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25.12.07

Ionarts Gift Ideas, 2007

If you are still looking for a present, here are some ideas from the many good things we have reviewed or mentioned this year (which can be cross-referenced with my write-up of the classical Grammy nominations). If you click on the picture link and buy something, part of the profit will go to Ionarts. Happy New Year!

OPERA:

available at Amazon
Antonio Vivaldi, Atenaide, Sandrine Piau, Vivica Genaux, Guillemette Laurens, Modo Antiquo, F. M. Sardelli (October 30, 2007)

You surely cannot go wrong with any recording that features Sandrine Piau, Vivica Genaux, Guillemette Laurens, Romina Basso, and Nathalie Stutzmann. All of them give performances that are consistently impressive and, more often than not, exemplary. (Charles T. Downey)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
Claudio Monteverdi, L'Orfeo, Furio Zanasi, Anna Simboli, Sara Mingardo, Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini (October 30, 2007)

Contralto Sara Mingardo is a steely messenger (who announces the news of Euridice's death) and La Speranza (who accompanies Orfeo to the gate of hell, where he must obey Dante's inscription and abandon her -- a thrilling moment at the top of Mingardo's range). With an equally attractive voice, tenor Furio Zanasi is a potent and suave Orfeo. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
G. F. Handel, Floridante, Marijana Mijanović, Joyce DiDonato, Il Complesso Barocco, Alan Curtis (April 10, 2007)

This is a singular recording, of exceptional musicological interest and beautifully sung and played. Curtis draws another fine performance from his instrumental ensemble (this opera's overture is a gem) and plays the harpsichord for the recitatives. His style is more judicious than the flashier Christophe Rousset and not as intellectual as the distant (but glorious) William Christie. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
Erich Korngold, Das Wunder der Heliane, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, RSO Berlin, John Mauceri (re-released, April 10, 2007)

Heliane was composed during the first two years of the composer's marriage, to a woman hated by his controlling parents. Korngold's father was a celebrated and ultra-conservative music critic in Vienna, the literal successor of Eduard Hanslick, and he attempted to use his son as a pawn in his critical tirade against atonal modernism. The libretto, Hans Müller's adaptation of a mystery play (Die Heilige) by Hans Kaltneker, could be interpreted as the struggle of Julius Korngold (the Ruler) and Erich Korngold (the Stranger) for the love of Music (Heliane). (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
Rudi Stephan, Die ersten Menschen, Orchestre National de France, Mikko Franck (May 29, 2007)

The story is a post-Freudian re-imagining of the aftermath of the fall of man, based on the erotic mystery play of Otto Borngräber, a sort of cross-fertilization of Genesis with the Oedipus myth. One of the strangest love duets ever conceived, between mother and son (and you thought Salome's lust was indecent), is interrupted by the arrival of Kajin, accompanied by saxophone solo. It is the envy from this incestuous love triangle that leads to the first murder. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

SOLO VOCAL:
available at Amazon
Abendbilder (Schubert Lieder), Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber (March 6, 2007)

This is more than simply good listening; it is a new way to think about the songs of Schubert. The poems return again and again to images of night, the title of the CD, which was taken from the Lied on a poem by Johann Peter Silbert: fragrant breezes, cool groves, moonlit churches. The tolling of the bells calling monks to Vespers is memorably echoed in Huber's piano in the third verse of that poem. Gerhaher's care for the words is precise but in no way pedantic, and Huber's delicate approach to the piano allows a broad space for Gerhaher's supple and subtle voice to spread itself. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
Maria, Cecilia Bartoli, Orchestra La Scintilla, Adam Fischer (October 16, 2007)

Bartoli is as effervescent, radiant, and intense in tone in this recording as she ever was. However, those who have not been won over by her voice previously will not likely change their minds after hearing this disc. Her vocal tics still stand out, her sometimes odd vowels in incredibly athletic passage work and swallowed, peculiar trills. That being said, Bartoli is to be congratulated for attempting to reveal early 19th-century opera with some of the varnish removed. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
As Steals the Morn (Handel arias), Mark Padmore, English Concert, Andrew Manze (June 12, 2007)

Padmore shines in the calm and placid moments but has convincing strength on the more virile pieces, like the Samson selections. For a luscious example of the former, listen to Waft Her, Angels. This is one of the most drop-dead gorgeous and affecting pieces Handel ever wrote (also the last aria for tenor composed by Handel before his death), sung by the distraught general, Jephtha, as he realizes he must sacrifice his beloved daughter. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

INSTRUMENTAL:
available at Amazon
Jean-Philippe Rameau, Overtures, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (remastered, October 9, 2007)

Rousset's crack ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques, brings an extraordinary range of color and texture to this survey -- 17 tracks of nothing but overtures! The playing is crisp and the textures clear, without too much of the ultrafast approach sometimes criticized in Rousset's work. These are festive, colorful works, worthy of the same broad appreciation given to the works of Handel, who drew upon many of the same French influences in his overtures. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
J. Haydn, Keyboard Sonatas, Fazil Say (March 27, 2007)

His playing reminds a little bit of Mikhail Pletnev’s. Odd accents, changes of meter on a whim, impetuous all the way. No harm done to Haydn (although the best of all Haydn interpreters on disc, Alfred Brendel, does none of this and still makes these works sparkle with wit and life), and the added twinkle had me listen again and again. Sadly, beyond the accents, Mr. Say intrudes upon the listener with his humming. It’s difficult to believe that this is anything other than the conceit of a self-styled Gould-wannabe, an overt rebel who points at himself and proclaims: “There, look, here you have it, I’m completely rebellious!” (Jens F. Laurson)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
Tic toc choc (Couperin), Alexandre Tharaud, piano (May 8, 2007)

The uniformity of the Hewitt recordings, cut from the same sublime cloth, is contrasted by Tharaud's chasse aux couleurs, a greater contrast of sound made possible by a freer use of the sustaining pedal and a willingness to stray from the score. Where Hewitt's reading, the only comparable choice for Couperin on the piano, is gentle, tastefully embellished, and rhythmically propelled, Tharaud is angular, at times frenetic, spirituel, perhaps a little over the edge. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Concertos 1 & 3, Mikhail Pletnev, Russian National Orchestra, Christian Gansch (March 13, 2007)

The performances appear faster than they already are – impetuous at times. And amid general beauty and excitement, Pletnev does have a few surprises to offer. The stuttering breakdown in the cadenza of the C-major concerto’s third movement is accentuated in such a way that it sounds like a genuinely different piece of music. Yet, these overly vigorous accents, syncopations, and the shifting of balances are supposed to be the soloist’s realm of fancy and they contribute rather than distract... and they make you listen closely to the music… something which isn't always a given in such warhorses. (JFL)
[Continue reading the review]

CONTEMPORARY:
available at Amazon
Magnus Lindberg, Violin Concerto, Lisa Batiashvili, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo (October 2, 2007)

Although Batiashvili has said publicly that the New York premiere did not come together optimally, she continued to play the Lindberg concerto, and this recording contains the extraordinary results of another year of living with the score. The piece weaves together a host of sounds and styles, both unswervingly modern and looking backwards to Sibelius. Although restricted to strings and pairs of oboes, bassoons, and horns, Lindberg creates an impressive range of textures. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Stimmung, Theatre of Voices, Paul Hillier (September 11, 2007)

The piece involves six unaccompanied, amplified singers, seated in a circle, experimenting with the sonorities of the overtone series (in this case, built over the fundamental note of B-flat), using random syllables, the names of the weekdays, mysterious names of deities, and some English and German text. Is it a coincidence that Sesame Street and the Muppets were pioneered in the same era? With a few subtle changes, portions of Stimmung could easily morph into a Sesame spot ("M-, Mi-, Mitt ... W-, Wo-, Woch ... Mittwoch!"). (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

available at Amazon
Stephen Hartke, The Greater Good, Glimmerglass Opera (June 26, 2007)

The literary source of the libretto, first adapted as a play by Philip Littell and then in operatic form by the composer, is a short story by Guy de Maupassant, an author whom more composers should consider for musical setting. Boule de Suif is a biting social commentary about the divide between rich and poor, in the guise of a comic travel story with the clearly etched and economic characterization at which Maupassant excelled. (CTD)
[Continue reading the review]

ELSEWHERE:

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