Recently in Recordings
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.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
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.
09 Oct 2007
I Hear American Singing
Recorded in August 2001 at the Salzburg Festival, less than a month before the tragic events of 11 September, the presentation of songs and readings of music by American composers and texts by American authors seems aimed at a different world. Without venturing into political or social dimensions of the event, the concept of America in August 2001 suggested at times a sense of being impermeable, if not invincible.
America carried the banner for the human experience of the modern world, with the angular optimism of Walt Whitman’s verse that emerged in part from a similarly embattled time. Yet in presenting this recital the baritone Thomas Hampson used the opportunity to explore literature that is rarely heard in concert and less often preserved in recordings of this quality.
The fifty selections presented in I Hear America Singing were given in two recitals and are organized in this recording into discrete sections with the titles “Early Voices of America,” “Walt Whitman Recognized from Afar,” “American Poets Heard in America,” and “Walt Whitman at Home” on the first CD ; and “Drei Hymnen von Walt Whitman,” “Lieder aus dem Schwarzen Amerika,” “Lieder aus text von Emily Dickinson,” “Musical Voices from American,” and “Verboten und verbannt.” (The latter section is the name of another fine collection of vocal music with which Hampson was involved.) The program includes settings by such composers as Edward MacDowell (1860-1908), Charles Loeffler (1861-1935), and Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920), as well as European composers who took inspiration in American verse, including Frank Bridge (1879-1941), Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1957), Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968).
As to the poets, some are such enduring figures as Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes, while others are remembered more for their prose, as is the case with William Dean Howells and Herman Melville. Yet it is of interest to know that verse by Tennessee Williams was set by the polymath Paul Bowles (1910-1999) in his Blue Mountain Ballads, a seldom cycle seldom heard and performed convincingly by Hampson in this recording. The challenge of setting such strong writers as Whitman and Dickinson is to avoid introducing musical elements that detract from the rhythm and intonation in their texts, and the listener can determine how effective the various composers are in this regard. Some composers resorted to melodrama, as is the case with Frédéric Louis Ritter (1834-1891) in his Dirge for Two Veterans, a piece with cliché elements that Hampson handles well in his straightforward reading of the work.
While it is easy to praise some of the more famous composers, like Vaughan Williams and Hindemith, the value of this collection is in the range of composers represented. Many of the figures may be, for some listeners, names on a list whose music is not immediately familiar. Thus, in addition to individuals like Bowles, it is useful to hear works by such fine composers as Hugo Weisgall (1912-1997), Henry Thacker Burleigh (1886-1949), Ernst Bacon (1989-1990), and others included in this recital program. In addition, the familiar has its place, with the selections from the music of Stephen Foster (1826-1864) and John Jacob Niles contributing an almost iconic sense to this recording. By no means encyclopedic in presenting American song, some composers, like Copland, Blitzstein, and Bernstein are notably absent, but their vocal works are known well enough through various recordings. Nevertheless, the settings of e. e. cummings’ poetry by Blitzstein come to mind, as an American literary voice who stands with Whitman and Dickinson for a highly individual and musical style. At the same time the selections in this recording also call to mind the songs of other contemporary composers, like William Bolcom, who represent other American voices.
As to the performances themselves, the dynamic of the live recital emerges effectively in this recording, which includes some spoken passages by Hampson. His delivery is solid and deliberate, his phrasing well-thought and insightful. In rendering a range of pieces by a variety of composers, Hampson offers some persuasive interpretations that both accompanists support well. His diction contributes to the interpretations of the songs, with readings that are clear enough to preclude consulting the texts that accompany the CDs, as one expects of a performer of Hampson’s caliber. The contribution of Hampson and his associations in I Hear America Singing certainly opens the door for further explorations of the rich poetic and musical traditions that will allow other performers and their audiences to enjoy the musical creativity of generations of artists.
James L. Zychowicz