Recently in Recordings

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.



Urania WS 121.304
06 May 2017

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

MOZART: Marriage of Figaro

Lisa Della Casa (Countess), Roberta Peters (Susanna), Rosalind Elias (Cherubino), George London (Count), Giorgio Tozzi (Figaro); Vienna Philharmonic and State Opera Chorus/ Erich Leinsdorf

Urania WS 121.304 [3CDs]

$39.99  Click to buy

Recorded in 1958, it won a Grammy for Best Opera or Choral Performance, a category that was split into two in subsequent years. The features noted by many previous critics (e.g., in Alan Blyth’s Opera on Record, vol. 1, and the Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera) still register vividly today. The vocalism is splendid in the five central roles and strong even in the smaller ones.

The LP box trumpeted the cast as “selected by the Metropolitan Opera.” Of the five leading roles, four are filled by North Americans (Giorgio Tozzi was born in Chicago; George London was born to a Jewish family in Montreal, the family name being Burnstein). Lisa Della Casa was Swiss, and the comprimarios, orchestra, and chorus are nearly all European. The one exception in the smaller roles is that Marcellina is sung by the characterful Sandra Warfield (who performed 172 times at the Met and also appeared often in Europe). George London—renowned for his performances in Wagner—makes a very resonant and powerful-sounding Count. Scholars stress that Figaro is, for musical and dramatic reasons, the more bass-like of the two roles, whereas the Count should more properly be a suave baritone. But London makes a fine case for having a true bass in the role and never sounds uncomfortable on high notes. Much praise is due to Gabor Carelli, a character tenor whom I’d never encountered before. He nicely differentiates the two roles of Basilio and Don Curzio, and does Basilio’s Act 4 aria as well as anyone could wish.

Throughout the recording, the humor can get a bit exaggerated, notably in recitatives, as if for the benefit of audience members who don’t understand Italian and, in big halls, are sitting far from the singers. Supertitles have nowadays eased some of this pressure.

The singing is also rarely very soft, presumably another habit deriving from big halls. But this is no stand-and-shout performance: dramatic continuity is often paramount and is enhanced by welcome moments of intentional overlap between the end of one recitative and the beginning of the next or between a recitative and the beginning or end of a musical number.

Leinsdorf’s conducting is brisk and somewhat metronomic, in ways that paralleled habits that were developing around the same time within early-music performance. Few embellishments are made to the vocal lines. Leinsdorf actually wrote a book explaining his belief in trusting the letter of the score: The Composer’s Advocate: A Radical Orthodoxy for Musicians.

The recording quality is still vivid, 59 years later, with fine use of stereo directionality to help clarify on-stage movement, especially in the famously intricate Act 4. The performance is nearly note-complete: the only trims made during the recording sessions were in the Act 2 finale. Thus we get both Marcellina’s and Basilio’s arias in Act 4, unlike on some other recordings and in many live performances.

To the Italian label’s credit, Urania has allowed the opera to spill over onto a third disc. Thus nothing from the original release has been removed. By contrast, EMI omitted Basilio’s Act 4 aria when it rereleased the famous Glyndebourne/ Gui recording on 2 CDs. (Too bad, as the performance of that aria by Hugues Cuénod had been singled out for special praise by critics of the original LPs.) The CD breaks are sensible ones: middle of the long Act 2 and beginning of Act 4.

With an opera as oft-recorded as Figaro, it is inevitable that certain musical numbers, especially arias, have been performed more magically somewhere else, e.g., on a recital disc. Ezio Pinza, for example, made two wonderfully detailed renderings of Figaro’s sarcastic “Se vuol ballare”; and that same aria is likewise more nuanced in complete recordings and videos of the opera with Samuel Ramey or Bryn Terfel than as sung here by Giorgio Tozzi. By contrast, certain arias and other numbers in the present recording are totally treasurable, displaying a near-ideal wedding of vocal command and dramatic intent. These include—to restrict myself to a single act, the third—the marvelously timed duet between the Count and Susanna, Lisa Della Casa’s exquisitely floated yet fully characterized “Dove sono,” the duet “Sull’aria”—with a nicely flowing accompaniment that somehow manages to suggest Susanna’s act of writing the Countess’s dictated words—and the scene in which, while a fandango is being danced, the Count surreptitiously receives the letter from Susanna and inadvertently pricks himself with a pin. (Leinsdorf conducts that fandango with an air of electric anticipation.) OK, I have to add Roberta Peters’s marvelous “Deh vieni” in Act 4, in which she marvelously suggests that she is at once trying to imitate the Countess’s (creamy) voice and also that she is expressing her own abiding love for Figaro, who, she knows, is hiding in the shadows, overhearing her. No wonder many people have loved this whole recording across the decades. I’m a little embarrassed that, until now, I had never heard it in its entirety. The orchestra and chorus, from the Vienna State Opera, do their jobs superbly (except for some slight problems with wind intonation in “Deh vieni”).

The set’s third CD has enough free space to permit inclusion of an entire three-movement instrumental work: what used to be called Mozart’s Symphony 37, which we now know was composed by Michael Haydn (brother of Joseph; it’s variously numbered Perger 16, Sherman 25, and MH 334). Mozart simply wrote a slow introduction for the first movement. As played by Leinsdorf and the Royal Philharmonic, the piece feels tuneful, compact, and consistently engaging. The performance is presumably the same one found in the conductor’s long-prized recording of the “complete” Mozart symphonies. This meant, at the time, the 41 works that had long been available in the Breitkopf und Härtel Gesamtausgabe. Since that time, additional early symphonies by the composer have become known and recorded. Originally available in the US on Westminster LPs, Leinsdorf’s symphony set is currently available on Deutsche Grammophon, 7 CDs. The early symphonies are in stereo. The symphony heard here is in relatively clear mono, with a nice balance between winds and strings. On the original releases the Royal Philharmonic was—presumably for contractual reasons—renamed the Philharmonic Symphony of London.

But to return to the main work here: Leinsdorf’s 1958 Figaro remains dramatically vital and musically gratifying and could easily be anybody’s first choice, especially if they own a copy of the score or libretto. (The booklet contains nothing but a track list, which, by the way, erroneously assigns Basilio’s aria to Bartolo.) Frequently recommended also are recordings conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini (the one I know best, though the Count shouts too much), Erich Kleiber, George Solti, Bernard Haitink, and both of those that are conducted, with keen attention to theatrical effect, by Colin Davis. (Further, see the two books mentioned above and the Mozart Operas Overview, by Ralph Lucano, in the January/February 2002 issue of American Record Guide.) The René Jacobs recording has special attractions for its intimate atmosphere and quick interactions between cast members and for some bracing freedoms taken in the vocal parts. I have not heard the recent recording by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Ralph P. Locke

The above review is a lightly revised version of one that first appeared in American Record Guide and appears here by kind permission.

Ralph P. Locke is emeritus professor of musicology at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. His most recent two books are Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections and Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart (both Cambridge University Press).

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):