Recently in Recordings
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?
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.
04 Jun 2008
Joye: Les plaintes de Gilles de Bins dit Binchois
The title of this recording “Joy: the Laments of Gilles Binchois” introduces a seeming contradiction, one that plays on a contemporaneous description of the composer as "pére de joyeusetè"—the father of joy—in tension with an affinity for melancholy in his works.
Björn Schmelzer proposes however that in the musical settings of laments “sorrow is transformed into sublime bliss—the secret of any lament of a high standard,” as Binchois’s surely were. In the creating of this conceptual frame for Binchois’s laments, Schmelzer and his generally excellent Graindelavoix, seek perhaps a new niche in which to place the composer’s works. Unsurprisingly, their performances also seek difference and distinction, be it with exaggerated tempo, degree of ornamentation and improvisation, or an especially “orchestrational” approach, switching and intertwining instrumental and vocal sounds with careful design.
The search for distinctive modes of performance invites us to hear things with new ears. The opening “Adieu mes tres belles amours,” for instance is sung unusually slowly. And the exaggerated pace, somewhat jolting at first hearing, gives the affection of the text (regrettably untranslated in the liner notes) greater gravity. One pauses anew to savor the detail of the musical syntax and one lingers with the sensuous elegance of Patrizia Hardt’s singing. There are trade-offs, however. The very slow speed seems to work against the level of note that was idiomatically the basic unit of motion, and thus may sound more like “slow motion” than expressive enhancement. Significantly, the slow speed well accommodates the florid ornamentation impressively added here by Hardt.. Yet, based on figuration in the Buxheimer Organ Book, the ornamentation sounds anachronistic in the vocal appropriation, and its degree of floridity seems to work against the affective dolor that inspired the choice of a slow speed in the first place.
In the extensive liner notes, Schmelzer writes of archetypal features of laments, including an “atmosphere which enables a kind of feminisation of feelings (high, ornamental or trembling voices, tears, etc.), absolutely impossible in a conventional social context.” The appeal to the “trembling voice” is amply apparent in the singing of Silvie Moors here. A skillful singer with a wide range of activity in jazz and folk styles, she has a tremulosity in her voice that is expressive, but also distracting for its associations with other styles. It is beautiful singing—the kind of sound we often encounter today in modern Celtic folk recordings—but a novel sound in this context. This again invites us to hear things anew—a good thing—but it may also court a degree of mannerism in the end.
Schmelzer gives much attention to vibrant and robust instrumental participation in the performance of many of the laments, again favoring an ornamental and improvisatory style. Occasionally this seems to have hijacked other priorities. For example, the rondeau “Esclave puist yl devenir” has only the refrain sung, while fiddles—a nice salute to the blind Castilian fiddle players at the Burgundian court—render the rest of the musical material. Orchestrationally interesting, it nevertheless runs rough-shod over the song as a textual event, rendering a significant portion of the text silent.
There is much beautiful singing in this anthology. The lament “Mon seul et souverain désir” is simply stunning, set to an unsually low pitch that wraps the tone in a veil of dark profundity. This presages sounds we associate with Ockeghem, who likely studied with Binchois, and whose lament on the death of Binchois is the concluding chanson of the recording.
“Joye” will assuredly be of interest to devotees of early Renaissance music. Some of the performances perhaps try too hard to achieve difference, but in this we also sense a gratifying dynamism in the performance tradition: that, too, is something about which we can be joyful.