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

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Alpha-Classics: Alpha 273 [CD]
16 Apr 2018

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.

Camille Saint-Saëns : Mélodies avec orchestra, Yann Beuron (tenor) Tassis Christoyannis (Baritone), Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Markus Poschner. (conductor)

A review by Anne Ozorio

Alpha-Classics: Alpha 273 [CD]

$17.43  Click to buy

Though the songs for voice and piano have previously been recorded, this is the world premiere recording of the full orchestral versions, taken from a performance in Lugano in 2016 sponsored by Palazzetto Bru-Zane, champions in the promotion of French repertoire. In this landmark issue, distributed by Alpha classics, nineteen of the twenty-five orchestral songs in the composer's catalogue are included.

Saint-Saëns was only thirteen years old when he wrote L'Enlèvement, in 1848, first for piano and voice, orchestrating it very shortly afterwards. Aimons-nous was completed seventy years later, two years before the composer's death. Though Saint-Saëns’ reputation has been based on his larger works, he had a lifelong commitment to song. This is particularly significant given the dominance of Grand Opéra and symphonic works in mid-19th century France. Berlioz's Les nuits d'été was initially composed for voice and piano, the orchestrations only completed in 1856. Concert performances tended towards programmes of operatic arias or works for piano.

Poschner_Alpha_back.png

By orchestrating his songs, Saint-Saëns was making an artistic statement. In 1876, he wrote "The Lied with orchestra is a social necessity. If such things were available, people would not always be singing operatic arias in concerts, which often make a pitiful effect in those surroundings". As Sébastien Troester writes in his notes, "incongruous accents and faulty ceasuras and enjambments" could occur in popular works by composers whose native language was not French. Thus Saint-Saëns created orchestral song as art song as serious concert music, a synthesis of voice and symphony, building on the riches of French poetry. Orchestral form also allows for exotic colour and sensuality, making use, as Troester writes "of ancient modes, of ostinato rhythms that create a sensation of languor, of vocal melismas", distinctive and very Belle Époque.

The performances here are superb, the epitome of idiomatic style. Despite its richness, the beauty of Saint-Saëns music lies in its purity. The ornamenations exist to amplify ideas and structure. Poschner and the orchestra keep, the colours clear. "Hollywood excess" is not the way to go Elegance lies in articulation. Beuron and Chritoyannis phrase and shape so that the words can be heard clearly, without exaggeration, but with natural, flowing flair.

Angélus, to a poem by Pierre Aguétant (1890-1940) begins with the tolling of a bell, followed by shimmering strings. "Les clochers, souverains du soir", sings the tenor Yann Beuron, pacing the line with the deliberation of medieval chant. In the monastery, the monks are singing Angelus, and outside, the shepherds hear the sound on the air as if the wings of God were rushing past. Similar frisson in the strings introduces L'attente (Victor Hugo) but here the pace is swift, barely able to contain excitement. "Climb, squirrel, up the oak.... eagle, rise from your eyrie!" In Rêverie (Hugo) phrases in each strophe are repeated, with slight variation, the orchestra echoing the vocal line, the effect as lovers entwined. Beuron's wonderful diction warms words tenderly: "Mon coeur, dont rien ne reste, L'amour ôté ! "

Extended orchestral colour pays off handsomely in songs like La Brise from Saint-Saëns' Mélodies Persanes op 26 (1870) to a text by Arrmand Renaud (1836-1895). Swaying string lines suggest exotic dance, against dance rhythms based on percussion and bells. A clarinet suggests "oriental" woodwinds. The vocal line (Tassis Christoyannis) equally agile, with long, curving phrases. Similar felicities in Extase (Hugo) where the text itself repeats and changes in intricate patterns. Woodwinds "mobile et tremblante" suggest the falling leaves in La feuille de peuplier (Mme Amable Tastu, 1795-1885). A lilting woodwind melody lifts L'Enlèvement (Hugo) raising the song to heights few composers aged only 13 could hope to achieve. Woodwinds again in Les Fées (Théodore de Banville 1821-1891) suggest the movement of swallows in flight, as the vocal line soars upwards. The vocal line (Beuron) in Souvenances (Ferdinand Lemaire 1832-1879) dips gracefully, garlanded by the orchestra.

Flutes and strings shimmer in Les cloches de la mer to a text by the composer himself, but a much darker, more dramatic mood emerges, the orchestra surging tutti, suggesting the depths of the ocean. La splendeur vide from Mélodies Persanes op 26. describes "un merveilleux palais" filled with jewels (vividly evoked by the orchestra), but the glory masks despair. "Plus je suis tombeau", sings Troyannis, his voice descending to near whisper. The full orchestra surges again, horns ablaze, in Le pas d'armes du roi Jean (Hugo) a long ballad where the singer (Troyannis) has to characterise the different figures in the poem, while marking the short, clipped phrases in the text.

More mock medievalism in La cloche (Hugo) where Beuron floats the last line "dans le ciel" so it dissolves into silence. This prepares us for the fluttering delicacy of Papillons (Renée de Léché) where a pair of flutes duet, darker winds and strings adding texture. The song ends abruptly : butterflies die. Thus Pliante (Tastu), (1918) with strong chords of dark portent. "Ô monde ! Ô vie ! Ô temps!". In contrast, though written in the same period, Aimons-nous (Banville) where lovers embrace, peacefully, in death. In Au cimetière again from Mélodies persanes the two groups of strings are plucked, then bowed, suggesting the beat of a pulse and sighs of breath. The mood is hushed, yet enraptured. To conclude, Danse macabre op 40 but with a difference. This was originally written for voice and piano in 1872, then revised for violin and orchestra. Here, voice, violin and orchestra come together. It's a treat ! Christoyannis sings "zig-a-zig-za-zig le mort en cadence". Violin and voice locked in sinister dance. Méfistofeles having a laugh. Truly "et vive la mort et l'egalité!"

Anne Ozorio

      

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):