One complaint must be registered about a new compact disc of Schubert songs performed by soprano Margaret Price (Orfeo C00181 A): It begins in the middle.
This can be confusing for a moment, when you open the handy booklet of texts and translations and begin reading the words of "Geheimnis" ("Secret") while the words of "An die Nachtigall" ("To the Nightingale") are pouring out of your speakers in a rich soprano tone.
The music is all there in the proper order, except that what was Side 2 on the vinyl disc edition comes in as the beginning of the compact disc -- which has, of course, only one side. This kind of accident is not as disastrous as it would be in a symphony, where the movements have a fixed order. But it does change a carefully chosen sequence of songs. The collection now ends with "Im Abendrot" ("In the Evening Glow"). This is not a bad way to end a recital, but "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen" ("The Shepherd on the Rock") is clearly the ideal number to close with. It now comes in the middle.
Otherwise, this collection is an almost pure delight, as is a companion compact disc (Orfeo C 031821 A) devoted to songs of Schumann and including his magnificent "Frauenliebe und Leben" ("Woman's Love and Woman's Life"). All the selections are in proper order on this disc; the booklet has the German texts but no translations. Following "Frauenliebe und Leben" are three thematically compatible songs, two Ru ckert "Bride's Songs" from Op. 25 and Mo rike's "The Soldier's Bride" from Op. 64. Other outstanding selections include "Der Nussbaum" ("The Nut Tree"), "Die Lotusblume" ("The Lotus Flower") and "Du bist wie eine Blume" ("You are Like a Flower").
Price has excellent partners at the piano in both collections: Wolfgang Sawallisch (better known as a conductor) for Schubert and James Lockhart for Schumann. Her style is exquisite, notably sensitive to the meaning and emotional value of the words and properly subtle in nuances of dynamics and phrasing. There is sometimes a thinness when she sings softly in her top register and a bit of edginess when she increases the volume.
I have no complaints about the Monteverdi arias and madrigals on a Harmonia Mundi compact disc (HMC 901129), featuring countertenor Rene' Jacobs, who has performed superbly at the University of Maryland Handel Festival. With mezzo-soprano Helga Mu ller-Molinari, he gives a definitive performance of the final duet from "The Coronation of Poppea," which (according to a conjecture in the program notes) may be the work of Monteverdi's disciple Benedetto Ferrari della Tiorbo. Ferrari is definitely the composer of the "Spiritual Cantata" "Queste pungenti spine," in which Jacobs solos brilliantly, and this sample of his work makes one wonder why Ferrari is virtually unknown.
Jacobs is joined by Mu ller-Molinari in five Monteverdi madrigals for two voices, and she solos in the "Lamento d'Arianna," a long, passionate monologue that is one of Monteverdi's most striking works for solo voice. She has a stylistic mastery comparable to that of Jacobs and a richer range of tonal colors. Expert instrumental accompaniments and outstanding sound make this a record that any lover of Renaissance music will want to hear. Texts and translations are provided.
The repertoire is less exotic in "The Art of Coloratura" (Orfeo C 07-831 A), with soprano Edita Gruberova singing such perennially popular bits of vocal acrobatics as "Il Bacio" and "Voices of Spring" and Kurt Eichhorn conducting the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. But she also includes less-known material -- Glie re's Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra, for example. Besides agility, accuracy and excellent tone -- the standard equipment of all great coloraturas -- Gruberova brings to these songs a surprising and eye-opening emotional involvement. Not much of the music in this collection is truly great. But bysinging it as though it were, she adds a pleasing new dimension. No texts are provided, but they are not really necessary.
Giacomo Meyerbeer is remembered as the Cecil B. De Mille of grand opera -- a deviser of epics, full of lavish pageantry and calling for casts of thousands. Partly because they are expensive to produce and partly because they were ridiculed by opponents ranging from Wagner to Offenbach, Meyerbeer's operas have fallen into neglect. Only one, "Les Huguenots," is currently listed in the Schwann catalogue. But a new Orfeo compact disc (C 054-831 A) presents an almost unknown Meyerbeer work at the inexpensive end of the operatic spectrum. "Gli Amori di Teolinda," a "scenic cantata" on the familiar 18th-century theme of a shepherdess in love, requires only one solo voice -- a virtuoso soprano who sings about her love for the absent Armidoro but seems to be much more involved musically with the solo clarinet. Meyerbeer wrote it for two friends, a clarinetist and his mistress, who were leading musicians of the time. Their extraordinary ability can still be sensed in the quality of the music, which is a triumph of style over lack of content.
Soprano Julia Varady and clarinetist Jorg Fadle both perform spectacularly in this recording, with Gerd Albrecht conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the RIAS Chamber Choir. A libretto is provided and the sound is excellent.