28 Sep 2007
Allegri “Miserere”; Palestrina “Missa Papae Marcelli”
This is a recording that glories in iconicity.
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.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal. 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 do occur.
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.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
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.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
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.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera.
A recent release by the Metropolitan Opera, this two-disc set makes available on DVD the famous performance of Berg’s Lulu that was broadcast on 20 December 1980 as part of the PBS series “Live from the Met.”
The novels of Sinclair Lewis once shot across the American literary skies like comets, alarming and fascinating readers of that era, but their tails didn’t extend far behind them.
Once the province of only the most dedicated opera fanatics, mid-20th century recordings of privately taped live performances have become more widely available.
Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.
This is a recording that glories in iconicity.
Few composers are more iconic of time and place than Palestrina, assuredly evoking both Counter-Reformation Rome as well as the ideals of late-sixteenth counterpoint. Similarly, few works will be more iconic of Rome than the “Pope Marcellus Mass” with its strong ties to the Council of Trent, the “Miserere” by Gregorio Allegri, a work closely guarded as a possession of the Sistine Chapel, and the motet (also recorded here) “Tu es Petrus,” the foundational Gospel text for the authority of the papacy. To these icons, we might also add the sense that the Tallis Scholars, now approaching their thirty-fifth year, have also become iconic of the highest levels of modern performance of Renaissance polyphony. And despite their eponymous affinity for the music of Tallis, the Allegri “Miserere” and the “Pope Marcellus Mass” have surely become signature works for the ensemble. So much so that one might wonder why another recording of these works.
Both of these works are well represented in recordings by the Tallis Scholars at various stages in the life of the group. A 1980 recording of both works (released on CD as CDGIM 339) was followed by the 1994 “Live in Rome” recording (CDGIM 994), a concert recording made in the Sistine Chapel to celebrate the restoration of the Michelangelo frescoes. Additionally “The Tallis Scholars Sing Palestrina,” a 2005 release (CDGIM 204), re-issues the “Pope Marcellus Mass.” Director Peter Phillips observes that the Tallis Scholars have sung the “Miserere” over 300 times; no doubt the numbers for the Mass are high, as well. So why another recording of these signature pieces?
In part, the answer may lie in the continual development of the group’s thinking about the pieces. For instance, the “Miserere” here now alternates with a different psalm tone than the traditional second tone, and the last of the two versions on the recording incorporates the exquisite ornamentation of soprano Deborah Roberts, developed over long experience performing the work. (The ornamentation is notated in the liner notes, giving it a fixity somewhat at odds with its nature, but heightening its presence in the production in a concrete way.) And, it must be said, the recording shows the group at the very top of their game. The sound is ravishing, highly focused and full of presence, but at the same time wonderfully lustrous. The singers’ long familiarity with the works has not dimmed the conviction or dynamism of the performances; instead, we hear renditions of remarkable fluency.
A quibble here or there? One wonders at the use of a solo voice to render the psalm tone verses in the Allegri, as psalmodic chanting in this style was traditionally the preserve of the choir. And occasionally one might wish for more variety of volume—much is sung rather full, to the point where fullness itself loses some of its impact. But these quibbles fall by the wayside when one savors the glory of the sound. Do we need another recording of these pieces by the Tallis Scholars? Perhaps not, but this is one that I suspect all will be delighted to have on their shelf—right next to the others!