RECORDS / Fatal attractions, flawed alliances: Stephen Johnson and Edward Seckerson review Puccini's Tosca and Gorecki's Symphony No 3

PUCCINI: Tosca Freni, Domingo, Ramey, Philharmonia, Royal Opera Chorus / Giuseppe Sinopoli (DG 431 775-2)

A DISTINGUISHED cast, and a conductor who is not known for playing safe - it sounds like a recipe for an interesting Tosca at the very least. In fact it is a well thought-through and equally well mannered performance, which enjoys the big moments without trying to wring the last drop of emotional juice from them. Sinopoli's rubato gets a little expansive in one or two places, but on the whole he keeps the music moving forward, with force, clarity and elegance.

It is hard to think of another Tosca recording that does so many of the right things while remaining so essentially cool. Domingo is a proven Cavaradossi, and for sheer beauty and poise this version takes some beating. He characterises the role warmly, though this is hardly a red-hot performance. Mirella Freni's Tosca can be more urgently dramatic, and that outstanding piece of musical costume jewellery 'Vissi d'arte' is full of nice little expressive touches; yet there is a recurring unsteadiness, just enough to disturb.

Samuel Ramey's Scarpia is more problematic. The authority and the musicianship are all there, but could anyone really believe him capable of treachery and cupidity on such a scale? The most stirring realisation is a relatively minor one - Bryn Terfel's Angelotti. No doubt about his first appearance: the man is afraid - and he sings beautifully. Angelotti the strongest memory? That can't be right. SJ

WITH Sinopoli on the podium this was never going to be 'the Freni Tosca'. His fiercely dramatic but protracted, suffocating manner will inevitably raise hackles. Sinopoli lives to linger and brood. 'Frozen' moments are many, not least the gaunt, chilling coda to Act Two - Scarpia's shroud. His Act One 'Te Deum', sensationally slow, magnificently recorded, is a black mass indeed, somehow the more decadent, the more shocking for its opulence.

But there is a price - impetus, the roller-coaster effect. Far from hurtling towards an inevitable conclusion, Tosca's fateful 24 hours are experienced here in a kind of slow motion. Which brings me to the diva behind the diva - Freni. Would that she and DG had come sooner to the work. Here is a real Tosca, a great singer, caught just beyond her prime, more's the pity. The tone is spreading now, the reach shortening, the technique more effortful.

Even so, the performance is terrific, the genuine article with every phrase motivated and filled. You really cannot fake 'Vissi d'arte' - so much of the music is in the words. Freni's persecutor is Samuel Ramey, a handsome-sounding but rather anodyne Scarpia. He fails to use the curl and insinuation of his words, the suave, seductive legatos of his immensely grateful vocal lines. This is something of a one-colour performance.

And Domingo (in his third recorded Tosca)? He may have lost a little of his ease, but definitely none of his ardour; and the dark mahogany sound is just as glorious as ever, pressed only at the very top. A Tosca of fatal attractions but as many fatal flaws. ES

GORECKI: Symphony No 3

Dawn Upshaw, London

Sinfonietta / David Zinman

(Elektra Nonesuch 79282-2)

I HAVE definitely been here before. That was my first thought. My second, some 50 minutes later, was that the experience was entirely new. Imagine a spiritual alliance between Arvo Part and John Tavener, the kind of music that precedes the notes and resonates long after they have died. Mystical minimalism with a heart and a soul. There you have Gorecki's beautiful symphony - one man's message of hope 50 years after Auschwitz. Something special stirs here from the moment that his parched string basses begin their long, slow, painful ascent. As the polyphony swells, so do feelings of renewal. An early masterstroke interpolates a setting of the 15th- century Polish prayer at the moment of most intense light, whereupon the ecstatic polyphony resumes as if it had never ceased. Perhaps it never had.

Harmonically richer than Part or Tavener, Gorecki's subsequent movements turn exclusively to song - rapt, melismatic settings sung here as though everything depended upon them by a radiant Dawn Upshaw. And if you think you have heard revelatory modulations, just wait. Gorecki's final surprise must remain so. ES

ACQUAINTANCE with a handful of Henryk Gorecki's stark, moody, obsessively repetitive later pieces had not prepared me for this, or at least not for the first movement. This 26-minute Lento follows a clear ternary scheme: a string canon on a chant-like theme builds up to a massive polyphonic climax; a soprano sings a 15th-century Polish devotional hymn on the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin, and then the whole process is repeated in reverse. It has something of the dignified ecstasy of John Tavener at his best, only here the expression is darker, more pained.

The strings sustain the huge expressive arch magnificently, and Dawn Upshaw's soaring purity in the central song is the crowning feature it deserves - her Polish is rather impressive too. Following a Lento with more slow movements is not unprecedented, but here the textural economy is radical, especially in the third and final one: a folk song (a very beautiful one, I admit) is supported by regularly swaying chords at first, and later by the purest A major harmonies. It is quite lovely, in an uneventful way. For me, though, going from the last movement back to the first is to pass from almost undifferentiated mood to a complete, powerfully structured emotional experience. SJ

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee