Presto News - 1st August 2011
Lucia from the Mariinsky
My initial motivation for jumping on this set may have been the opportunity to hear Natalie Dessay sing an Italian Lucia (I own and love her earlier French-language recording), but my interest was also piqued by the man at the helm. I can’t say I’ve ever particularly associated Valery Gergiev with bel canto (though it’s a staple at the Mariinsky, his opera discography is dominated by Russian repertoire) so I was intrigued to see what he would do with Donizetti’s delicate heroine. The rollicking opening chorus confirmed my preconceptions: this is big-boned, red-blooded Donizetti a la Verdi, and once you acclimatise to that it’s exhilarating stuff. The Mariinsky Chorus sing lustily (and, as might be expected from a Russian chorus, with plenty of bass) from the off in their role as huntsmen, and make a boisterous lot of wedding guests before the nuptials inevitably go awry.
Natalie Dessay at the Mariinsky
The opera is primarily famous for the demands of the title role, but whilst the set piece arias and solo scenes come off with aplomb, it was the three great duets which immediately grabbed my attention. There is audible chemistry in the lovers’ Act One meeting, and the ‘Wolf’s Crag’ scene between Enrico and Edgardo (often cut in the days when the opera was marketed as a prima donna vehicle above all) positively crackles with foreboding. One of the revelations of this set for me was Vladislav Sulimsky’s black-voiced, implacable Enrico, horribly insinuating and sadistic in this scene, and several sizes larger than one usually hears in the role. He sounds more bass than baritone until he flings out high Fs and Gs which take no prisoners. Dessay’s fragile Lucia never stands a chance against sibling bullying like this!
The climax of any Lucia is of course the great Mad Scene, and this recording certainly doesn’t disappoint. The weird atmosphere which Gergiev conjures as our distracted heroine appears is bone-chillingly creepy. Singing on a shimmering thread of sound (brilliantly captured by the sound engineers), Dessay executes the coloratura with an eerie weightlessness which blends uncannily with the glass harmonica in their cadenzas together, and her deranged rapture as she hallucinates her wedding night with Edgardo is more disturbingly sexual than any I’ve ever heard. Her trademark pinpoint high notes are employed to spine-tingling effect, and she bows out with a bull’s-eye top E-flat – not written by Donizetti but now pretty much an established tradition in the wake of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. Admirers of these two ladies – and of Callas in particular – might on first hearing be disappointed by the lack of obvious histrionics in Dessay’s performance (she’s sparing with her chest voice and limits herself to just the one extra-musical shriek), but her incredibly young-sounding Lucia is treasurable for her own peculiar blend of neurosis and almost anaemic passivity.
Coming hard on the heels of the heroine’s demented pyrotechnics, Edgardo’s extended tomb scene can sometimes feel like a postscript, but Piotr Beczala’s ardent, ringing tone, his way with the text (something a little lacking in other quarters on this set) and consummate command of Donizetti’s long lines vindicates his having the last word: perhaps ‘Lucia and Edgardo’ would be a fairer moniker for this recording!
The smaller roles receive characterful performances from Mariinsky house-singers. Zhanna Dombrovskaya’s Alisa feeds off her mistress’s febrile energy, and Dmitri Voropaev sings the rather thankless role of the ill-fated bridegroom Arturo with a lovely plangent timbre which contrasts nicely with his rival’s more robust instrument. Ilya Bannik’s Raimondo seems oddly light-voiced in relation to Sulimsky, but is beautifully sympathetic in his scene with Lucia and in the ‘messenger speech’ announcing her madness.
There are many ‘essential’ recordings of Lucia di Lammermoor out there, but this one is well worth investigating whether you’re newcomer or aficionado. As an introduction to the work, it’s a high-octane account of a tremendous score; as a point of comparison, it offers some fascinating and thought-provoking contrasts with earlier landmark versions on disc.
Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Natalie Dessay (Lucia), Piotr Beczala (Edgardo), Vladislav Sulimsky (Enrico), Dmitry Voropaev (Arturo), Ilya Bannik (Raimondo), Zhanna Dombrovskaya (Alisa) & Sergei Skorokhodov (Normanno)
Mariinsky Orchestra & Chorus, Valery Gergiev
Katherine Cooper - email@example.com
1st August 2011
Chopin: The Complete Waltzes
Stephen Hough (piano)
Stephen Hough has a unique affinity for Chopin, whose music has always been a central part of his repertoire. His earlier Chopin recordings for Hyperion garnered huge critical acclaim. Hough’s name has become synonymous with pianistic elegance, flawless technique and immense musicianship and he has become globally renowned for his engaging and refined Chopin interpretations.
Beethoven - Complete Works for Solo Piano Volume 10
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
On this new disc, Ronald Brautigam now embarks on the second leg of his traversal of Beethoven’s complete music for solo piano. In this volume he gives us the complete Bagatelles, and includes not only the three sets published during Beethoven’s lifetime, but also thirteen further pieces composed throughout Beethoven’s career, between 1795 and 1825.
Mendelssohn: Double Concerto & Piano Concerto
Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano), with Gottfried von der Goltz (violin), Freiburger Barockorchester, Gottfried von der Goltz
Three years before the Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, Felix Mendelssohn wrote this amazing Concerto for (forte)piano and violin, built on the Classical model but brimming with new, even iconoclastic ideas. And yet, when it had its first performance in May 1823, the composer was aged just 14! By then he had already written around 100 works, including a Piano Concerto premiered a year earlier. It was not until the late 20th century that they appeared in a critical edition, on which this recording is based.
Lassus: Prophetiae Sibyllarum & Missa Amor ecco colei
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
Orlande de Lassus was an undisputed master of all the vocal genres of the late Renaissance, from German Lied to Latin Mass. He was extraordinarily prolific, and this recording features the glorious polyphony of the Missa Amor ecco colei and Prophetiae Sibyllarum, one of his most celebrated works. With the latter’s extreme chromaticism and constant modulation, Lassus stretched the compositional boundaries of the time to produce one of the most important and advanced works to come from the sixteenth century.
Louis Couperin: Complete Keyboard Works
Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
Hailed for his “revelatory” account of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (The New York Times), Richard Egarr turns to one of the least known collections for solo harpsichord. This complete recording of the solo oeuvre of Louis Couperin (c.1626-1661) revels in his full harmonic and contrapuntal textures, marked by a poignant use of dissonance – music that entrances the ear!
Haydn: Symphonies 88, 101 ‘Clock’ & 104 ‘London’
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan
San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra celebrates its 30th Anniversary Season in 2010-11. Led by Music Director Nicholas McGegan since 1985, Philharmonia Baroque is recognised as one of the finest chamber orchestras, as well as one of the most exciting period instrument ensembles, in the country.
This trio of Haydn symphonies displays the remarkably consistent quality and inventiveness of the composer’s output: from the clever and concise symphony No. 88 to the humorous ‘Clock’ to the dazzling and sonorous Symphony No. 104 (Haydn’s swansong to the genre), this superb collection bears eloquent witness to Haydn’s consummate mastery.
Hindemith: Orchestral Works
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), John Neschling
The three orchestral scores gathered here are certainly among Paul Hindemith’s most well-loved works If his style in the 1920’s at times had struck listeners as sparse and utilitarian, in Mathis der Maler (from 1934) the musical language is more dramatic and more lyrically approachable than some of his earlier works, as well as more concerned with colour and light.
Turnage: Anna Nicole - DVD
Eva-Maria Westbroek, Alan Oke, Gerald Finley, Susan Bickley, Jeremy White, Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano (conductor) & Richard Jones (director)
In a tragicomic take on the extremes of celebrity culture, composer Mark Anthony Turnage, librettist Richard Thomas and director Richard Jones add Anna Nicole Smith to opera’s gallery of bad, sad girls. A pneumatic Playboy model who married an octogenarian billionaire, she achieved grotesque fame before her destitute, drugriddled death. With its jazz-coloured score and Eva-Maria Westbroek’s starry performance, this is, as the New York Times said: “an engrossing outrageous, entertaining and, ultimately deeply moving opera”.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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