Recently in Recordings
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
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.
20 Oct 2008
BACH: St. Matthew Passion (excerpts)
There is much to admire in Masaaki Suzuki’s Bach performances with the Bach Collegium Japan, and this recording of excerpts from the St. Matthew Passion will remind the listener of the diverse ways in which this is so.
Among Bach ensembles, few can rival the Bach Collegium Japan for
clarity and control, a control that is unflaggingly maintained, though best
heard here in stunningly beautiful soft passages. Two chorales, the
emblematic “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” and “Wenn ich
einmal soll scheiden,” emerge here not as familiar pauses between
events, but as moments of depth, deepened through the breathtaking control of
the rendition. Sometimes the control has a shadow side: for instance, in the
canonic duet with choral interjections, “So ist mein Jesus nun
gefangen,” the solo lines lament Jesus’s being led away captive
while the choir, in their role as the crowd of onlookers, exclaim their
objection: “let him go, stop, unbind him!” Here the choir seems
rather too controlled and soft; the objections become more like furtive
comments among the crowd than forceful attempts to intercede. More’s
the pity, as in other instances like the chorus “Sind Blitze, sind
Donner,” the ensemble has fury and force in ample proportions.
If the ensemble is distinctive in its control and cultivation of the soft
dynamic, the soloists are sensitive in this way, as well. The soprano aria,
“Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben,” sung by Nancy Argenta, is
exquisite in its intimacy, and both Peter Kooij as Jesus and Gerd Türk as the
Evangelist also show consummate ease in the full dynamic range of their
roles—the dramatic force of certain passages is keenly exciting, but it
is, I think, the soft passages that are the most memorable.
The excerpt format of the recording invites one to consider the selections
as self-standing moments rather than part of the dramatic flow. And in that
light, the alto aria, “Erbarme dich” is easily one of the high
points of the recording. Counter-tenor Robin Blaze is at his best here with a
soaring high range and compellingly engaging sense of line. And the rich
interplay with the ornamental violin playing of Natsumi Wakamatsu makes for
especially rapturous counterpoint.
The recording is not problem-free, however. In the imposing chorale
fantasia on “O Mensch bewein dein Sünde gross,” the treble cantus
firmus adds the sound of children’s choir, a well-considered echo of
Bach’s scoring of the opening chorus. However, here it is precisely
echo that is the problem. The cantus firmus sounds as though it is
being sung somewhere else, and that somewhere else seems to
have an exaggerated reverberation at odds with the main acoustic of the
performance. The effect is both surprising and jarring.
Another problem surfaces in the excerpt format of the recording itself.
Apart from the economic attraction of a one-disc affair, it is difficult to
see the gain and easy to perceive the loss. In a number of the excerpts,
there is a clear intent to provide a degree of cohesion, and that is welcome.
But in other instances arias are severed from their immediate surroundings,
which leads to disjuncture, ambiguity of reference and context, and the loss
of the characteristic ebb and flow of declamation and lyricism. Instead, the
isolated moments emerge as independent “favorites.” If one wants
to listen to one’s favorites, the CD format in general makes that an
easy thing to do. The record producers do not need to devise excerpt
recordings to make this convenient. And in devising recordings of excerpts,
they invite the listener to consider the work shorn of its beauty of
integration. That’s a sad loss.