24 Oct 2007
Jan Neckers on Recently Reissued Historicals
I doubt many admirers of Leontyne Price will be tempted to buy this issue.
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.
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.
I doubt many admirers of Leontyne Price will be tempted to buy this issue.
After all there are two official recordings made in her prime and there are the widely popular live-recordings made at the Met (Bergonzi-Gorr-Solti); one even made the same year as this Rome-issue and it has the glorious voice of Franco Corelli as a bonus in the tenor role. Still Price-fans will miss out on a treat. She is in fabulous and firm voice: that unmistakably rich smoky sound domineering the whole evening. By the mid-sixties some Price-performances and even recordings were sometimes marred by her not being able or not wanting to produce a homogenous sound. She sometimes sounded as if she was experimenting with different kinds of vocal timbre so that several voices could be heard in one performance, even in one aria; all of them exciting but sometimes somewhat incompatible. She was not above growling parts of her role too. Nothing of that is to be heard in this recording: just an amazing outpouring of one of the most beautiful Verdian sounds to be heard on the scene. Her second aria is truly astounding, capped with an ethereal fine high C. The Roman house comes down and to its regret doesn’t get an encore though not for lack of trying.
None of the other singers come near though they are all interesting and didn’t have a big official recording career. Giorgio Lamberti was still very young at the time, only three years into his career. He has the true Italian sound and a vocal production that is best summed up as ‘trumpet’, reminding me of a legendary singer like Bernardo De Muro. Lamberti doesn’t commit mortal vocal sins like heavy sobbing but honesty compels me to write that he has no sense of the Verdian line, that he is just belting out the notes without any insight into his role: witness his lack of piano in the third act duet where he in has to take leave of Egypt. In the house the voice was probably fine but the unremitting penetrating sound tries the listener. Later on in his career he would have a better sense of legato, and would even succeed in giving us some pianissimi (I often heard him in the flesh; he still lives in my own Flanders) but these qualities were still to come. Mirella Parutto has a fruity mezzo and is a fine and convincing mezzo, as long as Price is not in the neighbourhood. Alas, the American soprano’s middle voice is bigger and more colourful and one hears Parutto pumping up the voice and straining for decibels. Mario Zanasi in one of his rare recordings shows off a big agreeable voice, though still singing in the verismo style in use at the Italian provincial houses. At ‘Dei Faraoni tu sei lo schiavo’ he clings interminably long to his top note, milking the house for applause. Veteran conductor De Fabritiis is fine most of the time, driving on his forces at a good Verdian speed. But now and then, mostly in the cabalettas, he gets a dose of stimulating substances (or he wants to show his singers who is the boss) and then he hurries along at a breakneck speed which must have made the singers curse him.
I’m sure vocal buffs of one of the most beautiful cities in Spain (indeed in the whole of Europe) will be pleased with a worthy souvenir of great historical singers who performed at their long lost beloved opera house of San Fernando. The house was built in the 1840’s and was renowned for the fine singers it attracted, especially just before and just after the first world war. Then it was the long road downhill until its demolition in 1973. Happily for the Sevillanos, the refurbishment of the whole city due to the world exhibition and the awful amount of money put into Spain by the European Union once more gave them an opera house, the Teatro de la Maestranza which opened in 1991. However I’m less sure that vocal buffs outside Sevilla will take up this CD. Famous singers on this CD like Capsir, Battistini, Tamagno, Lazaro, Cortis, Mardones, Fleta, Schipa etc. performed at the San Fernando and are duly incluked but I doubt very much collectors have waited for this CD to sample their voices.All of their recordings are to be found in earlier compilations or on solo albums by Preiser, Romophone, Bongiovanni or Spain’s Aria Recording. And several earlier issues are better pitched; the De Lucia record is a case in question, a tone too high. The redeeming feature of the CD is the introduction of some almost forgotten Spanish singers like Utam, Tabuyo and Granados; not all on the same level as their more famous countrymen and women but still good examples of their art and times. Perhaps a full CD with those and other lesser known performers would have found wider circulation among vocal record collectors.
Richard Strauss: Arabella.
Lisa Della Casa (Arabella), Hilde Gueden (Zdenka), George London (Mandryka), Anton Dermota (Matteo), Otto Edelman (graf Waldner), Ira Malaniuk (Adelaide), Mimi Coertse (Fiakermilli). Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Georg Solti.
Decca 00289 475 7731 [2CDs]
Arabella may be the opera suffering most from surtitles. I remember an astonished lady, finally able to grasp every detail, who commented during the pause of a Ghent performance: “but this is an operetta.” Well, not quite. I doubt Messrs. Lehar and Kalman and Romberg would have accepted some of the sillier aspects of the libretto like the big guy falling in love with a portrait. But the structure of boy meets girl (first act), boy and girl quarrel (second act) and boy and girl nevertheless find happiness is indeed completely derived from Gypsy Princess, Countess Maritza and Naughty Marietta. Georg Solti however with his nervous and dramatic conducting makes the piece less sentimental than it can be and he has at his disposal an astounding cast. Most of them belong to the fabulous post-war ensemble of the Vienna State opera and they are able to sing and to record everything between Mozart and Lehar in a still unsurpassed way. The first thing that struck me was the sound. Though recorded in early stereo in 1958 it is still amazingly warm and fresh after half a century. Therefore nobody can discard this recording in the series The Originals because it sounds old and worn.
Moreover all of the singers are at the height of their powers. Della Casa’s voice in her signature role is shimmering with beauty, youth and freshness. She is strong when she rejects the attentions of unwanted suitors; she is warm and meltingly when she meets or speaks of ‘der Richtige’ and she easily rides the orchestral climaxes. I cannot imagine a better Zdenka than the boyish sound of Hilde Gueden which becomes appropriately sensuous when she once more becomes a girl in love. Solti takes care that she doesn’t linger on or scoop as she often did in her great operetta recordings with less stern conductors. A third rediscovery is the silvery coloratura of South-Africa’s most famous diva Mimi Coertse. She is sparkling and technically proficient and her small role is a plea to Decca to reissue her recitals. The male department is almost as strong. Anton Dermota as Matteo is far better than the average Matteo. It is an ungrateful role but Dermota with his experience of Mozart and his fine un-German somewhat grainy timbre succeeds in creating a sympathetic suitor. And then there is the singer whom many Americans (and others as well) will prefer as Mandryka and whom I have doubts about. For my personal taste the bass-baritone of George London is a bit too gruff, too throaty though he brings warmth to it in the third act. He doesn’t hector as Fischer-Dieskau does but there is less charm too. Mandryka may be rough from time to time but he is a nobleman. For me London is the relatively less than perfect singer in the recording but all in all, this budget issue is unbelievably fine and convincing and maybe the best around.