Presto News - 12th January 2015
Anna Netrebko sings Tchaikovsky's Iolanta
Over the New Year break I found myself having a conversation with some friends about neglected works by major composers, and whether they’ve usually dropped off the radar for a good reason - so what a timely delight it was to arrive back in the office and have the hypothesis disproved by this splendid recording of Tchaikovsky’s one-act opera Iolanta (one of the last things he wrote), which receives sterling advocacy from Anna Netrebko, conductor Emmanuel Villaume and a committed, largely Russian cast.
Netrebko has long been flying the flag for this medieval tale of a king’s blind daughter who has grown up unaware of her affliction and only desires to see when the life of the man she loves is apparently dependent on her being cured; she performed it to great acclaim in Baden-Baden in 2009 and Salzburg in 2011 before touring the work throughout Europe in order to bring it to a wider audience.
If, like me, your knowledge of operatic Tchaikovsky is largely confined to Eugene Onegin, you’re in for quite the surprise: barring one or two robust hunting-interludes, this is a far more introverted, tender score with none of the glitz and clamour of Onegin’s ballrooms, and the introspective mood is established quite beautifully from the off with a prelude for lower strings which looks back to the opening of William Tell and forward to that of Strauss’s Capriccio.
The 90-minute score is so stuffed full of glorious, soaring melodies that I hardly know where to start in singing its praises: all of the major characters have at least one big aria, all of which are so instantly memorable that I can’t quite believe that they aren’t wheeled out left right and centre for opera galas and recital-discs (though the Duke Robert’s ardent paean to the sensual charms of his mistress Matilda crops up on Mariusz Kwiecien’s Slavic Heroes disc, which I reviewed a couple of years ago, and Netrebko opened her Russian Album with Iolanta’s great opening aria ‘Why until now have I not shed tears?’). Other highlights include the King’s desperate prayer that his daughter will be granted sight, the Islamic physician Ibn-Hakia’s mystical sermon on the relationship between the flesh and the spirit (shades of Rimsky-Korsakov’s cod-Orientalism here), and the gorgeous three-part lullaby with female chorus which is sung to Iolanta by her nurse Martha (the lush-voiced mezzo Monika Bohinec) and her two companions, which I’ve been humming round the house all weekend! The radiant love-duet between Iolanta and Vaudemont, though, is really something else, especially when the main theme builds to an ecstatic finale as (spoiler-alert) Iolanta’s sight is eventually restored.
Netrebko’s at her absolute best in this role, which really plays to her strengths. Much of the music lies in the voluptuous middle of her voice and she never sounds pushed or over-parted, plus singing in her native Russian brings out the dusky, almost mezzo-ish tints which she’s acquired of late; even if you’ve not been convinced by her recent forays into Verdi and Strauss, it’s well worth giving this a go! Her colleagues are no less impressive, particularly the steely-voiced tenor Sergey Skorokhodov who sings with tireless ardour and real poetry as her lover Vaudemont and Vitalij Kowaljow (recently a fine Wotan for Daniel Barenboim at La Scala) as her tormented father.
As Netrebko’s quoted as saying in the booklet-note, Iolanta’s emphasis on interiority and imagination means that it works uncommonly well on record or in concert-stagings; however, if you fall under the work’s spell as I’ve done then it’s worth knowing that she’ll be performing a run of it at the Metropolitan Opera in a few weeks’ time (with a live cinema broadcast on Valentine’s Day) and also bringing it to London (the Royal Albert Hall) in June. I for one will be clamouring for a ticket!
Anna Netrebko (Iolanta), Sergey Skorokhodov (Vaudémont), Alexey Markov (Robert), Monika Bohinec (Martha), Jun Ho You (Almerik), Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, Emmanuel Villaume
Presto Interview – Max Cencic
Croatian countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic has been widely praised for his starring role in the first ever recording of Hasse's Siroe, Re di Persia, in which alongside Franco Fagioli he amply demonstrates how far the countertenor, and male soprano, revival has come in just a few short years.
Katherine talks to him about the process of putting together this exciting historical resurrection.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto Recommends – Aaron Copland
James picks out recordings of the American composer Aaron Copland, best known for such flag-waving favourites as the Fanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo, but also the composer of four symphonies and several concertos, as well as songs and chamber music – including a piano sonata which verges on the twelve-tone style of Schoenberg – and a small but beautiful body of choral music dominated by In the Beginning.
You can browse through all James’s choices here.
Presto CD – Mercury Living Presence
Chris introduces the latest batch of Presto CDs, a selection of 31 discs from the golden years of the Mercury Living Presence series - Antal Doráti conducts the Minneapolis Symphony, and on the lighter side there are some delights from the Eastman-Rochester Pops Orchestra and Wind Ensemble.
Gramophone Editor's Choices – January 2015
Chris introduces the Editor’s Choices from January’s Gramophone Magazine.
Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani makes his second appearance in as many months playing Corelli alongside Michala Petri on the recorder, while two relatively unknown operas are also featured – Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, with Anna Netrebko in the title role, and Hasse’s Siroe, Re di Persia, recorded for the first time ever by the stellar lineup of Max Cencic, Franco Fagioli and Julia Lezhneva.
You can browse through them all here.
Katherine Cooper - email@example.com
12th January 2015
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Paul Lewis (piano)
Mussorgsky was deeply affected by the death of his friend, artist Viktor Hartmann, in 1873. Moved by an exhibition in his honour, Mussorgsky decided to erect a musical monument to him. Alongside the dazzling virtuosity Mussorgsky's piano suite calls for, Paul Lewis reveals the purely musical qualities of this 19th-century masterpiece.
Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 7
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Sakari Oramo
The first volume of this new cycle was widely acclaimed upon its release in December 2013. Symphony No. 1 owes much to Schumann and was completed in 1892, when the composer was still in his mid-twenties. Symphony No. 3 was the true breakthrough work, following twenty years after the first symphony and rapidly taken up by Europe’s leading orchestras.
Stravinsky: Works for piano and orchestra
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano), São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Yan Pascal Tortelier
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet explores the complete works for piano and orchestra of Igor Stravinsky, including the Concerto for Piano and Wind Orchestra, Capriccio, and Movements, the latter of which represents Stravinsky’s experiments in the use of serial techniques. The disc also includes Pétrouchka, in which the piano is not a solo instrument but rather part of the orchestral fabric.
New Year's Concert 2015
Vienna Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta
Sony Classical releases the much-anticipated annual 'New Years Concert' live from Vienna, one of the world’s most famous and spectacular classical music events. For the 2015 concert, the Vienna Philharmonic has invited Zubin Mehta to conduct, the fifth time that Maestro Mehta has ascended the podium.
Steffani: Niobe Regina di Tebe
Karina Gauvin (Niobe), Philippe Jaroussky (Anfione), Amanda Forsythe (Manto), Aaron Sheehan (Clearte), Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs (musical directors)
Steffani’s sumptuous 1688 opera has proved a revelation to audiences since its first modern production in 2008. French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky stars in this new recording, made in Autumn 2013 in collaboration with the Boston Early Music Festival, with Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin in the title role of the proud Theban queen.
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, D795
Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone) & Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
Renowned for his captivating, sensitive artistry, Geoffrey Parsons is fondly remembered to this day for his legendary status among pianists. To mark the twentieth anniversary of his death, this release from the Wigmore Hall archive presents Geoffrey Parsons with baritone Wolfgang Holzmair for a recording of Die Schöne Müllerin.
Sviatoslav Richter: The Complete Album Collection (18 CDs)
Sviatoslav Richter's 100th anniversary year is celebrated with the first-ever release of his complete Columbia Masterworks and RCA Victor discography. Alongside recitals from Carnegie Hall and the Newark Mosque Theater, two RCA discs from 1988 concerts return to the catalogue, including music by Brahms, Liszt, Chopin and Beethoven. Three Schubert works from a 1977 Aldeburgh Festival anthology also make their CD debut.
Verdi: Don Carlo
Ramon Vargas (Don Carlo), Svetlana Kasyan (Elizabeth), Ildar Abdrazakov (Filippo), Ludovic Tezier (Rodrigo), Daniela Barcellona (Princess Eboli), Marco Spott (Grand Inquisitor), Gianandrea Noseda (conductor)
Teatro Regio's 2013 revival of their highly successful 2006 production celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the theatre's reopening in 1973. With traditional staging and lavish costume design, the production garnered high acclaim, performed here in the four-act version. The cast is headed by renowned Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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