Recordings

The best, and sometimes the worst, in recorded music.

Two Superb New Recordings of a Ravel Operatic Masterpiece: 1. Stéphanie d’Oustrac Singing L’heure espagnole (with an alert Shéhérazade as bonus) 2. L’heure espagnole, with the magnificent Gaëlle Arquez

Gaëlle Arquez

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour.” The opera presents some quick-moving events in the lives of a clockmaker’s wife and the four wildly different men with whom she is variously involved (one being her husband). The CD is officially vol. 4 of a series covering Ravel’s “orchestral works,” a phrase that here clearly means “works with orchestra.” (The two piano concertos and Tzigane are presumably scheduled for some future volume.) The Stuttgart orchestra plays very capably throughout, but the star of the CD is mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac.

A Crop of Recordings XIX: Dvořák, Strauss, Brahms, Holst, Schmidt and Elgar

Composer Franz Schmidt

Here is really lovely Dvořák: fresh and natural, gorgeously recorded—and with something new to say. That’s rare for the symphony, which has been captured for presumed immortality by every orchestra on earth—and dutifully miked from nearly every row in every concert house. There’s a New World for every taste in approach and sonic perspective.

A Crop of Recordings XVIII: Honegger, Bernstein, Rachmaninoff, Smetana, Vaughan Williams

Arthur Honegger

This is the most fascinating Honegger CD I know—brought to us with foundation-shaking  percussion, virtuoso string and brass playing—and astonishing podium originality. Mario Venzago is a Swiss conductor who has recorded the Bruckner symphonies, some of them with this same Bern Symphony—sounding world class here. He’s the sort who takes chances with tempo, the way Bruckner conductors are either admired or forgiven for doing.

Verlaine and Ten Composers: Exquisite Poetry, Exquisite Singing, Exquisite Playing

Paul Verlaine (1844-1896). Album / Oronoz.

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr’s Remarkable Medea Opera, Superbly Performed

Giovanni Simone Mayr

Medea in Corinto (Medea in Corinth, 1813 and much revised over the course of the next ten years) was Mayr’s best-known opera and remained a repertory staple for a time even after his death. It has been revived frequently in our own day, especially in Italy, where audiences can of course follow the plot and shifting emotions without recourse to supertitles.

 

A Crop of Recordings XVII: Dvořák, Ravel, Lalo, and Manén…with Some Classical Favourites for Hallowe’en!

La Mère L'Oye

Every time I hear the Czech Philharmonic properly recorded I’m reminded what a glorious orchestra they are—overdue for appreciation. The ensemble recently signed a major contract with Decca and released Dvořák symphonies and concertos on CD, led by Jiří Bělohlávek. There’s also a complete Tchaikovsky project in the works from Semyon Bychkov. And now we have this beautiful take on the Slavonic Dances, captured without compromise.

A Crop of Recordings XVI: Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius and the First and Second Symphonies played by the Berliner Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim

Edward Elgar

If Gerontius died today, it would probably be at a hospital with no Cardinal Newman to record his passing and no Sir Edward Elgar to create his beautiful dream of a masterpiece. And, one supposes too, there’d be no Daniel Barenboim to bring the work to Germany so powerfully as he does here, details and quibbles to follow. We don’t immortalize last words and thoughts the way we used to.

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