HABER: From the Book of Maintenance and Sustenance / Max Mandel, violinist; Eric Huebner, pianist / Last Skin. We Were All / Contemporaneous / On Leaving Brooklyn / Mireille Asselin, Meg Guth, sopranos; Javier Abreu, tenor; Scott Dispensa, baritone; Harumi Rhodes, violinist / Torus / Mivos Quartet / Roven Records 10015
Yotam Haber, who was born in the Netherlands but grew up in Israel, Nigeria and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, studied composition at Indiana University. At age 40, he is one of the most interesting and individual of modern composers, spacing notes intelligently and emphasizing mood over surface brilliance. These works are all fascinating and engrossing, and the performances are committed and full of life. The only drawback I see to Haber’s career is that he doesn’t seem to be a particularly prolific composer.
HAHN: L’Automne. À Chloris. Dans la nuit. L’Énamourée. Fêtes Galantes. Les Fontaines. Fumée. L’Heure Exquise. Infidélité. Je me souviens. Lydé. Mai. Nocturne. Offrande. Paysage. Phyllis. Le Printemps. D’une prison. Quand je fus pris au pavillon. Quand la nuit n’est pas étoiles. Le Rossignol des lilas. Si mes vers avaient des ailes. Trois Jours de vendange. Tyndaris / Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; Roger Vignoles, pianist / Brummell: Air de lettre. Mozart: Le lettre; Être adoré. Ô mon bel inconnu: Ô mon bel inconnu; C’est très villain d’ètre infidèle / Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Yves Abel, conductor / most of these part of Warner Classics set 68625. Most available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above.
HAHN: Venezio / Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; Julius Drake, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on title
Reynaldo Hahn occupies an odd place in musical history. Born in Venezuela, he became a French composer by adoption of that style, and in the early years of the 20th century was the darling of drawing rooms and Le Belle Epoque. His songs L’Heure Exquise, Si mes vers avaient des ailes and D’une Prison were amazingly popular, being recorded by such major artists as Victor Maurel, Geraldine Farrar, Nellie Melba, Jeanne Gerville-Réache, Alma Gluck and Jane Bathori. But then he had the misfortune to go out of fashion, his music considered old-fashioned by the standards set by Bartók, Stravinsky and even Francis Poulenc. Like Erik Satie, he slipped from public consciousness, and even when he wrote French operettas like Mozart, Brummell and Ô mon bel Inconnu in the early 1930s, his work was relegated to the dustbin of old-fashioned curiosities. Yet as time passed and interest in late-Romantic French music came back into vogue, Hahn suddenly re-assumed his place as a major composer in that genre. The examples listed above are superb examples of his art, superbly performed by Graham and DiDonato.
HAHN: Concerto Inachevé pour Violoncello (arr. Pollain), 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt / Jérôme Pinget, cellist; Yoko Kaneko, pianist / Quatuor avec Piano: 1st mvmt, 2nd mvmt, 3rd mvmt, 4th mvmt / Quatuor Gabriel / Premiere Valses pour Piano – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th / Yoko Kaneko, pianist / Soliloque et Forlane pour Alto et Piano / Vincent Aucante, violist; Yoko Kaneko, pianist / Venezia for Six Violincellos (available for streaming in small bits on YouTube) / Roland Pidoux, Pierre Cordier, Renaud Guieu, Antoine Lederlin, Matthieu Lejeune, Christophe Morin, cellists / Maguelone 111.117, most selections also available for free streaming by clicking on titles or movements above
Hahn’s instrumental music isn’t nearly as well known as his songs, but these works illustrate the thought and careful construction he lavished on these works. Nearly each movement of each piece is a little gem.
HAILSTORK: Arabesques / Debra Cross, flautist; Robert Cross, percussionist / As Falling Leaves / Debra Cross, flautist; Beverly Baker, violist; Barbara Chapman, harpist / Sanctum / Beverly Baker, violist; Charles Woodward, pianist / String Quartet No. 1 / Vahn Armstrong, Amanda Gates-Armstrong, violinists; Jennifer Snyder, violist; Michael Daniels, cellist / 2 Romances for Viola & Chamber Ensemble / Vahn Armstrong, Amanda Gates-Armstrong, violinists; Beverly Baker, Jennifer Snyder, violists; Debra Cross, flautist; Michael Daniels, cellist / Albany 612, also available for free streaming on YouTube in small pieces
HAILSTORK: Piano Concerto (1992) Leon Bates, pianist; Virginia Symphony Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
HAILSTORK: Symphony No. 2 (1995) / Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra; David Lockington, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
HAILSTORK: Shout for Joy! / Morgan State University Choir & Orchestra; Daniel Hege, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Professor of Music at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, Adolphus Hailstork studied composition with David Diamond, a fairly nice composer, but has taken his aesthetic to a new level. His music is tonal but never banal or uninteresting; he has found his own voice and expresses himself with great eloquence. The chamber works in the first CD are more intimate and, to my mind, more personal than the large works in the second, yet his Piano Concerto and Second Symphony are fine pieces and Shout for Joy! is one of his most exuberant church-based compositions.
HALEVY: La Juive (abridged) / Richard Tucker, tenor (Elezear); Yasuko Hayashi, soprano (Rachel); David Gwynne, bass (Cardinal de Brogni); Juan Sabaté, tenor (Prince Leopold); Michele Le Bris, soprano (Princess Eudoxie); Robert Bickerstaff, baritone (Ruggiero); Anthony Baldwin, baritone (Albert); Leslie Fyson, baritone (Herald); Edgar Fleet, tenor (Officer); Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Chorus & Orchestra; Anton Guadagno, conductor / Opera d’Oro 7022 (live: London, March 4, 1973)
HALEVY: La Juive (Highlights) / Richard Tucker, tenor (Elezear); Martina Arroyo, soprano (Rachel); Bonaldo Gioatti, bass (Cardinal de Brogni); Juan Sabaté, tenor (Prince Leopold); Anna Moffo, soprano (Princess Eudoxie); Leslie Fyson, baritone (Herald); Ambrosian Chorus; New Philharmonia Orchestra; Antonio de Almeida, conductor / RCA Red Seal/Sony 889853977826
Halevy’s La Juive, in its full four-hour-plus length, is a fairly tedious slog despite some great music. The abridged 1973 recording contains most of the great scenes from this opera with a cast including the great Richard Tucker as Elezear and three fine supporting singers (Yasuko Hayashi, Michelle Le Bris and tenor Juan Sabaté), but bass David Gwynne simply isn’t up to the role of Cardinal de Brogni, vocally or histrionically, and Tucker isn’t in his best voice, glotting and hamming up a bit too much. Still, it is the best of the complete or near-complete verisons available.
Better yet, although just 49 minutes of highlights, is the RCA Victor studio recording listed second. Here Tucker is in masterful voice, Bonaldo Gioatti is a magnificent Brogni, and in Martina Arroyo we have a Rachel who has both excitement and a truly great voice. I recommend both for the reasons given above.
HALFFTER: Obertura Festiva. Tripartita / Orquesta Filarmónica de la cuidad de Mexico; Enrique Batiz, conductor / Violin Concerto, Op. 11 / Henryk Szering, violinist; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Enrique Batiz, conductor / part of Brilliant Classics 8771 or available for free streaming by clicking on individual titles above
Rodolfo Halffter Escriche, born in Madrid, was part of a group of composers known as “Grupo de los Ocho,” all of whom were influenced by Adolfo Salazar. Because he supported the Republican government, Halffter went into exile in Mexico after the end of the Spanish Civil War. His music is best described as having a free polytonality within a framework of classicism. These are some of his most interesting works.
Handel, Georg Frideric
Georg Frideric Händel, undoubtedly the best-known German composer of his time (and particularly in Great Britain), was a larger-than-life gay man who swaggered his way through life like a “conqu’ring hero.” Although a few of his German-composed works remain well known and admired, it was his British period, in which he wrote Italian operas and English cantatas, that cemented his immortality. The biggest problem with Handel, as with so many composers of any era who wrote so much music over a relatively finite number of years, was that much of it (particularly the operas) tend to sound alike. The late soprano Joan Sutherland once recounted an incident when she was singing in one Handel opera (I forget which one now), launched into her big aria, and halfway through just automatically started singing one of his other, very similar arias from an entirely different opera. It was not an uncommon thing for lay listeners or professionals to do so. I personally only really love a small handful of the Handel operas, but those I love I love wholeheartedly. They are listed below, along with the instrumental pieces I admire.
HANDEL: Acis and Galatea / Susan Hamilton, soprano (Galatea); Nicholas Mulroy, tenor (Acis); Thomas Hobbs, tenor (Damon); Nicholas Hurndall Smith, tenor (Coridon); Matthew Brook, bass (Polyphemus); Dunedin Consort & Players; John Butt, director / Linn Records CKD319, or available for free streaming on YouTube
This early (1718) masque was one of the rare forays at that time for Handel in English, and he did a pretty good job of it. The music is atypical Handel, being light, airy and lacking in much of the Baroque runs, trills and other complexities that are such prominent features of his later operas with the sole exception of Polyphemus’ showcase aria, “O ruddier than the cherry.” Interestingly, this is a case where the principal male role, Acis, was originally sung by a castrato (the famous Senesino) but is now almost always sung by a tenor…thank goodness! With the exception of bass Matthew Brook, none of the principal singers here have what you would call an archetypal operatic voice, but to be honest lightweight voices work best in this masque/opera because the music is so sweetly simple and lightly scored. There are many good recordings around, but this one is my favorite not because it was the first of the original 1718 version but because everyone seems to be enjoying themselves so much that the enthusiasm rubs off on the listener. The plot os simple and not much worrying about; it’s the music that stays with one.
HANDEL: Amadigi di Gaula / Maria Riccarda Wesseling, mezzo (Amadigi); Elena de la Merced, soprano (Oriana); Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, soprano (Melissa); Jordi Domènech, countertenor (Dardano); Al Ayre Español; Eduardo López Banzo, conductor / Naïve 123
I know that there’s a famous recording of this opera conducted by Marc Minkowski, who I normally admire, but this performance is so strong in every respect that I’ve never had any reason to seek it out. Many professional critics write this opera off as mediocre Handel; Simon Thompson, on MusicWeb International, says that “if you don’t like Handel opera then this set isn’t going to change your mind, and it doesn’t reach the heights of inspiration met in later masterpieces like Rodelinda or Alcina,” but he’s completely wrong. The music of Amadigi di Gaula is completely different from almost anything Handel wrote before or after. There is tremendous imagination in the musical construction; the arias and choruses never quite go where you expect them to; and the first-rate cast and conductor bring this all out with superb clarity. Indeed, I would almost recommend that you start your listening to Handel operas with this one, since it set the bar so high and he almost never surpassed it in later years.
HANDEL: Cantatas: Ah! Crudel nel pianto mio. Armida Abbandonata. Lucrezia / Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; Bernard Richards, cellist; English Chamber Orchestra; Raymond Leppard, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when we were allowed to enjoy our dramatic Handel cantatas sung in a full-throated manner by singers who didn’t have to be careful of being Too Loud because the orchestras weren’t playing with that crappy-sounding Straight Tone. If you don’t like these performances, I double-dog-dare you to find me modern performances with the same emotional impact.
By far the most stunning and virtuosic of all Handel cantatas for male voice, sung here by the amazing David Thomas who is sadly neglected nowadays. I saw Thomas sing in person and can attest that he has a very large voice which he could project with ease in a theater, and his technique was second to none.
HANDEL: Cello Sonata in G min. / Jacqueline du Pré, cellist; Ernest Lush, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
A great performance of one of the more interesting instrumental pieces in Handel’s oeuvre.
HANDEL: Giulio Cesare / Marie-Nicole Lemieux, mezzo (Giulio Cesare); Gianluca Buratto, bass (Curio); Romina Basso, mezzo (Cornelia); Emőke Baráth, soprano (Sesto Pompeo); Karina Gauvin, soprano (Cleopatra); Filippo Mineccia, countertenor (Tolomeo); Johannes Weisser, baritone (Achilla); Milena Storti, mezzo-soprano (Nireno); Il Complesso Barocco; Alan Curtis, conductor / Harmonia Mundi 901385/87 or available for free streaming on YouTube
At one point, the René Jacobs recording with the great Jennifer Larmore as Caesar was the touchstone for this opera, but this one supplanted it. As good as Larmore was, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, a contralto who sometimes has what I call a “flyaway” vibrato, surpasses her in capturing the character—at least on this recording—and the great Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin is far superior to Jacobs’ Cleopatra. This is a simply brilliant performance of what is almost universally acknowledged as Handel’s masterpiece.
HANDEL: Messiah / Joan Rodgers, soprano; Della Jones, mezzo; Christopher Robson, countertenor; Philip Langridge, tenor; Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone; Collegium Musicum 90; Richard Hickox, conductor / Chandos 522
Handel’s Messiah is quite possibly the most-recorded piece of classical music in the world—certainly the most-recorded oratorio of all time. The first recording was made in the late 1920s by Sir Thomas Beecham, and for about 20 years it was the only commercial recording of the work, but once the LP came around—and especially during the stereo era—recordings began to mushroom, everything from Beecham’s 1959 remake with a cast of thousands, Eugene Ormandy’s somewhat abridged best-selling version with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Karl Richter’s recording of Mozart’s rescored version, and in 1966 the first move towards historically-informed performance in Robert Shaw’s groundbreaking RCA Victor recording. Arkivmusic currently lists no less than 95 extant versions, and this doesn’t even include either of the Beecham recordings, Shaw’s 1966 RCA version, Colin Davis’ mid-1960s version (his first of three) or Ivar Taurins’ older recording of it with Tafelmusik, and I’m sure there are others I don’t know about that are no longer available, either.
For those of us who are Deists, Buddhists or Agnostics (I count myself among the first two), the religiosity of a work like Messiah, as in the similar cases of Bach’s Passions and Mass, is the religious angle. If you don’t believe in the fabricated hodgepodge that Christianity made of the Christ story, blending it with Pagan ritual and the Winter Solstice celebration, you’re not going to view it the way Christians do, as a revelation from the Creator. But Handel never did a better job matching music to text, which was surprising in this case because he was neither a particularly devout Christian (he admitted to writing the music in a fit of religious ecstasy, as Ethel Smyth did her own Mass, without being a true believer) nor a native English speaker, and there is no question that the entire structure is a masterpiece. If you’re not a believer, just view it in the same way as Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and you’ll be fine.
As for performance style, I was never very happy with the slick, Romanticized readings of Beecham or Ormandy. The first Shaw version opened my ears, as did the somewhat bastardized but mostly excellent 1970 recording by Johannes Somary (in which he gave “But who may abide” to the bass instead of the mezzo). Although I greatly respected him as a conductor, Karl Richter’s recording of the Mozart arrangement also seemed to me a step backwards. There was clearly some extra energy in the early “HIP” recordings of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Christopher Hogwood, but somehow the extreme edginess of the orchestral playing, in an almost non-legato style, and the small choruses turned me off, and most later HIP recordings have also irked me. As one commentator put it in a review on Amazon, it’s mostly the impassioned choral singing that annoys one. The brash, exultant “Hallelujah” chorus doesn’t sound on these recordings so much like a statement of joy as it does a restaurant customer “calling the waiter for more hot water in his cup.”
Since I once sang in a college performance of Messiah in 1969. I can assure you that enthusiasm in the choruses is a major factor in my appraisal of recordings as well as the excellence of the vocal soloists. Having been around the block and back (so to speak) on various versions of this work, I believe that the Richard Hickox recording is the best all-round version out there. All of the four principal soloists can sing, and do so splendidly. Some listeners have complained of soprano Joan Rodgers’ vibrato, but it is clearly a contained vibrato, even and regular, and not at all over-the-top as in the cases of such singers as Pilar Lorengar or mezzo Florence Quivar. And all four principals sing with involvement and energy; they really make the words stand out and give them a strong delivery. Particularly interesting is mezzo Della Jones, whose performance here uses an almost conversational style of singing that I found both unusual and interesting.
The fly in the ointment is the fifth soloist, countertenor Christopher Robson, who for some unknown reason is given three items to sing, “But who may abide,” “Thou art gone up on high” and the recitative and duet with the tenor, “O death, where is thy sting?” The only reason I can think for using another mezzo-range voice is that these items go down a little lower than the others, and Jones, being a high mezzo (she also sang such soprano roles as Jemmy in Rossini’s William Tell), might have had trouble singing them, but Robson does these pieces no favor. His pleasant but hooty voice has no body to the tone, and he therefore cannot impart the proper drama to the “Vivace” section of the first aria, which is set to the words “For he is like a refiner’s fire.” For these three items, I would recommend that you download and replace them with a genuine contralto from another recording. Your choice.
The orchestra used here, a HIP group called Collegium Musicum 90, plays with straight tone but also with a great deal of energy and very good phrasing, something that most HIP groups do not do, and Hickox manages to squeeze every last drop of passion and emotion out of his chorus which, as I mentioned earlier, is rare in the majority of HIP performances. Not only the “Hallelujah,” but also “And the glory of the Lord,” “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” “For unto us a child is born, “All we like sheep have gone astray” etc. are delivered with zest and energy, in fact even better than in Shaw’s 1966 recording, and the recorded sound is absolutely splendid. So this is my pick, and I’m staying with it.
HANDEL: Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day / Heather Harper, soprano; Peter Pears, tenor; Keith Harvey, cellist; Richard Adeney, flautist; Philip Jones, trumpeter; Julian Bream, lutenist; Philip Ledger, organist/harpsichord; Chorus of East Anglian Choirs; English Chamber Orchestra; Benjamin Britten, conductor / BBC 8009
Absolutely the best performance you are likely to hear of this underrated work. Britten’s conducting pulls things together brilliantly, and the vastly-underrated soprano Heather Harper is radiant as she usually was.
HANDEL: Rodelinda / Sonia Ganassi, mezzo-soprano (Rodelinda); Paolo Fanale, tenor (Grimoaldo); Marina De Liso, contralto (Eduige); Franco Fagioli, countertenor (Bertarido); Antonio Giovannini, countertenor (Unulfo); Gezim Myshketa, baritone (Garibaldo); Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia; Diego Fasolis, conductor / Dynamic CDS 7724/1-2
It’s difficult to describe the fantastic qualities of this performance, except to say that it’s a genuinely Italian-opera interpretation of Handel. Yes, they all have the flexibility in coloratura you want and expect from Handelian singers, but they also give out emotionally in a way that you rarely if ever hear from English or American casts. In addition, Diego Fasolis conducts the opera brilliantly.
HANDEL: Royal Fireworks Music. Water Music / Orpheus Chamber Orchestra / DGG 435 390-2 or available for free streaming on YouTube
I love these performances: bright, energetic and beautifully performed by a chamber orchestra that’s not quite Historically-Informed but good enough for me!
HANDEL: Sonatas: in G min., HWV 580; in G min., HWV 583. Suites: No. 5, “Harmonious Blacksmith”; No. 8 in G. Fantasia in C, HWV 490. Lesson in B-flat, HWV 434. Prelude and Allegro in a min., HWV 576 / Igor Kipnis, harpsichordist / Nonesuch 79037
Fabulous performances by one of the great harpsichordists of all time, sadly neglected today.
Also see Collections: Arleen Augér, Janet Baker, Peter Dawson, Kathleen Battle, Maureen Forrester, Virgil Fox, Karina Gauvin, Susan Graham, Emma Kirkby, John McCormack, Russell Oberlin, Patricia Petibon, Aksel Rykkvin, Jon Vickers.
HANDEL: Samson (abridged, sung in German) / Ernst Häfliger, tenor (Samson); Maria Stader, soprano (Dalila); Marga Höffgen, contralto (Micah); Kim Borg, bass (Manoah); Heinz Rehfuss, bass (Harapha); Maria Reith (Philistine Woman); RIAS-Kammerchor; Chorus of St. Hedwig’s Cathedral; RIAS-Symphony Orchestra; Ferenc Fricsay, conductor / Urania Arts 121.360-2 (live: Berlin, September 18, 1955)
Though severely abridged (about a third of the oratorio was cut for this performance) and sung in German instead of English, this is the most moving and memorable performance of Samson I’ve ever heard. Fricsay uses reduced forces, Baroque trumpets and a harpsichord continuo, shaping and pacing the music with a sure hand, and the singers are wonderful in terms of both voice and interpretation. Häfliger is, in fact, as moving in his aria “Total eclipse” as Jon Vickers, and far more fluent in his runs and divisions. Finnish bass Kim Borg, who also sang Wagner roles in his long career, is also surprisingly good in this Baroque score. If the work were complete and the sound in stereo, it would easily merit six fish.
HANSON: Symphony No. 4, Op. 34, “Requiem.”* / HARTMANN: Symphony No. 2, “Adagio” # / *NBC Symphony Orchestra; #WDR Symphony Orchestra Köln; Leopold Stokowski, conductor / part of Guild 2379/80
I’m killing two birds with one stone here. Both Howard Hanson and Karl Amadeus Hartmann were fairly good composers. The fact that I own, and therefore chose, only one work by each of them is only predicated in part by the fact that they are the only ones I own. I happen to like the cheerful, buoyant performances that Stokowski gives of them.
Once considered one of America’s finest and most important composers, Roy Harris has fallen out of favor in the last 40 years. Perhaps part of the problem was that so many of his symphonies after his famous No. 3 tended to sound like the Symphony No. 3, but as you will see below he wrote a fair number of fine works that have stood the test of time.
HARRIS: Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight / Nell Tangeman, mezzo-soprano; Samuel Thavin, violinist; Theo Salzman, cellist; Johana Harris, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
Beautiful yet haunting, this piece is one of Harris’ forgotten gems. Nell Tangeman, an outstanding mezzo with unfortunate self-destructive tendencies, gives a great performance of Vachel Lindsay’s poetry set to music, and Harris’ young wife Johana is the pianist here.
HARRIS: Fantasy for Piano & Orchestra / Johana Harris, pianist; MGM Symphony Orchestra, Izler Solomon, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
HARRIS: Quintet for Piano & Strings / Johana Harris, pianist; Coolidge String Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
Two further examples of Harris’ fine work, again featuring Johana Harris on piano. Trivia note: after Harris’ death, Johana, then fairly old herself, married the young composer Jake Heggie.
HARRIS: Symphony No. 3 / New York Philhrmonic Orchestra; Leonard Bernstein, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
HARRIS: Symphony No. 7 / Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Here is the famous Third Symphony along with the equally stunning Seventh in definitive readings. I’m sure my readers are surprised by my inclusion of anything by Ormandy, but he was actually a fine conductor when the mood struck him, and this is definitely one of his finest recordings.
HARRIS: Symphony No. 8, “San Francisco” / Albany Symphony Orchestra; David Alan Miller, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Written in 1962 for the San Francisco Symphony’s 50th anniversary, this symphony—quite upbeat and jocular—celebrates the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
HARRIS: Symphony No. 11 / Sinfonia Varsovia; Ian Hobson, pianist & conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Despite the apparent light-heartedness of this score, Harris’ 11th Symphony was inspired by the unstable social and political climate of 1967. The prominent piano part was originally played by his wife Johana, and it was dedicated to her. Here it is the wonderful Ian Hobson acting as both soloist and conductor.
HARTKE: The Horse With the Lavender Eye / David Schifrin, clarinetist; Daniel Phillips, violinist; Anne-Marie McDermott, pianist / part of Delos 3423, also available for free streaming on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4
HARTKE: The King of the Sun / Musica Nova; Matthew Siegel, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
HARTKE: Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6 / eighth blackbird / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on links above / eighth blackbird / part of Çedille 90000, also available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on links above
The quirky but fascinating music of Stephen Hartke follows its own rules and style. It is modern classical music, meaning that it is generally bitonal or at least tonally ambiguous, but Hartke’s unusual use of meter and the “spacing” of instruments draws the listener inward and is inviting as well as challenging. The works listed above are my favorites of his output.
Hausegger, Siegmund von
HAUSEGGER: Aufklänge, Symphonic Variations. Dionysische Phantasie, Symphonic Poem. Wieland der Schmeid / Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; Antony Hermus, conductor / CPO 777 810-2
HAUSEGGER: Natursymphonie / WDR Rundfunkchor Köln; WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln; Ari Rasilainen, conductor / available for free streaming onYouTube
Siegmund von Hausegger, a younger contemporary of Richard Strauss, may be the greatest composer you’ve never heard. Although his music resembles Strauss’ in its outward form and certainly in orchestration, Hausegger’s method of musical development was far more cogent than later Strauss of the Alpine Symphony / Sinfonia Domestica period. Both his large tone poems in the first disc and his nearly-hour-long Natursymphonie will take your breath away with their musical invention and daring turns of phrase.
Haydn, Franz Joseph
HAYDN: Armida / Cecilia Bartoli, soprano (Armida); Patricia Petibon, soprano (Zelmira); Christoph Prégardien, tenor (Rinaldo); Scot Weir, tenor (Ubaldo); Markus Schäfer, tenor (Clotarco); Oliver Widmer, bass (Idreno); Concentus Musicus Wien; Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Haydn wrote a good number of operas, but most have been forgotten because the music never seemed to work as well in context of the text. Armida is a rare success, and this performance, with its all-star cast brilliantly conducted by Harnoncourt, serves the music best.
HAYDN: Cantata, Arianne a Naxos / Cecilia Bartoli, soprano; Andras Schiff, pianist
HAYDN: Cantata, Arianna a Naxos (orch. Ernest Frank) / Ewa Podles, contralto; Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Łukasz Borowicz, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on titles above
One of Haydn’s best and most dramatic cantatas, and these two performances will simply bowl you over.
HAYDN: Cantatas: Miseri noi, misera Patria. Scene di Berenice. Concerto No. 4 for Violin & Strings, Hob. VIIa:4 / Marilyn Schmiege, mezzo-soprano; Ingrid Seifert, violinist; Capella Coloniensis; Hans-Martin Linde, conductor / Phoenix 176 or available for free streaming on YouTube in individual movements
A fantastic recording of two of Haydn’s better cantatas along with a good performance of the little-heard Concerto No. 4 for Violin and Strings.
HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 1 in C / Mstislav Rostropovich, cellist; English Chamber Orchestra; Benjamin Britten, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
There is no question to me that Rostropovich owned this concerto in ways that other cellists simply do not match. There are several different performances by Rostropovich on YouTube, but this 1964 recording has both the best sound and the best balance between soloist and orchestra.
HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 2 in D / Emanuel Feuermann, cellist; Unidentified orchestra; Sir Malcolm Sargent, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Although Rostropovich’s performances of the first Haydn Cello Concerto are tops, none of his recordings of performances of Concerto No. 2 comes close to Feuermann’s despite the boxy mono sound.
HAYDN: The Creation / Christiane Oelze, soprano; Scot Weir, tenor; Peter Lika, bass; RIAS Kammerchor; The Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Sir Roger Norrington, conductor / Hänssler Classic 7074 / available for free streaming in small bits on YouTube
One of the biggest problems in performing Haydn’s most popular oratorio is that the orchestra, chorus and singers often try to sound too grand, as if they’re doing a superannuated rendition of Bach’s St, Matthew Passion or Handel’s Messiah. The problem is that the music doesn’t sustain this approach. Light, swift, airy and jolly, this is the best-conducted version around, and the singers—particularly crystal-voiced soprano Oelze—are superb.
HAYDN: Horn Concerto No. 2 in D / Alfred Brain, French hornist; Janssen Symphony Orchestra; Werner Janssen, conductor / part of BNF Collection 2013, available for paid download here
Everyone knows the name of Dennis Brain, and a lot of collectors know of his father, Aubrey Brain, but who the heck was ALFRED Brain? Well, he was Aubrey’s brother and Dennis’ uncle…a rather mad nonconformist who dropped out of the music business for years to run a chicken farm in California, then free-lanced as a player in movie orchestras and occasionally with the Hollywood Bowl. He lacked the polished sound of his brother and nephew, and in fact had a very weak low range, but he liked his liquor and was as exciting as hell. To the best of my knowledge, this is his only solo recording of a concerto with his name on it, and a knowledgeable brass player of my acquaintance claims that another horn player dubbed the low notes in this performance. Yet it’s one of the most thrilling performances you’ll ever hear in your life. Highly recommended.
HAYDN: Lord Nelson Mass. Symphony No. 102 / Mary Wilson, soprano; Abigail Fischer, mezzo-soprano; Keith Jameson, tenor; Kevin Deas, bass-baritone; Boston Baroque; Martin Pearlman, conductor / Linn 426
Forget John Eliot Gardiner, Richard Hickox, Michel Piquemal or anyone else conducting and singing this piece; Martin Pearlman and the Boston Baroque just tear up the floorboards with it, and the soloists, none really well-known, are superb.
HAYDN: Andante and Variations in F min., Hob XVII:6. Sonatas: No. 34 in E min.; No. 35 in C; No. 37 in D; No. 40 in E-flat; No. 49 in E-flat / Wanda Landowska, pianist/harpsichordist / available for free download here
HAYDN: Andante and Variations in F min., Hob XVII:6. Sonatas: No. 47 in B min., Hob. XVI:32; in E min., Hob. XVI:34; in D, Hob. XVI:37; in E-flat, Hob. XVI:52 / Alexander Kobrin, pianist / Quartz 2098
Haydn’s piano music is considerably different in style and form from Mozart’s or even Haydn’s. It is not always symmetrical in form and requires an entirely different keyboard approach; if you try to play it like Mozart or early Beethoven, it will sound banal and formless by comparison. Thus I am very picky in performances of this music, and both Alexander Kobrin and the late Wanda Landowska get to the heart of the music better than most others. Despite the dated mono sound (from 1958), it is Landowska who creates the greater magic in this music, but both keyboardists are very fine in this music.
To me, personally, the piano trios are some of Haydn’s greatest compositions, not only lively but incredibly inventive. The Beaux Arts Trio played them to perfection.
HAYDN: Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat, Hob. 105 / Mischa Mischakoff, violinist; Frank Miller, cellist; Paolo Rienzi, oboist; Leonard Sharrow, bassoonist; NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
This is one of Toscanini’s warmest and most relaxed performances, but beware: the transfer here is nearly a half-tone too low because the jerk who put it up likes A=432 over A=440, at which pitch it was actually performed. You’ll have to bring it up to modern pitch to appreciate its full beauty.
HAYDN: String Quartets (complete) / The Angeles String Quartet / Decca 001677202 or available for free streaming on YouTube by entering “Haydn Complete Quartets Angeles String Quartet” in the search bar and hitting “Enter”
No other group comes close to the Angeles Quartet’s achievement in Haydn. They play every quartet as if on fire, they understand the pacing and shaping of each movement within each quartet, and their instrumental balance, pitch and style are absolutely perfect.
HAYDN: Symphonies (complete) / Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra; Adám Fischer, conductor / Brilliant Classics (various numbers)
Absolutely no one beats Adám Fischer when it comes to a complete survey of the Haydn Symphonies, and in fact his performances of the most famous of them are highly competitive with anyone else’s versions. You may or may not want the entire series depending on your tastes, but no matter where you test him he will not disappoint. Other interesting historic performances include No. 92 by Ferdinand Leitner, No. 93 by Guido Cantelli and Nos. 101 & 104 by Arturo Toscanini.
HERRMANN: Concerto Macabre / Joaquín Achúcarro, pianist; National Philharmonic Orchestra; Charles Gerhardt, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
The master of 1940s film music never wrote a finer piece in his life than this 11-minute concerto, originally performed in the 1945 film Hangover Square.
Herzogenberg, Heinrich von
HERZOGENBERG: Columbus / Andrè Schuen, baritone (Columbus); Michael Schade, tenor (Fernando); Markus Butter, baritone (Bootsmann); Chor & Extrachor der Opera Graz; Grazer Philharmonic; Dirk Kaftan, conductor / CPO 555 178-2
Written in 1870, when Heinrich von Herzogenberg was only 27 years old, the dramatic cantata Columbus is radically different from his later, Brahms-influenced compositions. It is clearly Wagnerian in his harmonic language and scope and is, in fact, now considered his masterpiece. Only 4 1/2 fish, however, because baritone Markus Butter has a wobbly, infirm voice.
HERZOGENBERG: Piano Trios Nos. 1 & 2 / ATOS Trio / CPO 777 335-2
Most of Herzogenberg’s later chamber music tends to be somewhat derivative, but I really like these piano trios.
HIGDON: Amazing Grace (for String Quartet). Sky Quartet: I. Sky Rising; II. Blue Sky; III. Fury; IV. Immense Sky / Serafin String Quartet / Dark Wood / Timothy Schwarz, violinist; Eric Stromberg, bassoonist; Lawrence Stromberg, cellist; Charles Abramovic, pianist / Sonata for Viola & Piano: I. Calmly; II. Declamatory / Molly Carr, violist; Charles Abramovic, pianist / String Trio / Timothy Schwarz, violinist; Molly Carr, violist; Lawrence Stromberg, cellist / Naxos 8.559752 or available for free streaming by clicking on titles above
HIGDON: An Exaltation of Larks / Lark Quartet / Light Refracted: I. Inward; II. Outward / Todd Palmer, clarinetist; Blair McMillen, pianist / Scenes from Poet’s Dreams: I. Racing Through Stars; II. Summer Shimmers Across the Glass of Green Ponds; III. I Saw the Electric Insects Coming; IV. In the Blue Fields They Sing; V. The Fast Dancers Dance Faster / Gary Graffman, pianist; Lark Quartet / Bridge 9379 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on the links above
HIGDON: Zaka / eighth blackbird / part of Çedille 094 or available for free streaming on YouTube
Jennifer Higdon’s attractive, melodic and somewhat minimalist style has made her one of the most popular composers of the early 21st century. These are, in my mind, some of her very best pieces, all superbly played.
HINDEMITH: Clarinet Concerto.1 Horn Concerto.2 Concerto for Trumpet, Bassoon & Strings.3-4 Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon & Harp1.4,5 / 1Ulrich Mehlhart, clarinetist; 2Marie Luise Neunecker, French hornist; 3Reinhold Friedrich, trumpeter; 4Corsten Wilkening, bassoonist; 5Charlotte Cassedanne, harpist; 5Walter Büchsel, flautist; 5Liviu Varcol, oboist; Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt; Werner Andreas Albert, conductor / CPO 999142 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above
As busy as Hindemith was in the 1940s reconstruction the original score of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, he still found time to write these varied and scintillating concertos. Don bother looking up the recording of the Horn Concerto by Dennis Brain with Hindemith conducting; Brain sounds like he’s utterly bored and the Philharmonia Orchestra sounds as if they’re doing a read-through. These are the recordings to get.
HINDEMITH: Der Dämon, Op. 28 (Tanz-Pantomime in zwei Bildern). Hérodiade [Ballet].* Kammermusik No. 1: 2 pieces. Kammermusik No. 2 / *Gisele Zoch-Westphal, narrator; *Florian Henschel, pianist; Ensemble VARIANTI; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, conductor / Hänssler Classic HC16014
Occasionally Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s singing was overrated (he sometimes over-accented words to the detriment of the music), but as a conductor he was woefully underrated. This surprising disc of all Hindemith works are as good as it gets. Riccardo Chailly’s album of the complete Kammermusik on Decca is probably the very best, but to be honest I find Hindemith’s Kammermusik a bit too frou-frou for my taste, so this one has about enough for me. Much better, and meatier, are Der Dämon and Hérodiade, given fantastic performances here.
HINDEMITH: Das Marienleben, Op. 27 (1948 revised version) / Rachel Harnisch, soprano; Jan Philip Schulze, pianist / Naxos 8.573423
This is quite probably Hindemith’s masterpiece. He certainly thought so in 1923 when it premiered, although he revised it a quarter-century later to bring the vocal writing more in line with the piano part and create a more lucid structure. This is, by far, the best recording of the later version and possibly the best recording ever. Rachel Harnisch’s singing is tonally luscious and verbally expressive, and Schulze is an outstanding pianist.
HINDEMITH: Mathis der Maler / James King, tenor (Albrecht von Brandenburg); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone (Mathis); Gerd Feldhoff, bass (Lorenz von Pommersfelden); Manfred Schmidt, baritone (Wolfgang Capito); Peter Meven, bass (Riedinger); William Cochran, tenor (Hans Schwalb); Alexander Malta, baritone (Prefect of Walburg); Donald Grobe, tenor (Sylvester von Schaumberg); Rose Wagemann, soprano (Ursula); Urszula Koszut, soprano (Regina); Trudeleise Schmidt, mezzo (Countess Helfenstein); Karl Kreile, bass (The Count’s Piper); Bavarian Radio Orchestra & Chorus; Rafael Kubelik, conductor / EMI 640720 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
I can’t understand why this great opera has never caught on as a standard repertoire work. It’s certainly, along with Das Marienleben, one of Hindemith’s most tonal and attractive works and the plot is riveting and dramatic. This recording makes the best case for it, with everyone well involved in their characters and Kubelik’s conducting pulling the whole work together.
HINDEMITH: Horn Sonata in F / Gail Williams, French hornist / Bass Tuba Sonata / Gene Pokorny, tuba / Trumpet Sonata / Raymond Mase, trumpeter / Alto Horn Sonata / Larry Strieby, alto hornist / Trombone Sonata / Mark Lawrence, trombonist. All selections: Theodor Lichtmann, pianist / Sonata for 4 Horns / Arthur David Kriebel, Thomas Bacon, Gail Williams, Lawrence Strieby, French hornists / Konzertmusik for Piano, Brass & 2 Harps / Summit Brass Ens.; Patrice Jenks, Mary Walter, harpists; Lichtmann, pianist; Carl Topilow, conductor / Plöner Musiktag: Morgenmusik / Summit Brass; Topilow, conductor / Summit 115 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
A surprisingly wonderful and exciting album of Hindemith’s brass sonatas, these performances surpass many I’ve heard by much more famous names, yet this 1995 album is little known. I was rather less impressed with the music of the Konzertmusik and the Plöner Musiktag: Morgenmusik, but that’s more a criticism of Hindemith than of the wonderful performers on this set.
HINDEMITH: String Quartets Nos. 1-7 / Amar Quartet / Naxos 8.503290
Hindemith’s seven string quartets are among the finest of the 20th century. These recordings are by the modern-day Amar Quartet, which is named after Hindemith’s own group of the 1920s, and their interpretations balance drive and lyricism in equal measure.
HINDEMITH:Violin Sonata No. 1 in E-flat / David Oistrakh, violinist; Vladimir Yampolski, pianist / available for free streaming on YouTube
An enthralling performance of Hindemith’s first violin sonata by one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. A must-hear performance.
HOFFMANN: Harp Quintet in c min., AV 24 / Isabell Moretti, harpist; Parisii Quartet / available for free streaming on YouTube
A superb work, often overlooked among the masterpieces of early 19th-century chamber music. Since the 1990s there have been a few really fine recordings of this work, of which the one listed above is certainly one of the best.
HOFFMANN: Liebe und Eifersucht / Gary Martin (Der Herzog von Florenz); Robert Sellier (Enrico); Florian Simson (Ottavio); Jörg Simon (Fabio); Christina Gerstberger (Lisida); Thérèse Wincent (Cloris); Sybille Specht (Nisa); Sybilla Duffe (Celia); Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele Orchestra; Michael Hofstetter, conductor / CPO 777435
Hoffmann wrote several operas, of which the most famous is the pretty but rather insipid Undine. This one, however, is far better music and one of his finest works, though it was never performed in his lifetime and the score lost until the 1960s. The plot entails amorous confusions, hopes and fears in which disguise plays its part and jealousy sees what it wants to see or fears to see. Signs and tokens of love are misunderstood and confusion reigns before, naturally, everybody finishes up with the right partner. Some critics have found the music charming but undistinguished; I find it distinguished indeed, far better than any opera by Paër or Mayr and better than most of Donizetti’s serious works (including his miserably banal “Queen trilogy”).
HOFFMANN: Miserere in B-flat min. Missa in D min. / Sibylla Rubens, Jutta Böhnert, sopranos; Rebecca Martin, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Cooley, tenor; York Felix Speer, bass; WDR Rundfunkchor & Sinfonieorchester Köln; Rupert Huber, conductor / CPO 777832 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
Hoffmann’s Missa in D minor is not going to compete very strongly with Bach’s. but his Miserere is one of his finest vocal-choral works, sounding almost like something Mozart might have written had he lived longer. These performances are all excellent.
HOFFMANN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-5 / Del Aguila 55311
Hoffmann’s piano sonatas are among his finest and least-known works, played here with spirit and insight by Luisa Guembes-Buchanan.
HOFFMANN: Piano Trio in E / Beethoven Trio / available for free streaming on YouTube
The piano trio is even better, and one of the most overlooked chamber works of its time.
HOFFMANN: Symphony in E-flat: 1st mvmt; 2nd mvmt; 3rd mvmt; 4th mvmt. Sinfonia in A: 1st mvmt; 2nd mvmt; 3rd mvmt; 4th mvmt. Undine: Overture. Aurora: Overture; Final scene: March / Kölner Akademie; Michael Alexander Willens, conductor / CPO 7772082 or available for free streaming on YouTube by clicking on individual titles above
Another outstanding album of music by Hoffmann, particularly the excellent Symphony in E-flat. Willens’ conducting brings out the best in these scores.
HOLST: At the Boar’s Head / Jonathan Lemalu, bass-baritone (Falstaff); Eric Barry, tenor (Prince Hal); Paweł Kołodziej, bass (Poins); Krzysztof Szumański, baritone (Bardolf); Kathleen Reveille, mezzo (Doll Tearsheet); Gary Griffiths, baritone (Pistol); Nicole Percifield, soprano (Hostess); Mateusz Stachura, baritone (Gadshill); Warsaw Chamber Opera Sinfonietta; Łukasz Borowicz, conductor / also see Vaughan Williams: Riders to the Sea / Dux 1307-08 (live: Warsaw, March 16, 2016)
Though almost exclusively well-known for his orchestral suite The Planets, Gustav Holst wrote a good amount of other music including several short operas. The Perfect Fool is the one most often mentioned, but I find it relatively uninteresting, whereas At the Boar’s Head is an absolutely rollicking piece in which Holst dovetailed folk tunes and drinking songs into the score. He also perfectly matched the rhythm of the words, a rare feat for any opera composer, and the end result is one of the greatest comic operas written in English. All the performers here give 100%, which also makes the listening experience doubly enjoyable!
HOLST: Egdon Heath / English Chamber Orchestra; Benjamin Britten, conductor / A Fugal Concerto / Richard Adeney, flautist; Peter Graeme, oboist; English Chamber Orchestra; Imogen Holst, conductor / part of BBC 8007, or available for free streaming at YouTube by clicking on titles above
Surprisingly great works in the late-Romantic British tradition in authentic performances. Britten was an admirer of Holst since he was a boy, and Imogen was the composer’s daughter.
HOLST: First Choral Symphony. The Mystic Trumpeter / Susan Gritton, soprano; BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra; Sir Andrew Davis, conductor / Chandos 5127 or available for free streaming on YouTube in small bits
Two further examples of Holst’s mastery of orchestral and choral writing. Though not on the same level as The Planets, these works are certainly among his very best.
HOLST: The Planets / London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus; Gustav Holst, conductor / part of EMI 54837 (mono) or available for free streaming on YouTube
HOLST: The Planets / London Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus; Sir Adrian Boult, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
HOLST: The Planets / London Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus; Vladimir Jurowski, conductor / LPO 47, or available for free streaming on YouTube: 1. Mars, 2. Venus, 3. Mercury, 4. Jupiter, 5. Saturn, 6. Uranus, 7. Neptune
Three very different yet similar takes on Holst’s masterpiece. The 1926 recording would have gotten 4 1/2 fish if the sound weren’t so boxy; even with 3D remastering, it’s just terribly dry. Adrian Boult recorded it several times–it was almost his signature piece–and this 1954 recording is often considered his best, balancing power with elegance. The Jurowski is my favorite stereo or digital recording, although an earlier incarnation by Sir Charles Mackerras came awfully close.
HONEGGER: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher / Sylvie Rohrer, speaker (Joan); Eörs Kisfaludy, speaker (Fr. Dominique); Karen Wierzba, soprano (La Vierge); Letizia Scherrer, soprano (Marguerite); Kismara Pessatti, contralto (Cathérine); Jean-Noël Briend, tenor; François Le Roux, bass; Knabenchor Collegium Iuvenum Stuttgart; Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart; Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart; Helmuth Rilling, conductor / Hänssler Classic 098.636
A magnificent performance of a true masterpiece. Because it is an oratorio and not meant to be staged, Joan of Arc at the Stake is often overlooked as one of the greatest dramatic masterpieces of 20th-century music. This performance is about as ideal as one can imagine.
HONEGGER: Pacific 231 / L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
One of the most famous short pieces of 20th-century music, Pacific 231 has had several fine recordings over the years, from the first (by Piero Coppola) to one by the composer himself, but Ansermet’s stereo recording with the Suisse Romande orchestra is wonderful and has good sound.
HONEGGER: Le Roi David / Suzanne Danco, soprano; Marie-Lise de Montmolin, mezzo-soprano; Michel Hamel, tenor; Pauline Martin, mezzo (Sorceress); Stéphane Audel, narrator; Choeur des Jeunes de l’Eglise National Vaudoise; L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Ernest Ansermet, conductor / Decca 4256212
This is a perfect example of how I discover interesting music formerly unknown to me and then locate a great recording of it. I had seen a listing in the Naxos New Releases Catalog for a recording of Honegger’s King David. I know some other Honegger works that I admire, particularly Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher, so I gave it a try. I loved the music—modernist and astringent but still basically tonal, and expertly put together—but disliked the vocal soloists, who had infirm, wobbly voices, so I investigated other recordings. One had so-so soloists but used a bizarre reduction of the orchestration just because that’s what Honegger himself used in the first performance (yet another point against “historically informed performances”). Another had soloists even worse than the first recording I listened to. The third had very fine soloists, narrator, chorus and conducting, but it was in German.
So I went to YouTube where, lo and behold, I learned that Ernest Ansermet had recorded it. So I listened to the recording, and absolutely loved it despite the somewhat limited 1956 sound (yes, it is in stereo). I loved his shaping and sculpting of the score, the way he drew some of the sharp edges up short yet was still able to make other passages sound quite lyrical and lovely.
The work, influenced by Bach’s Passions, is a relatively terse (67-minute) traversal of David’s journey, his slaying of Goliath and his reign as King. Although it is evident that Honegger was influenced here by Stravinsky—as a lot of composers in the early 1920s were—he nevertheless made his own choices regarding the shape and pace of the work. More often than not the narrator speaks his lines over a soft orchestral accompaniment, which generally mimics the dramatic content of the words. Sometimes the vocal solos and choral passages are commentaries on the passing action, at other times they are asides to it. Although, as I say, the music reflects the influence of Stravinsky, I also wonder if this work may not have had some influence on Stravinsky’s creation of Oedipus Rex some years later.
In addition to the Ansermet recording, I also found on YouTube a very fine performance given at the New England Conservatory of Music in 2013. That performance was given in English rather than French, which did not unduly upset me, but I was frustrated by the fact that none of the vocal soloists are identified by name, though they are listed as being “faculty members.” Well, that’s all well and good, I suppose, if you’re a voice student at the NEC, but for the rest of us I don’t want to have to guess who the hell is singing! Thus I recommend the Ansermet recording for its all-round excellence plus the fact that, despite the slightly boxy sound, the choral singing is very crisp and forward, which I not only like but which gives the music a more immediate feel.
HONEGGER: Symphony No. 1 / Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Charles Dutoit, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
HONEGGER: Symphony No. 2 / Paris Conservatoire Orchestra; Charles Munch, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
Honegger’s symphonies are remarkable works, craggy and tightly structured at the same time. There are several good recordings of them available, but I find the ones recommended above to he quite special. The Munch recording was the first of the Second Symphony, begun in war-torn Paris in 1942 but not completed until two years later. Perseverance does count!
HOVHANESS: Symphony No. 3, Op. 148 / Symphony of the Air; Leopold Stokowski, conductor / part of Guild 2379/80
Hovhaness was also a fairly good composer, and I like his third symphony better than most of the others. Excellent performance by Stokowski.
HUMPERDINCK: Hansel und Gretel – Overture / NBC Symphony Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube / Abends will ich schlafen gehn / Hei-Kyung Hong, soprano; Jennifer Larmore, mezzo-soprano; Munich Radio Orchestra; José Lopez-Cobos, conductor / available for free streaming on YouTube
I saw Hansel und Gretel in live performance once. It was cute. I didn’t have any inclination to hear or see it a second time, but the overture and the Hansel-Gretel duet are delightful.
HUMPERDINCK: Königskinder / Julia Juon, mezzo-soprano (Witch); Amanda Majeski, soprano (Goose Girl); Daniel Behle, tenor (King’s son); Nikolay Borschev, baritone (Musician); Magnús Baldvinsson, bass (Woodchopper); Martin Mitterutzner, tenor (Broom maker); Dietrich Volle, bass (Innkeeper); Chiara Bäuml, mezzo (Innkeeper’s daughter); Franz Mayer, baritone (Councillor); Nina Tarandek, soprano (His daughter); Beau Gibson, tenor (Tailor); Katharina Magiera, contralto (Stable girl); Thomas Charrois, tenor (Gatekeeper 1); Garegin Hovsepian, baritone (Gatekeeper 2); Claudia Grunwald, mezzo (A Woman); Children’s Choir; Opera Frankfurt Chorus; Frankfurt Opera & Museum Orchestra; Sebastian Weigle, conductor / Oehms Classics 943 or available for free streaming on YouTube in several small bits
This is Humperdinck’s masterpiece, a charming fairy tale told in bright colors and Wagnerian harmonies about a goose girl who is really a princess. This recording of a live performance does the score full justice, with soprano Amanda Majeski and tenor Daniel Behle being particularly noteworthy but if you buy the CDs do yourself a favor and ignore the photos. The production was total Eurotrash and not worth your consideration.