A couple of months ago, I sent out a call for help:
providing a `Songs of the Wayfarer' recording to a
friend getting ready for the SF Mahler festival turned out
to be a problem.
Some of the old standards I remembered fondly didn't
sound so good, and there was an on-line conversation about
`Is it me or is it Memorex' -- was it a false memory syndrome
or do tastes improve? At any rate, neither the debate nor
the call for help was conclusive.
Today, however, I came upon a satisfying -- if offbeat --
recording: It's the Philips `Mahler Orchestral Songs' double CD
(454-014-2), a rich, occasionally extraordinary collection of the
major Mahler songs in an economic `two-for-the-price-of-one' issue.
With Haitink and the Concergebouw, the set covers
`Das Lied von der Erde" (Janet Baker and James King),
`Kindertotenlieder' and `Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen'
(Hermann Prey) and 12 songs from `Das Knabern Wunderhorn'
(Jessy Norman and John Shirley-Quirk). That's a lot of
music for $15!
Because of my search for `Wayfarer,' I listened to that
first and I was taken aback by the uneven tempo, the complete
lack of `art-song singing.' I don't know what the critical
reaction was when this CD came out in 1996, but my search
has ended -- I *like*!
Prey is singing with those glorious high notes,
full of light, he is `speaking' the music, almost `beyond
music' (which is especially powerful in `Kindertotenlieder')
and Haitink borrows the halting, faltering heartbeat of the
Ninth Symphony to great effect.
There is something anachronistally `Bostridgean' about
the two cycles sung by Prey in a matter-of-fact presentation.
I finally came to the conclusion that Charles Schug was wrong to hold
Bostridge's `non-theatricality' against him at the Berkeley
recital. Much as I respect Charles, I think he just didn't get it:
this could be a new trend in lieder and opera: less is more.
With such intense material, the interpreter may just as well
be `bland' in demeanor and allow the feeling come through
the music. Who needs artifice? Not us.
Norman and Shirley-Quirk are grand in `Wunderhorn,' King and
even Baker are *not* in `Das Lied von der Erde.' Still, the
set is a good one.
Why is Thomas Arne's `The Masque of Alfred' performed
so infrequently? Because it's long and boring.
You wouldn't know that by the overture or some of the
orchestral pieces -- they are just grand, there should be a
suite. But 80 minutes of OK Handel imitation gets to be a bit much.
It helped enormously at the Philharmonia Baroque's
concert last night in San Francisco that David Daniels sang
the role of Prince Edward -- in great form, doing beautifully --
and Cyndia Sieden's scheduled debut was replaced by Christine
Brandes, who was sensational. Another debut, by tenor Jamie
MacDougall was OK but ho-hum, soprano Jennifer Smith and bass
Leroy Kromm were adequate.
Also on the sick list: Nick McGegan, down with chicken
pox. Anthony Newman may have more of a `name,' but he is no McGegan.
Handel's `Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne' featured
the same forces. Here, Daniels managed to sing the entire first
aria (`Eternal source of light divine') again gorgeously but
but without getting across one single word in the small
hall. His diction is not that bad otherwise -- could it be
Handel's fault? Somehow I don't think so.
Letter to the Editor, re.: California proposal to set the proportion
of non-white authors in public schools at 30 percent:
`Great idea! If 30 percent of the students are illiterate, then
30 percent of the assigned books should be written by illiterates.
Or what will become of illiterate self-esteem?'
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