Warwick Arnold

September 29, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Stravaganza D’Amore! (Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon)

Ten years ago in Paris Raphaël Pichon founded Pygmalion, a superb ensemble of period specialists, and since then they have steadily built a fine discography; their Bach Masses on the Alpha label have garnered raves as have their Rameau, but this latest release should raise their stock considerably. In order to bring to life the genesis of opera, Pichon has contrived the sort of spectacle that the Medici court was famed for at the end of the 16th century. We all know the story of the Florentine Camerata, though few examples of their experiments are extant, but we do have the intermedi of Peri, Malvezzi, Marenzio and others along with the fragments of operas by Peri, Caccini and Gagliano. Recreating a grand wedding festivity, two mini-operas on the stories of Apollo and Orpheus are bookended by celebrations of love and marriage. From the tenor’s opening cry of Stravaganza D’amore, joined by choirs, sackbuts, cornetti and a lavish continuo with every imaginable plucked instrument, I was hooked and listened through both discs entranced. The soloists are splendid. Sophie Junker produces a gorgeous sound; her O che felice giorno by Caccini, an early highlight. Renato Dolcini raises a smile with Brunelli’s witty…

August 11, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Puccini: Turandot (Nina Stemme, Aleksandrs Antonenko, La Scala/Chailly)

In 2002, Riccardo Chailly conducted the first Turandot to use the new completion by Luciano Berio at the Amsterdam Muziektheater directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. 15 years later, the same team reunited to mount it at La Scala and commit it to video. Alfano’s completion sought to continue the spectacle but, in its rush to wrap up the story, is dramatically implausible – poor Liú is soon forgotten and love conquers all. Berio’s alternative is low key and pensive, its modernist touches may jar the ear but it’s more respectful than Alfano’s gauche reprise of “that” tune. Lehnhoff’s production has some curiosities but I “get” his neo-Brechtian-meets-Commedia-dell’arte aesthetic and there are some arresting images. Stemme is splendid as the cruel princess, her warm tone evincing a humanity behind the ice; her Wagnerian credentials allow her to ride the maelstrom from the pit in thrilling fashion. Antonenko does well to match her, though his sound has tightened since his fine 2008 Salzburg Otello. Maria Agrest is a lovely full-toned Liú, and the Milan chorus is superb whether delicately awestruck or baying for blood. Topping all is the brilliance of Chailly’s conducting – this could well be the finest account of the score…

July 12, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Haydn: Symphonies Nos 6, 7, 8, 35, 46 and 51 (Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Thomas Fey)

In 1761, at the age of 29, Haydn joined the household of the Esterházy family as Vice-Kapellmeister and set to work proving his worth by writing the three symphonies we know as Le Matin, Le Midi and Le Soir; his only true cycle and the most programmatic of his symphonies. The idea for illustrating the times of the day was suggested by Prince Paul Anton but the only truly explicit passages are the sunrise opening of Le Matin and the storm of the conclusion to Le Soir – the flute’s forked-lightning motif Haydn would re-use some 40 years later in The Seasons. The cycle harks back to the concerto grosso style with concertante intrumentation displaying the individual talents of his front-desk players to win over his new workmates – everybody gets a turn in the spotlight, even the double-bass during the trios; that of Le Matin hints at Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Seven years later on the death of his superior, Haydn assumed the full position as Kapellmeister so took on responsibilities for writing church music while churning out reams of chamber music including numerous baryton trios for the voracious musical appetite of Prince Nikolaus. Despite the workload, Haydn produced the extraordinary…

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,…

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…

May 5, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Oh Boy! (Marianne Crebassa, Mozarteumorchester/Minkowski)

French mezzo Marianne Crebassa’s debut disc makes a stylish calling card that should raise the stock of this fine artist. Her characteristic French tang, tight vibrato and tasteful use of portamento harks back to an earlier style but her precise intonation and control in passage work is very much of our time. There is a true mezzo quality to her timbre but she doesn’t bellow in chest voice. Her plangent manner recalls a young Frederica von Stade. The programme alternates 19th-century French arias with Mozart’s seria plums for castrati but, while it may be a celebration of trouser roles, she sounds resolutely feminine. From the impish cover shot, I suspect she is convincingly boyish on stage, so thankfully she doesn’t resort to arch guying; the inevitable Cherubino numbers are refreshingly straight. Flashy numbers show off her immaculate legato fiorature with no nasty aspirants: Il tenero momento from Lucio Silla is a showstopper. The bravura aria from Gluck’s Berliozed Orphée with its cadenza padded out by Saint-Saëns might horrify purists but Crebassa’s elegant poise channels the spirit of Pauline Viadot. The number from Chabrier’s L’Étoile is a sensuous delight as is Sommeil, ami des dieux from Thomas’ Psyché. Marc Minkowski directs…

May 5, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Pictures of America (Natalie Dessay, Paris Mozart Orchestra/Claire Gibault)

I have long admired and respected Natalie Dessay so it saddened me to hear of her retirement from the opera stage. Her fearless tackling of daunting coloratura repertoire and the searing intensity of her stage presence proved too much for such a slight physique. Having built a fine discography with Warners she has jumped ship to Sony Classical France – this lavishly presented first release may be a success in the home market but I suspect the critical response elsewhere may cause some executives to lose sleep. Graciane Finzi’s Scénographies d’Edward Hopper is a melologue with texts by Claude Esteban spoken over a string orchestra. As a preface, Dessay has selected songs from the American Songbook matching each to a specific Hopper painting. Finzi’s tone painting is effective if unmemorable and Esteban’s texts left me out in the cold – my basic French couldn’t keep up with the semantic intricacies. For the songs, Dessay adopts an intimate chanteuse delivery but I have long opined that few classical singers can successfully cross-over to the popular idiom unless they hail from the American continent and Dessay doesn’t convince me otherwise. She tries hard with the language but certain elisions and tortured vowels…

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