I’ve been listening to a recording that deserves recognition. It’s an ATMA Classics recording of Handel’s Orlando. Is anyone anywhere recording operas anymore? Perhaps the question sounds a bit silly, but the health of the classical music industry has been a regular topic of concern in some circles, and that includes recordings. This recording captures Orlando as performed at the 2012 Vancouver Early Music Festival.
As a Torontonian my baroque musical life is largely influenced by Tafelmusik, with a few competitors in the picture such as Kevin Mallon’s Aradia Ensemble. But Early Music Vancouver? Or Pacific Baroque Orchestra? They’re new to me, so all the more reason to eagerly seek out the new ATMA Orlando. When one only hears one ensemble & their approach one can forget about the myriad of interpretive choices available.
I’m pleased to see that Orlando is up for a Juno, and no wonder. Ideally there would be a whole category of opera recordings, as opposed to “Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral Performance”. Are there operas being recorded in this country? Not that I am aware of. When I googled I found a few modern operas (as you can see for yourself), but nothing like this ATMA recording.
I should add that as far as awards are concerned I am conflicted. I think great art should be celebrated, but I also cringe at competition. I don’t like adjudicators & the measurement of performances as though against some imaginary yardstick. This is one way that virtuosity can be understood as a kind of circus of thrills where the performer risks everything. How demeaning. I think it’s a relic from another age.
Parenthetically I want to observe that among the nominations the Junos are recognizing Stewart Goodyear’s Beethoven set. Forgive me if I now contradict myself. Yes I just said that I don’t like competitions between performers. But every now and then a performance is so extraordinary that it must be recognized. Goodyear’s recordings are the best recordings of this or any year. Juno is to be congratulated for jumping on the bandwagon. I suppose it’s possible he won’t win, but then again, these competitions are always apples & oranges. How can one assess performances of different works? It boggles my mind, even though I feel this is an exceptional circumstance: that Goodyear is beyond any Beethoven I’ve ever heard, every single sonata in the set. With all due respect to James Ehnes, Jan Lisiecki, Janina Fialkowska, and Louis Lortie –the other nominees in his category—Goodyear’s achievement is paradigm shifting, the most important pianism from this country since Glenn Gould re-invented JS Bach.
While Orlando doesn’t make me quite as rhapsodic as Mr Goodyear, it’s also something special, another important recording project that must be recognized & hopefully will win Juno recognition. I would wish that the three disc set heralds a new era. I hope they make back their investment and decide to record another opera.
Last night I saw Saul at Koerner Hall, a performance of a very different Handel work in a very different context. Orlando is languid & lyrical, fiery and passionate, but never dissonant or strident. I find myself thinking, not for the first time, about Handel’s operas and his version of the operatic, a parade of individual moments, instances of great beauty in diverse colours that likely made sense in a theatre where the lights were on and the audience not fully attentive.
I am still under the spell of Allyson McHardy’s Opera in Concert Phaedre in Hippolyte et Aricie earlier this month. I used to think of her voice in context with Janet Baker –the greatest voice of that type that I’ve ever heard—even though I now manage to recognize McHardy as her own distinct flavour, a profound & complex tone so voluptuous and nuanced that she interrupts my thinking whenever I encounter her voice.
English counter-tenor Owen Willetts portrays Orlando, an ornate & colourful reading in a different direction from, for example, the approach used by Daniel Taylor last night. This is ornamented elaboration that corresponds to what I understand about baroque singing, a stunning example of virtuosity & a gloriously full tone.
Karina Gauvin is another distinctive voice that I’ve come to know and love, a sweet timbre of transparency embodying great intelligence and insight, lines sung in a way to penetrate directly to the essence of the music.
Alexander Weimann leads the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in a non-nonsense reading of great clarity, an ensemble we could stand to hear more often.
It remains to be seen–next month– whether Juno shares my enthusiasm for this recording of Orlando.