Recently in Recordings
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.
Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera.
A recent release by the Metropolitan Opera, this two-disc set makes available on DVD the famous performance of Berg’s Lulu that was broadcast on 20 December 1980 as part of the PBS series “Live from the Met.”
The novels of Sinclair Lewis once shot across the American literary skies like comets, alarming and fascinating readers of that era, but their tails didn’t extend far behind them.
Once the province of only the most dedicated opera fanatics, mid-20th century recordings of privately taped live performances have become more widely available.
Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.
Since his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1971, conductor James Levine has come to represent the house’s commitment to artistic excellence — reliable, professional, and immaculately presented.
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.