Author Topic: Currentzis Opera Recordings  (Read 10012 times)

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Offline knight66

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Currentzis Opera Recordings
« on: March 23, 2014, 08:37:59 AM »
Here is what feels to me like an extraordinary and in most ways a superb new Figaro recording from Sony. I heard part on Spotify and what I heard sent me scurrying to buy the set, read all about the performance and ensure the best sound I could get for myself.

Teodor Currentzis prepared and conducts what sounds like the best live performance you will ever hear: but the art is in hiding the painstaking months of long preparation and arrive with something that sounds spontaneous, fizzing and by turn affecting. This company introduces original instrument Mozart to Russia via Perm its most easterly city. There is nothing remotely provincial about the outcome. The whole set up, facilitated by a very enlightened and savvy mayor permits extravagant rehearsals for performances and in this case the recording.

The musicians work in a commune which explores many kinds of 'art' visual, poetry, plays etc, etc and they marinade themselves in many seemingly unrelated works to enrich themselves and their performances.

So, what is distinctive? The rhythms are sprung, no smoothing out of lines in a Romantic style. The score has been spring cleaned of traditional practice and facsimile copies of the original consulted. The results can startle in texture and sometimes sheer ferocity. But this is not a driven fast ride, there are passages of tenderness and many are allowed to breathe. A forte piano is used as continuo and permitted to basically become an additional character throughout. I think this works well, but will not be to everyone's taste. It does not play ad-hoc through all the arias, but there is a lot more continuo here than we are used to.

So...to the singing. Everyone sounds inside their parts and all sing extremely well. There is plenty of characterisation. Only one name is familiar to me, Simone Kermes. She is splendid. But my problem here is that all the female voices sound similar to one another......white.....you will not encounter that distinctive suspension of time as in the Bohm version with voices such as Janowitz and Mathis taking you to another place. Even the mezzo Cherubino sounds like a soprano to me. The women are very clearly engaged, there is lots of expression within the phrasing, they sing prettily, there is charm a'plenty but with minimal vibrato used there is no colour. Whereas the orchestra is released from any confines of polite Mozart tradition, these women are caged into a pale sound-world where a long note is NOT developed, there is not coolness, but there is not warmth.  The men suffer much less and their voices are more distinct.

So, I have one major reservation, but it does not prevent me from urging people to hear all the remarkable things here.

The presentation is beyond lavish and my version, including a hard backed book with over 300 pages, also provided a bluray disc containing the performance. The essays are fascinating and we are promised the other two da Ponte operas over the next 18 months. I predict this conductor will not be changing this sound-world in any particular, we will get the same vocal qualities as well as what for me is that one major deficit.

So, 10 out of 10 for everything except the choice of female singers where I give 10 for skill and 7 for pleasure.

To end on one of the positives: a key passage is the moment when the count asks his wife for forgiveness and the then reconciliation. That is as tender and affecting as I have ever heard. I believe this will become a classic account, give it a go.

Mike
« Last Edit: November 16, 2016, 10:24:03 PM by Que »
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Offline Marc

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2014, 01:08:51 AM »
Thanks for the review!

[....]
Even the mezzo Cherubino sounds like a soprano to me.
[....]

That would be very HIP then, because the first Cherubino, Dorotea Bussani, was a soprano, and the vocal lines and tessitura of the Cherubino part is rather soprano-like, too. Somehow people (and directors & conductors) seem to think that a mezzo sounds more boyish, which, IMHO, is nonsense.
Also, in Mozart's days, the 'voice break' of teenage boys occured at a later age.

I do agree btw that the voices of the three leading 'ladies' should not have the same timbre. But one has to bear in mind that Contessa Rosina is still a young woman and that she and her husband are almost of the same age as (Susanna and) Figaro, as the first part of Beaumarchais trilogy (AKA Le barbier de Séville) clearly indicates.
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Offline knight66

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2014, 09:07:41 AM »
Interesting context, thanks.

Mike
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Offline jochanaan

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2014, 10:39:37 AM »
...but the art is in hiding the painstaking months of long preparation and arrive with something that sounds spontaneous, fizzing and by turn affecting...
That sounds a lot like my favorite recording, the 1950s one by Erich Kleiber, the Vienna Philharmonic and an all-star cast.  That one too is lively, seemingly spontaneous-sounding but actually at the height of Mozartean perfection.
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Offline Marc

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2014, 12:55:26 PM »
That sounds a lot like my favorite recording, the 1950s one by Erich Kleiber, the Vienna Philharmonic and an all-star cast.  That one too is lively, seemingly spontaneous-sounding but actually at the height of Mozartean perfection.

If allowed, may I, after reading this and recognizing the general impression, add my own personal favourite?

The Solti studio recording for Decca with a.o. Samuel Ramey, Lucia Popp, Thomas Allen, Kiri te Kanawa and Frederica von Stade. Another all-star cast (anno 1980), and they all sing and act as if spontaneously inspired by the maestro's folle journée drive.
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Offline Marc

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2014, 04:52:23 AM »
Just listening to the first Act of the Perm/Currentzis performance and I'm truly enjoying it.
The fortepiano continuo is worth mentioning, too.
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Offline knight66

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2014, 05:24:39 AM »
Ah, good Marc, let me know how it works for you overall.

Mike
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Offline Marc

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2014, 11:30:54 AM »
Ah, good Marc, let me know how it works for you overall.

Mike

Well, I think I 'suffer' less from the 'white' (and more or less indistinguishable) character of the female voices. Cherubino surely sounds more boyish than the other two (Mary-Ellen Nesi is doing a great job) and the Contessa is, as you said, beautifully characterized by Simone Kermes. The 'weakest link' with the ladies for me is Fanie Antonelou's Susanna, but it's probably unfair to compare her with Lucia Popp, Mirella Freni or Anna Moffo.
I absolutely like the strong continuo part. Vocally the conductor allows his cast to sing with quite a lot of vocal improvisations which might not be everyone's cup of tea. Personally, I don't need these appoggiaturas, but they don't bother me either. There are already more than enough 'straightforward' Figaro's in that matter. I'm very happy with the (very nice priced) purchase, no doubt, so thanks again for your positive review.
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Offline knight66

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2014, 11:54:32 AM »
Thanks Marc. I don't think it would be the set I would save from a house fire....Solti, Bohm, Davis all come ahead for the sheer vocal beauty. But is is one I will go to if I want to be cheered up.

Mike
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Offline Brian

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2014, 03:08:50 PM »
ClassicsToday.com just named this album a "CD from Hell". I don't have access to read the review, but Robert Levine, their resident opera critic, seems to have hated it.

Offline knight66

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2014, 06:58:13 PM »
I can imagine it being a Marmite album. People being polarised.

Mike

Edit: I had not read any reviews of this recording, so went looking. The Financial Times critic loved it. The NY Times article discusses it within a long piece on spontaneity in music. The author admires a lot of things, but thinks he finds signs of over rehearsal. What gets up his nose is the conductor's claims that he is right and everyone else is a slacker. And the conductor does come across as highly opinionated, but lots of great artists only have space for their own vision.

The Guardian likes it a lot, the Sunday Times made it disc of the week, but did not like the female singers much.

M
« Last Edit: April 18, 2014, 07:46:03 PM by knight66 »
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Offline Wendell_E

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2014, 03:07:19 AM »
According to Nigel, who used to post here, here's what Opéra Magazine said in their April issue:

Quote
Currentzis’ version of Le Nozze rates 3 out of 5. “A pity that vocally it remains constantly at a level beneath that of the conducting”.

and completely off-topic, but just for the fun of it:

Quote
La Sonnambula, from Stuttgart, rates 1 out of 5 with Ana Durlovski at times sounding “like a cat having its tail cut off”, a “harmless schoolboy tenor”, and a Rodolfo “as voiceless as the viewer is speechless” before this DVD.

Back to the Figaro, it first caught my eye in the mdt.co.uk listings because there a 6(!)-LP version available as well.  Six?  Back in the day, it only took four, three if you ditched the Marcellina and Basilio arias and cut some recitatives.  Maybe the LPs in the new recording are one-sided?   Or maybe mdt's mistaken, but it's been listed that way for several months now.
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Offline knight66

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2014, 03:29:54 AM »
Back in the day you got Götterdämmerung on six LPs. The Perm Figaro has opened out some cuts, so all the arias for secondary characters are there, but I don't think he has managed to bloat it to Wagnerian proportions. It is on three CDs.

Mike
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Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2014, 04:33:13 AM »
Edit: I had not read any reviews of this recording, so went looking. The Financial Times critic loved it. The NY Times article discusses it within a long piece on spontaneity in music. The author admires a lot of things, but thinks he finds signs of over rehearsal. What gets up his nose is the conductor's claims that he is right and everyone else is a slacker. And the conductor does come across as highly opinionated, but lots of great artists only have space for their own vision.

The Guardian likes it a lot, the Sunday Times made it disc of the week, but did not like the female singers much.

M

Classics Today (Robert Levine in an Insider review) has named it a "CD from Hell (or Siberia)" and gives it a 5/10 rating. The actual review though isn't entirely negative but continually flip flops from negative criticism and sarcasm to admiration:

"Here we get an almost constant commentary from the fortepianist[...]often riffing and writing new melodic or harmonic parts for Mozart, who had clearly overlooked them."

"The good news, if you can get past the weirdness and self-satisfaction, is that the performance overflows with excitement and energy; the overture itself, coming in at 3:59, is staggering and gets the blood boiling."

Like some other reviewers, he doesn't think much of the main female singers:

"Kermes is here woefully miscast; like some of the others, her Italian is stilted and she insists on whispering."

"...one of the few Susannas I’ve heard who never takes control—her “straight” tone too often sounds like a whine."

"Mary Ellen Nesi, another fine Baroque singer, is a vocally uncomfortable Cherubino"

"Here’s the punchline: This is a Figaro you can’t take your ears off; it’s too endlessly surprising. But it’s a classroom or laboratory Figaro. It’s an argument in a petri dish, not an operatic experience to savor."

The review, along with yours, Mike, actually makes me want to hear it. It sounds like a fascinating performance.

Sarge
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 12:25:44 PM by Sergeant Rock »
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Offline Marc

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2014, 06:23:37 AM »
Back in the day you got Götterdämmerung on six LPs. The Perm Figaro has opened out some cuts, so all the arias for secondary characters are there, but I don't think he has managed to bloat it to Wagnerian proportions. It is on three CDs.

Mike

From the late 1970s on, most (studio) recordings of Figaro contain the 2nd character arias, and f.i. the Solti recording was on 4 LPs.
Maybe the modern (higher quality) pressing has caused the larger amount of discs, with a.o. deeper and broader grooves, which leads to a smaller amount of music on each LP side. But I'm not sure, because I ain't no HiFi technician.

About the critics: not only Kermes is 'whispering', there is much more voice acting around, also by the male characters. And yes, the continuo is made very important, but Currentzis is explaining most of this in the booklet.
Really, if the (professional?) critics have read this booklet, then I want to be a professional critic, too. Very easy moneymaking.

Examples of such 'professional' (?) criticism:

Booklet: we opted for another pitch, for reasons this and that.
Critic: OMG, it sounds as if they're playing in another pitch!

Booklet: from sources we understood that the continuo was a leading factor in operas during the composer's lifetime.
Critic: OMG, the fortepiano is very prominent!

Booklet: we know that the composer also made very attractive ornamentations for other composer's operas, and from that we suggested that such decoration was common in his lifetime.
Critic: OMG, all those ornamentations!

:P

I like Giulini, Böhm, Von Karajan, Solti, Gardiner, Mackerras, Jacobs and Currentzis in this opera.
And I'm quite convinced that all these conductors were/are each quite convinced that they offer the best solution. Currentzis isn't an exception here. Yes, in the story Susanna is the one in control (mostly), but for the musical production, in the end the conductor has to take control. And Currentzis apparently did. With many good and some less good results, but as a whole this recording is a recommended choice to add to one's Figaro collection.

Just my tuppence worth, of course.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 06:25:29 AM by Marc »
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Offline knight66

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #15 on: April 19, 2014, 06:31:41 AM »
Very good comment there Marc. I agree with it all, including almost all the sets you mention: I have not heard the Giulini and detested the Jacobs. But at least no one finds the set boring.

Sarge, I look forward to your findings if you do take the plunge.

Mike
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Offline Marc

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #16 on: April 19, 2014, 06:48:42 AM »
Classics Today (Robert Levine in an Insider review) has named it a "CD from Hell (or Siberia)" and gives it a 5/10 rating. The actual review though isn't entirely negative but continually flip flops from negative criticism and sarcasm to admiration:

"Here we get an almost constant commentary from the fortepianist[...]often riffing and writing new melodic or harmonic parts for Mozart, who had clearly overlooked them."

Or Mozart himself was known for adding improvisation to the continuo? Check the booklet, Mr. critic.

Quote
"The good news, if you can get past the weirdness and self-satisfaction, is that the performance overflows with excitement and energy; the overture itself, coming in at 3:59, is staggering and gets the blood boiling."

I don't understand this. It seems as if the most recent Figaro recording that the 'insider reviewer' has heard was some obscure mono recording from the Spätromantik area. If he had listened to f.i. Mackerras and Jacobs beforehand, he could never have called this particular one 'weird'.

Quote
Like some other reviewers, he doesn't think much of the main female singers:

"Kermes is here woefully miscast; like some of the others, her Italian is stilted and she insists on whispering."

"...one of the few Susannas I’ve heard who never takes control—her “straight” tone too often sounds like a whine."

"Mary Ellen Nesi, another fine Baroque singer, is a vocally uncomfortable Cherubino"

Agreement on Susanna, she's rather shallow. Full disagreement with the other two, though. Kermes is very good, and Mary Ellen Nesi isn't vocally uncomfortable at all. But I guess it's a different experience if an opera lover or critic listens to Mozart when used to listen to mainly 19th century operas, instead of (for instance) recent recordings of Purcell, Rameau and Händel. Maybe the reviewer prefers a voice like Agnes Baltsa (who sang the Cheribuno part for Marriner), who's also a celebrated Carmen. I love Baltsa's voice, don't get me wrong, but to me she doesn't sound at all like a 18th century naughty horny little adolescent page.

Quote
"Here’s the punchline: This is a Figaro you can’t take your ears off; it’s too endlessly surprising. But it’s a classroom or laboratory Figaro. It’s an argument in a petri dish, not an operatic experience to savor."

English isn't my mother tongue. But this punchline sounds like a true contradictio in terminis. We can't take our ears of it, it's endlessly surprising AND it's laboratory, it's a classroom performance? Come on.

Quote
The review, along with yours, Mike, actually makes me want to hear it. It sounds like a fascinating performance.

Yeah, Sarge, buy it. I purchased it for 29 euro. In a common record shop. A steal.
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Offline knight66

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #17 on: April 19, 2014, 07:13:51 AM »
So good to get a bit of a conversation going on this one, I had thought it had fallen down the well, like my Oedipus Rex review has.

I did get the petri dish analogy, it is an experiment and an exploration. But whereas the critic seems schizoid in that it must be heard, but should be kept in the laboratory: for me the palpable sense of exploration is exactly why it should be heard.

Mike
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #18 on: April 19, 2014, 07:19:53 AM »
"...one of the few Susannas I’ve heard who never takes control—her “straight” tone too often sounds like a whine."

"There needs to be more whining in opera." ~ no one, ever   8)
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Mozart Marriage of Figaro from Perm
« Reply #19 on: April 19, 2014, 11:55:24 AM »
I'm a great fan of Currentzis's life affirming Shostakovich 14, so I'm quite curious about this Figaro. I'm listening to Act 1 now as I type, and I can confirm thay you can't take your ears off it and it 's full of surprises and probably it's an experiment and the sense of excitement is palpable. I'm using spotify, and so haven't got the booklet, which is a shame if Currentzis talks about his ideas.

Sarge - buy it. And try the Shostakovich while you're at it.
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