Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell – Sisters in Song

 

Title: Sisters in Song
Artists: Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell
Label: Cedille
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: September 21, 2018

 

Sisters in Song represents the first collaboration between world-renowned American sopranos Alyson Cambridge and Nicole Cabell. The pair met nearly two decades ago in the Chautauqua Institution’s Summer Voice Program where they became fast friends, colleagues, and—for lack of a better phrase—sisters in song. As both Cabell and Cambridge are in-demand sopranos, their paths have continued to cross in their professional and personal lives. In the liner notes for the album, the two write that they “both had the desire to create an album together that allowed us to show our various musical sides and voices in harmony.” Continue reading

Leontyne Price; Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma; Sir Georg Solti, conductor – Verdi – Aida

Aida
Title: Verdi – Aida

Artist: Leontyne Price; Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma; Sir Georg Solti, conductor

Label: Decca

Format: 2 CDs + 1 Blu-ray Audio (Deluxe Edition)

Release Date: June 30, 2017

 

On February 10, 2017, the great soprano Leontyne Price celebrated her 90th birthday. The occasion was marked by numerous articles, including an online tribute by NPR Classical, which referred to Price as the “first real [African American] superstar” who was “among the very best Verdi sopranos of her time.” In that article, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page offered the following thoughts on what he considered to be one of Price’s most notable recordings:

“In my opinion, still the best performance of Aida I know on record would be [Leontyne Price] with tenor Jon Vickers. There’s a sense of longing to it. There’s a real identification and loneliness, an ease in the high notes, as well as the medium range. There’s fierce musical intelligence and emotional intensity. The singing with Jon Vickers is extraordinary. There you had two spirits who were very much in alignment—the ferocity, the tenderness. It’s beautiful, it’s songful, it’s grand. It’s a marvelous statement from a great artist.”

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The Aida referenced above was recorded in Rome in June and July, 1961, with the Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma conducted by Sir Georg Solti and featuring the “Verdi dream cast” of Price, Vickers, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, and Giorgio Tozzi. Produced by Richard Mohr with engineers Lewis Layton and René Boux, the RCA Living Stereo recording won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1962.

Price was at her peak during this period, in terms of both vocal prowess and international stardom, and by 1961 had been performing the role of Aida for several years. A few months prior, in January of 1961, she also made her début at the Metropolitan Opera House, where her legendary opening night performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore received a 42 minute standing ovation. This occurred six years to the month after Marian Anderson paved the way as the first black woman to sing at the Met.

In honor of Price’s 90th birthday, Decca just released a special deluxe edition of her 1961 recording of Verdi’s Aida. Though reissued numerous times over the years, many of these recordings have been criticized for poor sound quality, having been dubbed from LPs. This three disc set is newly remastered from original analog sources by former Decca engineer Paschal Byrne. Since CDs don’t support sampling rates greater than 44.1 kHz, the third disc is a Pure Audio Blu-ray featuring 96kHz/24-bit high fidelity sound. The hard-back edition includes liner notes by William Weaver, an essay on the recording by Richard Mohr, as well as the libretto and synopsis in English, German and French translations.

If you don’t already have one of the recent reissues of Leontyne Price’s 1961 Aida, then this deluxe edition is highly recommended if you have a Blu-ray player.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Measha Brueggergosman – Songs of Freedom

Measha
Title: Songs of Freedom

Artist: Measha Brueggergosman

Label: Outside Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: January 13, 2017

 

Canadian opera singer Measha Brueggergosman is known for the versatility of both her voice and her career. As a classically trained soprano, she performs both operatic roles as well as those of a concert artist. Her latest project, Songs of Freedom, is a collection of spirituals that corresponds with Brueggergosman’s discovery of her family’s history in Canada.  The album is much more than just a collection of spirituals, however—it is also part of a larger documentary project including a film, a 4-part TV series, mobile app and interactive website with narratives from both Brueggergosman and the owner of Chalet Studio, in which some of the spirituals were recorded. The documentary explores how she came to know these spirituals, and to learn about herself and her family history in the process.

The website for the Songs of Freedom project provides a number of complementary elements to the album. In addition to performance videos showing Brueggergosman and her collaborators, there are also essays written by Brueggergosman, the musicians with whom she worked, and scholars of African American music.  These essays help to frame the project and provide a foundation on the importance of spirituals to the black musical tradition.  Also featured on this website is a 360 degree performance video of Brueggergosman recording “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” one of the spirituals featured on the album. The 360 scope of the video provides an intimate portrait of how she explored these spirituals and eventually made them her own.

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Musically, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is definitely one of the highlights of the album, along with other slow tempo spirituals such as “I Surrender All.” These two especially allow Brueggergosman’s voice time to fill in spaces, rather than to be rushed.  In this exploration of spirituals, she joins the company of other black operatic singers such as Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle.  Within the documentary series and the accompanying album, Measha Brueggergosman is doing important work to uncover her family’s history and also elevate the status of spirituals as repertoire.

Reviewed by Allie Martin

Pretty Yende – A Journey

Pretty Yende
Title: A Journey

Artist: Pretty Yende

Label: Sony Classical

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: September 16, 2016

 

South African soprano Pretty Yende’s debut album, A Journey, will be released this month by Sony Classical.  Much-anticipated since her triumphant Metropolitan Opera debut in 2013, Ms. Yende’s album celebrates the lyric coloratura repertoire which propelled her to the top of the opera world.  She performs with the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI Torino, under conductor Marco Armiliato, with additional assistance from mezzo soprano Kate Aldrich, as seen in the album trailer below:

Ms. Yende was born in 1985 in the small remote town of Piet Retief, about three hundred miles from Johannesburg. At the age of sixteen, her life was transformed by hearing the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s opera Lakmé on a British Airways television commercial.  On learning that this haunting music was opera, she decided at that moment to abandon her plans to become an accountant and train to become an opera singer instead.  Soon she gained a scholarship to study at the South African College of Music in Cape Town with Professor Virginia Davids, who was the first black woman to appear on opera stages during the apartheid years in South Africa.  With Davids’ help, Ms. Yende’s extraordinary talent blossomed and she was taken from a childhood in a remote village in South Africa to sing on the major opera stages of the world.

Preparing to enter the opera world from such a background cannot have been easy, but in interviews with the New York Times, Ms. Yende has referred to South Africa as “… a singing nation. Music is something that we are born with, it’s like the African rhythm; it’s like a heartbeat.  In Sunday school you will have to sing one song, and a little girl will start harmonizing it.  Just like that, just by hearing.  It’s that kind of world.”  Such innate musicality is showcased in Ms. Yende’s album, featuring as it does selections from the bel canto and later French repertoire.  Her voice boasts a solid lower middle register not always heard in this voice type, and in her upper range, a ringing squillando which she manages with taste.  Her ornamentation is fresh and well-chosen to highlight her strengths: while her runs are not always clean, her pizzicato coloratura is excellent.

Overall, the album provides a refreshing take on some old favorites, while providing some more unusual repertoire for the jaded palate. Among the latter is the scene “Vous que l’on dit” from Rossini’s Le Comte Ory.  It was in this opera that Ms. Yende starred opposite Juan Diego Flórez as the Countess Adèle, at her Met debut.  With less than a month’s notice (having never sung the role), she replaced an ailing Nino Machaidze to complete the run of the show.  She has since performed the role several times, including at the Theater an der Wien where she replaced Cecilia Bartoli.  The performance reflects her theatrical experiences, communicating a thorough command of the French text and musical line, bringing Adèle’s character brightly to life.  One can only imagine the riches in store for us as this rising star finds her place in the operatic firmament.

Reviewed by Andrea Cawelti

DVDs

Jessye Norman: A Portrait (Decca, April 2008).

The in-depth interviews combined with thirteen staged performances should delight any fan of opera and Jesse Norman. According to other sites, the “staged performances” are actually lip-synched for this production, a sample of which can be found here.

Africa Unite. (Palm Pictures, Feb. 2008)

Finally available on DVD, Africa Unite is a concert documentary filmed in 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 60th anniversary celebration of the birth of Bob Marley. Featuring performances by three generations of the Marley family, the film is also sprinkled with archival footage and interviews.

Jazz Icons, Series 3 (Naxos, Sept. 2008)

The latest release in the Jazz Icon series, this box set includes 8 DVDs featuring Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Nina Simone and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The source of the footage is European television programs that aired between 1958 and 1975. The DVDs are also sold separately.

Experience Hendrix. (Image Entertainment, August 2008)

Enjoy two star-studded tribute concerts, one filmed in Seattle and the other in San Diego, celebrating the legendary Black rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Featured artists include blues guitarists Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin, along with Robert Randolph, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, and many others. Billy Cox and the recently deceased Mitch Mitchell, of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, also contribute to the mix.

Classical Music

Barbara Hendricks, Henry Purcell, Georg Friedrich Haendel: Endless Pleasure (Arte Verum, January 2008)

American soprano and humanitarian Barbara Hendricks partners with the Drottningholms Barockensemble for this recording of English Baroque songs and theatrical music by Purcell and Händel.  While the Purcell selections tend towards his songs and incidental theater music, including “Music for a While” and “From rosie bow’rs,” Hendricks does not fail to include the inevitable recit-aria combo “Ah! Belinda / When I am Laid” from Purcell’s only full opera, Dido and Aeneas. The Händel selections, by contrast, draw entirely from dramatic works such as Giulio Cesare and Semele, as well as a lengthy instrumental dance suite from his ballet Terpsichore, which showcases the conductorless Barockensemble’s lively performance.

Carl MaultsBy, Eye of the Sparrow (Albany Records, February 2008)

Composer and conductor Carl MaultsBy leads the Rejoiceensemble! and the St. Bart’s Senior Girls Choristers in this recording of two of MaultsBy’s choral works, Eye of the Sparrow and The View From the Mountain, as well as his arrangements of several traditional spirituals including “Kum Ba Ya”, “Swing Down Chariot”, and the medley “Hold On.”  Eye of the Sparrow was composed in 2005 as a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., while The View From the Mountain (2007) commemorates both Dr. King and his late widow, Coretta Scott King.  MaultsBy’s classical training, combined with the gospel and spiritual traditions at the heart of these works, yields intricately crafted works that are thoroughly contemporary while acknowledging their roots in tradition.

Anthony Davis, Amistad (New World Records, October 2008)

Anthony Davis’s opera Amistad (completed, ironically, the same year as the Steven Spielberg film of the same title and subject) is now released in a full length recording, drawn from the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s world premiere performances in December 1997. Though not stated in the liner notes, the length of this CD suggests that it may incorporate the significant revisions made for the work’s performance at the 2008 Spoleto Festival.  With a libretto by Thulani Davis, the opera retells the story of the 1839 slave rebellion on the Spanish slave ship La Amistad, and the slaves’ subsequent arrival and struggle for freedom in America.  Anthony Davis’s music fuses Western classical avant-garde approaches with post-minimalist techniques, jazz and gospel traditions, and east Asian elements, to create a sound drawn from many cultures but representative of none.

Patmore Lewis, Rillito River Project (You-Entertainment, June 2008)

Patmore Lewis, composer and violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, spearheads this fundraiser album for the Rillito River Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to implementing the arts in raising awareness of the effects of climate change in the American Southwest (Arizona’s Rillito River now stands dry during part of the year.)  The cornerstone of the album is Lewis’s ambient composition Elemental Flow, which evokes the landscape and musical cultures of the Arizona desert through violin, drums, synthesizers, and field recordings of the desert environment.  The rest of the album features Lewis as soloist on violin sonatas by Richard Strauss and Alan Seidler, as well as Karol Szymanowski’s La Fontaine d’Arethuse.

Lecolion Washington, Legacy: Works for Bassoon by African-American Composers (Albany Records, August 2008)

This album offers an unusual collection of classical bassoon works by African American composers, collected and recorded by Lecolion Washington, professor of bassoon at University of Memphis and a member of the Memphis Woodwind Quintet.  Few of these works are well known, even among bassoonists, and represent compositional approaches of the twentieth century from composers such as Ed Bland, Adolphus Hailstork, and Ulysses Kay (nephew of jazz bandleader King Oliver) and the twenty-first century, with Gary Powell Nash and Daniel Bernard Roumain.  The three William Grant Still pieces are song transcriptions rather than original compositions for bassoon, but serve as a necessary homage to the first great African American classical composer.

Posted by Ann Shaffer