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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 15 )
Charlotte Salomon • Marc-André Dalbavie

Charlotte Salomon • Marc-André Dalbavie

Dare Such Beauty!

Pictures above and below courtesy Salzburg Festival © Ruth Walz. Click on details to see entire picture.

I had thought, while sitting in Marc-André Dalbavie’s new opera, Charlotte Salomon, that I had found the perfect description for the work. Or the music. Or at least the perfect title. I repeated it, throughout, and let it linger, and it fit only ever better. Can’t forget that. Mustn’t. Won’t. You have guessed it: I’ll be darned if I can recall now what I thought was such an exact fit of my response to Dalbavie’s audaciously beautiful¹ opera on the subject of young Charlotte Salomon, whose autobiography is an exploration of art and private affairs and only gets roped onto the world stage by her capture in the south of France, her deportation and subsequent murder at Birkenau.

Charlotte grows up in a musical family; there are actual shellacs of her step-mother Paula Salomon-Lindberg. And the music Charlotte had heard and describes is woven into a tapestry by Dalbavie that includes Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Mahler, folksongs, ditties, Yiddishe Lieder, Bizet, self-quotation, Horst-Wessel-Lied, and more.

The result is not only a mix of the familiar with the new (which always helps). Nor is it just an excuse for beauty by way of quotation. It is a stepping stone towards a music which, even when utterly new and purely Dalbavie, is as singeable as any I have heard in contemporary opera, where so often stentorian and pressed monotony is the downfall of even the most promising such works. The libretto, put together from Salomon’s own words and partly translated back into French, comes from Barbara Honigman.

Lottie and Lisa go to Birkenau

The character of Charlotte Salomon / Charlotte Kann is split into two roles: an actress (Johanna Wokalek as C.Salomon) and mezzo Marianne Crebassa as Salomon’s fictional self, C.Kann. Director Luc Bondy tells the woman’s story steadily, chronologically, as if through tableaux quite in keeping with Salomon’s own way of telling her dramatized autobiography-cum-play “Theater? or Life?”: gouache paintings with text, about 800 of them. (Salomon, distraught at the suicides of her grandmother and mother and general family-inherited instability, was driven by the question “whether to take her own life or undertake something wildly unusual”, which resulted in this unusual body of work—finished not long before she was rounded up, deported, and gassed.) These pictures that Salomon painted are projected (often plainly, sometimes ingeniously—Lighting: Bertrand Couderc) on the bare white set in which movable walls can create variously sized rooms open to the audience in the Felsenreitschule.

There’s nothing particularly creative about the telling of the narrative, but the singers-actors—and most of all the wildly wonderful Marianne Crebassa—bring life and to the proceedings and the reasonably captivating developments, tribulations, and entanglements of voice teacher (Frédéric Antoun), step-mother (Anaïk Morel), Charlotte, father (Jean-Sébastien Bou), and grandparents (Vincent le Texier, Cornelia Kallisch).

What remains deeply entrenched in the memory is the story, the all-enveloping music, and Crebassa: Girlish, hopping around stage and wrapping herself into any awkward shape as a teenager in love might, with dramatic presence to keep the audience’s interest even in slower-going passages, and with a voice—audible, secure, youthful yet darkly-rich—that was able to do anything, including nearly singing the mobile roof off the Felsenreitschule, in the few moments where she let rip. No singer disappointed, and the Mozarteum Orchestra under the composer’s own direction seemed to be in good shape, making the fearlessly seductive² sound very fine, indeed.

More pictures:


New Culture Minister in France

In France over the weekend, the government of prime minister Manuel Valls, formed only four months ago, resigned. That meant that all of the ministers had to be replaced, including Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti, who got on the wrong side of the intermittents du spectacle this summer. President François Hollande raised some eyebrows by appointing Filippetti's historic rival, Fleur Pellerin, to replace her. Reportedly, the two women do not get along at all. Aureliano Tonet offers some thoughts on the tense succession (Fleur Pellerin, l'anti-Filippetti, August 27) for Le Monde (my translation):
The situation was so bad that the transfer of power, on Tuesday at dusk, gave cinephiles the impression of seeing again one of the oddest sequences of the last Cannes Festival, with the roles reversed. Before the official projection of Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent, on May 17, Aurélie Filippetti had demanded to be the only minister to climb the steps, which required Fleur Pellerin to go into the Palais des Festivals by the service entrance. The remake of the scene, on the entrance steps of the ministry, was everything spectators expected: an exchange of icy smiles, a "good luck" through clenched lips by Filippetti, who pushed the impertinence to the point of not inviting the administrative directors to the ceremony -- "unheard of," according to those in the know.
Pellerin, who was adopted from a Korean orphanage by a French family when she was a baby, is the first French government minister of Asian descent. Unfortunately, her tastes lean more toward television and pop music according to the article, which is not exactly our type of culture. You can follow the new minister on Twitter.


Briefly Noted: New Michael Haydn Oratorio

available at Amazon
Johann Michael Haydn, Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung (Part II), E. Scholl, T. Szaboky, Z. Varadi, Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, G. Vashegyi

(released on July 8, 2014)
Carus 83.351 | 79'55"
Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung was an oratorio premiered early in 1768, composed by three different composers in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg. The first part was by court composer Anton Cajetan Adlgasser, and the final part by choir master Johann David Westermayer. The only part for which music survives was the second, the work of Michael Haydn, younger brother of Joseph and Salzburg's Konzertmeister. The first recording of the work, recorded live in Budapest in 2009, was released last month, in a decent performance by the Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra, conducted by György Vashegyi. The text is a bit of a snooze-fest, an allegorical exploration of the struggle for penance and conversion, but Haydn's daring vocal writing effectively showed off three of the archbishop's star sopranos, Maria Anna Braunhofer, Maria Anna Fesemayer, and Maria Magdalena Lipp. The last of them was the daughter of the second organist of Salzburg Cathedral and became Mrs. Michael Haydn later that year.

The casting of this performance, with sopranos singing all five roles, is a bit of a mystery. A published libretto of the work in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Slg.Her O 222) lists the names of men who sang the roles of Christ and Freigeist: court tenor Franz Anton Spitzeder, who also sang in a similar three-composer oratorio from the year before, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots (by Mozart, Michael Haydn, and Adlgasser, with only Mozart's contribution surviving) and another court singer, Felix Winter. Haydn's score, which I have not seen, may indicate otherwise. The writing, for both instruments and voices, is virtuosic: in the aria for Gnade (Grace), Jesu, der den Tod besiegt, a demanding obbligato horn part spars with the singer jumping between high range and low chest. In two pieces, there are obbligato parts for solo trombone, which is somewhat bizarre but a sound that catches one's attention. In my experience as a choral singer, Michael Haydn's best work is a composer for choir, reflecting his training as a choir boy in Vienna, and the two choral parts are the high point of this oratorio.


Briefly Noted: Chordae Freybergensis

available at Amazon
Te Deum laudamus: Freiberg Cathedral Angel Instruments, Ensemble Freiberger Dom-Music, Chordae Freybergensis, A. Koch

(released on August 12, 2014)
cpo 777928-2 | 55'45"
At the end of the 16th century, a set of thirty historical instruments, or very accurate copies of them, was installed in Freiberg Cathedral, placed in the hands of sculpted golden angels. The group Chordae Freybergensis is part of a research project that made modern copies of these instruments, in an attempt to recreate the sound of a Renaissance instrumental ensemble. Six of these instruments -- four sizes of violin, cornetto, and sackbut, with organ -- are featured on this new recording, doubling six voices of the Ensemble Freiberger Dom-Music, made in Freiberg Cathedral last summer. The music, all of it rarities, is drawn from manuscript sources in the Bibliothek der Freiberger Lateinschule, from around 1600, copied for students and faculty in the Freiberg Latin School, the first secondary school in Saxony devoted to the humanities, to sing and play.

Structured like a Mass, the program is centered on the five movements of the Ordinary by Philippe de Monte (1521-1603), known as the Missa super Mon coeur se recomande, with motets by Monte, Albinius Fabricius (1570-1635), Leonhard Lechner (1553-1606), Rogier Michael (1552/54-1619), and Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder (1543?-1588). Most of the repertory is decidedly Catholic in nature -- including the Latin ordinary and especially Fabritius's setting of O sacrum convivium, a text attributed to Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi -- which is odd since the cathedral is a former collegiate church turned Lutheran. Rogier Michael's bilingual (German-Latin) setting of the Te deum is a fitting tribute to the transition from one tradition to the other. The performances, while not stellar, are attractively engineered.


Perchance to Stream: Back to School Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Watch the production of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier from the Salzburg Festival, directed by Harry Kupfer and conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, starring Krassimira Stoyanova, Sophie Koch, and Mojca Erdmann. []

  • From the Bayreuth Festival, a performance of Siegfried, recorded last month, with Kirill Petrenko conducting a cast lead by Lance Ryan, Wolfgang Koch, and Catherine Foster. [France Musique]

  • Watch the production of Tannhäuser from the Bayreuther Festspiele. [BR-Klassik]

  • Listen to a performance of Massenet's Cendrillon starring Joyce DiDonato, Ewa Podlés, and Alice Coote, conducted by Andrew Davis last January at the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona. [ORF]

  • Listen to a performance of Britten's War Requiem from the Royal Albert Hall, with Andris Nelsons, Susan Gratton, and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. [France Musique]

  • The Tallis Scholars and conductor Peter Phillips are joined by the Heath Quartet to perform the Requiem Fragments, composed by John Tavener shortly before his death. [BBC Proms]

  • Diabolus in Musica performs settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Bernard Ycart and Alexandre Agricola, from the Rencontres de Musique Médiévale du Thoronet. [France Musique]


Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 12 )
Salzburg contemporary • Dalbavie • Anton Bruckner Cycle • Bruckner I

Salzburg contemporary • Dalbavie • Jaroussky • ORF RSO

Dalbavie Beauties, Bruckner Woes


The low lesser-prestige orchestras at the Salzburg Festival get to play in the Felsenreitschule, which is where the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra performed the least attractive (or least prestigious, at least) Bruckner symphony in the Salzburg Bruckner Cycle. And to make sure that it wouldn’t even sell half the venue, they played a contemporary composer… thus stuffing the Salzburg contemporary series and taking that monkey off some other orchestra’s back, where attendance might be better. That’s not cynical, it’s honest, and it is not meant in a denigrating way, except perhaps towards audiences too lazy (?) to care about Marc-André Dalbavie (in this case).

Incidentally, apart from Bruckner-completism, Dalbavie’s pieces were the draw of the concert—especially in lieu of Dalbavie’s opera Charlotte Salomon, which premiered at the Salzburg Festival, which I was to attend a few days later, and which references one of the works on the program with the ORF. As it turned out, the Dalbavie bit also happened to be the by far the better part of the concert.

Having a countertenor on the program doesn’t help with these kinds of audiences, either, not even if the arguably finest available counter tenor of our time—Philippe Jaroussky, for whom the Sonnets de Louise Labé were composed—was going to be the artist in question.

Like the opening work that night, La Source d’un regard, the Sonnets are a work of considerable beauty and little obvious structure… except for the underlying text, of course, which give Dalbavies’ colors of sound, those tonal developments and intermittent outbursts, a corset. Meant to describe La Source, the following goes for the Sonnets as well, to which one ought to add the strong lyrical streak, which Jaroussky brought out mesmerizingly, with vulnerability and yearning beauty:.

available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.1
S.Skrowaczewski / Saarbrücken RSO
ArteNova / Oehms

available at Amazon
M-A.Dalbavie et al., La Source d’un regard...
I.Metzmacher / RCO
RCO Live Horizon
Explaining Dalbavie is tough:
“Like Messiaen, his tudor —
except composing diff’rent stuff”
Is one attempt (one of the cruder).

Harp and gongs on humming strings
Trombones that wiggle (why?!)
Woodwinds (and further, other things)
A timpanist—when must—who isn’t shy.

Repeated figures twice or thrice
With some Stravinsky-sim’lar chatter
Help mem’rability and blend in nice

Among the instruments that matter
Forthcoming sounds more scent than spice...
This Spectralism thing gets ever better.

Now what if this music were played by an orchestra that can really do color and atmosphere? One dreams of Chailly guesting his former Concertgebouw Orchestra or even Thielemann* with Dresden on a willing day. But the fact was that the music was effectively communicated by the ORF RSO under Cornelius Meister, and memorably so.

Not so the Bruckner First, in the original “Linz” version. It suffered from ineffectual climaxes, off winds, horns, and cellos, a hissy flute, very little grit… in short: The First was made to sound like Bruckner’s worst symphony, in a way undoubtedly unfair to composer and composition. It doesn’t help to look at Cornelius Meister, whose demeanor is so achingly sincere, so school-boy eager, so incredibly artificial looking, that one is reminded of a bad caricature of the Maestro and in front of the mirror and has a hard time even taking the good (which is certainly there) without immediately wanting to dismiss it. But then again, there was so little good in this Bruckner…

*…who does French and contemporary music, despite his being pigeonholed as a WagnerPfitznerStrauss man…


Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 11 )
Philharmonia Orchestra 2 • Esa-Pekka Salonen

Berg • Strauss • Ravel • Esa-Pekka Salonen • Lawrence Power • Max Hornung

Power-ful, Wonderful, Versatile


After attending the very, very fine Philharmonia concert with Chirstoph Dohnányi, the orchestra’s appearance two days later, Saturday August 9th, with their other main conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, was just about mandatory. Getting in wouldn’t have been a problem in any case: there was Alban Berg on the program and therefore tickets available. Don Quixote, the tone poem-cum-one-and-a-half-concerto (as opposed to “Double”) for cello and viola of Richard Strauss’ isn’t a big pull, either… nor its primary soloist that morning—very fine a musician though he is—Maximilian Hornung.

Sancho and the Sheep

The violist isn’t going to make a difference when it comes to selling tickets, either, but the choice of having a dedicated soloist for the tricky viola part, rather than letting the first violist of the orchestra scrape by (no offense) is huge, can’t have been easy (considering orchestra politicking), and was most warmly welcomed! Getting Lawrence Power, one of the more scrupulously musical string players—never mind violists!—around, sent waves of sweet anticipation through me, the same which could not be said about

Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 10 )
Beethoven Sonata Cycle III • Buchbinder

Beethoven Sonata Cycle III • Rudolf Buchbinder

Beethoven Circus Trick


A Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle courtesy Rudolf Buchbinder at the Salzburg Festival… recorded by Unitel for DVD, to boot: a frightfully unoriginal venture and the mind boggles at who might possibly want to sit down to watch the third (!) complete traversal of Beethoven Sonatas on their TV. Then again,
Unitel doubtlessly knows what they are doing: The Japanese and Austrian markets might respond. For everyone else, it makes more sense to sit down and take in one (or a couple) of these at the Mozarteum.

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Complete Piano Sonatas
R.Buchbinder (1st Cycle)
Teldec 2012

available at Amazon
W.G.Mozart, Complete Piano Concertos
R.Buchbinder / VSO
Profil Haenssler
The idea of performing all the 32 Sonatas in 6, 7, 8 recitals—or maybe even two days and from memory, of course—has become a modern high art party trick that many—serious and less serious—pianists have picked up on. It’s an Olympic thing with very little by way of musical reason but it still has a way of making a splash. Buchbinder himself has said that performing the sonatas chronologically was foolery, but even in a more interesting order, performed just by one pianist, is also no novel or exciting proposition… At least not compared to the alternative of putting on such a cycle with a diverse line up perhaps along lines like these: Rudolf Buchbinder, but also a recital each by the likes of Maurizio Pollini, Angela Hewitt, Mitsuko Uchida, Igor Levit, Christian Bezuidenhout, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, F.F.Guy, Ronald Brautigam, András Schiff, Gregory Sokolov, Evgeny Kissin, Richard Goode et al. Different schools, approaches, generations, instruments among which one could then compare. Well, one can dream. Or, as mentioned, just show up for one show—in this case the third of seven, on Friday August 8th.

Having established that I wouldn’t need a Beethoven cycle (live) from any one pianist over the course of two and a half weeks, in the first place, I might add that if I picked one pianist to do it, it would not be the perfectly admirable, charming, friendly, and positively obsessed Rudolf Buchbinder… his achievements on record (supreme Mozart concertos!) or in concert (classically brilliant Grieg) notwithstanding. His slightly workman-like playing promises me limited insight and excitement.

Prejudice is not an ideal state to enter a concert with… but better to be aware of it than to fool oneself, vainly, that one is free from it. In this case, it was not the mild prejudice against Buchbinder’s approach, though, that was fed, but my prejudice against the project as such. An odd first movement of Sonata No.3, op.2/3 came in “Allegro con fear-of-your-life-because-there-is-a-tiger-behind-you!” Hurried, harsh, accentuating individual notes for distinction, and a get-it-out-of-the-way tempo. The Adagio was lovingly moonlightish, then halting and loud. The Scherzo: Boldly rigorous and involving, and with a nifty twist of crudeness. And then Buchbinder hammered the pneumatically powered Allegro assai home on the steely sounding Steinway in the Grosser Saal which isn’t so gross that it needs quite so fierce an instrument.

In the little Sonata No.19 op.49/1, Buchbinder was not making a case for the op.49 pair’s inclusion in the “32”. And in the otherwise fine “Les Adieux” Sonata No.26, op.81a, the finale was loud and haphazardly churned out well beyond “lebhaft” in terms of speed—and not quite beyond it in terms of interest. The speed of the Presto in Sonata No.7, op.10/3 could cynically have been welcomed for meaning that the whole affair should be over all the sooner. The Largo and the Menuetto appeased momentarily, but then, with Buchbinder’s concentration or stamina waning, the grand five movement Sonata No.28, op.101 was an increasingly shoddy affair.

It started well enough: Given a sense of rigor, devoid of ease or any hint of the facile, there was seriousness taking the place of willfulness for a while, which was captivating. Just not for long. And the Finale became a minor disaster. The audience was in rapture all the same and demanded encores, which were duly delivered. I say encores, but really they were patching sessions from movements gone wrong in previous recitals: The Scherzo from Sonata op.31/3 and the Andante from op.14/2, both from the first day of the Sonata survey. These had the great advantage of being very well rehearsed. (By the same token, I think I can predict the encores of the fifth recital.) Text.


À mon chevet: 'Béatrix'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
If this ancient dwelling attracts your imagination, you may perhaps ask yourself why such miracles of art are not renewed in the present day. Because to-day mansions are sold, pulled down, and the ground they stood on turned into streets. No one can be sure that the next generation will possess the paternal dwelling; homes are no more than inns; whereas in former times when a dwelling was built men worked, or thought they worked, for a family in perpetuity. Hence the grandeur of these houses. Faith in self, as well as faith in God, did prodigies.

As for the arrangement of the upper rooms they may be imagined after this description of the ground-floor, and after reading an account of the manners, customs, and physiognomy of the family. For the last fifty years the du Guaisnics have received their friends in the two rooms just described, in which, as in the court-yard and the external accessories of the building, the spirit, grace, and candor of the old and noble Brittany still survives. Without the topography and description of the town, and without this minute depicting of the house, the surprising figures of the family might be less understood. Therefore the frames have preceded the portraits. Every one is aware that things influence beings. There are public buildings whose effect is visible upon the persons living in their neighborhood. It would be difficult indeed to be irreligious in the shadow of a cathedral like that of Bourges. When the soul is everywhere reminded of its destiny by surrounding images, it is less easy to fail of it. Such was the thought of our immediate grandfathers, abandoned by a generation which was soon to have no signs and no distinctions, and whose manners and morals were to change every decade. If you do not now expect to find the Baron du Guaisnic sword in hand, all here written would be falsehood.

-- Honoré de Balzac, Béatrix (translation by Katharine Prescott Wormeley)
Balzac's La Comédie humaine has become an obsession of mine this summer, as it is for lots of people. I have nearly finished the Scènes de la vie privée section, most of which is bite-size short stories and novellas, perfect for episodic summer reading. Béatrix is one of the full-length novels in the collection, which begins with a memorable description of the Breton village of Guérande. The speck of a town has, at its center, a noble house that time forgot, which strikes me as possibly having inspired Alain-Fournier's description of Les Sablonnières in Le Grand Meaulnes.


Hindemith's Ballet Music

Of all the things one might associate with the name of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), ballet is likely not the first thing that leaps to mind. Only one of his ballets remains somewhat well known, The Four Temperaments, commissioned by George Balanchine and premiered by New York City Ballet in 1946, and it remains in the repertory of NYCB and of Sarasota Ballet, among others. Before that work, Hindemith composed music for a couple of experimental ballets in Germany, beginning with the odd yet wonderful Triadisches Ballett (Stuttgart, 1922), a ground-breaking abstract ballet, set in visual and musical sets of three (thus, triadic ballet). As seen in the film made a few years after the premiere, the dancers performed in bulky, geometric costumes, designed by Oskar Schlemmer of the Bauhaus, that made them look like marionettes against brightly colored backdrops. The following year Hindemith composed a daring score for Der Dämon (Darmstadt, 1923), set to a disturbing scenario by Max Krell about a sadomasochistic demon that subjugates two sisters.

available at Amazon
Hindemith, Nobilissima Visione (complete ballet), Seattle Symphony, G. Schwarz

(released on July 8, 2014)
Naxos 8.572763 | 58'24"
Around the same time as Hindemith finished his opera Mathis der Maler, he received a commission for a ballet from Léonide Massine, which eventually became Nobilissima Visione (London, 1938; with one subsequent performance at the Metropolitan Opera). Like Mathis, the ballet was inspired by art, in this case Giotto's frescoes on the life of St. Francis of Assisi in the Bardi Chapel, in the church of Santa Croce in Florence, which Hindemith visited in 1937. He suggested the life of St. Francis to Massine, who was hesitant but eventually accepted; though Massine ended up dancing the role of Francis, he ultimately decided that the score was not really a ballet. Hindemith made a three-movement suite of music excerpted from the ballet, which has had great success on concert programs, but this new disc by the Seattle Symphony and conductor Gerard Schwarz is the first recording of the complete ballet score.

The ballet sets many of the famous episodes from the life of the Poverello of Assisi, beginning with the saint's love of troubadour songs, for which Hindemith incorporates the 13th-century song Ce fut en mai (It was in May), weaving into later parts of the score. Working as a cloth seller for his father, he gives everything he has to a beggar in Assisi, and then pursues a career in the military. He has a vision of three women, representing Humility, Chastity, and Poverty, which causes his change of heart so that he loses all interest in his friends' feasting. He meditates on the message he receives from the icon crucifix in the church of San Damiano, in which Christ told Francis to rebuild his church, and convinces a wolf to stop attacking people in the town of Gubbio, here charming it by pretending to play a violin using two sticks. He celebrates his mystical marriage to Lady Poverty, and the work ends with a movement evoking the composition of the Canticle of the Animals, set as a passacaglia on a six-measure ground bass. Schwarz and his musicians turn in a fine reading of this fascinating score, paired with the Five Pieces for String Orchestra (op. 44/4), although it would be even better to see Massine's choreography with it.

available at Amazon
Hindemith, Hérodiade (complete ballet), Inscape, R. Scerbo

[digital only]
(released on June 24, 2014)
Dorian SL-D-97202 | 20'36"
After Hindemith emigrated to the United States, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge commissioned another ballet score from Hindemith, which became Hérodiade, premiered at the Library of Congress in 1944, with Martha Graham dancing the title role. (Get just a taste of Graham's performance as the mother of Salome in the video embedded below.) The score is closely based on Stéphane Mallarmé's dialogue poem, consisting largely of a conversation between Hérodiade and a nurse. Mallarmé labored on the poem for over thirty years but would never complete it. He was still working on the poem when Oscar Wilde published his play Salomé, an act widely criticized as a betrayal of Mallarmé, whose poem he knew. Hindemith scored the ballet for piano, string quintet, and wind quintet, using an unusual system of musical declamation for the instruments, in a way, to "speak" the words. Although the lines of the Mallarmé poem are spoken on top of the music in some performances, Inscape's version leaves the words out altogether, although they remain embedded in Hindemith's music and can still, in a sense, be "heard." While not perhaps a standout, this is a worthy follow-up to Inscape's debut CD last year.


Briefly Noted: Il Diario di Chiara

available at Amazon
Il diario di Chiara, Europa Galante, F. Biondi

(released on February 25, 2014)
Glossa GCD923401 | 72'30"
The Pio Ospedale della Pietà was a rather famous charitable institution in Venice, which took in abandoned children. More than an orphanage, it also provided the girls who chose to stay there a place to live and work, in a sense, as professional musicians or in other occupations. It remains so famous because of the music composed for the girls there to perform, not least by Antonio Vivaldi, who was employed there as chaplain for a part of his career. One of the girls at La Pietà was named Chiara (or Chiaretta), taken in in 1718, when she was two months old, and she became an excellent violinist, trained by one of Vivaldi's students. This new disc from Fabio Biondi and his historically informed performance ensemble, Europa Galante -- their first on the Glossa label -- includes concertos composed for Chiara and pieces that she played in the orchestra at La Pietà. The selection is based on the copies of scores collected together by Chiara herself, a document that is still preserved in the archives of La Pietà.

Biondi takes the solo parts, on both violin and viola d'amore, both of which Chiara mastered, as well as making revised versions of the scores, including reworking a Vivaldi oboe concerto for violin (F Major, RV 457). Particularly fine discoveries on this disc include a sinfonia da camera (G major, op. 2/1, two movements only) by Nicola Porpora, who was based in Venice in the late 1720s, and two concertos dedicated to Chiara, both by Antonio Martinelli (c. 1702-1782), a cellist and composer disciple of Vivaldi's. The playing of Europa Galante is vital and at times slightly sharp and edgy, with Biondi's tone becoming harsh and not quite accurate at fast speeds, but the disc offers an intriguing glimpse inside the life of La Pietà, beyond just the usual connection with Vivaldi. (The disc comes with a bonus DVD, not reviewed, a documentary by Lucrezia Le Moli that explains the story of Chiara and includes footage with the musicians.)


Briefly Noted: San Marco Vespers

available at Amazon
Vespri solenni per la festa di San Marco, Concerto Italiano, R. Alessandrini

(released on August 26, 2014)
Naïve OP30557 | 79'34"
Rinaldo Alessandrini has led his historically informed performance ensemble, Concerto Italiano, in fine performances of large swaths of Claudio Monteverdi's music, including Orfeo, the madrigals, and the monumental 1610 Vespers. For the group's 30th anniversary, he has made an unusual recording that is both gorgeous and of musicological significance, if rather speculative in nature. Their new disc contains one possible reconstruction of a solemn Vespers service for the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, combining various pieces by Monteverdi from the 1610 Vespers, which represents the fruit of Monteverdi's work in Mantua, and especially from the Selva morale e spirituale, a compilation of pieces made for the forces and acoustic space of San Marco, as well as one of his motet collections. One eight-part canzona by Giovanni Gabrieli and plainchant antiphons and responses from a 17th-century source of the San Marco liturgy make an appropriate nod to the glorious past of the basilica.

The only shortcoming of this reconstruction is that it was not recorded in San Marco itself, not available to the performers "for obvious reasons," according to Alessandrini's program essay. Whatever those obvious reasons may have been, the substitute space, the palatine basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua, has a gorgeous acoustic. Monteverdi's music, which trades on rapid alternations between loud and soft dynamics, full and spare textures, is captured in crisp sound, with the full blossom of those magnificent "concerto" combinations of instruments and singers. Only occasionally does Alessandrini's tendency toward extremely fast tempi trip up his singers in their melismatic passages. In physical release, the disc comes with a DVD (not reviewed) of a movie about Alessandrini's work with Concerto Italiano, directed by Claudio Rufa.


Perchance to Stream: Gaudent Angeli Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence last month, Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble perform Rameau's Les Boréades, starring soprano Julie Fuchs. [France Musique]

  • Listen to another Rameau opera, Castor et Pollux, performed in Montpellier, with Raphaël Pichon conducting the Pygmalion Ensemble, starring Colin Ainsworth, Florian Sempey, and Emmanuelle de Negri. [RTBF]

  • Kirill Petrenko conducts Die Walküre at the Bayreuth Festival, starring Johan Botha, Wolfgang Koch, and Anja Kampe. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a performance of Schubert's opera Fierrabras from the Salzburg Festival, with Ingo Metzmacher conducting Julia Kleither, Michael Schade, Dorothea Röschmann, and others. [ORF]

  • From the Salzburg Festival, watch Daniele Gatti conduct Verdi's Il Trovatore, in a production directed by Alvis Hermanis and starring Anna Netrebko, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Francesco Meli, and Plácido Domingo. []

  • Bernard Haitink conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in Schubert's fifth symphony and Mahler's fourth symphony. [BBC Proms]

  • Listen to the world premiere of a piece for soprano and orchestra by Manfred Trojahn, Terzinen über Vergänglichkeit, wtih soprano Marlis Petersen, recorded at the Richard Strauss Festival in Garmish in June. [BR-Klassik]


Briefly Noted: Jonathan Dove Song Cycles

available at Amazon
J. Dove, Song Cycles, C. Booth, P. Bardon, N. Spence, A. Matthews-Owen

(released on August 12, 2014)
Naxos 8.573080 | 70'40"
Jonathan Dove is an English composer, specializing in music for voices, with a side career making slimmed-down versions of large operas, most famously, Wagner's Ring Cycle. His music is not performed around here all that often, but we have admired his operas Flight and Tobias and the Angel. This new release brings together four of his song cycles, all previously unknown to me and all worth getting to know. Out of Winter (2003) sets poetry by the late tenor (and accomplished writer) Robert Tear, with themes of late-life regret and the insignificance of human life in the grand sweep of time. Britten-style tenor Nicky Spence, a young singer from Scotland, sings it with bittersweet sincerity. In Cut My Shadow (2011), to brutal poetry of Federico García Lorca translated into English by Gwynne Edwards, Dove uses an accompaniment that mimics the sound of strummed guitar and the rhythms of castanets. Mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon gives the cutting melodic line a bristling energy, sometimes a little too much, and Andrew Matthews-Owen provides sensitive support at the piano.

Ariel (1998) is the only one of these four cycles that is not receiving its first recording, with texts by Shakespeare drawn from The Tempest, both song texts and spoken lines. Soprano Claire Booth acquits herself well, with just a few signs of scratchy weakness along the way, with no piano to help cover, for the songs have no accompaniment. Dove includes some interesting effects, like the sound of whistling wind or the crash of waves on the shore (a "Shhhhh" noise made by the singer), which appears throughout the cycle, and a big, gulping breath before the line "I drink the air before me" in the last song. The voice bubbles along on its own, seeming to flit mindlessly from thought to unrelated thought, most mesmerizing in the third song, a vocalise on the vowel 'O', which casts a spell. All You Who Sleep Tonight (1996), also sung by Bardon, uses poetry by Vikram Seth, much of it witty epigrams in sing-songy quatrain form. Dove makes them into pleasing miniatures, with a substantial but not overpowering whiff of Broadway and a conclusion that is both tragic and reaffirming.


Classical Music Agenda (October 2014)

The classical music season in Washington gets fully under way in the month of October, meaning that there are definitely more than ten performances on my calendar. Here are the Top Ten that you definitely do not want to miss. The rest of the calendar follows after the jump.

Opera Lafayette returns to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall to mark the 250th anniversary of the death of French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. Its staging of Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour (The Celebrations of Marriage and Love, or the Gods of Egypt), the last of Rameau's large-scale opéras-ballets to be revived in the modern era (October 6, 7:30 pm). The dances of the Egyptians, Amazons, and the gods of the Nile will be performed by dancers from the New York Baroque Dance Company, Kalanidhi Dance, and Seán Curran Company.

One of my favorite tenors, Mark Padmore, will give a song recital with pianist Jonathan Biss at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park (October 10, 8 pm). The program features the op. 24 Liederkreis and op. 90 Sechs Gedichte und Requiem by Robert Schumann, Tippett's Boyhood’s End, and Fauré's La Bonne Chanson.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey comes to Washington for the British Choirs Festival at Washington National Cathedral (October 22, 7:30 pm), a space made for a group like them.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton made quite an impression a few years ago, as a young singer with Wolf Trap Opera and Santa Fe Opera. Having won the Marian Anderson Award, Opera International’s Young Artist Award, and the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, her star is on the rise, and she returns to the Barns at Wolf Trap for a recital with Wolf Trap Opera's general director Kim Pensinger Witman at the piano (October 24, 8 pm). The program will include songs and Lee Hoiby’s comic chamber opera Bon Appétit.

The Dover Quartet swept all the prizes at the Banff String Quartet Competition in 2013, and we were the only media outfit to cover their concert in Washington last year. The group returns for a Fortas Chamber Music concert in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (October 8, 7:30 pm). The program includes Glazunov's Five Novelettes, Mozart's Hoffmeister Quartet, and Schubert's Rosamunde Quartet.

The new piece we most want to hear this season, so far, is Serbian-born Aleksandra Vrebalov's Beyond Zero: 1914–1918, to be given its world premiere by the Kronos Quartet as part of its residency at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park (October 25, 8 pm). The score incorporates music by Bartók and Byzantine hymns, as well as live music, all to accompany a film by Bill Morrison, to mark the centenary of World War I.

When pianist Adam Laloum (pictured) won the Clara Haskil Competition in 2009, we wondered when we would be able to hear him play live. We have a chance when he plays a recital at the Phillips Collection (October 26, 4 pm).

We have reviewed the Belcea Quartet all over the world, including here in Washington. They return to the area for a recital at Shriver Hall in Baltimore (October 26, 5:30 pm), where they were last in 2009, playing Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.

Pianist Angela Hewitt comes to Washington in October, to play Mozart's 22nd piano concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra (October 9 to 11). Conductor David Zinman, whose time with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra we remember so fondly and who has just stepped down from the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, also leads Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra and Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra.

Let me not sound like Doktor Döhring, the thorn in Richard Strauss's side, and heartily recommend the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's concerts at the end of the month (October 23 in Baltimore, October 26 at Strathmore), combining Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, Scriabin's Poème de l'extase, and Christopher Rouse's Rapture.

The rest of the calendar follows after the jump.