CD and Other Review

Review: Handel: Heroes from the Shadows (Stutzmann)

Nathalie Stutzmann’s new disc Heroes in the Shadows is an impressive demonstration of this artist’s multitude of musical talents, as she takes centre stage both as conductor and contralto soloist. The singer possesses a handsome contralto voice and demonstrates superb control over her instrument. Her fantastic coloratura technique is shown in the faster, flamboyant arias, most notably on the opening Dover giustizia, amor from Ariodante. Her musicality is laid bare during Non so se sia la speme from Serse, where she demonstrates instinctive understanding for colour and phrasing. She often reduces her vibrato during points of harmonic tension, which serves to highlight the drama in the ensuing resolutions. Despite her virtuosity, Stutzmann never overdoes vocal pyrotechnics during da capo sections, preferring to subtly augment the vocal line with occasional passing tones and trills. Philippe Jaroussky was a delightful choice for guest artist, and sings the duet Son nata a lagrimar from Giulio Cesare. His light, clean countertenor provides a balance for Stutzmann’s meatier tone. The orchestra, Orfeo 55, play with a bristling energy throughout. Cello soloist Patrick Langot, is to be commended for his delicate solo during Son qual stanco Pellegrino.  Heroes from the Shadows shows why Stutzmann has succeeded…

April 25, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Decca Most Wanted Recitals (Various)

Decca’s Most Wanted Recitals series continues. As before, the discs are digitally remastered but contain no biographical or musical notes. Most of this material has not been reissued since its first appearance decades ago. Some should have been left undisturbed, but these six releases contain much of interest. Baritone Hermann Prey (1929-1998) was overshadowed during his lifetime by Fischer-Dieskau, yet Prey has a lovely voice and a distinctive approach to Schubert’s Schwanengesang. Listen to his passionate, committed rendition of In der Ferne: not as detailed (some would say mannered) as Fischer-Dieskau but by no means bland. Walter Klein’s accompaniments support him all the way. Renato Bruson’s honeyed operatic baritone is revisited in a recital of Donizetti arias, recorded in 1979, including a duet from Donizetti’s Requiem where he is joined by Pavarotti. Bruson’s soft singing is exceptional. French baritone Gerard Souzay gives us two discs of Schumann, both containing the Dichterliebe. The earlier one, with pianist Jacqueline Bonneau, finds him in fresher voice in 1953 but the mono recording is rough. His 1960s Philips records with Dalton Baldwin are preferable; his voice is less stable at fortebut his artistry remains supreme. He sings the Liederkreis Op. 24 and…Continue reading Get…

April 19, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Amorosi Pensieri (Cinquecento Renaissance Vokal)

For the past ten years Cinquecento have been carving themselves a niche in the specialised field of pre-Baroque sacred works, and madrigals by composers whom most of us have never encountered. Formed in Vienna and based in Germany, the group comprises six singers from five countries. For their eighth release on the British Hyperion label Cinquecento revisits three 16th-century Flemish singer-composers, Philippe del Monte, Jacobus Vaet and Jacob Regnart, this time performing their secular songs, and introduce us to a previously unknown composer. Not much is chronicled about Jean Guyot de Chatelet (Joannes Castileti), other than that he served briefly as Kapellmeister to Emperor Ferdinand I before returning to his home in Liege. However Guyot is not afraid to express his feelings, hence: “Instead of happy distractions, melancholy attacks me/I am bound by the ties of love/discipline holds me harshly prisoner”. Or his song about Susanne who has to fend off two dirty old men to preserve her innocence. These songs have all the colour and earthy life of the contemporaneous paintings of Pieter Brueghel and his sons and they sit well with the sextet’s pleasing vocal blend. Recorded at the Deutschlandfunk’s chamber music studio in Cologne, the program mixes…

April 16, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Pärt: Vocal Works (Layton)

This wide-ranging survey of Pärt’s choral music is the third disc of his music performed by Stephen Layton’s Polyphony. As with the other two recordings, the singers’ clarity and unanimity of tone confirm them as ideal interpreters of this music. An added attraction is that this program takes us to back to some of Pärt’s earliest choral writing: the austere Solfeggio of 1963. The haunting musical stasis of this piece belies its unswerving adherence to the rules of serialism. Seven years later Pärt’s setting of the Nicean Creed, Summa shows the composer emerging into his “tintinnabulist” period and embracing the so-called “holy minimalism” that has become a hallmark of his music.  Another movement charted by this disc is Pärt’s journey from the confines of Soviet-era Estonia into the freedom of the wider, multicultural world of the last quarter-century. The works recorded here demonstrate that Pärt’s style both transcends time and place, but is also influenced by people and history. Virgencita, a 2012 work receiving its first recording, celebrates the story of the apparition of the Virgin Mary at Guadalupe, Mexico and reflects both the tenderness and passion of its subject. The other first recording here is of Alleluia-Tropus (2008) which…

April 11, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: The Red of a Woman’s Heart

Soprano Lisa Harper-Brown and pianist David Wickham, both English but now based in Perth, have released a sequel to The Poet Sings (2012), their first volume devoted to neglected 20th-century Australian art song, and particularly by female composers.  The Red of a Woman’s Heart features three collections by Margaret Sutherland, including a cycle of William Blake poetry and six settings of Judith Wright, which for Wickham “are the best of the genre in Australia.” Many composers were still looking to England for lyrical material, so the Wright cycle is particularly significant, as are Raymond Hanson’s two settings of poems by the extraordinary Australian radical socialist poet Mary Gilmore. Other highlights include two sets by Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Profiles from China and Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird.  There is a lightness of touch about this recording, with a great sense of presence and space that makes it an excellent complement to the selections recorded by Ian Munro and Elizabeth Campbell nearly a decade ago. The interplay between Harper-Brown and Wickham is seamless, as though the music is being produced by a single entity. Harper-Brown is completely at home with the demands of this excitingly varied material, from the dance rhythms…

April 10, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: La Belle Excentrique (Petibon, Manoff)

La Belle Excentrique could just as easily refer to the mildly eccentric French soprano Patricia Petibon as to Satie’s fantasie sérieuse for orchestra, two movements of which, arranged for piano four hands, grace this very enjoyable, very French musical potpourri. But don’t be fooled: Petibon, whose intelligence is as impressive as the formidable coloratura technique which served her so well in the baroque repertoire which for a time was her core business, also serves up some exquisitely sung chansons and mélodies by masters such as Léo Ferré and Gabrielle Fauré.  There is plenty of light here – but also plenty of shade. Such extremes are even found within the Satie pieces which make up the bulk of the instrumental music: witness pianists Susan Manoff – Petibon’s regular accompanist – and David Levi having a ball with Satie’s Cancan grand-mondain from La Belle Excentrique before Manoff surfaces again with a beautiful account of the same composer’s neo-baroque Désespoir agreeable. Some of the vocal works are enhanced by cello – Satie’s famous waltz Je te veux (with cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca), violin – Ferré’s gorgeous On s’aimera (Nemanja Radulovic is the violinist) and even, as is the case with Manuel Rosenthal’s dreamlike…

March 30, 2015