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What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
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.
28 Dec 2011
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina e la Compagnia dei Musici di Roma, Messa di Santa Cecilia
Homage could take diverse forms in Counter-Reformation Rome, and this excellent recording by ensemble officium, Messa di Santa Cecilia, focuses on a particular instance that was interestingly polyvalent.
the centerpiece—a “Missa Cantantibus organis”—pays
homage to St. Cecilia, both in her liturgical rank and as patroness of music.
But as a parody mass—a reworking of material from Palestrina’s
responsory motet, “Cantantibus organis”—the mass also becomes
a salute both to Palestrina’s musical rank and the cultivation of church
music in Rome. Making these gestures of homage all the more compelling is that
the mass itself is a collective enterprise, written jointly by seven composers
(including Palestrina himself) from the confraternity “Compagnia dei
Musici di Roma.” And while these composers, who include Annabile Stabile,
Francesco Soriano, Giovanni Andrea Dragoni, Prospero Santini Ruggiero
Giovannelli, and Curcio Mancini, have not risen to the modern fame of
Palestrina, they collectively represent the wealth of the Roman musical
establishment towards the close of the sixteenth century. Rounding out the
program are motets from Palestrina’s “Song of Songs” and an
unusually through-composed Magnificat.
Unsurprisingly, the Mass with so many hands involved shows a
variety of textures and styles, ranging from four to twelve voice parts
deployed in both imitative counterpoint, homophonic writing, and antiphonal
dialogues. Much is given to twelve-voice splendor; it is interesting, however,
that the grand-scale of the texture somewhat ironically suggests an economy of
pace, moving through the text without lengthy development—rich but not
expansive. And though the construction of the Mass is varied, the
stylistic idioms are so well established that shifts from composer to composer,
or texture to texture, create no jarring effect.
Ensemble officium brings to this repertory a well-seasoned fluency. The
choral sound has a degree of heft to it, but in Wilfried Rombach’s hands,
it emerges as focused and clear, nicely attuned to the chant-like fluidity of
lines, but also to chordal richness. The result is a very satisfying
performance of Roman repertory from its most golden age.