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.
18 Dec 2011
“A Year at King’s”
This recent recording of the men and boys from King’s College, Cambridge, is an anthology organized around the texts and themes of the liturgical year, a scheme that offers ample opportunity for diverse works—in that sense the recording feels something like a “sampler”—but a scheme that also reflects the real experience of the daily life of the choir which sings demanding choral services six days of the week in term time.
Some of the works
on the recording like Tallis’s extraordinary 40-voice motet, “Spem in
alium,” or Gregorio Allegri’s fabled setting of “Miserere” are by now
well-entrenched in the modern ear. How they acheived that status, however, owes
a deep debt to pioneering recordings by the choir under the direction of Sir
David Willcocks (the “Miserere” in 1963 and “Spem” in 1965). The recent
versions stand in the echo of the earlier, amply reconfirming the persistence
of a King’s style, but also the lasting associations of the works with the
The choir is one of many “Oxbridge” choral foundations, of course,
though in reputation and reception they have arguably a singular status; in the
broader world they represent the idealized standard of the English collegiate
tradition and they set the bar very high, indeed. Their idealized position has
been nurtured by the BBC broadcasts of their Christmas Festival of Nine Lessons
and Carols and by a robust legacy of recording, begun under Willcocks. But the
idealization also derives from the cultivation of a singularity of sound,
impeccable, pristine, warm, smoothly blended, seemingly effortless. This is all
predictably and gratifyingly manifest in “A Year at King’s.” If there is
any downside, it is that there are no surprises.
The warmth of the sound—tone embued with the kiss of candlelight--is
particularly rewarding in two Advent antiphons by the Estonian Arvo Pärt, but
even in other styles it figures characteristically, as in Palestrina’s
exuberant Christmas motet, “Hodie Christus natus est.” And if the sound is
warm, it is also flexibly evocative. The pristine clarity of the trebles, for
instance, well serves the astral imagery of Lassus’s Epiphany motet,
“Videntes stellam magi,” whereas the richness of the lower voices undergird
the presence of the aged Simeon in Eccard’s motet for the Presentation,
“When to the Temple.”
These are pieces whose performances and very selection are unsurprising. In
a context so shaped by notions of tradition, it has been significant, however,
that King’s has regularly commissioned new works for their famous carol
service. The commission for 2005, John Tavener’s “Away in a Manger,” is
recorded here, a welcome toying with familiarity. Tavener uses the well-known
text—the strand of familiarity—while in harmonic and dynamic range he
pushes the bounds of expectancy, and in the absence of the familiar tune, gives
a haunting new shape to the lullaby. Given the number of Christmas commissions
that King’s has now amassed and their high quality, a new recording of them
as a group would be a most welcome project; the Tavener here whets the
One “member of the ensemble” deserves special mention, and that is the
chapel itself. The King’s sound bears the golden touch of its acoustical
environment, and one might easily imagine that the marvelous sustaining power
in the singing of works like Barber’s “Agnus Dei,” a reworking of the
well-known “Adagio for Strings,” is the fruit of the daily singing in so
wondrous a space.
A year at King’s would seem altogether too short a time to sample the
glories of the choir; “A Year at King’s,” however, makes for a good step
in that direction.