By Ralph P. Locke
Two new recordings and one much-welcome re-release include first-rate performances of Haydn’s 1798 “Lord Nelson” Mass, Dello Joio’s opera about Joan of Arc, and Virgil Thomson’s astonishing musical portraits of Alice B. Toklas, Picasso, and others.
Haydn, Symphony No. 100 (“Army”) and Mass No. 11 in D Minor (“Missa in angustiis,” or “Lord Nelson Mass”), interval devices, c. Harry Christophers.
Dello Joio: The Trial at Rouen (TV opera, first recording). Odyssey Opera, cond. Gil Rose.
Virgil Thomson: Portraits, Self-Portraits and Songs. Anthony Tommasini, piano, and others.
Because the Covid pandemic continues, I stay inside our condo’s 4 partitions for many of daily, and have come to understand much more than earlier than the heat, vibrancy, and number of moods that music can deliver.
This third installment of my report on latest document releases focuses on three CDs (or CD-sets) that includes Boston-area performers. I cheated: certainly one of them is a 2-CD re-release of Nineties-era recordings of music by Virgil Thomson. I by no means acquired these CDs the primary time, and I’m significantly grateful that they’re accessible once more.
(The three releases mentioned under can be found as bodily CDs, as downloads, or via subscription streaming companies resembling Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube Premium. Sure particular person tracks could be discovered on the free YouTube web site. One can pattern the start of every monitor of the three recordings reviewed right here at such websites as Presto Classical, HBDirect, and ArkivMusic.)
Let me begin with one of the vital famend works of Franz Joseph Haydn: the so-called “Lord Nelson Mass.” Haydn’s Mass No. 11 in D (1798) apparently obtained the nickname as a result of information of Nelson’s victory over Napoleon’s troops (on the Battle of the Nile) arrived shortly earlier than the mass’s first efficiency. Haydn himself known as it “Missa in angustiis,” which might imply any of a number of issues: for instance, “Mass in Occasions of Anxiousness” of “Mass in Time of Concern.” It could additionally discuss with Haydn’s well being, which was poor on the time. Or to the truth that the Eszterházy household had dismissed the woodwind gamers to be able to economize, thus forcing Haydn to make use of a smaller orchestra, consisting solely of strings, brass, timpani, and organ. However he made essentially the most of his sources, together with some startling passages for brass and (within the Gloria) a mellifluous oboe-like solo for the organist’s proper hand. The “lacking” woodwind components had been created after Haydn’s day to deliver the work into line together with his regular scoring, however conductors right this moment are likely to keep away from them and thereby protect the work’s distinctive sound.
Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society makes the many of the “Nelson” Mass, within the unique, woodwind-less scoring, which sounds all of the extra colourful due to the interval devices that the orchestra has used since 1986 (when Christopher Hogwood grew to become their music director). Harry Christophers, who has been music director since 2009, retains the tempos forward-moving and the textures clear. The excellent acoustics of Symphony Corridor certainly assist!
The 4 vocal soloists, three of them from Nice Britain, seize the work’s forthright spirit, although the bass—the one American—lacks power in his low notes (like so many low-voiced males within the opera and oratorio world today, as Conrad L. Osborne rightly complained in his latest e-book Opera as Opera: The State of the Art). The soloists are, if something, outshone by the splendidly alert HHS refrain. Well-known recordings by David Willcocks and Richard Hickox now have a second worthy companion that’s “made in Boston” to face subsequent to the equally effective model from Boston Baroque (with a very marvelous and vivid soprano: Mary Wilson) below Martin Pearlman.
The CD is crammed out with Haydn’s Symphony No. 100 in G Main (1793 or 1794), whose nickname “Army” refers back to the outstanding function that (once more) brass and percussion play—right here, within the gradual motion and the finale. Christophers and HHS have gone an additional mile to deliver applicable instrumental clamor to these moments: the recording makes use of a contemporary duplicate of a Turkish crescent (a type of bell-tree, often known as a “jingling johnny”) primarily based on one that may be seen within the music-instruments room of the Museum of High-quality Arts, a newly constructed drum modeled on the proportions of a Turkish davul, and different percussion devices (a pair of cymbals and a triangle) that, as was typical in Haydn’s day, have a sound deeper than that of their trendy equivalents.
Boston’s adventurous Odyssey Opera, below intrepid conductor Gil Rose, brings us a world-premiere recording: the 1955 opera The Trial at Rouen, by American composer Norman Dello Joio (1913-2008), who taught at Boston College for a few years. Dello Joio was repeatedly drawn to the inspiring legends surrounding Joan of Arc (ca. 1412-31). He wrote an opera entitled The Triumph of Saint Joan (1950), then tailored that right into a three-movement symphony with the identical title (which Martha Graham would use for a dance entitled Seraphic Dialogues). Then he wrote a largely new opera, The Trial at Rouen, for telecast on NBC Opera Theatre. Lastly, he expanded that opera considerably, retitled it The Triumph of Saint Joan (i.e., re-using the title of the primary opera and the symphony!), and it bought carried out by the New York Metropolis Opera.
I suppose the telecast of the model heard right here survives someplace within the NBC vaults (it featured the always-gripping Elaine Malbin), or in videorecordings made by alert house viewers. I’d like to see it, however I doubt that it may surpass what Gil Rose and his Odyssey Opera present. The orchestra is the Boston Trendy Orchestra Undertaking, of which Rose is likewise the music director. The music seems to be engaging and keenly attentive to the stream of the drama (the composer wrote the libretto himself). Its melodic traces—in voices and orchestra alike—are redolent of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony. The singers, all first-rate, convey the texts with the Aristocracy and readability. Fortunately, the discharge comes with a libretto, in case there are a number of phrases you can’t catch.
Notably admirable are Heather Buck because the decided (or cussed or self-destructive—talk about!) Joan and baritones Stephen Powell and Luke Scott as Bishop Pierre Cauchon and Father Julien: respectively, the harsher and gentler representatives of the church. The latter two convey dignity and willpower via regular, lovely tone and exact diction. The large scene between Joan and Father Julien in Act 1, the latter hoping to steer her to recant, might be a significant merchandise on duet recitals at music faculties. And Joan’s pained soliloquies towards the top of every of the opera’s two scenes would reward inclusion in an album of soprano arias.
The third Boston-based recording that brightened my latest weeks is a re-release of two CDs of music by the composer and critic Virgil Thomson. I really like his moderately weird opera Four Saints in Three Acts, of which the latest recording is by Gil Rose’s crew.
CD 1 on this re-release is a set of portraits-in-music that Thomson created in actual time: he would write the notes on music paper whereas the particular person in query was sitting close by, maybe studying a e-book. The sitters included Copland and different musician associates or patrons, Gertrude Stein’s life-companion Alice B. Toklas, and (a double-portrait) Dora Maar and Picasso. Many of those items are for solo piano or one instrument plus piano. One grew to become a brief flute concerto, from which we hear the opening motion, which is for unaccompanied flute.
CD 2 gathers a lot of Thomson’s songs, usually to playful and barely puzzling texts, to which his music reacts with its personal amusement. I used to be often reminded of Satie and Poulenc, no shock given Thomson’s early years in Paris and his lingering affection for French music of the early twentieth century. These songs provide modernism-without-tears, a mix that we hardly ever encounter. Extra critical kinds — Schoenberg, Boulez, Stockhausen — might have thought such music insufficiently weighty or systematic, or simply undignified. (There are quite a few echoes of dance music of assorted eras.) However, on this post-modernist age, Thomson’s light-on-its-feet method creates sequences of sounds which might be intriguingly unpredictable and, many years later, nonetheless as recent as dew.
The two-CD set options performers who had been largely Boston-based on the time, most centrally the pianist Anthony Tommasini, now chief music critic on the New York Occasions, but additionally such acquainted names as flutist Fenwick Smith and tenor Frank Kelley (whose vivid participation I enormously loved within the latest world-premiere recording of Carlisle Floyd’s opera Prince of Players). Tommasini’s unique booklet-essays are reprinted. The Nineties-era bios for the performers remind us how outstanding a few of these musicians already had been on the time. The three hours of music so superbly served up right here helped brighten a number of chilly and dreary mornings for me in the course of the previous weeks.
I ask my readers: what new or uncommon gadgets have helped you get from day after day not too long ago? I specify new or uncommon, due to course all of us have our favourite oldies: say, Glenn Gould’s first Goldberg Variations recording, or Maria Callas’s first Tosca, below De Sabata.
Ralph P. Locke is emeritus professor of musicology on the College of Rochester’s Eastman Faculty of Music. Six of his articles have received the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about music. His most up-to-date two books are Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections and Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart (each Cambridge College Press). Each are actually accessible in paperback; the second, additionally as an e-book. Ralph Locke additionally contributes to American Record Guide and to the net arts-magazines New York Arts, Opera Today, and The Boston Musical Intelligencer. His articles have appeared in main scholarly journals, in Oxford Music Online (Grove Dictionary), and in this system books of main opera homes, e.g., Santa Fe (New Mexico), Wexford (Eire), Glyndebourne, Covent Backyard, and the Bavarian State Opera (Munich).