Recently in Reviews
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
05 Mar 2009
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)
Recorded on 9 November 1959 at Symphony Hall (now Symphony Center), this recent issue of a classic performed of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde translates the then state-of-the-art RCA “Living Stereo” sound for the LP vinyl medium to the enhanced sound currently available in SACD format.
As John Newton comments in the notes about the audio technology used in this new release, the quality of the original record was excellent from the start, and that allows for enhancements, rather than restoration in bringing the almost legendary American recording to the twenty-first century. The razor-blades that sound engineers used in 1959 to edit tapes were the best tools available then, but such physical means have given way to digital ones, and the results are evident in this fine issue.
When RCA originally released this recording of Das Lied von der Erde, relatively few recordings were available on LP, but those included the monumental performance of Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bruno Walter. Comparisons of these two great recordings are futile, but they represent two of the finest performances of Das Lied von der Erde on disc. Ferrier’s performance is unquestionably moving, and Forester represents another impressive interpretation of the part. It is fortunate to have the fine recording with Ferrier and Patzak conducted by Walter, the musician responsible for the premiere of Das Lied von der Erde after Mahler’s death. With Reiner’s recording, though, both singers would continue with their careers for years to come. Forester and Lewis would appear again in Das Lied von der Erde in a concert on 16 April1960 at Carnegie Hall, in a performance of the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra led by Bruno Walter. That performance is available on CD, but does not have the sonic presence of the one with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Almost a decade later, in 1967, Forester and Lewis would also recording Das Lied von der Erde with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Georg Szell, but those later performances are not esteemed as highly as the one with Reiner and now reissued in SACD format.
While Reiner’s name is not often included with others of his generation when it comes to performing Mahler’s music, his interpretation of Das Lied von der Erde stands out among his efforts as an impressively persuasive. He brought to the score the virtuosity of the Chicago Symphony and with it came the fine sonic ambience of Orchestra Hall and the recording techniques of RCA, which were the most advanced of the day. The result is a vibrant orchestra sound, with the individual colors of the ensemble emerging readily under Reiner’s leadership. Without a question the Chicago Symphony has a fine blend, but it is possible to hear more distinctly some of the specific sounds in Mahler’s score. From the outset the sound is vibrant, with the horns in the opening passage ringing out the repeated notes that signal the gesture with which the piece begins. Likewise, the characteristic hollow sound of the woodwinds that follows demonstrates the reason that Mahler used those colors in the passage. The eighth-note figures that underscore the vocal line are articulated cleanly, with appropriate separation between them, and the sudden entrances that punctuate some of the phrases in the first piece have a nice resonance. With Lewis, his performance of the ”Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” is impressive, with his diction matching his fine expression, with the descending slide that occurs near the end of the movement beautifully executed. It is unfortunate that some passages of “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (mistranslated in the liner notes as “Wine in Spring” as is “Der Einsame im Herbst” as “Autumn Loneliness” rather than “The Lonely One in Autumn”) show some strain. With the middle of the three tenor pieces, “Von der Jugend” (“About Youth”) the understated tone is entirely appropriate to this number and Lewis conveys the sense of youthfulness implicit in the text.
Maureen Forester brings a full, rich, dark sound to the contralto pieces, and her vibrant voice never blurs. The open tones at the beginning of “Der einsame im Herbst” are engaging, as she blends well with the orchestra as if she were part of a smaller ensemble. This recording captures the sound well so that it is difficult to mistake her distinctive voice in this setting from Hans Bethge’s Chinesische Flöte. Yet with “Von der Schönheit” (“About Beauty”) Forester captures the sense of drama by differentiating so well between the introverted opening section and the more assertive central portion of the song. The full rein of the Chicago Symphony is evident in the middle of the movement, which stands out for its bold statement of exoticism. Yet both Reiner and Forester restrain the ending appropriately and masterfully. In many ways, though, “Der Abschied” poses musical and interpretive challenges for even the finest performers, which Reiner and Forester meet with remarkable style and conviction. After the percussive opening of the movement, Forester is almost subdued in presenting the text. She builds on that opening gradually, and as the first part of “Der Abschied” ends, she is fervent, with a warm, rich approach that stands in contrast to the earlier portion of the movement. In the second half of the movement Forester moves away from this and makes audible the sense of confident resignation found in the text. Her intonation of the final portion of “Der Abschied” is convincing, with Reiner’s command of the Chicago Symphony evident in the finely played conclusion.
With over 50 recordings of Das Lied von der Erde available on CD, a number of fine performances are available. The release of this particular one, though, makes a classic interpretation available for new audiences to enjoy. The already fine sound of the original LP is reinforced in this newly issued CD, which does not merely present what was on the famous LP, but is a reshaping of the original recorded sound. As familiar as the LP may be to some, the CD merits attention, not only as a classic recording, but as a perpetually effective one.
James L. Zychowicz