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Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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”
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
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.
28 Oct 2007
SHOSTAKOVICH: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Among the signal operas of the twentieth century, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934) by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is a powerful transformation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, based on the 1865 short story by Nicolai Leskov.
The negative spiral of evil at the core of Shakespeare’s drama inspired Leskov to retell the story in prose for Russian readers of the nineteenth century and it, in turn, became the basis of the libretto by Alexander Preis Shostakovich, who gave it a contemporary setting. In telling the story of Katerina Ismailova, Shostakovich portrayed the woman, his Lady Macbeth, with perhaps more sympathy than his nineteenth-century predecessor. The comments by Shostakovich quoted in the notes that accompany this DVD give a concise statement of his intentions:
Leskov finds no moral or psychological justification for murder. I [Shostakovich], however have portrayed Katerina Ismailov as a strong, talented and beautiful woman who succumbs to the bleak surrounds of a Russia populated by merchants and serfs. For Leskov, she is a murderess; I depict her as a complex and tragic character. She is a loving woman, a deeply sensitive woman, by no means without feeling. . . .
In this opera the dissonant idiom Shostakovich used is effective as a sonic foundation for the passionate, if angular, vocal lines. The sometimes harsh orchestral accompaniments not only support the vocal lines, but also offer cues to the audience about the emotional pitch of the scenes, and the sensitive conductor Mariss Jansons offers a perceptive reading of this score. By no means an simple work. Jansons is clear in his interpretations, which offers a clear shape in each scene. At the same time the staging of Martin Kušej offers an appropriate foil for the story, with its outline-like structures of glass and metal that support the work. This DVD is based on the televised version of that staging, which Thomas Grimm directed for film. As a filmed opera, it preserves the sense of being on stage, yet reproduces some of the necessarily intimate blocking for some scenes, with close-ups that would be difficult to capture from a live performance of the work.
The staging itself is realistic and sometimes brutal in depicting murder or sexual longing, thus bringing out further the modernist aspects of Shostakovich’s work. As Kušej is quoted in the booklet that accompanies the DVD, “Orgasm and murder are two diametrically opposed poles, two extreme amplitudes of love and hate, the two fundamental relationships between human beings. This climactic and yet unfathomably deep essence of human behavior is the linchpin of my production. . . .” On this basis, the production brings out the sometimes primal striving of characters to survive both the situations in which they find themselves and also their or drives. Such a perspective is, perhaps, what makes the heroine Katerina intriguing, and Eva-Maria Westbroek succeeds in depicting the character as someone who is at once victim and perpetrator. She is the match for Sergei, whom Christopher Ventris plays convincingly. Early in the opera, a member of the crowd warns that Sergei is troublesome, but that does not deter Katerina in her liaison with him. It is too simple to make Sergei the scapegoat for Katerina’s actions. He is, rather, the enabler, whose passion for Katerina is at the root of her fateful response to her father-in-law’s discovery of their affair.
In performing their roles, the two principals display a command of the music and its nuances. Westbroek is as compelling in her solo numbers as she is when her entrance heightens the ensemble numbers. As much as the performance requires physicality, her voice matches those demands well, and remains inviting and vibrant. Ventris, whose own presence balances that of Westbroek, is equally adept at the role of Sergei, whose brutality is convincingly offputting. Yet his singing is, on the contrary, what makes Ventris’s Sergei memorable.
The chorus serves a actor and commentator, and the members of the Netherland Opera offer a vivid sense of the crowds when necessary. The involvement of the crowd in the sexual attack is stark, and the staging stops short of being graphic. Yet the rendering of Sergei’s liaison with Katerina benefits from the stop-action clips of the performers at various angles that suggests, rather than tells. As such, the stage action balances the musical content without overwhelming it.
Beyond the sensuality associated with Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, the opera conveys a sense of the starkness that affects the characters in different ways. In interpreting the score Jansons is sensitive to that aspect of the music and maintains the intensity throughout the performance. This, in turn, drives the work to its conclusion, which is at once fitting and tragic.
This is a powerful production that makes available on video a fine production of the opera by performers who know the work well. The first two acts fill the first disc, with the third on the second. In fact, the latter contains a documentary about the film by Reiner Moritz, which offers some details about the production and the film itself. Recorded in 2006, this recent release is an impressive contribution to opera on DVD, and serves Shostakovich’s work well.
James L. Zychowicz