Featuring the best reviews from our loyal ClassicsOnline members.
(25 April – 8 May)
(Bee Jazz: BEE013)
Date Reviewed: 04/21/13
Big band - big music, big smile
I've met LeBocal's music through their Frank Zappa album (2000): it's joyful, rich and funny. A few weeks ago I thought of giving a chance to another album of theirs - a fantastic discovery!
This big band moves, lives, breathes together as a big animal, a real living "thing", and now it seems to me that their own world, their own music is more lively, rich, funny, etc. than when they play the (otherwise rich and funny) music of Frank Zappa. It's a real musical community, giving you the sense of oneness, while they never stop to surprise you (yes, suddenly some heavy-metal roar might jump on you, followed by a sort of opera-singing, just to be concluded with the most beautiful big-band arrangement). Totally unusual, totally Zappa-esque - and totally theirs - totally LeBocal.
It was the first time after years from the first samples that I had to buy this album. And I've been listening to it since.
The version of Anna Bolena
Firstly, I think it's important to mention that this is not the complete score. I'm not sufficiently familiar with the opera to know exactly where the cuts have been made, but certainly the overture is missing, and this performance is noticeably shorter than the Sills/LSO/Rudel one. But Sills just doesn't do it for me... I agree that Callas can be an acquired taste, but she has a remarkable presence, and she can always hold my attention. The sound quality of this recording isn't fantastic, particularly during the purely orchestral parts, but the singers come off better, and once Callas started I forgot there was such a thing as 'sound quality'. She has a way of drawing you into the music, and she sounds emotionally involved with her character.
It isn't just a Callas show, either: Giulietta Simionato makes a lovely Giovanna - her first entrance is superb - and Nicola Rossi-Lemeni sounds great. His voice reminds me a bit of Giuseppe Di Stefano (one of my favourite tenors, who is often in operas with Callas - they really suit each other).
I don't find it easy to single out favourite parts of this opera, it's just an entirely satisfying and enjoyable experience. Personally I prefer Donizetti's dramas to his comedies, mainly because they provide that satisfied feeling. Incidentally, the problem of the absent overture can be solved by downloading it separately from another version... but probably a lot of people will want an uncut version anyway. However, even if you think you only want one version, don't skip this Callas one: it's fantastic, and doesn't leave you with the feeling that there is anything lacking.
Bach St. Matthew (English) - Paul Seddon
I bought this album (as MP3 download) because I wanted a St. Matthew Passion sung in English for someone who doesn't know it and would be put off by the German; and because I love Kathleen Ferrier's voice.
I was delighted by the quality of the performance. Clearly fashions change and Jacques takes it slower than most conductors would now, but it's just as valid a way of performing, and sits beautifully alongside modern recordings.
Kathleen Ferrier's arias are tear-jerkingly beautiful, as I knew they would be, but the soprano Elsie Suddaby (I'd never heard of her before) has a lovely delicate voice, and the Evangelist sings the words so clearly you can follow the story easily. The Bach choir gives a strong performance. The recording quality is surprisingly good for the era.
A magical, legendary performance. I'd love a recording company to be brave enough to commission a new recording of the St. Matthew in English to put alongside it in my collection!
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