19 Sep 2007
WAGNER : Lohengrin
What’s outstanding about this Lohengrin is the orchestral playing.
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
What’s outstanding about this Lohengrin is the orchestral playing.
It’s so lustrous that it seems to shimmer, hovering as if suspended in some magical atmosphere. Nagano’s conducting evokes such luminous mystery that literal staging would be intrusive.
Fortunately, with Nicholas Lenhoff as director, we are spared the barbarity of kitsch scenery. We all know this is medieval Brabant, but there’s a lot more to the fundamental drama than that. Lohengrin hasn’t come all the way from Montsalvat just to meet Elsa. Fundamental to this drama is the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. The vaguely Cold War imagery evokes the sense of Brabant as a tense, militarized state which might at any moment be annihilated. This alludes to instability and murderous power struggles which created the situation the country is faced with. This court at Brabant “is” a court in the legal sense, where judgement is being made. It’s a political show trial, for Elsa is being framed for a crime she did not commit. An edge of fear and anxiety polarizes this court : tapestries and fripperies would distract. This production, with its clean, uncluttered lines, pares away non essentials, so the music itself is thrown into stark focus, without distraction. It’s the music, and Nagano’s conducting style, that above all defines this performance.
The Prelude seems to rise out of nothingness, creating a translucence which evokes images to come, when Lohengrin, the shining knight, enters is a blinding blaze of light. Nagano’s precision keeps the orchestral textures clean, so the strings really seem to shimmer and the brass to glow. The playing is exquisite, details tellingly focussed, yet there’s real resonance in the strings and winds. It’s important that Nagano manages to bring out this underlying romance and mystery, because it reminds us what’s at stake – Brabant is a symbol of past and future glory, a place where human values can still flourish even though the present is threatened. This level of playing continues throughout, almost competing for prominence with the vocal parts, for motivs like the “Swan” music were so vividly achieved. Indeed, at times I was listening to the orchestration rather than the singing, longingly waiting for the next interlude. But the music is well integrated into the action. The brass in theVorspiel, for example, are bright and animated, seamlessly leading, at the head of the procession, into the Wedding march. The Morgenröte is particularly entrancing, Nagano getting his musicians to paint in sound a wonderful panorama, depicting the scene aglow with sunrise, trumpets shining, flags unfurled, yet never overwhelming with temporal imagery the fundamentally cosmic nature of the drama.
Solvieg Kringelborn is a charming actress, so despite a constrained vocal range, she’s convincing and full of character. This Elsa, human as she is, has no chance of standing up to Ortud’s machinations, especially an Ortrud as complex and powerful as Waltraud Meier. Meier has inhabited this role so long that she’s able to adapt her nuances to suit the spirit of the production. Here she’s surprisingly glamorous, her wildness contrasting seductively with the stiff formality of Brabant. This may not be her finest performance technically, but her experience only adds to the sense of authority she brings to her characterization. No wonder Telramund, no innocent ingénue, is entranced. Tom Fox has thought his role through, for his Telramund is sympathetic, a good man gone astray, seduced, literally, by the “other” world Ortrud represents. The Telramund/Ortrud relationship is in many ways a counterbalance to the Elsa/Lohengrin relationship, so the humanity Fox brings enhances the levels of meaning. For all the honours bestowed n him, Roman Trekel’s Herald is disappointingly one dimensional.
The moment Lohengrin enters is a devastating piece of theatre. The flash of light which announces him is so blinding that it takes some moments for the eye to adjust. How Wagner would have loved that, had he modern technology. At first Klaus Florian Vogt’s portrayal seemed too solid, particularly against the diaphanous, transparent textures in the orchestration. Yet this, too, added to the realisation. Dressed in an improbably shiny suit, he looks like a creature unused to wearing “normal” clothes. His natural habitat is another, more spiritual plane of existence. Much is made of the swan imagery in his music. At times he even looks like a swan turned into a man. Hence, perhaps the gravity of this portrayal, for swans, though graceful, are immensely strong. It’s also an interpretation that relates to the Old Gods Ortrud serves, who are animist, and carnal, forces of nature. At the end, Ortrud, in defeat, appears in a dress made of feathers. This characterisation of Lohengrin, brings out his essential alien quality. He’s so engrossed at the piano he doesn’t notice his bride approach. Elsa can’t fathom his strange emotional makeup, and is so unsettled that she asks the fatal question. Despite his muscular appearance, Vogt’s voice is pure toned and lucid, his In fernem Land, soaring and floating with the orchestra, evoking the vision of a spiritual existence beyond the ken of the physical world.
Most DVDs come these days with a bonus film, most of them afterthoughts put together as an alternative to a booklet. The bonus with this release, however, is actually useful. Each character talks about their interpretation, as do Nagano and Lenhoff. Nagano was and remains a specialist in 20th century music, which is perhaps why his style emphasises the more esoteric, sophisticated aspects of Wagner’s music. This production is so good because it recognises what Nagano is doing. Lenhoff says, in a moment of great insight, that the Prelude is “the first monochromatic music ever written….the best Philip Glass, you know”. This is a very different Lohengrin, but most intriguing.
Anne Ozorio © 2007