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

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Jean Sibelius: A Film in Two Parts
29 Oct 2007

Jean Sibelius: A Film in Two Parts

The two short films about the composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), The Early Years and Maturity & Silence comprise a video biography of Finnish artist.

Jean Sibelius: A Film in Two Parts — The Early Years / Maturity & Silence.

The Christopher Nupen Films.

Christopher Nupen Film A05CND [DVD]

$26.99  Click to buy

Written and directed by Christopher Nupen, the result is a solid biographical study of the composer that takes its cue from the various shifts in the reputation of Sibelius, not only within his lifetime, but posthumously. Such a perspective is present from the start, with the narrator’s comments about the changing fortunes of Sibelius’s legacy part of the introduction to the first part of the film.

In presenting this the story of Sibelius’s career, Nupen avoided creating a biopic and, instead, chose the more straightforward approach of illustrating a solidly written narration with iconography associated with the composer as well as performances of his music. The latter include some fine excerpts by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, along with vocal music sung by Elisabeth Söderström. To augment the visual palette, Nupen included various natural scenes from the Finnish countryside, and the subtle motion in the landscapes contributes a subtle touch to the images that are otherwise static, albeit quite effective.

At the core of this film is the text that seems driven by the questions about Sibelius’s reputation, and in seeking answers, Nupen addresses not only the biographical details but seeks, at times, to approach the composer’s motivation in certain works. Ultimately the search for answers requires an exploration of both the music and its reception, which results in establishing a context for the success of Sibelius as a composer of both national and international standing. The connections between Sibelius and Finnish nationalism are known popularly through his famous tone poem Finlandia, and Nupen fortunately goes further to discuss this aspect of Sibelius’s career further. The aspiration behind Sibelius’s Violin Concerto and the Fourth Symphony, two works that have, in some respects, fallen short of the expectations behind them. Yet Nupen is keen to establish a context for the careful composition of the Fifth Symphony, which resulted in Sibelius’s enduring contribution to modern symphonic literature.

While the enthusiasm Nupen has for Sibelius’s music is apparent in this film, it never moves toward the kind of hero-worship that biases his work. The balanced and factual treatment of the issue of alcohol in Sibelius’s personal life is part of the narrative, but it becomes neither an excuse for what some may deem failings on the part of the composer nor a sensational topic. Again, the text bears attention for the choice of works, along with the judicious selection of sources from diaries and other primary sources. The reliance on firsthand accounts is selective, and contributes a sense of authenticity that films like this require.

Thus, when Nupen approaches the second part of the film, “Maturity & Silence,” he has already established the composer as an international figure with an individual style, so that he can explore the directions in which the artist could take his musical imagination. Never simplistic, Nupen is clear in the aesthetic success of the Fourth Symphony, without exaggerating the popular appeal and immediate success of the Fifth. The composer’s own comments about his flights of musical imagination at the time he wrote the work are, perhaps, more telling than reviews or other kinds of documents. Yet it is the performance of the music itself in the hands of the Ashkenazy that make the composer’s accomplishments vivid and appealing. The selections are well chosen and as much as some are expected, they are nonetheless welcome in this film. At times, one would want to hear the acclaim of the audience at the conclusion of as bold a statement as the Finale of the Second Symphony. At times the careful superimposition of the narration on the music is nicely balanced.

This is a carefully created film that goes far in describing the life and works of Sibelius. With each of the two segments lasting just over fifty minutes, the length of the film is sufficient to explore the subject in some depth, with time enough for sometimes extended musical examples. Fifty years of Sibelius’s passing in1957, the release of this film serves as a tribute to the composer at a critical anniversary and at the same time asks the question of the composer’s future. While Sibelius’s works are regularly part of symphony programs and recording releases, how does the composer ultimately fit into the various threads that comprise the twentieth century. Is the aspect of nationalism the enduring quality, or is the individual style that inspired the later works ultimately critical to Sibelius’s legacy? Answers to such questions are beyond the scope of the film, but the repeated hearings that Nupen’s efforts will provoke may bring audiences closer to understanding the contributions that Sibelius made in works that have lasted into the early twentieth century. All in all, this is a fine film that serves both its subject and the music well. The DVD is a useful means for making available material like this, with its easily searchable contents and excellent sound.

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):