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M. Joyce (Cairo, Egypt)

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1612 Italian Vespers
1612 Italian Vespers
Price: £10.11

5.0 out of 5 stars Lost treasures rediscovered, 19 July 2016
This review is from: 1612 Italian Vespers (Audio CD)
I saw I Fagiolini (billed here as a “maverick ensemble”) a number of years ago performing a very effective show (I can think of no more appropriate word) “The Full Monteverdi”; it was quite stunning. The word “maverick” seems somehow inappropriate here, as the items featured on this 2012 recording are backed up by extensive scholarly research (the erudite sleeve notes by Hugh Keyte are essential reading) and not only feature two world premiere recordings (Giovanni Gabrieli’s 28-voice Magnificat) and Lodovico Grossi da Viadana’s four-choir Vesper Psalms, but also marks the 400th anniversary of Gabrieli’s death and the publication of Viadana’s Vespers.

The CD gives us a reconstruction of the Second Vespers of the Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, originally held to commemorate 1571’s Battle of Lepanto, which marked the victory of Christendom over the infidel Turk. Some of the composers featured will be familiar to most listeners (Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, Palestrina and Monteverdi), others less familiar (Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano), but all of the music is absolutely glorious and the recorded sound is spectacular to say the least.

Gabrieli’s 28-part Magnificat is monumental in its construction and electrifying in its performance here; this is a major discovery, as are Viadana’s Vesper Psalms, with their expressive melodies and dramatic declamation by endlessly varied vocal groupings.

The performances by I Fagiolini are nothing less than superb; all credit to the singers and their director Robert Hollingsworth. This is a must-buy purchase.

Gilbert & Sullivan - Patience [1982]
Gilbert & Sullivan - Patience [1982]
Dvd ~ Donald Adams
Offered by BlueStringMedia
Price: £9.98

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic Patience, 16 July 2016
I’ve already reviewed the box set collection of the operas, but as the works are available individually, I thought that posting individual reviews might be useful.

When I was at school, I went with a couple of friends to see a touring performance of the ENO production of Patience, directed by John Cox and designed by John Stoddart. It was one of the first opera productions I had ever seen and I thought it quite marvellous.

This DVD is a televised version of that production and features five of the singers I saw all those years ago; Sandra Dugdale as Patience, Shirley Chapman as Angela, Anne Collins as Jane, Terry Jenkins as the Duke and John Fryatt, who was then playing Bunthorne (here he is Grosvenor). Unlike many of the other operas in this series, the performers are all bona fide opera singers and the fact that many of the performers here had appeared in the original stage production is a clear advantage. This is especially true of the inimitable double act of Derek Hammond-Stroud and Anne Collins as Bunthorne and Lady Jane; they are even given a mini encore to their Act II duet. They are undoubtedly the stars of the show, but face strong competition from the definitive Patience of Sandra Dugdale (beautifully sung and amusingly acted) and John Fryatt, a tenor Grosvenor; he may be a little long in the tooth for the part, but he is very funny and sings nicely. The three military men are splendidly portrayed by that doyen of G and S performers, Donald Adams, Roderick Kennedy and Terry Jenkins, very funny as an upper-class twit of a Duke. Shirley Chapman is perhaps a little too mature as Angela (clearly older than Jane!), but Shelagh Squires and Patricia Hay do well as Saphir and Ella (even though I would have loved to have seen Jane Eaglen essay the latter role, as she did early in her career).

The Australian Opera version is a live performance based on the same production, but this one is more consistently cast and would be my number one recommendation for a DVD version of this work.

Szenen Aus Goethes Faust
Szenen Aus Goethes Faust
Offered by The London Lane Company
Price: £66.85

5.0 out of 5 stars A less well known version of the Faust legend, 15 July 2016
The Faust legend has attracted a host of interpreters, both literary and musical and while the versions by Gounod and Berlioz are probably the most familiar (and certainly the most frequently recorded), this setting by Robert Schumann is a wonderful piece and deserves to be better known; indeed, it has been described as the composer’s magnum opus and the height of his accomplishment in terms of dramatic music.

Part two of Goethe’s Faust was published in 1832, a year after the poet’s death. Schumann began his work in 1842 and its composition spanned a total of more than nine years, its first complete performance coming six years after the composer’s death. Most Romantic composers dealt exclusively with Part One of Goethe’s play (Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust was roughly contemporaneous), but Schumann, that Romantic par excellence, took as his text sections from Part Two. Schumann realised that the operatic stage offered too restricted a framework for his musical setting of Goethe’s drama.

This is not to say that this work is anything but dramatic and right from its dark and tense overture, it is gripping from beginning to end.

I have recently fallen in love with Schumann’s symphonic writing and the music here is beautiful and thrilling in equal parts. It is impressively performed by the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker under the baton by Bernard Klee. Ten vocal soloists appear on this recording and the key role of Faust is magnificently taken by the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who also contributes some interesting observations to the well-written sleeve notes. His great contemporary, Walter Berry, contributes a wonderfully sardonic Mephistopheles (a much more marginal character here than in other versions), while Gretchen (Marguerite in French language versions) benefits from the silvery soprano of Edith Mathis. The smaller parts are all capably taken, with the legendary Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda assuming the tenor solos.

The recording dates from 1981 and the sound cannot be faulted.

This is a work which deserves to be better known and this is a version I would recommend wholeheartedly.

Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
Offered by positivenoise
Price: £23.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Stabat Mater recordings, 14 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Pergolesi: Stabat Mater (Audio CD)
The Magnificat by Francesco Durante featured in the final concert I gave as a member of the Cairo Choral Society. It is often attributed to his rather more famous pupil, Giovanni Pergolesi, and, indeed, it is "Pergolesi's Magnificat" which is included on this recording; whatever its authorship, this work, which lasts little more than twelve minutes, is a delight from beginning to end.

This two-CD set is in fact a collection of recordings made between 1966 and 1978. Three Stabat Maters are featured; the celebrated one by Pergolesi and lesser known ones by Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Bononcini. In fact, the medieval poem, the Stabat Mater dolorosa, did not attract widespread attention from composers until the eighteenth century.

There are many recordings available of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater and this version, recorded in 1978 by St John’s College, Cambridge under George Guest, would be a long way from being anyone’s first choice version, primarily because performance practice has moved on considerably over the past four decades. A major reason for buying a particular version of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater would be for many people the vocal soloists; here we have the serviceable contralto of Alfreda Hodgson and the slightly acidic soprano of Felicity Palmer (whom I love, incidentally, in her reincarnation as a mezzo).

Putting thoughts of performance practice to one side, the other two Stabat Maters in this set are for me much more enjoyable (perhaps, it must be said, because the works are new to me). Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater was recorded in 1973 by Roger Norrington and the Schütz Choir of London, as were the two pieces by his father, Alessandro. Norrington somehow seems to show a more natural affinity for this music than do the other conductors on these discs and these unfamiliar pieces are the ones which gave me the most joy.

The Bononcini Stabat Mater is a wonderful piece and the inclusion of Philip Langridge among the soloists is an added bonus. George Guest is the conductor here, as he is for the two settings of the Crucifixus; the one by Lotti is a staple ingredient of most Early Music choral compilations, but the one by Caldara is equally fine.

David Willcocks and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge are the performers in the Magnificat by Durante/Pergolesi and the presence among the soloists of Janet Baker and Ian Partridge must be noted. The recording dates from 1966, but the sound is very good.

I am sure that there are more recommendable versions of all of these works out there, but the performances here are exemplary and this must be a tempting purchase at a bargain price.

Wolf: Mörike Lieder - Pfitzner: Eichendorff Lieder (Decca Most Wanted Recitals)
Wolf: Mörike Lieder - Pfitzner: Eichendorff Lieder (Decca Most Wanted Recitals)
Price: £9.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous, sensitive singing, 11 July 2016
This marvellous CD is part of Decca’s Most Wanted Recitals and is a welcome addition to the Decca catalogue. As with the other discs in the series, the CD is a facsimile of the original vinyl record and the back-cover sleeve notes are reproduced, albeit in minuscule type size. The original recording was made in 1965 and features the legendary German baritone Hermann Prey singing Hugo wolf’s fourteen Mörike Lieder and Hans Pfitzner’s five settings of poems by Eichendorff. As always with Prey, there is a hint of crooning about his singing, but his is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous baritone voices committed to disc and he is a sublimely sensitive and musical singer.

There is a substantial bonus in the shape of fourteen songs by Richard Strauss, including Morgen, which I had hitherto assumed to be the preserve of the soprano voice. In many ways, these songs (recorded in 1963) are for me the highlight of what is a consistently satisfying disc and the accompanist for all of the tracks is the incomparable Gerald Moore.

Highly recommended.

Arias For Benucci [Matthew Rose; Arcangelo, Johnathan Cohen ] [HYPERION: CDA68078]
Arias For Benucci [Matthew Rose; Arcangelo, Johnathan Cohen ] [HYPERION: CDA68078]
Price: £13.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mozart's first Figaro, 11 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The buffo bass Francesco Benucci was not only Mozart’s first Figaro, but also the creator of Leporello and Guglielmo and this splendid CD presents a variety of scenes performed by Benucci, mostly from operas produced in Vienna and mostly roles specifically written for him. Mozart features predominantly, of course, as do his lesser known contemporaries Salieri, Paisiello, Martin y Soler and Sarti. In fact, this less familiar music is one of the most rewarding aspects of this set; it is splendidly sung by Matthew Rose and beautifully played by Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen.

As well as the familiar overtures to “Don Giovanni” and “Le Nozze di Figaro”, we are treated to Paisiello’s scintillating overture to “Il re Teodoro in Venezia”. That apart, the well-known duet from “Cosi fan Tutte” and the (quite rightly, in my opinion) usually omitted interpolated duet for Zerlina and Leporello from “Don Giovanni”, in which he is joined by the delightful sopranos Katherine Watson and Anna Devin, this is essentially a solo recital by the excellent British bass Matthew Rose, here rather mysteriously described as a baritone.

He is a wonderful singer, with a magnificent voice, and he is not a bad actor, but one of his roles is, after all, Sarastro and, his best efforts notwithstanding, he lacks the smile in the voice which is the trademark of such legendary exponents of these roles such as Walter Berry or, closer to home, Bryn Terfel.

This is a very small reservation, however, and I recommend this disc with considerable enthusiasm.

Vivaldi: Gloria; Magnificat
Vivaldi: Gloria; Magnificat
Price: £8.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital Vivaldi!, 18 Jun. 2016
I bought this CD when it was first released, its purchase inspired by hearing an excerpt from the recording (specifically the opening movement of the Gloria) on Radio 3. It was (and is) incredibly fast; so fast, in fact, that it almost made me laugh out loud. But have no fear; the conductor, Rinaldo Alessandrini, is not just searching for cheap effects and this is a thoroughly satisfying version of a work that is very easily taken for granted.

I returned to this recording on the occasion of my farewell performance with my choir here in Cairo and what a very fine CD this is!

As well as the Gloria, we are treated to a lesser known, but almost as impressive, choral work, his Magnificat, and two concertos, one intriguingly for oboe and trumpet. It is, therefore, a well-filled CD, which will, I am sure, give a great deal of pleasure.

The playing of the Concerto Italiano and the singing of the vocal ensemble Akademia is of the highest order and the vocal soloists, the sopranos Deborah York and Patrizia Biccire and the wonderful contralto Sara Mingardo make an unbeatable team. The recording (the CD dates from 1997) is exemplary.

Highly recommended.

Poulenc: The Carmelites
Poulenc: The Carmelites
Price: £19.61

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, 21 May 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Poulenc: The Carmelites (Audio CD)
I have to confess that the only bit of this opera with which I was acquainted was the Salve Regina which ends the work and in which the nuns go to meet their doom at the guillotine. I loved this music and was eager to hear the whole piece.

As a teacher of languages, I suppose, I should have sought out a version in French, but I am a great fan of the Chandos series of operas in English and was, moreover, attracted by a cast headed by Josephine Barstow and Felicity Palmer, both of whom are, it goes without saying, on top form; what extraordinary singing actresses they both are! The opera has, of course, a wonderful range of female roles; Catrin Wyn-Davies seizes what is arguably the leading role of Blanche with aplomb and passion and amongst the other singers, I was especially taken with the gleaming soprano of Sarah Tynan. The male voices are equally impressive and it is good to re-encounter the veteran Ryland Davies in the role of the Chaplain.

The opera, written in 1957, contains some glorious melodic lines and the singers do them full justice, whilst enunciating the excellent translation with exemplary clarity; this is one of those operas which actually “works” in translation.

The ENO Orchestra and Chorus do the composer proud, led brilliantly by Paul Daniel, who shows a great affinity for this music.

Highly recommended.

God Rot Tunbridge Wells - The Life of Georg Frederic Handel [DVD] [2008] [NTSC]
God Rot Tunbridge Wells - The Life of Georg Frederic Handel [DVD] [2008] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Tony Palmer
Price: £13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A radical view of a national treasure, 7 May 2016
I have enjoyed all the Tony Palmer music films I have seen and this one is no exception.

As Palmer’s entertaining sleeve notes make clear, this film splendidly entitled “God Rot Tunbridge Wells”, caused something of a furore when first shown on Channel Four in 1985 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Handel’s death.

John Osborne, the writer, came in for particular criticism, as did the performance of Trevor Howard in the title role, describing it as “incoherent” and “absurd”; it is true that a life-long devotion to alcohol has clearly affected his speech (“gin-soaked” would be a kind way of describing his voice), but I find his performance absolutely riveting and he certainly “holds the show together”, spitting out every last syllable of Handel’s trenchant remarks with considerable relish.

The locations apart, this was clearly filmed on the cheap, but Howard’s albeit rather pickled charisma more than makes up for the inadequacies of the supporting players.

So, this splendidly radical view of a national treasure makes riveting viewing, but there is another good reason to watch (or listen to) this film; the music.

In charge of matters musical was Sir Charles Mackerras, a great Handelian, who, aided by a select group of musicians, avoids the “tweeness” and “stodginess” (there is a none too subtle dig at Malcolm Sargent in the film) of many Handel performances of the time, preferring a more vigorous, dynamic performing style. The English Chamber Orchestra provide marvellous support, as do the choristers of Westminster Abbey (the reason why they were billed as The Extremely Ancient Academy of Singers is explained in Palmer’s amusing sleeve note). As well as Emma Kirkby, singing from Messiah, we are treated to Elizabeth Harwood singing “I know that My Redeemer Liveth”, James Bowman, singing “Ombra mai fu”, John Shirley-Quirk singing “Let Envy then Conceal Her Head” and Anthony Rolfe-Johnson and Valerie Masterson as Acis and Galatea; riches indeed!

The film runs for nearly two hours and although the picture quality isn’t wonderful, the film most certainly is; give it a try!

Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love
Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love
Price: £23.53

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very British Falstaff!, 2 May 2016
I’m a big fan of the operas of Ralph Vaughan Williams and this infrequently performed work (although there are, quite improbably, three complete recordings out there) is, in my opinion, right up with the best of them.

Vaughan Williams based his libretto on “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, but although he followed the plot closely, he raided other Shakespeare plays and other poets (Middleton, Campion, Ben Jonson and Philip Sidney to name a few) and interpolated their lyrics. He imitated Holst in the integration of English folk tunes into the texture of the marvellously melodious and infectiously vital score.

It is beautifully performed by an orchestra I saw a great deal when I was at school, the Northern Sinfonia, and is conducted by the late, much-lamented Richard Hickox, a passionate advocate of English music.

Vaughan Williams’ Falstaff is no buffoon, but an expansive, genial, even lyrical figure and it would be difficult to imagine a better exponent of the part than the Scottish baritone Donald Maxwell. The “merry wives” are expertly sung by Laura Claycomb and Sarah Connolly, while their husbands are sung by Roderick Williams, who never fails to delight, and Matthew Best, whose rather gritty voice does not take favourably to recording, but who evinces a great deal of character as Ford. The young lovers, who have some of the most rewarding music to sing, are beautifully performed by Susan Gritton and Mark Padmore, while the large supporting cast all do well, with notable performances from Adrian Thompson, doubling effectively as Dr Caius and Justice Shallow, Stephen Varcoe as the Welsh parson and Daniel Norman as Slender. In fact, the only two slight let-downs for me are Stephan Loges, a fine singer, but insufficiently orotund of voice as the Host, and Anne-Marie Owens, verbally indistinct and overly plummy as Mistress Quickly.

This is a wonderful recording, which should appeal not only to lovers of Vaughan Williams, but also to lovers of English music in general and, indeed, to lovers of the great Bard himself.

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