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EDITOR'S CD REVIEW OF OPERA AND SONG

 

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 19 DECEMBER 2005 .

Handel: Rodelinda
Simone Kermes (Rodelinda); Marijana Mijanović (Bertarido); Sonia Prina (Eduige); Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Unolfo); Steve Davislim (Grimoaldo); Vito Priante (Garibaldo)
Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis, conductor
Archiv 00289 477 5391 (3 CDs ; texts and translations in English, French and German)

Rodelinda has always been considered one of Handel’s most important operas, both musically and dramatically; as effective in the theater as on disc. The earliest serious recording (Teresa Stich-Randall and Maureen Forrester) may not have been as stylishly conducted (Brian Priestman) as later rivals but it did have a certain dramatic power that is lacking in the performances by Michael Schneider with Barbara Schlick in the title role (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi – somewhat Teutonic) and by Nicolas Kraemer with Sophie Daneman (Virgin – somewhat aseptic). Alan Curtis makes far more of the dancing rhythms while his singers are far more in tune with the drama. Simone Kermes in the title role may not entirely efface memories of Stich-Randall but she is a major-league player in this repertory. The distinctive voice of Sonia Prina barrels its way through the role of Eduige, runs sometimes heavily aspirated, chest tones overdone. The two remaining alto roles were originally written for castrati, and on the two above-mentioned recordings were given to bloodless countertenors. Here, Marijana Mijanović (Bertarido) and Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Unolfo) are flesh and blood creations, the former sounding better than in some recent live performances; the florid writing comes out smoothly while her androgynous timbre is perfect. Lemieux continues to please with her mellow sound always at the service of the music. Steve Davislim rises to the heights of his last scene, a tortured accompanied recitative and a minor key aria. The recording is more than complete textually, Bertarido given both his virtuoso arias in the last act, alongside a recently published (second) duet for Rodelinda and Bertarido that precedes the final chorus. Highly recommended. 

 

Handel: Delirio
Natalie Dessay (soprano)
L’Astrée
Emmanuelle Haïm
Virgin 0946 332624 2 3 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Looking for new territory to conquer now that she is quitting stratospheric realms, Natalie Dessay shows that she is a superb Handelian. Two cantatas (the longish Delirio amoroso and Mi palpita il core) sandwhich an one of Aci’s arias from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. A recording of the latter conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm appeared last year in which Dessay was replaced by Sandrine Piau, but Dessay shows that she is equally adept at negotiating the Handelian hurdles. The voice has more color at the lower end than formerly, while her teamwork with Haïm remains impressive, the two acting as one (but then Dessay refers to the conductor as her sister). In other words, run out and buy this recording.

 

Mozart: Opera & Concert Arias
Elina Garanča (mezzo-soprano)
Camerata Salzburg
Louis Langrée, conductor
Frank Braley, piano
Virgin 0946 332631 2 3 (texts and translation in English, French and German)

The young Lithanian mezzo Elina Garanča has been collecting rave reviews everywhere she appears. Her second recital album (the first was issued, almost confidentially, in 2001 by Ondine) is devoted exclusively to Mozart, several of whose works she has already sung on stage. The voice is immediately attractive with its smoky color, though the slightly covered vowel sounds may not be to the liking of all listeners. Garanča sings several soprano arias with varying results as sustained high passages do not always sound comfortable, and I would question the selections of "Alma grande" and "Chi sa", both of which require a lighter touch. That they were written for the first Dorabella does not mean that they are suitable for the Dorabellas of today who are invariably mezzos rather than the soprano the composer had in mind. Despite lingering fondnesses for Graziella Sciutti in "Chi sa" and Teresa Berganza in "Ch’io mi scordi di te", there is much pleasure to be had from this CD, finely accompanied by Louis Langrée and the Camerata Salzburg, with the added enjoyment of pianist Frank Brayley in the aria with piano obbligato ("Ch’io mi scordi di te") written for the first Susanna.

 

Poldowski: Songs
Susan Young, soprano
Bruce Vogt, piano
SYBF01 (texts and translations in French and English
Available directly either by e-mail from syoungsoprano@shaw.ca or by mail from Susan Young, School of Music, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC Canada, V8W 2Y2. Cost  in Canada and US $25 Can by check or money order. Rest of world $25 US by money order. Cost covers all taxes and shipping by air. If payment is by check, CD will be mailed when check clears).

We love discovering neglected composers, and Poldowski certainly fits into that category. The daughter of the Polish violinist Henri Wienawski and an Irish woman, Poldowski (her nom de plume) was to a large extent self-taught, in addition to study with Vincent d’Indy. She married a baronet, Sir Aubrey Dean Paul, but eventually left him and died in poverty, forgotten by just about everyone. She published 28 songs, most written in French and the majority of those settings of poems by Verlaine, some piano music, two pieces for orchestra and two for violin and piano. A brief entry in Graham Johnson and Richard Stokes’s French Song Companion offers sufficient praise so that we are grateful for the opportunity to put their judgment to the test. And she passes. The songs show an individual voice, even when there are direct comparisons with Debussy or Fauré or Hahn. Particular favorites are "Impression fausse" where the scurrying of the mouse is reflected musically, or "Nocturne" with its heavy hammer blows or "La passante" with its oboe obbligato echoing the pangs of the lovelorn page.

 

Schubert: Schwanengesang; Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte
Matthias Goerne, baritone
Alfred Brendel, piano
Decca 475 6011 (texts and translations in English and German)

Once again we fall under the spell of Matthias Goerne, with the assistance of no less a legendary pianist than Alfred Brendel. The chemistry works and we have performances of Beethoven’s contribution to the lieder cycle, in an authoritative performance. Schubert’s collection cannot be called a cycle, the Rellstab and Heine songs so totally different in nature. Rellstab is given his due, but the utter seriousness of the performers results in a stunning performance of the six Heine songs, so far removed from the standard image of Schubert but looking far into the future.

 

Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin
Ian Bostridge, tenor
Mitsuko Uchida, piano
EMI 7243 5 57827 2 4 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

This is Ian Bostridge’s second recording of Die schöne Müllerin and what strikes one –  besides the intelligence with which it is performed – is the mannered pronunciation which sometimes gets in the way of the music, while some of the fast songs tend to sound scrambled. Mitsuko Uchida’s contribution is acceptable but rarely achieves the exalted level that we should expect from her.

 

Schumann: Lieder
Matthias Goerne, baritone
Eric Schneider, piano
Decca 475 6012 (texts and translations in English and German; notes also in French)

Matthias Goerne and Schumann seem to be a perfect match. This is the baritone’s third CD of the composer’s music, and once more Goerne demonstrates his verbal and vocal mastery. Many of the songs are from the magical year of 1840, but there are several from later years that show little falling off in quality, despite received opinion. The Opus 90 songs to texts by Lenau (where are the first and last?) are every bit as good as Dichterliebe, both of the Liederkreis and Frauenliebe und Leben. Whether the exquisite Rückert miniatures, the sardonic Heine Ballads or purely lyric effusion, composer and performers are in total harmony, for our pleasure.

 

Vivaldi: Virtuoso cantatas
Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
Ensemble Artaserse
Virgin 7243 5 45721 2 8 (texts and translations in Italian,English, French and German)

The music of Vivaldi is increasingly in the air. From the large-scale performances of I Quattro Stagioni that began in the 1950s to ever-increasing historical awareness of performance practice, the composer’s vocal music is now attracting ever-increasing attention. Philippe Jaroussky is an enthusiastic partisan of the Red Priest and  imparts the necessary brio to his performances, but at the same time is capable of sharing the pathos where necessary. Vivaldi’s range is demonstrated in this cd, from the plaintive to the vengeful, with every step in between, and the four members of the Ensemble Artaserse (harpsichord, theorbo/lute, bassoon and cello) share the singer’s affection for the music.

 

Opera Probita
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano
Les Musiciens du Louvre – Grenoble
Marc Minkowski, conductor
Decca 475 7029 (texts and translations in English, French, German and Italian)

Once again Cecilia Bartoli – no longer limited in the accompanying material to a specific vocal range – manages to knock us over with her archival explorations. The theme of this collection is music written at the beginning of the 18th century to be sung in oratorios, as opera in Rome was forbidden at the time by papal interdiction. As the singer demonstrates, the music is every bit as effective, whether dynamic or moving, as that written for the stage. Some of the Handel items were in fact later recycled into his operas. Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti and Antonio Caldara are the featured composers, the latter two almost entirely premieres on disc (except for two arias from Scarlatti’s Sedecia). The format alternates slow and fast arias, to reduce the layout to its simplest terms, but within that framework we can appreciate the singer’s commitment to the music. From the Angel’s explosive aria (La Risurezzione) or Piacere’s aria of flight (Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno) to Carita’s almost folklike "Che dolce simpatia" (Scarlatti’s Giardino di Rose) to the laments of Caldara’s Francesca or Faustina, Bartoli compels us to listen. The agility is never in question, while the ability to spin out a long line remains flabbergasting. Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre –Grenoble contribute to our pleasure.

 

Arias for Senesino
Andreas Scholl, countertenor
Accademia Bizantina
Ottavio Dantone, conductor
Decca 475 6569 (notes in English, French, German and Italian; texts and translations in Italian and English)

Hearing Andreas Scholl and Cecilia Bartoli in close proximity is like entering different worlds. Both are consummate musicians, but Bartoli’s extrovert temperament creates a rather different effect than the more quiet and more sober countertenor, so that the repertory in common benefits from being heard in their distinct approaches. Scholl performs not only Handel, but Albinoni, Lotti, Porpora and A. Scarlatti. The virtuoso aspects in which Bartoli glories are here present but toned down, while the line is equally fine in the slower arias. Scholl’s verbal acuity has been sharpened since his stage experience of the role of Bertarido, something we feel immediately in the two accompanied recitatives from Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare. It is the aria "Cara sposa" from Rinaldo that demonstrates the artistry of the singer to greatest advantage. The Accademia Bizantina under Ottavio Dantone adopt an approach that is in total accord with the singer.

 

To be reviewed: Pia de Tolomei, L’amour de loin (DVD), Paride ed Elena, Tristan und Isolde, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (CD and DVD), Le Roi de Lahore, L’esule di Granata

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque.com



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