Recently in Recordings
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.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
03 Feb 2008
J. S. Bach, arr. Robert Schumann. Johannes Passion.
In 1851 during his first season as music director in Düsseldorf, Robert Schumann presented a performance of Bach’s St. John Passion, and unsurprisingly adapted the score both to nineteenth-century taste and nineteenth-century practicalities.
There is, of course, a degree of irony in all of this, for it was mid-nineteenth-century musicians and scholars who began the landmark Bach Gesellschaft complete edition of the composer’s music: landmark in its scope and landmark in the pioneering model of scholarly “pure” editing it presented. The objective ideals of science would soon shape the nineteenth-century birth of modern music scholarship, and a rigorous approach to editing, shorn of adulteration, was a characteristic presage. At the same time, however, some nineteenth-century performances of Bach showed no hesitation to re-clothe the score lovingly in modern garb. Thus, Schumann’s score adds instruments—clarinets here, trumpets there—substitutes available instruments for those that were not—a solo viola replaces the solo viola da gamba in “Es ist vollbracht,” for instance—alters voice assignments—some tenor arias are sung by soprano—and makes various deletions in the score. Additionally, Schumann’s performance used fortepiano as the continuo instrument, especially prominent for its role in the large number of recitatives.
As an example of the degree of adaptation, the well-known aria, “Es ist vollbracht” shows Schumann’s respectful but creative hand. The original viola da gamba solo, played to the accompaniment of basso continuo alone is recast as a viola solo over low, brooding string harmonies; the heroic second section of the aria, adds trumpets to the orchestral flourishes to heighten the military sound of things. The Bachian details remain reasonably intact though we may perceive those details differently for the adjustment in color. The de-familiarization is an interesting way of meeting this “old friend” anew . . . interesting, and in selective ways gratifying. The brooding low strings of “Es ist vollbracht,” for instance, is not all that distant from certain Bach sonorities—one thinks of the divided viola parts in the early cantatas, for example--and here in the Passion, this later touch may well haunt my own future listening of Bach’s version of the aria. I doubt the later version will ever unseat the earlier—our historical sensitivities, if nothing else, are much too deeply entrenched for that—but hearing the aria with a touch of Romantic melancholy may serve to alert us anew to the affective depths we may find in Bach’s own language.
The performance is an impressive one. In general, Hermann Max and his forces seem to have started with a baroque sound and brought it chronologically forward a bit rather than have taken a later sound and tried to pull it back. This serves the performance well. The choir is flexible and clear; spry in fast passages and well proportioned in solemn moments. The soloists in the main are well-seasoned early music practitioners and we hear in their approach the refined articulative sense and shapely contours born of this specialty. Bach seems to trump Schumann in the vocal sound. Jan Kobow’s rendition of the evangelist’s role is brilliant—compellingly dramatic and wonderfully fluent, and the ease of his high range is remarkable. Similarly so the exquisite high register of Veronika Winter, beautifully controlled in the aria “Zerfliesse, mein Herze.”
One of the most startling differences in the Schumann version is the fortepiano accompaniment, here played by Christian Rieger. Through frequent arpeggiation and chordal reiteration he promotes a very satisfying forward motion to the line, welcome in any rendition of the work.
Schumann’s devotion to Bach is well-known, and though modern respect for Bach’s historical “otherness” would deem the arrangement a historical trespass, in Schumann’s world the adaptation serves only to further the devotion. According Schumann the integrity of his own historical “otherness,” we find in this arrangement much that will move and interest. And in the performance we find considerable accomplishment, indeed.