This release is titled as Elizebathan Consort Music, Vol II and we have already savoured the flavours of that previously immensely successful release which reads like a roll-call from the 'greats' of English 16th century music. This time Jordi Savall and his splendid Hesperion XXI have devoted a whole CD to the talents of Anthony Holborne, a rather obscure figure but one who evidently was held in great esteem in those days.
Although the first full consort of viols did not arrive in England until 1540, there were actually several intriguing examples of what are now called "consort" music from before that time. Of course, the homogenous viol consort became supreme, and the present program (also featuring some 2-lute arrangements) focuses on the first part of that repertory. This developed at Elizabeth's court in the 1570s & 1580s, among professional musicians, but based on relatively restrictive models. Some pieces in the present program are composed freely, heralding the next step in consort development which, along with the small output of Byrd, allowed the English consort idiom to fully flower. Of course that was followed closely by the even larger and more famous repertory of consort music by composers such as Gibbons which was eventually geared more toward amateur players.
Bellini’s Norma contains one of the most impressive and also most difficult soprano roles in the whole repertoire of opera. Few sopranos can do justice to it. The first of those who have must surely be Maria Callas, considered the outstanding interpreter of the title part. The role, along with Bellini"s opera, was interpreted in a revolutionary fashion by Joan Sutherland (born in Sydney 1926). She is the protagonist in the present recording made at the Sydney Opera House in August 1978. "La Stupenda", as Joan Sutherland was known in musical circles, ended her international career in 1990. The celebrated production by Sandro Sequi, with Fiorella Mariani"s lavish décor and costumes, concentrates entirely on the human destiny of a woman on the edge of her existence. He intelligently brings forth the priestess’ emotional world, hence showing the many facets of Norma"s character. The whole drama of events on the stage is reflected in the orchestra pit, and musical director Richard Bonynge demonstrates once again his competence for great musical theatre.
Joan Sutherland was at the height of her career when she took on the role of Leonora – arguably the most dramatic of all Verdi heroines – in 1983. Elijah Moshinsky’s production, in which he was ably supported by the Australian artist Sidney Nolans (set design), Luciana Arrighi (costumes) and Nick Chelton (lighting), was tailor-made for Sutherland, allowing Leonora to develop into a truly tragic heroine occupying the opera’s central ground. This performance at the Australian Opera, Sydney – and featuring a high quality cast under the baton of Richard Bonynge – was recorded by Australian Television on 2nd July 1983. Verdi’s powerful and passionate opera tells a tale of civil war and treachery.