Christian Gerhaher’s recording of Mahler Lieder with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under Kent Nagano is his first recording of the great Mahler cycles with orchestra. The disc contains Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the Kindertotenlieder and the Rückert Lieder. This is singing of the highest class with great beauty, no lack of power and intense attention to the text. It’s hard to imagine a singer being more in this music than Gerhaher. Being Gerhaher, it’s quite individual and quite restrained (much less exuberant than Fischer-Dieskau) but without sounding unduly mannered. It sounds exactly right and yet no-one else would sing these songs quite the same way. The accompaniment from the Montreal orchestra is also very fine with great clarity of texture and lovely playing of the important woodwind solos.
The recording quality is excellent with a judicious balance between voice and orchestra and a limpidity that does justice to the clarity of the orchestral playing. Full texts and translations are provided.
Although recorded in 2010 and 2013 and released in Europe in 2016 Barbara Hendricks’ recording of Mahler Lieder on her own Arte Verum label has only recently been released in North America. It’s quite an interesting choice of works. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and the Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde are given in the Schoenberg chamber arrangements. The Rückert Lieder come in the piano version.
The performances throughout show considerable artistry but the voice is clearly past its best. There’s some sense of strain, even in the Rückert Lieder and some slightly wobbly intonation. Not, I think, the very best versions available of any of the works but interesting in their own way. The accompaniments by the Swedish Chamber Ensemble conducted by Love Derwinger (who also plays piano) are lovely and delicate though and the whole generously filled disc is very well recorded. The trilingual booklet includes texts and a couple of essays.
Whispers of Heavenly Death is a new CD of song settings by Scott Perkins. It’s a generously filled disk with nine works amounting to some 33 tracks. First up are five Walt Whitman poems from the eponymous collection. The settings are sparse but quite varied with legato vocal lines handled nicely by the dark toned mezzo Julia Mintzner. Accompaniment, as on the rest of the disk, is by Eric Trudel.
Six settings from the Holy Sonnets of John Donne follow sung by soprano Jamie Jordan. The music here is spikier and set much higher. It suits Jordan’s light, bright soprano. My favourite tracks are next; four settings of riddles from the Exeter codex sung by baritone Dashon Burton. They are very varied. Ic eom ƿunderlicu ƿiht is jerky and set very high for baritone with arpeggio accompaniment. Moððe ƿord fræt is very rhythmic while Ic ᵹefræᵹn for hæleþum is in a very beautiful, liturgical, vein sounding more medieval than the rest. Ƿrætlic honᵹað gets perhaps the only blues setting an Old English text has ever got! The very short Ƿundor ƿearð on ƿeᵹe is just plain weird. Plenty here for any Old English geek.
I was fortunate, back in November 2016, to be at the Aga Khan Museum when Miriam Khalil gave an extraordinary performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre. Good news! It was recorded and is now available as the inaugural release on the new Against the Grain label. It loses little in its translation to disk. I think the power, beyond the work itself, comes from Miriam’s intensity and grasp of the various idioms involved. As the man himself says “No one owns this piece in the way that Miriam Khalil does. It is as if she was born to sing it”. Certainly it sounds quite different from the original recording with Dawn Upshaw. The recording itself is clean and clear and does the performance justice. Osvaldo’s introductory speech is included as a bonus.
Ayre is available digitally on iTunes (C$9.99) and Google Play, and physical CDs will be sold in retail shops in Toronto, online via the AtG website, and at all upcoming 18/19 season performances by Against the Grain Theatre.
There is also a digital booklet (including texts and translations and useful historical/background material) available on the AtG website.
I haven’t heard a lot of music by Andrew Staniland but what I’ve heard I’ve liked so I was pleased to get my paws on a recent recording of songs by him; Go by Contraries. There are three pieces on the disk. The first, and longest piece; Earthquakes and Islands, is a setting of eight poems by Toronto poet Robin Richardson. It’s the work that reminds me most of Dark Star Requiem. Words and music are both quite quirky. My Voice, In My Mouth, for example. is a meditation in an oncologist’s waiting room about the consequences of getting close to a lion. The music is full of variation; tonally, rhythmically, harmonically and dynamically. It’s quite surprising the range of sounds Staniland can conjure up from a piano and two singers. It always appears to be rooted in the text though and even long voiceless passages come back logically to words. Continue reading
That headline is taken from the eighth movement of Jonathan Dove’s 2016 work for orchestra and children’s chorus; A Brief History of Creation, which takes us in thirteen movements from the stars to man via, inter alia, rain, sharks, whales and monkeys. The text, by Alasdair Middleton, is clever, engaging and singable. The music is eclectic. There are elements of atonality but also intense lyricism. It’s by turns shimmery, frantic, doom laden and meditative. It engages beautifully with the text and Dove has a very sure sense of what is and is not reasonable to ask of a children’s choir. Some short text sections are left as spoken (with a very authentic Mancunian accent). All in all, it’s a witty and enjoyable piece that doesn’t outstay it’s 45 minutes or so.
I’m not sure how I’ve not come across the music of Howard Skempton before but it took a flyer for a disk with a setting of The Ancient Mariner to get my attention. I’m fascinated by what contemporary composers do with the broadly defined field of art song and Skempton’s piece is really interesting. He sets a mildly abridged version of the Coleridge but there’s enough to last past the half hour mark. The vocal writing is tonal, rhythmic and declamatory; hardly song at all in a way, but it supports the text rather well. It’s sung here by baritone Roderick Williams, for whom the piece was written. He has a clear, bright voice and the setting tends towards the upper end of the baritone range. He also has superb diction in the manner of the best of the “English school”. The result is complete comprehensibility for the text and full value for every word.