23 Sep 2007
The Feast of St. Edward, King and Confessor at Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey is surely many things to many people.
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.
Westminster Abbey is surely many things to many people.
To some it is an architectural icon of royal ceremony and London’s vibrant public life; to others, it is a gallery of monuments; to others still, it persists as a cherished site of prayer and liturgy. The many faces it wears are, of course, the legacy of Edward, the Confessor, who in the eleventh century rebuilt the Abbey to grand dimensions. As the Abbey church houses his shrine and, by association, has long been the church of the coronation, it is no surprise that the Feast Day of St. Edward (October 13) is observed at the Abbey with special attention. And it is special attention that also marks the quality of this recording, a broad sampling of things one might hear at Matins, Holy Eucharist, and Evensong at the Abbey on the Feast. The aural glimpse of a particular feast day is a format that the Abbey Choir has previously essayed with a Trinity Sunday recording, also from Hyperion (CDA67557). The format is something of a variation on the long familiar service recordings of English cathedrals and chapels—Evensong for Ascension, Evensong for Advent Sunday, etc.—keeping the same sense of occasion and cohesion, though offering a wider swath of repertory.
Much of the music here represents a “golden age”: canticles and an anthem by Purcell, preces and suffrages by William Smith (whose Amen to the closing collect is a wonderful jewel), and a psalm by Morley. Stanford and Crotch come along for the ride, as well; their relative distance from the golden age make the hue of their gilt paler, although both remain well within the tradition. And while these pieces are familiar ones, the Abbey recording is no less welcome for it. The choir’s dance-like lilt for Purcell, their expressive explorations of the soft dynamic range, and, in the main their very satisfying blend are all compelling. Occasionally last notes of phrases from the men show less control than perfect balance requires—the opening chant is a case in point—but this is a rare lapse. And occasionally treble solo passages sound unconvincing, a surprise given the overall strength of the trebles in the tutti. The shortcomings are fleeting and momentary, the delight in the performance long-lasting.
The Anglican affinity for tradition might have left the recording to bask in the rich aura of its golden age hues—a “gilty plea” that few would begrudge--but O’Donnell boldly adds to the mix two commissioned works, Jonathan Harvey’s 1995 Missa Brevis and Philip Moore’s “The King and the Robin” (2005). Harvey’s mass is full of challenging dissonance and thick clusters, spiced also by spoken declamations amid the singing. Its modernism is a welcome reassurance of the continuing vibrancy of the “tradition,” and the challenges of its idiom are brilliantly met by the choir. Philip Moore’s “The King and the Robin” sets a beautiful modern poem by poet laureate, Andrew Motion, interestingly rich in medieval evocations. If the text looks backwards, the music does not, as Moore offers rich harmonic textures, well-crafted solo lines and rhythmicized interweavings that are engagingly dynamic. The performance is again, a strong one, especially in the tuttis and the bass solo. However, the treble solo—the voice of the “robin”--ultimately sounds difficult. It is accurately rendered, but wanting in confidence, much as was the case in the treble solos from the older repertories, as well.
One might eagerly await the continuation of this format from Hyperion, and look forward to further offerings from the liturgical riches of the Abbey and its brilliant choir.