CD Reviews

Charpentier rewards close attention

BEMF gives pastorale an intimate charm

Paul O’Dette (pictured) and Stephen Stubbs lead the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble in “Actéon.’’ Paul O’Dette (pictured) and Stephen Stubbs lead the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble in “Actéon.’’
January 2, 2011

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CHARPENTIER: “Actéon’’ Boston Early Music Festival CPO Once known primarily for its massive biennial festivals, the Boston Early Music Festival has extended its reach of late with an annual series of more intimately scaled chamber operas in Jordan Hall. “Actéon,’’ Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s elegant and affecting pastorale, was performed as part of the series debut in 2008, and it has just been released in a richly rewarding recording on the German CPO label.

Most of the singers from the local production (Aaron Sheehan, Teresa Wakim, Amanda Forsythe, and Mireille Lebel) appear again here, making up a strong ensemble cast supported with some sparkling playing from the BEMF Chamber Ensemble under the direction of Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs. The disc is handsomely filled out with two additional secular works by Charpentier.


SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 10, Op. 93 Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Vasily Petrenko, conductor NAXOS When young Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko made his BSO debut in October 2009, the critics swooned over his Shostakovich 10th Symphony. The Globe called it a “performance that was both beautifully laid out and viscerally thrilling.’’ Here, Petrenko leads his home orchestra in a muscular, focused reading of this same work, Shostakovich’s first post-Stalin symphony (completed in 1953), and among his most autobiographical creations.

One of the most formidable challenges the epic 10th poses to a conductor is pacing: The first movement alone runs nearly 23 minutes. Slow tempi and a religious lyricism prevail, with little of the composer’s trademark biting sarcasm. Despite the large orchestral forces, many sections are scored for chamber ensemble. The emotional tension needs to be sustained throughout or the piece can easily fall into disconnected episodes.

Petrenko more than rises to the occasion, and demonstrates why he is a local hero in Liverpool for energizing the venerable RLPO. From the opening bars, he draws intense, accurate, and expressive playing from his musicians. The woodwind sound is especially distinctive. Unlike some interpreters, he resists the temptation to drag slow tempi, and keeps things moving along. He provides the drama without veering into the maudlin. At the end of the third and fourth movements, Shostakovich’s proud musical signature D-S-C-H (D, E-flat, C, B) bursts forth with just the right combination of tragedy and triumph: “Take that, Stalin, I’m still here!’’


MAHLER: Des Knaben Wunderhorn Thomas Hampson, baritone Wiener Virtuosen Deutsche Grammophon This is a big year for Mahlerians. The 100th anniversary of the composer’s death is approaching in May. Meanwhile, celebrations are midway for the 150th anniversary year of his birth on July 7, 1860. We hardly need such excuses. At least since the late 1960s, when Leonard Bernstein launched a personal Mahler crusade, first in New York and then in Vienna, we have found ourselves caught up in the composer’s swirling combination of naivete and cynicism, yearning and mockery, spiritual uplift and neurotic repetition. We are still Mahler.

Baritone Thomas Hampson is devoting much of this season to Mahler’s songs — 50 concerts and recitals’ worth. Hampson is an established Mahler interpreter. He recorded the “Songs of a Wayfarer’’ and “Kindertotenlieder’’ 20 years ago with Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, and the “Des Knaben Wunderhorn’’ songs with pianist Geoffrey Parsons in 1993. Missing, until now, have been the “Wunderhorn’’ songs in their original settings with orchestra. Last fall, he was featured in a disc of orchestral songs with the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, in the last installment of their splendid Mahler cycle. This month, Deutsche Grammophon releases Hampson’s first recording of all 14 “Wunderhorn’’ songs, with the unusual accompaniment of chamber ensemble — in this case, the Wiener Virtuosen, the Vienna Philharmonic’s first-chair players, and a few associates.

There is a thin precedent. Mahler said these songs should be considered “chamber music’’ and conducted them once in the recital hall of the Musikverein with what must have been reduced strings. Does a chamber version have any benefits? The instrumental texture is not really that different; it is merely thinner. And, because the Virtuosen perform without a conductor, there is some loose ensemble and a general lack of strong interpretive ideas. Compare the opening of “Revelge’’ (“Reveille’’) in Claudio Abbado’s 1999 version with the Berlin Philharmonic, and note how the slower tempo and stuttering trumpet tattoos (a disciplined effect Abbado obviously insisted on) mock the whole war ideal before the singer comes in with his bitter salute.

Hampson brings a soft half-voice and abundant legato to quieter songs, including the beautiful “Urlicht,’’ famous as the closing movement of the Second Symphony and usually sung by a mezzo-soprano. He sings with his usual finesse and fine German diction. He is not a characterful singer. Emotionally, he always seems to be in more or less the same place. In some places, however, this slightly stiff, self-conscious persona works for him, adding a hint of clerical outrage to a hilarious account of St. Anthony’s sermon to the fishes. When these songs call for youthful exuberance, and a thicker, deeper bass sound, Thomas Quasthoff (with Abbado) offers more pleasure.


ROSSINI: Stabat Mater Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Chorus Antonio Pappano, conductor EMI Antonio Pappano has been building the orchestra and chorus of Accademia di Santa Cecilia of Rome into a musical force. Their recording of Verdi’s Requiem last year was thrilling, particularly for the full-throated singing of the chorus. Now he turns to the music that laid the groundwork for Verdi’s sacred masterpiece, and indeed one might say for Verdi’s operatic style, Rossini’s “Stabat Mater.’’ (Verdi’s “Il Trovatore’’ especially seems to have been richly inspired by it. Can you imagine the “Miserere’’ without Rossini’s “Inflammatus’’?)

There used to be few recordings of this wonderful late work. Perhaps the best was the 1971 London/Decca set conducted by Istvan Kertesz, with Pilar Lorengar and a young Luciano Pavarotti among the soloists. Kertesz’s version is still in the catalog, but it has many rivals, notably Riccardo Muti’s 1995 version on EMI. Coming after his Verdi Requiem, Pappano’s reading isn’t as stirring as one might expect. He conceives the Rossini score lyrically a little more on the Methodist side, as it were — and gives the soloists lots of room. As a result, however, the underlying rhythms lack snap and crackle. Compare the consuming fire of Muti’s driven strings in the “Inflammatus.’’ Pappano only asks for this effect on the return of the opening section, when it comes as an odd surprise.

He has several fine young soloists. The American tenor (and Rossini specialist) Lawrence Brownlee sings the “Cujus animam’’ with liquid ease (and an easy high D). Bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo is sensitive with the text, and vocally thrilling in the “Eja, mater.’’ Anna Netrebko sounds vocally healthy in the soprano part, lacking only a degree of warmth in the quiet movements. Joyce DiDonato sings with passion in her solo, “Fac, ut mortem,’’ but one senses she is having difficulty with Pappano’s slow tempo. (Note the pause he takes before the fast section in that movement, exactly where snap is needed.) Still, this is gorgeous music inspired by an outburst of real religious feeling long after Rossini had given up opera, and still striking for its freshness and conviction. A cure for any winter day. D.P.