Opera and Choral

Harvested Sorrow
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Opera and Choral

Post by Harvested Sorrow » Tue Aug 09, 2005 11:34 pm

This topic will be very short, very simple. I haven't really delved into opera, or choral pieces yet...so please, reccomend some for me to pick up.

The only choral (related) pieces I have are Mozart's Requiem and Mahler's 8th symphony. The only opera I am in possession of at this time is a copy of Wagner's Ring Cycle (Solti version; which I'm still in the process of exploring, due to a lack of time and how huge it is), and I'm looking to pick up a copy of Mozart's Don Giovanni (feel free to suggest any excellent recordings of it that come to mind).

I have a natural tendency to gravitate toward dark and ominous pieces, and also depressive ones, so keep that in mind, but feel free to suggest whatever you want, as I want to hear a full spectrum of material. Also, time period isn't important, however, I'd still like to know which period it came from, for the sake of reference, so please list that. (I know, I can find that myself...but it won't hurt to list it)

Also, if you're going to suggest particular recordings keep in mind that I'm in America, and not everything can be found on Soulseek (assuming I can't find it in stores/online for a reasonable price).

Thanks in advance for any help...and something tells me this topic is going to fill up with posts quickly. :D

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Post by 12tone » Wed Aug 10, 2005 10:28 am

For choral you might want to pick up Rachmaninoff's Vespers Op.37 for unaccompanied choir.

I have a recording of it on Virgin's 'The Classics' series which has the Swedish Radio Choir under Tonu Kaljuste. It has nice sound. It's taken nicely. It's hard to explain though. Just go to Amazon.com and hear a snippit. Once you hear one track it'll explain everything. It's more light than dark / depressive.

Other choral music:

- Bach's Mass in B minor

- The cd "Morimur" on the ECM New Series has some lovely Bach "chamber choir" music (for four voices) as well as Bach's Partita in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004). The Hilliard Ensemble sing while Christoph Poppen plays the violin.

- Material from Veljo Tormis

I'm not good with opera yet so no recs from me.

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Post by bricon » Wed Aug 10, 2005 6:01 pm

Here’s a general guide to introduce a newbie to opera that I posted on another forum several years ago:
I generally feel that the point of entry to the operatic repertoire for newbies should be Italian operas composed in the second half of the 19th century. Operas of the baroque, classical and bel canto periods, late Wagner and French opera (both grande and comique) are shrouded in stylistic conventions and formulae that I think that they are better approached after seeing a few of the popular Verdi/Puccini/verismo operas first; as is 20th century opera.

Aspects such as spoken dialogue, secco recitatives, coloratura adornments, da capo repeats, ballet sections that seemingly slow the dramatic flow etc are better left until a newbie has seen a few late 19th century standard rep Italian operas. I have spoken to newbies whose first opera experience was Le nozze di Figaro and they found the length (over 4 hours with intermissions) and the secco recitative “off putting’ and somewhat boring. Mozart is best left for a newbie’s second round selections, by which stage they should be used to viewing longer works and will be more “open” the operatic form.

This approach is leading the newbie into opera primarily as a theatrical form, rather than musical one; a knowledge/love of singing can follow, but is not absolutely essential for the enjoyment of opera.

My suggestions to a newbie are:
1st round selections (pick 3); La traviata, Rigoletto, Aida, La bohème, Tosca, Cav/Pag.
2nd round selections (pick 3); Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Lucia di Lammermoor, L’elisir d’amore, Carmen, Les contes d’Hoffmann, Otello, Turandot.

After watching/listening to half a dozen or so operas from these lists, a newbie should have some idea whether opera is for them or not, and should have some idea of their operatic likes and dislikes which will determine where their next operatic steps will take them.

Of course all of this is a wild generalization, many newbies may fall in love with opera at the first sight/sounds of Wozzeck, L’incoronazione di Poppea, Der Ring des Nibelungen or Semiramide - I think most are better approaching these works later.
As you have stated that you “have a natural tendency to gravitate toward dark and ominous pieces, and also depressive ones”; I’ll suggest a few specific operas that you may find suit your taste.

Der fliegende Holländer by Wagner, composed in 1840-41 (revised in 1842, 1846, 18152, 1860).

Otello by Verdi; composed 1884-86 (rev. 1887)

Il tabarro by Puccini; composed 1915-16.

Peter Grimes by Britten; composed 1944-45.

Sweeney Todd by Sondheim; composed 1978-79. There may be some conjecture whether this piece is an opera or musical; don’t be concerned about the label it’s a great work whatever one wishes to call it.

All of these operas concern “dark” subjects and all feature large parts for chorus. They should be readily available on-line or even at your local library.


Post by Brendan » Wed Aug 10, 2005 6:16 pm

Verdi's Requiem blasts "dark and ominous" - and everything else - out of the water IMHO. Toscannini or Fricsay recs are my pick.

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is, well, Beethoven doing choral as only he can. The Klemperer with the Choral Fantasia is excellent.

Orff's Carmina Burana is often popular as a "starter piece", with O Fortuna familiar to everyone. Jochum for this work, for me.

For Don Giovanni I like the Fricsay rec. But for a dark and brooding opera, if you are partial to Wagner, try the Klmperer recording of The Flying Dutchman. But there are may "dark" operas out there - Tosca, Lucia di Lammermore, Othello, Macbeth - the list is long. As the old saw goes, if there's a wedding at the end it was a comedy, if there's bodies on the stage it was a tragedy.

Harvested Sorrow
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Post by Harvested Sorrow » Wed Aug 10, 2005 6:20 pm

There's pretty much nothing available at the local library (all they have is a complete Caruso RCA box set, and a Rachmaninoff plays Rachmaninoff album that I haven't seen recently), but I'll look around for those online.

Choir doesn't necessarily need to be combined with operas...or unaccompanied, for the record.

Keep the suggestions coming. :D

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Post by MahlerSnob » Wed Aug 10, 2005 6:47 pm

So much good music to suggest...

Here's a short list:
Rachmaninov - Vespers (1915). I agree with the other person who recommend this, but I'm going to have to go with the Robert Shaw/Robert Shaw Chorale recording of this work from the early 90's. When looking for choral works, if there's a Shaw recording of it I tend to favor that one. The man was simply a genious when it came to choruses.
Brahms - German Requiem (1868). Again, try to find a Shaw reocrding.
Verdi - Requiem (1874). Here I'd actually recommend the Solti/CSO recording.
Vaughan-Williams - A Sea Symphony (Symphony #1) (1909/1923). There's a superb recording of this by Robert Spano and the ASO that came out a few years ago.

That's enough to start with - that's a good 4 hours of music.
-Nathan Lofton
Boston, MA

WWBD - What Would Bach Do?

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indeed, so much good music to suggest

Post by PJME » Fri Aug 12, 2005 6:20 am

As usual, I try to suggest a few works that aren't familiar.
Late -romantic : a superb ballet (with chorus) : Karol Szymanowsky's "Harnasie" (now available on a cheap EMI twofer)
Albert Roussel :" Evocations" for soli,chorus & orchestra ( 3 portraits of Indian cities/sites) .This is early Roussel and absolututely gorgeous.

More later...

Harvested Sorrow
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Post by Harvested Sorrow » Sun Aug 14, 2005 1:20 am

For the sake of giving an update....

Out of what I've heard so far, I like Verdi's Requiem, but Missa Solemnis and A German Requiem have really struck a chord with me. I haven't got a chance to check out any opera yet, though, due to money constraints, a lack of opera on Soulseek, and a lack of time.

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Try Brahms!

Post by PJME » Mon Aug 15, 2005 4:40 am

In praise of Brahms!(http://www.musicweb-international.com)= website where I found these texts.

The first work on this superb new Chandos release is the rare and wonderful Triumphlied (Song of Triumph) for eight-part chorus, baritone solo and orchestra which Brahms set with miscellaneous biblical texts taken from The Revelation of St. John, chapter 19. Brahms composed this three movement thanksgiving cantata, patriotic to his Motherland, in 1870-71 to celebrate the Imperial German army’s victories in the Franco-Prussian war and the humiliation of France. It was received with great acclaim and numerous performances. The intention behind Brahms’s outpouring of nationalism, bordering on extreme jingoism, is perhaps difficult to understand today. But at the time of its composition Brahms was only reflecting his Empire’s mood of intense pride and total relief associated with the victories of warfare. It was also a celebration of the new German Empire’s recently crowned monarch, the work’s dedicatee Emperor Wilhelm I, and the celebrated war leader and politician the Imperial ’Iron’ Chancellor, Bismarck. For these reasons it is not surprising that performances outside Imperial Germany immediately ceased after the start of the Great War. Since the end of World War Two the work also quickly lost its popularity in Germany. However if I ever have any doubts about Brahms being a very great composer I listen to the Triumphlied (Song of Triumph) together with the cantata Rinaldo op. 50 and any misgivings are immediately dispelled.

The Triumphlied for reasons discussed above, is certainly the least known of Brahms’s major choral compositions but few who have once heard the work will fail to become admirers. Described as "glorious" by J.A. Fuller-Maitland, "wonderful" by Donald Tovey and by biographer Florence May as having, "a power, a vividness, a picturesque strength, that are not transcended, even if they are equalled, by anything ever composed in the domain of choral music for the church or the concert room." Praise indeed!

There are only a handful of versions of the Triumphlied in the catalogues of which I would single out the fine performance from the Ernst-Senff Choir Berlin, Dresdner Philharmonie under Michel Plasson which is available as part of a five disc set on EMI Classics 5 75722-2 (without texts). On this Chandos recording of the Triumphlied the Danish National Orchestra and Chorus under maestro Albrecht demonstrate mastery of the composer’s sheer splendour and extravagant invention. In the third movement we are joined by the characterful and convincing performance from baritone Bo Skovhus pronouncing St. John’s vision, "And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse…"

Brahms originally composed the Ave Maria in 1858 for female voices and organ. In 1859 he added some light woodwind to the organ accompaniment. It is thought that Brahms was inspired to write the work by a passage from Die Lebensansichten des Katers Murr by E.T.A. Hoffman a work that the composer so admired.

The Ave Maria is a charming and gentle work and is gloriously performed by the Danish National Choir with clarity, lightness and a real sense of freshness. A brief piece, the Ave Maria has been recorded many times, frequently appearing as part of classical compilations. Two alternative versions that I admire are by the St. Bride’s Church Choir, Fleet Street, London under the baton of Robert Jones on Naxos 8.553877 and the Corydon Singers conducted by Matthew Best on Hyperion CDA 66389.

It was undoubtedly the success of his German Requiem, op 45, in 1868 that provided Brahms with the inspiration to compose other large-scale works for chorus and orchestra. Sometimes referred to as Brahms’s ‘Little Requiem’ the Schicksalslied (Song of Fate or Song of Destiny) for four-part chorus and orchestra was composed between 1868 and 1871. Whilst visiting the German naval seaport of Wilhelmshaven with his friend Albert Dietrich, Brahms was captivated by a poem he discovered by Friedrich Hölderlin entitled Hyperions Schicksalslied; almost immediately he was deep in composition.

Described as achingly beautiful the Schicksalslied contains great drama. The Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir rise superbly to the occasion giving a passionate and vibrant performance which was quite breathtaking. Of the several available recordings of this piece I have affection for the readings by the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Orchestra under Robert Shaw on Telarc CD80176 and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Herbert Blomstedt on a Decca double 452 582-2.

The final work on this release is the impressive and exciting Nänie (Threnody or Lament) for four-part chorus and orchestra. Intended as a musical memorial to his friend Anselm Feuerbach the painter, Brahms composed the score between 1880 and 1881 and uses a text by Friedrich Schiller. Portraying the shadow of death the singularly impressive Nänie is a reflective lamentation, extremely elegiac and strong in nobility. In the Chandos booklet notes the author enthuses, "For sheer heartbreaking beauty of sound and line, Nänie is possibly the most radiant thing he ever wrote." In 1947 biographer Karl Geiringer describes the work as having, "a spirit of perfect harmony, tranquil and serene."

The Danish National Chorus and Symphony Orchestra are distinguished throughout the score giving a memorable and thoughtful performance under the telling direction of Gerd Albrecht. The lyrical Nänie has been reasonably well served on record and three accounts worthy of praise are those from the Berlin Radio Chorus and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Claudio Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon 435 791-2, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Herbert Blomstedt on Decca double 452 582-2 and the New Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra under Wilhelm Pitz available as part of a five disc set on EMI Classics 5 75722-2 (without texts).

Rarely am I entirely satisfied with recordings of works for chorus and orchestra where the technical demands are clearly problematic for the sound engineers. No problems here on this Chandos release which has the finest recorded sound of its genre that I have heard for some considerable time. None of the competition are able to vie with this collection which is now the pack-leader. The total playing time is rather meagre but this becomes insignificant with performances as superior as these; magnificent works, magnificently recorded. This Chandos release should be in the collection of every classical music lover.

Brilliant Classics
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Choral Works
Four Songs for female chorus, two horns and harp, op.17 (1860)
Six Songs and Romances for unaccompanied mixed chorus, op. 93a (1883-84)
One of the Five Part-Songs for unaccompanied mixed chorus, op. 104 (1886-88)
Two of the Marienlieder for mixed unaccompanied voices, op.22 (1860)
One of the Three Motets for four and eight-part unaccompanied double chorus, op.110 (1889)
Two Motets for mixed chorus, op.74 (no.1 from 1877; no.2 from 1863-70)
Chamber Choir of Europe/Nicol Matt
Martina Schrott (harp); Sebastian Schindler (horn); Sebastian Schorr (horn)
Recording 2003, Kloster Bronnbach, Wertheim (Vier Gesänge), Schlosskirche Bad Durkheim DDD. SACD Original DSD Recording.

In a recent review I wrote that the greatest composers wrote the greatest music even if some of that music is only rarely heard in public. The greatness of the choral works of Johannes Brahms only serves to reinforce my viewpoint. Choral music, as illustrated by the small amount of concert performances and the frequent number of deletions in the CD catalogue remains unfashionable and has been so for several decades. This is a terrible shame as Brahms’s choral compositions are remarkable. For the most part it is unknown by the average listener leaving a considerable treasure trove to be unearthed. However the tide seems to be turning. In the last couple of years or so there have been several welcome new Brahms cycles released in particular from Chandos, ClassicO and Harmonia Mundi. The ever-enterprising Brilliant Classics is to be heartily congratulated for releasing this collection at super-budget price.

Throughout Brahms’s career choral works, both sacred and secular, were extremely popular throughout Europe. In 1859 he co-formed and became music director and conductor of the Hamburger Frauenchor, a women’s choir numbering some forty voices. This association remained active until 1862. This experience undoubtedly stimulated writing for choral forces which he continued to do productively for the rest of his life.

The Four Songs for female chorus, two horns and harp, op.17 were composed in 1860, quite naturally for his Hamburger Frauenchor. These entrancing and delightful part-songs are highly Romantic in style yet rarely performed. It has been said that Brahms chose the accompaniment of the two horns for their association with ‘forest mystery’ and the harp for its evocation to ‘water and wind’. Brahms’ biographer, Malcolm MacDonald wrote: "had Brahms written nothing but these four choruses he would deserve to be remembered as one of the lyric masters of the Romantic period."

Unfortunately the Chamber Choir of Europe sing the choruses quite slowly making these intrinsically joyous and lively works sound like dirges. This is especially the case in the opening chorus, Es tont ein voller Harfenklang. There is wonderful playing however from harpist Martina Schrott and the two horns players Sebastian Schindler and Sebastian Schorr. In this op. 17 work nothing beats the performance of the London Symphony Chorus on a Dame Janet Baker selection from Virgin Classics 561469 2.

Brahms in his Six Songs and Romances for unaccompanied mixed chorus, op. 93a uses Romantic texts which are economic and concentrated in style. Nicol Matt and his choir perform the six part-songs wonderfully with a feeling of great warmth and regard for colour.

The last of the Five Part-Songs for unaccompanied mixed chorus, op. 104 heralds a change of mood. The song Im Herbst on a text from Klaus Groth is one of Brahms’s most exquisitely despondent works. The performance is suitably evocative of melancholy with a palpable intensity of feeling.

Brahms originally composed his Marienlieder for mixed unaccompanied voices, op.22 for the women’s voices of his Hamburger Frauenchor. The cycle has a hymn-like quality, written in the manner of old German church chorales or German folk songs. On this release we are offered only the first and fifth of the Marienlieder, nevertheless the Choir effectively convey Brahms’s atmosphere of straightforward religious faith and sheer radiance of mood.

The Three Motets for four and eight-part unaccompanied chorus, op.110 were composed by Brahms in 1889 and were probably the last choral works that he wrote. The first and third Motets are written for eight-part double chorus whilst the second Motet, which is the only one of the three here, is for four-part chorus and uses an anonymous text. The choir give a fine and most fluid performance.

The first of the Two Motets for mixed chorus, op.74 was composed in 1877 for double four-part chorus and the second motet for four-part chorus was composed some years earlier between 1863 and 1870. The choir excel themselves in these two wonderful works. I would however recommend the interpretations from the St. Brides Choir, Fleet Street under Robert Jones on Naxos 8.553877 for their extra expression in what are particularly moving performances.

The sound from this SACD recording is clear and detailed yet for me over-bright in the top registers. Brilliant Classics usually have difficulties with their annotation and this release is no exception. To provide a new release of choral works without any texts whatsoever is frankly regrettable and poor marketing. All the works on this release are taken from the recent Brilliant Classics eight CD set of the Brahms Complete A Cappella Choral Works on catalogue number 92179.

An attractive selection from Brilliant Classics of Brahms choral works. At super-budget price this release is well worth hearing


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