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Reviews Written by
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Thetford, Norfolk, UK)

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Berlioz: Vocal Works [IMPORT]
Berlioz: Vocal Works [IMPORT]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vintage but treasurable, 26 July 2017
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I am a devotee of Berlioz and am always on the look-out for new recordings of his fairly small corpus of great works. This one is hardly "new", being recorded in 1956, but I had not previously encountered it and it was recommended to me by a fellow Amazonian Markus Werner - for which I am grateful, as it superb.

It is in decent early stereo - a little boxy and narrow but just fine for anyone tolerant of anything short of modern digital sound. Munch's conducting is of course wholly idiomatic and flexible, as you would expect from someone who produced in the same era the best "Symphonie fantastique", also with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He really inhabits the spirit of this work which can sometimes sound either disjointedly episodic, sentimental or under-dramatised in the wrong hands - not here. My only complaint is the same as my objection to Gardiner's direction of his recording: Munch takes the famous "Shepherd's Chorus" rather too fast to begin with, but at least his phrasing is more affectionate than Gardiner's and he slows down for the final reprise of that tender strophic melody.

His solo singers are only four in number, as the distinguished bass Giorgio Tozzi sings all three bass roles and another baritone is momentarily imported in track 4, CD1, to avoid Tozzi as Herod having briefly to duet with himself as Polydorus . All the singers are genuine stars with corresponding stellar voices. Furthermore, they sing in excellent French - something you might expect from that most suave of Gallic baritones, Gérard Souzay, but it is also true of the Italian Valletti and the two American soloists. Valletti is elegant and expressive as the narrator and Florence Kopleff as Mary reminds me very much of Janet Baker; she is warm and touching. I think my favourite recording remains the second Colin Davis outing but this runs it very close.

Regarding Leontyne Price's "Les nuits d'été", I quote here from my review of another remastered issue on the HDTT label:

"This most beautiful of song-cycles has been unusually fortunate on disc. It’s not really a song-cycle as such, given that the compilation of poems set to music is random in nature and the fact that it narrates no story other than delineating in general attitudes to love and loss. I rank some half a dozen versions amongst my favourite Berlioz listening; reactions to this one will largely depend upon whether you like a big, smoky, “grande dame” of a voice like that of Leontyne Price giving the songs the operatic treatment. I do; furthermore I shall annoy some collectors by saying straightaway that while I love versions by Janet Baker, Kiri Te Kanawa, Jessye Norman, Eleanor Steber and Victoria de Los Angeles, I cannot live with Crespin’s famous account, which I find scratchily vocalised and too imperiously detached in interpretation. I know I am not alone in this; the eminent voice critic David Cairns in “Song on Record” expresses similar bewilderment that Crespin’s 1963 recording with Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is so widely admired. Nor do I have time for bland, detached versions by Von Otter and Bernarda Fink or that by Véronique Gens, whose voice is too light. David Daniels’ counter-tenor version is very fine in its way; hors concours in that it remains a curiosity, hardly a “best recording” but self-recommending to his fans and those for whom his voice type in this music is no obstacle. There are still others which have been praised, such as José van Dam’s unusual bass-baritone version, but essentially one makes a choice between a set sung by four singers in the original keys, or transpositions for either mezzo or soprano. My preference is for the unity conferred by one singer and for a warm, vibrant, “Romantic” style of female voice, either mezzo or soprano. I shy away from the cooler, lighter voiced interpreters, but I am aware that others hold tastes diametrically opposed to mine. I would place Price very high indeed in my ranking. “Gramophone” critic Andrew Porter was uncomplimentary about this release, preferring Crespin, but this is consistent with the stance of that venerable organ. For what it’s worth, this 1964 recording (coupled with “El Amor Brujo”) by Price and Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra won a Grammy the following year but seems to have dropped out of the running since. No version is perfect: Baker makes both textual and musical slips in her celebrated Barbirolli version (for example “faîtes” for “fait”, and coming in a beat early in “Au cimetière”). Some find her just a little arch in the two lighter, outer songs, but hers remains the gold standard recording for most listeners and I am not inclined to argue. I find Te Kanawa’s version with Barenboim to be hugely under-rated. The usual lazy accusation that she is all lovely, luminous beauty of tone but expressionless simply does not stand up to an unbiased listening: she and Barenboim get just the right combination of tempo and phrasing to ensure the requisite lightness and insouciance in the notoriously tricky “Villanelle”. She deploys a rich lower register (which was not always present, but she worked hard at it), taking the low F-sharp option on “linceul” in “Sur les lagunes”. She really lives the anguish of “Absence” and assumes a wonderfully apt “child-voice” in “Au cimetière”. I have spent a little time adumbrating the virtues of Te Kanawa’s account because in many ways hers is vocally and interpretatively similar to Price’s. If you like one you will probably like the other, despite the individuality of their voices. Others do it differently: Frederica Von Stade is uniquely plaintive, Jessye Norman grand, Eleanor Steber vibrant, Victoria de los Angles poignant; there is room for all those great dames. None of the versions which share the songs among two, three or four singers seems to me to have much star quality and, as I said, I prefer at least the illusion of unity provided by one performer.

Price is at her peak here: at this stage of her career, that big, large-scale voice is absolutely secure in all areas, especially in the husky middle which eventually dropped out. It would be disingenuous not to remark that at times it is like hearing Aida perform these delicate songs. Nonetheless, Price inflects the text in well-schooled, if not especially idiomatic, French and she produces the grand effect that Crespin aims for but cannot achieve with less effulgent vocal resources. Although I compared her with Te Kanawa, she is least successful where Te Kanawa scores, in the opening song; “Villanelle“, whose delivery borders on the hectic rather than the merely sprightly, and thus does not form the best possible introduction to the cycle. After that, however, it gets better and better. My favourite song, “Le Spectre de la Rose” – or is it “Absence”? I can never decide – is caressed in luscious, dreamy tones, the accompaniment beautifully articulated by the orchestra. Price produces a wonderful crescendo on “j’arrive du paradis”, just like Jessye Norman. She has a great conductor and orchestra to accompany her: just listen to the beginning of the third stanza where there is a lovely tremolo on the strings, which then sigh exquisitely in thirds and fifths on “Et sur l’albâtre”; perfect. In “Absence”, Price uses a delicate half voice in her cry “Reviens”, and achieves a desperate, searing melancholy exactly where you need it in “à lasser les pied des chevaux”; in “Sur les lagunes” she assumes a suitably ghostly, blanched, washed-out tone; “Au cimetière” benefits from the profundity and resignation implied by her sonorous lower register. So much of what she does is right and there is a surprising variety of tonal colouring; this is a real interpretation, not a perfunctory sing-through.

The sound is superb, expertly remastered from RCA’s original 4-track tape. There is barely a hint of hiss and a wholly satisfying depth and warmth suffuses the whole performance. "

This RCA Victor Gold Seal twofer includes full French texts with English translations - and I can't say I hear much difference between the sound here and the HDTT version, which also provides texts for the songs. I will say, however, that hearing Price again after an interval of a good few years, for all the glories of her voice I do occasionally find her manner too vibrant, emphatic and even a tad hysterical; perhaps in French mélodies, less is more.

Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen; Symphony for Wind Instruments
Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen; Symphony for Wind Instruments
Price: £14.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Buy it for the winds not the strings, 24 July 2017
The technical quality of the playing here is assured by the provenance of the musicians assembled for this recording. They are essentially two “super-group” of strings and wind-players from the Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme conducted respectively by distinguished violinist Markus Däunert and celebrated oboist Nicholas Daniel.

Indeed, this recording of Strauss’ searing threnody for a destroyed culture is beautifully played but also oddly sedate and nerveless, without the surging intensity, cumulative tension and massive sweep which characterises the greatest versions by such as Karajan, or Richard Stamp with the Academy of London. In a previous review elsewhere of the Stamp recording on Virgin Classics, happily coupled with nine of Strauss’ most popular Lieder exquisitely sung by Gundula Janowitz, I wrote, “This account of "Metamorphosen" is almost unbearably poignant and one to stand alongside the three by Karajan. If you do not picture Strauss wandering heartbroken amongst the ruins of the Vienna Opera House, thinking of his past triumphs staged in that edifice shattered by allied bombs, the ecstasy of those premières conjured up by the soaring middle section only to spiral down into despair, the music isn't working - and here it most certainly is. The final five minutes are devastatingly awful in their stark beauty.” The Lindenoper in Berlin and the Vienna, Dresden and Munich opera houses had all been obliterated in the relentless Allied air-raids; Strauss’ wrote in his diary “2000 years of cultural evolution had met its doom, and irreplaceable monuments of architecture and works of art were destroyed by a criminal soldiery.” Thus, this music needs to hit home like the best performances of Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht”; here it instead unfolds gently and elegantly and is ultimately too restrained, leaving the listener largely unmoved by what is surely one of the most profoundly anguished laments in all music. It needs the opulence and drama which Karajan and Stamp bring to the score – and even if Karajan did “cheat” to enhance its impact, he nonetheless did so with Strauss’s famous sanction, “If he’s got the strings, let him use them”.

The remainder of the programme is much more successful. I would not previously have ranked either the early Serenade or the late Symphony for Wind Instruments among Strauss’ most memorable or striking music, but performances as spontaneous and insouciant as these give grounds for reassessment. The former is a joyous work, full of floating melody and obviously inspired by – or even an homage to – Mozart’s K.361; the latter is reminiscent in its style and textures of the chamber music passages in “Ariadne auf Naxos” with its chattering, moto perpetuo opening Allegro, perky Andantino, elegant, wistful, and, again, very Mozartian Menuett. You would never guess that this piece was written in the dark days at the close of the war, but then the opening to the finale introduces a very different mood, with dark, minor, dissonant chords which are very Wagnerian in character and redolent of a strange consolation before the resumption of light-heartedness. The final section artfully mixes high spirits with the doom-laden “Götterdämmerung” chords, then concludes in a manner to suggest that even Hagen can cheer up and party.

The playing of Daniels’ wind ensemble is beyond reproach in the sensitivity of its phrasing and the sonority of its textures. Nothing is overtly histrionic; the music simply unfolds in the most natural manner possible. I find the recording acoustic to be faintly muffled but not disagreeably so.

[This review is also posted on the MusicWeb International website]

Richard Strauss: Through Life and Love [Louise Alder; Joseph Middleton] [Orchid Classics: ORC100072]
Richard Strauss: Through Life and Love [Louise Alder; Joseph Middleton] [Orchid Classics: ORC100072]
Price: £13.25

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An auspicious debut, 23 July 2017
This artfully programmed debut Lieder recital has something in common with Schumann’s "Frauenliebe und Leben", in that it leads us via a compilation of twenty-three songs on a journey through life from youth, longing, passion, partnership, motherhood and loss to death and “release”. It is unfortunately compromised by the lack of texts and translations, surely essential to a proper appreciation of the lovely songs, which were written between 1895 and 1918 and are mostly the product of Strauss’ early maturity. However, at least we are given excellent guidance notes provided by Joanna Wyld.

Louise Alder, currently a member of the Frankfurt Opera, was the winner of the Audience Prize at the 2017 Cardiff Singer of the World competition and has recently made a name for herself as a superb Sophie at the Proms and on tour in the Welsh National Opera’s "Der Rosenkavalier". I was recently privileged to hear her in that role at the Birmingham Hippodrome and was enchanted by both her singing and stage presence; I was therefore surprised to find that the microphone in this excellent recording catches something of an edge in the top of her voice which was not apparent to me live, where her voice emerged as bright but not shrill. That apart, her exemplary German diction, pure, long-breathed line and clear identification with the emotional import of the poetry all serve her very well here. She is by no means the first singer to present these songs; many of them have understandably been favourites with great artists such as Gundula Janowitz, Barbara Hendricks, Jessye Norman, Simon Keenlyside, Renée Fleming and Jonas Kaufmann – with whose 2005 recital this has ten songs in common. She has clearly and wisely made a careful selection designed to avoid tackling those songs which need a bigger, fuller sound than that which she currently possesses. Inextricably wedded as I am to the languorous beauty of Beverly Sills’ lush, rapturous version of “Breit über mein Haupt”, the account here sounds almost perfunctory, but Sills is accompanied by Julius Rudel in a full orchestral arrangement, whereas Alder, like Kaufmann, employs the conventional piano accompaniment, which is no doubt closer to what the composer intended and cannot be taken as slowly. The delicacy of Alder’s lyric soprano matches the songs chosen very well; she maintains a fine, light line, even if, again, just occasionally, the tone hardens in alt. Given the vivid way in which she enlivens words, I wonder why I do not find her voice to have as much personality or “face” as favourite recitalists but that is merely a personal reaction.

Jospeh Middleton’s pianism is exemplary, as is the recorded sound.

I think it a pity that the singer’s own thanks and dedication to those who have helped her on her way to stardom resort to the customary yoofspeak hyperbole by calling them “incredible, brilliant and amazing” – but her gratitude otherwise sounds sincere.

[This review is also posted on the MusicWeb International website]

Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius; Enigma Variations; The Holly and the Ivy (world premiere recording)
Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius; Enigma Variations; The Holly and the Ivy (world premiere recording)

3.0 out of 5 stars More haste less dignity, 22 July 2017
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This recording from 2006 conducted by Sakari Oramo has several things going for it but also several notable weaknesses, starting with the Gerontius of Justin Lavender. His tenor has something of a beat in it and his tone is never very ingratiating; he sings in a straightforward manner which does little to enhance the poetry of the better passages, while the grittiness of his timbre and strain om high notes tend to undermine the pathos of Gerontius' spiritual journey; we miss the tenderness and elegance of Lewis, Gedda or even the lesser but still more impassioned and vocally appealing utterances of such as Arthur Davies. On the other hand, the steady gravity of Jane Irwin's Angel approaches the artistry of truly great singers like Janet Baker, Helen Watts and Felicity Palmer.

The other controversial aspect of this recording is the speed and forward momentum of Oramo's direction. I don't so much mind the pace itself, especially as the CBSO plays so well and the chorus is so animated, but miss the monumental grandeur and impact that Barbirolli, Boult and Hickox bring to the big moments; "Praise to the Holiest" really doesn't produce the goosebumps that it can and should.

In the middle is Peter Rose's serviceable Priest and Angel of the Agony. He sings well and expressively but to me his essential sound is not sonorous and hieratic in the manner of Robert Lloyd or Gwynne Howell; again, I want something greater and grander than he can give.

Ultimately, Oramo's determination to breathe new life into a very English classic produces something refreshingly different which lacks the nobility and tenderness of the best accounts. I don't think I have any good reason to return to it. I do, however, very much enjoy both the world premiere recording of the carol arrangement and the "Enigma Variations", which is strongly and unaffectedly played without, perhaps, the affection we have come to expect in renderings of this most popular and typical of Elgar's works.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 26, 2017 1:38 PM BST

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius
Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius
Price: £27.84

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartfelt, strongly sung and in superb sound, 22 July 2017
For most devotees of this glorious score, the standard recommendations for recordings have remained the two classic versions by Boult and Barbirolli. There is also an excellent performance conducted by the latter in Rome in 1957, distinguished by the young Jon Vickers' extraordinary Gerontius, but that recording is in indifferent mono sound and can hardly be a first choice. However, none of these recordings is flawless and none is in anything like the superb sound Hickox was given by Chandos here in 1988. It encompasses easily the range of dynamics between the tender intimacy of the exchanges between Gerontius and the Angel at the opening of Part 2, and the explosive ecstasy of the great choral outburst "Praise to the Holiest in the Height".

It has become fashionable to denigrate Elgar's music as parochial and Cardinal Newman's libretto as mere doggerel. Neither accusation is remotely true and it is not just the chauvinistic British public and a few, select British conductors and who have increasingly taken this wonderfully dramatic oratorio to heart. The idea also circulates that Elgar "doesn't travel well", a notion I simply do not understand insofar as I am sure that this is worthy to stand alongside the choral masterpieces of Mendelssohn, Berlioz and Brahms., Elgar himself avowed: "This is the best of me... this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory."

Hickox marshals the big forces of the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with great assurance; you may occasionally hear him grunting as he urges them on but we are spared Barbirolli's cetacean groans. The chorus is especially praiseworthy; their diction and dynamic shading are both superb. The demons are properly snide and sneering - no danger of their recalling Barbirolli's complaint to his chorus that they sounded like "bank clerks on a Sunday outing".

Hickox's soloists are a fine team; Felicity Palmer is a surprisingly direct and forceful Angel, just occasionally a little shrill on high notes but otherwise more impassioned and maternal than the more dignified and ethereal incarnations by such as Janet Baker and Helen Watts. Distinguished Welsh bass Gwynne Howell makes a noble Priest/Angel of the Agony in the sonorous Robert Lloyd mode and preferable to Kim Borg for Barbirolli. I can understand some objecting to the rather constricted, very "English" sound of lyric tenor Arthur Davies but he rises thrillingly to "Take me away" and I find him preferable in timbre to either Nicolai Gedda or Richard Lewis, despite the occasional irksome bleat in his vocal production. For me, Vickers' account remains hors concours - he was right to warn Barbirolli before the Rome concert that he was "not your typical English tenor" - but Davies's voice perhaps conforms more aptly to the vocal layout Gerontius' music demands. The closing pages as Gerontius surrenders himself to his fate are especially moving, Palmer caressing the text of "Softly and gently" with her dark, voluptuous mezzo-soprano.

The bonuses here are by no means negligible: we hear two pieces by Sir Hubert Parry which illustrate how profoundly his idiom influenced Elgar. The choral cantata set to Milton's ode "Blest Pair of Sirens" is a lofty, hieratic work with a typically Elgarian ascending theme rising to a Wagnerian climax. "I was glad" has become part of the pageantry of the British establishment fabric, being composed for Edward VII's coronation and sung at all three since; it showcases the LSO Chorus in terrific form. These two pieces by Parry form ideal curtain-raisers to the main work.

This is a "Gerontius" sung and recorded on a really grand, operatic scale and remains the best version of the last twenty-five years. Issued as part of Chandos' "The Hickox Legacy", it also stands as a fitting memorial to the late Richard Hickox, who died in 2008 aged only sixty.

Sibelius / Grieg / Nielsen
Sibelius / Grieg / Nielsen
Price: £12.13

5.0 out of 5 stars A triptych of recordings of Scandinavian masterworks conducted by a master conductor, 19 July 2017
The three CDs included in this bargain pack, showcase Karajan's Indian summer with the the Berlin Philharmonic before it all went sour and they demonstrate both the lustre of the orchestra and the genius of the conductor in three great Scandinavian composers. The sheer sonority of the playing is enough to make you weep for what has been deliberately dismantled under Rattle - and no, it's not all smoothified and glutinous; in fact the impact in the climax of the "Inextinguishable" or the chilly desolation and brooding power of "Tapiola" are raw and riveting as you could wish, while the restrained, spare delicacy of "Anitra's dance" is a delight.

Karajn tended to stick to an interpretation once he had worked it out and there isn't much difference between these superb digital recordings from the early 80's and earlier versions for DG or EMI; only "The Swan of Tuonela" is marginally fleeter than previously but as atmospheric as ever. The weight and purpose of the Nielsen symphony give it a drive sometimes lacking in other recordings; its sense of direction confers real cohesion on a work which always risks sounding fragmented - and the timpani are terrific. The Grieg suites are perfectly characterised; I know of no better or more more affecting account of the lovely, melancholy "Solveig's Song" - a real bon-bon here, its melody lovingly caressed. "Pelléas et Mélisande" has never been among my favourite Sibelius works, especially as so often Sibelius seems to be resorting to quoting himself from other works but I am encouraged to reassess its worth when it is played so richly and dramatically.

Individually, two of the CDs are short measure at 44 (the Nielsen symphony), 68 (Grieg and "Pelléas et Mélisande") and 38 (Sibelius) minutes respectively, but combined in this package they are excellent value.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 20, 2017 11:59 AM BST

Monteverdi; L'Incoronazione Di Poppea
Monteverdi; L'Incoronazione Di Poppea
Price: £7.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Best look elsewhere, 17 July 2017
I suggest that you don't buy this set unless you have a masochistic desire to listen to a recording in which the prompter often makes a more agreeable sound than the most of the singers in the supporting cast. I jest - ho-ho - but in all honesty they represent a pretty wretched assemblage of poor voices. I am somewhat outside my comfort zone with this, Monteverdi's final masterpiece but you don't need to be a chicken to know a rotten egg and I thought we had left behind decades ago the notion that third-rate singers would do in Baroque opera. You have only to listen to the squalling of the trio of ill-tuned singers impersonating Fortuna, Virtù and Amore, in the opening scene, to know that you are not in for three hours of unmitigated aural pleasure. The alto who sings Arnalta sounds like an elderly lady. The Drusilla is shrill. Seneca should be intoned by a secure, imposing bass of the Kurt Moll school, not the unsteady groaner we get here; his low C on his concluding "la strada" is hilarious - like the death throes of a hippo. He is suitably accompanied by a batch of comrades each of whom is a worse singer than the last, including a horribly nasal tenor singing Liberto. Just when you think you've heard it all, two sopranos try to sing a duet for Valletto and "una damigella"; they can scarcely hold a note between them. I really don't know where distinguished musicologist and conductor Alberto Zedda found this bunch.

Goodness knows what celebrated sopranos Daniela Dessi and Josella Ligi thought of heir colleagues. I like their voices and they have some lovely moments, but they sound thoroughly depressed by the time that final, ironically sublime duet comes around and it lacks the quivering sensuality required. To be fair, Adelisa Tabiadon as Ottavia is competent and Susanna Anselmi's strong, warm mezzo makes a very attractive, quasi-masculine Ottone but the four good, lead lady singers cannot carry the enterprise alone.

I could better put up with the hackers in the audience, the noisy prompter, the sudden rumblings and drop-outs in the sound and the excessive vibrato in too many voices if the general standard of singing were better. Every imperfection is magnified by absurdly close microphones; one is placed, it seems, about three inches from the harp (track 2 CD 2). Although it is a cheap way to get to know music which is usually on an expensive three or four disc set, I suggest that you resist its meretricious charms and find another, better recording.

Wagner Tristano e Isotta
Wagner Tristano e Isotta
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £6.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The recording of a single, live performance in the great 1966 Bayreuth run, 13 July 2017
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Like several previous reviewers and no doubt a good few purchasers, I previously owned this "Frequenz" label issue and gave it away when I acquired what I thought was a better re-mastering of the performance on DG Originals or the complete Wagner "Great Operas" Decca box set, only to discover later that in fact they are not the same at all. This is a complete, live recording of one performance in August 1966. There is some dispute as to whether it is the 13th, as per the information on the back cover, or the 4th, as per other, probably correct, sources; either way, it is not the same as the DG issue, which is an amalgam or composite drawn from at least three performances. This one was transmitted complete as a radio broadcast on 23rd August; furthermore, it is in good stereo and the sound quality is indistinguishable from the DG set.

Otherwise, it is of course the same cast and if anything benefits from the electricity and sweep of one, continuous evening without the interruptions of the editing process. I have not made a detailed comparison to enable me to tell which sections from this evening made it through to the DG cut but I do know that I immediately sensed an even more palpable and gripping sense of drama in this recording. Especially thrilling is the "telegramme duet" at the beginning of Act 2 and nobody - not even Karajan either in his live 1952 Bayreuth performance or in his studio recording - handles the phrasing of the waves of sound in the overture with such devastating impact; even the emphatic chords preceding the sailor's ballad seem to carry a weight of emotion which pervades the whole opera.

Some might carp about the steeliness of Nilsson's assumption of the role of Isolde but that assertiveness, in combination with a certain tempering of Tristan's supposed heroism which is inevitable given the more vulnerable timbre of Windgassen's reedy tenor, underlines Wolfgang Wagner's concept of the drama hinging upon Isolde's dominance and Tristan's weakness - an idea reinforced by the manner in which Windgassen portrays Tristan as essentially a victim; thus his bewildered confession, "O König, das kann ich dir nicht sagen" becomes even more poignant. The same dynamic can usefully be applied to Nilsson's studio recording under Solti, where Fritz Uhl's Tristan seems almost to be a helpless spiderling, devoured by the female in the act of mating - but let me drop that biological analogy before it is stretched too far...Windgassen's ravings are not overwhelmingly tortured in the same way as those of more overtly virile Tristans such as Melchior, Lorenz, Vinay or Vickers; his voice was always intrinsically going to have less heroic heft than those most celebrated Heldentenoren, but his intelligence and feeling amply compensate and his depiction of Tristan's sufferings are nonetheless vivid. Very occasionally his voice is overwhelmed by the orchestra but he is by no means regularly swamped.

The virtues of the other cast-members are too well known to require re-rehearsal and you will know if you respond as I do to the tireless magnificence of Nilsson's voice - although I do not accept that she is incapable of tenderness, as her delivery of key moments such as "Er sah mir in der Augen" and “Dies süsse Wortlein – und…” will attest. The Act 2 Love Duet is especially intense and Nilsson's top Cs are terrific.

The final attraction of this Frequenz issue is that it is frequently available absurdly cheaply - as long as you can cope with minimal documentation, no libretto etc.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 21, 2017 4:35 PM BST

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, La mort de Cléopâtre
Berlioz: Harold en Italie, La mort de Cléopâtre
Price: £8.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Finally - modern versions of both works fit to stand alongside the classics, 9 July 2017
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To my knowledge, there haven't previously been any digital recordings of "Harold in Italy" which come even close to eclipsing my venerable favourites conducted by Ormandy and Munch, but this live recording from 2013 finally challenges their supremacy.

First the sound is spectacularly good - not always the case with LSO Live releases: full warm, clear, detailed and beautifully balanced. Secondly, Gergiev finds a happy medium between the almost rushed excitement of Munch's approach and the more leisurely, lyrical way Ormandy brings to the music. Thirdly, French violist Antoine Tamestit brings great variety of tone and colour to his playing and emerges as a distinct voice; in some other recordings the viola's gentle mezzo-soprano is allowed to become too enmeshed in the fabric of the orchestra and individuality is lost.

Moving on to the companion piece, I am pleased to have Karen Cargill's searing account of Cleopatra's death recorded a year later than her version with Robin Ticciati with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra but with a better conductor and orchestra. Ticciati's small-scale, vibrato-less, "period" style grates on me in Berlioz the arch-Romantic, whereas Gergiev demonstrates a much greater empathy with Berlioz, embracing the drama and excess Berlioz demands. In the LSO, he has an orchestra with the heft and depth of tone to do it justice; this newer recording thus supersedes the Linn release by a wide margin - although Cargill herself is superb in both, and I still want her "Nuits d'été" . Her rich, plangent mezzo is one of the best voices to emerge in recent years and the similarity in timbre between the soloists in the "symphony" and cantata makes them very apt concert companions.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 29, 2017 10:56 PM BST

Nielsen: Symphonies 4 & 5
Nielsen: Symphonies 4 & 5
Offered by marvelio-uk
Price: £14.76

5.0 out of 5 stars After thirty years, on the way to being classic recordings, 5 July 2017
As a listener who very much havers on the periphery of being a really devoted Nielsen fan, I have hitherto been content with my super-bargain set of the complete symphonies conducted by Kuchar on the "Brilliant" label. With one or two exceptions, that cycle has been very well received and it helps that it is recorded in excellent sound. I do not hear the anything "scrappy" in the playing of the Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra either, nor do I think the orchestral climaxes lack impact. Nonetheless, for many the Blomstedt cycle in San Francisco represents a step up from the "Brilliant" set, not least because the Decca sound is even deeper and richer and as a result the timpani and climactic points carry an even greater punch. There is also perhaps greater smoothness in both legato and dynamic gradations under Blomstedt - though again, some prefer the greater rawness of the Czech versions. I really don't hear any lack of tension or excitement in those terrific drum riffs at the opening and closing of the finale of the Fourth in either version and the great brass descending figure is truly cosmic in both.

The Fifth might be a different matter for some but I cannot say I hear very much difference between Blomstedt and Kuchar - no lack of attack in either, I think. It is a harder, grimmer symphony than the first for obvious reasons given its allusions to WW1 via the martial sections; more like Nordic Shostakovich than Sibelius. Again, the playing is more polished and smoother under Blomstedt and the balance between instruments is even better, so you may buy this with confidence.
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