La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: December 31 (Milstein)

1903 - Nathan Milstein, Odessa, Russia; violinist

Wikipedia
Biography and more

Nathan Milstein plays:

Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, 1st mvt. (Georges Pludermacher at the piano)


J.S. Bach's Partita for solo violin in D minor (filmed in Paris, 1968)

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Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: December 30 (J. Anderson)

1952 - June Anderson, Boston, MA, U.S.A.; opera soprano

Wikipedia
Official website

June Anderson sings:

"Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma (Teatro Regio di Parma, 2001)


"Salut à la France" from Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment (Opéra Comique, Paris, 1985)

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Monday, 29 December 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: December 29 (Casals)

1876 - Pablo Casals, El Vendrell, Spain; cellist, composer

Wikipedia
In Search of Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals plays J.S. Bach's Suite No. 1 for Cello Solo (filmed at the Abbaye Saint-Michel-de Cuxa, France, August 1954)


Maynooth Chamber Choir sings "O vos omnes" composed by Pablo Casals


Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 played by Pablo Casals, cello, Jacques Thibaud, violin and Alfred Cortet, piano (HMV recording, 1927)

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Sunday, 28 December 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: December 28 (Kennedy, Sessions)

1956 - Nigel Kennedy, Brighton, England; violinist and violist

Wikipedia

Nigel Kennedy with Aisling Casey and the Irish Chamber Orchestra plays J.S. Bach's Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV 1060, 1st mvt.



1896 - Roger Sessions, Brooklyn, NY, U.S.A.; composer

Wikipedia
Biography

Duo for Violin and Piano, 2nd mvt. (Carlos Bernales and Chris Christopher, Queen's College, 2008)

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Saturday, 27 December 2008

Debussy/Poulenc : Sonate pour violoncelle et piano

Jean-Guihen Queyras, violoncelle ; Alexandre Tharaud, piano
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902012 (62 min 47 s)
***** $$$
Le tandem Queyras-Tharaud nous avait donné, il y a deux ans, une interprétation remarquable de la Sonate "Arpeggione" de Schubert. Il lui avait accolé des pièces de Webern et de Berg, comme pour marquer une filiation entre le premier et les seconds, tous trois nés à Vienne mais à un siècle d'écart. Dans ce nouvel enregistrement, les interprètes rapprochent deux compositeurs dont les univers ne se touchaient pas mais qui se réclamaient l'un et l'autre de la grande tradition française représentée par Couperin et Rameau, qu’ils estimaient menacée par l’influence germanique. L’un et l’autre ont écrit une sonate pour violoncelle et piano. Celle de Debussy est souvent jouée. Celle de Poulenc, en revanche, est sous-estimée. Elle présente pourtant des qualités et son deuxième mouvement, une Cavatine, est fort beau. Diverses pièces plus légères, dont des transcriptions, complètent le programme. L’interprétation, autant chez Queyras que chez Tharaud, est d’une finesse toute française. Les notes du livret, très intéressantes, sont signées Anne Roubet.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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A Mozart Gala

Anna Netrebko, Magdalena Kožená, Patricia Petibon, Ekaterina Siurina, Michael Schade, Thomas Hampson, René Pape
Wiener Philharmoniker / Daniel Harding
Deutsche Grammophon DVD 00440 073 4430 (93 min)
***** $$$
Filmed live at the Salzburg Felsenreitschule July 2006 as part of the Mozart at 250 festivities, this gala concert has finally made it to the record stores. A two-year turn-around time is now considered slow, given that record companies rush everything to market – strike while the iron is hot, as they say. But Mozart never goes out of style, so this release is very welcome. Five operas are featured – Don Giovanni, Mitridate, re di Ponto, La Clemenza di Tito, Così fan tutte, and Idomeneo, starring seven big-name singers, all Mozart “specialists” to varying degrees. Filmed in HD, viewers are given a brief glimpse of the breathtaking scenery of Salzburg before the concert. Rene Pape kicks off the proceedings with a rich-voiced “Catalogue Aria”, followed by Canada's Michael Schade in “Dalla sua pace”, arguably his calling-card. French soprano Patricia Petibon is an exquisite soubrette, and she sings Aspasia's aria very well, except for a totally unexpected shout right in the middle – in the name of expressivity to be sure, but this is Mozart, not verismo! A highlight is the Idamante-Ilia duet with Kožená and Siurina, their voices blending beautifully. Anna Netrebko, arguably the biggest star on the program, contributes a fiery “D'Oreste, d'Ajace” singing with opulent tone but also some pitch problems and smudged coloratura. The weakest singing, surprisingly, comes from Thomas Hampson, in his single contribution – Guglielmo's aria from Così. He has all the notes, but the voice sounds strained and thin. Daniel Harding conducts the Vienna forces stylishly, with all the requisite élan and incisiveness. The picture quality is perfect, as is the 5.0 DTS Surround Sound. A great choice for Mozart devotees and aficionados of the gala genre.

- Joseph K. So

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Today's Birthday in Music: December 27 (Schipa)

1888 - Tito Schipa, Lecce, Italy; opera tenor

Wikipedia
Schipa family website

Tito Schipa sings:

"Che farò senza Euridice?" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (Orchestra of La Scala, Milan, conducted by Carlo Sabajno.  1932 HMV recording)


"M'appari" from Flotow's Martha

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Friday, 26 December 2008

William Lawes: The Harp Consorts

Maxine Eilander, harp; Les Voix Humaines
Atma Classique ACD2 2372
**** $$
William Lawes’ pieces for harp, bass viol, and violin were originally written for the court of Charles I and have never been recorded in their entirety – until now. The group includes Seattle harpist Maxine Eilander, baroque violinist David Greenburg, Steven Stubbs on theorbo, and Montreal’s Susie Napper and Margaret Little of Les Voix Humaines on viola da gamba.

Though the recording is titled The Harp Consorts, the works don’t exclusively feature the harp. Each instrument has its own musically demanding part. This group meets these demands with aplomb, imparting more than just technical capability to the long lines of Lawes’ distinctive melodic style. Subtly and varied articulations from the violin and viols bring something special to these pieces while rhythmically energetic playing gives the melodies direction.

Fine musicianship doesn’t end with the violin and viol: Maxine Eilander plays on the triple-strung harp, navigating the three rows of closely spaced strings with ease and lively dynamic contrast.

The only slight disappointment is the sound mix itself. One wishes that in these consorts the harp and the theorbo were slightly more audible; at times it is difficult to hear the instruments in the background of the viola da gamba. Minor objections aside, this is truly fine music – and history – making.

- Dawna Coleman

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Todays's Birthdays in Music: December 26 (Thea King, Earle Brown)

1925 - Thea King, Hitchin, England; clarinetist


Wikipedia
Obituary (The Independent, UK, June 2007)

Thea King, with the Allegri String Quartet, plays Crusell's Clarinet Quartet in C minor



1926 - Earle Brown, Lunenburg, MA, U.S.A.; composer


Wikipedia
Memorial

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Thursday, 25 December 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: December 25 (De Luca, Swarthout)

1876 - Giuseppe De Luca, Rome, Italy; opera baritone

Wikipedia
Official website

Giuseppe De Luca sings the Largo al Factotum from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1920s?)



1900 - Gladys Swarthout, Deepwater, MO, U.S.A.; opera contralto

Biography and more

Gladys Swarthout sings "Stride la vampa" from Verdi's Il Trovatore (1937 recording)

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Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Today's Birthdays in Music: December 24 (Larsen, Stich-Randall)

1950 - Libby Larsen, Wilmington, DE, U.S.A.; composer

Official website
Interview

"Concert Piece for Tuba and Piano" (Beth McDonald, tuba; Tedrin Lindsay, piano.  Singletary Center for the Arts, 2008)



1927 - Teresa Stich-Randall, New Hertford, CT, U.S.A.; opera and concert soprano

Biography and pictures
Obituary (The Times, London, July 2007)

Teresa Stich-Randall sings "Non mi dir" from Mozart's Don Giovanni (1960)

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Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Massenet: Werther

Keith Ikaia-Purdy, Silvia Hablowetz, Armin Kolarczyk, Ina Schlingensiepen Badische Staatskapelle / Daniel Carlberg
Arthaus Musik DVD 101 317 (140m)
*** $$$
With the decline of the studio opera recording, we have witnessed a concomitant rise of live performances, particularly on DVD. This Werther from Karlsruhe, a German regional house, would not have been released even a few short years ago. There are no starry principals, just typical “house singers” on fest contracts – competent, occasionally very fine artists as members of an ensemble. Updated to modern day, this Regietheater Werther is par for the course in Germany. There are lots of little touches – some work better than others: a physically handicapped Sophie, the Bailiff, Johann and Schmidt as major drunks, a Charlotte completely unhinged at the end, and the addition of a flashback in the beginning, with Charlotte sobbing at Werther’s newly dug grave. Director Robert Tannenbaum’s vision is unrelentingly dark. Practically everyone has a long face, including Sophie. Musically it is uneven, the major liability being Hawaiian tenor Keith Ikaia-Purdy as Werther. He sang a fine Nemorino for Opera Ontario some years ago, but his lyric tenor has become darker and heavier, and afflicted with a slow vibrato. His singing is effortful, resorting to a constant mezzo forte that becomes monochromatic and dull very quickly. There isn’t much chemistry between him and the quite well-sung Charlotte of Silvia Hablowetz – his being quite a bit shorter than her doesn’t help matters. The sets and costumes aim for realism at the expense of Romanticism – frankly, watching Werther in a raincoat the whole opera is not my idea of good costuming. The conducting of Daniel Carlberg and the playing of the Badische Staatskapelle save this show. This is a curiosity at best, as there are better updated versions around, such as the Alvarez-Garanca-Wiener Staatsoper version.

- Joseph K. So

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Today's Birthdays in Music: December 23 (Gruberová, Boismortier)

1946 - Edita Gruberová, Bratislava, Slovakia; opera and concert soprano

Wikipedia
Biography and pictures

Edita Gruberová sings "Ach ich liebt" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1989, Karl Böhm conducting)



1689 - Joseph Boismortier, Thionville, France; composer

Wikipedia

"Air de dessus" from Motet à grand choeur (Véronique Gens, soprano, with Le Concert Spirituel, directed by Hervé Piquet)

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Monday, 22 December 2008

Tan Dun : The First Emperor

Plácido Domingo, Elizabeth Futral, Michelle De Young, Paul Groves, Hao Jiang Tian, Wu Hsing-Kuo; The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus, and Ballet / Tan Dun
Production : Zhang Yimou
Director : Brian Large
EMI Classics 50999 2 151299 5 (2 DVD : 177 min)
**** $$$$
Cette production du Met est d’abord un spectacle, et vaut plus par ce que l’on voit que par ce que l’on entend. Les costumes sont somptueux et la scénographie impressionne par son caractère monumental ; il n’en fallait pas moins pour accueillir plus d’une centaine de choristes et de figurants dont les déplacements sont chorégraphiés comme une liturgie. Le sujet de ce quatrième opéra de Tan Dun, créé en 2006, est plutôt mince : le premier empereur chinois, celui-là même qui fit édifier la première Grande Muraille et mit fin au belliqueux régime féodal, exige d’un compositeur ennemi qu’il lui écrive un hymne national. Le compositeur tombe amoureux de la fille de l’empereur, laquelle est déjà promise à l’un des fidèles généraux du royaume Qin... La fusion entre l’art musical de la Chine et celui de l’Occident dont Tan Dun s’est fait le champion n'est pas consommée. Si l’écriture orchestrale est souvent séduisante, les chanteurs ont du mal à rendre des lignes vocales rendues périlleuses par des sauts incessants de l’aigu au grave propres à l’opéra chinois. Plácido Domingo ne semble pas à l'aise en premier empereur; les autres chanteurs ne le sont pas davantage.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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All's quiet at the NY Philharmonic

Since last week's sordid events, there have been three developments:
  • The Philharmonic's chief executive is apparently unwell.
  • The critic who praised Gilbert Kaplan's performance of Mahler's second symphony has admitted he did not acknowledge the conductor's full authority in his review.
  • And two more players have reiterated the trombonist's attack on the guest conductor in language so similar to one another as to suggest a football huddle.
On the first matter, there is nothing to add except to wish Zarin Mehta a speedy recovery.

Steve Smith, the critic (who is also music editor for Time Out New York), deserves much credit for disclosing on his blog that he regrets having omitted a phrase in which he described Kaplan as co-editor of the critical edition of the score - in other words, as the man who helped produce the text that is truest to the composer's final intentions.

The two new grumblers deserve no credit at all, not even name credit.

They were playing for the first time an authentic version of the symphony and all they could do was whinge about aspects of the conductor's technique. Have these people lost all interest in music? Don't they want to know more about the stuff they play? Can't they see beyond a physical rehearsal-room limitation to the possibility of actual enlightenment?

The New York Philharmonic has come out of this seedy episode looking like a rabble without a cause. When its music director invites a man to conduct a concert for the benefit of the orchestra's pension fund, it is worse than just bad manners for the players to insult him to their heart's content. It is a symptom of exceedingly bad management, of an organisation that has run out of control. Somebody needs to get a grip, to state a position, to invoke a principle of collective responsibility.

It is no surprise that Riccardo Muti turned down the offer to become music director in favour of Chicago, that Simon Rattle won't go near the band with a bargepole and that the only person with enough insurance to succeed Lorin Maazel is the son of two members of the orchestra who think they can keep the hyenas from his door. What a shambles.

Source: Artsjournal

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Today's Birthday in Music: December 22 (Puccini)

1858 - Giacomo Puccini, Lucca, Italy; composer

Wikipedia

Tito Gobbi and Maria Callas in the finale of Act 2 of Tosca (Covent Garden, 1964)



Renata Scotto sings "Quando m'en vo'" (Musetta's Waltz Song) from La Bohème (1982 Franco Zeffirelli Metropolitan Opera production; conductor James Levine)


"Gloria" from Messa di Gloria (Coro Rossini, Sassano, Sardinia)

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Sunday, 21 December 2008

Brahms Piano Quartets

Xiayin Wang, piano; Amity Players
Marquis 774718-1377-2-2 (73 min 47 s)
*** $$$$
The young Amity Players collaborated with pianist Xiayin Wang on two of Brahms’ dramatic piano quartets, both conceived at times of personal tumult. He began the Piano Quartet in C Minor in the mid 1850s after his mentor, Robert Schumann, attempted suicide. His Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor was composed between 1857 and 1859, following Schumann’s death. Brahms had formed a close relationship with Schumann’s wife Clara that intensified after her husband’s death and was the subject of much speculation. Both quartets are informed by turbulent emotions, oscillating between anguished brooding and violent abandonment. In livelier movements, such as the G minor Rondo, the Player’s tempo and accent style detracts from the vigorous intensity that could electrify the composition. However, Wang sparkles with precision, solidifying and invigorating the quartet. Cellist Raphael Dubé plays expressively, with singing tone in the C minor Andante, and the group produces a thick, murky texture that beautifully darkens the G minor Andante con moto. Overall, the Amity Players and Xiayin Wang capture the dark and confused emotions that permeate the two compositions.

- Hannah Rahimi

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Met in HD: Thais



Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson in Metropolitan Opera's Thais

Photo credit: Ken Howard



by Joseph So





In the genre of "diva opera", Thais certainly ranks right up there with the best of them. Since its 1894 premiere at the Palais Garnier starring American Sybil Sanderson, it has always been a vehicle for great - and not so great - prima donnas. Any singer who dares to take on this role, from Mary Garden to Beverly Sills to the current Renee Fleming, must possess the vocal chops for this role, one that requires a full, rich middle, lustrous bottom, and a brilliant top, all the way up to a full throttle high D in the Mirror Aria and the final scene. And it goes without saying that she must look sufficiently glamorous and seductive to impersonate a famous courtesan from ancient Alexandria. Unfortunately, sopranos who look good and sound good don't grow on trees...




Indeed an examination of the performance history of this role reveals few successes. American Carol Neblett achieved notoriety early in her career, not so much for the way she sang but for baring her bosom in the New Orleans Opera production, a very daring move in 1973, in a land that frowns upon "wardrobe malfunctions". Anna Moffo certainly looked believable enough as a courtesan, but the voice was in tatters when she recorded it for RCA. In the late 1970s, Beverly Sills had a qualified success at the Met in this role, mostly through the force of her personality rather than the quality of her singing, and she retired within a couple of years after singing this role. Occasionally you have less well known sopranos taking this on, such as Irish American Mary Dunleavy, who sang it quite respectably, in English, for Opera Theatre of St. Louis in 2003 opposite Canadian baritone James Westman as Athanael. Big-name Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli has just taken a stab at this role in Torino this season. While she is a beautiful woman, her voice with its wide vibrato is far from ideal and she pales in comparison to Renee Fleming, who has sung it to great success in Chicago, and has recorded it a few seasons back.
Renee Fleming has gone on record as saying Thais could have been written with her voice in mind. To my ears, her singing certainly does this role justice. Few sopranos, alive or dead, look as good as she does in closeup. She also has a tendency to throw herself into a role, acting up a storm - indeed sometimes her exaggerated acting and cloying mannerisms tend to distort and overwhelm her singing in roles like Tatyana and Desdemona. But as the coquette Thais, Fleming is near perfection. That said, I find her much more convincing in the pre-transformation, "material girl" phase of Thais, while she is much less convincing as the penitant, the once fallen woman now "saved" by Athanael. Her sweet smile and carefully struck poses in the death scene get high marks for glamour but scores very low in the spiritual depth department.
This Met revival - first time in 30 years since Sills sang it in 1978 - uses the Chicago Lyric John Cox production with some modifications. If you are confused about the time period, you are not alone. The decor is vaguely Art Deco - I suppose you can argue that it is sort of neo-Egyptian - but why do the men wear tuxedos, of all things? They look like they've just wandered off the set of Die Fledermaus or Lustige Witwe. Fleming gets to show off her now ultra-slim figure in a series of form-fitting Christian Lacroix gowns. They are undeniably gorgeous, especially the frocks in Acts 1 and 2. But in her death scene, instead of a nun's habit, she is wearing an equally tight-fitting grey pleated number - in a convent? Thais, now a penitant, dies sitting up in a throne, with a smile on her face. I suppose in diva vehicles like Thais, dramatic verisimilitude takes a backseat to the necessity of making the prima donna look good.
As Athanael, American baritone Thomas Hampson was in the best voice I have heard him in some time. He sang with firm, rich tone and admirable legato, only in forte passages did he sound a little pressed. Canadian tenor Michael Schade did well in the thankless role of Nicias, coping well with the tricky tessitura, although his tone has become increasingly hard-edged. Alain Vernhes contributed a characterful Palemon. Spanish conductor Jesus Lopez-Cobos gave a fluent and suave reading of the perfumy score, and I would be remiss not to mention the resplendent playing of the violin solo "Meditation" by Met concertmaster David Chan. This tune is recycled over and over again throughout the second half, but with such lovely playing, who can complain. There you have it - this production of Thais is a feast for diva worshippers, but don't take Massenet's fake religiosity too seriously or you will be disappointed - reserve that for Parsifal.

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Maxwell Davies : Naxos Quartets 9 & 10

Maggini Quartet
Naxos 8.557400 (63 min 54 s)
**** $
Peter Maxwell Davies semble s’être bien amusé à remplir la commande de l’étiquette Naxos pour la composition de dix quatuors, dont ce disque représente l'étape finale. Il en a fait un véritable exercice d’exploration formelle: approche familière pour les deux premiers, mouvement unique pour les Quatrième et Huitième, collections hétéroclites pour les Troisième (Marche, Fugue, 4 Inventions et Hymne…) et Dixième (Reel, Air, Passamezzo, Hornpipe…), séquence de sept mouvements lents pour le Septième, etc. Le style hautement référentiel du Britannique se reconnaît partout, mais de façon subtile : les passages tonaux sont brefs, comme pour rappeler la source de la déconstruction – on sent la référence plus qu’on ne l’entend, ce qui s’avère efficace d’un point de vue dramatique. Le tout est assez bien livré par les Maggini, et c'est heureux, car il y a fort à parier que la prochaine version intégrale de ces quatuors n'est pas pour demain.

- René Bricault

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Strauss: Arabella

Renée Fleming, Julia Kleiter, Morten Frank Larsen, Johan Weigel
Chorus and Orchestra of the Opernhaus Zürich / Franz Welser-Möst
Decca 074 3263 (147 min)
*** $$$
I had the pleasure of being present at Renée Fleming’s first performance of Arabella with the Houston Grand Opera in 1998. She was splendid and consolidated her position as one of the great Straussians of her generation. She went on to repeat this triumph at the Met in 2001, again with Christoph Eschenbach conducting. Now comes a DVD of a 2007 performance in Zürich. Fleming is better than ever but she is part of a production by Götz Friedrich that sucks most of the charm and magic right out of the piece.

The opera is essentially a lightweight, operetta-style love story set in 1860s Vienna. Strauss and his librettist Hugo von Hofmanstahl were very specific as to time and place and the peculiarities of social etiquette and entertainment. But Friedrich chose to move the story to some vaguely 1920s place and offered no apparent imaginative concept to replace the Viennese original. What’s more, the sets suggest not so much a new vision but simply lack of time or money or both. The Act I set is so bare it looks less like a Viennese hotel room than a hospital waiting room. The critical staircase in the last scene has as much character as a neon sign. Worst of all, the orchestra appears to have been recorded in a closet and a very small one at that; the sound is dry and boxy in the extreme.

- Paul E. Robinson

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Today's Birthdays in Music: December 21 (Turp, Tilson Thomas)

1925 - André Turp, Montreal, Canada; opera tenor

Biography (Encyclopedia of Music in Canada)


1944 - Michael Tilson Thomas, Los Angeles, U.S.A.; conductor, pianist, composer


Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, 1st mvt. (BBC Promenade Concert, London, 2007)

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Saturday, 20 December 2008

Firebrand: Chamber Music of T. Patrick Carrabré

Gryphon Trio; Winnipeg Chamber Music Society
Centredisques CMCCD 13408 (62 min 01 s)
**** $$$
The Gryphon Trio attacks the works of T. Patrick Carrabré with the same energy and zeal they put into all their recordings. The ensemble’s clean elegance balances the brash virtuosity of Carrabré’s Firebrand. From the darkest reaches employs more predictable rhythmic and melodic elements but the Gryphon Trio imbues it with a unified character and somber energy; filling in the weaker gaps in Carrabré’s writing. Both trios on this disc were written for the Gryphon, adding to an extensive library of over 40 commissioned works.

A hammer for your thoughts… commissioned and performed by the Winnipeg Chamber Music Society, takes its name from its form and content. Traditionally piano quintets involve a large solo piano part. Carrabré takes the sound image of the hammered piano strings and expands it to the glockenspiel. The work is filled with repeated-note figures in every instrument, a further play on the same idea. The WCMS doesn’t quite live up to the same standard and level of energy as the Gryphon Trio – it presents a stolid rendition of what might otherwise have been a gripping work.

Overall, this disc would make a fine addition to any contemporary Canadian music enthusiast’s library and perhaps that of an adventurous open-minded listener. But if you’re looking for a disc to play during a dinner party, keep shopping.

- Marcin Swoboda

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François Couperin : Pièces de violes

Philippe Pierlot, Emmanuel Balssa, basse de viole ; Eduardo Egüez, théorbe et guitare ; Pierre Hantaï, clavecin
Mirare MIR 040 (67 min 58 s)
****** $$$$
Dès le Prélude (marqué Gravement) de la Première Suite qui ouvre le programme de ce remarquable CD, on est conquis par le mélange de retenue et de noblesse que les quatre musiciens insufflent au chef-d’œuvre de Couperin ; leur cohésion est telle qu’on croirait avoir affaire à un seul instrument, d’une magnifique complexité. L’auditeur sera charmé jusqu’à la fin, notamment par la saisissante Sarabande Grave et la Passacaille ou Chaconne de cette même Première Suite, et par la longue Pompe Funèbre (Très gravement) de la Deuxième Suite. En dépit de son titre, celle-ci ne comprend que quatre mouvements, libérés de la contrainte traditionnelle des rythmes de danse. En complément se trouvent deux Concerts formés de transcriptions de pièces tirées des Ordres pour clavecin. Sans atteindre les vertigineux sommets des Suites, ces Concerts ne manquent pas d’intérêt. Les notes de programme, très instructives, sont signées Philippe Beaussant. Par son raffinement, cette nouvelle version des Suites détrône celle, intense mais pesante, qu’en avait donnée Jordi Savall (Astrée, 1976/1988).

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Puccini: Manon Lescaut

Karita Mattila, Marcello Giordani, Dwayne Croft, Dale Travis
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus / James Levine
EMI Classics 50999 2 17420 9 5 DVD (137 min)
***** $$$
This Manon Lescaut is Puccini at his verismo best. If you are a tenor fan, you’ll love Des Grieux’s four arias and the extended Art Two duet. But the centerpiece here is the great Karita Mattila as Manon Lescaut. A great Eva, Elsa, Jenufa, Katya, Elisabetta, Lisa, Tatyana, Arabella, Salome, and Leonore, Mattila is not an ideal Puccini singer, since her Nordic sound with its cool timbre and relatively "straight tone" is not suited to the "blood and guts" verismo genre. But she is quite wonderful here. Partnering her is Italian tenor Marcello Giordani as Des Grieux. Baritone Dwayne Croft is the callous brother Lescaut and character baritone Dale Travis is Geronte. This quarter-century-old production looks handsome if rather old fashioned. Large gestures in the theatre enable those sitting in the gallery to see what’s going on and heavy make-up prevents the singers' faces from looking washed out. However, such exaggerated acting and heavy make-up have been toned down for the telecast. At 47, Mattila still looks youthful, but there is no point in pretending that she is the embodiment of the teenage Manon, especially when closeups are so unforgiving. Her two high Cs and loads of Bs are thrilling; less attractive are her weak middle and lower registers. Her Manon is dramatically nuanced, vulnerable and sympathetic. As Des Grieux, Giordani sings with a secure top and is suitably ardent, but he looks a bit mature. Act One is always a bit slow, but by the last two acts, Mattila and Giordani burn up the stage. American baritone Dwyane Croft is good if a little anonymous in the rather thankless role of Lescaut. Dale Travis is excellent as Geronte. Not exactly a Puccini conductor, James Levine surprises everyone with his passionate and involved conducting in an opera he has not touched in twenty years, drawing torrents of sound from the orchestra at the climaxes. Perhaps not a Manon Lescaut for the ages, but overall a satisfying performance.

- Joseph K. So

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Today's Birthday s in Music: December 20 (Uchida)

1948 - Mitsuko Uchida, Atami, Japan; pianist

Wikipedia
Official website

Mitsuko Uchida plays:

Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9, "Jeunehomme", 1st mvt. (Mozarteum Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Tate, Salzburg, 1989)


Excerpt from Schoenberg's Piano Concerto Op.42 (Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest, conducted by Jeffrey Tate)

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Friday, 19 December 2008

Georges Delerue: Œuvres pour piano et instruments divers

Minna Re Shin, piano; Olivier Thouin, violin; Guillaume Saucier, cello; Fabrice Marandola, percussion
DCM Classique DCM-CL205 (54 min 50 s)
*** $$$
The French composer Delerue (1925-1992) is known for his success in film music. This disc serves as an introduction into his lesser known classical works, featuring violin, cello and percussion paired with piano. The short, beautiful Antienne 1 for violin and piano sets the tone for the whole disc. Thouin’s approach to this simple piece is clean and honest. Concerto de l’Adieu was originally for violin and orchestra but appears here with piano. Something is lacking, and the writing has a meandering tendency. Aria et Final for cello and piano feature some interplay that is both interesting and jarring. Cellist Guillaume Saucier plays stiffly and the ensemble offers little in the way of emotional connection. The Final is disappointing and lacks energy. Marandola steals the show with Mouvements pour instruments à percussion et piano. After more standard arrangements of strings and piano, the inclusion of percussion is quite refreshing. In addition, Marandola’s variety in colour and subtle dynamic shifts makes for an enthralling performance. The disc is capped off with Stances for cello and piano and Sonate pour violon et piano. For 20th century music Delerue’s writing is very accessible, but the longer works may leave you wishing there was video included.

- Micheal Spleit

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Munich Opera Festival announces tempting 2009 lineup

by Joseph So


Are you already getting the early winter blahs? I admit I am - as I write this, Toronto is getting whacked by a wicked snowstorm, to be followed by a second deluge 48 hours later. When faced with such a depressing scenario, there is no better tonic than planning the next opera trip, especially one as delectable as the annual Munich Opera Festival. This august festival dates back to 1875 - how's that for longevity! I attended the summer fest last July and had the greatest time. In the span of a week, I saw five operas and a Liederabend, starring some of the biggest stars in the opera world - Kent Nagano, Jonas Kaufmann, Diana Damrau, Angela Denoke, and Canada's own Adrianne Pieczonka. There may be other festivals with equally starry lineups and cutting-edge productions - Salzburg and Glyndebourne come to mind - but none can beat Munich for the sheer variety and consistency of product.


The 2009 Munich Opera Festival Season is five weeks long, from June 30 to July 31. It marks the first season at the helm for Nikolaus Bachler, their new intendant. For me and undoubtedly all Wagnerites, the main attraction will be the festival premiere of a new production of Wagner's Lohengrin, starring German tenor Jonas Kaufmann (opening night July 5). I heard him in a Liederabend last July, and to my ears he is the best young heldentenor today. The timbre of his sound is so reminiscent of a young Jon Vickers that it is absolutely uncanny - the only difference is Kaufmann has better high notes. Opposite him will be the marvelous Greek-German soprano Anja Harteros as Elsa. The conductor is the great Kent Nagano. Montreal audiences will be familiar with his work, but mostly in the symphonic repertoire, so this represents an opportunity to hear him conduct this great score. The stage director is Richard Jones, so expect something cutting edge and unconventional!

The second attraction for me will be my favourite tenor, Rolando Villazon, singing two performances of Werther. I saw this very production last July with the fine Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, but to me Villazon is in a class by himself. Also high on my list is a revival of last season's sensational Ariadne auf Naxos starring Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka. It was at the intimate Prinzregententheater - it was the hottest ticket at the festival last July. The 2009 revival will have the same cast, but with Bertrand de Billy replacing Nagano, and it is slated to be taped for release on HD DVD, according to Dr. Ulrike Hessler at a press luncheon last July. Pieczonka will also sing Desdemona in Otello opposite Johan Botha. Italian soprano Barbara Frittoli will sing the title role in Aida in a production staged by Christoph Nel and conducted by Daniele Gatti. An eclectic item on the program is the festival premiere of Leonard Bernstein's one act opera Trouble in Tahiti. Kent Nagano will lead the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in a new version especially prepared for Munich, at the Cuvillies Theater.

Last summer in the Cuvillies, performances of Mozart's Idomeneo marked the reopening of this exquisite Rococo theatre. This production will be revised for performances on July 23, 26, and 30. One can also look forward to the return of two big-name divas - Edita Gruberova in Lucrezia Borgia (July1, 6), and Angela Gheorghiu in a gala concert (July 27). Aficionados of song recitals will get to hear Diana Damrau (July 5), Waltraud Meier (July 20), and Jonas Kaufmann (July 26). As is typical of festivals of this calibre, tickets don't come cheap, but there will be a number of free outdoor events to make the festival accessible to all - a concert on June 28 with Nagano conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra will take place on Marstall Square, and on July 5, the opening performance of Lohengrin will be telecast live on Max Josef Square.

The demands for seats to the operas, ballets and symphonic concerts at the Festival have always been high, and given the lineup this coming summer, it is likely to sell out quickly. July is also high season for travel to Munich, so one would be wise to book air tickets early. For details, visit the Munich Opera Festival website at:
http://www.muenchner-opern-festspiele.de/798-ZG9tPWRvbTQ-~opernfestspiele~index_mopf.html?l=en

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Von Klenau: String Quartets 1, 2 and 3

Sjaelland String Quartet
Dacapo 8.226075 (70 min 11 s)
*** $$$$
À défaut de parenté plus évidente, la musique de Paul von Klenau a été comparée à celle de son ami Alban Berg. Toutefois, des nuances s'imposent : chez le premier, la conception des structures macroscopiques est plus traditionnelle et carrée, le déploiement dans la phrase est plus fantaisiste, moins rigoureux, et la technique de conciliation entre dodécaphonisme et tonalité s’avère beaucoup plus transparente. Les interprètes, moins exceptionnels que les autres quatuors auxquels nous a habitué l’excellente étiquette (mais tout de même fort corrects), ont opté pour une lecture très intimiste. Le résultat est parfois sclérosé, ce qui ne l'empêche pas de toucher par moments au délicieux et mystérieux état de grâce propre à l’expressionnisme germanique.

- René Bricault

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Zubin Mehta Los Angeles Philharmonic: Dvořák/Mozart/Bartók

Los Angeles Philharmonic / Zubin Mehta
Euroarts DVD 2072248 (110 min)
**** $
This is another release from the vaults of Unitel, the Munich-based company that spent a small fortune making classical music films in the 1970s. Karajan and Bernstein were featured in dozens of films but other conductors such as Böhm, Abbado and Solti also appeared. Most of these productions were initially released on VHS years ago but only recently have they made their way to DVD. Deutsche Grammophon has been issuing the bulk of the Unitel catalogue but other companies are issuing those passed on.

The Mehta release documents an important stage in this conductor’s career. Mehta was twenty-six when he became conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and he stayed for seventeen years, growing into a major conductor. These performances were recorded in 1977 in concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Mehta left the following year to take over the New York Philharmonic. Kirk Browning of Live from Lincoln Center was the producer and RCA veteran Max Wilcox was the sound engineer and their work is first-rate.

There are two major works: Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. The orchestra plays superbly and Mehta is at his charismatic best. He could pass for either a Hollywood or a Bollywood film star playing a great conductor. Fortunately, he was also a great musician. From these same concerts there are two shorter Dvořák pieces and Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with the LAPO’s principal bassoonist as soloist.

- Paul E. Robinson

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The player who forgot his place

- Hold the front page, hot story coming in.

- What is it?

- There's a player in the orchestra who didn't like last week's conductor.

- Come again? Yeah, that's right. There's a trombone in the New York Phil beefing on his blog about the guy who did Mahler 2. Get some pictures in.

Is this some kind of mistimed joke, or the end of journalism on the New York Times? For reasons better left uninvestigated, the Times has made a C1 splash today of comments made by a trombonist - the third trombone, I believe - about the amateur conductor Gilbert E Kaplan who led Mahler Second last week.

According to the player, Kaplan ignored 'a blizzard' of Mahler's instructions and had a beat the band could not follow. Any good that came out of the performance was entirely to the credit of the players, working against imposible odds.

Well, let's get a couple of things straight. There isn't an orchestra in the world that does not represent a diversity of views. Every time Simon Rattle steps onto the podium in Berlin, a dozen players grunt and grumble. When Abbado rehearsed the LSO, they complained of boredom. When Dudamel does his hightail tricks, they accuse him of showmanship. Musicians complaining about conductors is not news. It's part of their job descrption.

The difference here is that a player decided to blog his dissent and the local fish-rag picked it up. Before we consider the facts of the matter - and I attended the performance, as the Times reporter evidently did not - let's just consider whose failure that is. Is it Kaplan's, or is it the New York Philharmonic's for failing to impose appropriate corporate discretion on its musicians?

Every self-respecting orchesta in the world maintains certain public courtesies in the interest of self-preservation and maintaining audience mystique. What we have just seen at the NY Phil is a failure of  management procedures. If I were chairman, I'd have the chief executive and the PR on my carpet before the morning's coffee break.

And while we're in the blame game, let's just ask ourselves if the trombone would have slagged off a professional conductor, whom he might have to face again next season? I think we know the answer to that.

Now to the performance. I make no secret of being a long-standing friend and admirer of Gilbert Kaplan's. I have published that disclaimer several times and have no reason whatsoever to be ashamed of it. Having watched him master the work over almost 25 years, I am convinced - and so are many musicians - that no-one alive has such detailed knowledge of the score. My own credentials on the subject are as the author of one published book on Mahler and another in progress.

But don't take my word for it. Players in the London Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Stockholm Phil will testify to his grasp of minutiae - not just the annotations that Maher made on 14 different scores but the reasons for those annotations. If the trombone is feeling frisky, perhaps we should put him on a platform with Kaplan to see which of them knows more of the notes.

There is certainly criticism to be made of Kaplan's technique - he is an amateur, after all - and he does not bring to the rostrum the encyclopaedic knowledge of repertoire and orchestral psychology that one can expect from a Jansons or a Maazel. But he can deliver a memorable performance and he seldom fails, in my experience, to illuminate something new in the score.

I have heard him do the Mahler 2 several times, on occasion with greater impact than he made at Avery Fisher last week. The original NY Times review was very positive and there were rhythms in the second and third movements that he delivered more idiomatically and true to score than I have heard from most professionals. The performance as a whole achieved its intended catharsis - and if the New York Philharmonic think they can do that without a conductor, as the tromb one suggests, well, let's see them try. Go on, book a date.

I had the impression, watching the orchestra's body language, that they were not comfortable on the night. They are a bunch of very fine players. They also have a reputation for very bad attitude. There is a reason why many of the world's best will not conduct the NY Phil. And that may be the same reason why the next music director barely ranks in the top league.

If there was a story to cover here, it was about the New York Philharmonic behaving badly. But are we going to read that in the New York Times? When pigs can fly, perhaps.

Source: Artsjournal

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Today's Birthdays in Music: December 19 (Isserlis, Reiner)

1958 - Steven Isserlis, London, England; cellist

Wikipedia
Personal website

Steven Isserlis gives a masterclass on Schumann's "Fantasy Pieces"



1888 - Fritz Reiner, Budapest, Hungary; conductor

Wikipedia
Reminiscences

Fritz Reiner conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in two movements from Respighi's Pines of Rome

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Thursday, 18 December 2008

Deshevov: Ice and Steel

Yevgeny Taruntsov, Anna Toneeva, Hiroshi Marsui, Algirdas Drevinskas, Oxana Arkaeva, Otto Daubner, Stefan Röttig, Patrick Simper, Rupprecht Braun
Saarländisches Staatsorchester / Will Humberg
Stage Director: Immo Karaman
Video Director: Brooks Riley
Arthaus Musik 101 323 (96 min)
*** $$$
You will search in vain for an entry on Vladimir Deshevov (1889-1955) in the standard musical dictionaries. Ice and Steel of 1929 was his best known composition. It did not enjoy a long run in the People’s theatres and its revival in our time represents the triumph of curiosity over good sense. It requires a huge cast and, all things considered, Ice and Steel is a pretty miserable excuse for an opera. Nevertheless, in cooperation with the Stanislavski and Nemirovitch-Danshenko Musictheater, Moscow, it was staged in Saarbrücken in 2007. Deshevov’s score is far from negligible and sternly modern (a last hurrah for the avant-garde before the imposition of ‘socialist realism’) but the libretto by Boris Lavrenjov is an awful concoction of one-dimensional class struggle stereotypes and agit-prop rhetoric. The plot cynically conceals the truth about the brutal Bolshevik suppression of the Kronstadt Mutiny in 1921. What makes this production useful (and probably essential for Soviet music fans) is the prodigious imagination of the staging. It is dreadful but fascinating; offensive yet authentic. Proceed with caution.
- Stephen Habington

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Martha Argerich: Evening Talks

Un film de Georges Gachot
Excerpts by Beethoven, Piazzola/Hubert, Liszt, Chopin, Ravel, Prokofiev, Bach, Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Dvořák, Lutoslawski
Medici arts 3073428 (101 min)
***** $$$$
Incandescente, imprévisible, insaisissable, Martha Argerich se révèle très rarement autrement que dans ses interprétations. Georges Gachot propose ici un rare portrait, où la pianiste argentine se confie avec une candeur saisissante. On voit sa main s’attarder sur sa chevelure mythique, son regard de braise brûler la pellicule pendant qu’elle évoque, en phrases elliptiques, son premier choc musical à six ans (le Quatrième Concerto de Beethoven par Arrau), ses mois d’apprentissage avec l’iconoclaste Friedrich Gulda, ses succès en concours, son premier refus de jouer en concert (à 17 ans !), sa volonté d’être continuellement surprise par la musique. Elle transmet son amour pour Ravel, Prokofiev, Schumann – « Je crois qu’il m’aime bien », avance-t-elle avec un sourire désarmant. Argerich dévoile aussi pendant quelques instants troublants sa vulnérabilité envers l’expérience de concert, l’intensité de sa panique, sa terreur des récitals en solo (d'où sa préférence pour les collaborations en tant que chambriste).
On reste fasciné par l'ampleur de ce qu’elle ose révéler dans le quasi-soliloque, capté en une seule soirée post-concert par Gachot en 2001, qui sert de fil conducteur au film. L’émotion du specateur est encore plus vive quand il la (re)découvre grâce à des documents d’archives, dans une Rhapsodie hongroise de Liszt interprétée adolescente, un sublime Concerto en mi mineur de Chopin à Paris en 1969, un électrisant Troisième de Prokofiev en 1977 ou même en répétition avec l’Orchestre de chambre de Wurtemberg dans un Concerto de Schumann tout en fluidité. Comme a dit d’elle Daniel Barenboïm : « Un très beau tableau, mais sans le cadre ».

- Lucie Renaud

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Choral Music in the Nineteenth Century

By Nick Strimple
New York: Amadeus Press (283 pg.)
ISBN 978-1-57467-154-4
Choral Music in the 19th Century is a concise overview. Author Nick Strimple strayed from the catalogue approach, covering his material geographically. Included are composer anecdotes, illuminating quotations and relevant articles. Inevitably, some pivotal composers (Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Dvorak) are given more attention but he highlights some lesser-known works and composers worth examining. These works would be of particular interest to conductors looking for unusual repertoire. The works listed are varied, covering male, female, children’s and mixed choirs. A comprehensive repertoire list and bibliography close the book.

Strimple also analyses the impact of major historical events on the composition in that era, including the French Revolution, the growth of Nationalism and the wars of 1848. He also notes the emergence of choral organizations and the growth of the male choir movement.

In conclusion, one can thoroughly recommend this volume to anyone who is interested in the choral music of this era. The casual listener will find a wealth of ‘new’ material to explore, conductors will find new repertoire choices and choral-lovers will enjoy a thorough overview.

- Iwan Edwards

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Today's Birthday in Music: December 18 (Streich)

1920 - Rita Streich, Barnaul, Russia; opera soprano

Wikipedia

Rita Streich sings:

"Song to the Moon" from Dvořák's Rusalka


Felix Mendelssohn's "Auf Flügein des Gesanges" (1972 performance)

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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Verdi and Verismo

Fabiana Bravo, soprano
St. Petersburg Radio and TV Orchestra / Charles Rosekrans
KLEOS Classics KL5149 (72 m 32 s)
**** $$$
Argentinean soprano Fabiana Bravo is that rare breed – a true spinto soprano with a dark-hued powerful instrument, strong sense of drama, and glamorous stage presence. Since winning the 5th Luciano Pavarotti Voice Competition in 1996, Bravo has made a name for herself in the Verdi and verismo repertoires. A generous artist on stage, her performances are noted for their intensity and all-out vocalism. This CD, recorded in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2006, gives the listener a good idea of her art. The disc is a generous 72 minutes long, featuring 14 arias from Don Carlo, Simon Boccanegra, Corsaro, Aïda, Forza, Mefistofele, Adriana, Wally, Tosca, Andrea Chenier, Edgar and Suor Angelica. The singing is impressive, particularly her blazing top with a genuine high pianissimo, which she uses to great effect in “La vergine degli angeli” and “Senza mamma”. The timbre and weight of her sound are ideal in the Verdi and Puccini heroines featured on the disc. For dramatic effect, Bravo is not afraid to dip into her generous chest voice. Like other big-voiced dramatic sopranos, Bravo is best seen on stage, as this type of voice isn't so easily captured on disc. The close miking exaggerates her breathing, and sometimes one can hear a slow vibrato and an overall unsteadiness. Occasionally, she telegraphs a coming high note by breaking the line to take a breath, as in “Vissi d'arte” and “O patria mia”. The St. Petersburg Radio and TV Orchestra under American conductor Charles Rosekrans does yeoman service – one wishes for more incisive and commanding leadership from the maestro. These quibbles aside, the disc is well worth a listen for those curious about the art of this exciting soprano.

- Joseph K. So

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Bruckner 9

Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal / Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Atma classique SACD2 2514 (67 min 1 s)
*** $$
L’interprétation de la Neuvième de Bruckner par Nézet-Séguin suscite les mêmes réserves que celle de la Septième, enregistrée il y a deux ans par le même chef. Un trait étonnant, innovateur de l’écriture brucknérienne, consiste à opposer les sections orchestrales pour qu'elles soient à la fois contraires et complémentaires. Privée de ce contraste, l'oeuvre peut paraître malhabile, ainsi que l'ont jugée ses premiers détracteurs. Ici, l’équilibre des blocs sonores laisse à désirer. La section des bois de l’Orchestre Métropolitain tend à s'effacer; les cordes, elles aussi, peinent à se faire entendre lorsque la masse orchestrale est imposante. Dans ces conditions, les thèmes semblent surgir de nulle part et disparaître à l’improviste, et leur mise en relief, dans certains cas, est pratiquée sur un fond plutôt brouillé. Du coup, la présence simultanée d’autres événements musicaux n’est plus perceptible ; le tissu orchestral en sort aminci. Il faut croire que Wand, Jochum, Celibidache ou Giulini ont placé trop haut la barre de cette œuvre exceptionnelle.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Relève le défi musical !

Exercices progressifs de lectures mélodiques, rythmiques et mélodico-rythmiques
D'Isabelle Robert
Disponible en téléchargement au http://www.musibach.com
Tout professeur sait combien il est difficile de faire lire correctement les élèves. Ceux qui ont une bonne oreille réussissent presque toujours à bluffer, alors que les plus faibles poussent parfois l'enseignant au découragement. Comment leur faire travailler la lecture sans qu’elle ne devienne un pensum ? Isabelle Robert propose ici un manuel intéressant, très bien gradué, pour venir en aide à tout le monde. Dans la section « lectures mélodiques », l'exercice est d’abord limité à deux notes, puis à trois, jusqu’à huit - sur une octave, puis sur deux. À la fin de la section, on accède à la lecture méli-mélo, qui occupe deux pages (j'en aurais souhaité davantage). Isabelle Robert aborde la lecture rythmique dans la deuxième section, les rythmes travaillés se trouvant dans l’en-tête de page. La dernière section propose deux pages où lectures mélodique et rythmique sont jumelées, faisant de l'exercice un excellent prélude au solfège traditionnel.

L’auteure propose quelques pistes d'utilisation de son matériel, mais elle encourage surtout le professeur à se montrer créatif. Fait à signaler : le document n’est pas disponible en version imprimée, mais seulement en téléchargement sur Internet. Vous pouvez donc choisir de l’imprimer ou faire travailler les élèves directement à l’écran, la petite main du curseur PDF servant de repère au besoin.

- Lucie Renaud

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Today's Birthday in Music: December 17 (Beethoven)

1770 - Ludwig van Beethoven, Bonn, Germany; composer and pianist (baptized December 17; date of birth probably December 15 or 16)

Wikipedia
The Magnificent Master

Claudio Abbado conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, 1st mvt. (Rome, 2001)


Glenn Gould plays Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5, final mvt. (Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Karel Ančerl)


String Quartet No. 16, Op. 135, 3rd mvt. (Amadeus Quartet, 1973)

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Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Prokofiev: Betrothal in a Monastery

Lyubov Petrova, Claire Ormshaw, soprano; Alexandra Durseneva, Nino Surguladze, mezzo-soprano; Viacheslav Voynarovskiy, Vsevolod Grivnov, Peter Hoare, tenor; Andrey Breus, Alan Opie, Pavel Baransky, baritone; Jonathan Veira, bass-baritone; Sergei Alexashkin, Maxim Mikhailov, bass; London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski; The Glyndebourne Chorus / Thomas Blunt
Glyndebourne GFOCD 002-06 (2CD: 135 min 31 s)
***** $$$$
Voilà un petit opéra-comique tout à fait charmant composé en 1940 et, surprise, issu de la plume de Prokofiev. L'entrée en guerre de la Russie a annulé les espoirs de longévité de cette œuvre légère, basée sur une pièce de Sheridan (1751-1816). Betrothal in a Monastery raconte l’histoire de la fille d’un riche aristocrate qui cherche à se soustraire à un mariage forcé. La musique enjouée, souriante, pétillante, rappelle la Symphonie classique. Les solistes sont presque tous russes, d'où le parfait naturel des inflexions vocales et musicales. À une solide distribution s’ajoute la direction précise et nerveuse de Vladimir Jurowski, qui obtient de ses Londoniens une palette d’émotions et de couleurs très variée. Le luxueux livret présente les textes en français, anglais, allemand et russe (cyrillique malheureusement : aucune chance, donc, de suivre les dialogues originaux à moins de savoir déchiffrer cet alphabet particulier), illustrés de quelques belles photos de la production 2006 du Glyndebourne Opera.
- Frédéric Cardin

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BEETHOVEN: Ideals of the French Revolution

Maximilian Schell, narrator; Adrianne Pieczonka, soprano
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, OSM Chorus / Kent Nagano

Analekta AN 2 9942-3 2CDs (108 min 15 s)
***
Musically, The General is essentially Beethoven’s incidental music for Goethe’s play Egmont. But the original Goethe text has been set aside and replaced by a new one created by the Welsh music critic Paul Griffiths. The General is based on the Rwandan experiences of Canadian general Roméo Dallaire, as recounted in his book Shake Hands With the Devil. Dallaire was head of the ill-fated UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda in 1993-1994. The world simply wasn’t interested in preventing the massacre and Dallaire returned to Canada a broken man.

For some reason Griffiths decided to tell the Rwanda story without mentioning either names or places. But without any mention of Rwanda, Dallaire, Tutsis and Hutus, Griffiths’ text is almost meaningless. This recording has been issued in both an English and a French version but neither one includes the text.

On the positive side, Nagano and the OSM play Beethoven’s music with great intensity. And the same goes for their performance of the Fifth Symphony on the second CD. Nagano’s performance indicates he has been strongly influenced by the period instrument specialists. He takes all the repeats and very quick tempi in accordance with Beethoven’s metronome markings. He has the strings play with little or no vibrato much of the time. The opening of the slow movement sounds strikingly different with this approach. There are some inconsistencies: why eliminate vibrato in the strings but allow it in the bassoon solos? And one can’t help wondering what the Fifth Symphony has to do with “the ideals of the French Revolution.”

Some fine music-making on this set but lots of questions too. Fans of Kent Nagano – and there are a growing number of them – will want to have this album as the first recorded documentation of his work in Montreal.

- Paul E. Robinson

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Crazy

I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble (Gabrielle McLaughlin, soprano ; Julia Wedman, Aisslinn Nosky, violons ; Felix Deak, violoncelle et viola da gamba)
Dorian-Sono Luminus DSL-90802 (64 min 22 s)
** $$$
Ce CD n’est accompagné d’aucune note explicative mais comprend une invitation, rédigée en anglais seulement, à consulter quatre sites Internet pour obtenir des informations. On y apprend que l’ensemble I Furiosi est torontois et qu'il réunit des musiciens canadiens qui auraient renouvelé l’interprétation du baroque. On ne s’en serait pas douté à l’écoute du disque, dont l’objectif est de parcourir, et je traduis, « les corridors de la folie elle-même ». Le programme se compose de quatorze numéros : airs sur le thème de l’insanité amoureuse, sonates et variations de compositeurs italiens et anglais du 16e au 18e siècle, dont « La Folia » de Vivaldi, et « Suzanne » de Leonard Cohen (l'allégeance baroque de Cohen m'était, je l'avoue, inconnue). Les ratés d’intonation des cordes, l’absence générale de style, les limites de la soprano et une prise de son sans relief amènent l’auditeur à s’interroger sur l’utilité d’un tel enregistrement.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Today's Birthdays in Music: December 16 (Kodály, Pinnock)

1882 - Zoltán Kodály, Kecskemét, Hungary; composer

Wikipedia

Janos Starker plays Kodály's Sonata for Solo Cello, 1st mvt. (Tokyo, 1988)


Dances of Galánta (Philharmonia Hungarica, conducted by Ervin Acél at the Vatican)




1946 - Trevor Pinnock, Canterbury, England; conductor and harpsichordist

Wikipedia

Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert play J.S. Bach's Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052, 1st mvt. (Allegro)

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Monday, 15 December 2008

Austin 'Salon Concerts' Celebrates Violin & Cello Reunion

Classical Travels with Paul E. Robinson
THIS WEEK IN TEXAS
trio450x338.jpg
Every month, forty or so music-lovers gather in one of the finest private homes in Austin to listen to chamber music: this is Salon Concerts, now in its nineteenth season.
Salon Concerts was created by two of the finest musicians in the area – violinist Robert Rudié and pianist/composer Kathryn Mishell. As Robert approaches his 90th year, he continues to appear as a violinist in the series – at this concert he played excerpts from Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for Solo Violin with wonderful tone and expression - but more and more of the artistic direction has been taken over by his wife, Kathryn. I joined the group for their latest soirée called Instrumental Magnetism, and enjoyed it immensely, not least of all for the chance to hear a new work by Kathryn.
Made by the Same Master, Violin & Cello Notably Drawn Together
The piece was called "Duo for Violin and Cello: Reunion," and there is a fascinating back story. In the 1860s in Paris, one of the great makers of string instruments was Gand Frères. Of the many instruments produced by the company over the years, two of them found their way to Austin. There was a violin owned by Brian Lewis, a professor of violin at the University of Texas, and a cello owned by Douglas Harvey, principal cellist of the Austin Symphony and the Austin Lyric Opera. In fact, the two instruments were part of a set of four commissioned by Napoleon III and all were made from the same piece of wood!
While the two Austin musicians knew each other, neither knew until recently that the other owned a Gand. Lewis and Mishell had the brilliant idea of bringing the two musicians together to play chamber music on their “Gands.” But more than that, Mishell would bring them together to play music especially written for them and their precious instruments.
Against this background, composer Mishell set to work. As a unifying musical device she used the familiar French nursery song"Frère Jacques," thus indicating 1) the birthplace of the instruments - Paris, France, 2) the makers of the instruments - Gand Frères, and 3) the fact that in being created from the same piece of wood, the two instruments are natural brothers (frères).
Kathryn went a step further. She told me that since the sibling instruments were born in 1863 and 'grew up' in France, they would have known and 'sung' "Frère Jacques" as 'children', as the first publication of the words and music together dates from 1860.
Lewis and Harvey gave a fine performance of the new piece, showing off their Gands and their own considerable talents. Lewis even brought along some coins from the time of Napoleon III to show audience members, in the spirit of the occasion.
Vitizslava Kaprálová's Rarely Performed "Elegy" Rates More Play
The first half of the evening’s program included an impassioned performance of Bohuslav Martinu’s "Three Madrigals" by Lewis and Bruce Williams, principal violist of the Austin Symphony. Lewis and pianist Rick Rowley then presented the rarely-heard "Elegy" by Martinu student Vitizslava Kaprálová. Mishell is well-known for championing women composers – her KMFA radio series Into the Light won a Communicator Award of Distinction last year – and tries to work at least one piece by a woman into each Salon Concerts program.
Kaprálová was a gifted young Czech composer destined to become a major figure. Sadly, her life was cut short by tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five in 1940. The "Elegy" is a beautiful piece and deserves to be better-known. For more on Kaprálová visit the website of the Kaprálová Society. The society is based in Toronto and includes on its advisory board two old friends of mine: pianist Antonin Kubalek and conductor/broadcaster Kerry Stratton.
A Joyous Evening of Intimate Music-making...
The major work on the program was Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B major Op. 8, played by Lewis, Harvey and Rowley. I prefer the opening tune played with a little more restraint so that one can fully savor its breadth and nobility, but in this performance enthusiasm and the sheer joy of making music carried everything before it. After all, the tempo marking is ‘Allegro con brio’.
I think, however, that I have the composer on my side for the tempo in the slow movement. Brahms marked it ‘Adagio’ and ‘four to the bar’, but pianist Rick Rowley started off at what seemed to me double the tempo, with far too much volume. Surely, those opening chords are meant to suggest almost a suspension of time, just hanging in the air, at a distance, and barely audible. Admittedly, this is difficult to achieve in the living room of a private home - but it can be done.
...Followed by Mixing, Mingling and Fine Food & Wine
As always, the music-making was followed by some world-class cuisine, prepared by the ever-resourceful Chef Pascal.

If I am giving the impression that Salon Concerts is some kind of elitist enterprise, bear in mind that the price tag for the concert and the food was all of $35. Consider also that Salon Concerts manages to raise enough money to maintain its educational activities, in addition to its intimate concert series; the CHAMPS program provides weekly chamber music coaching to over sixty young musicians in Austin’s middle and high schools every year.
Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at http://www.amazon.com. For more about Paul E. Robinson please visit his website.

Blog photo by Marita.

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John Adams: Doctor Atomic

Gerald Finley (Oppenheimer), Jessica Rivera (Kitty Oppenheimer), Eric Owens (General Groves), Richard Paul Fink (Teller), James Maddalena (Hubbard), Thomas Glenn (Wilson), Jay Hunter Morris (Nolan), Ellen Rabiner (Pasqualita), Ruud van Eijk (Bush); Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, Netherland Philharmonic Orchestra / Lawrence Renes
Stage and Video Director: Peter Sellars
Opus Arte OA 0998 D (2 DVD – 168 min 9 s)
***** $$$
This is a very timely release from Opus Arte because it allows us to catch an American epic on the rise. Doctor Atomic was commissioned by the San Francisco Opera and was first staged there in 2005. This performance, a San Francisco/Chicago/Amsterdam co-production, was recorded in June 2007. The debut of Doctor Atomic at New York’s Metropolitan Opera is imminent and an international live cinema relay from that venue has been announced for November 8. There is a tendency to approach contemporary music with caution, if not downright suspicion. Fear not, because this is opera on a grand scale: an intense music drama with cumulative individual and collective emotional impact.

John Adams has set a blank-verse (with poetic augmentation) libretto by Peter Sellars. Most of the text was extracted verbatim from primary sources, which entails the presentation of far more information than is customary on the opera stage. It is a tribute to the collaboration of Adams and Sellars that this material emerges with impressive clarity in operatic English. The overture plays to a sequence of black and white newsreel footage displaying the ravages of total war and fully mobilized societies. The first scene introduces frenzied activity at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, setting of the Manhattan Project (the codeword for the development of the atomic bomb). It features turba-like choral delivery with dancers in support. The principals exchange lengthy pronouncements in the manner of sprechgesang, conveying their concerns about moral issues, the practical application of new science and the terrifying risks at hand on the eve of the first actual test of the weapon. The libretto is a serious challenge, which could not possibly work without the composer’s valiant-for-truth, rhythmically vital music. This first scene is a 27-minute barrage of tension, which dissolves in the harmony of the second. Away from the crowd, in the Oppenheimer bed chamber, the chief scientist and his wife find consolation in a sequence of achingly beautiful and loving songs. The pattern is maintained through both acts with scenes of buzzing ensembles alternating with intimacy and introspection.

Doctor Atomic further demonstrates the pre-eminence of Gerald Finley in the baritone opera repertory. His range and articulation are truly inspiring. Jessica Rivera is equally impressive as Kitty Oppenheimer. The remainder of the cast is fully committed with not a single weak link. Peter Sellars achieves period authenticity to a remarkable degree and in line with his determination to present the unvarnished facts of the situation. No embellishment is required to reenact a supreme drama, which continues to influence all of our lives. Adams and Sellars render great art at the service of humanity.

- Stephen Habington

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