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

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.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

04 Feb 2018

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.

Franz Schubert: Winterreise—Mark Padmore (tenor), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano)

A review by Anne Ozorio

Harmonia Mundi HMU907404

$18.98  Click to buy

Padmore and Bezuidenhout, playing fortepiano, present a very thoughtful Winterreise which, in its pristine lucidity, connects extraordinarily well to the spirit of the cycle. In a winter landscape, and in darkness, you may lose your path but snow reflects what light there is. Background sounds are muffled, but what you do hear is accentuated. You may be cut off from the world, but you are enclosed within yourself. Serious listeners know every note of Winterreise but rarely experience it like this. This is an unusual Winterreise but so perceptive that it enhances our appreciation of the most familiar of all song cycles. The fortepiano may come as a surprise to audience attuned to modern performance practice, but it's leaner timbre works well with Winterreise, and especially in the critically important final song, "Der Leiermann".

The only real comparison is the iconic Christoph Prégardien's recording with Andreas Staier, released in 1997, still a classic. Winterreise devotees will need them both. Staier, one of the great fortepianists of our time, noted that, in Schubert's time, pianos were very different from modern concert grands. Staier and Prégardien performed a great deal of Schubert together, developing an approach more sympathetic to the intimate, personal Liederabend aesthetic. Schubert was himself a tenor, though of course the songs are performed in many different ways. The main thing is to be receptive to interpretation and non-dogmatic. Since the timbre of the pianoforte is more delicate, the voice part needs to connect. Like Prégardien, Padmore came from a choral background. The English tenor style favours purity and clarity, yet also lends itself well to a kind of rarefied spirituality. Not all English tenors are "English tenors"; it's a particular style. Like Ian Bostridge, Padmore can sing with an edge that intensifies darker undercurrents in meaning. In Winterreise, this is of the essence, for Winterreise is an inner psychological journey, expressed through stages describing physical landscape in almost allegorical terms. Even the destination remains a mystery. Thus the value of approaches which allude to levels in the music beyond text alone.

3149020226421-(1).pngFortepiano gives the introductory bars a tremble which suggests the nature of the chill that is to descend. The lower notes stride with purposeful definition. Padmore's voice curves. "Fremd!", he sings, rolling the "r" so it flies forth. The sharpness of his consonants in contrast with the ring of the vowels creates a tension which works well with meaning. The protagonist is entering unknown territory, suppressing his fears to journey on. For a moment, in "Der Lindenbaum", he can rest and reflect, and Padmore's voice grows more tender, and the fortepiano rocks gently. But falling asleep under the supposedly narcotic scent of linden blossom means death. In "Wasserflut", the vocal line rises and drops. Good phrasing , like "Fühlst du meine Tränen glühen, da ist meiner Liebsten Haus", Bezuidenhuit's fortepiano maintaining a steady pace. In "Irrlicht", the brightness of fortepiano and high tenor suggest the character of the will o' the wisp, flickering elusively, luring the unwary astray. In lines like "fühlst in der Still’ erst deinen Wurm, mit heißem Stich sich regen!" (in "Rast!"), the word "Wurm" here, feels satanic, diverting the protagonist from his mission.

In "Der greise Kopf", Padmore sings the first lines with a lyricism that rings with flute-like grace, emphasizing the deathly near-whisper of "Doch bald ist er hinweggetaut". We are being prepared for the songs that follow, where the landscape becomes increasingly surreal, reflecting perhaps the psychic trauma the protagonist is facing. This is where the unique quality of the English tenor style pays off, its archness suggesting anguish. In "Die Krähe", a crow stalks the protagonist like a Doppelgänger : is it friend or foe ? In "Der stümische Morgen", Bezuidenhout's fortepiano growls ferociously, evoking the storm, both external and internal. Padmore's voice rises defiantly, but the protagonist is up against almost supernatural forces. Thus the turbulence in "Der Wegweiser" , pulling in different directions. Even the graveyard offers no solace. In "Mut!", notice the way Padmore marks the tremble in the word "herunter", while Bezuidenhouit pounds as fiercely as a fortepiano can. Now the protagonist challenges God himself. "Will kein Gott auf Erden sein, sind wir selber Götter!" In early 19th century terms, this is almost blasphemy. He looks up and sees three suns, a natural phenomenom that exists in certain climatic conditions, but he thinks they resemble three staring eyes. Is the protagonist mad or visionary ? The hushed horror in Padmore's singing suggest both possibilities.

And thus to "Der Leiermann" the climax of the whole journey. Bezuidenhout's fortepiano creates a sense of fragility, the notes sparkling the way light shines off heavy snow. Is this brightness an illusion, like the will o' the wisp ? A large, strong piano might suggest an element of hope, but a fortepiano emphasizes vulnerability. The colours in Padmore's voice turn pallid, his tone dropping as if he's watching a ghost. There are moments of light, where the voice rises like a flute, as opposed to the drone of a hurdy-gurdy. But note the steady deliberation, as if the protagonist was falling into step with the Leiermann's death march. The last word "dreh’n?" rings out like one last call into the void, and the fortepiano’s last notes shuffle, deflated. Padmore and Bezuidenhout don't present an ordinary Winterreise, and some won't get it because it is different. But it does offers good insights, even in a market teeming with excellent performances.

Anne Ozorio

Click here for excerpts of this recording.

      

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):