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from the ever-vigorous I Barocchisti and Philippe Jaroussky joining for four duets, it is hard to know what more one could ask for. Unless it be a tie-in Donna Leon mystery inspired by Steffani’s life – oh hang on, there’s one of those as well… Lindsay Kemp

Wagner Lohengrin – In fernem Land (original version) ab . Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Am stillen Herd. Rienzi – Allächtiger Vater, blick herab!. Siegfried Dass der mein Vater nicht ist. Tannhäuser – Inbrunst im Herzen a . Die Walküre – Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater. Wesendonck-Lieder (orch Mottl) Jonas Kaufmann ten with a Markus Brück bass-bar Deutsche Oper Berlin b Chorus and Orchestra / Donald Runnicles Decca F 478 5189DH (74’ • DDD • T/t)

Kaufmann and Runnicles with anniversary salute to Wagner Turn immediately to the Tannhäuser excerpt. Mighty tents are already pitched on this summit of early Wagnerian arioso – Melchior and Szell, Windgassen and Sawallisch, Kollo and Solti – but Kaufmann and a superbly paced accompaniment from Runnicles and his German orchestra are up there with them. Kaufmann both darkens and stresses up his voice to portray the failed pilgrim’s predicament, and he and the conductor make daring and unisono use of fermatas.

Elsewhere, the novelties of this carefully thought-out recital include the ‘original’ version of Lohengrin’s Grail Narration (two verses with linking chorus) and, again following earlier colleagues like Melchior and Richard Tauber, a performance of the Wesendonck-Lieder. I remain unconvinced (pace the artist’s booklet defence) that the latter really work dramatically for a male voice – although Kaufmann gives so much attention to dear Mathilde’s texts as to render their barely Alice Elgar level of poetic inspiration almost too clear, and Runnicles makes Mottl’s plain orchestration as echt Wagnerian (ie Tristan-esque) as possible. Kaufmann’s full Act 3 narration is now even more polished and ecstatic (‘high’ is the word I want to use) than his noted Munich and Bayreuth performances. The other operatic excerpts, including a sizeable chunk of Siegfried’s Forest Murmurs and a truly improvisatory-sounding ‘Am stillen Herd’, also find the tenor pushing the confines of a recital disc excitingly towards the level of live performance.

Subtly recorded (in East Berlin’s atmospheric-sounding Funkhaus studio) and, as I hope I’ve already indicated, magically accompanied, the disc is something of a triumph. Mike Ashman

Joyce DiDonato ‘Drama Queens’ Cesti Orontea – Intorno all’idol mio Giacomelli Merope – Sposa, son disprezzata Handel Alcina – Ma quando tornerai. Alessandro – Brilla nell’alma. Giulio Cesare in Egitto – E pur così in un giorno… Piangerò la sorte mia Hasse Antonio e Cleopatra – Morte col fiero aspetto Haydn Armida – Vedi, se t’amo…Odio, furor, dispetto Keiser Fredegunda – Lasciami piangere. Octavia – Geloso sospetto Monteverdi L’incoronazione di Poppea – Disprezzata regina Orlandini Berenice – Col versar, barbaro, il sangue; Da torbida procella Porta Ifigenia in Aulide – Madre diletta, abbracciami Joyce DiDonato mez Il Complesso Barocco / Alan Curtis Virgin Classics F 602654‑2 (77’ • DDD • T/t)

DiDonato with royal heroines from Monteverdi to Haydn It seems Joyce DiDonato possesses a sense of humour. Following on from a cross-dressing album entitled ‘Diva/Divo’ (4/11), now we get ‘Drama Queens’ – a concept album presenting scenes for female characters, most of them of regal persuasion but a couple of them vengeful sorceresses, by composers stretching from Monteverdi to Haydn. This whistle-stop survey of different dramatic emotions and musical styles not only presents major names such as Handel (represented thrice) but also proffers intriguing fare by composers usually encountered only in musicological tomes.

DiDonato produces her most emotionally moving and sensitively embellished singing in ‘Madre diletta’ from Porta’s Ifigenia in Aulide (1738), an extraordinary siciliana in which the Mycenaean princess accepts that she must be sacrificed by her father Agamemnon and bids her mother Clytemnestra farewell. The weeping strings for the heartbroken Galsuinde in ‘Lasciami piangere’ (Fredegunda, 1715) and the astonishing sonority of five bassoons for the jealous title-character in Octavia (1705) each demonstrate why Keiser was highly esteemed by his German contemporaries. Handel’s major-key lament with flute for Cleopatra (‘Piangerò’) is contrasted with Hasse’s extremely vivid minor-key suicide scene with forceful strings for the same character (‘Morte col fiero aspetto’). Il Complesso Barocco and Alan Curtis are on particularly good form, contributing lyricism to love music such as ‘Intorno all’idol mio’ from Cesti’s Orontea (1656) and animated vigour to a couple of quick arias from Orlandini’s Berenice (1725). Wonderfully sung, passionately played and programmed intelligently – an exemplary recital. David Vickers

‘Love and Longing’ Dvořák Biblical Songs, Op 99 (orch Zemánek) Mahler Rückert-Lieder Ravel Shéhérazade

Magdalena Kožená sop Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Simon Rattle DG F 479 0065GH (64’ • DDD)

A vocal tour de force from a previous Award-winning singer Ravel’s Shéhérazade and the five Rückert songs by Mahler offer the more conventional pleasures on this disc but Madgalena KoΩená’s affectionate, sensitive espousal of Dvo∑ák’s Biblical Songs lends the programme an added dimension of sympathetic soul-searching. These 10 songs are natural territory for a Czech-born singer such as KoΩená and they bring back memories of her DG ‘Love Songs’ disc of Dvo∑ák, Janá∂ek and Martin≤ (8/00), for which she won the Gramophone Vocal Award in 2001. In the intervening years, of course, she has encompassed a broad swathe of repertoire from Bach and the Baroque through to Benjamin Britten, singing in English, French, German and Russian as well as Czech, and on this new disc her ease and clarity of language are as impressive as her instinctive feel for the modes of expression voiced by such diverse composers as Dvo∑ák, Ravel and Mahler. Add to that the natural sensitivity to idiom and the glorious sound of the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of KoΩená’s husband, Sir Simon Rattle, and you have one of those partnerships made in heaven.

Heaven is the focus of the Biblical Songs but so, too, is Dvo∑ák’s Czech homeland. He wrote the songs in the spring of 1894, while he was in America as director of the National Conservatory in New York. The New World Symphony had been unveiled at Carnegie Hall in the previous year; and if that work fuses Native American and native Czech traits, the Biblical Songs are almost entirely expressions of nostalgia. Indeed, one of them, ‘P∑i ∑ekách babylonsk≥ch’ (‘By the waters of Babylon’) is couched in such poignant terms that it is perfectly possible to imagine that Dvo∑ák himself sat down and wept with wistfulness while writing it. Taken from Psalm 137, this is one of the most touching songs in the set, beautifully and subtly sung by KoΩená with the colours of the orchestral accompaniment discreetly etched in. There is a quiet ardour about KoΩená’s interpretation when the text answers the captors’ demand for a mirthful song with the sad question, ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’ Did Dvo∑ák see himself as a captive in a strange land? Certainly he was having a few problems in securing his pay from his benefactress Mrs Jeannette Thurber, whose millionaire husband was facing bankruptcy; but, whatever the reasons, the song’s simplicity conveys a calm message of longing. All 10 of the gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2013 31