Recently in Recordings
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.
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.
07 Jan 2008
ROUSSEAU: Le Devin du Village
This is a valuable new recording of a work that is only rarely heard, but was widely influential and wildly popular during the eighteenth century. Philosophe Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote both the libretto and the music, with mixed success.
Although it was the first time a composer had
written his own libretto, and Rousseau wanted to demonstrate a new method of
setting French text to music in the Italian taste, the dramatic pacing leaves
much to be desired and the quality of musical composition is uneven. Some of
the musical numbers are quite catchy (Colette’s entrance aria “J’ai
perdu tout mon bonheur,” for example, was said to have been sung all day
long, off-key, by King Louis XV on the day following the first court
performance) but others, such as the muddily-scored “Colin revient à sa
bergère,” are aimless, weak, and interminable. Charles Burney, who adapted
the opera for English-speaking audiences in the 1770s, thought it went on far
too long after Colette and Colin find true love and happiness. He was right,
but eighteenth-century audiences apparently disagreed: the opera racked up at
least 350 performances in its first fifty years.
This production, by rising young performers in the first year of an annual
summer opera festival at the Swiss Castle Waldegg (a Baroque jewel, see the
pictures at http://www.schloss-waldegg.ch/), is
classified as a live performance, but it is almost completely free of the
drawbacks of live recordings: no coughing or clapping, no clumping feet or
fade-outs as the singers move around, and good balance between singers and
orchestra. The CD, co-produced by Swiss Radio DRS 2, contains the complete
opera — except for a few verses of one seemingly-endless ensemble number
— including recitatives, a pantomime, and a ballet divertissement. An
almost-complete libretto is included: the song texts are all there, but
Rousseau’s stage directions for the pantomime are not. The lengthy
pantomime music sounds pointless unless you know the accompanying story about
a village girl, her sweetheart, and a courtier with a diamond necklace, which
starts off like a farmer’s-daughter joke and but ends as a mini-morality
The singing is pleasing and competent, as is the period-instrument band.
The CD booklet is mostly silent about the nature of the orchestra, which is a
shame, because the Cantus Firmus Consort overcomes the limitations of their
18th-century instruments rather well, especially the maniacally energetic
bassoonist. It appears that for this performance Rousseau’s scoring
(doubled or tripled strings, continuo, and pairs of oboes and flutes), has
been augmented by horns, tambour and bells. The extra percussion works well,
as it is mostly used on instrumental dances, but the raucous horns (probably
big-throated German/Bohemian hunting horns, rather than the smaller and more
delicate French instrument) are too prominent and too continuous for the
early 1750s, when horns were still a novelty in Paris orchestras.
The Soothsayer (Le Devin), Dominik Wörner, is an agreeable and
agile baritone, although his German vowels sometimes get the better of his
French diction. Michael Feyfar does well for a modern tenor attempting to
reproduce the 18th century French haute-contre voice, but he has to use his
head voice a bit too often in the upper range, and only sometimes achieves a
smooth passage between the two ranges. The star of the show (both in
Rousseau’s plot and in this performance) is Colette (soprano Gabriela
Bürgler); her tone is natural, light, and silvery, her ornamented repeats in
the arias are tasteful, and her rage aria “Si des gallants de la ville”
causes sparks to fly.
University of California, Davis