CD and Other Review

Review: Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor (Damrau)

When Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was premiered in Naples in 1835 there was as much drama off stage as on. The San Carlo opera house was on the verge of bankruptcy and the musicians hadn’t been paid. His diva, Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, was miffed that the tenor Edgardo’s death scene comes after hers – this in spite of the fact that he stabs himself when he hears her death knell! To make things even worse the glass harmonica player, so vital for the mad scene, quit and the composer had to rescore it with a second flute. Fortunately conductor Jesús López-Cobos seems to have had a much easier time with this fine new release starring German soprano Diana Damrau and the popular Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja. Recorded from live concert performances in Munich over four nights, this is a good if not exceptional production. The two leads make a handsome vocal couple but there are occasional ragged edges that would have been airbrushed out in a studio recording. In the big duet Verranno a te sull’aure, for example, Calleja finishes well before Damrau.  However, these are minor flaws. The ensemble singing in the sextet is a standout and Damrau shines…

May 14, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Rachmaninoff: Songs (Iain Burnside)

Rachmaninov devotees have long treasured the masterly survey of songs by the late Elisabeth Söderström, accompanied by Vladimir Askenazy, and the Chandos set from the early ‘90s that gave us the correct voice types. Some 20 years later this current set is a welcome release and a strong rival. Seven youngish Russian singers are heard here and all are fine artists and bring a great deal of Slavic intensity. Andrei Bondarenko’s rich baritone timbre caresses the ear and is superbly focused while Ekaterina Siurina’s bright forward tone is a delight and suits the lighter fare to a tee. Alexander Vinogradov, recently heard in a superb Shostakovich Babi Yarunder Petrenko, has a sonorous instrument in the Russian bass tradition and does a fine job of vividly characterising those songs inspired by Rachmaninov’s friendship with Chaliapin. Daniil Shtoda who sung a fine Fenton on Abbado’s 2001 Falstaffsounds splendid if occasionally betraying a little wear and tear on the top of the voice. Justina Gringyte has a formidable dark mezzo sound that can tingle the spine. Rodion Pogossov and Evelina Dobraceva are both noticeably of the old school with occluded…Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $3 per month Subscribe Already a subscriber?…

April 28, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Brahms: Choral Works (Cappella Amsterdam/Reuss)

Daniel Reuss has led Cappella Amsterdam for over half its 44 years, during which the troupe has released several dozen recordings of old and new music, mostly European. This catalogue of well-known secular Brahms choral works is bookended by two cycles of sacred motets. Brahms was himself the conductor of several middle-class choirs, and choral composition runs practically throughout his entire creative life. As in the grand polyphonic tradition of Palestrina and Bach, the harmony does the talking. Entire musicology lectures could be spun about any single phrase – so completely thought-through they are. Listening while following the text reveals how closely aligned are the harmony and the poetry. Reuss takes the unusual step of including a work for piano alone. But through the first ten minutes I had forgotten its existence, so alien is the world of liturgical choral music to that of the piano. Intermezzo is a welcome surprise, despite unadventurous playing. Though not always piercing in their intonation, the choir is persuasive, achieving in Schicksalslied a venomous timbre on the text “water hurled, from crag to crag” In the chorale of the title work, the phrase “Sanft und stille” (gentle and silent) was simple and breathtaking, just as…

April 27, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Music for Remembrance (Westminster Abbey Choir/O’Donnell)

While commemorations of the Word War I centenary continue, James O’Donnell and his Westminster Abbey forces perform music associated mainly with other conflicts to remind us of the horror and folly of war.  Taking up the lion’s share of this disc is Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem in its medium-sized incarnation for choir, orchestra, organ and soloists. Hyperion’s engineers have done a splendid job in balancing the relatively small choir against the orchestra in the abbey’s cavernous acoustics. Duruflé’s sincerity shines through his heartfelt score and O’Donnell elicits a very moving performance from all concerned, including soloists Christine Rice and Roderick Williams. English composers feature in the rest of the program. Vaughan Williams’s Lord, thou hast been our refuge is a poignant reaction to his first-hand experience of the so-called Great War, while Howells’s Take him, earth, for cherishing evokes the tragedy of President Kennedy’s assassination. Philip Moore’s Three Prayers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer are thoughtful and effective settings of the German pacifist pastor who was executed by the Nazis. John Tavener’s The peace that surpasseth all understanding forms the powerful conclusion to the program. Commissioned by the Abbey to commemorate the fallen of both world wars, its final “Om” reminds us of…

April 26, 2015