Presto News - 25th November 2013
Poulenc from Patricia Petibon and Paavo Järvi
The anniversaries of composers’ births naturally tend to attract more attention than those of their deaths, so it’s little surprise that the fiftieth anniversary of Francis Poulenc’s death has been rather eclipsed by the multi-centenary celebrations of the births of Britten, Wagner and Verdi - but I couldn’t let 2013 go by without sparing a few minutes to reflect on his unique contribution to sacred music in particular.
Just days before his death in 1963, Poulenc likened his religious faith to that of a ‘curé de campagne’ (‘rural clergyman’) and this lovely new disc brings together three of his sacred works – the Gloria and Stabat Mater for soprano solo, mixed choir and orchestra, and the early Litanies à la Vierge noire for female voices and orchestra, written in 1936 as a response to the death of the composer’s close friend Pierre-Octave Ferroud, a promising composer who was killed aged just 36 in a road accident in Hungary.
The grieving Poulenc’s visit to the Marian shrine of the ‘Black Madonna’ of Rocamadour in south-western France kick-started not only a life-long compositional interest in sacred music (he completed the Litanies in little more than a week) but also a resurgence of his Catholic faith. Anticipating the Gregorian chant-like lines of the better-known Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence, it’s a stark, dissonant, yet compelling work which is brought off with an ideal mixture of severity and religious ecstasy by the ladies of the Parisian choir here.
The exuberant Gloria of 1960 opens the disc, in a feisty performance which never shies away from the work’s brassy extrovert elements or over-eggs the more introspective moments (listen out for the rapt, weightless singing from the soprano soloist in the Agnus Dei). But for me the real discovery on this disc was the Stabat Mater, another work inspired by the death of a close friend: written in 1950, it was conceived as a memorial to the theatrical designer Christian Bérard (his death was also commemorated in Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, partially as a tribute to his ground-breaking designs for the film La Belle et la Bête four years earlier) and like the Litanies à la Vierge noire it came into being following a visit to Rocamadour. It’s an intriguing, idiosyncratic work which melds stern neo-Baroque counterpoint (shades of Pergolesi in the spare opening) and plainchant elements with the bittersweet language of the salon, whilst never lapsing into mawkishness or insincerity.
The performances by the Orchestre et Choeur de l’Orchestre de Paris under Paavo Järvi are superb: the upper voices are outstanding for their warmth and purity, and some occasional rawness in the tenors is the only small blot on a choral sound which manages to be sensuous but never sleazy, and incisive without ever sounding mannered. The orchestra clearly have this music in their bones, with punchy, tangy brass-playing in the Gloria and Stabat Mater, plenty of textural clarity and a lovely feeling for the Baroque pastiche passages in the latter work in particular. The characterful French coloratura soprano Patricia Petibon is an inspired choice of soloist: her eclectic stage career has encompassed the high French Baroque heroines of Rameau and Lully as well as twentieth-century roles, and her early-music experience pays dividends in the austere passages of the Stabat Mater, whilst the louche sensuality of Berg’s Lulu (one of her most recently acclaimed roles) occasionally comes out to play in the Gloria.
So if you’d like a Gallic palate-cleanser amid the glut of Britten, Verdi and Wagner, do spare an hour to celebrate the glittering urbanity and ‘rustic faith’ of a composer who died just fifty years ago.
Poulenc: Gloria; Stabat mater; Litanies à la Vierge noire
Patricia Petibon (soprano), Choeur de l'Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de Paris, Paavo Järvi
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Katherine Cooper - email@example.com
25th November 2013
Brahms: The Piano Concertos
Stephen Hough (piano), Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, Mark Wigglesworth
Stephen Hough is joined by the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg and conductor Mark Wigglesworth for Brahms’s Piano Concertos, which are among the greatest works in the genre. Stephen Hough has performed them in concert for many years to ecstatic acclaim: this new recording is surely one of his most desirable offerings.
Dvořák: Symphony No. 2 & 3 Slavonic Dances
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, José Serebrier
This recording of Dvořák’s Symphony No.2 from José Serebrier is the fourth volume in a projected series of Dvořák’s complete symphonies. Composed between August and October 1865, legend has it that Dvořák sent the score to be bound, but was unable to pay the binder, who thus decided not to return the score. It finally had its world premiere in 1888 — its sole performance during the composer’s lifetime.
Ligeti: Complete String Quartets & Sonata for Cello Solo
This disc brings together the string quartets of György Ligeti, who died in 2006. They are played by the Béla Quartet, quite young yet already past masters in the interpretation of this music. These two works of rare intensity, sometimes blazing brilliantly, demonstrate how Ligeti’s music, regardless of its complexity and rigour, can nonetheless appeal to a very broad public.
Conductus, Volume 2
John Potter (tenor), Christopher O’Gorman (tenor) & Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor)
A second volume of music from the Conductus repertory – the least-known genre of medieval music, performed by three singers who combine expert knowledge of the music with voices of unearthly beauty. This album contains poems set to music from thirteenth-century England and France, with subjects ranging from exhortations to the Virgin Mary to criticisms of the Papal Curia and a depiction of the student riots in Orléans in 1236.
Marina Rebeka (soprano), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Speranza Scappucci
The young Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka’s first operatic recital, featuring Mozart heroines such as Donna Anna and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), the Countess (Le nozze di Figaro), Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte), Konstanze (Die Entführung aus dem Serail), Elettra (Idomeneo), and Queen of the Night and Pamina (Die Zauberflöte).
Sibelius: Masonic Ritual Music
YL Male Voice Choir & Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Matti Hyökki & Jaakko Kuusisto
Sibelius’s Masonic Ritual Music, written in 1927 for the lodge of which he was a member, centres around a series of songs for tenor and organ. The organ version on this disc is the first recording to follow the original song text, according to Sibelius’s manuscripts. The disc also includes an arrangement of the score, made by Jaakko Kuusisto at the request of the Finnish Freemasons, for a special celebration concert held at the Sibelius Hall in Lahti.
Claudio Arrau: Rarities 1929-1951
Claudio Arrau (piano)
The young Claudio Arrau made records in Berlin and London which reveal the lasting qualities of his pianism: a sovereign technical command, a deep patience and a gravitation towards weighty matters, resulting in these profound and impassioned recordings of Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin, most of which have not previously appeared on CD, and all of them newly remastered for this tribute to a master pianist of the 20th century.
Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia
Renée Fleming (Lucrezia), Michael Fabiano (Gennaro), Elizabeth DeShong (Orsini), Vitalij Kowaljow (Don Alfonso), San Francisco Opera, Riccardo Frizza
This is the first EuroArts release in cooperation with the San Francisco Opera. Renée Fleming plays Lucrezia Borgia with passion and outstanding virtuosity in line with a top-notch cast: Michael Fabiano, Elizabeth DeShong and Vitalij Kowaljow, recorded live at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, in August 2012.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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