Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Bach: Cantatas for Bass
03 Sep 2017

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Bach: Cantatas for Bass

Cantata BWV21: Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, Sinfonia; Cantata BWV56: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen; Oboe d’amore Concerto in A major BWV1055R; Cantata BWV82: Ich habe genug

Matthias Goerne (baritone), Katharina Arfken (baroque oboe), Gottfried von

Harmonia Mundi HMM902323 [CD]

€15.99  Click to buy

The highlight of BWV 56 is, for me, the aria ‘Endlich, endlich wird mein Joch’ (At last, at last, my yoke); speaking of the hope found in passing into God’s hands in death, the text describes becoming an “eagle”, finding “strength in the Lord”. Katharina Arfken’s dancing oboe line imbues the aria with an infectious zeal, capturing Bach’s message of hope in the afterlife.  The virtuosic melismas of Bach’s solo bass cantatas require an exceptional agility, and Goerne’s hefty and sonorous timbre copes well with the demands of the extensive runs. Goerne and Arfken beautifully accentuate the aria’s sense of dialogue; listen to the powerful projection of the voice followed by the delicate response of the oboe three minutes in.  This effectively communicates the image of the burden of life leaving the soul, the pleasing lilt enhanced by the light-footed accompaniment of the Freiburger Barockorchester. The final chorale is equally expressive, communicating the sense of security as the soul reaches its “safe harbour”, although I find the rather forward-placed instrumental accompaniment drowns out the vocal line.

It is one of this cantata’s strengths that Bach sets a text that employs such poetic, even Romantic, imagery.  It is not a coincidence that it features an abundance of the pronoun “I”, for Bach’s message is ‘personal’ and Goerne does well to convey the lyrical intensity of the music.  Yet the text does not imply lyrical sweetness alone.  At the moments when the ambience darkens and the texts speaks of “seas raging and foaming”, I find the resonant, glowing acoustic is to the detriment of the recording, as Goerne’s rich lower registers could perfectly evince the darkness of suffering without the need for such a sepia-toned acoustic.  As a result, the occasional harshness that Goerne could have used to convey the pain as well as the hope of the speaker is lost, smudged over by the overly warm acoustic; despite being a cantata about hope in death, I can’t help but feel something is lost when one emphasises the hope alone.

Exploring the similar theme of comfort in death, BWV 82 also features the same exquisite dialogue between oboe and voice that proved a highlight in BWV 56. Here, the ageing Simeon tells of how he recognised Jesus in the Temple, and yearns to die in peace having seen the Messiah; this is a cantata of touching devotion and emotional intensity, which the tonal heft of both Goerne and the oboe communicate well.  Indeed, compared to Joshua Rifkin’s release on Decca with The Bach Ensemble, the present recording offers a far richer oboe timbre, whilst the fullness of Goerne’s voice underlines the assuredness that Simeon feels in knowing he can be with God.  True, compared to Fischer-Dieskau on Archiv, Goerne is less declamatory in the opening phrases of the aria ‘Ich habe genug’ (I am content); Goerne creates a powerful sense of holding back, evoking Simeon’s sense of acceptance.  

As a pupil of Fischer-Dieskau, Goerne has not only adopted his master’s extraordinarily broad repertory (Goerne has already recorded Schubert, Eisler and Mahler-Berio), but he also has his ability to project a powerful narrative.  Yet once again, the warm acoustic blurs the expressive nuances of Goerne’s phrasing in the famous aria, ‘Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen’ (Go to sleep, you weary eyes).  Fischer-Dieskau’s Archiv drier acoustic allows for a far greater clarity of text and phrasing; both recordings, however, adopt a faster tempo than Eliot Gardiner’s recording with the Monteverdi Choir, also on Archiv.  Gardiner’s slower tempo may better reflect Simeon’s “quiet rest”, but one could argue Goerne’s faster speed better captures his sense of hope.

Although Goerne is central to this disc, the release is not a purely vocal one, making this an enjoyable listen for its generous programming.  We are treated to a powerfully expressive Sinfonia. The other instrumental work proved one of the disc’s greatest pleasures: the Concerto for Oboe d’Amore, performed with tremendous skill by Katharina Arfken.  Providing a delightful sense of energy that never falls apart into the hectic, these are elegant readings that convey Bach’s own sense of pleasure; one can detect the sense of spontaneity and invention that must surely have created an exciting atmosphere around the master when he was at work.  Whether evoking a dance or a lament, this is powerfully emotive and affective music.

Everywhere I read about Goerne, I find his voice likened to “pearls”.  His resonant, rich timbre provides a hefty underpinning to the text, but rarely prevents him from singing with graceful lyricism.  In the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this is an enjoyable release that is a further testament to Goerne’s increasingly broad repertoire.

Jack Pepper

      

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):