Monday, December 14, 2009

This week I listened to

Johann Christian Bach: "La dolce fiamma - Forgotten castrato arias"
Philippe Jaroussky; La Cercle de l'Harmonie/Jérémie Rhorer

"London Bach" was the only one of that family to tackle opera, and this album presents a variety of arias written between 1760 and 1778, plus a couple of scenas. I've heard some of his overtures before, but none of the vocal music. I've always associated him with the classical era proper, but this reminds me that the castrati didn't disappear with the age of Handel. Philippe Jaroussky sounds very much at home here - I've only heard him in Vivaldi before. Hearing his voice the first time, several years ago after having heard quite a bit of Andreas Scholl, was quite the what? wow! moment, and he still impresses. Another piece of the vast jigsaw of music history falls into place.

"Bad Boys"
Bryn Terfel; Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paul Daniel

From high to low. This is a great showcase, as well as a sad reminder that in the "olden days" Terfel would probably have made complete recordings of a lot of these operas. He brings such variety to the roles that it's more like a perfect sampler disc than a recital as such. Obviously for a Sweeney Todd fan such as me the opportunity to hear Terfel sing the part couldn't be passed up; you could argue that a Broadway singer brings more spontaneity, but then again Terfel's operatic performance has great subtlety to it, plus you get a Cockney Anne Sofie von Otter. Another particular highlight is his smooth Scarpia, but really for my money there's only one weak thing here - the Les Misérables song. I know Bryn always keeps one eye on the wider public, but this sticks out like a ... well, like a Les Misérables song in an album of opera excerpts. The closing number sees Don Giovanni on his way to hell, with Terfel singing the Commendatore and Leporello as well. An intriguing, though not wholly successful, experiment that suggests the possibility of the Don's punishment being all in his mind.

Walton: Cello concerto / Solo works by Bloch, Ligeti, Walton, Britten
Pieter Wispelwey; Sydney Symphony/Jeffrey Tate

Interesting selection of works here, but the music didn't quite capture my imagination - perhaps it was just that there's quite a bit of dark material here and I wasn't in a receptive mood. The Bach-inspired Bloch suite and the Ligeti sonata stood out the most. I should return to this soon.

El Cant de la Sibilla I: Catalunya
Montserrat Figueras; La Capella Reial de Catalunya/Jordi Savall
Alia Vox/Astree

I'm surely not the only person for whom John Cleese has forever ruined the word "Sybil"? Anyway, these are realisations of what you might call mystical entertainments from medieval times. They're typical classy Jordi Savall productions and a steal from eMusic at 3 tracks.

Lang: The Passing Measures
Marty Ehrlich (clarinet); Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; members of CBSO Chorus/Paul Herbert

I seem to have been coming across David Lang quite a bit lately. We watched the film Requiem for a Dream recently, whose score he arranged for the Kronos Quartet, and then this year's Thanksgiving Mix featured his laconic version of "Born to be wild", performed in perfect deadpan style by Andrew Russo. This one I downloaded from eMusic, having miscalculated by 1 how many tracks I had left for the month. It's a lovely piece of minimalism; as Lang writes, "A single very consonant chord falls slowly over the course of forty minutes. That is the piece". That's it, all right: a forty-minute sigh.

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