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Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

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The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

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Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

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Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,



Hear the Voice and Prayer
23 Sep 2007

Hear the Voice and Prayer

There are a number of signs of the popularity of the King’s Singers—their longevity as an ensemble, the huge success of their public concerts, and their sizable discography all come immediately to mind.

Another manifestation, however, is the legacy of having inspired the creation of other all-male, one-to-a-part, chapel-trained ensembles that have left the choir stalls and taken to the concert stage and recording studio. Ensemble Amarcord is one such ensemble, founded in 1992 by former members of the choir of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. The influence of English ensembles like the King’s Singers or the Hilliard Ensemble, both of which are cited in the liner notes, is discernible—unavoidably so—but the German ensemble is no shallow clone. Their sound is a big one, generous and full, though always well focused. And the fullness of the sound is enhanced in this recording by the ample acoustic of the Stiftskirche St. Petri in Petersberg bei Halle.

The big sound is distinctive, but so too the repertory here. Some of the pieces are the “usual suspects”—anthems and motets by Byrd and Tallis, Josquin, and Pierre de la Rue. But the offering of works by Orff, Peter Cornelius, Rudolf Mauersberger, and Marcus Ludwig shows Ensemble Amarcord well attuned to their national heritage. The Orff work, “Sunt lacrimae rerum” is notably rhythmicized and reiterative, and an interesting contrast to the supple lines of the earlier Renaissance works. Similarly, Ludwig’s “Tenebrae” explores a clustery palette and features some of the ensemble’s best soft singing.

There is much to praise here, especially the flawlessly pure tuning and nobility of the sound. (In homophonic passages I was frequently reminded of the beauty of trombone choirs.) The early works on the program are well served by one-to-a-part singing, as both modern experience and historical model have confirmed. That said, however, one might wonder if the later works on the recording (Poulenc and Milhaud, in addition to the Germans cited above) do not miss a truly choral texture. There is a clarity and flexibility in the solo ensemble that is undeniably compelling, but in these later works one will occasionally miss the color of choral sound, a reminder of the difficulties of broad programming. In the category of quibbles, the “German English” of the Tallis pieces will catch the ear now and then, and the absence of English translations of the sung texts is a regret (a surprising one, at that, as the program notes appear in English). But these are small points. In the liner notes, the ensemble invites the listener to consider the title of the recording broadly. Indeed, hearing the voice of Ensemble Amarcord is an experience that will amply repay the effort again and again.

Steven Plank

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