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The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
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.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
14 Jan 2009
Unjustly neglected, Dvorák’s Lieder are among his most engaging works, and this selection of some of his most important contributions to the genre demonstrate the range of emotions and the breadth of expression the composer used in these works.
Bernarda Fink, known for fine work in recordings of Händel’s operas conducted by René Jacobs, has also recorded some of Schubert’s Lieder with Gerold Huber, piano. Yet Fink’s recording of Lieder by Dvorák addresses a longstanding need in the Romantic repertoire in literature that seems suited well to her voice.
This recording spans Lieder from the entirety of Dvorák’s career, including the Pisně, Op. 2, Pisně z rukopisu Královédvorského, Op. 7, Cigánské melodie, Op. 55, V národnim tónu, Op. 73, Pisně, Op. 82, Pisně Milostné, Op. 83, and Pisně na slova Elišky Krásnohorské (without Opus number). This selection makes available approximately a third of the 93 Lieder that Dvorák composed, Of these works, the mature set of love songs, Pisně Milostné, Op. 83, offer a fine introduction to Dvorák’s Lieder. The third song, “Kol domu se ted’ potácim” (“I wander past the nearby house”) captures some of the lyricism associated with the composer and, at the same time, has an accompaniment that reflects the motion found in Dvorák’s popular Slavonic Dances and other popular works, and Fink delivers the vocal line sensitively, and Vignoles provides a solid accompaniment. Almost familiar sounding, this song is typical of Dvorák’s style and brings to mind the echoes of folksong that are part of some of Brahms’s contributions to the genre.
Such resemblances occur throughout Dvorák’s songs, which also reflect the modal inflections characteristic of his style. While not overtly imitating folksong, as occurs more often with Mahler, Dvorák makes use of such a stylistic element to underscore his text, which is presented here in Czech, with translations in German, French, and English in parallel columns in the neat booklet bound with the recording. In those works designated as related to folk music, such as V národnim tónu, Op. 73, Dvorák evokes the idiom subtly with conventional gestures like the triadic vocal line of the second song in the set “Žalo dievča” or the third with its inventive accompaniment. In his hands, though, such elements are not mere artifice, but woven into the structure of the music and not merely treated as an additive. Fink’s performance brings out the integrity implicit in this and other songs by Dvorák.
Such elements are more pronounced in his Cigánské melodie, Op. 55, which nominally evoke the Gypsy style. The first of the latter set (“Má piseň zas mi láskou zni,” a hymn of love, has all the intensity of an aria from one of Dvorák’s operas and demonstrate’s his fine sense of reinforcing the mood with the accompaniment. This set also includes familiar music by Dvorák, with the fourth piece being the well-known “Songs my mother taught me” (“Když mne stará marka zpivat učívala”), which Fink delivers earnestly. The other songs exhibit the exoticism of the Gypsy style through the rhythmically inventive accompaniments that suggest a dance-like response to the sung text.
In this recording Bernarda Fink makes an audible case for these excellent Lieder through her sensitive interpretation of them. The pieces she selected fit her voice well, and her sometimes understated performances allow Fink to turn phrases neatly. At the same time, her enunciation of Czech is clear and idiomatic, with accents fitting nicely into the music and phrases aptly stated. Beyond her technical finesse in these pieces, Fink’s intensity contributes to the overall quality of the recording, which deserves attention by anyone interested in Dvorák’s music.
Roger Vignoles brings to the recording his mastery of the accompaniments to create with Fink a seamless ensemble. Prominent when he needs to be and reticent where appropriate, Vignoles brings a consistent support to the musical content of the songs that transcends the technical divisions between voice and piano. Together, Fink and Vignoles achieve a balance to which some aspire and few achieve so well.
James L. Zychowicz