Recordings

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

HHA

A Crop of Recordings XXXI: Piston, Gould, Hanson, Roussel, Dukas, Strauss, Liszt. Beethoven…and Knecht!

From my own perspective as a lover of Howard Hanson’s music, the best here comes last. His Fourth Symphony is subtitled “The Requiem” and was composed as a memorial to Hanson’s father. Its four movements correspond to sections of the traditional Latin mass. It was Hanson’s favorite among his symphonies, and while the melodies may not be as immediately committed to memory as those of the “Nordic” and “Romantic," the glowing consecrational quality of the work, its beautiful flow and reverential beauty, full of life and never morose, is hard to surpass in American music. The piece fades away in lovely nostalgia. Clearly Hanson knew the Vaughan Williams Fifth Symphony. Like Vaughan Williams, Hanson’s music has the ability to make sadness cozy and comforting. To his credit, Kalmar turns out here a performance finer than Gerard Schwarz’s heavy-handed take with the Seattle Symphony. It’s as good as the composer’s own, and in far better sound. I vote this release a prize of my own!
HHA

A Crop of Recordings XXX: Sir Eugene Goossens, Albéric Magnard, and Mahler

No sooner was Eugene Goossens knighted by the Queen of England for service to Australian music, than he wound up benighted and foolish in the hands of the immigration police. Arrested at Sydney airport for pornography in his luggage, Goossens found his international reputation shattered and life soon to end from a major fall from grace. At the time of his arrest in 1956, he was known throughout the world as a conductor, orchestra builder and composer. In a long career, starting out as a protege of Sir Thomas Beecham, Goossens had put the Rochester Philharmonic on the map, taken the Cincinnati Symphony to new heights, and made his mark as the most important performing musician in Australia, stewarding the Sydney Symphony to international prominence after the Second World War.
HHA

Richard Wagner, I maestri cantori di Norimberga (or, rather Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg), Sung in Italian, Beautifully

Ever wanted to hear a Wagner opera performed with smooth singing: little or no barking, effortful huffing, or slow wobbling? Sure, there have been individual singers who have managed the trick, such as Plácido Domingo in Giuseppe Sinopoli’s famous Tannhäuser recording. But I mean the whole cast, from the biggest roles right down to the smallest. Well, here’s your chance: a complete Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg that is a near-constant pleasure to the ears. The only problem is that it’s sung in Italian: hence I maestri cantori di Norimbega. But don’t let that you put you off. Opera houses in many countries have developed their own national traditions of Wagner singing in the vernacular. Opera enthusiasts cherish certain recorded Wagner excerpts sung magnificently in French by soprano Germaine Lubin or tenor Georges Thill. 
Bard Music Festival

A Fine New Recording of Korngold’s Masterpiece, Das Wunder der Heliane

Lovers of opera, decadence, and general excess, had reason this year to rejoice. This past summer, Bard Summerscape staged, as its centerpiece, complementary to the Bard Music Festival, Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane), which is possibly the single most important work by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). And the work has now appeared in a sumptuous new recording (reviewed here) as well as in a much-praised DVD version from the renowned Deutsche Opera (Berlin), which indeed looks wonderful in this trailer.
HHA

A Crop of Recordings XXIX: Magnard, Bruckner, Korngold, and Vaughan Williams

Delving into the music of Alberic Magnard is to reach deep into the heart of French culture. Magnard was a subtle, aristocratic composer, trading in understatement. If you enjoy the delicate chromaticism of Gabriel Fauré, or Albert Roussel’s early works, such as his First Symphony, Poème de la forêt, you will love Magnard. If you are looking for the more obvious charms of Berlioz, Dukas, Franck or Saint-Saëns, you may be disappointed. Magnard is like Franck, but turned inward and away from Franck’s saccharine religiosity. Despite all the forte moments one could want, this is music best heard with the lights low and a log in the fireplace.
Recordings

A Rare Early Attempt at Serious Opera in German: Ignaz Holzbauer’s Tod der Dido (1780)

It is perhaps hard for us to imagine what determination Holzbauer, in 1780, must have had to write an opera in German, and sung from beginning to end, on a tragic tale from classical antiquity, at a time when such topics were considered the primary province of French spoken drama and Italian opera seria. Mozart’s two German operas—The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute—are from around the same time as Holzbauer, but both are comedies, with often larky spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. (This is not to deny that both Mozart works also have dark or philosophical overtones.)
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