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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?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
06 May 2008
Karajan: The Music, the Legend.
At the centenary of the birth of the conductor Herbert von Karajan various commemorations are occurring, an among them is the concise CD and DVD release by Deutsche Grammophon, with both discs bound into a booklet that includes a short prose tribute to the man illustrated with some well-chosen photographs from various parts of his career.
The audio selections on CD along with the videos on the DVD represent Karajan’s legacy on various recordings issued by Deutsche Grammophon, for which the conduct led many fine performances, along with some materials not previously released. While some of the music is presented in its entirety, as with the film of Karajan conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, or the recordings on CD of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins (all with the Berlin Philharmonic), other pieces are self-contained. The Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043, is just one example of Karjan’s exploration of Baroque music. While it does not reflect the kind of performance-practice in use at the end of the twentieth century, the recording demonstrates the approach Karajan would use to bring this music to the idiom in which he worked. As such, it also brings to mind other recordings he made, including a memorable St. Matthew Passion and also the B-minor Mass. Those, in turn, evoke memories of his treatment of choral forces in various performances – at different times in his career – of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
All in all, this compilation serves Karajan well illustrating some of his fine work with the Berlin Philharmonic, the orchestra with which he was associated for many years and which he helped to shape during his tenure as its director. Likewise, the video selections capture some fine images of Karajan at the podium from various points in his maturity, including a spirited performance of the Scherzo from Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, which dates from 1973. The latter is just one example of the fine effort that Karajan brought in continuing the tradition of Romantic music, which he rendered with a sense of freshness and exuberance that made his concerts memorable.
As much as Karajan was a familiar figure in the concert hall, he was an equally impressive force in the pit of the opera house, where he led many fine performances of some of the major companies in the world. The DVD includes just two excerpts, critical scenes from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Wagner’s Das Rheingold, but he performed many works that are preserved on film, including some exemplary performances of operas by Verdi and Mozart from the Salzburg Festival. While those latter works are not found on this set – it would be difficult to include samples of everything Karajan did well on just two discs without lapsing into the proverbial sound-bite – various DVDs are available to illustrate his contributions to the recorded legacy, including some stunning performances of Don Giovanni and Don Carlos. Those interested in investigating or, for some, revisiting, Karajan’s operas on DVD will find some excellent choices in the selected discography that is included in this release. The selection found on the DVD is a reminder of the videos that Karajan made and for those who are not yet familiar with them, offer a fitting introduction. The scene from the end of Wagner’s Das Rheingold is an excellent example of Karajan’s sometimes tacit presence on impressive DVD performances, and those who find it compelling may want to seek out other such recordings that hold up well. Beyond the filmed operas listed there, the CDs listed include a number of outstanding recordings, such as his famous Ring cycle, along with a still remarkable Parsifal. A cursory examination of the discography included in the booklet will reveal a list of solid recordings that merit further attention.
Preserved by Deutsche Grammophon, the sound on both discs is consistently well recorded and the reproduction fine. This is evident in the 1963 recording of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony that dates to over half a century ago and which remains attractive and dynamic. Other tracks found in this commemorative release are equally strong examples of Karajan’s lifelong commitment to his art, an element that has become integral to the recorded legacy of a generation. By including both sound examples and video ones in this two-disc set Deutsche Grammophon has created a fitting tribute to Karajan, and it serves the conductor well by having enough examples of sufficient length to reflect several aspects of his craft.
James L. Zychowicz