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Recommended recordings: July 2014

This month the focus falls on new recordings of Elektra and Orlando, as well as a collection of arias inspired by legendary Assyrian queen Semiramis.

By Robert Perry (Retail Manager)

3 July 2014 at 7.49pm | Comment on this article

Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden - Elektra (Deutsche Grammophon)

Elektra has been lucky in the studio, so much so that a new contender for the throne has to have some special attributes.  Does Christian Thielemann have what it takes? Yes, in short. The Dresden Staatskapelle plays for Thielemann with a savage grace. Tempi are not rushed but tension ebbs and flows at key moments, details are exemplary and illuminating, and where horror is needed it lurks just below the surface: the stomach-churning procession that heralds Klytämnestra’s entry for example, or the cumulative explosion of Elektra’s final dance. Orchestrally this recording is up there with the best. In the casting department, we are spoiled by René Pape’s rock-solid, implacable Orest, Anne Schwanewilms's magnificently neurotic Chrysothemis, and Waltraud Meier’s compellingly sung - and acted - Klytämnestra. Evelyn Herlitzius is Europe’s go-to Elektra and in this live performance her commitment is total, her attack fearless and the occasional misfires doesn't derail her success. With the maids and other small roles well sung, there’s no weak link and the eruption of applause at the conclusion tells of an astonishingly intense night. I was unable to break off listening, and I can’t really pay this recording a greater compliment.

René Jacobs and the B'Rock Orchestra - Orlando (Archiv Opera)

If you need a palate cleanser after the horrors of Elektra, look no further than René Jacobs’ new recording of Handel’s Orlando. A counter tenor turned conductor, Jacobs has made recordings of a huge range of baroque music. In opera he is the perfect singer’s conductor and, in the studio, he retains an exhilarating sense of theatre throughout. Birds sing, winds howl, but never at the expense of the musical experience, which is perfectly judged. The star name on the cast list is Bejun Mehta, who takes the title role. Mehta’s Orlando won plaudits at the Royal Opera House in 2007 when he led the revival of this production (in 2003 he had sung Medoro to Alice Coote’s Orlando). Technically assured and dramatically involved from the get-go, it is a very welcome document to have his performance capture on disc. Beyond Mehta the cast is superb, with Jacobs regular Sunhae Im as Dorinda and the excellent Sophie Karthäuser as Angelica. The oddly named B’Rock Orchestra prove themselves an exemplary period band. This brings the number of commercially recorded Orlandos in the catalogue to three, and I would happily place this new recording in pole position.

Anna Bonitatibus - Semiramide (Sony Music)

When Mehta sang Orlando with The Royal Opera, his Medoro was Anna Bonitatibus. A regular and acclaimed Cherubino in David McVicar’s Le nozze di Figaro, the mezzo is blessed with a richly expressive voice enlivened with a quick and attractive vibrato. Sony Music has lavishly packed a two-CD set of Ms Bonitatibus in a range of arias all taken from operas inspired by Semiramis, the legendary Assyrian queen. Many of us know Rossini’s take on this (and Bonitatibus gives a brilliantly sung 'Bel raggio lusinghier') but much of this repertory is unknown and several of the tracks amount to world premiere recordings. Covering well over a century of music, this is an extraordinary document exceptionally performed by both the mezzo and the excellent Accademia degli Astrusi and La Stagione Armonica under Federico Ferri. A serious achievement, both musically and academically.

What recently released recordings would you recommend?

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