Recently in Recordings
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.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of
songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime
friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at
the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
24 Jan 2008
Wagner: Orchestral Hightlights from the Operas
As much as Richard Wagner espoused opera reform in his theoretical writings by bringing to his works for the stage a closer unity between music and text, his actual means of doing so at times involved the use of orchestral forces that sometimes overwhelmed the sung word.
With the veritable lexicons of motives that occur in his overtures and preludes, as well as thematic summaries in various interludes, the famous orchestral excerpts performed in concert communicate some aspects of the operas well. Yet under the baton of a solid Wagnerian likethe late Klaus Tennstedt, the music takes on added dimensions that convey the passionate expression found in the scores. This is already evident in the legacy of recordings that Tennstedt left, and this recently released DVD of a concert of the London Philharmonic on tour at Suntory Hall, Tokyo, on 18 October 1988, captures some of the dynamic aspects of the conductor on the podium.
While Tennstedt’s involvement with Wagner’s music is evident in the recordings that are already available, a concert video like this helps to document the artist interacting with his orchestra. Through a combination of shots that varying in size, this film shows the orchestra as a whole, various sections, and also close-ups of the conductor himself, in works Tennstedt was regarded highly as one of the finest interpreters of his time. As familiar as this music can be, a master like Tennstedt contributes nuance to the well-known overture to Wagner’s opera Tannhaüser with the subtle variations in tempo. At times the intensity emanates from the podium, with Tennstedt’s baton almost vibrating in his hands. Elsewhere, it is the facial expression that brings about the appropriate response, as in the evocative Bacchanale that follows the Overture in this concert. The fine sonics of this recording demonstrate the unified playing that Tennstedt did not demand, but drew out of the exceptional players of the London Philharmonic.
With an earlier work like Rienzi, the elements of grand opera emerge clearly in Tennstedt’s interpretation. Here the broad strokes are necessary, as the longer themes that Wagner used in this relatively early opera are stylistically removed from the idiom he would use in Tannhaüser or, later in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. With some of the longer note values and sustained pitches that are characteristic of Rienzi Tennstedt creates some tension that evoke the charged situations in the opera. Familiar in the concert hall, the overture to Rienzi receives a solid interpretation with Tennstedt, who makes the most of the score without overly emoting.
Yet it is in the excerpts from Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen that Tennstedt seems to have been in his idiom, and the selections included in this concert represent his music-making very well. With “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and “Siegfried’s Funeral Music,” Tennstedt connotes the sense of the scene painting that is a crucial element in the opera Götterdämmerung, from which they are taken. While maintaining decorum, Tennstedt brings out an almost raucous jubilation that stands in contrast to the somber and intense tone of the “Funeral Music” that follows the hero’s murder. Here the London Philharmonic plays passionately while rendering the score with an almost classic precision.
After such intensive music, Tennstedt included two further selections, the overture to the comic opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and the final piece on the concert, the famous “Ride of the Valykyries” from Die Walküre. Well known as it is, the placement of the “Ride” at the end of the program precludes any kind of encore – what could possibly follow that would not be anticlimactic. And it is appropriate for the video to end with the visage of Tennstedt in freeze-frame, an image that remains in memory long after hearing this well-played concert of the London Philharmonic on tour in Japan. The liner notes include Tennstedt’s comment that he is not on the podium just to “beat time,” and the craft that he brought to his work as conductor is evident in this filmed concert.
James L. Zychowicz