D’ALBERT: Cello Concerto, Op. 20 / Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; National Orchestral Association; Leon Barzin, conductor / part of West Hill 6042
Feuermann’s greatness as a technician and an interpreter lifts this concerto up from mediocrity and exalts it. Mono sound, though.
DALLAPICCOLA: Il Prigioniero. Canti di prigionio* / Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano (The Mother); Howard Haskin, tenor (Jailer/Grand Inquisitor); Jorma Hynninen, baritone (The Prisoner); Sven-Erik Alexandersson, tenor (First Priest); Lage Wedin, baritone (Second Priest); Eric Ericson Chamber Choir; *add Swedish Radio Choir; Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor / Sony Classical 886446813318
Luigi Dallapiccola was famed for writing lyrical and somewhat accessible atonal music, but most of the pieces I’ve heard are a bit too lyrical for my taste. These two works are not. Canti di prigionio was written between 1938 and 1941 as a reaction to Mussolini installing racist policies against Jews, and here the music is quite interesting. Even better is his 1944-48 opera Il Prigioniero, sung and conducted to perfection in this recording.
DANIELPOUR: Darkness in the Ancient Valley / Hilda Pitmann, soprano; Nashville Symphony Orchestra; Giancarlo Cuerrero, conductor / Toward a Season of Peace / Hilda Pitmann, soprano; Pacific Chorale, dir. John Alexander; Pacific Symphony Orchestra; Carl St. Clair, conductor / Naxos 8.578311-2
Richard Danielpour’s music, tonal and well crafted, is not always inspired, but these are two works that are. If his very fine opera Margaret Garner ever gets recorded, look for that one, too.
DANILEVSKI: Lauda / Zsuzsanna Tóth, soprano; Larissa Groeneveld, cellist / Revelation / Ensemble Syntagma / Oda an die Traurigkeit / Zsuzsanna Tóth, soprano; Akira Tachikawa, countertenor; Larissa Groeneveld, cellist / Antiphones for Recorder Quartet / Flanders Recorder Quartet / Carpe Diem 16291
Danilevski prides himself on not writing in traditional forms, and these pieces prove it. He manages to combine Renaissance plainchant, Japanese-styled recorder lines, and Meredith Monk-like droning, which makes his music absolutely mesmerizing. Much is made of the composer’s spirituality and his belief that his music should ask more questions than it answers. He does not believe in giving “form” to his music but, on the contrary, to use uncertainty as “both a point of departure and the ultimate reason for creation.” Danilevski firmly believes in “maximum individuality” within an ensemble performance, being completely free yet still “in permanent dialogue with others.” Interestingly, he brings this same aesthetic to his performances of medieval music, claiming that “it sounds terrible when the music is too rehearsed, too much the same. You can sense that the music doesn’t like this same-ness…It requires spontaneity and uncertainty.” This is a fascinating album!
Davis, Glen Roger
DAVIS: The Dancing Difference / Moravian Philharmonic Olomuc; Ruben Silva, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Glen Roger Davis, an extraordinarily eclectic composer, not only combines classical form and orchestration with jazz but also with Caribbean, African, Celtic, and minimalist rhythms and forms. Composed specifically for pianist Chertock, who performs it here, his Piano Concerto uses juxtaposed themes and chord layers in a very post-modern style while urging the musicians to adopt an almost spontaneous approach in performance. There is some definite allusion to African rhythms in the third movement and the flute solo, with trumpet interjections, has a very jazzy, Lalo Schifrin-like feel to it. The Dancing Difference leans more heavily towards Eastern modes but also receives some alchemical changes through Davis’ mind. Really fine works!
Claude Debussy was not the very first composer to take Richard Wagner’s fluid approach to harmony in a new direction, but he was one of the most successful and used it to create an entirely new style of music based on extended chords and an almost constant chromatic movement upwards and downwards. Moreover, this approach worked well on both instrumental and vocal music, leaving a fairly large number of outstanding songs that singers over the past century have often found irresistible.
DEBUSSY: Ariettes oubliées: I. C’est l’extase langoureuse; II. Il Pleure dans mon coeur; III. L’Ombre des arbres; IV. Chevaux de bois; V. Green; VI. Spleen / Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Robert Helps, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on the individual song titles above
The legendary Bethany Beardslee was one of those artists who only performed music she loved, whether it was Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Renaissance music (she was a member of Noah Greenberg’s New York Pro Musica ensemble for three years) or traditional classical song material. Here she applies her trade to this splendid little cycle by Debussy, and although her voice was a bit past its prime on this recording her interpretations remain riveting.
All get four to five fish depending on recording quality.
Undoubtedly Debussy’s most famous and beloved song, even Barbra Streisand—in between threatening to leave the country when Republicans are elected President—took a shot at it. These are my favorite versions.
DEBUSSY: Piano works 1: Berceuse Héroïque. La Bôite à Joujoux. L’Echelonnement Destaiès. 8 Épigraphes Antiques. Page d’Album. La Petite Négre. Préludes, Book II / Michael Korstick, pianist / Hänssler Classic 93.300
DEBUSSY: Piano works 2: Ballade. Hommage à Haydn. Images Oubliées. Images – Série I & II. Morceau de Concours. La Plus que Lente. Prelude, “La Damoiselle Élue” / Michael Korstick, pianist / Hänssler Classic 93.319
DEBUSSY: Préludes, Books I & II / Walter Gieseking, pianist / go to YouTube, start here and just keep on going.
DEBUSSY: Children’s Corner (Suite). Danse (Tarantelle Styrienne). Élégie. Études: Books I & II. Hommage à Haydn / Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist / Decca 460247
DEBUSSY: Ariettes oubliées: No. 2, Il Pleure dans mon Coeur; No. 3, L’Ombre des Arbres. Green. Pelléas et Mélisande: Mes longs cheveux / Mary Garden, soprano; Claude Debussy, pianist / Children’s Corner (Suite). La Plus que Lente. D’un Cahier d’Esquisses. Préludes, Book I: Danseuses de Delphes; Le Vent dans la Plaines; La Cathedral Engloutie; La Danse de Puck; Minstrels. La Soiree dans Grenade / Claude Debussy, pianist / Pieran 0001
Four different takes on the piano music of Debussy by pianist with different approaches—including the composer himself, whose playing is more wildly inventive than anyone else’s! Nevertheless, I’ve always loved Gieseking’s performances of the Préludes, particularly Book I, and Michael Korstick is, in my view, the very finest of all modern performers of this composer’s piano works, although this particular Thibaudet CD is very interesting for his interpretation. Included as a bonus on the Pieran disc are three songs and a brief excerpt from Pelléas et Mélisande by Scotch soprano Mary Garden and Debussy himself.
DEBUSSY: Les Chansons de Bilitis / Delphine Seyrig, reciter; Nash Ensemble: Philippa Davies, Lenore Smith, flautists; Marisa Robles, Bryn Lewis, harpists; Ian Brown, celeste; Lionel Friend, conductor / Sonata for Cello & Piano / Christopher van Kampen, cellist; Ian Brown, pianist / Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp / Philippa Davies, flautist; Robert Chase, violist; Marisa Robles, harpist / Sonata for Violin & Piano / Marcia Crayford, violinist; Ian Brown, pianist / Syrinx for Flute / Philippa Davies, flautist / Virgin 91148
If I could give a CD 12 fish, I would for this one. Not only are all the performances splendid, but there is a certain aura about this record—made in the deep of night at a British studio with crickets chirping outside—that is almost palpable. If I had to live with only one Debussy recording for the rest of my life, this would be the one. I should point out, however, that this performance of Les Chansons de Bilitis is the one with speaker and not a singer.
DEBUSSY: Les Chansons de Bilitis. Fêtes Galantes. Proses Lyriques: De Grêve. Le Promenoir des Deux Amants. Psyche / Maggie Teyte, soprano; Alfred Cortot, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on the titles above.
DEBUSSY: Les Chansons de Bilitis / Renée Fleming, soprano; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, pianist / part of Decca 467697 (also see Fleming in Collections)
Two outstanding performances of the three songs from Chansons de Bilitis, one old and mono and the other modern and digital stereo. But I keep going back to Maggie Teyte because there is just something more “real” in her performances, plus she has the benefit of being accompanied by Alfred Cortot, the most unique pianist of the 20th century. Teyte presses a bit too much in Psyche, a very difficult song, but otherwise all of her performances here are spellbinding.
DEBUSSY: La Damoiselle Élue / Victoria de los Angeles, soprano; Carol Smith, mezzo-soprano; Harvard Glee Club; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
DEBUSSY: La Damoiselle Élue / Dawn Upshaw, soprano; Paula Rasmussen, mezzo-soprano; Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor / available for free on YouTube in three segments: part 1, part 2, part 3
Modern recordings have fantastic sound whereas the Munch doesn’t, but no one beats de los Angeles in this music (unless it’s young Bidú Sayão with the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini, available on a Pristine Classical release). In addition, Munch’s conducting is virtually flawless. Dawn Upshaw doesn’t have the pipes to sing this live, but here on this 1994 recording with Esa-Pekka Salonen she sounds rapturous and shimmering, and Salonen’s conducting is so great that it’s almost beyond words.
DEBUSSY: Images pour Orchestre: I. Gigues; II. Ibéria: part 1, part 2 / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Sir Simon Rattle, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on the titles above / III: Le Matin d’un jour de fete / Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal; Charles Dutoit, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube (click on title)
I actually prefer the whole of Images conducted by Rattle, but for some reason part 3 doesn’t seem to be available for free online streaming. If you prefer getting the physical CD, go for it.
Toscanini’s classic account of Ibéria suffers from claustrophobic sound, and the tempos are just a bit rushed, but you won’t find a more detailed or exciting performance anywhere.
DEBUSSY: Jeux / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Bernard Haitink, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Jeux, Debussy’s last ballet score, is one of his most fascinating yet enigmatic works, not nearly as popular as the Nocturnes or La Mer, but Haitink’s performance brings the score to life.
DEBUSSY: Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien / Phyllis Curtin, soprano; Florence Kopleff, Catherine Akos, contraltos; New England Conservatory Chorus; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Another Munch recording that simply cannot be topped, although Charles Dutoit came close.
DEBUSSY: La Mer / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
DEBUSSY: La Mer / Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Bernard Haitink, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Absolutely the two greatest recordings of La Mer ever made. Period. Toscanini’s Philadelphia Orchestra recording has more beautiful sound, but the performance is faster than this classic 1950 NBC Symphony reading, and likewise Haitink never surpassed this relatively early version with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
DEBUSSY: Nocturnes / Woman’s Voices of the Collegium Musicum Amstelodamense; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Bernard Haitink, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Likewise, neither Haitink nor anyone else has ever surpassed this recording of the Nocturnes.
DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande / Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano (Mélisande); Michel Roux, baritone (Golaud); Ernst Häfliger, tenor (Pelléas); Mario Petri, bass (Arkel); Christiane Gayraud, mezzo-soprano (Geneviève); Graziella Sciutti, soprano (Yniold); Franco Calabrese, bass (Bergere/Le Médecin); RAI Rome Orchestra & Chorus; Herbert von Karajan, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande / Mirielle Delunsch, soprano (Mélisande); Gérard Théruel, baritone (Pelléas); Armand Araplan, baritone (Golaud); Hélène Jossaud, mezzo (Geneviève); Gabriel Bacquier, bass (Arkel); François Golfier, soprano (Yniold); Jean-Jacques Dommène, bass (Berger/Medecin); Chœur Régional Nord; Orchestre National de Lille-Région Nord; Jean-Claude Casadesus, conductor / Naxos 8.660047 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
Some people hate Pelléas et Mélisande while others love it. I am in the latter category. There are, however, two entirely different ways of performing it: the way Maeterlinck and Debussy conceived it, sung and played in an unemotional, non-committal manner, or sung and played with a certain amount of emotional involvement, which is more in line with our modern concept of opera. I like both ways myself. The 1954 mono recording conducted by Karajan is finer than his stereo remake some 24 years later, largely due to the much better singing of the two main protagonists (Schwarzkopf and Häfliger), and in the love scene these two do emote somewhat and strike sparks, but I can understand if you might prefer the even cooler recording that Suzanne Danco made with Ernest Ansermet (another classic reading). The Naxos recording has much more acting with the voice than Debussy liked, but I find it fascinating and involving. Forget the supposed “classic” recording conducted by Claudio Abbado, which is a dead fish.
DEBUSSY: Prelude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune / Philadelphia Orchestra; Leopold Stokowski, conductor / available for free streaming or download here.
Yes, the sound on this 1927 recording is limited, but what an absolutely gorgeous performance this is! I’ve heard many, many others, and have not yet heard one that can surpass this.
DEBUSSY: Songs / various performances by Carole Bogard, Elisabeth Vidal, Nicolai Gedda & Gérard Souzay
all get between 4 1/2 and 5 fish
These are my favorite performers of Debussy’s songs aside from Maggie Teyte’s.
DEBUSSY: Suite Bergamesque. Valse Romantique. Mazurka. Images – Série I & II. La Plus que Lente. Pour le Piano. Rêverie / Julia Steinbach, pianist / Genuin 12226
Another pianist with a very individual view of Debussy’s music is Julia Steinbach, and this recording will absolutely rivet you.
Another minor talent but a very charming one, Leo Delibes wrote very little, published even less of it, yet left behind him three undisputed masterpieces: the ballets Coppélia and Sylvia, and the opera Lakmé, none of which has yet come to bore audiences.
DELIBES: Coppélia. La Source / Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Mogrelia, conductor / Naxos 8.553356/57
Coppélia, yet another musical work based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s macabre story Der Sandmann, remains Delibes’ most popular work, and no wonder: the music, beautifully crafted, skitters across the mind like ballerinas in one’s head. There are many good recordings of the suite, but this is really the only outstanding performance of the complete score at a really danceable tempo. Only 4 ½ stars because the sound quality is just a bit fuzzy. Le Source, initially a collaboration between Minkus and Delibes, is given here as a suite that only includes all of Delibes’ music.
DELIBES: Lakmé / Mady Mesplé, soprano (Lakmé); Charles Burles, tenor (Gerald); Roger Soyer, bass (Nilakantha); Danielle Millet, mezzo-soprano (Mallika); Jean-Christophe Benoît, baritone (Frédéric); Agnès Disney, mezzo (Miss Bentson); Théâtre de l’Opéra Comique Orch. & Chorus; Alain Lombard, conductor / EMI Great Recordings of the Century 67745
Collectors younger than 45 may not even believe that this front-rank recording, now considered a phonographic classic, was not even issued in America on EMI’s top-rank label (Angel) but rather on its budget affiliate, Seraphim. Why was this? Possibly because, the year before, superstar Joan Sutherland had issued her own recording of Lakmé featuring the great French tenor Alain Vanzo, and sales of that set had not really abated by the time this one came out in 1971. Listening through headphones clearly reveals numerous tape splices, particularly in those passages featuring tenor Charles Burles. The sound quality is typical EMI standard of the era, meaning a somewhat shallow perspective on both voices and orchestra. Yet this recording may in many ways exemplify the old adage, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” The cast is not, in each individual role, the strongest on records, but in toto the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
DELIBES: Songs: Les Filles de Cadix; Bonjour, Suzon / various versions by Conchita Supervia, Claudia Muzio, Cathy Berberian, rating between 4 and 5 fish
These are not the only songs Delibes wrote, but they are certainly the most famous and popular. These are my favorite performances of them.
DELIBES: Sylvia / Royal Opera, Covent Garden Orchestra; Graham Bond, conductor / Opus Arte DVD 986
For once, a DVD worth acquiring as the production is as beautiful as Bond’s conducting. If you like, you can do what I did, which was to also rip the audio from the DVD and make an audio CD of the ballet.
DELIUS: A Mass of Life. Prelude and Idyll / Janice Watson, soprano; Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo-soprano; Anthony Kennedy, tenor; Alan Opie, baritone; The Bach Choir; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; David, Hill, conductor / Naxos 8.572661-62 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Frederick Delius wrote a lot of goopy Romantic drivel (i.e., his “Walk to the Paradise Gardens” and “Florida Suite”) but also this one unqualified masterpiece. The layout of the piece–a brief but very exciting first section followed by a longer, more reflective one–suggests to me that it had an influence on Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, which in my view is a superior piece, but considering that this is late-Romantic British music (first published in 1905, but parts of it were heard in concert as early as 1899), it’s an awfully good piece. (Sorabji thought very highly of it.) In this astouding recording, Naxos got the recording balance just perfect…it captures everything, and the vocal quartet is absolutely outstanding, particularly baritone Alan Opie.
The accompanying piece, based on the poetry of Walt Whitman, is not as stunning but is fairly nice music, well sung and conducted. But oh, that performance of the Mass of Life!
Des Préz, Josquin
DES PRÉZ: Ave Maria. Tu Solus / New York Pro Musica Antiqua; Noah Greenberg, director / currently unavailable
If you prefer other versions of these motets—and there are many available—good for you. These are my preferences, and it’s my classical guide.
DES PRÉZ: Mille Regretz / Nadia Boulanger Vocal & Instrumental Ensemble / part of Pristine Classical PACO22
Same as above.
DES PRÉZ: Messe Gaudeamus. Messe La Sol Fa Re Mi / Ensemble Metamorphoses; Biscantor! Maurice Bourbon, director / Ligia 202238, also available in short segments on YouTube
These are Des Prez’ most substantial works, beautifully and originally written in polyphonic style. The Ensemble Metamorphoses does a splendid job with them, sounding like real people singing and not like MIDIs.
D’INDY: Symphonie sur un Chant Montagnard Française, Op. 25 / Robert Casadesus, pianist; New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3
The Symphony of French Mountain Songs is undoubtedly d’Indy’s masterpiece, and this is, to my ears, the most effective performance of it, a rather strange recording made circa 1948 before Munch became music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Only 4 fish due to the boxy mono sound.
Dohnányi, Ernst von
DOHNÁNYI: Rhapsody in C, Op. 11 No. 3 / Annie Fischer, pianist / available online for free at YouTube
DOHNÁNYI: Serenade in C for Violin, Viola & Cello, Op. 10 / Jascha Heifetz, violinist; William Primrose, violist; Emanuel Feuermann, cellist / available online for free at YouTube
Dohnányi was the most lightweight of those Hungarian composers who based their classical music on the Magyar folk music of their native country, but these two works stand out as among his most attractive and interesting. Needless to say, there are few performers even today who can compete with those in these older recordings despite the dated sound.
Donizetti was a marginal and rather derivative opera composer who wrote only four works of any worth: Don Pasquale (of which I like some of the music but find the plot cruel and nasty), L’Elisir d’Amore, La Favorita and Lucia di Lammermoor, and the last-named is only marginally better than his usual dismal scores, which include themost overrated operatic trilogy in history. Donizetti’s “Queen Trilogy”—Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Deveraux—is derivative, formulaic music that says absolutely nothing about its subject or characters. It is rubbish. Thus if you enjoy this overrrated tripe you will have to look elsewhere for recommendations.
DONIZETTI: l’Elisir d’Amore / Reri Grist, soprano (Adina); Luciano Pavarotti, tenor (Nemorino); Ingvar Wixell, baritone (Belcore); Sesto Bruscantini, bass (Dr. Dulcamara); Shigemi Matsumoto, soprano (Giannetta); San Francisco Opera Orchestra & Chorus; Giuseppe Patane, conductor / available for free streaming or download here (live: San Francisco October 7, 1968)
DONIZETTI: l’Elisir d’Amore / Lucia Popp, soprano (Adina); Peter Dvorsky, tenor (Nemorino); Bernd Weikl, baritone (Belcore); Evgeny Nesterenko, bass (Dr. Dulcamara); Elfie Hobarth, soprano (Giannetta); Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks ; Münchner Rundfunkorchester ; Heinz Wallberg, conductor.r / available for free streaming or download on YouTube
Pavarotti pretty much owned the role of Nemorino; He made two studio recordings of it, the first with Joan Sutherland which is pretty much a limp noodle, and the early-‘90s recording with Kathleen Battle which is pretty good except for the sagging-under-pitch singing of Leo Nucci. But then there is also this spectacular 1968 live performance from the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco that took off like a firecracker. Alas, only 3 ½ stars for the former because of the boxy sound—it was apparently recorded on one of those little portable Sony or Aiwa tape recorders that opera lovers often hid in their purses when they went to see a performance they thought in advance was going to be something special. And this one is. You’ll never hear a livelier or funnier performance of L’Elisir if you live to be 100.
The studio recording with Popp, Dvorsky (a very good Pavarotti sound-alike), Weikl and Nesterenko is, for me, the best sung and most sparkling of those in good stereo sound. Not to be missed!
DONIZETTI: La Favorita / Fiorenza Cossotto, mezzo (Leonora); Ileana Cotrubas, soprano (Ines); Luciano Pavarotti, tenor (Fernando); Gabriel Bacquier, baritone (Alfonso); Piero de Palma, tenor (Don Gasparo); Nicolai Ghiaurov, bass (Baldassare); Teatro Comunale di Bologna Orch. & Chorus; Richard Bonynge, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
DONIZETTI: La Favorite / Kate Aldrich, mezzo (Leonor de Guzman); Yijie Shi, tenor (Fernand), Ludovic Tézier, baritone (Alphonse XI); Giovanni Furlanetto, bass (Balthazar); Marie-Benedicte Souquet, soprano (Ines); Alain Gabriel, tenor (Don Gaspar); Choeur du Capitole de Toulouse & Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse; Antonello Allemandi, conductor / Opus Arte DVD OA1166D
Ironically, Donizetti’s finest serious opera was the only one that was a pastiche of scenes from discarded previous operas. Yet it’s true: La Favorita (Italian) or La Favorite (French) is not only his most extraordinarily beautiful opera but the one that satisfies listeners most completely. Here we have two performances, one in each language, with contrasting strengths. Both have outstanding tenors (Pavarotti and Shi) and both are well-conducted. The differences come in the other roles. Ludovic Tézier has the more conventional and robust baritone voice, but the music of King Alfonso calls for a great deal of diminuendo, rubato, and little vocal turns of the old bel canto school that Tézier simply doesn’t have in his arsenal. Gabriel Bacquier had an infirm voice, but he understood the style perfectly and delivers the finest Alfonso on records. Giovanni Furlanetto, as Balthazar, doesn’t have quite as fine a voice as Nicolai Ghiaurov, but he interprets his role more interestingly. But the biggest difference comes in the lead contralto singing Leonora. Cossotto always had a gold-plated voice, but except for her remarkable recording of Macbeth (see: Verdi), she never interpreted very much and doesn’t do so here. Kate Aldrich’s voice, though very fine, isn’t quite as golden as Cossotto’s but her Leonora is more human and far more interesting. Both performances are conducted well, and except for the stage director’s concept of Alfonso as a slobbering lecher, which I completely disagree with, the production is really quite fine, so I recommend both.
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor / Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lucia); Giacinto Prandelli, tenor (Edgardo); Nino Carta, baritone (Enrico); Lilia Hussu, mezzo-soprano (Alisa); Antonio Massaria, bass (Raimondo); Lorenzo Sabatucci, tenor (Arturo); Raimondo Botteghetti, tenor (Normanno); Teatro Verdi di Trieste Orchestra & Chorus; Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor / available for free streaming on Internet Archive (live: December 13, 1957)
DONIZETTI: Lucia di Lammermoor / Anna Moffo, soprano (Lucia); Corinna Vozza, mezzo (Alisa); Carlo Bergonzi, tenor (Edgardo); Mario Sereni, baritone (Enrico); Pierre Duval, tenor (Arturo); Ezio Flagello, bass (Raimundo); RCA Italiana Opera Orchestra & Chorus; Georges Prêtre, conductor / RCA Red Seal/Sony 88875073472
The Gencer performance may be the only Lucia you’ll ever need or want to hear. Not even Callas brought out the character as well as Gencer does here, eventually singing a “mad scene” in which she actually does sound crazy, while de Fabritiis conducts a taut, dramatically thrilling performance. Everyone is in great voice. The recording is marred, however, by its dated, somewhat boxy mono sound, which is why I only give it four fish.
That being said, honorable mention goes to the 1965 stereo recording with Moffo, Bergonzi, Sereni and conductor Prêtre. This is a very different concept of the opera; it is closer to the score than the Gencer performance, all of the missing scenes are restored, and although neither Moffo nor Bergonzi do much in the way of interpretation their singing is absolutely spectacular, as is the incendiary conducting.
DONIZETTI: Messa de Requiem, “To the Memory of Vincenzo Bellini” / Leyla Gencer, sop; Mirna Pecile, mezzo-soprano; Ennio Carlo Buoso, ten; Alessandro Cassis, bar; Agostino Ferrin, bs; Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro d Milano della RAI; Gianadrea Gavazzeni, cond / Archipel ARPCD0475 (live: Milan, March 26, 1971)
A surprisingly excellent piece of music by a composer who mostly wrote for the gallery, this Requiem was composed in memory of Vincenzo Bellini upon his untimely death in 1835. The performance is excellent; the only reason it doesn’t get five or six fish is due to the sound quality. A real gem, however, not to be overlooked.
DOWLAND: Awake, Sweet Love. Fine Knacks for Ladies. If My Complaints. In Darkness Let Me Dwell. I Saw My Ladye Weepe. Sorrow, Stay. What If I Never Speed? / Peter Pears, tenor; Julian Bream, lutenist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above.
DOWLAND: Can She Excuse My Wrongs? Come Again, Sweet Love. Far From Triumphing Court. Flow Not So Fast, Ye Fountains. Flow, My Tears. In Darkness Let Me Dwell. I Saw My Ladye Weepe. Lady, If You Do Spite Me. Shall I Sue? Weep No More, Sad Fountains. When David’s Life. When the Poor Cripple / Russell Oberlin, countertenor; Joseph Iadone, lutenist / available for free streaming at the Internet Archive
The iconic Renaissance lute song composer, Dowland is one of those figures who just barely fits into the category “classical.” His music is tuneful and sometimes touches deep feelings, but in form it’s relatively simple and thus has ever been considered on the fringe of classical music.I prefer performances by singers who sing “conversationally,” i.e., sound as if they’re reading poetry to a melody.
D’RIVERA: Aires Tropicales: Afro (arr. Jeff Scott); Contradanza; Dizzyness; Habañera. Son; Vals Venezalano / Imani Winds / part of Koch Classics 7599 or available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles above
Although a skilled jazz saxophonist, most of Paquito d’Rivera’s excursions into classical form have not impressed me, but his Aires Tropicales, by virtue of their not trying to do too much and being played by the astounding Imani Winds ensemble, give great delight.
DUKAS: Ariane et Barbe-Bleue / Viorica Cortez, mezzo-soprano (Ariane); Aage Haugland, baritone (Barbe-Bleue); Regina Sarfaty, mezzo-soprano (The Nurse); Eleonora Jankovic, mezzo-soprano (Sélysette); Edy Amadeo, soprano (Ygraine); Suzanne Sarroca, mezzo-soprano (Mélisande); Jasuko Matsumoto, soprano (Bellangère); Alfredo Colella, bass (First Peasant); Gastone Sarti, tenor (Second Peasant); Antonio Pietrini, bass (Third Peasant); Orchestra Sinfonica e coro di Roma della RAI; Gary Bertini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube (live: Rome, December 11, 1975)
Conductor Gary Bertini (1927-2005), who was Israeli despite his Italian-sounding name (he was born Shloyme Golgerant), made something of a specialty of Dukas’ enigmatic but exciting opera during the 1970s and ‘80s, culminating in a studio recording for Capriccio in 1986. Alas, the Ariane on that recording, one Marilyn Schmeige, had a fluttery voice with an unpleasant timbre, and since Ariane pretty much dominates the scene once she makes her entrance it rather kills the mood. Here, however, is a thrilling live performance from Rome in 1975, also conducted by Bertini, featuring the superb mezzo-soprano Viorica Cortez in the title role. Her voice soars with inner passion and metallic strength, and the rest of the cast—particularly the other female singers—is also quite good. The one drawback is that it is in mono, but since none of the commercial stereo recordings come close to this in excitement and particularly in consistency of singing, this is my pick.
DUKAS: La Péri: Fanfare & Poeme Danse. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Symphony in C: part 1, part 2, part 3 / RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra; Jean-Luc Tingaud, conductor / Naxos 8.573296 or available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles above.
Absolutely the best CD of Dukas’ orchestral music available anywhere, great performances and great sound. Includes his highly-regarded but little-heard ballet La Péri as well as his ubiquitous The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
DUKAS: Piano Sonata in E-flat minor. Prélude élégiaque sur le nom de Haydn. La plainte, au loin, du faune (pour le tombeau de Debussy) / Margaret Fingerhut, pianist / part of Chandos 241-32 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles
For a man who allowed very little of his music to survive him, Dukas let three of his largest works stand: the opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, the ballet Le Péri and this massive, 47-minute piano sonata. I’ve heard a few different performances of the Sonata, by Alexander Vaulin, Olivier Chauzu, François-René Duchable and Françoise Thinat, and none of them come close to Margaret Fingerhut in terms of complete emotional commitment and penetrating drive. She also gives us outstanding versions of the Prélude élégiaque and La plainte, au loin, du faune. the bad news is that as of now these performances are only available for purchase on a 2-CD set with the somewhat lackluster orchestral performances of Yan Pascal Tortelier (Sorcerer’s Apprentice, La Péri and the Symphony). The good news is that you can stream them for free on YouTube. The two smaller pieces that complement the Sonata are not to be overlooked, especially not La plainte, auloin, du faune (pour le tombeau de Debussy) which is one of Dukas’ masterpieces.
DUKAS: Villanelle / Dennis Brain, hornist; Gerald Moore, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
A slight but utterly delightful piece by Dukas in its most famous recording, featuring the late, lamented horn player Dennis Brain.
DUPARC: Chanson Triste. Élégie. Extase. L’Invitation au Voyage. Lamento. Le Manoir de Rosamonde. Phidylé. Sérénade Florentine. Soupir, Testament. Le Vague et la Cloche. La Vie Antérieure / Gérard Souzay, baritone; Dalton Baldwin, pianist / part of Newton 8802007
DUPARC: L’Invitation au Voyage. Le Manoir de Rosemonde. Phidylé. La Vie Antérieure / Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; André Previn, conductor / available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles
Duparc’s genius was in writing sensitive, impressionistic songs for voice and piano and/or voice and orchestra. There are many recordings of these available today; these are my absolute favorites. Listening to Maggie Teyte may seem a little strange to you at first, since she has such a very Scotch-sounding soprano voice and uses more portamento than we are used to today, but she was long considered a master of French song in her day. Janet Baker’s tone had become a bit acidic by the time she made this recording in the mid-1970s, but her attention to text is remarkable as is her vocal coloring. Gérard Souzay was one of the greatest singers of French chanson in his time, and these recordings are justly considered classics.
For those seeking other interesting performances, I would direct you to the historic recordings of Chanson Triste by Eleanor Steber, Eva Gauthier and Lawrence Brownlee, as well as Rosa Ponselle’s surprisingly good performance of L’Invitation au Voyage. Click on hyperlinks to hear them.
DUTILLEUX: Deux Sonnets de Jean Cassou. Le Temps l’Horlage / Renée Fleming, soprano; Orchestre National de France; Alan Gilbert, Seiji Ozawa, conductors / part of Decca 16543; available for free streaming by clicking on the titles above.
DUTILLEUX: Symphony No. 2, “Le Double” / French National Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / part of Auvidis Valois V-4830
DUTILLEUX: Violin Concerto, “L’Arbre des Songes” / available for free streaming in bits on YouTube
The music of Henri Dutilleux occupies a strange niche in the course of French music. To some extent he is related to Olivier Messiaen, except that whereas Messiaen’s music sounds good when played and conducted “straight” from the score, Dutilleux is really only enjoyable when the performer(s) are emotionally involved. Thus I have restricted my recommendations of his music to those few recordings that do it justice, as listed above. Yan Pascal Tortelier does a pretty good job of the Second Symphony (Chandos) if you can’t locate the Munch recording, but other than that, accept no substitutes!
When I was younger and a music student, we were forever hearing that Bedřich Smetana was the “authentic” Czech composer while Dvořák was the “Western-music-influenced-interloper.” Yet over the years, I’ve come to realize that for all his authenticity Smetana only wrote three or four great pieces of music while Dvořák wrote at least a dozen; and, moreover, his music is just as inspired and original and much more interesting overall. So let’s explore Dvořák in some detail, shall we?
DVOŘÁK: Carnival Overture / Brit Királyi Filharmonikus Zenekar; Päavo Järvi, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Päavo Järvi (or, as we called him here in Cincinnati, “Bravo Päavo” because he was arrested for being drunk and falling asleep behind the wheel of his car) is the most shallow and least interesting of the three conducting Järvis, but happily this is just a cute, splashy piece, right up Bravo Päavo’s alley, and he does a bang-up job on it.
DVOŘÁK: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 / Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; National Orchestral Association; Leon Barzin, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Feuermann actually recorded the Dvořák Concerto in the studio only once, in 1929 with his friend Michael Taube conducting, but there are two live performances from the early 1940s with superior orchestral playing, this one conducted by Leon Barzin, an oustanding musician who Toscanini encouraged to become a conductor, and the other by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Hans Lange. I feel that Feuermann plays with more drive in this Barzin-led performance, and happily it is available for free on YouTube.
So too, as of this writing, is the phenomenal Leonard Rose live performance from 1967 with a very young Charles Dutoir conducting. This is my favorite stereo version of the concerto.
DVOŘÁK: Gypsy Songs, Op. 55 (in English)/Jon Vickers, tenor; Leon Barkin, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
Magnificent performances of Dvořák’s famous Gypsy Songs by the greatest Canadian tenor who ever lived, or possibly will ever live. So there!
DVOŘÁK: Indian Lament / Fritz Kreisler, violinist; Carl Lamson, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
No, it’s not a truly great piece, but it is an affecting one and it is music based on American Indian themes, and Kreisler plays it as beautifully as it is ever likely to be heard in your lifetkime or mine.
DVOŘÁK: Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33 / Rudolf Firkušný, pianist; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; Jiří Bělohlávek, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Very few pianists of the post-1990 era could play the Dvořák Concerto as well as Firkušny, who waited out the Soviet occupation of his homeland before agreeing to perform there again. Alas, most Americans only know Firkušny, if at all, from a rather stupid ad for Nike shoes featuring David Robinson. Better you should listen to the elegance and drive that he had to offer in this wonderful piece.
DVOŘÁK: Piano Trios Nos. 3 & 5 (“Dumky”) / Trio Solisti / Bridge 9393
Two absolutely incendiary performances of Dvořák’s mature piano trios by an American trio that plays from the gut, every single time.
DVOŘÁK: Requiem / Simona Šaturová, soprano; Jana Sýkorova, alto; Tomáš Černý, tenor; Peter Mikuláš, bass; Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno; Brno Philharmonic Orchestra; Petr Fiala, conductor / Arcodiva UP0130 (live: Brno, November 11-12, 2010)
This 2010 performance, just released in June 2017, replaces my former pick which was the recording by Philippe Herreweghe on Phi. Both Herreweghe and Fiala conduct the music with the same phrasing, emotional commitment and nearly the same tempi. Fiala needs a little bass boost to bring out the low strings and timpani in the louder sections like the “Dies irae,” but I prefer his recording because his vocal soloists are all excellent whereas Herreweghe’s sound a little fluttery and infirm (excepting the bass).
DVOŘÁK: Rusalka: O lovely moon / Renée Fleming, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; Sir Georg Solti, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
There are several fine performances of this exquisite aria available, including Inge Borkh, Zinka Milanov and Lucia Popp, but no one nails it quite like Renée Fleming, who worked to make this her showpiece for auditions.
DVOŘÁK: Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 (Complete) / CzechPhilharmonic Orchestra; Vaclav Talich, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
It’s a pity that Vaclav Talich has become forgotten in recent years; he was one of the greatest conductors of his time, trained by Artur Nikisch, and certainly one of the greatest interpreters of Czech music who ever lived, as this 1950 recording will prove.
DVOŘÁK: The Spectre’s Bride (Svatební Košile) / Drahomira Tikalová, soprano (The Girl); Beno Blachut, tenor (Dead Man); Ladislav Mráz, bass-baritone (Narrator); Prague Philharmonic Chorus; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; Jaroslav Krombholc, conductor / Supraphon 3574 (part of 2-CD set with Novak’s The Storm), also available for free streaming on YouTube
An incredible and often-overlooked gem, this dramatic cantata is one of the most thrilling pieces Dvořák ever wrote, employing dramatic strophes and downward chromatic movement to convey the effect of Gothic horror. There are a few other recordings of it, including four modern ones, but the singing on this 1961 studio version, along with great conducting, puts it at the very top.
An utterly delightful quartet, played with great verve and fine musicality by the Serafin Quartet.
DVOŘÁK: Symphonic Variations / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
One of the composer’s most overlooked scores, in an outstanding and finely honed performance by Toscanini.
DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 / Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; Vaclav Talich, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 9, Op. 95, “New World” / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / availabl for free streaming on YouTube
DVOŘÁK: Symphonies Nos. 7, 8 & 9 / Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra (No. 7), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Carlos Païta, conductor / Lodia 782 (7th Symphony), 789 (others)
Another vintage Vaclav Talich recording, added to which I give you the superlative 1953 Toscanini recording of the “New World” Symphony. But I’ve saved the best for last: Carlos Païta’s incendiary set of the last three Dvořák Symphonies even outdoes the one by Istvan Kértesz of Penguin Guide fame.
DVOŘÁK: Tone Poems – The Water Goblin, Op. 107 / Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; Vaclav Neumann, conductor / The Noon Witch, Op. 108 / Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; Rafael Kubelik, conductor / The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109 / Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Valek, conductor / The Wild Dove [Wood Dove], Op. 110 / Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, Theodor Kuchar, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above
In 1896, Dvořák wrote four absolutely terrific tone poems based on the Gothic folk tales collected by famed Czech poet Karel Erben. Each one has a fantastic and rather gruesome plot, and Dvořák responded with some of the finest and most exciting music he ever wrote.
There are several recordings available of all four as a set, but I personally feel the recordings listed above to be the best of each piece. Sometimes the differences between interpretations are quite small, yet telling: Neumann, for instance, gives passionate and dynamic performances of all four, but only his version of The Water Goblin really grabs me in each section. Kubelik isn’t quite as dynamic in The Water Goblin or The Golden Spinning Wheel as my choices, but he produced the most exciting version of The Noon Witch I’ve ever heard. Vladimir Valek, a conductor previously unknown to me, does the most exciting performance of The Golden Spinning Wheel (but his Noon Witch, though good, lacks the excitement and dynamic contrasts of Kubelik), while the vastly underrated Theodor Kuchar gives us a great interpretation of The Wild Dove. The great Czech conductor Vaclav Talich also left us outstanding recordings of these works, but alas, they are all mono and pretty tubby, indistinct mono at that. These are all stereo recordings, the Kubelik and Kuchar also being digital.
DVOŘÁK: Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 / Kyun-Wha Chung, violinist; Rundsfunk-Berlin Sinfonieorchester; Riccardo Chailly, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube / Romance for Violin & Orchestra / Kyun-Wha Chung, violinist; Philadelphia Orchestra; Riccardo Muti, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Chung’s performances of both the Violin Concerto and the Romance are of such a high level that I don’t think there is any violinist in the world other than Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg who can even equal them.