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2.9.14

Briefly Noted: Troubadour Songs

available at Amazon
Nuits Occitanes, Ensemble Céladon, P. Bündgen

(released on May 27, 2014)
Ricercar RIC340 | 68'25"
The troubadour repertory, like Gregorian chant, is open to many different rhythmic interpretations because the notation in which it is recorded is mostly not precise in that area. All kinds of performances can work, unaccompanied or with instruments, rhythmically free with each note more or less equal or in metrical patterns. Except for a relatively small percentage of troubadour melodies, it is impossible to know what, if any, melody went with the poetry that was often written down without music notated. This new recording, made by the Ensemble Céladon, skirts around the issue: the booklet essay mentions that in some cases it is necessary to match another text's melody to a similar text "or, in the worst possible scenario, to create new ones based on the style of the surviving pieces."

The performances recorded here remind me of one of the classic recordings of the music of the trouvères, the descendants of the troubadours, recorded by Sequentia (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 1991). The two voices, countertenor Paulin Bündgen and soprano Clara Coutouly, are both attractive and not overdone in any way. A quartet of musicians on a range of instruments (fiddle, lute, recorders, percussion) provides a completely fabricated but entirely plausible accompaniment, while the application of some simple types of organum, easily improvised, yields intriguing results as well. Two of the more beautiful poems are attributed to Bertran de Born, punished with the schismatics in the eighth circle of Dante's Inferno for his role in splitting apart the sons of King Henry II of England, and to one of the few female authors of troubadour poetry, Beatriz de Dia, the wife of Guillaume de Poitiers.

1.9.14

Classical Music Agenda (November 2014)

One of my pet peeves about planning the month's review schedule is the occasional pile-up of Concerts Not to Be Missed. Concerts or operas with a string of performances allow some flexibility in the calendar, but occasionally, as in November, there are days where I need to bi- or trilocate. Choices, choices!

available at Amazon
Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, P.-L. Aimard
(DG, 2014)
CONFLICTS:
November 7 is one of those evenings, when the free recital by pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the Library of Congress (November 7, 8 pm) will probably win out. At the same time, it galls me to have to miss the latest appearance of another Ionarts favorite, the Quatuor Ébène, on the Fortas series at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (November 7, 7:30 pm) and the only area performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company, at the GMU Center for the Arts (November 7, 8 pm).

Most people would see a conflict on the following day, too, with the recital by pianist Beatrice Rana at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, presented by Washington Performing Arts (November 8, 2 pm) in the afternoon, and the concert by the Academy of Ancient Music, performing all four of Bach's orchestral suites in the Music Center at Strathmore (November 8, 8 pm), in the evening. Because I am an addict, I will probably just go to both.

OTHER ORCHESTRAS:
Two great orchestras visit Washington in November, beginning with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (November 5). Nikolaj Znaider will be featured in Mendelssohn's evergreen violin concerto, but the real draw is Riccardo Chailly conducting Bruckner's seventh symphony. Another great conductor, Jiří Bělohlávek, leads another great orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic, in Janáček's Taras Bulba and Dvořák's ninth symphony, plus pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in Liszt's second piano concerto. This concert takes place at the GMU Center for the Arts (November 14).


available at Amazon
Dvořák, Complete Symphonies and Concertos, Czech Philharmonic, J. Bělohlávek
(Decca, 2014)
The concert by a local band we most want to hear is a program by the National Symphony Orchestra (November 20 to 22), featuring guest conductor Rossen Milanov. The program combines the suite of Stravinsky's music from The Firebird with Ferruccio Busoni's mammoth piano concerto, with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist and the male chorus sung by the Washington Men's Camerata.

ALSO:
The delightful Salzburg Marionette Theater returns to Washington for a performance with pianist Orion Weiss, presented by Washington Performing Arts at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (November 11). The program is anchored on Debussy's La boîte à joujoux.

Washington National Opera offers another year of its American Opera Initiative, with the performance of three new 20-minute operas in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (November 21). This year the new works will be The Investment by John Liberatore and Niloufar Talebi, Daughters of the Bloody Duke by Jake Runestad and David Johnston, and An American Man by Rene Orth and Jason Kim.

The rest of the calendar follows after the jump.

31.8.14

Perchance to Stream: Labor Day 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.

  • Listen to a performance of Cesti's L'Orontea, performed by La Nuova Musica and conducted by David Bates at the Innsbruck Early Music Festival. [ORF]

  • Donald Runnicles conducts Deutsche Oper Berlin in Strauss's Salome. [BBC Proms]

  • From the Schwetzinger Festspiele, recorded last May, a performance of Hasse's Leucippo, performed by Concerto Köln and starring soprano Claudia Rohrbach. [ORF]

  • Listen to Mahler's second symphony ("Resurrection") performed by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir, with Daniel Harding conducting soprano Kate Royal and mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn. [RTBF]

  • The Monteverdi Choir and John Eliot Gardiner perform Beethoven's Missa solemnis. [BBC Proms]

  • At the Schubertiade Schwarzenberg, a recital by pianist Till Fellner, with music by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Schumann. [ORF]

  • Tenor Piotr Beczala sings Schumann's Dichterliebe, plus other songs, at the Salzburg Festival. [ORF]

30.8.14

Peking Opera at the Kennedy Center


Jingju Theater Company of Beijing (photo by Lei Wang)

It has been quite a year for Chinese cultural organizations here in Washington. After tours by the China National Symphony Orchestra and Beijing Symphony Orchestra last year, the Jingju Theater Company of Beijing came to the Kennedy Center Opera House on Wednesday and Thursday night, for the first of two performances, another example of China's assertion of soft power through cultural means. This form of Chinese theater, called opera by analogy to its older European counterpart, was curtailed during the years of the Cultural Revolution, but it is now not only allowed but supported by the Chinese government. The troupe of actors, acrobats, and dancers, which tours infrequently, made a world tour this year, including stops in New York and Washington, in honor of the 120th anniversary of Mei Lanfang, a celebrated male performer of female roles with the company. His son, Mei Baojiu, has taught some of the troupe's current performers and presented the evening.

Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 17 )
Anton Bruckner Cycle • Bruckner VI

Ricardo Muti • Wiener Philharmoniker


The Death of a Symphony





ABOVE PICTURES (DETAILS) COURTESY SALZBURG FESTIVAL, © Silvia Lelli. CLICK FOR THE WHOLE PICTURE.


On paper, Riccardo Muti might be suited to Bruckner, with his tendencies to regal, broad and mellifluous textures. On record, that has not borne out: Muti doesn’t touch Bruckner often; his best—the Fourth with the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI-Warner)—is better than its reputation, but not by much. The cliché—which is to say: truth mixed with laziness—is that Muti simply isn’t a Brucknerian.

And of all the Bruckner symphonies, the one that one might expect to suit him least is the Sixth, the one Bruckner described as his sauciest. The result—to the extent I was able to hear it properly in the acoustically challenged, somewhat deadened space of the Paterre Logen in the Grosses Festspielhaus on Sunday, August 17th at a treacherous 11am—sadly supported this prejudice. Dull, dull, dull.



available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.6,
B.Haitink / Dresden StaKap.
Profil Hässler

The first movement was calm, broad, regal and very “Majestoso”, for sure. Tasteful perhaps, and with rounded corners, but really with the life and meaning insidiously sucked out of it: listless, boring, and with routine, repetitive melodic fragments that brought to mind all the accusations that Bruckner had to endure in his lifetime.

The standstill funereal Adagio—calming, beautiful—was effectively a barbiturate. The performance wasn’t helped by morning-woes in the playing of the Viennese—with a surprisingly brittle sound and occasional flubs (the kind that one would overlook or not even hear, in an enthralling performance), and a homogenous soup only intermittently lightened as, for example, by the lovely and lively pizzicatos in the Scherzo. Massive and threatening climaxes in the finale came, then ever so brief, far too brief moments of lightness—and still over all hung a feeling of either not quite getting it or not caring.

Fifty-five-some minutes earlier, the Sixth Symphony had been my favorite of Bruckner’s. Now it had become a chore. Bruckner was preceded by Schubert’s Fourth which truly became “Tragic”, and not in the good sense. Most of the audience raved and hollered and loved it. Such is the power of name-recognition. Music-loving, sensitive ears (mine were hardly the only ones to hear it that way) despair in such moments.



29.8.14

Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 16 )
Young Singers Project • Final Concert 2014

Young Singers Project • Final Concert 2014


The Good, the Bad and the Goofy.



ABOVE AND BELOW PICTURES (DETAILS) COURTESY SALZBURG FESTIVAL, © Marco Borrelli / Lelli. CLICK FOR THE WHOLE PICTURE.


T’is good to keep your fingers on the pulse of what is up and coming in the world of classical music. There isn’t a better place to do that, over all, than the ARD International Music Competition, but seeing how I shan’t be able to follow that event this year, the “graduation” concert of the Salzburg Festival’s Young Singer’s Project had to serve as my patch. It featured, on Saturday, August 16th, 21 singers out of 400 applicants (i.e. the top 5%) who hope to one day earn their living with music… preferably on stage. A few of them just might.

Among them, right off the bat, the first performer of the lot: Swiss Baritone Manuel Walser (“Hai già vinta la causa”, Nozze) was sincere and severe and a wee bit too excited (as would be normal, considering his age and the circumstances) but it’s a very fine voice he has, with a nice mix of clarity and darkness and—the raw material being all there—lots and lots of upward potential.

Right after Walser a sobering experience: Czech Roman Hozer’s rumbling bass (“Come Paride”, L’elisir) was a directionless mess of ill-defined notes who sounded like a really bad provincial Russian basso profondo. Admittedly, how could any 20-some year old be a proper Belcore, but still… There was nothing that bore well. A much stranger case his British-American colleague Phoebe Haines (“Il segreto per esser felici”, Lucrezia). Not a particularly beautiful, impressive or even noticeable voice, a tad veiled… but something about it and her demeanor ensured there was nothing unpleasant, either. Perhaps a sense of drama that might have made up for other shortcomings… an understated confident demeanor? Sheer experience? Whatever it was, it was strangely, coolly captivating and suggests at the least a fine career in smaller parts by being versatile, reliable, and plainly becoming might be in her future.

Diacritically surprisingly well-endowed German Miloš Bulajić (“Languir per una bella”, L’italiana) brought on the mannerisms which had so far been happily absent. It started with his awkwardly insisting to shake conductor Theodor Guschelbauer’s hand (which several others then picked up on, when all would have been well advised to avoid such nonsense), all pathetically professionally, as if he was somebody at whose dear grace we had all assembled. It was telling and continued once Bulajić opened his mouth, revealing a terribly forced, perfectly unnatural narrow squeaking sound. A shame he couldn’t raise his eyebrows even higher, to convey properly just how artsy and foyne-cultured he meant the Rossini to sound. His critics, however, were not so kind: My notes reveal the scribble in the margins: “Slurred and imprecise and uncultured screaming.” Reminds me of the alleged Abbado-hissy fit towards Anne-Sophie Mutter: “Sie dummes Huhn, why don’t you forget everything Karajan ever taught you?” Scratch the mannerisms, forget whatever you think “opera” is all about, and just sing and maybe then…

Alexandra Flood (“Ruhe sanft”, Zaide) from Australia had shades of Tweety Bird in her pointed voice, a bit one-dimensional, and not very compelling yet, but very possible soon, as the technique improves, and experience adds depth. With his overt confidence Franz Gürtelschmied (“Frisch zum Kampfe”, Entführung) seemed to provide some of which his predecessor was lacking… freshness, confidence, focused, a bit cocky, perhaps… but then he proceeded to throw an early good impression all away with fortissimo-belting, unchecked by any sense or sensibility. Also a little tip: Don’t applaud or ‘bless’ the orchestra, no matter how grateful you are, unless you have been top-billed and paid 35k. It makes you look like a twat and only a star can afford that.

The lanky barreling bass-baritone Raimundas Juzuitis (“Non piu andrai”, Nozze) was loud, a bit insensitive with too little control over his voice, but not without potential. With the dramatic ability of a young puppy in love—too much, too naïve, too unsophisticated, and kind of adorable—he would do better doing less of the “acting”, but with the sheer raw material he showed, it’s safe to assume one will run into him again, somewhere.

Idunnu Münch (“Va, l’error mio palesa”, Mitridate)—appropriately from München—didn’t have a very agile voice, a slightly veiled one, even woolly and hollow, without beauty of tone or, rather, without tone. Still, she made a better impression with less vocal material than Russian Maria Mudryak (“Zeffiretti lusinghieri”, Idomeno). Her smile glued into place much like her hair, she strut on stage, doll-like, to show off her soprano and then some. Dripping with artifice, her neutral, controlled voice with a metallic vibrato was better than it was pleasant.

With pleasant tone, a beautiful timbre, and great low notes, rough-hewn like the rest of the young singers but with obvious merit to his Figaro, Peter Kellner (“Tutto e disposto”, Nozze) was probably the singer that I remember most favorably. That wasn’t challenged even by the experienced and stage-savvy show that Wolfgang Resch (“Papagena!”³, Zauberflöte) put on. Unfussy and unexaggerated (at first), a bit stiff and with a tone that isn’t particularly beautiful and enunciation that could be improved, he is quite free of debilitating mannerisms and plenty confident. Easy to plug in at any production of a community opera house, very slightly prone to doo a bit too much, and among the singers in this crowd one of two who is the furthest along, he also struck me as one who might not get much further than the point where is at now. Andreja Zidaric (“Pa-pa-pa-Papageno/a”) shared the stage with him, later on, and looked more scandalized trying to respond to Resch’s not-so-stage-kisses than focused on her part… and ultimately had too little to do to be properly judged by… though that which showed was pleasant enough.

The notes of mezzo Annika Schlicht (“Fia dunque vero?”, La Favorita) were not all distinct, strident, but with lots of volume and drama (especially the low ones), likely the most purely impressive (if not particularly enchanting) female singer of the bunch so far, presumably for dramatic Italian repertoire… and still a little down the road for Wagner.


Buffo Giovanni Romeo (“Miei rampolli femminini”, Cenerentola) has one appalling shtick and he sticks to it. A grin and jiggly eyes and an ostentatious handkerchief. He’s a goofball, borderline smarmy, incapable of not hamming it up, with the acting-style of a confidence man cheating retired ladies out of their valuables at a beach resort in Southern France. He leaves one with the begrudging acknowledgement that vocally he further than all his other colleagues (thus far) and better, more secure than most, too.

Marco Stefani (“Sì, ritrovarla io guiuro”), part of the Cenerentola thing on stage as Ramiro, and unable to doge Romeo, did not project terribly well, his voice stays in the throat… but not in an offensive way, just not very promising, either. The chiseled, strapping good looks should help, though! Still going through Cenerentola, Croatian Diana Haller as Angelina (“Nacqui all’affanno”) showed unquestionable dramatic ability and capability of the voice, which was decently agile, plenty loud, mannered but with effective pianos, a liberal vibrato and piercing notes and all in all impressive.

The Samoan-Welsh tenor Amitai Pati (“Una furtive lagrima”, L’elisir) performed Donizetti—and what another very pleasant surprise! Sweet, unmannered, reasonably natural, altogether pleasant, this was good stuff indeed, with plenty potential—especially once more secure notes at the top and bottom ends of his register are added to the mix.

On the downside: Henriette Gödde’s “Che faro senza Euridice?”(Orfeo ed Euridice) was uninteresting. On the upside: I’ve heard it much duller from very successful singers at the Salzburg Festival big stage… It wasn’t bad, just boring and with a hint of routine and insensitivity but with many of the right tools doubtlessly in place. Martin Piskorski “Dalla sua pace”, Don Giovanni had that mouth-full sound, an inaccurate wobble, and a sort of immature soft barreling about his part, that made for unattractive listening and for questioning the potential of an immediate future on big or small stages.

“O mio babbino caro”, Gianni Schicchi was passionate and tasteful and simply well done by Giuliana Gianfaldoni, and even the stage hawk, trying to steal Lauretta’s show with his one “I-am-a-comedic-singer” funny face, couldn’t do anything about her making a winning impression.
“Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Franz Lehár’s Schmaltz-operetta Das Land des Lächelns was not very well done, if still all right: Soupy and with sloppy text courtesy Gérard Schneider, who was prone to trumpeteering and devoid of refinement. But those are, presumably, elements that experience and good teachers can fix for the Austrian-Australian (convenient, really) tenor.

Preceding all was Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino overture at which one needed to ask oneself whether the music is just so bad or so badly performed or both. The Camerata Salzburg played, because someone had to, and Theodor Guschlbauer conducted for the same reason… and it showed. The col legno playing, to mention only the most egregious passages in the overture, was shockingly unmusical. Guschlbauer didn’t seem to notice or to care. It didn’t serve the hard-working Camerata Salzburg’s fine image.

28.8.14

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:

27.8.14

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.

26.8.14

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.

25.8.14

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.

24.8.14

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. [Medici.tv]

  • 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]

23.8.14

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



ABOVE AND BELOW PICTURES (DETAILS) COURTESY SALZBURG FESTIVAL, © SILVIA LELLI. CLICK FOR THE WHOLE PICTURE.


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…

22.8.14

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



ABOVE AND BELOW PICTURES (DETAILS) COURTESY SALZBURG FESTIVAL, © SILVIA LELLI. CLICK FOR THE WHOLE PICTURE.


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



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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.)