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Ian Bostridge, Antonio Pappano
On 22 of these 29 Shakespeare-based art songs, Sir Antonio Pappano earns his co-billing by providing a piano accompaniment that’s as sensitive and precise as the tenor singing of the top-billed Bostridge. How precise? Even listeners unfamiliar with Elizabethan English or these specific texts will have little trouble making out the words. And, if anything, the lutenist Elizabeth Kenny’s accompaniment on the six compositions by the Shakespeare contemporaries William Byrd, Robert Johnson, Thomas Morley, and John Wilson casts Bostridge’s technique into even sharper relief.
Twelfth Night & Richard III
Claire van Kampen & the Musicians of Shakespeare’s Globe
Anyone curious about the kind of music, incidental or otherwise, that the King’s Men’s audiences would’ve heard will relish this recording’s fidelity to history. In terms of its instrumentation, its source material, and its live ambience, the album lacks only the period’s visuals and smells to transport the listener back to pre-Enlightenment days, when women were banned from stage and bear baiting was cool. Equally appropriate, neither the singing nor the playing flirts with over-refinement or anything else that might’ve gone over the heads of the groundlings.
Shakespeare in Music & Words
In a sense, this compilation takes the easy way out. Combine the best-loved melodies from operas and other classical works inspired by the Bard (Disc 1) with -recitations of his best-loved sonnets and his plays’ best-loved soliloquies and dialogues (Disc 2), and, voilà, Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits. Of course, for those hitherto immune to the riches of high culture, such an approach is also the easy way in—not only to Shakespeare, but also to Prokofiev, Mendelssohn, Vaughan Williams, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, and Sir John Gielgud.
Searching for William
Woods of Birnam
These five Germans take their name from Macbeth’s “moving grove.” And since 2013 they’ve been doing for Shakespeare what The Alan Parsons Project once did for Edgar Allan Poe: setting passages of his work to varieties of catchy art-rock. Unlike Parsons, however, there’s no residue of Pink Floyd, not with the folk loveliness of “My Rude Ignorance” (Sonnet 78) and “Where the Bee Sucks” (from The Tempest) as likely to spring up among the artier bits as the pop loveliness of “Seals of Love” (Measure for Measure).
Last summer, the piano duettists (and sisters) Katia and Marielle Labèque signed a contract merging their KML imprint with the venerable German label Deutsche Grammophon. The deal has resulted in a windfall for their fans. November alone saw the release of the six-disc box Sisters (previously released KML material circa 2006-2013) and the new recording Invocations (which features a rousing rendition of the original 1913 piano-duet arrangement of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps).
Now the Labèques have jumped into the Shakespeare-music sweepstakes with Love Stories, a bold, Romeo and Juliet–themed pairing of their 2011 recording of West Side Story with a new recording of David Chalmin’s avant-garde ballet Star-Cross’d Lovers. Scored for two pianos, electric guitar, electronics, and drums, the music inflates the Capulet-Montague tragedy to turbulent, dystopian dimensions. By requiring the sisters to operate well outside their putative comfort zone, it uncovers fresh facets of their talent and musical flexibility. —A.O.
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