Presto News - 25th August 2014
Joyce DiDonato sings bel canto arias
A new disc from the charismatic American mezzo Joyce DiDonato is always one of the highlights of the year for me, and her latest project Stella di Napoli (out next Monday) is no exception. Following the high baroque flamboyance of Drama Queens, this new recital moves forward a little in time to focus on the bel canto repertoire, exploring the musical melting-pot that was early nineteenth-century Naples (which DiDonato compares to 1960s New York and 1920s Paris) and testifying to the infinite variety which the ‘Neapolitan School’ generated even whilst adhering to relatively formalised codes of composition.
The ‘big three’ bel canto composers, Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini, all appear, but by no means dominate: more than half of the programme falls to their lesser-known contemporaries (and in some cases colleagues and collaborators), so that the programme as a whole, and often the style of the more obscure composers, feels pleasingly familiar but peppered with surprises – rather like drinking a glass of really good prosecco with an unexpected dash of a local bitter. The track-list itself bears this out, studded as it is with standard operatic vocabulary with a twist: instead of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (one of the best-known of all bel canto operas), we have Michele Carafa’s Le nozze di Lammermoor, whilst La vestale is not the setting by Spontini but an earlier version by Mercadante, and an operatic sleepwalker turns out to be Carlo Valentini’s Il sonnambulo rather than Bellini’s famous La sonnambula.
The opening number (taken from the Pacini opera which gives the disc its title) is an immensely catchy polonaise (the Neapolitan school were ever-keen to show off their cosmopolitan credentials!), which showcases DiDonato’s coloratura to scintillating effect and takes her from a bottom F to gleaming high B flats. The sole Rossini aria, Zelmira’s imperious ‘Riedi al soglio’, also provides vocal thrills aplenty – but for the most part, this disc is more about long-breathed melodies and plangent laments than it is about pyrotechnics. The supreme example here is the long final scene from Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, in which Mary bids farewell to her household before ascending the scaffold: DiDonato has recently been making waves on both sides of the Atlantic as the doomed Scottish queen, and the range of colour, perfectly-judged rubato and weightless sense of line she displays here make it easy to see why.
Several arias make ingenious use of solo instruments in dialogue with the voice, notably Carafa’s Le nozze di Lammermoor with its lachrymose clarinet. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the extended scene from Donizetti’s early opera Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth (some local interest for us at Presto here – Kenilworth Castle is only a couple of miles up the road from our base in Leamington Spa!). The cavatina and cabaletta feature an obbligato part for glass ‘armonica’, similar to that in the famous mad-scene from the same composer’s Lucia di Lammermoor – but as Riccardo Minasi explains in the booklet-notes, the rapid passagework here would be a physical impossibility on the instrument used in Lucia, where the sound is produced by rubbing glasses, rather than striking them with a percussive mechanism. As few original glass percussion instruments survive, this recording uses a modern metal glockenspiel, and Morgane Fauchois’s virtuosity here is quite breathtaking.
A must for all fans of DiDonato, especially if you enjoyed her last Rossini disc Colbran: The Muse – and well worth exploring for anyone who fancies an enthusiastic, committed guide to the highways and byways of bel canto.
Joyce DiDonato: Stella di Napoli
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo), Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon, Riccardo Minasi
Gramophone Awards 2014 – Category Top Threes
The countdown to the 2014 Gramophone Classical Music Awards continues – the judges have now refined their choices down to just the top three records in each of the categories. The overall category winners will be announced on 27th August, and the Recording of the Year on September 17th.
We've put together a list of the top three discs in each category – and this year, we've also got together with Gramophone to produce a special digital magazine with full reviews of all 72 contenders! You can read it for free here – and the original shortlist is still available here.
Presto Interview – Rinaldo Alessandrini's Vespers for San Marco
Italian conductor, keyboard player and musicologist Rinaldo Alessandrini is the brains behind a large number of excellent accounts of Renaissance Italian music, particularly Monteverdi. His latest album, celebrating the 30th anniversary of his ensemble Concerto Italiano, constructs an imaginary Vespers for San Marco from the works of Monteverdi and his Venetian contemporaries.
Rinaldo explains some more about the idea behind this project to David in this week's interview.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto Recommends – Handel Operas
Handel is one of those composers simply too prolific for us to do justice to them in one article! This week, Katherine focuses in on his operatic output - much of it long neglected, but becoming more popular in recent years as the authentic movement has helped understanding and appreciation of it to grow.
You can read through Katherine's choices here.
Katherine Cooper - firstname.lastname@example.org
25th August 2014
Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4
London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra bring to a close their celebrated Brahms cycle with the release of the third and fourth Symphonies.
Wagner without Words
Llyr Williams (piano)
Llyr Williams explores Wagner’s rich and evocative sound-world from a less well-known angle. Featuring insightful arrangements of Richard Wagner’s operas by Franz Liszt and Glenn Gould), at the centre of the programme is a selection of Wagner’s own piano pieces – many of which were written earlier in his compositional career, hinting at the grand operatic masterworks which were yet to come.
Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 & Legends Op.59
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, José Serebrier
As part of his complete survey of the Dvořák’s Symphonies, José Serebrier conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the Eighth Symphony. This is Volume Five of the Serebrier/Dvořák series.
Lisa Batiashvili: Bach
Lisa Batiashvili (violin), Kammerorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Radoslaw Szulc
Lisa Batiashvili presents a selection of popular Bach pieces, including a recording of Bach’s famous aria “Erbarme Dich, mein Gott” in a transcription for violin, oboe and orchestra. The disc also includes the double concerto for violin and oboe BWV 1060, in which Lisa collaborates with her husband, the oboist François Leleux.
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Szymanowski: Violin Concertos 1 and 2 & Myths Op. 30
Baiba Skride (violin), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko
Baiba Skride is almost unparalleled in her virtuosic, idiomatic mastery of the standard repertoire, as well as works by lesser-known composers. In September 2013 she played Karol Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto at the Proms in London; here she records both concertos with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko.
Mozart: String Quartets Nos. 14, 16 & 19
When he dedicated a set of six quartets to Haydn in 1785, Mozart was acknowledging the latter's supremacy in this genre. However, Mozart did more than just imitate him; he integrated Haydn's innovations into his own style, thereby producing a new milestone of Viennese Classicism. The three quartets played here by Cuarteto Casals are among Mozart's finest and are truly masterpieces of the genre.
Bach Cantatas: Recreation for the Soul
Elin Manahan Thomas, Daniel Taylor, James Gilchrist, Magdalena Consort, Peter Harvey
JS Bach's cantatas are an eloquent expression of his opinion that 'true music should be for the honour of God and the recreation of the soul'. That comment – made with respect to the art of realising a figured-bass (where harmony is indicated by numbers) – seems appropriate to this collection, since the choice of works was influenced by a consideration of number symbolism and other extramusical devices.
Igor Kamenz plays Scarlatti
Igor Kamenz (piano)
In their variety, inventiveness, harmonic and timbral audacity, Scarlatti's sonatas form miniature psychological studies. Igor Kamenz has assembled the sonatas played here on a modern concert grand into what he calls a ‘suite in eighteen movements’, the order of which follows criteria related to the dramaturgy, key and content of the pieces.
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