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

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

harmonia mundi 902291 [CD]
07 Nov 2017

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.

Mozart: Requiem K.626

Sophie Karthäuser, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Maximilian Schmitt, Johannes Weisser. RIAS Kammerchor. Freiburger Barockorchester. René Jacobs.

harmonia mundi 902291 [CD]

$16.33  Click to buy

This sense of tension, of conflicting power and powerlessness, and ultimately of fear and awe at the prospect of death, is ever-present in this new release from Harmonia Mundi. Drama is never far from the surface in this recording, and if it at times perhaps verges on bombast, it certainly conveys the image of a composer facing death in the eye. This is a recording that conveys the fear and tension of this confrontation, but perhaps at the expense of the more poetic aspects of such a conflict.

The voices are immediately full-blooded and rich when they first appear in the opening adagio; the soprano’ first entry is sublime, soaring over the sensitive accompaniment of the Freiburger Barockorchester. Yet prettiness is never with us alone, and the ensemble are quick to emphasise the work’s darker nature by exaggerating the dynamic contrasts, as found in the sudden quiet in the centre of the Introitus: Requiem æternam. Throughout the disc, there is a fine balance achieved between high drama – achieved through crisp articulation and dynamic variety – and melodic sweetness. Indeed, one of the most unsettling features of Mozart’s Requiem may be its juxta-position of beauty with darkness; how can someone write such sublime music to express something that embodies such fear and unpredictability?

This sense of contrast is beautifully highlighted in this new release. When the sopranos and altos glide into the picture after the opening gravitas of the male voices in the Confutatis, the dynamic and timbral contrast is stunning. However, it does at times feel almost overblown, particularly with the tempo that Jacobs adopts here, a tempo noticeably faster than Marriner on Philips (Academy and Chorus of St Martin in the Fields, 1991). Marriner also manages to keep the dynamic quieter for longer in the latter half of the Confutatis, making the tension almost unbearable. Similarly, Karajan’s DG (Vienna Philharmonic, 1987) reading finds a greater hush at the opening of the Lacrimosa, making the prolonged crescendo more striking.  Despite the abrasive aggression of the Confutatis and the missed opportunity for genuine quiet in the Lacrimosa, it is impossible not to feel swept away by the sheer force of nature of both the score and the performance here, this force brilliantly communicating the overwhelming nature of death.

This release is certainly never afraid to be forceful, and gives as much prominence to the darkness as to the light. Listen to the explosive opening of the Dies Irae and, with the wonderfully full-bodied choir and aggressive brass, it feels that we are hearing not only a piece of music that is glaring death in the eye, but also performers playing for their lives. Indeed, this sense of vitality and liveliness in the singers (a touch ironic, perhaps) is matched by the instrumentalists, and the acoustic captures the imitation between the brass and choir effectively. A more transparent recording than Karajan’s DG reading enables a more prominent brass and string section, vital in communicating the raw energy and darkness of Mozart’s score.

Indeed, compared to Karajan, Jacobs employs a much faster tempo for the Tuba Mirum – or perhaps I should say that Karajan employed a tempo that was far slower – and Jacobs is much closer to Mozart’s andante marking. It is a shame, however, that the opening descending crotchets speed up, denying the phrase the gravity attained in the more consistent opening tempo of Marriner’s classic Philips recording. However, both Marriner and Jacobs are agreed in their faster tempo reading in comparison to Karajan’s sluggishness, creating a greater sense of movement in the Tuba Mirum. This heightens the drama of the tenor’s entry and the voices’ dotted rhythms. Karajan, whilst aiming for an epic stateliness, achieves more of an inflated sluggishness that detracts from the grandeur of this section. Yet, even compared to Marriner, Jacobs takes a very fast tempo; in the Tuba Mirum, Jacobs’ recording lasts just 3m11s, compared to Marriner’s 3m47s and Karajan’s 4m21s. Jacobs clearly aims for fast-paced dramatic tension; one could argue Marriner finds a better compromise between dramatic agility and stately gravitas, as Jacobs does occasionally feel rushed, as in the opening descending crotchets. Marriner’s tempo is my ideal: weighty yet with a sense of movement.

Tempo is fast elsewhere in the new recording; Jacobs’ genuine allegro of the Communio: Lux aeterna creates a fantastic sense of buoyancy, making the semiquavers sound far more agile than Karajan’s slower reading. The Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser sings beautifully in the Lux Aeterna, performing with great purity of tone and a well-controlled vibrato that never distracts from the text. There is a beautiful simplicity and delicacy that expertly conveys the “eternal light” described.

This recording’s unique selling point is the score it uses; instead of utilising Franz Xaver Süssmayr’s completion of Mozart’s original, Jacobs makes use of Pierre-Henri Dutron’s 2016 revised score, a project motivated by Dutron’s frustration at the inadequacies of Süssmayr’s version. Amongst the changes made by Dutron is a revised ending, which turns to an adagio tempo earlier and uses an extra pause – alongside dynamic contrast – to conclude the work with what Dutron argues would have been closer to Mozart’s true style. This recording is thus an important documentation of an alternative perspective on a well-known piece, providing fresh perspectives and asking further questions about the legitimacy and efficacy of Süssmayr’s version.

Harmonia Mundi’s new release is a powerful tour de force that confronts us with the high drama and tension of Mozart’s late masterpiece. With superb dynamic contrast, tempi that mostly strike a good balance between stateliness and momentum, and beautifully expressive singing, this is a highly enjoyable disc that communicates the full force of the huge emotions that Mozart grapples with. Given that the piece was performed at the funerals of Joseph Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Rossini, Berlioz and Hallé, not to mention Goethe and Schiller, this is music that is intimately connected to death beyond just its subject matter. It is music about death in the fullest sense. With this recording, it is impossible not to be aware that one is listening to a piece of music that looks death in the eye. With the added interest of Dutron’s revisions, the spectre of death in Mozart’s score is communicated here with the fullest force of life.

Jack Pepper

References:

Landon, H. C. Robbins. 1999. 1791, Mozart’s last year. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Sylvia McNair, Carolyn Watkinson, Neville Marriner, Francisco Araiza, Robert Lloyd, and Franz Xaver Süssmayr. 1991. Requiem, K. 626. London: Philips.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Helga Müller Molinari, Vinson Cole, Paata Burchuladze, and Herbert von Karajan. 1987. Requiem K. 626. Hamburg: Deutsche Grammophon.

      

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):