Recently in Recordings
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
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Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
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Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
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Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
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24 Jun 2007
Sacred Music from Notre-Dame Cathedral
In charting the history of music in the West, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Paris loom large as a golden age of innovative polyphony, a golden age that is much the fruits of two composers, Leoninus and Perotinus.
Their famous magnus liber organi—the great book of
organum—preserves polyphonic settings of responsorial chants, works that define and establish
Gothic sound much as the cathedral in which they were sung, Notre Dame in Paris, defines and
establishes our notions of Gothic space.
Tonus Peregrinus offers three of the most substantial Notre Dame works—the two-voice
Viderunt by Leoninus and the four-voice Viderunt and Sederunt by Perotinus. Pitts divides his
ensemble into lower- and upper-ranged forces, and the opportunity to hear this repertory in both
ranges is a welome one. In the main, these forces remain discrete and the polyphony is
performed appropriately by soloists. In one instance, however—at the end of the two-voiced
Viderunt—Pitts combines the registers. The octave doubling in itself is not problematic, but in
that the doubling requires transforming a solo line into a choral one, there is a loss of
responsiveness and flexibility in the process, and that is a loss, albeit only a momentary one.
The performances of these large-scaled organa are otherwise impressive. In the discantus
sections—the sections where the notes of all the parts move together in rhythmic pattern—Pitts
allows the music to unfold at a congenially leisurely pace. This contrast to many modern
performances allows singer and listener alike to dwell in the time rather than to push the time
ahead; the more contemplative turn is an attractive one. In the solo sections, Richard Eteson
deserves special mention for his wonderfully contoured sense of both individual notes and
phrase. Similarly, Rebecca Hickey’s monophonic conductus, Beata viscera, is rapturous,
expressive, and exquisite, a memorable opening to the whole program.
The program is one that shows the signs of special care in its construction, for it is obvious that
Pitts wants to demonstrate historical development here. For instance, the two-voiced organal
setting of Viderunt is followed by substitute clausulae and a motet on part of its foundational
chant. The clausulae are short sections of a minute or less, whose purpose in the program is
surely instructive, rather than aesthetic. And these are followed in turn by the four-voice setting
of the same chant. Thus, in large part, the program is showing a notable variety of ways of
treating the same pre-existent melody, and this variety developed within the school of Notre
Dame. In a similar vein, Pitts remains instructive with the inclusion of a psalm whose twenty
verses are sung in different intervallic configurations to demonstrate the range of possibilities
described in the ninth-century treatise, the Scholia enchiriadis, famous for being among the first
theoretical sources to describe polyphony. It is an interesting pedagogical aside in the program,
but one that does not distract from the splendid singing of the large-scale pieces.
The ensemble’s use of Roman Latin pronunciation is curious, and one might have welcomed
their sonic palette being extended and enriched with period French pronunciation. This,
however, is but a small quibble; the recording is impressive.