not answered in the film. It is unclear how Boulez treated Mahler’s marking after the first movement, which indicates a break of at least five minutes before the second movement. While a clear separation between the movements occurs on the DVD, it is less than five minutes on the video and even then, recording such a pause would not contribute anything significant: such directions for Mahler’s music belong to the immediacy of the live performance. Yet other, perhaps more salient aspects of the live performance emerge in this recording, especially the warm way in which the audience greeted Boulez greeted at the start of the concert and the correspondingly enthusiastic response at its conclusion. More than a birthday celebration for one of the major composers and conductors of the last century, this DVD has much to offer for the qualities Boulez brings to this notable concert performance of one of Mahler’s finest works.

James L. Zychowicz

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):