The honourable mention of the week goes to “Dirait-On”, a song from the cycle “Les Chansons des Roses” by the American composer Morten Lauridsen. This is a setting of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet who, besides being one of the most lyrical German-language poets, also wrote over 400 poems directly in French. It’s an airy-like song, making you feel like you’re breezing away on a calm stream, and the entrance of the tenor chorus one minute in brings the piece to life.
At the number 3 we have something surprising (for me, at least): “Electric Counterpoint”, a minimalist work by Steve Reich. The minimalist trait, the repetitive notes and the metallic sharp sound were all supposed to make me not like this piece, but instead they had an interesting effect: they cleared my head of all thoughts. I could not concentrate on anything while listening to this so my mind just emptied itself, it became quiet. However only the first two movements have this pleasant effect on me, I’m not a big fan of the third one, it almost irritates me. Overall, I’m happy I gave this a try and didn’t dismiss it automatically, which was my first impulse.
Number 2, the “Oboe Concerto in D minor, op. 9 no. 2” by Tomaso Albinoni is perfect for listening to on a spring morning, just after you’ve woken up. The first movement in particular “Allegro e non presto” is such a pick-me-up, optimistic and cheerful piece, it makes you feel like a fresh new beginning is ahead of you.
“E lucevan le stele” from “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini comes at number 1 by default. I must admit some subjectivity, but my guess is that opera is always going to get first place in these weekly tops, being my soft spot when it comes to classical music. Even though his works are somewhat melodramatic, Puccini remains one of my favourite opera composers. He is a genius when it comes to beautiful lyrical arias, this one from “Tosca” being a great example. What makes this particular aria remarkable for me, is not only its wonderful score, but also its sad lyrics, Cavaradossi singing this while waiting for his execution. The part I like best, the one that makes me shiver every time I listen to it is the line “O dolci baci, o languide carezze” (“Oh, sweet kisses and languorous caresses”), which has the most beautiful lyrical music of the entire aria.
“Oh, sweet kisses and languorous caresses,
While trembling I stripped the beautiful form of its veils!
Forever, my dream of love has vanished.
That moment has fled, and I die in desperation.
And I die in desperation!
And I never before loved life so much,
Loved life so much”
The difficult part with this aria was deciding only on one sung version to include here. And since this was impossible, I’ve included five of my favourites. I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t add anything by Kaufmann, but I just don’t like the way he’s singing this area, especially the “O dolci baci” part. It’s like he’s not transmitting enough emotion, and he’s not enunciating the “d” and the “b”, which I feel takes away a lot from the power of the line. This is the same reason I demoted Luciano Pavarotti’s version.
By far the one I like the most is Giuseppe di Stefano, his voice is spectacular and I find his version the most emotional one.
Right after him comes Franco Corelli’s version, which is indeed the most passionate out of all, but I like di Stefano’s voice more.
Then I found a very old version, sung by Antonio Cortis. The recording is from 1929 so the quality is not as great, but nevertheless it makes for a great listening. Cortis has a wonderful voice, his version being softer than the rest. The only part I don’t particularly like is how he’s ending the aria.
Jaume Aragall is someone I’ve never heard of before, but I find his rendering of this piece extremely moving, and he has a pretty awesome voice also.
Luciano Pavarotti is only on the 5th place because he’s down singing my favourite line and because his version is lacking that strong emotional impact. But his tremendous voice keeps him in the top.
Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list of all the works curated by Clemency Burton-Hill in the book “Year of Wonder: Classical music for every day”. To enjoy the full catalogue of pieces proposed by the author along with her comments on the composers and the music itself, feel free to pick up her awesome book here (not affiliated, nor sponsored).