August 4, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Giaches de Wert: Sacred Motets (Stile Antico)

In his day, Giaches de Wert (1535-96) was the foremost composer of madrigals, most notably serving in the musically progressive Gonzaga court at Mantua and influencing the young Monteverdi. He had a considerable 12 books of madrigals to his name. What is less well known is that he also produced three books of motets which also display his madrigalian prowess. Many of the texts he set were not standard liturgical texts, but rather biblical stories that lent themselves to more programmatic treatment. Wert’s music was not the only colourful aspect of his life. Early on he married Lucrezia Gonzaga and produced at least six children. His appointment to Mantua was full of intrigue: several moves were made to discredit him, but he stuck to his work, despite being labelled a cuckold. (His wife had been having an affair with the composer who was passed over for Wert’s job.) Lucrezia came to a sticky end some years later when she was involved in a murderous plot to seize a noble title. Wert eventually had an affair of his own, with the widowed noblewoman and poet, Tarquinia Molza. Such was Wert’s musical worth that when this scandal was discovered, Tarquinia was banished…

August 2, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Meyerbeer: Grand Opera (Diana Damrau)

If the musical night sky could be said to be littered with the glittering trails of falling stars, perhaps no single composer has fallen quite so far and so fast as Jacob Liebmann Beer (1791-1864), or Giacomo Meyerbeer as he came to be known. The darling of the Paris Opéra for 25 years as a result of the enduring success of Robert le Diable with its infamous ballet in which a graveyard full of deceased nuns rise up to cavort in the moonlight, the German-born Meyerbeer went on to dominate the French opera scene with a string of romantic and historical blockbusters such as L’Africaine (where the heroine expires from the scent of a deadly tropical tree), Les Huguenots (in which the three principals are simultaneously shot by a chorus of murderers), and Le Prophète (where the final scene calls for the entire cast to be blown up with gunpowder!). Within a decade of his demise, however, Meyerbeer began to suffer an almost total eclipse, a victim of his over-the-top plots, the new music of Wagner and his followers, and, some would suggest, prey to the nasty brand of anti-Semitism that came to a head in the dying days of…

July 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Beneath the Northern Star (The Orlando Consort)

Subtitled The Rise of English Polyphony 1270-1430, this latest recording from The Orlando Consort weaves a rich, stylistically diverse musical tapestry across nearly two centuries of early English polyphony. Originally formed in 1988 to explore repertoire from the period 1050-1550, the UK-based a cappella ensemble – currently comprising countertenor Matthew Venner, tenors Mark Dobell and Angus Smith and baritone Donald Greig – have occasionally branched out into contemporary music. Beneath the Northern Star finds them on home ground, featuring music by some of the leading lights of medieval English music such as Leonel Power and John Dunstaple, as well as lesser-known composers like Johannes Alanus, Thomas Damett, Robert Chirbury and the most prolific of all, Anonymous. All these motets and movements from mass settings are for three voices; the exception is the four-voice Credo from the Old Hall Manuscript which brings the recording to a close. The stylistic diversity is apparent in the variety of musical techniques, not just from composer to composer but from within different periods of a single composer’s career. Many of these devices are easy to hear once you know what you’re listening for. The second track, the anonymous Stella maris nuncuparis uses the rondellus technique,…

July 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Sibelius • Kortekangas: Kullervo, Migrations (Minnesota Orchestra, YL Male Voice Choir/Osmo Vänskä)

Osmo Vänskä gave us a superb Kullervo in 2001 as part of his lauded cycle with the Lahti Symphony, but this release justifies itself by preserving a programme celebrating Finnish musical identity recorded over several chilly Minnesota nights in February 2016. Premiered in 1892, the sprawling work was a watershed in Sibelius’ creative development – he effectively invented the Finnish musical idiom overnight – its runic tunes and “wind rustling through the pines” textures would be distilled in the later tone poems and symphonies. The work does have its longueurs – Vänskä is daringly expansive in the second movement (Kullervo’s Youth) yet it somehow works, despite its 19-minute duration. Lilli Paasikivi reprises her role as Kullervo’s sister; she pretty much owns the role, though her widening vibrato is worrying. Tommi Hakala is an excellent Kullervo. Vänskä maintains a fine balance of expansive atmosphere and thrilling bite though I miss the intensity of Berglund’s 1985 Helsinki recording with a blistering Jorma Hynninen at his peak. Commissioned as a companion piece for similar forces, Olli Kortekangas’ Migrations is a tribute to the Finnish immigration to North America on texts by Sheila Packa, a Minnesotan of Finnish heritage. A fine piece of atmospherics,…

July 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Pergolesi & Bach: Stabat Mater, Cantatas (Lucy Crowe, Tim Mead, La Nuova Musica/David Bates)

Hot on the heels of Iestyn Davies’ distinguished recording of Bach alto cantatas comes another disc containing two of the same from another British countertenor. Tim Mead, a former choral scholar of King’s College, Cambridge has forged a busy and successful career on the operatic and concert stage. He displays admirable agility in the final aria of Widerstehe doch der Sünde (BWV54). While Davies may have the edge in bringing the words to life, there is certainly much to enjoy in Mead’s account; not only his mellifluous tone but the fine playing of La Nuova Musica, which this year celebrates the tenth anniversary of its founding by artistic director, David Bates. Vergnügte Ruh! Beliebte Seelenlust! (BWV170) also demonstrates Mead’s affinity with Bach’s musical idiom through his unforced vocal technique. His more outwardly expressive approach provides a thoughtful and nuanced contrast to Davies. By way of contrast the Bach cantatas are paired with Pergolesi’s ever-popular Stabat Mater. Mead is joined by soprano, Lucy Crowe who visited Australia in 2012 to be soprano soloist in the ACO’s performances of Beethoven’s Ninth. Although the voices are in the main well matched, there are occasions in this performance where I feel the performers are…

June 30, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Heimat (Benjamin Appl, James Baillieu)

Benjamin Appl was Gramophone Young Artist of the Year 2016, suggesting a 20-something budding talent. It was a surprise then to discover he was born in 1982 and, as evident from this recital, is a fully mature artist. Lieder-philes would have been alerted by his Wigmore Hall Schubert recital with the venerable Graham Johnson, which I will eagerly now hunt out. This release signals a serious intent – a Konzept Liederabend if you will – its title one of those succinct words that defy direct translation; a sense of national affinity for one’s homeland. Appl has contrived his tribute to two homelands; having grown up near Regensburg, Schubert and Brahms figure heavily with some Wolf, Strauss, Reger and Schreker thrown in for good measure, while some British songs and Poulenc’s Hyde Park represent his residency in London since 2010. Most moving is Adolf Strauss’ Ich weiß bestimmt, ich werd’ dich wiedersehen (I know I shall see you again) written in Terezin before the composer was murdered at Auschwitz. The recital concludes with two songs in german by Grieg. Appl has a lovely voice with a degree of grain to add gravitas – he sings “on the words” but not so…

June 30, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: Cantatas 170, 54 & 82 (Iestyn Davies, Arcengelo/Johnathan Cohen)

There seems to be no end to the talents of Iestyn Davies. A thoroughly modern countertenor, Davies is at home in all sorts of venues, whether they be churches, concert halls, opera houses, recording studios or theatres, and wherever he goes he impresses audiences with both the breadth and the quality of his performances. So it is only natural that such a talented performer should want to turn his hand to that greatest of composers, JS Bach. The only problem is, as Richard Wigmore points out in his illuminating notes, “with countertenors confined to English cathedral choirs and castrati to the opera house, ‘alto’ for Bach meant a teenaged boy on the cusp of adolescence.” While from the dual standpoints of vocal technique and timbre, this prospect might have dampened the composer’s enthusiasm for alto solos, particularly in the cantatas, we are fortunate to have Cantata 54 from the Weimar period, Widerstehe doch der Sünde, which Wigmore believes would have been written for a particularly gifted boy alto. Cast in three movements, this musical admonition against sin and Satan is a colourful and expressive work, but Davies and Arcangelo take an intimate and controlled approach, despite all the talk of…

June 26, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Dahlesque (Elise McCann)

Elise McCann’s album Dahlesque, released by ABC Music, features the songs from her new cabaret show of the same name, which premiered to rave reviews at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Dahlesque comprises a selection of music inspired by the gloriously irreverent, darkly funny stories of children’s author Roald Dahl including numbers from the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the musicals Matilda The Musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach. It’s a clever idea, and spins off the fact that McCann recently played Miss Honey in the Australian production of Matilda The Musical, winning both a Sydney Theatre Award and a Helpmann Award for her touching portrayal. The warmth and glow that McCann has as a stage performer shines through on the album. She has a lovely pure, true voice with a honeyed tone in her middle register, an effortless belt, and top notes that send ripples down the spine. It’s also a voice with real character. Her diction is impeccable and she connects with the lyric, which makes her a great storyteller in song – altogether a consummate musical theatre voice. Accompanied here by a nine-piece band under the musical direction of…

June 2, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Sullivan: Songs (Mary Bevan, Ben Johnson, Ashley Riches, David Owen Norris)

We know Sullivan primarily for the brilliant music he wrote for the equally brilliant comic plays of WS Gilbert. Many will also know some of his excellent concert music. The songs are a different matter, although many are attractive and well written,  they fall outside the popular Lieder repertoire inhabited by Schubert and his lot, not always reaching the heights attained by those German composers with which they have a cultural affinity. Nonetheless they are certainly worthy of our attention and so Chandos has come to the rescue with 46 of them. For his texts Sullivan drew widely. He drew from Shakespeare, O Mistress Mine and The Willow Song. The song cycle The Window by Tennyson and from Robert Burns the delicately felt Mary Morrison. In the main the music is often what you would expect, lightly inspired Victoriana. For example, the Arabian Love Song, with its mysterious piano ripples between verses is intriguing and the ballad Once Again undoubtedly had female hearts fluttering in many a drawing room. Sweethearts is a melodramatic duet from the composer’s old collaborator, Gilbert. It is set as a waltz and goes with an engaging swing. Familiar to Savoyards will be the reworking of…

June 2, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Finzi & Bax & Ireland: Choral music (The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell)

Way back last century (in 1986 to be precise) the choir of King’s College, Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury produced a recording of choral pieces by Bax and Finzi. At a time when fascination with ‘early music’ was at its height, this rather unfashionable choice of repertory was a revelation; its expansive text-setting and lush harmonies were a reminder of a then rather neglected corner of choral music, full of guilty but well-wrought pleasures. Some 30 years on, choirs are thankfully less narrow in their choices. James O’Donnell and his Westminster Abbey forces have delivered a more than worthy successor to that disc. O’Donnell lavishes much care on Finzi’s masterly anthem, Lo the Full, Final Sacrifice; its long, contrasting paragraphs full of beautiful singing, whether the exultant “Lo, the bread of life” or the meditative “soft, self-wounding Pelican” or the beguiling Amen. Careful attention to text mirrors Finzi’s own care in this regard. God is Gone Up is dispatched with appropriate élan and the Magnificat radiates unalloyed joy. Three smaller Finzi anthems confirm his appeal. Bax is represented by contrasting carols, I Sing of a Maiden and This Worldes Joie – the first carefree and the second careworn. Given the considerable…

June 2, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Liszt: Lieder (Timothy Fallon, Ammiel Bushakevitz)

The US tenor Timothy Fallon seems poised on the cusp of fame, judging from the debut release with his regular recital partner the Israeli-South African pianist Ammiel Bushakevitz. The duo appear regularly at London’s Wigmore Hall, winning the 2013 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition. Fallon is also making a name in Europe where he appears regularly with Oper Leipzig and he is heard on a couple of Pentatone’s Wagner series under Marek Janowski. Fine diction and a lovely clear higher register even across all the dynamics, from a lovely sotto voce to full-blooded fortissimos, are qualities he brings to this BIS recording of 15 songs by Franz Liszt. His expressive voice is nimble and nuanced and he pays great attention to the text, teasing out the subtle colours and shades while Bushakevitz’s sensitive piano keeps momentum going. They work seamlessly together and there is plenty of scope for dramatic stretch, with the standout Drei Lieder aus Schillers Wilhelm Tell and the three Petrarch sonnet settings both offering plenty of emotional shifts and experimental harmonies. The disc covers 40 years of Liszt’s output and takes in four languages, with settings of Victor Hugo and Tennyson also on the programme. This…

May 31, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Ravel: Daphnis and Chloé (Les Siècles, Ensemble Aedes/Roth)

Ravel called his glittering score to Daphnis et Chloé a ‘Symphonie choreographique’: essentially a ‘symphony with dance’, the perfect description for a work of such majesty, where the music really is centre-stage. The score is usually segmented into three suites for concert performance, making a hearing of the full version all too rare a treat. Thankfully François-Xavier Roth with period instrument orchestra Les Siècles and Ensemble Aedes deliver the full ballet on this recent release with Harmonia Mundi, with the most stunning results. The exact date of inception of Daphnis et Chloé is somewhat disputed, but the original commission came from Diaghilev, for the prestigious Ballets Russes. The composition was fraught with challenges, mainly due to creative differences between Ravel and the choreographer, Michel Fokine. After numerous revisions and a delayed premiere, the ballet finally opened in June 1912, almost a year before Parisian audiences would be scandalised by the riot over Stravinsky’s vicious Rite. Underscoring the ancient Greek tale of a pastoral romance between a shepherd and shepherdess, Ravel’s music is languorous and enchanting, shimmering with lush orchestral colour, and worlds away from Stravinsky’s pulsating nightmare. The beginning and third part are mostly relaxed, dreamy episodes, framing the dramatic…

Processing...
Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.
Sign Up To Our Newsletter
ErrorHere