Friday, January 20, 2017
Symphony Hall, Birmingham Works by Grieg and Walton showcased the orchestra’s confidence and feeling for colour, while soloist Truls Mørk gave a memorable reading of Elgar’s cello concerto The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra – whose history goes back over 250 years – is riding high. Their chief conductor, Edward Gardner, has just extended his contract with them until 2020, and their recording of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass is nominated for a Grammy. It’s a buoyant ensemble that Gardner has brought to Britain for a short tour, the variety of its alternating programmes itself testimony to the vibrancy of the relationship.Birmingham is effectively home ground for Gardner; even so, it was a bold move to bring Elgar and Walton to this audience. However, he opened with four movements from the Peer Gynt suite by Bergen’s own Edvard Grieg, and it was in the very finely controlled dynamic shading, notably in Death of Åse, that the musicians showed their mettle. Continue reading...
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
Classical Music For Mindfulness Music is a perfect opportunity to practise mindfulness: to become fully aware of the present moment, opening ourselves to the physical and emotional experience of listening, here and now. ABC Classics has collaborated with mindfulness experts Smiling Mind to develop this collection of calming classical music: perfect both for experienced practitioners of meditation and for those simply looking for a moment of tranquillity to escape from the pressures of the day. Bach, J S: Adagio from Sonata No. 1 for solo violin Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV1007: Prelude Prelude in C major (from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I) Britten: Down by the Salley Gardens Debussy: Clair de Lune (from Suite Bergamasque) Einaudi: I Giorni Glass, P: Opening Grieg: Peer Gynt: Morning Kats-Chernin: Butterflying The Rain Puzzle Marcello, A: Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D minor Nyman: Glooomy Winter (from The Piano) Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel Pari intervallo Price, Jonathan: Rustin Saint-Saëns: Le carnaval des animaux: Le Cygne Satie: Gymnopédie No. 1 Schubert: Ständchen ‘Leise flehen meine Lieder’, D957 No. 4 Skinner, J S: The Cradle Song From the intricate clarity of Bach to the pure stillness of Arvo Pärt and Erik Satie, this album offers a musical journey into the spirit of sound itself. Enjoy!
Hugo Wolf's Das Fest auf Solhaug (1890-91) was written for a Vienna production of Henrik Ibsen's Gildet paa Solhuog (1856). Wolf didn't take kindly to working on commission. "I like the Ibsen play less each day... It is right honestly botched with damned little poetry. I don't know where I shall get the plaster from, with which to clothe in music this home-made carpentry". Admittedly, Wolf was working from a German translation which may not have captured Ibsen's unique idiom. Shorn of the inherent music in Ibsen's syntax, the plot may well be awkward. Margit is unhappily married to rich old Bengt. Margit's really in love with Gudmund, now an exiled outlaw, but returns to Solhaug. Margit plans to poison Bengt so she can marry Gudmund, whom she does not realize has fallen in love with her gentle sister Signe, who has been promised by the King to Knut, a brute. Knut kills Bengt. The King learns that Gudmund wasn't a villain at all and lets him marry Signe. Margit becomes a nun. Wolf's Das Fest auf Solhaug languished in negativity until the original score was edited and published by Kalmus in 1987. The first, and only, recording,released in 2006, with Helmuth Froschauer conducting the WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln,with Günther Lamprecht as speaker. He's wonderful, and acts so well with his voice that he makes the work come alive, in the tradition of German spoken theatre. There are only two solo songs, for Margit and Gudmund, the rest scored for chorus and orchestra. This "new" version of Das Fest auf Solhaug shows that it is much more than the set of three songs from the piece published in 1897. I've long loved the lyrical "Gesang Margits" for piano and soprano. Did Wolf know Grieg's Solvieg's Song (1876)? He despised copying, as true artists do, but perhaps it had a subliminal effect on his sensibilities. The orchestral version we hear here is something else, though. Wolf set the scene for the play ambitiously. The orchestral prelude is grand, even panoramic, rising to a sudden crescendo then suddenly breaking off. On this recording there is descriptive narration, but not dialogue, a good idea since the emphasis here is the music. . Margit's song "Bergkönig ritt durch die Lande weit" is intoned heroically, heralded by trumpets and horns, taking up the challenging thrust of the Prelude. The voice lowers with menacing portent,as if Margrit were a character in The Ring. Perhaps Wolf did intuit the background to the tale,where an anonymous King pulls strings, trading his subjects off as if they were chattels. "Bei Sang und Speil sind wir vereint" sing the chorus: Solhaug is celebrating the anniversary of Margit's marriage to Bengt, but the mood is ferocious,more hunt than party,with large, pounding ostinato and the clash of cymbals,and trumpet calls. Now it is night, and the narrator tells us about Margit mixing poison. Gudmund sings , "Ich führ wohl ber Wasser" The mood remains truculent and upbeat, with a vigorous orchestral interlude, haunted by solo clarinet, perhaps symbolizing sinister intent. Swirling figures,interrupted by savage,sharp chords, then a madly merry dance. The horns blast, and morning comes. And so ends the Fest at Solhaug. Bengt's dead, Knut's in trouble with the King and Margit ends up in a convent. The choir sings in hushed tones, while the orchestra blasts forth in grand coda. Wolf's Das Fest auf Solhaug isn't half bad. We can imagine Wolf gnashing his teeth in exasperation. Perhaps we can feel his impatience. He'd rather be getting on with The Spanish Liederbook than writing mock medieval slush, which may come from the Vienna translation, which fortunately isn't easy to track down.. Which is more than can be said for Hans Pfitzner, whose own Drei Vorspeil zu Henrik Ibsens Das Fest auf Solhaug completes this disc. The first and last Vorspeils are ponderous, taking nearly 20 minutes to say very little. At least Hugo Wolf gives us a merry jape ! The middle Vorspeil, only 5 minutes, is livelier. Perhaps he's depicting a party of sorts. But Ibsen and Wolf had a pretty good idea that the festivities at Solhaug were bluff. Well played, though, even if the music isn't so good. I've been revisiting Das Fest auf Solhaug as another musical version is released, Wilhelm Stenhammer's Gillet på Solhaug). Watch this space!
Minimalism and modernism have thrived here, but look a little deeper for some wonderful curiosities, while the city’s key role in period performance practice, and its world famous orchestra ensure its place as one of Europe’s great musical centresOK, my friends, I accept I may have made an error of judgment by making a musical stopover in Amsterdam. @abkquan puts it very nicely: “Here the problem is the opposite to Vienna: what to include instead of what to exclude.” The Netherlands is a nation of performers – and painters of course – but composers are thin on the ground. It doesn’t have its equivalent of Sibelius, Nielsen or Grieg, a composer who came to symbolise 19th-century nationhood. I feel there is probably a good PhD thesis to be written explaining why. Continue reading...
Ott/Bavarian Radio SO/Salonen (Deutsche Grammophon)“Wonderland” to Alice Sara Ott is the trolls-and-forests world of Grieg, whose Piano Concerto is presented in a live performance alongside studio recordings of 12 miniatures. The concerto may sound small-scale to anyone who thinks of this as a big romantic warhorse; it is elegantly phrased by Ott and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, but the first movement barely catches fire until the solo cadenza, so the grand ending of the finale sounds like the resolution to a more dramatic story than the one we’ve just heard. For a disc exploring a “magical and imaginary world”, in the miniatures there’s a very present quality to both Ott’s playing and the recorded sound; yet she does create a mistier atmosphere in the Nocturne, and Solveig’s Song sounds haunting, even if the Elves’ Dance that follows is a bit stompy. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen comes with a witty scramble to get to the church on time. Continue reading...
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