Recently in Recordings
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.
Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic
selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary
versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano
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.
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.’
In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi.
With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been
many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s
major opera houses today.
In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions.
Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790.
During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.
Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.
It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing
traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.
As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set
compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche
Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of
orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of
the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive
There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s
Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled
Great Wagner Singers.
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.
19 Dec 2011
San Marco in Hamburg: Motets by Hieronymus Praetorius
In the first part of the seventeenth century, the north German city of Hamburg spawned an unusually rich organ culture, with Jacob Praetorius, the younger, and Heinrich Scheidemann both pupils of the famous Dutch organist, Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck, as leading figures.
A subsequent generation would be led
by players such as Matthias Weckmann and Johann Adam Reinken, this latter a
figure to whom J. S. Bach would bend the knee in his well-chronicled trip to
Hamburg in 1720. At the earlier end of the spectrum stands the figure of
Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-29), father of Jacob, the younger, and himself
successor to his father, Jacob the elder, at the famed Jakobikirche.
This organ culture was bred by the prominence of the city’s churches,
of which the Petrikirche, Jakobikirche, Catharinenkirche, and Nikolaikirche
were especially significant. And in this environment some of the organists
provided not only organ music, but also notable liturgical music in the form of
motet and canticle. Such is the case with Hieronymus Praetorius, featured here
in the CD anthology “San Marco in Hamburg.” The reference to
“San Marco” acknowledges the strong influence of the Venetian
school of Giovanni Gabrieli. The path from Germany to Venice was reasonably
well worn, with the travels of composers like Heinrich Schütz and Hans Leo
Hassler often cited examples, but the rich sonorities of Venice captivated
other composers who had never heard the music of San Marco in situ.
This was the case with Hieronymus Praetorius (and also with the better known
Michael Praetorius—no family relation), but if learned from afar, it is a
musical style they assimilated with fluency.
In “San Marco in Hamburg” the ensemble Weser-Renaissance Bremen
under the direction of Manfred Cordes explores the Italian-influenced motets of
Hieronymus, and does so with a recording of distinction. Though some of the
pieces are large-scale, Cordes compellingly takes them on with only 15
musicians—six singers singing one-to-a-part and 9 instrumentalists
combining winds, strings, and continuo. The result is that in the sumptuous
12-voice “Jubilate Deo” that opens the recording, the sonic
richness is a subtler taste to savor rather than a full-belted blast of power
that overwhelms. And this holds true for the large number of 8-voice works, as
well. Performed in this way, the clarity of motive, the unflagging attention to
purity of intonation—such wonderful final chords in the sections of the
“Magnificat”!—and general buoyance of the sound can come to
the fore with very satisfying results.
The decorative passage work is well served by the one-to-a-part
configuration, and in motets like “Cantate Domino,” this ornamental
style sparkles as foil to the suave lilt of triple-meter tutti passages. Two of
the motets, “Ab oriente and Wie lang” are performed as solo motets,
with accompanying polyphonic voices played instrumentally. In “Ab
oriente,” this gives a welcome chance to relish the fine control of alto
Peter de Groot’s sensitive singing, and the plaintive ethereal sounds of
soprano Monika Mauch in “Wie lang” offer one of the highlights of