In Auxiliary Input, Andrew Anderson, a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library, reviews classical and opera recordings, including by local organizations. We hope to tie them to local performances by guest artists with various orchestras and chamber music organizations.
For the December edition, Anderson looks a Lithuanian recording of Verdi's Rigoletto featuring the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Nadine Sierra, who will appear in an art song recital for the Dallas Opera in January; a stellar recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring; and pianist Peter Froundjian's Christmas Piano Music. No, that's not what you think it is.
If you have a recent or upcoming recording to suggest, email editor Mark Lowry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Mastroni, Constantine Orbelian, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Franceso Demuro, Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Kaunas State Choir, Nadine Sierra, Oksana Volkova
Published by Delos DE3522
Release date: Nov. 10, 2017
If you're marketing a recording of Verdi's Rigoletto, your options for cover art depend on who's playing your Duke, your Gilda, and your hunchbacked title role. The Pavarotti recording from 1989 had him as the Duke, June Anderson as Gilda, and Nicholai Ghiaurov as Rigoletto, so everyone got their picture on the cover and no one received top billing. On the other hand, the Nov. 10 release of Verdi's Rigoletto on the Delos label (available here) had an obvious choice, and his name was Hvorostovsky.
The late Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (who passed away on Nov. 22 of this year at age 55) left more than 30 recordings of Verdi operas, not all of which are in legal release. That long list includes, among others, six different productions of Il trovatore and—perhaps more astounding—two of I masnadieri. This Delos Rigoletto was not only his final Verdi recording, it appears to be his final recording, period.
If Hvorostovsky wasn't the ideal Rigoletto, it was only because he was too good-looking. Makeup's efforts to ugly him up, depicted in the booklet that accompanies the recording, show how far that department had to go in order to impart grotesqueness to him ("How about we give him a scar? How about a scar and a comb-over?"). And a 6-foot 4-inch hunchbacked jester is still tall to get thrown of his guild if, bent over, he's taller than the people he's supposed to mock. Fortunately, when people start singing, such issues often recede in importance, and Hvorostovsky's vocal and acting talents—to say nothing of the sympathy for the character that Verdi builds into the role—allow them to recede more readily than usual.
Yes, he's a fantastic Rigoletto. But this recording's Gilda is yet another reason to listen. Nadine Sierra has played Gilda so many times and in so many locales that you'd think she'd be sick of it, but if she is, it doesn't show. She lingers over her first-act aria "Caro nome...," gloriously drawing it out with a delicacy that I'm not used to hearing in this showpiece. And in her first and second act duets ("Ah! veglia, o donna"/"Questo affetto!" and "Si, vendetta"/"O mio padre," respectively) with Hvorostovsky, she matches his emotional intensity in a swing from tenderness in the first to fury—and, in her case, anguish—in the second. Let's hope she keeps playing Gilda with the frequency she has been, thus increasing the odds that we'll see her perform it live.
Did someone say live performance? It turns out that she'll be singing in Dallas next month, on Jan. 28, 2018 in the Titus Art Song Recital Series (tickets available here). Last I checked, she was set to perform music by the three S's: Schubert, Strauss (Richard) and Schumann, as well as Villa-Lobos, Bernstein, and assorted others. There's no Verdi on the program, but it's hard to complain about hearing Ms. Sierra sing anything.
It's no easier to find things to complain about in the Delos Rigoletto. With Hvorostovsky and Sierra on the payroll, you'd think there wouldn't be any money left to hire a Duke, but this recording features tenor Francesco Demuro, a guy who has been singing Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata with a frequency that rivals Ms. Sierra's Gilda. His Duke constitutes something of a revelation to me: his acting skills bring a complexity to the role that I think the composer intended but that I've never heard. Perhaps my noticing (or failure to notice) that is partly a function of my taking well-known stars for granted, especially when they play certain parts. For example, it often seems to me as if, for example, Plácido Domingo is playing Plácido Domingo playing the Duke. Bringing a fresh face to the role allows aspects of the character to stand out, and Demuro is a perfect example of someone who does that. He brings the nonchalance that Verdi undoubtedly wanted to the third act's "La donna è mobile" while managing some impressive showing-off in the same number. It's an aria that will never get old, but it's great when a tenor can make it new again.
The strong cast receives appropriately strong support from the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, a Lithuanian ensemble here under the direction of American pianist and conductor Constantine Orbelian, whose tempi and management of orchestral textures are perfect for this cast and this music. Even if he doesn't make the chorus's first-act closer "Zitti, zitti" as much fun as it can be, he more than makes up for it elsewhere.
This Rigoletto is a total delight. I wish we could look forward to more work from Hvorostovsky, but this recording is a great way to close the book on a stellar—if all too brief—career.
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring and Works by Debussy and Rachmaninov
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus, Vasily Petrenko
Onyx Records ONYX4182
Release date: Nov. 3, 2017
The first thing I did after listening to Onyx Records' new release of Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps (available here) was to listen to it again. Twice more, in fact. I had never heard a recording like this, of practically anything. The nearest might be the premiere recording of Shostakovich's 15th symphony by Rozhdestvensky and the Moscow Radio Symphony, one of the cleanest, brittlest recordings I've ever heard.
And I've never heard a cleaner version of Le sacre. Nothing is lost, not the arc-shaped scraping on the tam-tam nor the brief, tiny trill on the English horn three measures from the end. This hoarding of detail is due in part to the recording's dryness: with almost no reverberation, hairpin dynamic turns show up well, and instruments that ring by nature stand out more than usual (it may be my imagination, but I think I can even hear the cello section tuning their A-string down a semitone before the last note, as the score specifies). This issue by Onyx leaves the impression that, were we to lose all our scores and parts to this work, we might be able to reconstitute it by taking dictation from this recording.
It also leaves the impression of being studio-bound. That sounds faintly like a denunciation, but it's intended as a means of locating it in the densely populated landscape that renditions of Le Sacre have grown into over the decades. I probably haven't heard one-tenth of them, but of those I've heard, wet ones predominate—some with so much reverberation that the final note sounds like a sustained chord rather than the dagger-accented eighth note that it is. Having called it studio-bound, though, I need to remind myself that nothing can ever reproduce the experience of hearing a work live, and the choices made by the recording engineer and everyone else involved in giving an issue its sonic profile don't need to be made with the aim of fooling me into thinking I'm hearing it live in a concert hall.
The choices made in putting this recording together, along with the absolutely expert playing by the musicians of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, add up to razor-sharp precision in an environment where you'd hear anything that was amiss, no matter how loud the texture might be. It's clean, as I said above. And that seems like an unusual way to treat a work that's supposed to be...well, dirty. Not literally obscene, but primitive, like it's wearing shorts made of tree bark. Antiseptic primitivism seems almost surreal, but that's part of this recording's charm, and partly why I commend it so highly. Any complaints I have about it are so much in the realm of personal preference that I hesitate to bring up (except for the alto flute, which absolutely nails its all-important scurrying around in the opening section; but in its duet with the English horn in the "Ritual dance of the ancestors," late in Part II of the ballet, the alto flute's vibrato-free playing allows the English horn very nearly to swallow it up).
I wouldn't call it the best recording of Stravinsky's masterpiece (I probably wouldn't say that about any of them), and it probably shouldn't be your only recording of the work. I do think that it's essential listening for any fan of the Le sacre du printemps, though, and even if I don't have the experience to say it's one-of-a-kind, I can say I've never heard anything like it.
To my ear, the two other Spring-themed works on the disc, Debussy's two-movement Printemps and Rachmaninoff's cantata Spring (Op. 20), do not receive the same mercilessly clean treatment that Le sacre does. That perception may be a result of the recording operation, or it may be something I'm bringing to it; I have a lot more experience with the Stravinsky than I have with the Debussy, and I have no prior experience with the Rachmaninoff.
Since I enjoy Rachmaninoff's other choral works so much (especially later works like The Bells, Op. 35, and Vespers, Op. 37), I'm particularly happy with the inclusion of Rachmaninoff's cantata on this disc. Spring, written for baritone solo, chorus and orchestra, was composed between the first two symphonies and between the second and third piano concertos (there's even a tune that recalls the slow movement of the second concerto). The cantata's text involves marital infidelity and murder, so--happy ending notwithstanding—it's an unusually dark look at the season. As such, it's a perfect companion work to the Stravinsky. And if you're having trouble rationalizing the addition of yet another recording of Le sacre du printemps to your shelf despite what I've told you, why not use the Rachmaninoff to justify it?
Christmas Piano Music
Peter Froundjian, piano
Release date: Nov. 10. 2017
Hold on, don’t switch me off yet. I know, with a title like Christmas Piano Music, it sounds like it's going to be full of stinkola bon-bons like “Jingle Bell Rock” (pardon me if you like that one). But if you’re looking for piano versions of familiar Christmas carols, this isn’t a disc for you. Not that there aren't any of those, but there are certainly no “If Mozart Had Written”-type arrangements within a mile of this disc (available here).
What this recording does have is mostly Christmas-, sometimes just winter-themed works by reputable late romantic and early 20th century composers, few of whom qualify as household names (but that depends on the house, I guess). Some of the names should be the household type, and you could argue that at least one—Carl Nielsen—certainly is. There are works by composers whose lack of exposure is inexplicable, like Selim Palmgren, whose five piano concertos should be standards. Ferruccio Busoni, one of Palmgren's teachers, is also in there vying for the title of “arguably the best-known composer on the disc." There are two tracks featuring pianist Ignaz Friedman’s compositional talents; there are works by three of my favorites: Sir Arnold Bax, André Jolivet and Charles Koechlin; there are guys whom I've heard of, but that's all: Sergei Lyapunov and Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht; and then there are a few that I’ve never heard of, but I should have: Franciszek Brzeziński, Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann, and Alfred Tofft (and that list has me way over my quota for MS Word red underlinings).
With the exception of Danish composer Hartmann's Juletrøst (1864), all the works were written between 1905 and 1951, so it's not surprising that they share a late-romantic harmonic language—it may sound adventurous for holiday-themed pieces, but the harmonies aren't terribly challenging. The exception is the Pastourelles (1949) by Inghelbrecht, which occasionally have more keys going on at the same time than is usually deemed polite. Those, however, are works that involve some more or less familiar Christmas tunes—in a pastoral work, we should expect shepherds—and the recognizability of the melodies tones down the conflict of keys somewhat (Inghelbrecht, along with Ravel and others, was a member of an avant-garde arts group known as Les Apaches that sometimes met at the home of Tristan Klingsor, if that tells you anything).
So if Ighelbrecht's Pastourelles gets the prize for spiciest harmony on this disc, Danish composer Carl Nielsen's Drømmen om Glade Jul deserves one for almost, but not quite, quoting an entire phrase of a well-known carol (“Silent Night”); and the track by British composer Sir Arnold Bax, Dame, Get Up and Bake Your Pies, deserves the prize for goofiest title.
But the real prize should go to pianist Peter Froundjian for unearthing some of these works. He has made unearthing things his business, though: in 1987, he founded the long-running music festival "Rarities of Piano Music" in Husum, Schleswig-Holstein, which is about as far north as Germany goes before turning into Denmark. He and Sony Classical should share a special honor for giving us a disc of Christmas season music that we'll be able to enjoy any time of the year without anyone's saying we're starting too early. Now, if we could just get this played in stores, starting the day after Halloween…
» Andrew Anderson is a Fine Arts Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. He holds a bachelor's degree in music composition from Baylor University, a Master's degree in music composition, and a Ph. D in music theory from the University of North Texas, and an MLS from Texas Woman's University.
» Auxiliary Input appears on the third Wednesday of the month in TheaterJones.
PREVIOUSLY IN AUXILIARY INPUT
- February 2017: A recording by composer Adam Schoenberg; and a Fort Worth Symphony recording from 2016 of works by Lutoslawski and Brahms, the latter arranged by the other Schoenberg
- March 2017: Two volumes of a set of Wagner music transcribed for solo piano by Peruvian pianist Juan Guillermo Vizcarra; and two albums of songs by Fauré and Flegíer, both featuring bass Jared Schwartz
- April 2017: Releases from pianist/composer Marc-André Hamelin
- May 2017: Jaap van Zweden with the Hong Kong Philharmonic; and the DVD release of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein on the Beach
- June 2017: Houston Symphony's March release of works by Dvořák; the Fort Worth Symphony's 2016 recording with pianist Vadym Kholodenko on Prokofiev's Concerto Nos. 2 and 5; and two 2015 recordings of pianist Alessandro Deljavan on works by Chopin
- July 2017: A 2015 recording from Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal featuring a piece by composer Sam Moussa, which the Dallas Symphony will perform in September; the second volume of Alexandre Tansman piano music played by Danny Zelibor; and the much-talked about The Lost Songs of St. Kilda.
- August 2017: Cliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo; pianist Marc-André Hamelin performing Feldman's For Bunita Marcus; and the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra on Strauss's Ein Heldenleben.
- September 2017: A release by local outfit Ensemble75; a 2015 release of early music called Love & Lust; and a new recording by the North Texas Wind Ensemble of the University of North Texas in Denton.
- October 2017: A recording of Liszt songs featuring Jared Schwartz, bass, and Mary Dibbern, piano; harp music by Emily Levin of the Dallas Symphony; and a Finnish recording of works by Sibelius, featuring conductor Hannu Lintu
- November 2017: A DVD recording of Mark Adamo's Becoming Santa Claus at the Dallas Opera in 2015; Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life at Houston Grand Opera in 2016; and the 2016 performance of Du Yun's Pulitzer Prize-winning Angel's Bone.