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Singers: New and Old

PARIS, 3 June 2002 - Operanet editor Joel Kasow reviews recitals by young talents (in alphabetical order), and the first installment of Decca's new series, The Singers:

Ian Bostridge (tenor)

Schubert: Lieder - Volume II
Julius Drake, piano
EMI 7243 5 57141 2 1 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Janacek: Diary of One Who Vanished. Moravian Folksongs. Piano pieces
Ruby Philogene, mezzo-soprano
Thomas Adès, piano
EMI 7243 5 57219 2 1 (texts and translations in Czech, English, French and German)

Ian Bostridge

Two new cds by Ian Bostridge confirm his stature as an interpreter of lieder. His voice is always put to expressive use, not to mention considerably stretched by Janácek's vocal demands. The tenor's Schubert is no longer an unknown quantity, which is not a reason to ignore this disc as he once again brings to our attention some of the composer's deeper utterances alongside more familiar items. The disc is arranged by poet, with more than half given over to Mayrhofer and Goethe. It is Janácek, however, who claims our attention, for he is one of the 20th century's major composers and Diary of One Who Vanished is one of the major song cycles of the period. Bostridge explores the character of the poor young man enamored of the gypsy maiden, finally running off with her. The contribution of composer-pianist Thomas Adès is a major factor in the success, substantiated by his solo contributions (Moravian Folksongs and assorted miniatures for piano). Two extracts from the composer's first version of the Diary lead to the assumption that in fact he entirely rewrote the work.

Juan Diego Flórez (tenor)

Rossini: Arias
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Milano Giuseppe Verdi
Riccardo Chailly, conductor
Decca 470 024-2 (texts and translations in Italian, English, French and German)

Juan Diego Flórez

After episodic appearances in various recordings, here is the first solo recording of Juan Diego Flórez, nothing but Rossini, and it is a pleasure to hear this music sung not only with accuracy but with a matchless timbre. The tenor is not afraid of Rossini's many high notes or complicated figuration, adding his own variants during the repeats as well as additional climactic high notes. The arias from the comic operas he has sung on stage (Barber, Italiana, Cenerentola) are delivered with punch, while those from the serious operas (Semiramide, Otello, Zelmira, Donna del lago) demonstrate that it is unnecessary for these works to be retired from circulation. Chailly's pointed accompaniments only add to our enjoyment of what is one of this year's major discoveries.

Magdalena Kozená (mezzo-soprano)

Le belle immagini: Arias by Gluck, Mozart and Myslivecek
Prague Philharmonia
Academia Montis Regalis
Michel Swierczewski, conductor
DGG 471 334-2 (texts and translations in Italian, English, French and German)

Magdalena Kozená

Is Magdalena Kozená truly a mezzo-soprano as she has been announced? I'm not sure, as her bright voice sounds far more soprano as she heads on high, while her lower register lacks the punch that others bring to the same selections. That is perhaps my only reservation about this album which brings us a wealth of little-known music alongside the familiar (Nozze di Figaro, Clemenza di Tito). It is interesting to hear a selection from Gluck's version of the latter (reused in Iphigénie en Tauride) as well, to the point that it would perhaps be a revelation for many to hear the Gluck in its entirety (a pleasure I have already had). Myslivecek is another composer totally forgotten today, and Kozená whets our appetite for more with selections from Abramo ed Isacco, Antigona and L'Olimpiade. If you are uncertain, listen to the aria from Antigona (originally for tenor) and then check out the contrasting aria from Gluck's Clemenza and I think you will agree that this CD is a must.

Patricia Petibon (soprano)

Airs Baroques Français: Rameau, Charpentier, Lully, de Grandval
Les Folie Françaises
Virgin 7243 5 45481 2 3 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Patricia Petibon

After participating in a great many recordings with the cream of the baroque movement and one recital disc devoted to American songs that received somewhat confidential distribution, Patricia Petibon joins forces with violinist Patrick Cohën-Akenine for a traversal of the French baroque. Not only do we have her singing the sprightly music which usually falls to her, but Jonathan's lament over David (Charpentier) and two impressive solos from Lully's Armide indicate that she has the makings of a fine tragédienne. Her ability to live the music has always been noteworthy, with this disc showing that she can be trusted beyond the soubrette roles that are her lot. The final selection on the disc, a cantata by Nicolas Racot de Grandval (Rien du tout - Nothing at all), is a parody in all senses of the word, and Petibon uses her musicological knowledge to illuminate her singing.

Daniil Shtoda (tenor)

Songs: Tchaikovsky, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, Rachmaninov
Larissa Gergieva (piano)
EMI 7243 5 74232 2 9 (notes in English, French and German; texts in Russian transliteration and English only)

EMI's Debut series has been dressed up with this new release, and texts are included, but you will have to consult their web site for the French and German translations. Daniil Shtoda's pleasant tenor voice is slowly attracting notice, and this presentation disc makes a good calling card., though we might have been better served a few years hence when his musical insights have deepened. Larissa Gergieva is sometimes heavy-handed, but her encouragement of the young Russian school of singers is not to be denied. The repertory is not especially familiar, which increases the value of the release.

The Singers (in alphabetical order)

Teresa Berganza - Decca 467 905-2
Erna Berger - Decca 467 917-2
Franco Corelli - Decca 467 918-2
Suzanne Danco - Decca 467 909-2
Mario del Monaco - Decca 467 919-2
Giuseppe di Stefano - Decca 467 908-2
Nicolai Ghiaurov - Decca 467 902-2
Gundula Janowitz - Decca 467 910-2
Frieda Leider - Decca 467 911-2
George London - Decca 467 904-2
Birgit Nilsson - Decca 467 912-2
Luciano Pavarotti - Decca 467 920-2
Hermann Prey - Decca 467 901-2
Leontyne Price - Decca 467 913-2
Beverly Sills - Decca 467 906-2
Joan Sutherland - Decca 467 914-2
Martti Talvela - Decca 467 903-2
Renata Tebaldi - Decca 467 915-2
Maggie Teyte - Decca 467 906-2
Jennie Tourel - Decca 467 907-2

Beverly Sills: The Singers

New releases of singers of the past (whether distant or recent) are always welcome, particularly with the advent of new technologies, in this instance cd-rom, eliminating the need for bulky accompanying booklets. In this instance, all discs also function as cd-rom, with the artist biographies (sometimes hagiographies) repeated from the booklet, the texts and translations, a discography of material available from the various Universal components, a photo gallery and links to the appropriate Universal web pages. The CDs themselves vary in interest, some duplicating material readily available elsewhere but many restoring items that one had despaired of ever hearing again, unless in possession of the original lps, or even 78s. One might question the necessity of hearing "Oh holy night" in four different renditions (Pavarotti, Sutherland, Nilsson, Tebaldi), all of which are certainly curiosities but hardly "essential". And then there are the soupy arrangements for the "crossover" items by Douglas Gamley and crew which even turn Rossini into schmaltz. For those of us who possess some of the material on other CDs or even LPs, it is distressing when items are omitted (the cabaletta from Huguénots on the Sills CD, a Rossini or Mozart by Berganza that never made it to CD, etc.

Teresa Berganza

General complaints now out of the way, on to the individual discs. Particular favorites include George London, Maggie Teyte, Beverly Sills, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Hermann Prey, Suzanne Danco, Martti Talvela. In the case of George London, it will be for many an introduction to a baritone who should have taken his place among the Wagnerian immortals had illness not taken its toll. The Wagner excerpts demonstrate how much we missed, while the Broadway items are far more convincing than what many of today's "personalities" can offer. Beverly Sills had the misfortune to record for a company that went out of business so that it is only now that DGG has acquired the catalogue that we are catching up. The excerpts from her French aria album were always worth listening to, and as I already stated it is unfortunate that part of one aria was omitted to make room for other material (although I am glad that it was not I who had to make such a choice). It is also good to have a reminder of Nicolai Ghiaurov in his prime, singing French and Russian arias with his particular brand of velvet, something missed in the later years of his career. Suzanne Danco has turned up sporadically on CD, but it is good to be reminded that she had a much larger repertory than the current catalogue would lead us to believe. Operatic arias from Dido and Aeneas, Louise, Traviata, Carmen, Alceste and Manon, Strauss songs and Debussy mélodies show her range and we would like to hear more. Hermann Prey's early lieder recital for Decca is rounded out with familiar selections from the two Figaro operas and other Mozart. Maggie Teyte's inimitable style is in evidence, whether in French, German or English, even Dvorak's "Humoresque" turned into a sort of Scots folksong.

Franco Corelli

Martti Talvela is heard in lieder, Schumann, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov, giving a somewhat one-sided view of his career and capabilities. Jennie Tourel can be admired for the style and élan, but it is unfortunate that she was captured by the American Decca engineers so late in her career. Gundula Janowitz can be admired for her perfection, Frieda Leider for the documentary value of a singing style that is no longer fashionable. Renata Tebaldi's early recordings show that she always lacked a trill, but the sumptuous voice at that stage was sufficient. An album of duets recorded with Franco Corelli is divided among the CDs devoted to the two singers, showing the rich lower voice that came to replace the soprano's increasingly uncertain high notes. On the Corelli disc we are reminded that he was more stylish than he is given credit for being, though the items from Faust, sung in his peculiar variety of French, might have been replaced by, for example, selections from the Salzburg Trovatore, a live recording which is certainly more essential in demonstrating the qualities that made him so exciting a performer. Leontyne Price is in glorious form in an album recorded when she was in her mid-50s, and it is unfortunate that nothing earlier was available, while once again the fillers are of dubious quality. Birgit Nilsson gets to show off not only her Wagner (including a truncated Immolation Scene) but also her Verdi (Nabucco and Forza), whatever one may think of her stylistic adequacy. Erna Berger is heard in more lyric repertoire than one might expect, but the selections are well balanced between the stage and the concert hall. Teresa Berganza singing Mozart and Rossini is a perfect pairing of singer and repertoire. When we come to Mario del Monaco, the mixture of early and late recordings is curious, the early items demonstrating the potential (Bohème, Norma, even La Juive) and the later recordings emphasizing the peculiar vowel sounds. The end of the first act of Walküre even has a soprano, but what a sound! The CDs with Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti include much music recycled from other CDs, while Giuseppe di Stefano was captured far too late in this selection, the voice in shards.

Hermann Prey

In summary, the selections are not always consistent with the artist's reputation, unlike Philips series devoted to great pianists, where they were given access to material of other firms. Here it is only the Universal group from which choices have been made. Do we really need the items from various singers' Christmas albums, or "light" music which has been treated with a heavy hand by an arranger? Most of the discs, however, are more than worthwhile, allowing us to hear people who have not always been well-documented, now under ideal circumstances if not always in an ideal selection..

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

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