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?
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