CARRERAS, DOMINGO, PAVAROTTI IN CONCERT. Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, tenors; Orchestras of the Maggio Musicale and Rome Opera, Zubin Mehta conducting. London 430433-2 ; 071223-3 (video cassette).
Is this the ultimate battle of the tenors, the event of the century tenor-wise, pitting three winners in gladatorial combat in a Roman arena?Certainly tickets were sold for the contest, enough to cram the 6,000-seat ruin favored by Romans for summer concert-going. Probably the space could have been filled 10 times over, if all prospective buyers could have had their hearts' desire.
But the meeting of these super-singers at the pinnacle of fame was more of a festival, a love feast even, with much shoulder patting and happy smiles. All petty differences (and there have been occasional temperamental brushes over the years) were set aside for an evening of glorious singing, a one-of-a-kind entertainment the likes of which we probably won't see or hear soon again.
While each star is obviously geared to his finest vocal effort, one feels no disquieting sense of showoff. All seem to be serving the music, each with his special God-given talent. And to see them standing side by side, singing in unison or alternating phrases, is indeed a historic sight.
There's one fantastic rendition after another of the arias that are their business. Pavarotti in Puccini's "Tosca" and "Turandot," Domingo in "O Paradis" from Meyerbeer's "L'Africaine," and Carreras in the affecting Lament of Federico from Cilea's "L'Arlesienne" - these and others show the tenors at their operatic best.
To richly serve the song repertory, each singer draws deeply upon his heritage and temperament. Domingo in "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz,' Carreras in "Core 'ngrato" by Cardillo, and Pavarotti in his peerless "Torna a Surriento" - all evoke tenor as it was meant to be, to tug the heart strings and raise the hair.
Comparisons are inevitable. And while Domingo and Pavarotti are pretty much co-equal giants of our time, with heroic, indestructible voices that will go down in vocal legend, Carreras is of a more lyric cut. His sallies into the dramatic repertory have often left one wishing he wouldn't, and he does force at times. But he has earned entree into the company he keeps, by virtue of the indomitable spirit that has carried him to recovery from life-threatening illness and returned him to the operatic stage. Most likely his remaining career will turn back toward the lyric repertory with which he began.
The video cassette includes orchestral interludes of undistinguished music, never missed on the CD. And while it's interesting to see both the historic setting - Rome's Caracalla Baths - and three such singers in a row, the video is live filming of a concert, no more, no less, much like a Pavarotti Presents gala from Lincoln Center. Those who like the thrill of being there will want the video, in stereophonic sound; others may be quite as well served by the excellent CD.
OUR HEART'S JOY: A CHANTICLEER CHRISTMAS. Chanticleer, Joseph Jennings conducting. Chanticleer CR-8803 .
CANDLELIGHT CAROLS. Choir of Trinity Church, Brian Jones director; Ross Wood, organ. London 430456-2 .
Singers of less heroic mold comprise Chanticleer, 15 men in an ensemble that encompasses all styles. Their Christmas recording ranges from 15th-century polyphony to modern carols, and one speculates that they could with equal comfort range the ensemble literature of the ages, right up to the avant garde and popular music, for musicianship seems to be a long suit.
Theirs is an unusual tone, an arresting sound quite different from any other group around. Countertenor and male alto often give the effect of mixed harmony, until one senses the white purity in the treble.
Indeed, the early music sometimes sounds a little effete and stylized. But in the strictly Christmas music such as the Spanish "Riu, riu, chiu" and Britten's "Hymn to the Virgin," vitality takes over. And Christmas spirituals arranged by Jennings have all the gospel fervor of their black antecedents. This is an intriguing group, from whom one would like to hear more.
Boston propriety with a maverick dash of color - that's Trinity Church in Copley Square. And a Christmas recording from its choir is what one might expect, featuring the tried and true favorites of Christmas, plus less familiar songs such as "All Poor Men and Humble," "King Jesus Hath a Garden," the lovely Welsh "Suo Gan," and "What Strangers Are These." Recording in the church with brass ensemble evokes a nice sense of reverent space.