CD and Other Review

Review: Strauss: Complete Lieder (Fassbaender)

Think you know Richard Strauss’s songs? Think again. Chances are you know a handful, possibly a few dozen, but did you know there are over 190? Brigitte Fassbaender believes it’s the fault of lazy singers and audiences who happily listen to the same ‘Morgens’ and ‘Zueignungs’ time after time, never exploring other riches – and riches there are, several revealed for the first time in this beautifully curated box. Strauss wrote his first song, a charming Christmas ditty, aged six, and his last, Malven, in 1948 at the ripe old age of 78. In between he poured his heart and soul into a series that includes too many masterpieces to mention and remarkably few duds. These recordings, made in Garmisch, the small town where Strauss owned a villa involved 13 singers and Fassbaender herself as narrator of his two melodramas, one of which is the hour-long Enoch Arden. Not every singer is perfect (recording songs in their original – generally high – keys taxes a few), but all round it’s a first rate set, full of discoveries. Among the standouts are mezzo Anke Vondung who gives oodles of gooseflesh with her use of text, delicious high soprano Anja-Nina Bahrmann, and…

March 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Mahler: Lieder (Gustav Mahler Ensemble)

Mahler once claimed that knowledge of his songs was the key to understanding his symphonic output. In order to prove this Argentinian mezzo, Bernarda Fink does a wonderful service by offering this excellent conspectus of Mahler’s lieder with a variety of accompaniments. In addition to some of his early songs with piano, we are given the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in Schoenberg’s version for chamber ensemble and Mahler’s own orchestration of the Kindertotenlieder. Unfortunately there was only room for four of the five Rückert-Lieder, two of which are performed here with piano and two with orchestra. One of the constant delights of this disc is the way Fink always puts her deeply expressive instrument at the service of the text. Key words are subtly coloured and phrases exquisitely shaped. We hear this from the outset but especially so in the Songs of a Wayfarer. Schoenberg’s clever arrangement gives them an intimacy and edginess closer to the world of Weimar Republic cabaret. Two melancholy songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn set the stage for the Kindertotenlieder. Orozco-Estrada and his forces summon up Mahler’s vivid but tender soundworld with considerable empathy. We are deprived of the orchestra in two of the four Rückert-Lieder presented here. Going from piano to orchestra is like going…

March 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Nature (Jane Sheldon, Nicole Panizza)

You only have to hear Dawn Upshaw or Barbara Bonney sing Aaron Copland’s exquisite Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinsonto know what’s wrong here. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of the kind of singers who seem more comfortable with early and contemporary music which ostensibly requires a certain coolness and detachment? Perhaps. But New York-based Australian soprano Jane Sheldon – who is a contemporary and early music specialist and whose North + South was nominated for Best Classical Album at the 2013 ARIA awards – seems ill-equipped to plumb the emotional depths of Dickinson’s poetry. Simply put, Upshaw and Bonney know how to tell a story; Sheldon does not. Even in Nigel Butterley’s Three Whitman Songs, poor ol’ Walt’s ecstatic visions suffer from Sheldon’s lack of convincing expressive gesture. She fares better in Peggy Glanville-Hicks’s Wallace Stevens’ settings, 1 3 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird; poetry and music here require a more detached response; and indeed Sheldon’s voice does have a beguiling, flute-like beauty, especially in the upper register. Ross Edwards’s fine Judith Wright setting The Lost Manalso sits well with Sheldon, and indeed elicits more warmth than is generally heard elsewhere. Throughout, Nicole Panizza’s playing is as subtle and sophisticated as…Continue…

March 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: The Merton Collection (Choir of Merton College)

Set up less than a decade ago, the choir of Merton College is a relative newcomer to Oxford’s choral life, but in its short existence it has punched well above its weight. Unsurprising perhaps, given that one of its directors is Peter Phillips. The Tallis Scholars which Phillips also directs have been recording in Merton chapel for years, taking advantage of its splendid acoustic.  To celebrate its 750th year the college has undertaken two visionary projects to support the choral foundation. The first is the installation of a superb new pipe organ. The second is the creation of the Merton Choirbook, a collection of music commissioned from composers from around the globe including a work by Melbourne composer, Christopher Willcock, whose Missa Brevis will be premiered later this year. This program of mainly a cappella music is mostly traditional Anglican fare enlivened with more recent works, including some from the Choirbook. All of the music is beautifully sung, whether it be favourites such as This is the record of John (Gibbons), Hear my prayer, O Lord (Purcell) or Valiant for Truth (Vaughan Williams). Amongst the new music, the Nunc dimittis from Eriks Ešenvalds’s evening canticles, James Lavino’s Beati quorum via…

March 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: A French Baroque Diva (Ex Cathedra)

Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” – and if you are not one of those it is about time you were. She has graced an extensive array of fine recordings over the last decade or so, standing out amongst some starry casts with her impeccable technique and musicality. A few years ago she gave us a superb recital of Rameau arias, Regne Amour, in collaboration with Jeffrey Skidmore’s group Ex Cathedra and follows up with this delightful gem.  The program is a tribute to Marie Fel who was the superstar soprano of the French Baroque, captivating the Paris Opera and Concert Spirituel in a career lasting 35 years. She even inspired the philosopher Rousseau to compose a Salve regina included here. She was the darling of the intelligentsia and her 81 years were full of colourful incident, including bearing three children to three fathers.  If 73 minutes of French Baroque soprano arias might seem a daunting prospect with a whole lot of twittering trills and appoggiaturas, do not be fazed as this program has been cleverly chosen with sacred works, including an Italianate Laudate pueri by…

March 6, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Turina: Canto a Sevilla (BBC Philharmonic)

With this second disc devotedto the music of Joaquín Turina, the BBC Philharmonic and conductor Juanjo Mena present highly idiomatic and colourful evocations of the composer’s native region of Andalusia. Built around the song cycle that gives the disc its name, native soprano Maria Espada gives the most persuasive account of the orchestral song cycle since the old mono recording by Victoria De Los Ángeles (EMI). Not only is she successful at colouring this evocative score, Espada is highly sympathetic to the composer’s desire to bring his beloved home city of Seville so vividly to life with its gypsy rhythms and religious processions. As in the other compositions here, Turina brings an almost technicolor brillliance to these, and it is this quality, aided and abetted by the conductor, which makes this disc such an enjoyable experience. One must also applaud the sheer virtuosity brought to bear by an orchestra of the calibre of the BBC Philharmonic. Elsewhere, these almost electric interpretations bring Turina’s Andalusia to life, be it in La procesión del Rocio, Danzas gitanas or the more intimate sound world of Rapsodia sinfónica for piano and string orchestra wherein Martin Roscoe proves an ideal soloist. Recorded in such vivid, naturalistic…

February 27, 2015