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

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

A Verlaine Songbook
24 Sep 2017

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

A Verlaine Songbook

Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Joseph Middleton, piano.

BIS-2233 [SACD]

$14.99  Click to buy

Today, singers and their pianists are often more willing also to explore repertory by composers who are much less well known. Furthermore, a CD can carry much more music than the typical LP. Carolyn Sampson—an established light soprano—here offers an entire, well-stocked disc of Verlaine settings by no fewer than ten composers: the inevitable (but always welcome!) Debussy and Fauré, but also Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Ravel, Reynaldo Hahn, Charles Bordes, Déodat de Séverac, Joseph Szulc, and Régine Wieniawski Poldowski (daughter of the famous violinist).

This does not produce a scattershot effect because several cycles or sets are recorded entire (Debussy’s Fêtes galantes, series 1, and Ariettes oubliées; and Fauré’s La bonne chanson). Also, the songs of Poldowski are grouped together, as are those of Hahn. The single songs by Ravel, Szulc, et al., thus come as refreshment after a group of tracks by one composer.

Another element of coherence: a number of the songs use the same text as some other song on the disc. There is much fascination in observing how Saint-Saëns, for example, fills “C’est l’extase langoureuse” with a lively accompaniment emphasizing ecstasy whereas Debussy’s setting emphasizes languor. And, for extra fun, certain images recur from poem to poem, in different contexts: moonlight, nightingale, musical note-names (“do-mi-sol”), and so on.

Roger Nichols’s booklet-essay gives much insight into the different composers’ approaches to each poem. The translations, by William Jewson, of the often-laconic song texts are as clear as can be without adding many words of explanation.

People who already know the Debussy and Fauré songs recorded here may well be delighted, as I was, to discover how responsive the other composers were to this poet’s evocative verses. Hahn, Poldowski, Séverac, and Szulc produce what are, in many ways, quite conservative settings. (Szulc would go on to write musical comedies.) But conservative need not mean routine. Szulc’s setting of “Clair de lune” captures the dreamy mood of the text beautifully, as does Poldowski’s somewhat Schumannesque “En sourdine” (“Calmes dans le demi-jour”). Poldowski’s “Mandoline” (“Les donneurs de sérénades”) evokes the atmosphere of commedia dell’arte no less effectively than do the famous settings by Fauré and Debussy. And there are poetically apt echoes of church style in a song by Bordes and the closing number of the disc, by Séverac. As for the master composers, I will confine myself here to mentioning the sole Ravel song: “Sur l’herbe,” which I had never encountered before, is a wonderful “slice of life” song in his magical pseudo-Spanish style.

This was my first time hearing Sampson. She is a light, flexible soprano, a bit like Sylvia McNair or Kathleen Battle. She commands a wide range of techniques, from straight tone to rich vibrato, and from super-legato singing and controlled portamento to a semi-spoken lightness. She can file her voice down to a slender but well-supported thread. Some of the singing is among the most beautiful that my ears have ever been privileged to receive: for example, in Chausson’s “Apaisement” (“La lune blanche”)—which is one of several tracks from the CD that can be heard on YouTube —and Hahn’s “L’heure exquise” (“Votre âme est un paysage choisi”).

Sampson receives superb support from Joseph Middleton, who is director of the Leeds Lieder Festival and a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. I was often enchanted by the ways in which the pianist responds to the changing imagery in the texts and to shifts in harmony and figuration.

The same performers’ previous CD for BIS, Fleurs (likewise including some songs by “lesser” composers), was rapturously received by record critics (including Erin Heisel, in American Record Guide, September/October 2015). I foresee a similarly positive response to this marvelously well thought-out CD, which nicely reminds us that many lesser-known composers from the past have written at least a few pieces that can gratify performers and listeners alike today.

Warning: at first I listened to some tracks from this Verlaine disc on the CD player in my car. Sampson's loud high notes often came across as harsh; the echo, annoying. I wonder if this was a side-product of it being a compatible SACD disc. (This is the first SACD disc I have tried listening to.) At home, on good equipment, the whole disc is as exquisite as (Verlaine might say) the glow of moonlight on russet grass.

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. Six of his articles have won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about 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). The first is now available in paperback, and the second soon will be (and is also available as an e-book).

      

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):