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Elgar: King Olaf

Elgar: King Olaf


Elgar:

Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf

Emily Birsan (soprano), Barry Banks (tenor), Alan Opie (baritone)

The Banner of St George


Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Collegium Musicum Choir, Edvard Grieg Kor, Sir Andrew Davis

Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

After having recorded Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (‘Recording of the Month’ in BBC Music), Sir Andrew Davis now turns to two of the composer’s most popular early choral works: Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf and The Banner of Saint George. The recording was made soon after a successful performance, featuring the same ‘excellent Bergen Philharmonic’ and ‘outstanding’ vocal forces: the ‘imposing’ baritone Alan Opie, the ‘high, incisive tenor’ Barry Banks, singing ‘fearlessly in some quite challenging passages’, and the American soprano Emily Birsan, who sang ‘with radiant delicacy’ (The Daily Telegraph).

Dating from his years of ‘apprenticeship’, the two works shaped Elgar’s reputation as a leading orchestrator and most popular British composer of his time. The secular cantata Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf derives from Longfellow’s epic poem about Olaf Tryggvason, who became King of Norway in 995. While the text was heavily adapted and augmented, the use of sophisticated compositional techniques, such as extensive motivic work, resulted in music of great power and solemnity.

The ballad The Banner of Saint George is based on the story of Saint George of Cappadocia, as related by the Bristol poet Shapcott Wensley. It was commissioned by Britain’s leading publisher, Novello, and composed in only one month in 1896. Elgar overcame the prescriptive nature of the words and produced a work of lasting charm, the music rising above the material to create atmosphere, momentum, and colour.

“The Bergen orchestra plays with a keen ear for colour and dramatic flux, and the chorus...makes the narrative live and breathe in suppleness, expressive sensitivity and lusty power...three fine soloists...carry the story with great distinction, subtlety and immediacy of impact.” The Telegraph, 8th February 2015 ****

“King Olaf has been recorded in full once before, in the 1980s...Fine though that version is, Davis’s is better: it has a dramatic sweep and concern for detail that you don’t get from Handley. The Bergen orchestra and choir play and sing Elgar as though it were part of their regular repertoire, while the soloists...all cope well with what is sometimes strenuous vocal writing.” The Guardian, 5th February 2015 ****

“King Olaf is a folk-tale narrative about the Norwegian Olaf Tryggvason, in the tradition of Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied or Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and it is splendidly performed by Davis’s Bergen forces. The soloists, Emily Birsan, Barry Banks and Alan Opie, all make positive contributions.” Sunday Times, 15th February 2015

“What a nice idea it was to have a Norwegian choir and orchestra performing English music about a Norse hero...The combined Norwegian choirs sing very well indeed in both works…[and] the Bergen Philharmonic plays with verve and distinction. Sir Andrew Davis…is just the man for these assignments.” MusicWeb International, February 2015

“I suppose it's appropriate that this Norse legend should be recorded by the Bergen Philharmonic, and under the expert guidance of ardent Elgarian Andrew Davis, they and the combined Norwegian choirs seem effortlessly at home with Elgar's music...if you're a fan of Elgar but haven't yet explored some of the choral works that are somewhat off the beaten track, then this is an ideal disc, with enthusiastically engaging performances from everyone.” James Longstaffe, Presto Classical, 26th January 2015

“there's nothing stilted about Elgar's music: it crackles with confident vitality...the Norwegian choruses respond with crisp vigour and superb English diction, only faintly (and appropriately) Scandinavian-tinged. Davis's expansive conducting and the excellent Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra bring out Elgar's vivid orchestral textures” BBC Music Magazine, April 2015 *****

“It is good to have such a fine and experienced Elgarian as Andrew Davis to conduct this performance with the benefit of hindsight, as it were, recognising Elgar's emergent greatness from long experience of where it was to lead him. Davis can fasten upon the glimpses of genius and relish them, while also understanding what there is of value when Elgar is still resting upon the more conventional manner out of which he was formed.” International Record Review, May 2015

“the combined Norwegian choirs sing in faultless English, while Davis leads the Bergen Symphony Orchestra with unerring sensitivity and nuanced conducting” Choir & Organ, May 2015 *****

Presto Disc of the Week

26th January 2015

Presto Discs of 2015

Finalist

BBC Music Magazine

Choral & Song Choice - April 2015

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Chandos - CHSA5149(2)

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Mozart: The Magic Flute

Mozart: The Magic Flute


Mozart:

Die Zauberflöte, K620

Sung in English (translation by Jeremy Sams)


Barry Banks (Tamino), Rebecca Evans (Pamina), Elizabeth Vidal (Queen of the Night), Simon Keenlyside (Papageno), John Tomlinson (Sarastro), Majella Cullagh (First Lady), Sarah Fox (Second Lady), Diana Montague (Third Lady), Lesley Garrett (Papagena), John Graham-Hall (Monostatos)

Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, New London Children’s Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras

“No work makes better sense in the vernacular than Mozart's concluding masterpiece. The composer and, assuredly, Schikaneder would have approved of giving the work in the language of the listeners, and when you have to hand such a witty, well-worded translation as that of Jeremy Sams, it makes even better sense. Sir Charles Mackerras has always been an advocate of opera in English when the circumstances are right.
As ever, he proves himself a loving and perceptive Mozartian. Throughout he wonderfully contrasts the warmth and sensuousness of the music for the good characters with the fire and fury of the baddies, and he persuades the LPO to play with a lightness and promptness that's wholly enchanting, quite the equal of most bands on the other available versions.
In no way is his interpretation here inferior to his German one on Telarc; indeed, in the central roles of Tamino and Pamina the casting for Chandos is an improvement, and Keenlyside is fully the equal of Thomas Allen on the Telarc set. Keenlyside's loveable, slightly sad, very human and perfectly sung Papageno is at the centre of things. Rebecca Evans's voice has taken on a new richness without losing any of its focus or delicacy of utterance. Everything she does has sincerity and poise, although her diction might, with advantage, be clearer.
The recording is fine apart from an over-use of thunder and lightning as sound effects. Anyone wanting the work in English needn't hesitate to acquire this set, the first-ever on CD.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“Of all repertoire operas, none gains more than The Magic Flute from performance in the language of the audience. Musically, the performance is hard to fault. Articulation is light and buoyant, tempos mobile yet never driven or inflexible, textures sharp and transparent. Rebecca Evans, a richer-toned Pamina than usual, movingly portrays her development from ingénue to woman 'worthy to attain the light'. ...Simon Keenlyside is a marvellous Papageno, innocent, vulnerable and funny without clownishness. Barry Banks... sings a positive, un-wimpish Tamino. With his rugged, rolling bass John Tomlinson creates a formidably imposing yet humane Sarastro, while Elizabeth Vidal atones for some cloudy diction with fiery, bang in-tune performances of the Queen of the Night's arias. ...this new performance, beautifully recorded, with a modicum of well-judged sound effects, catches the work's fairytale wonder, solemnity and fun as fully and delightfully as any, irrespective of language.” BBC Music Magazine, June 2005 *****

GGramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - June 2005

BBC Music Magazine

Disc of the month - June 2005

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Chandos Opera in English - CHAN3121

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Donizetti: The Elixir of Love

Donizetti: The Elixir of Love


Donizetti:

L'elisir d'amore

Sung in English (translation by Arthur Jacobs)


Barry Banks (Nemorino), Mary Plazas (Adina), Ashley Holland (Belcore), Andrew Shore (Dulcamara)

Philharmonia Orchestra, Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, David Parry

'Barry Banks's Nemorino could hardly be better: flexible, secure in intonation and silken in tone… he was an inspired choice for the part.' The Observer

Building a Library

English Language Version - April 2002

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Chandos Opera in English - CHAN3027

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Rossini: The Italian Girl in Algiers (highlights)

Rossini: The Italian Girl in Algiers (highlights)


Rossini:

L'Italiana in Algeri (highlights)

Sung in English (translation by David Parry)


Jennifer Larmore (Isabella), Barry Banks (Lindoro), Alan Opie (Taddeo), Alastair Miles (Mustafa), Sarah Tynan (Elvira), Anne Marie Gibbons (Zulma) & David Soar (Haly)

Geoffrey Mitchell Choir & Philharmonia Orchestra, Brad Cohen

The latest instalment in the lauded Chandos Opera in English label is Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers. One of Rossini’s most wonderful comic operas, it has a plot full of wit, warmth and endearing craziness and music bubbling with fun and laughter.

Jennifer Larmore, who last appeared on Chandos Opera in English, in the Grammy-Award winning, Hansel and Gretel, is renowned for her performances of Isabella. She here performs the role in the premiere recording of the work in English language. Jennifer is superbly supported by Barry Banks, Alastair Miles and Alan Opie, under the lively baton of Brad Cohen conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. Brad recently conducted Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers for Chandos OIE which elicited excellent reviews.

Issued as a ‘highlights’ disc, this is the perfect way to familiarise yourself with the opera.

“Barry Banks is a properly plaintive Lindoro… and Alastair Miles's soft-grained bass makes the lovelorn Mustafà an oddly touching figure. Best of all is the utterly dependable Alan Opie who turns tiresome Taddeo into much more than Isabella's lap dog.” BBC Music Magazine, May 2009 ****

“A remarkable recording of the best bits of Rossini's comedy… Jennifer Larmore has recorded the opera in Italian… but her English Isabella, superbly articulated and projected, is both formidable and funny. Her Act 2 cavatina, played with the original cello, is the lyric highlight. Happily, the three men in her life are equally vividly characterised: Alan Opie as her hang-dog admirer Taddeo, Barry Banks a most eloquent Lindoro, and Alastair Miles as the lascivious Mustafa. Brad Cohen conducts superbly, bringing out the strength and expressive range of music that revels in the thrill of sexual confrontation...” Gramophone Magazine, June 2009

“Jennifer Larmore is a technically impressive if weighty Isabella, Alastair Miles an odiously amorous Bey, but Alan Opie’s comic Taddeo takes the Rossinian honours.” The Times, 11th April 2009 ****

“Rossini's The Italian Girl distils readily onto a single CD. The First Act is substantially there and the Second can survive without the Quintet.
The only gripe concerns the decision to end with Isabella's Rondo. Rossini finished serious and mixed-mode operas this way but not the out-and-out comedies. The final vaudeville runs for around 2'20” and should have been included.
With opera in English, translation is key.
Arthur Jacobs's translation in the vocal score of the Ricordi Critical Edition is a workmanlike affair but it isn't a patch on David Parry's brilliant new version. Lines from Isabella's cavatina are typically felicitous: “Through years of practising / I have perfected / The gesture languishing / The sigh affected”.
Jennifer Larmore has recorded the opera in Italian (Teldec) but her English Isabella, superbly articulated and projected, is both formidable and funny. Her Act 2 cavatina, played with the original cello obbligato, is the lyric highlight. Happily, the three men in her life are equally vividly characterised: Alan Opie as her hang-dog admirer Taddeo, Barry Banks a most eloquent Lindoro, and Alastair Miles as the lascivious Mustafà. Fifty years ago there was barely a bass in Europe who could find his way around Mustafà's bumbling coloratura, let alone project the text as Miles does here.
Brad Cohen conducts superbly, bringing out the strength and expressive range of music that revels in the thrill of sexual confrontation and the speed and power of the vortex into which so-called civilised society can all too rapidly vanish.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

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Chandos Opera in English - CHAN3160

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Mendelssohn: Paulus, Op. 36

Mendelssohn: Paulus, Op. 36

(sung in German)


Susan Gritton (soprano), Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano), Barry Banks (tenor) & Peter Coleman-Wright (bass)

BBC National Chorus of Wales & BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Richard Hickox

Chandos is very pleased to announce the return of Mendelssohn’s St Paulus (sung in German) to the Chandos catalogue. Its re-issue to Chandos Classics places this acclaimed recording at a highly competitive price, and timed to coincide with the composer’s anniversary celebrations.

On the original release, the recording acquired such comments as ‘Not only is the musicianship impressive throughout, the approach is brisk and businesslike, with no hint of the sentimentality which can all too easily dog Mendelssohn.’ (The Organ)

‘Another superb performance from Hickox, who gets a quartet of tremendous soloists and a first-rate orchestra and chorus… One of this year’s musts.’ (Cathedral Music)

“Composed in the wake of (and influenced by) Mendelssohn's epoch-making performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion, Paulus is an impressive work whose punchy choruses bring out the best in Hickox.” BBC Music Magazine, August 2009 ****

“In brushing any Victorian cobwebs away, Hickox tends to favour speeds on the fast side, never sounding hurried but, more importantly, never sounding heavy or pompous as other German versions often do. Choral singing is excellent.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

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Chandos Classics - CHAN10516(2)X

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Orff: Carmina Burana

Orff: Carmina Burana


Recorded live at the Barbican Centre in November 2007, Richard Hickox conducts Carl Orff’s immensely popular dramatic cantata Carmina Burana with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and soloists, Barry Banks, Laura Claycomb and Christopher Maltman.

MusicOMH.com wrote of the performance, “The London Symphony Orchestra performed the work with all the commitment and exuberance that one expects from them... The three soloists were outstanding, singing with a unified dynamic power and depth of expression that is rare to find today…Christopher Maltman’s baritone is large, and he dramatically projected every emotion and quirk in the text.” Classical Source said “Hickox and his forces certainly conveyed an appropriate sense of the dramatic…Maltman had the sense of the music and histrionic demands down to a tee… Banks provided strong characterization in the high tenor writing… Claycomb conveyed the vulnerability of the soprano’s music.”

Orff is reputed to have declared around the time of Carmina’s first performance, ‘Everything I have written to date, and which you have printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.’ He had a strong interest in theatrical presentations and conceived the work as a pageant. The idea came to Orff in 1935 when he encountered an edition of medieval songs edited by the poet Johann Schmeller. The vivid and colourful songs were those sung by the goliards – hedonistic students and traveling monks who celebrated their riotous pursuits in bawdy and profane poetry. The 24 ‘cantiones profanae’ chosen by Orff were translated and the composer set them to music for three vocal soloists, three choirs and a large orchestra featuring triple woodwind, two pianos and no fewer than five percussionists.

The score’s combination of gloriously infectious vulgarity interspersed with moments of genuine beauty has assured it an unquestionable position as one of the most popular of all twentieth-century choral works.

“…it's the excellence of choruses and orchestra you keep coming back to… a richly enjoyable performance of a much-recorded masterpiece.” BBC Music Magazine, November 2008 *****

“Hickox leads a vibrant performance that has a real sense of occasion.” Gramophone Magazine, November 2008

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Bizet: The Pearl Fishers (highlights)

Bizet: The Pearl Fishers (highlights)


Bizet:

Les Pêcheurs de Perles (highlights)

Sung in English (translation by David Parry)


Bizet’s exotic opera The Pearl Fishers is now released on the Chandos Opera in English label. Although not as well-known as Bizet’s Carmen, The Pearl Fishers contains a wealth of attractive music, including the well-known duet ‘Au fond du Temple saint’, one of the UK’s ‘favourite tunes’. There is surely no better way of discovering the jewels of this romantic work than listening to the superb voices of Rebecca Evans, Barry Banks, Simon Keenlyside, and Alastair Miles.

A leading interpreter of the bel-canto repertoire, internationally renowned for his conducting of operas of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, the Australian Brad Cohen here makes his debut on Chandos. He first came to public attention when, a year after winning the 1994 Leeds Conductor’s Competition, he conducted the world premiere of Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face. Since that promising beginning he has conducted a wide-ranging repertoire at English National Opera, Opera Australia and Opera North, to name but a few. This recording is the first to use Cohen’s own edition of The Pearl Fishers. Cohen was able to secure the original conductor’s score from 1863 and has created a new version, published by Peters Edition, that is arguably much closer to Bizet’s intentions.

The soprano Rebecca Evans takes the role of Leila. Her previous appearances on OiE include the role of Gretel in the Grammy-Award-winning Hansel and Gretel. ‘It was Rebecca Evans’s Gretel who took the honours. Spinning out radiant lines of delicious purity, she made it hard to see how the role could be sung better’, wrote The Times.

The baritone Simon Keenlyside, who takes the role of Zurga, has previously appeared on Chandos’s The Magic Flute. Both Barry Banks and Alastair Miles have recorded discs of arias for Chandos and here take the roles of Nadir and Nourabad, respectively.

“Au fond du temple saint' has long been a favourite in the recording studio. Barry Banks and Simon Keenlyside, singing the aria in English… do Bizet proud. Banks and Rebecca Evans as the priestess Leïla make the most of their seductive Act II number 'Leïla! Leïla!'. And when Leïla begs Zurga to spare his rival's life Keenlyside makes 'I would speak but I cannot' into a genuine feast.” BBC Music Magazine, September 2008 ***

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Chandos Opera in English - CHAN3156

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Rossini: The Thieving Magpie

Rossini: The Thieving Magpie


Rossini:

La gazza ladra

Sung in English (translation by Jeremy Sams)


Majella Cullagh (Ninetta), Barry Banks (Giannetto), Prunella Scales (The Magpie), Jeremy White (Fabrizio Vingradito), Nerys Jones (Pippo), Susan Bickley (Lucia), Russell Smythe (Fernando Villabella), John Graham-Hall (Isaaco), Toby Stafford-Allen (Giorgio), Stuart Kale (Antonio), Christopher Purves (Il Podestà), Nicholas Garrett (Ernesto)

Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra, David Parry

“David Parry draws sparkling playing from the orchestra, chorus and soloists alike.” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

“The cast is consistently superb” Gramophone Magazine, July 2013

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Chandos Opera in English - CHAN3097

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Great Operatic Arias 9 - Andrew Shore

Great Operatic Arias 9 - Andrew Shore

Sung in English


Donizetti:

Udite, udite, o rustici (from L'elisir d'amore)

Sung in English as 'Attention! Attention! You country folk!’

Voglio dire, lo stupendo (from L'Elisir d'amore)

Sung in English as ‘Good doctor...It was Tristan who employed it’

Barry Banks (Nemorino)

Quanto amore (from L'elisir d'amore)

Sung in English as 'How he loved me!'

Mary Plazas (Adina)

Ei corregge ogni difetto (from L'elisir d'amore)

Sung in English as 'It will give you cheeks like peaches'

Mary Plazas (Adina), Barry Banks (Nemorino), Ashley Holland (Belcore)

Un foco insolito, mi sento addosso (from Don Pasquale)

Sung in English as 'Quite unexpectedly passions inflame me’

Jason Howard (Malatesta)

Signorina, in tanta fretta (from Don Pasquale)

Sung in English as 'Well good evening! You’re in a hurry’

Lynne Dawson (Norina)

Cognato, in me vedete un morto che cammina (from Don Pasquale)

Sung in English as 'Ah brother… a living corpse is standing here before you’

Jason Howard (Malatesta)

Mozart:

Madamina, il catalogo è questo (from Don Giovanni)

Sung in English as 'Pretty lady, I have something to show you’

Rossini:

A un dottor della mia sorte (from Il barbiere di Siviglia)

Sung in English as 'Dare you offer such excuses?’

Ai capricci della sorte (from L'Italiana in Algeri)

Sung in English as 'All the changes in my fortune'

Della Jones (Isabella)

Verdi:

Ehi! Paggio! ... L'onore! Ladri! (from Falstaff)

Sung in English as 'Hey, Page boy!...Your honour? Vermin!’


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Chandos Opera in English - Great Operatic Arias - CHAN3077

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Great Operatic Arias 6 - John Tomlinson Volume 1

Great Operatic Arias 6 - John Tomlinson Volume 1

Sung in English


Borodin:

Ni sna, ni otdikha izmuchennoi dushe (from Prince Igor)

Sung in English as 'No rest, no slumber’

Greshno tait, ya skuki ne lyublyu (from Prince Igor)

Sung in English as 'The Prince has drunk his fill?...The sober life of boredom’

Zdorov-li, Knaz? (from Prince Igor)

Sung in English as 'Igor, listen’

Dargomïzhsky:

Okh, toto vse vi devky molodiye (from Russalka)

Sung in English as 'Like every maiden in the whole of Russia’

Handel:

I rage, I melt, I burn…O ruddier than the cherry (from Acis and Galatea)

Samson: Honour and arms scorn such a foe

Lehmann, L:

Myself when young from In a Persian Garden

Mozart:

Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden (from Die Entführung aus dem Serail)

Sung in English as 'When a maiden takes your fancy’

Ich gehe, doch rate ich dir (from Die Entführung aus dem Serail)

Sung in English as 'I’m going, but take my advice’

Helen Williams (Blonde)

Vivat Bacchus! Bacchus lebe! (from Die Entführung aus dem Serail)

Sung in English as 'Vivat Bacchus! Long live Bacchus!’

Barry Banks (Pedrillo)

Mussorgsky:

Mephistopheles' Song of the Flea

Sung in English as 'There lived a king of old’

Skorbit dusha! (from Boris Godunov)

Sung in English as 'My soul is sad'

Offenbach:

Couplets des deux hommes d'armes (from Geneviève de Brabant)

Sung in English as ‘We’re public guardians bold yet wary’

Andrew Shore (baritone)

Sullivan, A:

A more humane Mikado never (from The Mikado)

When a felon's not engaged in his employment (from The Pirates of Penzance)

Verdi:

A te l'estremo addio ... Il lacerato spirito (from Simon Boccanegra)

Sung in English as 'A last farewell I bid you...My soul is torn with suffering’

Che mai vegg'io … Infelice! e tu credevi (from Ernani)

Sung in English as 'Vain illusion! When I believed her’


“A strong voice, varied repertoire and vivid characterization make this an appealing disc” Gramophone Magazine

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Chandos Opera in English - Great Operatic Arias - CHAN3044

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