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CD & DVD Review

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 29 July 2004

Adès - America: A Prophecy
Susan Bickley (ms); Robin Blaze (ct); Claron McFadden (s); Christopher Maltman (bar)
Polyphony; Composers Enselmble
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Adès, conductor
EMI 7243 5 57610 2 6 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Thomas Adès - America: A Prophecy

Thomas Adès's star continues to mount, with this CD offering a conspectus of his early and most recent work. It is clear that the craftsmanship cannot be denied, but the works presented do not add up to a convincing portrait. America: A Prophecy is 16 slow-moving minutes offering a substantial workout to Susan Bickley, while the various choral sections again seem to favor a static approach. Life Story had already appeared on an early Adès compilation, and remains a hoot, with the help of an amusing poem by Tennessee Williams, but one wonders why it was written for soprano as that surely could not have been the poet's intention. Claren McFadden does her best to fulfill the composer's demand that she model herself on late Billie Holliday. Christopher Maltman appears in Brahms, a six-minute orchestral song heavy on atmosphere to a poem by Alfred Brendel.

Monterverdi - L'Orfeo
Ian Bostridge (Orfeo); Natalie Dessay (La Musica); Patrizia Ciofi (Euridice); Véronique Gens (Proserpina); Alice Coote (Messaggiera); Sonia Prina (Speranza); Carolyn Sampson (Ninfa); Paul Agnew (Eco/Pastore); Christopher Maltaman (Apollo/Pa store); Lorenzo Regazzo (Plutone); Mario Luperi (Caronte); Pascal Bertin, Richard Burkhard (Pastori)
European Voices
Les Sacqueboutiers
Le Concert d'Astrée
Emmanuelle Haïm, conductor
Virgin 7243 5 45642 2 2 (2 cds; texts and translations in English, French, German and Italian)

Monterverdi - L'Orfeo

Once again Emmanuelle Haïm has come up with a winner, a new recording of Monteverdi's Orfeo, that shows the conductor and her forces in spirited condition with a recording that is noted for a heightened expressivity on the part of the singers, perhaps a bit too much so for some listeners. Ian Bostridge in the title role displays his customary quirks but nonetheless moves not only Caronte but the listener in his plea, "Possente spirito". The remaining interventions are incidental, but everyone makes the most of his or her five minutes, with special mention to Alice Coote and Natalie Dessay. Les Sacqueboutiers are colorful in all their contributions while once again the conductor shows how well grounded she has been by her mentors in the art of continuo.

Monteverdi - Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
Marijana Mijanovic (Penelope); Krešimir Špicer (Ulisse); Cyril Auvity (Telemaco); Joseph Cornwell (Eumete); Bertrand Bontoux (Antinoo); Andreas Gisler (Anfinomo); Christophe Lapoorte (Pisandro); Zachary Stains (Eurimaco); Katalin Károlyi (Melanto/Fortuna); Robert Burt (Iro); Geneviève Kaemmerlen (Ericlea); Rachid ben Adeslam (L'Umana Fragilità); Olga Pitarch (Minerva/Amore); Pa ul-Henry Vila (Nettuno/Il Tempo); Rebecca Ockenden (Giunone)
Les Arts Florissants
Soloists of the Académie européenne de musique d' Aix-en-Provnece
William Christie, conductor
DVD Virgin 7243 4 90612 9 3

Monteverdi - Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria

Four years ago Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria was given new life at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence in this very production, ably filmed by Humphrey Burton in the pocket-sized Théâtre du Jeu de Paume in July 2002. The soloists are all young, enthusiastic and committed, so that the performance has us sitting on the edges of our seats. Marijana Mijanovic and Krešimir Špicer in the leading roles are convincing, the mezzo's mellifluous delivery always urgent, finally realizing that Ulisse has returned. The remainder of the cast should in fact be mentioned individually, so tellingly do they inhabit their roles, whether all-too-human suitors or courtiers or peasants or even deitities. The simplicity of Anthony Ward's sets and costumes allow us to focus on the characters, particularly in the staging of Adrian Noble.

Arias de Zarzuela Barrocca
Maria Bayo (sop)
Les talens lyriques
Christophe Rousset, conductor

Arias and overtures by José Melchor de Nebra Blasca, Vicente Martin y Soler, Antonio Rodriguez de Hita and Luigi Boccherini

Naïve E 8885 (texts and translations in English, French and Spanish)

Arias de Zarzuela Barrocca: Maria Bayo

Maria Bayo's personality shines through the recording process, making this cd one of this year's most enjoyable releases. The repertoire is virtually unknown and Bayo is as persuasive an advocate as, say, Cecilia Bartoli for the composers she champions. The fireworks of the first selection from Nebra's Para obsequio a la deydad, nunca es culto la crueldad, y Iphigenia en Tracia, an aria for Orestes, draw us in, while the contrasting moods of Iphigenia's aria, plucked strings, dulcet oboes giving way to fiery back talk. And so throughout, whether the suggestive "Seguidilla" from Martin y Soler's La madrileña o el tutor burlado or the brief aria from Boccherini's Clementina, Bayo twists the listener around her little finger. Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques are with the singer all the way, and Rousset has already proved his affinity with the period last year when he presented Martin y Soler's Cappriciosa Corretta.

Lieder by Haydn, Schumann and Mahler
Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)
Julius Drake (piano)
EMI 7243 5 85559 2 9 (notes in English, French and German)

EMI's Debut series presents Alice Coote, a British mezzo in the Janet Baker mold, evidently as captivating in opera as recital. Haydn's cantata, Ariana a Naxos, neglected as much on disc as in the concert hall, is given strong advocacy not only by the singer but also pianist Julius Drake, the desolation and anger strongly delineated. Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben may seem an odd choice today, with its outdated image, but Coote once again finds a way of making it relevant. The Mahler is equally eloquent, and despite the fact that the five Rückert songs are not a unit, it seems foolish to have omitted "Blicke mir" that is less than two minutes long. And that is my sole quibble apart from the fact that one must go on line to have the song texts and translations.

Franco Corelli: The unknown recordings
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Franco Ferraris, conductor
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Eduardo Pedrazzoli, conductor

Arias by Verdi (Luisa Miller, La Forza del Destino, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Ernani, Un Ballo in Maschera, Il Trovatore); Gounod (Roméo et Juliette), Massenet (Le Cid), Puccini (La Bohème), Catalani (Loreley)

EMI 7243 5 62698 2 8 (notes in English, French and German; texts and translations in English and Italian)

Franco Corelli: The unknown recordings

This curious hodgepodge has the virtue of reminding us of the unique qualities of a mid-century tenor phenomenon. Corelli only approved these recordings for release in his last year, most dating from sessions in 1967. The Bohème aria starts about a third of the way in, while the arias from Un Ballo in Maschera and Il Trovatore were 1964 dubbings onto pre-existing orchestral tapes from 1958. While Corelli was definitely a creature of the theater enough aural evidence remains to substantiate his reputation. The two French arias show a better command of French than is usually credited to the tenor, and it should be noted that his vowel sounds are much closer to authenticity than a leading tenor of a slightly later generation. The insolence of the high notes in "Di quella pira" or "La donna è mobile" still produce goose bumps, while his phrasing remains exemplary.

Un Concert pour Mazarin
Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor)
Ensemble La Fenice
Jean Tubéry, conductor

Virgin 7243 5 45656 2 5 (texts and translations in English, French, German and Italian)

Un Concert pour Mazarin

What on paper sounds like a pretentious, scholarly hodgepodge turns out to be a delightful recital, showing off the talents of Phlippe Jaroussky, whether in brief songs or the longish cantata by Giovanni Battista Bassani that closes the disc. The thread that binds the program is that the works are by Italian composers who benefited from the welcome granted them by Cardinal Mazarin (Giulio Mazzarino at birth). The works are mainly in manuscript and can be found in various French libraries and collections. La Fenice has several tracks to itself and the players are having a whale of a time. Jaroussky's smooth voice covers a wide range, both dynamically and emotionally, while the composers include Monteverdi, Rossi, Frescobaldi along with other names less familiar to this listener.

Schwarzkopf - Seefried - Fischer-Dieskau
Finale of Act 1 of Der Rosenkavalier (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Hertha Töpper
Philharmonia Orchestra
Charles Mackerras, conductor
Lieder by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler (Irmgard Seefried)
Orchestre National de l'ORTF
Piero Bellugi (Strauss)/Manuel Rosenthal (Mahler)
Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau)
NHK Symphony Orchestra
Paul Kletzki, conductor
Lieder by Schubert (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore)

DVD EMI DVB 4904419

Schwarzkopf - Seefried - Fischer-Dieskau

Once again raiding the archives, here are three noted post-WWII German singers. The earliest items on the DVD are those featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, true to his 1959/60 form, mostly insightful and beautiful singing, with the occasional bluster. Irmgard Seefried looks years younger in 1967 than 1965 (it's amazing how hairstyles and clothing can alter the appearance), more effective in the later Mahler and seemingly constrained by the cameras during the Strauss. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is ably partnered by the under-appreciated Hertha Töpper, but the over-calculation is too evident. The black and white films of the time do not wear well, Fischer-Dieskau not particularly well-focused, with Seefried's immobility in the Strauss is countered by the hyper-activity of the cameras during the Mahler. A useful document for sustaining one's preconceived notions.

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

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