Dark Spring

darkspringcoverI came across Hans Thomalla’s 2019 opera Dark Spring when the record label Oehms gave me access to a pre-release of the CD version which is to be released in a couple of days time.  Listening to a couple of scenes and looking at the photos in the accompanying booklet suggested to me that this was really an opera I needed to see to fully appreciate and, indeed, it turns out that there’s a lot going on that isn’t explicit in the libretto.  Fortunately, as it turns out, there’s a full video recording on Vimeo.  It’s not the greatest technical quality of all time but it is drawn from the same live performances at the work in Mannheim in the fall of last year as the CDs.  The CDs are excellent high quality (48kHz, 24 bit) CD quality.  So I think there’s a case for tracking down the video and the CD recording.


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Lise Davidsen sings Luonnotar

luonnotarMy main reason for getting my hands on a new CD of mainly orchestral music by Sibelius featuring the Bergen Philharmonic and Edward Gardner was to listen to the couple of tracks that feature soprano Lise Davidsen.  I first saw her with the TSO in 2019 and I thought she was great.

The most substantial piece is Luonnotar which is drawn from the Kalevala and tells the often told story of the universe being created from an egg.  This is big orchestra Sibelius ad Gardner is not afraid to go to the extremes in the contrasts of dark and light and, of curse, volume.  Davidsen sings with great beauty and no sign at all of stress all through her range, even over a sometimes very loud orchestra.  It’s all super smooth and really impressive.

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Cathedral City

cathedralcityCathedral City was the (2010) debut album of Missy Mazzoli’s ensemble Victoire.  All the tracks are music composed by Mazzoli and give a pretty good feel for her non-operatic output.  It’s been described as a “distinctive blend of post-rock dreamscapes and quirky minimalism” and that seems as good a description as any.  Virtuosic instrumental playing is mixed with live vocals, electronics and distorted recorded speech fragments.  Often the material is looped and the basic acoustic changed to create a different sound scape.  The music is by turns, drivingly energetic, brutal and gently lyrical.  It’s like the work of no other composer I know and I find it really compelling.

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Welcome Party

welcomepartyWelcome Party is a new record of music by British-Armenian composer Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian.  Much of it is inspired by her residency with the LSO at 575 Wandsworth Road.  That house, now a National Trust property, was the home of Kenyan born polymath and poet Khadambi Asalache, who decorated it with his own wood carvings and murals.  Asalache’s poetry provides the texts for several pieces and others are inspired directly by the house and its contents.  The house is also a factor in the composer’s visual scores which sometimes use visual elements in the house to shape the music and inspire the improvisatory passages.  COVID looms large on the album too; from personal tragedy to the conditions under which many of the recordings were made. Continue reading

Cigarettes and anisette

songfromtheuproarMissy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s opera Song From the Uproar: The Lives and Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt is based on the journals of Isabelle Eberhardt; a Swiss explorer, mystic and writer who roamed the deserts of North Africa before her untimely death at the age of 27.  It was conceived as a multi-media opera and staged as such at The Kitchen in New York in 2012.  A studio CD recording was made by the original cast soon after.  One can get a s sense for the look and feel of the stage piece from the trailer for the original show which is still available on Youtube.

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transcendentTranscendent is a CD from the Asia/America New Music Institute (AANMI).  It features works by six American and Asian composers performed by Davóne Tines, Matthew Aucoin and members of the AANMI Ensemble in various combinations.

The first set is two settings of Walt Whitman by Matthew Aucoin for baritone and piano (.  The poems are The Sleepers and A clear Midnight.  They alternate a sparsely accompanied lyrical vocal line, beautifully sung by Tines, with much denser passages for the piano, played here by the composer.  It’s interesting music and supports the text well.

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Lieder with orchestra from Elīna Garanča

garancathielemannThere’s a new CD of live recordings from the Salzburg festival of orchestral songs by Wagner and Mahler performed by mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Christian Thielemann.

The first set is Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder recorded in 2020.  It’s a very listenable account with Garanča in full control and Thielemann, as ever, getting a nuanced and detailed account from the orchestra.  Arguably the performance of five of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, recorded earlier this year, is even better.  Garanča’s smokey mezzo seems especially well suited to these songs, though heaven knows, there’s stiff competition with many excellent recordings of these pieces by both mezzos and baritones.  Again the accompaniment is very apt.

The recording, made in the Großesfestspielhaus, is very clear with good balance between voice and orchestra.  Full texts and translations are included.  Well worth a listen.

Nordic Affect

clockworkingListening to Emily D’Angelo’s new CD set me off on a search for more music by Hildur Gu∂nadóttir.  This led me to Nortdic Affect; an ensemble who play contemporary music, mostly by female Iceandic composers) on baroque instruments. The older of the two albums is Clockworking, from 2015. It’s rather hypnotic. The music kind of inhabits the space between ambient sound and something more structured. Certainly the range of sounds that the musicians generate is remarkable, even when electronics aren’t involves, as they sometimes are.  The album booklet is quite detailed and it’s more eloquent than I would be. Continue reading

Demo quality

grimesbergenIf you follow such things you will probably have seen that the Bergen recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes won Gramophone magazine’s “Record of the Year” award.  This came as no surprise as it is very, very good.  My detailed review is in the Fall 2020 edition of Opera Canada.  In that review, which was made using the electronic copy supplied by the distributor (16 bit, 44.1kHz stereo .wav files), I speculated that the commercial release, which is hybrid 24 bit/48kHz stereo and SACD surround, might well be “demonstration quality”.  It is.  I’ve now had a chance to sample the SACD version and it’s really good.  There’s a really good level of detail and transparency with plenty of entirely natural sounding bass extension.  That’s generally been my experience of such releases on the Chandos label and this is one of the best of them that I’ve heard.  If you have gear that will play SACD you really should hear this!


penelopesmallI’ve been listening to Emily D’Angelo’s debut album elageia (find out more in the next edition of Opera Canada).  It features music by Missy Mazzoli, with whom I’m a bit familiar, and by Sarah Kirkland Snider and Hildur Gudnadóttir, who are both new to me.  Like Mazzoli, Snider is an exponent of that kind of cross-genre vocal music that seems to be assuming some significance in the US music scene.  I’ve been listening to her song cycle Penelope which riffs off Homer’s Odyssey from a woman’s POV. Specifically the texts, by playwright Ellen McLaughlin, tell the story of a woman re-engaging with the man she was married to who has gone missing missing for 20 years and returned with PTSD.

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