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

After Silence: VOCES8

‘After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’ Aldous Huxley’s words have inspired VOCES8’s new disc, After Silence, a ‘double album in four chapters’ which marks the ensemble’s 15th anniversary.

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

A song-cycle is a narrative, a journey, not necessarily literal or linear, but one which carries performer and listener through time and across an emotional terrain. Through complement and contrast, poetry and music crystallise diverse sentiments and somehow cohere variability into an aesthetic unity.

Flax and Fire: a terrific debut recital-disc from tenor Stuart Jackson

One of the nicest things about being lucky enough to enjoy opera, music and theatre, week in week out, in London’s fringe theatres, music conservatoires, and international concert halls and opera houses, is the opportunity to encounter striking performances by young talented musicians and then watch with pleasure as they fulfil those sparks of promise.

Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players: a world premiere recording

“It’s forbidden, and where’s the art in that?”

John F. Larchet's Complete Songs and Airs: in conversation with Niall Kinsella

Dublin-born John F. Larchet (1884-1967) might well be described as the father of post-Independence Irish music, given the immense influenced that he had upon Irish musical life during the first half of the 20th century - as a composer, musician, administrator and teacher.

Haddon Hall: 'Sullivan sans Gilbert' does not disappoint thanks to the BBC Concert Orchestra and John Andrews

The English Civil War is raging. The daughter of a Puritan aristocrat has fallen in love with the son of a Royalist supporter of the House of Stuart. Will love triumph over political expediency and religious dogma?

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Taking Risks with Barbara Hannigan

A Louise Brooks look-a-like, in bobbed black wig and floor-sweeping leather trench-coat, cheeks purple-rouged and eyes shadowed in black, Barbara Hannigan issues taut gestures which elicit fire-cracker punch from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies (Vol.2) - in conversation with Adrian Bradbury

‘Signor Piatti in a fantasia on themes from Beatrice di Tenda had also his triumph. Difficulties, declared to be insuperable, were vanquished by him with consummate skill and precision. He certainly is amazing, his tone magnificent, and his style excellent. His resources appear to be inexhaustible; and altogether for variety, it is the greatest specimen of violoncello playing that has been heard in this country.’

Those Blue Remembered Hills: Roderick Williams sings Gurney and Howells

Baritone Roderick Williams seems to have been a pretty constant ‘companion’, on my laptop screen and through my stereo speakers, during the past few ‘lock-down’ months.

Bruno Ganz and Kirill Gerstein almost rescue Strauss’s Enoch Arden

Melodramas can be a difficult genre for composers. Before Richard Strauss’s Enoch Arden the concept of the melodrama was its compact size – Weber’s Wolf’s Glen scene in Der Freischütz, Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Medea or even Leonore’s grave scene in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

Francisco Valls' Missa Regalis: The Choir of Keble College Oxford and the AAM

In the annals of musical controversies, the Missa Scala Aretina debate does not have the notoriety of the Querelle des Bouffons, the Monteverdi-Artusi spat, or the audience-shocking premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

07 Jul 2020

Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and Choral Fantasy from Harmonia Mundi

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (the Choral Symphony) in D minor, Op. 125, and the Choral Fantasy in C minor, Op. 80 with soloist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester, new from Harmonia Mundi.

Beethoven: Symphony no 9 (Choral), Op.125; Choral Fantasy, Op.80, piano, choir and orchestra

Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano). Christiane Karg (soprano); Sophie Harmsen (mezzo-soprano); Werner Güra (tenor); Florian Boesch (bass). Zürcher Sing-Akademie. Freiburger Barockorchester, Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor.

Harmonia Mundi HMM902431.32 [2CDs]

$19.98  Click to buy

In this Beethoven anniversary year, it is good that there are ventures which probe more deeply into the composer and his music. The year started with reconstructions, in full performances concerts throughout Europe, of the concert of 22nd December 1808, in honour of the composer, in Vienna which included the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, concluding with the Choral Fantasy providing a grand finale, Beethoven himself playing the piano part. Perhaps it says something about the stamina of modern audiences that some could not understand the ambitious scale of the programme. The Choral Fantasy is in many ways the embryo of Symphony no 9, now an anthem of hope and unity, all over the world.

Although the Choral Fantasy was not successful at the 1808 concert for many reasons, it is hardly a neglected work. The Adagio begins with a substantial section for solo piano, for this is very much a piece for piano, supplemented by orchestra and voices. The familiar “Ode to Joy” motif is introduced first by the piano, then elaborated by different sections in the orchestra. A concerto, in effect, the piano very much part of the evolution of the whole. Not for nothing is the Choral Fantasy in the repertoire of many fine keyboardists. Kristian Bezuidenhout on fortepiano is complemented by the Freiburger Barockorchester, whose period sensibilities enhance finer textures and a “personality” in the approach which feels more intimate and direct, very much in keeping with the idea of individuals interacting as individuals, gradually building up towards communal expression. Just as in the Choral Symphony, the choir and vocal soloists in the Choral Fantasy enter only in the final Allegro, which has been purposefully reached because of what has gone before.

The character of these performances makes this new recording a strong recommendation even in a market saturated with Beethoven Ninths. The vivacity and vigour of the Freiburger Barockorchester works extremely well with this symphony, given its fundamental message. “Alle Menschen werden Brüder” was a radical concept in the context of its time, when authoritarian regimes were giving way to new ideas, which included the freedom of the individual, and the right to tolerate self-determination. It is significant that Beethoven replaced the text used in the Choral Fantasy (by Christoph Kuffner) celebrating the harmony of Nature where “Nacht und Stürme werden Licht” with the even more explicit Friedrich von Schiller Ode to Joy.

Beethoven’s Symphony no 9 perfectly captures the revolutionary spirit of the Romantic era, and of the ideals Beethoven held so deeply. What would Beethoven, Schiller and their contemporaries think of modern societies where such values seem to be in retreat? While this symphony is expressive with the full blast of a large modern orchestra and massed voices, the Freiburger Barockorchester, with their appreciation of the more intimate sound world of Beethoven’s time, also bring out the human scale and personal warmth in this symphony. The power of this piece lies in the way Beethoven uses individuals to create a greater creative whole. The Freiburger Barockorchester have also recorded a superb Beethoven Leonore (the 1805 version of Fidelio) with René Jacobs, livelier and more spirited than John Eliot Gardiner, emphasising the originality of Beethoven’s writing for the two female roles, who are much more developed than in the 1814 version. It is essential listening. The Freiburger Barockorchester have also recently released a new recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos no 2 and 5 (the Emperor) also with Kristian Bezuindenhout and Pablo Heras-Casado.

The superb playing of the Freiburger Barockorchester is enhanced by Heras-Casado’s direct, vivid style, and by the quality of the soloists, Christiane Karg, Sophie Harmsen, Werner Güra and Florian Boesch. Their voices are exceptionally well-balanced, and operate in consort with each other, which is also part of underlying meaning. Not a weak link here, as is sometimes the case with lesser performances. The choir is the Zürcher Sing-Akademie, also extremely rewarding. 

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):