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

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The voices of six women composers are celebrated by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams and soprano Yunah Lee on this characteristically ambitious and valuable release by Lontano Records Ltd (Lorelt).

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

As Paul Spicer, conductor of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, observes, the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary is as ‘old as Christianity itself’, and programmes devoted to settings of texts which venerate the Virgin Mary are commonplace.

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth’s last large-scale work, written in 1930 by the then 72-year-old composer who was increasingly afflicted and depressed by her worsening deafness, was The Prison – a ‘symphony’ for soprano and bass-baritone soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

‘Hamilton Harty is Irish to the core, but he is not a musical nationalist.’

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Dmitry Shostakovich - A Portrait
08 Jul 2006

Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait

2006 is a centenary year of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) - a great Russian composer of the 20th century, and a complicated and tortured soul whose posthumous legacy has been a subject of heated ideological debates in recent years.

Dmitri Shostakovich - A Portrait

Various artists

Naxos 8.558188-89 [2CDs]

$15.99  Click to buy

This new offering from Naxos is an unusual addition to a growing Shostakovich discography: it offers an overview of the composer's life and work in a 92-page (booklet-size, of course) biographical essay, illustrated by 26 tracks of listening examples supplied by an accompanying two-CD set. One of several similar projects recently undertaken by Naxos (others include the "portraits" of John Taverner and Arvo Pärt), Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait presents an overwhelming and emotionally exhausting journey through the composer's life and creative work.

The list of compositions includes sample movements from symphonies nos. 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, and 15; the passacaglia from the 1st violin concerto, and the Andante from the 2nd piano concerto. Chamber music is represented by a movement each from the string quartets nos. 8 and 12; a scherzo from the piano quintet in G-minor; 2nd movement from the 2nd piano trio in E-minor, and the 1st movement of the viola sonata. Among examples of the solo piano repertoire, there is one of the early Fantastic Dances, and excerpts from piano preludes op. 34 and from the 24 preludes and fugues op. 87 - the latter in the composer's own rendition. Film and theater music is represented by excerpts from the ballet suites Bolt and The Golden Age, and the film suites Gadfly and Hamlet. Finally, a brief 1941 radio address in which the composer mentions his work on the "Leningrad" symphony acknowledges, if you will, his "public persona."

The biographical essay penned by Richard Whitehouse is the centerpiece of the experience (the reader may choose to see this project as a compact version of a music appreciation-style textbook with accompanying CDs). Based on material provided by the Shostakovich Society of the United Kingdom, the essay offers a discussion of an enormous number of compositions (some - but not the majority - of which are included on the CDs). It also aims to present an overview of historical and social conditions that shaped the composer's life and informed his work. A Russiannist (or a Russian) may notice quite a few factual inaccuracies in this overview, as well as some questionable interpretations of historical events - some misrepresented, others dismissed or omitted; for instance, one may find it hard to forgive a glib, perfunctory reference to the premiere of the 7th symphony by starving musicians in blockaded Leningrad. Yet overall, Whitehouse's essay is an admirable attempt at a balanced "portrait" of Dmitri Shostakovich that, while acknowledging the competing one-dimensional views of the composer as either a loyal puppet or a closet dissident, thankfully subscribes to neither.

The musical selections included on the two CDs may raise a few eyebrows. Many choices are obviously informed by space limitations and a desire to cast the broadest net possible. Yet, some decisions still seem questionable - for instance, including one of the op. 34 piano preludes instead of the 1st piano concerto arguably much more representative of Shostakovich's style during the same time period. Perhaps the most glaring omission - as I am sure, any subscriber to Opera Today would agree - is vocal music. There are no excerpts from either operas or art songs (even though both genres are discussed at length in the essay); in fact, the composer's contribution to vocal repertoire is represented only by a movement each from the 13th and 14th symphonies, both of which include voices. Another weakness of the recordings - unfortunately a common complaint for Naxos - is the sometimes questionable quality of performances. While the selections by the New Zealand Symphony and much chamber music are very nicely done, and the composer's own performance of excerpts from the op. 87 preludes and fugues that frame the recording is a welcome addition, performances of the symphonies by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra are frequently problematic with respect to their basic quality as well as interpretation (particularly of the 1st and 15th symphonies).

Overall, the way one approaches Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait will determine the quality of the experience. Do not buy the recording if you are looking exclusively for a listening experience - the fragmentary nature, as well as the quality of the selections would ultimately leave one unsatisfied. Meanwhile, approaching the packet in the spirit in which it was created - that is, reading the essay along with the listening examples that are cued to the text - is a surprisingly powerful experience, even for a true Shostakovich devotee. For a Shostakovich novice - the kind of listener Dmitri Shostakovich: A Portrait appears primarily to address - it will provide an eye-opening introduction to the great composer's life and work.

Olga Haldey
University of Maryland — College Park

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):