Marita Sølberg: Opera Arias

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(Courtesy www.maritasolberg.com; photo credit Felix Broede.)

Marita Sølberg: Opera Arias
Opera arias by Catalani, Mozart, Gounod, Bizet, Leoncavallo, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninoff, Dvořák, Verdi, and R. Strauss.
Norwegian National Opera Orchestra
John Fiore, conductor
CD Simax Classics PSC1336

Say “Hello” to Marita Sølberg!

Marita Sølberg’s name was unknown to me when I stumbled upon her upcoming new release (which came out last Friday) on Naxos’ (Simax’ US distributor’s) ultra-top-secret, password-protected publicity website, which is, I am told, hosted on a server in the kitchen of an excellent barbecue place down near Chattanooga. The track list contained both old favorites and a couple of unknown arias, so I dutifully hit “Download.”

The program starts with a very well-played (Norwegian National Opera Orchestra; John Fiore, conductor), well-recorded orchestral introduction to the famous Puccini-esque aria “Ebben; Ne andro lontana” from Catalani’s obscure-except-for-one-aria opera La Wally. So far, so good.

Then, Miss Sølberg started to sing, pensively and almost languidly. Oh dear me. This one does not go into the “Discard” pile… . (More than half of the new recordings I listen to, I pass over in silence.)

Generous sound clips and more, after the jump. Clickez!

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Hila Plitmann: The Acrostic Song from “Final Alice” — Steampunk Classical

Plitmann II

Soprano Hila Plitmann singing the final movement of David Del Tredici’s Final Alice with the Detroit Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting. (Note, “Del” is a given name, and not part of an Italian surname.)

Steampunk Classical.

What a concept!

In 1975-76, David Del Tredici wrote the first-ever (and perhaps only) “Steampunk” piece of classical orchestral music. (It is based upon Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, after all.) The music is very accessible, and in general tonal and melodic, though there are episodes of dissonance and finally, chaos.

The final movement of Final Alice is the Acrostic Poem epilogue to one of the “Alice” books. The first letters of each line of the poem together spell out Alice Pleasance Liddell, the name of the girl Carroll based Alice on. Tredici instructs all the orchestral players who can, to hiss out like a steam engine the name of each of the first letters. That’s what the strange sounds you are hearing are. There’s also a rather obvious Elgar quote or homage, I think, too.

Video after the jump!

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David Oistrakh: Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 (1956)

Oist Shost 1 1956

David Oistrakh: Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 (1956)
Recorded January 2, 1956, Carnegie Hall, New York City
(with Cello Concerto No. 1)
CD Sony Classical
Masterworks Heritage “Mono Era” Catalog No. 63327 (1998)
(No high-resolution download available, apparently.)

David Oistrakh, violin; the New York Philharmonic, Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor.
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello; the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, conductor.

Dmitri Shostakovich is something of a polarizing figure. The greatness of his music is not universally acknowledged. The nay-sayers suggest that the difficult circumstances of his life under Stalin (who fancied himself a music critic, and who published concert reviews under a pseudonym) cause people to disregard the disjointed weirdness of much of Shostakovich’s output.

Liner-note writer David Fanning, writing about the late string quartets, characterized one of Dmitri Shostakovich’s characteristic modes of expression as “anxious circling and a kind of crippled polka . . . .” But that is only one of Shostakovich’s modes of expression. There also can be found a kind of selfless monumentality; a humane nobility; and a reverence for the history of musical expression from Orthodox Chant to Mozart.

Those other, non-weird, features of Shostakovich’s art I think were best expressed in his First Violin Concerto and in its première commercial recording in New York in 1956 by David Oistrakh, who was touring America during a brief warming in the Cold War.

Autodidact culture-vulture Marilyn Monroe was in the audience for Oistrakh’s Carnegie Hall recital début in late 1955. Shortly thereafter, Oistrakh played the US première of Shostakovich’s violin concerto with the New York Philharmonic, and within days, they recorded it. I think that recording, in very acceptable monophonic sound, is one of the most important recordings of the 20th century.

More, the sound bytes, and a YouTube after the jump. Continue Reading →

David Leisner & Zuill Bailey: Arpeggione

Leisner Arpeggione

David Leisner & Zuill Bailey: Arpeggione
Music for classical guitar and cello
CD Azica ACD-71306
24/96 Download from Pro Studio Masters

This CD is not just for classical listeners—anyone who loves beauty and wants more of it in his or her life should buy this recording. This cleverly-constructed disc is arranged like an old-fashioned recital program.

Serious music at the start (if you want to call Schubert’s contagiously lighthearted Arpeggione sonata “serious,”); followed by a guitar/cello treatment of Falla’s Spanish Popular Songs; then a wee homeopathic dose of accessible new music; and then all four shoes drop in a succession of surefire crowd-pleasers: “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” “The Swan,” Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (“Aria”), and finally Paganini’s Moses variations.

The recorded sound is absolutely stunning, completely worthy of the best systems at the next audio expo. Hint, hint. (Recorded by Bruce Egre at Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium.)

Words about the performers, followed by some generous sound bites, await you after the jump. Clickez-vous, s-v-p!

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Delmoni & Martorella: Chopin/Milstein

Arturo Delmoni, accompanied by Steve Martorella, in the Auditorium of the Third Meeting House (1774-1775) of the First Baptist Church in America, playing Nathan Milstein‘s (one of Delmoni’s teachers) transcription of Chopin‘s C-sharp minor Nocturne. (The violin is muted.)

Rehearsal for Arturo Delmoni’s recital May 23, 2010. Steinway piano; violin J.B. Guadagnini (1780). The intro and outro chat audio are from the Canon camcorder, but the music is synched up from the 24/96 audio recording made with Pearl Microfon (Sweden) CC 22 cardioid condenser microphones (ORTF array) and a Sound Devices 702 CF recorder. Audio, video, and editing by John Marks.

There is a weed whacker at some distance outside, and it can be faintly heard. So be it. A special moment in time, frozen to a CF card.

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David Deveau: Siegfried Idyll

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David Deveau: Siegfried Idyll
Piano music of Liszt, Wagner, and Brahms
Steinway & Sons CD 30051

This completely musical and unusually thoughtful recital program by David Deveau is not only a feast of pianistic tonal beauty and artistic phrasing. For my always-increasingly-meager shekels, of all the recent Steinway & Sons CD solo-piano releases, this is the one that most closely approximates my ideal of what a great piano recording should sound like.

So, audiophiles: please vote with your wallets by buying this CD!

Words about the performer, the program, and the recording venue (followed by some generous sound bites), all await you after the jump. Clickez-vous, s-v-p!

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Music for Holy Week (III)

Equilbey

Faure: Requiem, Op. 48; Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11; Laurence Equilbey, Accentus.
CD Naïve 5137
Recorded 2008

Sandrine Piau (soprano), Stéphane Degout (baritone), Luc Héry (solo violin), Christophe Henry (organ); Maîtrise de Paris, Patrick Marco, musical director; National Orchestra d’Ile de France, conducted by Laurence Equilbey.

Gabriel Fauré was one of the first students admitted to the new school founded by Louis Niedermeyer to give training in classical religious music (by which he must have meant chant), and the rediscovered polyphony of Palestrina and other Renaissance and Baroque masters. Fauré was hugely influenced by Camille Saint-Saëns and César Franck. It was Franck to whom the young Fauré dedicated his student work Cantique de Jean Racine.

Click the continuation link to access a sound sample of Laurence Equilbey’s and Accentus’ wonderful 1905 orchestral version of Cantique de Jean Racine. It is my final Holy Week music pick for this year.

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Music for Holy Week (II)

Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev): The Passion According To St. Matthew (YT)

Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) has an amazing life story. Formerly a violin and piano student, a soldier, and a monk; he is now one of the world’s leading Orthodox theologians. He studied at Pembroke College, Oxford (PhD), which I think is drolly amusing, in that the women’s college formerly associated with Brown University was called Pembroke.

According to Wiki, Metropolitan Hilarion has authored more than 600 publications.

Oh… he also writes music!

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Music for Holy Week (I)

Bach: Saint Matthew Passion, BWV 244; Richter, Munich Bach Orchestra
DVD Deutsche Grammophon 000617709
Recorded 1971

Siegmund Nimsgern (Bass), Peter Schreier (Tenor), Helen Donath (Soprano), Ernst Gerold Schramm (Bass), Julia Hamari (Alto), Horst Laubenthal (Tenor), Walter Berry (Bass).

Julia Hamari‘s being so under the radar in the U.S. makes me think that there must be so many other truly exceptional singers who for one reason or another, we never hear about. So to rectify that, here is a video from 1971 when she was in her prime; and at least she has YouTube fame, more than 1 million views.

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Patricia O’Callaghan: “Sad Boy”

(Please note, the song featured in the music video is not on the above album.)

Music-Video Friday: Patricia O’Callaghan: “Sad Boy”

Back in A.D. 2000, I resigned from a different audio and music magazine, and signed on with Stereophile. I wanted to do a bang-up job for my first column, and I also wanted it to be mostly about music.

I was lucky to snag a phone interview with an up-and-coming young Canadian crossover singer, Patricia O’Callaghan, about her very impressive breakthrough album Real Emotional Girl, CD cover above.

You can read that review and interview here. From the review part:

O’Callaghan, a handsome young Ontario native, has a voice that is strong, clear, and agile, combining a silvery-sweet upper range with a lower register just made for sly innuendo. Although her primary genre is cabaret, she’s not stuck in the late 1920s. Randy Newman, as well as Pearl Jam’s Eddy Vedder, are two of the songwriters represented on her new disc, Real Emotional Girl, along with retro-cabaret standby Kurt Weill and cabaret-nouveau mainstay Leonard Cohen.

Patricia O’Callaghan’s website is here.

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