Classical reviews - raising the stakes

by gabeatkinson / 17 January, 2013
Jonathan Le Cocq rounds up the best of classical CDs.

JEANNE D’ARC BATAILLES & PRISONS, Montserrat Figueras, Louise Maoty, René Zosso, Manuel Weber, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespèrion XXI, Jordi Savall (director) (Alia Vox/Ode).

Another in the collection of sumptuous CD/book combinations from Savall (two CDs, 80 pages of essays, each in six languages, dozens of glossy images). This one began life as Savall’s original music for two films on the life of Joan of Arc, here supplemented with 15th-century works mainly by Dufay and, more puzzlingly, Josquin, who was barely born when Joan went to the flames. If you are undeterred by a good deal of French narration, the music is of the high standard one expects from Savall, and the essays, ranging from historical background disentangling truth and legend to film history, are scholarly yet readable. Don’t miss Savall’s return trip to New Zealand in March for Womad and an upcoming Listener interview with him.

1612 ITALIAN VESPERS, I Fagiolini, Robert Hollingworth (director) (Decca/Universal).

The 1571 Battle of Lepanto, which halted the advance into Europe of the Turks, glowed in the European imagination for decades, with a wealth of paintings and music devoted to it. In 1786, Goethe could still observe captured Turkish banners on display at a Lepanto Mass in Venice. Hollingworth speculatively constructs a memorial polychoral Venetian Vespers on works by the likes of Viadana, the Gabrielis and Palestrina, of a scale and sophistication rivalling the famous Monteverdi set of 1610. Capping it is Giovanni Gabrieli’s seven-choir (28-voice) Magnificat, but antiphon substitutes make room for solo motets and instrumental works, and the theme allows for impressive battaglia music, complete with tolling bells and fireworks. If you know the Monteverdi Vespers, it will be a treat to discover this close relation.

BIZET: CARMEN, Magdalena Kožená, Jonas Kaufmann, Genia Kühmeier, Kostas Smoriginas, Berliner Philharmoniker, Simon Rattle (conductor) (EMI Classics); LOVE AND LONGING, Magdalena Kožená, Berliner Philharmoniker, Simon Rattle (conductor) (Deutsche Grammophon/Universal).

Two releases reflect the partnership (personal and musical) between mezzo Kožená and Rattle. Carmen is a studio recording linked to the 2012 Salzburg Easter Festival production. Although it’s based on Bizet’s original opéra comique using spoken dialogue rather than recitative, little of it appears on the recording. Love and Longing is three orchestral song cycles c1900: Dvorák’s Biblical Songs, Ravel’s Shéhérezade and Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder. There is an edge to Kožená’s voice that does not win me over, but her musicality does, not least in Dvorák’s unfamiliar Czech psalm settings. Star billing for me is the Berliner Philharmoniker, light and energised in Carmen, lushly colourful in Ravel.
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