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CD Review: French and Italian Rarities and a Long-awaited Gurrelieder

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 12 July 2001

Berlioz: Te Deum
Roberto Alagna (tenor); Marie-Claire Alain (organ)
Orchestre et Chœur de l'Orchestre de Paris
John Nelson, conductor
VIRGIN 7243 5 45449 2 7 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Berlioz: Te deum

John Nelson has long been known to a limited circle of connoisseurs as one of our leading Berliozians. Perhaps this recording of one of the composer's least-loved works will bring him to the attention of a wider public. An additional selling point is that we can hear two sections customarily omitted as they were also the composer's afterthoughts (Prelude, March for the Presentation of the Colors) and are not an integral part of the work. Roberto Alagna is in good form and on good behavior for his solo in the fourth section. The sound is as good as one can expect for a work with such complex and enormous forces.

Meyerbeer: Robert le Diable
Patrizia Ciofi (Isabelle); Annalisa Raspagliosi (Alice); Warren Mok (Robert)
Alessandro Codeluppi (Raimbaut); Giorgio Surian (Bertram); and Domenico Colaianni, Kim Hyun-Dong, Eléna Lopéz, Soon-Won Kang, Salvatore Cordella
Bratislava Chamber Choir; Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia;
FRenato Palumbo, conductor
DYNAMIC CDS 368/1-3 (3 cds; texts in French and English, notes in English, French, German and Italian)

Meyerbeer: Robert le diable

Robert le Diable has long languished in the pirate realms, and Dynamic finally comes to the rescue with a live recording from the Festival della Valle d'Itria di Martina Franca. The performance is virtually complete, with solid performances from the leading singers. Patrizia Ciofi is a delight as Isabelle, her singing impeccable and her French far better than that of her colleagues. Only Giorgio Surian's Bertram comes as close to sounding comfortable in French, while Annalisa Raspagliosi offers a touching Alice, a role as difficult as that of Isabelle. Warren Mok in the title role gets all the notes, but makes a hash of the text. Renato Palumbo has the orchestra playing as if they mean it, the solos all well played, and the composer did not neglect the instrumentalists. And this is where Dynamic shines, offering material that has rarely, if ever, been available to the public. Even if the performances lack a certain polish, the excitement of discovery makes up for any deficiencies.

Poulenc: Figure Humaine
Choeur de Chambre Accentus;
Laurence Equilbey, conductor
NAÏVE V 4883 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

We would not normally include a CD so meagerly filled (less than 40 minutes) among our selections, but the quality of the performance is such that its inclusion cannot be disputed. Three works are performed (Poulenc's secular music for mixed a cappella chorus), Sept Chansons, Figure Humaine, and Un soir de neige, all important in Poulenc's oeuvre for the quality of the texts and the quality of the composer's response. Conductor Laurence Equilbey and her Accentus Chamber Choir are impeccable.

Schoenberg : Gurrelieder; Suite for String Orchestra
Martina Arroyo (Tove); Janet Baker (Waldtaube); Alexander Young (Waldemar)
Odd Wolstad (Bauer); Niels Møller (Klaus-Narr); Julius Patzak (Speaker);
Danish State Radio Chorus and Symphony & Concert Orchestras
János Ferencsik, conductor
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Norman Del Mar, conductor
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 74194 2 0 (2 cds; notes but no texts)

The long-awaited reissue of János Ferencsik's reading of Arnold Schoenberg's massive Gurrelieder does not disappoint. The sound may be a bit constricted for today's tastes, but the performance still rings true. Janet Baker's Wood-dove remains unsurpassed, while Martina Arroyo's soprano has the right heft, not true for Alexander Young's tenor but his interpretation of the killer-role of Waldemar is deep in insight, offering sufficient compensation. Ferencsik is a master at holding together the monumental forces necessary for the piece and the Danes equal him in enthusiasm. The filler, the Suite for String Orchestra, is given a lively performance by Norman Del Mar.

Traetta: Antigona
Maria Bayo (Antigona); Anna Maria Panzarella (Ismene); Laura Polverelli (Emone); Carlo Vincenzo Allemano (Creonte); Gilles Ragon (Adrasto)
Les talens lyriques
Choeur de Chambre Accentus;
Christophe Rousset, conductor
Decca 460 204-2 (2 cds; texts and translations in English, French, German and Italian)

Traetta: Antigona

Traetta: Ippolito ed Aricia
Angelo Manzotti (Ippolito); Patrizia Ciofi (Aricia); Elena López (Fedra)
Simon Edwards (Teseo); Maria Miccoli (Enone); Stefania Donzelli (Diana)
Luca Grassi (Plutone); Monica Sesto, Saverio Fiore, Sara Allegretta, Angela Masi, Rossana Potenza, Madia Todisco, Loredana Cinieri;
Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia
Bratislava Chamber Choir
David Golub, conductor
DYNAMIC CDS 257/1-4 (4 cds; text and translation in Italian and English; notes in Italian, English, French and German)

Traetta: Ippolito ed Aricia

If you have not previously encountered the music of Tommaso Traetta, you are in for a surprise. Antigona is a tightly constructed work, originally written for St. Petersburg and premiered in 1772. The current recording was made after concert performances so that the performers had the opportunity to become familiar with the music. Maria Bayo seizes the music and lives her part, inspiring the rest of the cast to give more than their best. Traetta constantly surprises us with the way he turns the classic forms to a highly personal use. Christophe Rousset's enthusiasm is the other kindling fire behind the performance.

Ippolito ed Aricia was written for Parma in 1759 when the composer was breaking away from the standard model then prevalent, here using an Italian translation of the text set by Rameau. (This was the first performance in the 20th century.) Once again, the composer knocks us flat, with difficult arias, fascinating use of orchestral color. This is a live performance from Martina Franca and as I mentioned elsewhere it is far from perfect, but the likelihood of another recording is about as slim as my figure. Patrizia Ciofi is evidently the prima donna of Martina Franca, and once again she does not disappoint. Angelo Manzotti as the hero is a tougher nut, his "soprano" voice not always pleasing to the ear, though his Italian at least sounds natural. The remainder of the cast is satisfactory, while conductor David Golub is workaday, fortunately not preventing us from appreciating this hitherto unappreciated composer.

Verdi: Jérusalem
Marina Mescheriakova (Hélène); Hélène Le Corre (Isaure); Marcello Giordani (Gaston); Simon Edwards (Raymond); Roberto Scandiuzzi (Roger)
Philippe Rouillon (Le Comte de Toulouse); Daniel Borowski (Le Légat)
Choeur du Grand Théâtre de Genève
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Fabio Luisi, conductor
PHILIPS 462 613-2 (3 cds; texts and translations in English, French and German)

Verdi: Jerusalem

One of the last gaps, if not the last, in the catalogue of Verdi operas on disc has at last been filled. Fabio Luisi has the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande playing with finesse, when his robust style allows, while the presence of a French-speaking chorus is a plus. Of the soloists, only two are Francophone, and when Philippe Rouillon is present we are aware of how incisive a native speaker can be. Both Marcello Giordani and Roberto Scandiuzzi sound as if they understand what they are singing, not always true for the soprano. The tenor has sufficient heft for the rousing moments but also the finesse necessary for the more intimate moments. Giordani, moreover, easily encompasses the high C that Verdi inserted as a favor to the creator, Gilbert Duprez. Scandiuzzi's even voice over a two-octave range is more stretched than in the original Italian version, I Lombardi, but his sumptuous tones are always to the point. Daniel Borowski sounds a bit cavernous as the Papal Legate. Marina Meschkeriova always comes through, particularly when required to sing softly, but her sketchy coloratura and lack of a trill are a handicap here. This is a major work, far more coherent dramatically than the original and with sufficient new material that one could easily acquire both I Lombardi and Jérusalem, the comparison fascinating as we see how Verdi transforms an early work (his fourth opera) into something suitable for the Paris Opéra.

Related Operanet Articles: An Interview with John Nelson

An Interview with Roberto Alagna

Francis Poulenc (1899 -1963) A Comparative Discography

A Guide to Verdi Operas on CD

.Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com.

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