02 May, 2018

Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
CD Recommendations: Classical Vocal

Regular perusers of my CD recommendations will have surely noted a dearth of vocal works. There are several reasons.

Although I have always preferred orchestral works, in my youth I had gone through most of the famous operas and sacred vocal works, and know them reasonably well. These days, however, I don't often listen to them, as usually I don't have time to read the libretto, which I consider a must, especially in the absence of visual clues.

Writing for an audio blog means most of my readers are audiophiles, who as you know don't usually listen to vocals outside of the pop and jazz canon, so it is easier to recommend orchestral works. Also, as I buy very few CD's in recent years, to ensure someone can get it, the CD's that get posted all come from the library and usually date within the last few years. The library separates classical vocals from the rest, and it is a much smaller section which I peruse only once in a while. Just the other day, however, I came across several exceptional issues and decided to write this article.

Purcell Dido and Aeneas This has long been one of my favorites. The music is splendid; the libretto a model of concision - quite the opposite of, say, Donizetti (you guessed it, not a favorite composer). I have several old versions on LP's (remember Janet Baker?), but the version here presented by Fabio Bonizzoni is a modern one (hence HIP informed). The period band La Risonanza play with great feeling, and the singers are very good. I have always liked Belinda's music the most, and here Stephanie True sings o so sweetly. Superior sonics. (Challenge, SACD, 2016)

Handel Cantatas (Agrippina condotta a morire; Armida abbandonata; La Lucrezia) The tragic heroines are sung with great flair by soprano Eva Mei, who is accompanied with equal flair by the period band Il Giardino Armonico under Giovanni Antonini (read their website on the stories behind these cantatas). To avoid sameness, it is still recommended that you listen to one at a time. Superb sound. (Teldec, CD, 1999; available in several versions; this library copy is Japanese).

Mozart Soprano Arias I have actually heard quite a few single CD's by famous current singers. Most of them are well sung, but perhaps too well - 60 minutes or more of creamy tone can get a bit too much. Not so Dorothea Roschmann, whose superb characterizations hold one's attention. Praise also to the alert playing of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Harding. (Sony, CD, 2015). Sabine Devielhe's album is even more interesting given the scholarship and direction of Raphael Pichon, whose period band Pygmalion play with great passion. (Erato/Warner, CD, 2015).

Rachmaninov's Vespers gets a good outing here from the always excellent LSO Chorus, directed by Simon Halsey, but without orchestral support it is not for everyone (LSO, SACD, 2016). More interesting to me, but not for anyone with catholic taste, is the choral and organ music of Sofia Gubaidulina. Sonnengesang = Canticle of the Sun (written for Rostropovich). Here the cello solo is superbly projected by Ivan Molighetti, with excellent organ and choral contribution from the NDR Chor, all in superb sound. The other two works are to me equally excellent and no mere fillers. (BIS, SACD, 2016).

Many of these works can be heard on TIDAL.

Sofia Gubaidulina: SonnengesangMozart: The Weber SistersRachmaninov: All-Night Vigil (Vespers)

Mozart Arias

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