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7.3.10

In Audible Memory of Philip Langridge

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Adès, The Tempest


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Britten, Peter Grimes


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Britten, Billy Budd


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Britten, Death in Venice


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Britten, Turn of the Screw


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Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings


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Finzi, Intimations of Immortality
Philip Langridge, who died Friday night, was a quiet star in the world of singers. Perhaps he wasn’t a star at all, but a talented gentleman who happened to be extraordinarily successful. Even if you count only his important recordings, he has nearly a hundred discs to his name. From Handel to Birtwistle, from Purcell to Thomas Adès -- for whose The Tempest he created the role of the King of Naples, singing it on stage throughout Europe last year. And always there was the music of Benjamin Britten— -- for whose music Langridge had a particular affinity and with whom he had worked together extensively. When Chandos recorded the great Britten operas, Philip Langridge was their Peter Pears.

His voice wasn’t ever a lush crooner’s instrument -- it was rather on the dry side. But it was very well controlled, imbued with immense artistry, and it lasted him in demanding repertoire all his 69 years. I wanted to see the Frankfurt production of The Tempest, but was sick at the time. Now I have never seen him on stage. Sad though that is, my memories of him remain strong because he was “my” Grimes. During my long struggle to grasp and appreciate -- eventually love -- Benjamin Britten, it was his recording of Peter Grimes (Chandos, 1997 Grammy winner) that opened my ears the widest. Not the classic Britten-Pears, nor the famous Vickers-Davis, but Langridge-Hickox. It had stoic nobility, complexity, it was darkly dramatic, and above all it remained surprisingly mellifluous. For once I really felt for -- and with -- the Grimes character. And thus enthralled by the character, the music offered itself with natural self-evidence.

His Billy Budd is equally good and if Death in Venice were a more popular opera, he’d be famous for that, too. His Turn of the Screw, performed alongside Felicity Lott, can be found on Naxos -- one of their many fine re-issues from the Collins Classics catalog. That’s where you also find his very worthy Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, coupled with the Nocturne, op.60, and Phaedra, op.90, where the mezzo is his wife, the equally wonderful Ann Murray.

Langridge was a staple of Naxos’s “English Song Series.” He has at least five Messiahs to his name (Mackerras, Hickox, Marriner, Alldis…), sang in Simon Rattles (English language) recording of Haydn’s Creation, Monteverdi with Harnoncourt and Gardiner, Mozart operas with Haitink and Solti, Musorgsky and Janáček with Abbado. Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Szymanowski all litter his discography, his wife coaxed him into doing a CD of French songs with her, he notably participated in Graham Johnson’s Schubert Edition on Hyperion, he did Tippett and Weill and wasn’t afraid of Walton’s Façade.

The first disc I will put on in memory of Philip Langridge will be a Hickox-conducted collection of Gerald Finzi (Decca). The music is painfully-gently touching and it opens with “Dies Natalis.” “Rapture,” “Wonder,” and “Salutation” -- movements three through five -- are exactly what Langridge’s passing asks for. The discs ends appropriately enough with “For Saint Cecilia” -- who now warmly welcomes home one of the prouder examples of her art.

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