Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Karine Deshayes — Rossini
08 Jul 2017

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Karine Deshayes — Rossini

Karine Deshayes, mezzo-soprano, Les Forces Majeures, conducted by Raphaël Merlin.

Aparte AP121 [CD]

$20.99  Click to buy

I can now join him and complain about the same thing—in this case in a Rossini album, on the Aparte label, presenting the remarkable young mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes.

Alternating vocal and instrumental pieces makes sense in a long concert, but less so in a CD for one’s library. Here we get two orchestral numbers, and they are ones that don’t stand very well on their own, namely the storm interludes from two Rossini operas: Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola. How often would you want to listen to, say, the storm from Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony out of context? The conductor states, in the booklet essay, that he was trying to give the whole CD a dramatic arc. This was lost on me.

Still, it’s churlish to complain about such things if the repertoire is interesting and the performances are accomplished and persuasive. That is certainly the case on this recording, which will be many people’s first introduction to the mesmerizing Deshayes. I first encountered her voice and artistry on the world-premiere recording of Félicien David’s grand opera Herculanum. In my review of that recording, I called her performance of the role of the pagan queen Olympia “at once commanding and subtle, quite an achievement.” She can also be heard on two other recent CDs: one consisting of pieces by Karol Beffa; the other entitled Après un rêve, with the Ensemble Contraste.

Deshayes is a mezzo of the modern kind, which is to say light and clean, with a quick, tight vibrato, splendid breath control, and marvelously fleet coloratura. She is perfect for the many Rossini roles that were written for mezzo—roles sung, just a few decades ago, by Marilyn Horne and Cecilia Bartoli. Deshayes has her own vocal personality: her low notes do not bloom as Horne’s did, and she rarely bites into the words as Bartoli does. Instead, she focuses on etching the vocal line with all the nuances of a great instrumentalist. (Perhaps some of her musicality derives from her early training as a violinist.) We are treated to innumerable subtle shadings in dynamics, including many ear-ravishing instances of a sudden diminuendo on a single note, such as one more often encounters in recordings of Baroque music. Deshayes never seems unaware of the emotions behind a given passage. It’s just that she tends not to sacrifice vocal beauty in order to drive a verbal message home. Her frequent embellishments are appropriate to the context, gently surprising but never distracting, and performed with keen rhythmic variety.

The tempos set by conductor Raphaël Merlin are generally brisk and always apt, with natural-sounding adjustments at major structural junctures. The orchestra, Les Forces Majeures, is here making its disc debut. Les Forces Majeures seems to be active mainly in the summers, at festivals. It consists of players who—according to the booklet—are members of professional string quartets or other chamber groups, or play in French orchestras, or have recently finished their musical training. (Merlin is best known as the cellist in the award-winning Quatuor Ebène.) As for the orchestra’s name: force majeure means a situation that was unavoidable and overturns all plans and promises; or, more generally, an irresistible trend. The phrase can at times be roughly equivalent to “an act of God.” Here it is made plural, creating a play on words because the orchestra consists of various groups—i.e., performing forces, including those string quartets—that combine to form a single unified ensemble that makes a major impact. The musicians presumably play modern instruments. Gratifyingly, it sounds as if the timpanist is using hard sticks rather than the big spongy ones that would be appropriate to later repertoire.

There is one problem: the acoustics. The recording was made in a repurposed stone-walled granary in Villefavard (near Limoges), which now serves as a concert venue. A photo of the raked seating that has been installed at one end of the space suggests that no more than 400 listeners can be accommodated. Presumably because the hall is small and the surfaces are non-absorbent, the microphones pick up a quick, loud echo, especially on high notes (whether from the singer or from the brass and winds). I sometimes have trouble hearing notes that the singer touches lightly (e.g., in a downward run) after she has emitted a clarion high note that continues to ring, and I often have trouble hearing what harmonies the strings are playing quietly under the singer or under wind passages. Since the music-making here is on such a high level, I hope that the engineers, in future recordings, temper the hall’s acoustics, perhaps by more careful microphone placement or by placing absorbent cones in the seats to simulate the effect of an audience.

The repertory is a mix of familiar and not. We get to hear the most famous soprano or mezzo arias from Il barbiere di Siviglia (two: “Una voce” and “Contro un cor”), Cenerentola, Semiramide, and Otello, plus a second, shorter, excerpt from the latter opera and a wonderful multi-movement aria from La donna del lago, which can be heard by clicking here. There are also three Rossini songs, orchestrated by the conductor in a colorful manner. Indeed, too colorful at times: the numerous instrumental intrusions in L’âme délaissée are distracting, even at times soupy. The Spanish touches added to Nizza, though played with great flair, seem excessive. The poet who wrote Nizza, by the way, is not identified in the booklet: it’s Emile Deschamps. The performance of Nizza omits Deschamps’s wittily worded second strophe, which Rossini certainly intended to be sung, as one can see in the early edition available online at IMSLP.org.

I particularly object to the way that Merlin has updated the Canzonetta spagnuola to make it seem like a direct model for the Gypsy Song in Bizet’s Carmen. Merlin, clearly following Bizet’s lead, makes the orchestration progressively more elaborate in each of the three strophes and gradually speeds the tempo up. Rossini’s score (for, of course, voice and piano) simply gives the music once, with repeat signs and the three sets of words.

More appropriate to the aesthetics and style of Rossini’s music is the orchestration used here for the cantata Giovanna d’Arco (i.e., Joan of Arc). It was made in 1989 by renowned Rossini scholar Philip Gossett for a performance by Teresa Berganza and is based on Salvatore Sciarrino’s edition of Rossini’s original version (for voice and piano). It may be that the orchestral version is here receiving its first recording. Though the publisher (Ricordi) has labeled it an elaborazione (on the title page), I found it very persuasive and not—as that word might suggest—over-done.

I will be listening to this CD many times in the future, if not often to its two interpolated storms. And I look forward to the future projects of this remarkable young mezzo and equally remarkable new chamber orchestra—separately or together. A video with captivating excerpts from the recording sessions is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpAo06q2x4I.

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):