‘Amata slab Tenebre’
Anna Netrebko, soprano; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala; Riccardo Chailly, conductor (Deutsche Grammophon)
Soprano Anna Netrebko has always been more satisfying in person – her voice blossoms in the vast space of an opera – than on recordings, where her ultra-wide vibrato seems, in close-up, less expressive than unstable. On her new solo album, she struggles to maintain the long, lush lines of “Es gibt ein Reich”, of “Ariadne auf Naxos”; sweet phrases waver in “Ritorna vincitor” (“Aida”) and “When I am lying on earth” (“Dido and Aeneas”); “Un bel dì”, from “Madama Butterfly”, is trembling from start to finish; high notes are difficult throughout. She endures “Einsam in trüben Tagen” (“Lohengrin”) with steely determination, and the exuberant “Dich, teure Halle” (“Tannhäuser”) also seems to push her to her limits.
But there is still time for 50-year-old Netrebko to do a “Queen of Spades” production, extracted with a passion concentrated here. And the “Liebestod” of “Tristan und Isolde”, while being an audible challenge for her, is negotiated in a moving – and sometimes ecstatic way. With a meaty stretch to shine in the prelude to “Tristan”, the Teatro alla Scala orchestra, under the direction of its musical director, Riccardo Chailly, is otherwise mellow and very set back. “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” (“Manon Lescaut”) and above all “Tu che le vanità” (“Don Carlo”) translate, through a generous, fiery, largely secure song, the urgency of Netrebko’s best live performances. ZACHARY WOOLFE
Sabine Devieilhe, soprano; Pygmalion; Raphaël Pichon, conductor (Erato)
Recorded in a Parisian church a few days after the end of confinement in France last December, this moving release of Bach cantatas and Handel’s arias is surely one of the most moving albums to come out of the pandemic. Overture with soprano Sabine Devieilhe and lutenist Thomas Dunford mourning the agonies of Christ on the cross in the song “Mein Jesu! was vor Seelenweh ”, and ending with a blaze of praise on the trumpet with the“ Alleluja ”which concludes the cantata“ Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen ”, the narrative arc of the album – from sin and repentance to faith and to joy – is immensely satisfying.
This is due in large part to the supreme details that Pichon (Devieilhe’s husband) draws from his star ensemble Pygmalion, including the blessing that Dunford envelops Cleopatra in “Piangerò”, the second of her “Giulio Cesare” lamentations; the fiery and impulsive organ solo of Matthieu Boutineau in the sinfonia of “Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal”; and Sophie Gent’s ethereal and almost purifying violin in “Tu del Ciel ministro eletto”, the breathtaking call to mercy of “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno”. Devieilhe is at the heart of it all, wielding her voice with dazzling sharpness one moment, overwhelming tenderness the next. DAVID ALLEN
‘Here with you’
Anthony McGill, clarinet; Gloria Chien, piano (Cédille)
Brahms had almost decided to retire from composing when, in the early 1890s, he befriended clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld and was inspired to write a series of major works, including two clarinet sonatas that have long been the pillars of the repertoire.
Anthony McGill, principal clarinet of the New York Philharmonic, and splendid pianist Gloria Chien offer vibrant and insightful interpretations of the sonatas from their new album. These works, like many late Brahms, may seem heavy and thick, but this duet brings wonderful transparency to the scores. Even in the dark and stormy episodes, McGill and Chien play with unforced fervor and eloquence.
Particularly impressive is how they convey the coherence of the final movement of the second sonata, written in theme and variations, – music that often feels awkwardly complex, with curious twists and turns. The album also includes a glowing account of Jessie Montgomery’s sweet “Peace”, as well as an exuberant, dazzling but not showy performance by Weber’s virtuoso Grand Duo Concertant, which sounds great here. ANTHONY TOMMASINI
“Of all the joys”
Attacca Quartet (Sony Classical)
The name of the Attacca Quartet comes from the musical term for playing without pause. And the band seems to take it literally: their new album, “Of all the joys”, is their second this year after the release of their first Sony Classical, “Real life,” in July.
“Real Life” was a dose of adrenaline, an electronic dance record that remixed the music of Flying Lotus and took a refreshing and expansive take on string quartet form. “Of All Joys” – a juxtaposition of Renaissance arrangements and contemporary works by Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass – couldn’t be more different, but its conceptual departure from “Real Life” suits any ensemble. also comfortable to Haydn and Caroline Shaw.
Glass’s “Mishima” quartet is the only suitable string quartet on the new album, which takes its title from a line from John Dowland’s song “Flow My Tears”. The rest is adaptation – an emphasis on the elasticity of the music, confirmed by rich organ-like tones in tracks like the Dowland or John Bennet’s “Weep, O Mine Eyes”.
With a “Mishima” teeming through its heart, the album also testifies to the few ingredients needed to inspire emotional intensity – as in the sudden changes of the players, during the last movement of this quartet, between bubbling arpeggios and streaks of lyricism. At the end of Pärt’s icy “Fratres” you might find yourself trying to reconcile the album’s title with its solemn sonic universe. But maybe joy is something beyond humor; it may just be about making and listening to music. JOSHUA BARONE
Stewart Goodyear, piano (Bright Shiny Things)
Few artists would place Mussorgsky, Debussy, Jennifer Higdon and Anthony Davis on the same album. But pianist Stewart Goodyear intriguingly locates in each of them – as well as in two pieces by Goodyear himself, inspired by his Trinidadian roots – the fundamental influence of Liszt.
Goodyear’s playing here has both a virtuoso flash and a deeply thoughtful feeling. Approaching Davis’ Middle Passage – after the poem of the same name by Robert Hayden – he manages the most improvised sections with a pugilist force indebted to Davis’s own 1980s reading on the Gramavision label. But Goodyear also treats Davis with a meditative twist reminiscent of the lush interpretation of “Middle Passage.” recorded by Ursula Oppens, who commissioned the piece.
The last line of Hayden’s poem, “Voyage through death to life on these shores”, gives an idea of the emotional significance of the rest of the album. Selections by Debussy frolic and ruminate; Higdon’s “Secret and Glass Gardens” goes from guarded interiority to impetuous and catchy statements. And Goodyear’s performance of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures from an Exhibition” also covers a lot of ground, including a delicious “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks” and a majestic “Great Kiev Gate”. SETH COOLING WALLS