Recently in Recordings
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.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
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.
30 May 2007
Verboten und verbannt: Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Zemlinsky, Zeisl, Schönberg, Berg, Mahler.
Verboten und verbannt — forbidden and banned — a phrase used with Jewish composers whose music was proscribed by the Nazis brings to mind more than musical censorship, but also the atrocities that culminated in the Holocaust.
While some of the composers represented by this
phrase died before the Third Reich, others lived through it, and like the works of their
predecessors preserved on this recording, they endured the horrors of this dark period of the
twentieth century. This recital is an attempt to use music of composers so wrongly branded and
proscribed to reverse the situation and make the label “Verboten und verbrannt” into an emblem
of their merit. The best explanation of the purpose of this recital from the 2005 Salzburg Festival
is included in the liner notes Gottfried Kraus:
As in previous years, the programme extended over two
evenings, the first of which featured Hampson alone, whereas for the second he was joined by
femail colleagues who shared his commitment to the subject. In both he confronted his festival
audience with the works of composers whom the National Socialists had banned, outlawed,
driven into exile and in some cases even murdered. Both programmes were titled Verboten und
verbannt (Forbidden and Banned). Hampson’s aim was not so much to engage on a political
level with one of the darkest chapters in human history. Instead, he wanted to show that art is
ultimately more powerful than evil and brute force. Many of the songs and composers’ names,
especially in the second programme, may well have been unfamiliar to his Mozarteum audience,
while even familiar works such as Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, which opened both
programmes, functioning as a kind of motto, and Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, which brought the
first evening to a close, appeared in a new and different light when heard in their present context.
The result was certainly not a lieder recital in the customary sense of the term, but a festival
concert as it ought to be be, a distinction that it owed not only to the choice of programme and its
intelligent structure but also to the way in which the audience was prepared. . . .
The women to whom Kraus refers (as translated in the accompanying booklet by Stewart
Spencer) are Melanie Diener and Michelle Breedt, who participated in other such recitals with
Hampson at Salzburg. The other composers included in the program are Hans Krása and Viktor
Ullmann, two victims of the Holocaust who were also verboten und verbrannt. As much a social
event as an artistic one, this recital program functioned at various levels, and its potentially
controversial nature at the annual Salzburg Festival was a factor that helped it to succeed.
This recording preserves the recital from 18 August 2005 and provides an excellent overview of
the Lieder by a body of proscribed composers. With Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügeln des Gesanges
(“On the wings of song”) opening the program, the connotes a conventional Lieder recital
through the use of this familiar song that has been part of many such performances since its
composition. Just the same Mendelssohn’s Altdeutsches Frühlingslied is another song that
transcends the artificial boundaries connected to nationality and politics, but rather
communicates the poet— and the composer’s— experience of rebirth. These and other selections
of Mendelssohn’s songs evoke the nineteenth century, a time when Mendelssohn would have
been known and admired, but hardly forbidden and banned. These songs anchor the recital in the
tradition of the German Lied, an element that is wholly part of the culture in which the other
composers worked. It was not an idiom for social, religious, or political activity, but rather an
artistic milieu that crossed any of those artificial boundaries. This hardly means that prejudice or
labeling were unknown. While it may have been less so for Mendelssohn, Mahler faced the
anti-Semitic press, and the bias against his Jewish nationality certainly influenced the reception
of his music in lifetime and afterward.
With Meyerbeer, the songs represent an unfamiliar side of the composer, who is known best for
grand opera. The three selections chosen for this recital show Meyerbeer’s facility with the Lied
in two settings of Heine and one of Michael Beer. The first two are somewhat conventional
Lieder, but the third, Menschenfeindlich shows a more dramatic and, to a degree ironic, side of
Meyerbeer. This song calls for a tight ensemble between the singer and the pianist, and the
applause included in the recording demonstrates the audience’s appreciate for this bravura piece.
Wit the songs of Zemlinsky that follow, the harmonic idiom is more complicated. Mit Trommeln
und Pfeifen, for example, Zemlinsky is a wonderfully colorful setting of Liliencron’s
Wundhorn-like text, with modal inflections in the vocal line that underscore the sung text. Of
Schoenberg’s Lieder, the setting of Viktor Klemperer’s verse in Der verlorene Haufen is highly
evocative, and its proximity to Pierrot lunaire emerges in the passages of Sprechstimme and the
pointillistic writing in the piano that underscores the vocal line in other places. Schoenberg’s
proximity to Mahler and, by extension, the nineteenth-century Lied tradition may be found in his
more conventional setting Wie Georg von Frundsberg von sich selber sang (“Mein Fleiß und
Müh ich nie hab’ gespart”), with its text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
The modernism that Schoenberg expressed in his songs is part of the idiom that Alban Berg
adopted for his own style, and in so doing both created music that eventually became associated
with artistic decadence. It is possible to hear Berg’s challenges to convention in even the early
songs included in this recital, with a piece like Schlummerlose Nächte poised keenly between
traditional structure and turn-of-the-century innovation. Other Lieder are, perhaps, less
experimental, with the fine examples from the young composer Erich Zeisl being a bit
anachronistic. Mahler has the final word with this set of five Rückert-Lieder found at the close.
Four of the songs were on the program, with the last, Liebst du um Schönheit offered as a
Zugabe, an encore.
This recording preserves essentially all of Hampson’s performances of this important part of the
2005 Salzburg Festival. It is no surprise to find Hampson balancing the attention to the lines of
text with the execution of the musical line and never at the expense of one over the other. His
phrasing of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder is exemplary, with the comfortable ensemble with Rieger
apparent on those pieces and throughout the recording. It is a fine contrbituion on various counts,
with the sometimes infrequently performed literature here executed masterfully. The focus of the
recital itself merits attention for its supra-musical motivation whcih, in this live recording were
hardly lost on the audience. The overall quality of the reproduction is fine, and while some of the
audience and stage sounds sometimes intrude on several selections, such details contribute the
sense of immediacy that the audience itself experienced. While music that was forbidden and
banned by the Third Reich has been the subject of various books and articles, as well as
London’s series of recordings labeled “Entartete Musik”— proscribed music— this concise
exploration of the subject speaks volumes.