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A Prize-Winning Rediscovery from 1840s Paris (and 1830s Egypt)

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. In recent days,

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

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” with herself!).

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

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Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

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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’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

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Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

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Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

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Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

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: Notturno

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.

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Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

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Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

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.

Amore e Tormento

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.’ 



The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols & Ballads for Christmas
10 Oct 2010

Anonymous 4: The Cherry Tree

In the popular view, the modern celebration of Christmas seems to have begun with Charles Dickens’s revivifying A Christmas Carol (1843).

The Cherry Tree: Songs, Carols & Ballads for Christmas

Anonymous 4

Harmonia Mundi HMU 807453 [SACD]

$14.99  Click to buy

However, from a musical standpoint, the rich repertory of fifteenth-century English carols requires that we look much further back to uncover the historical roots of much of our modern Yuletide singing. And this collection by the superb vocal quartet, “Anonymous 4,” who now approach a quarter century of inspired music-making, makes uncovering those roots a particularly congenial task.

The fifteenth-century English carol was diverse in its subject matter: the expected Christmas texts co-exist with carols commemorating the Passion of Jesus, for instance, or the military victory at Agincourt. But it is the tie to Christmas that has endured. This idea of continuity helps to shape Anonymous 4’s program, as they place Anglo-American folk hymns and early American tunes in counterpoint with the early English carols, a programmatic touch that allows the ear a measure of “intertextuality”—hearing one thing with at least a contextual reference to another. It is a dynamic approach whose variety helps to keep the ear sharp, the mind open to new connections, and also one that draws on the expansion of Anonymous 4’s repertory in recent years. Though best known for their work in late medieval music, with the recording of “American Angels” (HMU 907326 [2004]) and “Gloryland” (HMU 907400 [2006]), they added traditional American music to their musical array, and The Cherry Tree handily bears that fruit.

The fifteenth-century ensemble carols combine refrains and more thinly scored verses in a fluid rhythmic style, sparked by the lilt of cross rhythms and graced with the new consonant sounds of Renaissance harmony. The singing here is free and vibrant, but with a compelling edge to the sound that keeps things well in focus. The middle-English pronunciation contributes much to the color of the sound, as well. The Anglo-American music adopts a different sound, marked by the ornamental “scooped” inflections of traditional singing, inflections that Marsha Genensky renders with particular naturalness and command in her solo version of the “The Cherry Tree Carol.” As the period pronunciation adds such distinction to the early carols, one might wonder if a richer early-American palette might have been used to similarly good effect here. Certainly the singers were mindful of the issue: the American songs are pronounced with a discernible looseness that is surely intentional, as are the lengthened “r’s” and the occasionally richer diphthongs. But in the end, a less conservative approach might have offered a more colorful effect.

Each of the four singers has a solo track, and the opportunity to hear the four individually is one to savor. Ruth Cunningham’s wonderfully contoured notes, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek’s exquisite control and warm tone, Susan Hellauer’s intimate clarity of sound, and Marsha Genensky’s impressive command of idiom remind that although the ensemble is perhaps an entity greater than the sum of its component parts, those component parts are stunning in their range of gift. In this particular case, a Christmas gift that we should not wait to unwrap.

Steven Plank

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