SCHMIDT: Notre Dame
CANTELOUBE: Songs of the Auvergne. EMMANUEL: Chansons bourguignonnes.
Austrian composer Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) studied with Bruckner, was a respected teacher at the Vienna Academy, as well as highly regarded both as a cellist and pianist (Leopold Godowski called him "one of the greatest pianists"). Schmidt's personal life was marked by tragedy, and his support of Nazis was not well received. He wrote four symphonies and perhaps is best known for his large-scale cantata The Book With Seven Seals (REVIEW). He wrote two operas, Notre Dame (1904-1906) and Freigundis (1916-1921). Notre Dame had its premiere in Vienna in 1914, but has had few performances since. Based loosely on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the opera focuses on the exotic gypsy Esmeralda who excites the passion of various men she encounters including Phoebus, an officer of the royal guard, the poet Gringoire, the Achdeacon, and the hunchback Quasimodo. The music is richly-textured, but it is easy to understand the opera's neglect. There is no exciting final scene, and it is unfortunate no libretto is provided. This recording was made in Berlin in August 1988, and the performance is superb, although Jones and King, late in their careers, are not quite up to their best standards. It is valuable for opera lovers to have this work available, just as the recently issued premiere recording of Paderewski's Manru (REVIEW). Probably the opera will continue to be best known for its rich Intermezzo, frequently heard on concerts.
This Tristan and Isolde was recorded live in Glyndebourne August 2009. It offers a solid cast but is an unexceptional presentation of Wagner's masterpiece. German soprano Anja Kampe gives a secure account of Isolde; her voice is clear and powerful. Young German tenor Torsten Karl, recognized as one of the more promising heldentenors, is in reasonably good form here. He is capable of extraordinary singing—check out his Emperor in the complete Amsterdam performance of Die Frau ohne Schatten on Youtube—but sounds rather tired here. Sarah Connolly's Brangäne is a plus as is the sensitive playing by the London Philharmonic under Vladimir Jurowski's direction. Excellent, natural stereo sound, and a complete libretto is part of the luxurious package. However, this performance of Tristan cannot complete with many other recordings, particularly the magnificent Karajan/Bayreuth 1952 performance recently reviewed on this site (REVIEW).
We have this reissue of Dawn Upshaw's 1997 Erato recording of selected Songs of the Auvegne. These are lovely performances of these exquisite songs, with a dubious plus of six rather similar arrangements of songs of the Pays de Beaune region by Maurice Emmanuel (1862-1936). There are many recordings of Canteloube's arrangements, many of which have been mentioned on this site. And if this repertory interests you, surely you should investigate the unique recording of some of the songs with the composer at the piano (REVIEW). This Dawn Upshaw reissue is not budget; there are no program notes and of course no texts, and playing time is limited. Skip this one.
R.E.B. (October 2013)