Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Superlative Lohengrin from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

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!

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

I Hear American Singing
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.

I Hear American Singing
Songs by MacDowell, Bridge, Vaughan Williams, Hindemith, Bowles, Rorem, Bacon, Bernstein and Korngold

Thomas Hampson, baritone, Wolfram Rieger, piano.

Orfeo B000HOJ4QU [2CDs]

$34.49   Click to buy

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

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):