Monday, January 02, 2006


I can't think when I have had a more successful trip to a record store than yesterday. I like all of it very much, including:

Rosa Ponselle arias and songs. The digital remastering of old 78's is really good now. It is fascinating to hear her "Casta Diva." We lose awareness of the icons in our past, but this version does not know of Maria Callas, and rushes forward where Maria would have held back, achieves an equally interesting but completely different interpretion. No contemporary singer would think of doing anything this different.

Ewa Podleś. Ach! A true contralto, that rarest of all voices. The recording is just called "Ewa Podleś, Garrick Ohlsson, Live." You have to hear this to believe it, especially the Mussorgsky "Songs and Dances of Death," done in Russian. Ewa is Polish, and the recording was made in Poland. If you haven't heard her, I guarantee you have never heard anything like the sound of her voice. Her style is also quite interesting, somewhat rough, like her voice.

Dawn Upshaw singing Ayre, a song cycle with a sound that isn't at all like classical music. Klesmer is what I would have called it. It is ethnic in language and style, and Dawn Upshaw achieves this. I have read on the internet people complaining about Dawn Upshaw, wondering why she is there when others have more beautiful voices. There are two things: voice and style. There is nothing wrong with her voice, but that isn't why she's here. Apparently nothing is too hard for her. She achieved cult status with her performance of Gorecki's Third symphony, a musically awesome performance. She was unbelievable in L'Amour de loin, a work with virtually no toe holds, no musical landmarks to orient yourself to, nothing but the ever flowing ocean below you. Everything turns to music in her hands.

Gramophone Issue 1000. Their list of the 100 greatest recordings of all time includes a few of my favorites, including the Bjoerling and de los Angeles La Boheme I recommended everyone should buy. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is in the list for Der Rosenkavalier and the Four Last Songs of Strauss. These choices are called controversial. The author says yes, I know this is controversial, but I still like it. It isn't told why they are controversial. Somebody somewhere doesn't like Schwarzkopf. I wouldn't doubt that you could find fuller voices to sing these notes, but she is the point of departure, the standard for performance of these works for her grace, for her emotional presence in the moment.

The list hasn't nearly enough opera, contains nothing by Bellini or Donizetti. I grew up on De Los Angeles' "Les Nuits d'Été" and not Regine Crespin's. I have always preferred Janet Baker's Das Lied von der Erde and not the more historical version by Bruno Walter, considered the definitive interpreter of Mahler. If you learn to love a particular recording, you are not likely ever to change.

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