Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

Now here’s a surprise. A new release from Opera Rara usually consists of some bel canto work that has languished forgotten in a vault since its premiere 160 years ago, and usually for good reason (as becomes apparent when you’re halfway through the unreviewable second disc). This package, though, is different: a pair of debut releases by two fast-rising singers, soprano and tenor, mingling well-known arias with the fairly obscure. El-Khoury, a Lebanese-Canadian, sticks mostly to well-trodden tracks, albeit with interesting variations. The Berlioz setting of a Freischütz piece is new to me, as is anything from Hérold’s Le Pré aux clercs, which turns out…

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The first thing you need to know about Daniel Barenboim’s live performance with the Staatskapelle Berlin is that it is the best-sounding Gerontius on record. No British string section has ever played the work with such sweet serenity. No British winds ever breathed with such deep assurance. Strange as it may seem, the Berlin musicians and chorus singers feel this most English of works in their fingers and bones. There is something akin to love in their playing. This is not to disparage past recordings, all by English forces, notably the Halle’s with John Barbirolli and two-thirds of a dream…

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If you go out and buy the Minnesota Orchestra’s Bis recording of Mahler’s fifth symphony, rest assured that you need never buy another. It’s resoundingly well played in every department, devoid of the bravado that impairs some American performances, and discreetly shaped by the music director Osmo Vänskä, who finds organic solutions for some of the more abrupt shifts in the score. Vänskä’s approach is coolly objective. He plays what is in the score and allows the listener to find his or her own level of emotional engagement. The Adagietto, at twelve and a half minutes, is slower than is…

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Any new recording of the Walton concerto will always be measured against Jascha Heifetz, who commissioned the work in 1935, edited the solo part and gave the first performances, throwing down a challenge to all others to do it better, or different. Ida Haendel and Yehudi Menuhin were able to soften the granitic contours but few others have suggested that there is more to the piece than the mighty Heifetz mined out of it. Now along comes Anthony Marwood and turns our ears around. From first utterance, he finds an expansive, Elgarian colour to the piece, a breadth of phrase…

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I spent a morning with the great baritone in his Berlin home a couple of years before he died. Fischer-Dieskau was in morose mood. His wife Julia was out teaching, he told me twice, seeming to resent her absence. ‘I did too much,’ he confessed, regretting his dominance in Lieder, a field in which he covered not just German song but English, Russian and French. Still, sometimes too much is not enough. The present release is a 1989 duet recital he gave with his wife and the pianist Robert Höll at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, expecting that it would be…

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The second concerto for cello by Dmitri Shostakovich is the least ingratiating of the six he wrote, two for each major instrument. Opening with a gloomy, growling monologue, the solo part is matched in misery by the orchestra. The concerto was written in 1966 and first performed by Mstislav Rostropovich at a Moscow concert to mark the composer’s 60th birthday. Knowing that public pessimism was an offence in the Soviet Union, Shostakovich held nothing back. The four-minute middle movement is friskier, though no less morbid than the opening Largo. Only in the finale does the composer express some relief and gratitude…

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In May 1933, the composer Paul Frankenburger left Munich for Tel-Aviv, where he Hebraised his surname and became teacher of the first generation of Israeli-born composers. An austere man, steeped in German Bildung, Ben-Haim grew excited by the microtonal singing of Jews from Arab lands and accompanied the Yemenite performer Bracha Zefira at the piano on extensive concert tours. His orchestral music, however, remained strictly tonal. The Concerto Grosso, premiered by the Palestine Symphony Orchestra under Issay Dobrowen, takes its neo-classical form from Stravinsky and Strauss and its expansive slow movement from Mahler and Brahms. That said, Ben-Haim is…

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Of the two UK finalists in BBC Cardiff Singer of the World last weekend, many felt the English soprano Louise Alder stood a better chance than the Scottish mezzo Catriona Morison. Alder commanded the stage with unfeigned confidence, a breeziness that shines through this, her well-timed debut recording. The repertoire is bold, as well. Songs by Richard Strauss are not for wallflowers. Everything has to be just-so, shimmering on the surface and hinting at Freudian urges below. Alder, who made an opera debut as Glyndebourne’s stand-in Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier in 2014, sounds undaunted by anything Strauss can throw at…

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Never heard of Carbonelli? Don’t feel too bad about it. The Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot writes that he ‘has remained unknown, even to specialists’. Listen to the music, though, and you will wonder how work of such quality and intricacy could vanish so comprehensively into the mists of history. Carbonelli was a star violinist in London during Handel’s time. Born in Livorno in 1694 and possibly half-French, he becomes concertmaster at Drury Lane Theatre at the age of 25 and a much sought-after soloist. The Duke of Rutland paid for the publication of 12 sonatas and Carbonelli seemed well set…

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Never heard of Carbonelli? Don’t feel too bad about it. The Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot writes that he “has remained unknown, even to specialists.” Listen to the music, though, and you will wonder how work of such quality and intricacy could vanish so comprehensively into the mists of history. Carbonelli was a star violinist in London during Handel’s time. Born in Livorno in 1694 and possibly half-French, he becomes concertmaster at Drury Lane Theatre at the age of 25 and a much sought-after soloist. The Duke of Rutland paid for the publication of 12 sonatas and Carbonelli seemed well set…

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