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Edvard Grieg

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Classical iconoclast

March 11

Benjamin Appl Heimat - ideas and identity

Classical iconoclast Benjamin Appl and James Baillieu Heimat new from Sony  In the booklet notes, Appl reflects on arriving in London in 2010 to study at the Guildhall School of Music "I felt", he writes in the booklet "not only a sense of freedom but also a sense of uncertainity"  He could have remained in Germany,  the"home"of Lieder, but chose to adapt to a new environment in which he had to find his bearings afresh   On graduation, Appl became part of the BBC Young Generation Artists Program whose extensive coverage has launched many careers.  The eclectic mix of Lieder and English Song on this disc reflects Appl's background, but there's a lot more to this programme, which is very well thought through and deeply satisfying. The songs are arranged in eight sections - Wurzeln (Roots), Räume (Locations), Menschen (People), Unterwegs (On the road), Sensucht (Yearning) and Grenzenlos (Without borders), framed by a Prologue (Schubert's Seligkeit D433  and an Epilogue (Grieg's An das Vaterland op58/2 and Ein Träum 0p 48/6.  This gives cohesive structure, and brings out the logic in the programme.  An individual Winterreise, a journey of self discovery.  Much more rewarding than a random selection !  Appl and Baillieu set out "alone" but traverse different, diverse threads of European art song. Thus the section Wurzeln starts with Max Reger Das Kindes Gebet op 76/22, where the piano tinkles, as,might a child's toy piano.and ends with Brahms' Wegenlied op 49/4., the world's most loved lullaby, which millions of children know even before they learn formal language. Appl mentions the death of two of his grandparents while he was away from home,which gives these familiar songs personal import, with which we can all identify.  Franz Schreker's  Waldeinsamkeit might not be quite so wellnown, but Appl might have included it because the text, a German translation of a Danish poem by Jens Peter Jacobsen, predicates on the phrase "Wir müssen, Geliebteste, leise hinschreiten, ich und du". On a beautiful moonlit night in the woods,the lovers cannot tarry but must move on. Schreker was 19 when he write this song, which may perhaps be significant. And thus, we move on. Romanticism was  forward-thinking, always concerned with wanderers, seeking  new horizons : the journey as important as the destination.  Appl and Baillieu hose two of Shubert's many "wanderer" songs, Drang in die Ferne D 770 and Der Wander an den Mond D870, but pointedly matched them with Adolf Strauss  Ich weiß bestimmt, ich werd' dich weidersehen.   Fate has torn the lovers apart, but the underlying mood is overlaid with deceptive optimism   "I am certain that I will see you again, and hold you in my arms". The song is laconic, a Werimar-infused  pop song. But this Strauss wasn't Richard or Johann but Adolf Strauss (1902-1944), imprisoned at Theresienstadt, killed in Auschwitz. Think on that  This is what happens when national pride turns to bigotry.  At least Germans  deal with such things in a way many Brits cannot.  This colours the Sensucht in Schubert's Das Heimweh D456 and DerWanderer D489 with poignant depth.  "Ich wandle still, bin wenig froh, und ier fragt der Seufzer wo  Im Gesiterhauch tönt's mir zurück; "Dort, wo du nicht bist, dort is ds Glück". Perhaps the very concept of unchanging Heimat is illusion.  Appl and Baillieu made the point still further with Hyde Park, by Francis Poulenc, never François, setting a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire which isn't  about London at all, followed by Benjamin Britten's mock Tudor version of Greensleeves. Another brilliant pairing: Ralph Vaughan Williams Silent Noon with Henry Bishop Home sweet Home, the former a masterpiece the latter sentimental tosh, but Appland Baillieu perform them with finesse.  I love hearing them done with a slight German accent, a reminder that the world is not all Anglo and that music is universal.  This proved an excellent introduction to Peter Warlock's My own country (1927) about an imaginary homeland, which once reached, is a place to lie down and dream "forever and all". John Ireland's If there were dreams to sell continued the dream meme.pointedly, though, dreams can't be "bought" like physical commodities.  Appl and Baillieu completed the set with two songs by Edvard Grieg, whose music shaped national identity and led to Norwegian independence.   Is Heimat a state of mind ? In the last Grieg song (to a poem by a German) "Dort ward die Wirklichkeit zumTraum, Dort ward der Traum zur Wirklichkeit !". Appl and Baillieu's Heimat follows on from their  Stunde, Tage, Ewigeieten, settings of Heine, from Champs Hill Records (reviewed here) which could become a sought after collector's item.  Appl's voice is a joy to listen to, but I hope he'll develop and take more risks. He's very good, and I think he can do it.  At times, he sounds too much like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with whom he studied briefly.  But no man can be a master until he finds himself first, and his own "Heimat". Especially in a genre like Lieder which celebrates freedom and individuality. 

Guardian

March 9

Heimat: Benjamin Appl CD review – impressive, poignant, finely judged performance

Appl/Baillieu (Sony)Heimat – that not-quite-translatable German term encompassing rootedness, longing and belonging – is the subject of the German-born, UK-based baritone Benjamin Appl’s first major-label disc. It’s weighted towards German song but also includes several from Appl’s adopted home, as well as Grieg and Poulenc. His Schubert, Brahms and Wolf are impressive, thanks partly to James Baillieu’s finely judged piano playing, even if Brahms’s Lullaby sounds a touch overegged in Appl’s beautifully produced diction. Nothing, though, is as poignant as a gorgeous, wistful little popular song by Adolf Strauss, written in Terezín days before he was sent to Auschwitz and his death. One occasionally wants more depth of colour in Appl’s voice, but the climax of Richard Strauss’s Allerseelen shows strength in reserve. Appl was mentored by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and while it’s a bit early to be naming him as successor to that great singer, as some are doing, this disc shows great potential. Continue reading...




My Classical Notes

February 13

Olga Kern: SF Concert Review, 02/12/2017

I attended a concert by pianist Olga Kern in San Francisco on Sunday afternoon, 02/12/2017. I had never heard her in a live performance before, and I knew that she shared the first prize at the Van Cliburn competition in 2001. As such, I knew that I was in for a treat. Ms. Kern has an amazing stage presence. She appeared in a gorgeous full-length gown, and she was welcomed by a large audience. Many of the attendees were members of San Francisco’s Russian community. Ms. Kern’s strong point is that she is what I call a “Bravura Pianist”. She is a powerful performer, and selections that feature a lot of Fortissimos are seemingly composed for her! Olga Kern’s program began with three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. I enjoyed the second of these best, because it was more contemplative, and it had fewer long runs. It was easier for me to listen for the spaces between the notes. The featured selection during the first half of the concert was Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. While Ms. Kern’s playing was filled with the great emotion in this music, I missed hearing any genuine pianissimos. For me, the dynamics that I heard were mostly mezzo Forte and Fortissimo. Even in the second movement, I found the quiet passages to be too loud, and I sat upstairs, and not on the main floor. The second half of the concert started with a contemporary composition by Russian composer Boris Frenksteyn. I liked this piece a lot, particularly the homage to Grieg. The technical aspects of Schumann’s Kinderszenen were very good. Personally, I was looking for slightly longer pauses between the scenes, and also I would have enjoyed dynamics that were quieter. I admit that I am not a fan of the music of Franz Liszt, so I was not amused by the Reminiscences of Don Juan. I found this music to be really shallow, other than the familiar Mozart themes from his opera. I look forward to another concert by Ms. Kern, in particular if the next one contains more music by Russian composers.



Tribuna musical

January 9

Great piano recital and closing concerts of the Phil and the National Symphony

By the time to read this the season will be over. So here are the parting shots divided in two articles each covering five events. A Monday benefit concert provided the unexpected pleasure of witnessing a piano recital by one of the remaining great veterans: the Brazilian Nelson Freire, an old friend of this theatre, in his middle seventies still a redoubtable virtuoso of magnificent technique and style. Presented by Dar Cultura, Fundación de Acción Social de Jabad, Freire gave a masterclass, so to speak, in his traversals of two fundamental Nineteenth Century Sonatas: Brahms´ Third, Op.5, and Chopin´s Second, Op.58. The Sonatas were played with scrupulous respect for the composers´ indications, readings of marvelous continuity, tonal beauty and control, which revealed the transcendent quality of both composers at their best. Before Brahms, some Bach (an Organ Prelude) arranged by Siloti; and before Chopin, Freire´s ideal way with the music of Villalobos: the beautiful Prelude from Bachianas Brasileiras Nº4 and three pieces from "A prole do bebé" ("The baby´s family"). Encores: a lovely performance of an especially expressive Chopin Mazurka (Op.17/4) and a brilliant one of Grieg´s "Wedding Day in Troldhaugen", one of his most joyous pieces (he lived there). The penultimate concert (Nº 14) of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic was one of the best. We had the revelation of a talented conductor, Carl St Clair, and the best Argentine pianist of his generation, Nelson Goerner, playing Tchaikovsky´s First concerto with amazing firmness. St Clair is a Texan disciple of Bernstein and in his early sixties (I believe) he conducts with the intensity and concentration of his mentor. His career has had two very different high points: Principal Conductor in Weimar and in Berlin´s Komische Oper; and for twenty years the PC of the Pacific Symphony; plus guest conductor with a host of first-rank orchestras. And he has recorded all the Villalobos symphonies. He started with what may be a local première, Bernstein´s "Slava!", subtitled "a political overture", a 4-minute dazzling homage to the composer´s great friend nicknamed Slava, cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, revered here in both capacities. Why political? Because his being named PC of Washington´s National Symphony was a way to recognize both his musical talent and courageous anti-Stalin attitude; and at the time the Cold War was still on. St Clair made the Phil sound like a top rank USA orchestra. Goerner, as unassuming and non-charismatic as ever, played a supervirtuoso concert with such aplomb and exactness that one could only hear open-mouthed at such a display, always very musical; in some passages the only thing lacking for perfection was the mercurial hobgoblin touch of Argerich. And St Clair galvanizing the Phil to offer Goerner the right give-and-take and rhythmic strength he needed to shine as he did. The encore was a beautiful performance of Chopin´s Nocturne Nº15, Op.55/1. St Clair talked to the audience after the interval, an impassioned defense of Shostakovich´s Tenth Symphony as the expression of his pent-up suffering during the Stalin years. And the conductor then proceeded to prove it with an enormously concentrated and beautifully played performance of what is arguably the composer´s most important symphony. The impact of this great work in St Clair´s reading was one of the great moments of the year. He should come back. An unfortunate medical delay allowed me to hear only the second part of Leonid Grin´s concert with the Phil (last of the season, Nº 15). So I missed Weber´s "Oberon" Overture and Tchaikovsky´s Concerto with the Phil´s concertino Pablo Saraví, but I could hear a thrilling interpretation of the best Glazunov Symphony, Nº 5 (1895), warm, melodic and admirably structured music. Grin is Ukrainian, a disciple of Kyril Kondrashin, now in his early sixties. He has held posts at Saarbrücken, Tampere (Finland), San José Symphony (California) and currently at Santiago de Chile. Two decades ago he visited the Phil repeatedly. His solid métier and natural empathy with the Russian repertoire provided an exhilarating ending to the symphonic year. The special interest of the National Symphony´s concert at the Blue Whale conducted by Christian Baldini was the inclusion of essential Sibelius: his last Symphony, Nº7 (1925), rarely done here; just one vast movement of consumate organic cohesion dominated by an unforgettable trombone theme, it crowns the career of the most eminent Nordic symphonist. After good performances of two standards (Beethoven´s Violin Concerto with the National´s concertino Luis Roggero and Sibelius´ "Finland"), Baldini showed his insight and fine technique in the Seventh, abetted by a great trombone player and a responsive orchestra. The final concert of the National Symphony was conducted by the Chilean Francisco Rettig, much appreciated as a Mahlerian. He closed the season with some of Mahler´s extraordinary Lieder with orchestra, certainly the best in history. The orchestral work and Rettig´s sensitive conducting gave much pleasure, but alas, the baritone Luciano Garay showed a startling decline of his vocal means both in the wonderful "Songs of a wayfarer" ("Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen") and in the songs allotted to him in the endlessly varied "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" ("The magic horn of youth"). Mezzo Alejandra Malvino was her reliable, musicianly self both in her participation in "DKW" and in the "Rückert Songs" that end with a marvel, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ("I have retired from the World"), though more volume came amiss at several points. A sour note: the unacceptable policies of having no comments on the hand programme and even worse, no subtitles; this is the CCK´s fault, not the NS´, and I hope it is revised next year. For Buenos Aires Herald

Edvard Grieg
(1843 – 1907)

Edvard Grieg (15 June 1843 – 4 September 1907) was a Norwegian composer and pianist who composed in the Romantic period. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt (which includes Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King), and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.



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