Presto News - 23rd February 2015
French Opera Arias from Bryan Hymel and Piotr Beczala
Two recital-discs of nineteenth-century French opera arias from two leading young tenors this week – and no repertoire overlap whatsoever between them! Both singers have graced some of the world’s most prestigious stages in roles like Alfredo in La traviata and Rodolfo in La bohème, but their new discs plough very different furrows - I’ve had a grand old time this month getting to know some real rarities with one, and revisiting old favourites with the other.
First up is a disc due out next week from Warner’s new signing Bryan Hymel, the phenomenal young American who shot to international prominence recently when both Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera called upon him to jump in at short notice for one of the most difficult-to-cast roles in the entire repertoire, Aeneas in Berlioz’s five-hour epic Les Troyens.
If Hymel didn’t exist, as the old adage goes, it would be necessary to invent him – at least if you were a major opera-house wanting to stage anything by Berlioz, Meyerbeer or one of the lesser-spotted nineteenth-century French composers who echoed Lord Byron’s famous desire for a hero. This beautifully curated and unusual programme explores the development of this desire over the course of a hundred years or so, from the high-flying virtuosity of Rossini to the almost Expressionist sound-world of Ernest Reyer’s Sigurd (a pre-Wagner treatment of the Siegfried myth) and the ripe late-Romanticism of Henri Rabaud’s Rolande et le mauvais garçon (no, me neither until last week – but here’s hoping that Hymel’s tremendous advocacy might bring some of these curiosities to the stage one day soon!).
What makes Hymel stand out is that he’s endowed with an almost freakish combination of vocal qualities which hardly ever come together in one singer. As I mentioned in my review of that Troyens DVD from Covent Garden, it’s a rare man who can substitute for both the world’s reigning bel canto tenor Juan Diego Flórez and superstar heavyweight Jonas Kaufmann in the space of a couple of seasons - but Hymel pulled off both with aplomb, thanks to his sheer horse-power and absolute ease in the highest register (he can pop out top Cs ‘til the cows come home, and in fact there are 19 of them on this disc!). He opens with an extended scene from Guillaume Tell, which lies murderously high even by Rossini standards; the handful of tenors who sing it at all tend to be light bel canto specialists, but the visceral thrill of hearing a voice with Hymel’s full-bodied heroic ‘ring’ scaling the heights is really quite something (watch the last two minutes or so of the video-trailer and I’m sure you’ll be as open-mouthed as I was!)
Piotr Beczala’s gloriously sung French Collection generally offers more familiar fare, and, for the most part, less heroic heroes – whereas Hymel showcases a gallery of noble swashbucklers, Beczala brings white-hot intensity to conflicted characters like Massenet’s Chevalier des Grieux (Manon) and Werther, and in particular Don José (try the beautifully judged diminuendo at the end of the famous ‘Flower song’, where many tenors simply power on through, and see if the hairs on your neck don’t prickle!). I’ve always thought of him as more of a standard lyric voice than the unclassifiable Mr Hymel, but a delightful aria from Boieldieu’s La dame blanche shows him to be no slouch in florid high-wire territory himself, whilst he also has plenty left in the tank for the heftier roles such as Faust and Don Carlo.
I really can’t decide which of these two discs would accompany me to my hypothetical desert-island; perhaps I’d just have to find room for both!
Héroïque: French Opera Arias
Bryan Hymel (tenor), Prague Philharmonia, Emmanuel Villaume
Piotr Beczala: The French Collection
Piotr Beczala (tenor), Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon, Alain Altinoglu
Presto Recommends – JS Bach (Choral and vocal works)
This week David shoulders a huge but pleasant burden - sifting through a veritable treasure-chest of recordings to pick out the best performances (old and new) of the choral and vocal works of the colossus of the Baroque, Johann Sebastian Bach.
From motets to cantatas (more than two hundred of them!) to the mountain-peaks of the Passions and Mass in B minor, the evergreen popularity of Bach's choral masterpieces has ensured that a huge catalogue of recordings exist!
In the Studio – Stile Antico at 10 (and a sneak peek ahead...)
British early music group Stile Antico turn 10 this year, and ahead of a celebratory tour of the United States they've also been recording their next release - a collection of Flemish and German Christmas music due for release in the autumn.
Katherine sat in on one of the sessions to watch Stile Antico's uniquely democratic, conductorless way of working.
Presto CD – Philips
Chris introduces a batch of Presto CDs from the Philips archive, featuring Schubert from Mitsuko Uchida, Julian Lloyd Webber's Elgar and Walton Cello Concertos and George Szell's account of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Katherine Cooper - firstname.lastname@example.org
23rd February 2015
Vilde Frang plays Mozart
Vilde Frang (violin), Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Following the success of her discs of Romantic repertoire, Vilde Frang has recorded Mozart’s Concertos Nos. 1 and 5 (‘Turkish’) and the Sinfonia Concertante K364. Jonathan’s Cohen’s chamber orchestra, Arcangelo, proves the ideal partner, joined by violist Maxim Rysanov in the Sinfonia Concertante.
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1-5 (complete) and variations
Matt Haimovitz (cello), Christopher O'Riley (fortepiano)
In this collaboration, Matt Haimovitz plays his own Goffriller cello, crafted in Venice, Italy in 1710 – outfitted with ox-gut strings also from Italy and an early 19th Century rosewood tailpiece and drawn by a Dominique Peccatte bow of the same era, while Christopher O’Riley plays on an original Broadwood fortepiano made in 1823.
Flow my tears: Iestyn Davies
Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Thomas Dunford (lute) & Jonathan Manson (viol)
Celebrated for the crystalline beauty of his voice, countertenor Iestyn Davies voyages through the world of late Tudor and Stuart lute songs and a new work by Nico Muhly. This programme exhibits the poetic eloquence which runs through the work of John Danyel, Thomas Campion and, above all, John Dowland.
Brahms & Schumann: Lieder
Ann Murray (mezzo), with Malcolm Martineau, Hester Dickson, Benjamin Appl, John Mark Ainsley & Johnny Langridge
This selection of Lieder will be Ann Murray's final Lieder recording and a fitting way to draw her distinguished recording career to a close. The recording features Malcolm Martineau (piano), Benjamin Appl (baritone), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Johnny Langridge (tenor & Ann’s son), and Hester Dickson (piano & Malcolm’s mother).
Montage: Great film composers & the piano
Gloria Cheng (piano)
Pianist Gloria Cheng presents music by six composers known principally for their film music, including a four-movement suite, Conversations, by John Williams. She also performs pieces commissioned from Don Davis, Michael Giacchino and Randy Newman, as well as music by Bruce Broughton and Alexandre Desplat.
Flight of Angels
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
The Sixteen takes a trip back to 16th-century Spain, to one of the biggest, richest and most cosmopolitan cities - Seville. It was during this golden age that Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo made their mark, capturing an astonishing variety of moods within their music, from ecstasy and joy to despair, longing and devotional stillness.
The Decca Sound – Mono Years (1944-1956)
Decca Classics presents this 53-CD Limited-Edition set of acclaimed FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recording) recordings from the Mono era, including Ernest Ansermet’s 1949 recording of Petrouchka which was published in 1950 as Decca’s first LP. The luxury box uses the original cover art, and contains articles on the development of FFRR, the artists, and the venues.
Verdi: Les vêpres siciliennes
Lianna Haroutounian (Helene), Bryan Hymel (Henri), Erwin Schrott (Procida), Michael Volle (Guy de Montfort), Michelle Daly (Ninetta), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Antonio Pappano (conductor)
Rather than telling a story of 13th-century conflict between the Sicilians and their French oppressors, Stefan Herheim's 2013 Covent Garden production, transposed to the mid-19th century, provides a commentary on the extravagant world of Parisian opera. Erwin Schrott gives a starry performance as the fanatical Procida, unforgettably appearing in a sparkling black ball-gown in the final scene, which culminates not in a massacre (as per the libretto) but in a dazzling coup de théâtre as the stage spotlights are turned mercilessly on the audience.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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