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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.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
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
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.
16 Sep 2007
Hector Berlioz: Te Deum, op. 22
Often overshadowed by its composer's Requiem, the Te Deum, Op. 22 (1849) by Hector Berlioz deserves attention for its own merits, and this recent release by Hänssler in its series of live recordings of the Staatskapelle Dresden is a solid reading of this work.
Known for his famous cycle of Berlioz's works on for Philips, Sir Colin Davis led a focused performances of the Te Deum on 3 and 4 October 1998 in Kreuzkirche, Dresden, and this recording is derived from those concerts, which involved several choruses, including the Dresden State Opera Chorus, Dresden Symphonie Chorus, Dresden Singakademie, the Dreden Philharmonic Children's Chorus, and the Dresden State Opera Children's Chorus, as well as tenor soloist Neill Stuart, and organist Hans-Dieter Schöne.
In setting the Te Deum, Berlioz used a multi-movement structure to emphasize the various nuances of the text that simultaneously suggest a symphonic approach to the work. The opening "Te Deum" is a majestic movement that anticipates the grandeur familiar to modern audiences in the first movement of Mahler's Eighth Symphony. In the "Te Deum" movement Berlioz arrives at the sonic splendor fitting to a text that addresses the Deity directly. Organ, chorus. and orchestra work together to create a massed sound in which the textures serve to underscore the orchestration and voicing of the individual forces involved. After such a beginning, the "Tibi omnes" section in the second movement is contrastingly meditative in character, like the slow movement of a symphony. Its controlled expressed demonstrates' Berlioz's ability to achieve an effective mood with much smaller forces and to sustain the mood in underscoring the text.
While the organ is heard at various places throughout the Te Deum, it is prominent in the third section, the "Dignare," and this recording captures its sound well. The blend between the chorus and organ is nicely balanced, with the instrument supporting the voices without overshadowing them. Similarly, the tenor, Neill Stuart, has an extended solo part in the penultimate movement, "Te ergo quaesumus," and the interplay between the solo voice and orchestra or, variously, with chorus, emerges clearly to show Stuart's fine tone. Such clarity is never compromised in the tutti movements, the first, fourth, and final ones, in which the entire forces join in the sometimes complex textures Berlioz used for those texts. The sound is evenly reliable, as one would expect from a recording made in a studio. This is all the more admirable for recordings made live and also challenged by the special circumstances of performing in a church.
Moreover, Colin Davis brought his deft approach to Berlioz's music to these performances, and the recording shows the focus that he can give this work. His tempos are clear and always allow the text to be heard clearly, including those massive places where all the choruses must come together in this paean to the Deity. The balance between the orchestra, which alternately supports and comments on the vocal music, is laudable. This is a fine recording of a work by Berlioz that requires such a thoughtful approach to bring all its components together convincingly.
This recording also includes a performance, presumably from the same concerts, of Mozart's Kyrie, K. 341, which receives an equally fine reading here. Taken together, the two works are a fine contribution to the ongoing series of live recordings of the Staatskapelle Dresden led by Sir Colin Davis. As such, they preserve some fine performances and also make them available to a wider audience through their availability on CD.
James L. Zychowicz