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Elegies & Sonnets for Orpheus (Von Stade, Hampson, Huang)

Frederica von Stade Audio CD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Audio CD (11 Jun 2001)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sony Classical
  • ASIN: B00005JSJ8
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 333,193 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Product Description


Too much American music of the non-modernist school slips into sentimentality, and Danielpour's Elegies is no exception: with unblushing late-romantic richness, it turns wartime letters sent by Frederica von Stade's killed-in-action father into an expansive song cycle for orchestra, soprano, baritone and resurrects the ghost not only of the man in question but also of Walton, Barber, Mahler and the later, looser, minimalists. That makes it maybe unoriginal and, you might think, of small consequence but Danielpour's luxuriantly teased-out melodies are haunting, glamorous and irresistibly attractive: no new piece has hit my ears with such persuasive force for months. And it's well-crafted, with a master's hand that shows in the other cycle on the disc as well (Orpheus Sonnets for chamber forces) and makes one want to find out more about this little-known composer. An added bonus: everything is sung with style and sure conviction. And if the name of the soprano Ying Huang, who sings the Orpheus Sonnets, is unknown to British listeners, it soon won't be. --Michael White

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Audio CD
After many playings with attention to the words these two collections, the first of which can be called a song cycle, really got to me, after initial skepticism about it's meandering melodic lines. But I was impressed early on in these playings by the expressiveness of the orchestral accompaniment before I finally succumbed to nearly the whole package after about the 6th hearing.

The first work, 'Elegies', a war cycle inspired by finding some First World War love letters, is the most impressive, with the settings shared between mezzo and baritone sometimes in duet, and these are the most moving passages.
The second work is a setting of some of Rilke's Sonnets To Orpheus for soprano. They are not the sonnets I would have chosen myself but the music does work (in the end).

Both works are in a modern mainstream Neo-Romantic idiom moving between Barber and Bernstein,and Britten (especially because of the use of the horn) sometimes tastfully lush and sentimental and sometimes movingly harsh.
Everything is flawlessly performed by soloists and orchestra.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Contemporary Music 12 July 2001
By Dr. Christopher Coleman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Lovely lyrical writing opens American composer Richard Danielpour's Elegies for mezzo-soprano, baritone and orchestra. Heavily influenced by the music of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, and Benjamin Britten, Danielpour's music is representative of the reactionary trend away from the twin worlds of dissonant, hypercomplex music and aleatoric, chaotic music of the academic world from the 1950's through the 70's. Danielpour, a graduate of the Julliard School of Music, composes music which is primarily melodic and whose harmonies are derived from an in-depth knowledge of tonality, even if that tonality is often expanded beyond romantic norms. The second movement, Lacrimosa, especially calls to mind Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, and the final movement, In Paradisum, suggests the ending of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs.
The performances on this CD are uniformly gorgeous. The Perspectives Ensemble and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, both led by conductor Roger Nierenberg, provide superb support for the vocal soloists. Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, baritone Thomas Hampson, and soprano Ying Huang wonderfully complement Danielpour's lyricism with their vocal gifts. In fact, von Stade contributes quite a bit more to this CD than just her singing talent; the genesis of Danielpour's Elegies began with the singer. Frederica von Stade's father was killed in World War II, before she was born, and she had longed to know him, but the only way for her to do so was through the reminiscences of others and the letters he had written to his wife. She suggested to conductor Roger Nierenberg that a song cycle based on those letters be composed; Nierenberg suggested Danielpour; and Danielpour enrolled poet Kim Vaeth to adapt those letters into a musically useful form. How those adaptations derive from the original letters is not at all clear from the information given, however.
The companion work to Elegies is Danielpour's setting of Rainier Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, for soprano and chamber ensemble. This piece is quite similar to the first work, although a bit more light-hearted in places, and Chinese soprano Ying Huang performs beautifully. Her enunciation of the English texts even surpasses that of American Frederica von Stade. Ying Huang may be known to audiences from her performance in the title role of Frédéric Mitterrand's 1995 film of Puccini's Madame Butterfly. Unfortunately the names of the other musicians are not provided--in particular the french horn player deserves mention.
Listeners may notice that the actual climaxes of this very dramatic music are performed exclusively by the orchestra, and the vocalists do not participate. This is the one criticism I have of the works--Danielpour's vocal writing is certainly exquisite, but he seems to undercut the drama of his music somewhat by omitting any real vocal climax. Other listeners may also find that too much of the CD is introspective in nature, but given the subject matter of the works contained this seems inevitable. Regardless of these minor criticisms, this is a wonderful disc, and I will be listening to it repeatedly.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perspectives Ensemble musicians 18 July 2001
By NY musician - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I am the artistic director of the Perspectives Ensemble, which performed the Sonnets to Orpheus by Richard Danielpour on the Elegies/Sonnets Sony CD. Regrettably, Sony did not include the names of our individual musicians in the program booklet. Thank you to the reviewers who enjoyed our performance and commented on that omission. The musicians are: Diane Walsh, piano; David Jolley, french horn; Erica Kiesewetter and Adela Pena, violins; Nardo Poy, viola; Julia Lichten, cello; Jordan Frazier, bass; Sato Moughalian, flute; Alan R. Kay, clarinet; Paul Hostetter, percussion.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orpheus' Journey 5 Mar 2006
By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Richard Danielpour has carved himself a special place in contemporary music. He has won just about every award there is, and has attained a recognition seldom matched by a living American composer. Most of the performances of his music are done by mainstream ensembles and soloists on programs with more standard repertoire rather on specifically "new music" concerts. A major record label granted him exclusivity and exposed his productions to worldwide fame.

Part of Danielpour's success is due to the peculiar relationship he entertains with the past. He does not feel the need to distance himself from tradition, nor does he follow it blindly. His music reenacts a bygone era when newly produced music dominated the old and encompassed it as an ancillary part. For him, it is only natural that living musicians should accede to stardom status: it has always been the new, the young and the contemporary who have captured the imagination of the people more than any dead composer could.

The two compositions recorded on this album both display the same elegiac quality with respect to the past. Both depict a journey to recover a lost memory and are a testimony to the persistent presence of the dead among the living. In Elegies, Mezzo-Soprano Frederica von Stade honors the father she never knew by bringing to life letters that he wrote to his wife during the war. In Sonnets to Orpheus, Soprano Ying Huang interprets Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry with an impressive range of skills.

True to the myth of the Greek poet who follows his lost lover beyond death and brings her back from below, the composer gathers materials from the past and rearranges them with his lyre to create a sense of community between the present and the dead.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Luscious, ambitious, open-hearted music that doesn't quite stick 6 April 2009
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This CD dates from 2001, around the time when Danielpour was something of a media daarling. One can hear why. To the immense relief of audiences and symphony boards, his idiom takes barely more effort to listen to than Holllywood soundtracks -- a disparaging critic called it Shostakovich mixed with Disney. (The same relief greeted Samuel Barber decades ago.) The melodic lines are gratifyingo to singers, and there have been many comparisons to Richard Strauss's lavish use of the orchestra and voluptuous moods.

Has the music held up? Is it beautiful or merely attractive? For me, the closest comparison to the massively orcchestrated song cycle, "Elegies," is Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony, and both depend on Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. It's no shame that Danielpour's effort lags considerably behind those two predecessors, but listeners with modern ears might object that he hasn't gone a step further in harmony. Not that many listeners have modern ears, so they will be happy to hear an "hommage" to the past, as we can politely call it in order to avoid the term "reactionary."

The previous reviewers have sung the praises of Von Stade and Hampson, who certainly throw their hearts into the music. Even though the language is English, I cana't understand a word of Von Stade's singing; one has to marvel at the freshness of her voice at age 55, though. Hampson, always excellent in his English diction, does far better, but even he is sometimes defeated by Danielpour's gaudy orchestral textures. The major climaxes are saved for orchestra alone. I found this work easy to assimilate in its elegaic tenderness -- the theme is a father and daughter communing across time -- but the verse is negligible and after ten minutes I coulld barely recall the music, not the case with Strauss and Zemlinsky. Danielpour seems to fall back upon one generic style: the steady outpouring of melody, usually not inspired, backed by raucous, showy orchestral events that could apply to any text to equal effect.

The Sonnets to Orpheus is a setting of Rilke's masterpiece, and I msut agree with an astute early reviewer who points out that the poet's enigmatic mystico-philosophical idiom doesn't seem like a natural fit with Danielpour's up-front splashes of color and quasi-film socre harmonies. If you've heard Barber's "Summer: Knoxville 1915," youv'e heard a more assured, melodic, haunting version of this socre. Here the reduced forces of a chamber ensemble (a hndful of strings and winds anchored to the piano) is more interesting than "Elegies" because more intimate. Avoiding overblown orchestral effects is a plus. Rilke's verse has been put into English, yet soprano Ying Huang doesn't articulate well enough to deliver more than scattred phrases at a time.

Overall, Danielpour's handling of voice and instruments is skillful and effetive. I didn't come away thinking I'd solved the issue of beautiful vs. attractive, but Danielpour's music holds its own while you're listening to it.
3.0 out of 5 stars Santa Fe Listener Is Right 13 Feb 2014
By Robert B. Lamm - Published on Amazon.com
There's nothing particularly wrong with this recording, but as "Santa Fe Listener" has stated, it's like Shostakovich mixed with a soundtrack. The melodies are pleasant enough, but it doesn't "stick." (You can tell I really like his/her review.)

The singing is lovely - I can't believe that Frederica Von Stade is not only still at it, but still at it so beautifully; her voice is just lovely throughout its range. Likewise Thomas Hampson and Ying Huang (whatever happened to her anyway - she was a great Butterfly in a very good James Conlon recording?).

However, at the end of the proverbial day, I go back to the phrase that the music doesn't stick, and I suspect I won't listen to it too much, if at all, in the future.
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