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Briefly Noted: Sunhae Im's Orpheus Cantatas

available at Amazon
Pergolesi / A. Scarlatti / Clérambault / Rameau, Orfeo, S. Im, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

(released on March 10, 2015)
HMC 902189 | 69'12"
The legend of Orpheus is central to music history, most famously in Monteverdi's opera on the subject. Many other composers have set the story of the most famous musician in Greek mythology, and this debut recital disc by Sunhae Im for Harmonia Mundi brings together four less-known examples, all cantatas. The four texts, half in Italian and the other half in French, take up different parts of the story and often switch between the voice of the narrator and those of various characters, including but not limited to Orpheus.

We have reviewed South Korean soprano Sunhae Im live only once, as part of the last local appearance of Les Arts Florissants, sadly back in 2004. My impression of her voice from recordings -- light, butterfly-fluttery, wilting and slightly acidic at the very top -- was not changed much by this recording, which has some beautiful moments. She can float her voice to pleasing effect in slow arias, like the first of two in Pergolesi's Orfeo, which ends with Orpheus resolving strongly to descend into hell. By contrast, Alessandro Scarlatti's L'Orfeo opens with Orpheus leading Eurydice back to earth's surface (as does Rameau's Orphée), and he sings the plaintive Chi m'invola la cara Euridice when he sees her taken away from him. The gleaming paired violins of the always fine Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin soar in searing suspensions, but Im's voice is not quite so nice at the top. This cantata's gorgeous slow aria Sordo il tronco, though, is exceptional, with its accompaniment of whispering low strings.

Im is at her best in Louis-Nicolas Clérambault's Orphée, a piece well worth hearing, which begins with a slow aria depicting Orpheus's sadness. When Orpheus decides to enter Hell, the narrator encourages him on his way, but the musical centerpiece is a slow aria (marked "Fort lent et fort tendre") with high, tinkly harpsichord and breathy solo traverso, delicate and beautiful playing to help Orpheus charm Pluto's ear. This aria is a worthy successor to the tradition of such pieces for that dramatic confrontation, beginning with Monteverdi's Possente spirto.


For Your Consideration: 'L'homme qu'on aimait trop'

In 1977, Agnès Le Roux disappeared. She was heiress to the family that owned the Palais de la Méditerranée, a luxury hotel-casino on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. She had apparently gone on a trip to Italy for the long Toussaint weekend (around All Saints Day, November 1), with Maurice Agnelet, a man who had been one of her mother's legal advisers and became her lover. Her body was never found, but Agnelet had transferred into his private account all of Le Roux's inheritance, money that he had helped to secure for Le Roux in a deal that helped to force her mother out of the leadership of the Palais. Agnelet has been alternately convicted and exonerated and then convicted again for the next thirty-some years. Another mistress provided him an alibi and then admitted she had lied for him; his own son eventually testified against Agnelet, claiming that his father had told his mother that he had shot Agnès in the head somewhere in Italy; his wife, in turn, denied this claim by her own son. The most recent verdict -- guilty again -- was rendered after French director André Téchiné had shot his latest feature on the story, distributed in the U.S. under the title In the Name of My Daughter.

To no one's surprise, probably, Téchiné, director of Ma saison préférée and Les roseaux sauvages, is not interested in the gory details. In his screenplay, co-written with Cédric Anger and based largely on the book by Agnès's mother and brother, he dissects and slowly, painstakingly examines the relationships among the three principal characters. Catherine Deneuve, a Téchiné favorite, is regal and icy as Renée Le Roux, the mother whose moneyed hauteur distances her from Agnès -- somewhat unconvincingly, she is platinum blonde and with chic cigarette holder in the 1970s portions, graying and walking with a cane in the 2000s, an aging trick that is also a nod to the agelessness of Deneuve herself. Guillaume Canet, now the partner of Marion Cotillard, is smooth and heartless as Agnelet. He is acknowledged, deep into the closing credits, for his part in creating dialogue for his character, the latest example of Téchiné's use of actor improvisation, which he incorporates into the screenplay. Canet's contribution was based in part on his conversations with the real Agnelet: "What is crazy about him is that sometimes you really feel he's guilty," Canet said in one interview, "and sometimes you absolutely don't."

Other Reviews:

New York Times | Los Angeles Times | Washington Post
Christian Science Monitor | A.V.Club
Julien Hirsch's bright-colored cinematography, the latest of several collaborations with Téchiné, drinks in the wealth and luxury of Nice in the 1970s. The story hinges on the performance of Adèle Haenel as Agnès. A young actress who got her start playing a girl with autism in Christophe Ruggia's Les diables, Haenel is inscrutable in many ways, tough as nails one moment and reduced to humiliation as her love for Agnelet drives her to extreme after extreme. Agnès has traveled the world, in a memorable scene demonstrating an ecstatic dance she learned while living in Africa, but she is also fragile and increasingly deluded. For a stronger actress, it would have been the role of a lifetime, and Haenel gets many things right, while relying too much on smoking cigarettes and her wide-eyed beauty for what could have been a more profound exploration of the character. The film's French title translates to "The man they loved too much," which gets at the heart of the film's theme: something about Haenel's performance and the screenplay does not quite explain that. Perhaps it is too much to ask it to do so.

This film is currently playing at Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema.


Ionarts-at-Large: The Vienna Symphony Orchestra's Little New Year’s Concert

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Orchestrated Songs,
C.Abbado / COE / A.S.von Otter, T.Quasthoff

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Orchestrated Songs,
W.A.Albert / NDR RP Hannover/ C.Nylund, K.Mertens

So long as the Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s spring concert takes place in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, it should be possible (if not easy) to sell the place well (if not out). There’s some amount of glitz, television is there, the fare is easily digestible stuff (usually a potpourri; this year it was musically a good deal more ambitious and immediately a tougher sell), there’s little else of quality going on in Vienna at the time, the weather begins to get better but isn’t too great, and if all goes to hell, you can always pick tourists by neck and toss them into the Musikverein because they’re happy just to be inside the famous place.

It was an all-Schubert affair in 2015, with Philippe Jordan himself leading the VSO, and Matthias Goerne taking on song-duties for the orchestrated Schubert-fare. It started out with the D-major Overture D.556, which was a fine-enough warmup, followed by the Rosamunde Ballet Music No.2 (D.797), which came across as heavy-handed, dull, and not as dancy as would be necessary to salvage what’s arguably is second-rate Schubert.

Enter Baloo, the dancing and singing Schubert-bear, Matthias Goerne in person: barrely-chested and lovely and none-too-urbane in “An Sylvia” (in an orchestration of Alexander Schmalcz, world premiered on this occasion as would be three other orchestrations of his that followed). With a melancholic touch, Goerne was Winterreise-like in in “Des Fischers Liebesglück” (Schmalcz) where the solo-flute did well and the solo-viola absolutely, deliciously excelled. Then “Alinde” (Schmalcz), and then “Erlkönig” which had attracted the orchestrating zeal of Max Reger back when, as it seems absolutely made for the orchestral treatment; Goerne did its drama proud.

Then came Symphony No.3, Part 1–as the symphony was split into parts and spliced into the Spring Concert: An unusual approach, but not without interest… and probably more authentic than the “scores-are-sacrosanct-and-don’t-dare-do-anything-but-cough-between-movements” approaches. Especially the Adagio maestoso part of it was slow, not very eventful, good and short, and could have slower still. After the break the second and third movement followed with deliberate delicacy, still on the slow side…. perhaps precisely because the movements were taken more or less singularly. Then more songs (“Tränenregen” from Die Schöne Müllerin, “Abendstern”, and “An die Musik”), the Entr'acte from Rosamunde which was happily unmemorable, and then the finale of the symphony finally with the zip and pizazz that makes early Schubert take off. After the warm applause Goerne rolled out of the wings for a notable encore, which did its part to engender a sense of occasion: Schubert’s Trout, which was particularly charming for the clarinet melodies that bubbled fish-like to the surface. Promising for next year’s VSO Spring Concert, then, in the Konzerthaus and hopefully with the same level of increased musical value. 


Heidi Melton Returns with Strauss

available at Amazon
Schoenberg, Gurrelieder, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, M. Stenz
(Hyperion, 2015)
Markus Stenz, the former Kapellmeister of the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, whom we have reviewed in Europe up to this point, will be Principal Guest Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra beginning next season. His tenure got a jump start with this week's concerts, on a German Romantic theme, heard on Saturday night in the Music Center at Strathmore. In the opener, the overture to Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz, Stenz displayed forceful ideas but not always a clear beat -- at one point, he seemed to mark the beat with lunges of his chest -- that the musicians seemed not always to understand, judging by some ensemble problems. The Romantic contrasts of loud and soft were appropriately dramatic, although the most outrageous coughing was timed perfectly for the softest moment of the piece. Really, people, cough during the loud parts.

The main attraction was Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, marking the return of American dramatic soprano Heidi Melton, who made quite a splash on the BSO's Wagner program two years ago. Melton's German remains beautiful, after training in opera houses in Germany, but her voice, while powerful, is not yet fully reliable at the top of her range. The first high note of the set, the G-flat in Frühling, was on the edge of control and intonation above the staff faltered in places, especially in the first song. The music just did not always seem to be securely in Melton's brain, and worry can lead to vocal uncertainty: while her chest voice was robust and luscious, the top notes could be spotty, like the little sixteenth-note figures up to G or F-sharp in September. Still, when it comes right down to it, much of these songs' impact comes down to the last quartrain of the third song, Beim Schlafengehen, and Melton had the vocal power for her "unfettered soul" to soar freely, as well as the shimmering pianissimo for the final song. The orchestral contributions were all fine, with Stenz holding back the full force of the score at times, and especially fine solos from the concertmaster, Jonathan Carney, the principal horn, and the paired flutes and piccolos of the lark-song at the end. Strained ovations earned a lovely encore, Strauss's song Cäcilie.

Other Reviews:

Simon Chin, Soprano Heidi Melton shows promise in Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs’ program (Washington Post, May 25)

Tim Smith, BSO offers hearty night of German classics with Markus Stenz, Heidi Melton (Baltimore Sun, May 22)
The symphonies of Schumann often leave me disappointed, as did recent performances of the first symphony and the third symphony. The second symphony, though, has a place in my heart, especially its perfectly constructed slow movement, and Stenz knew what to do with the composer's less than successful orchestration, making broad adjustments to the balances to bring out colors hidden by unwise scoring. The development section of the first movement had an urgent, agitated, but soft style, with a beautifully paced pedal point preparing the recapitulation. The scherzo was well drilled, in spite of a rather fast tempo and some oddly mannered distortions of tempo, and the slow movement was ardent and longing, with only the fugato section weirdly etiolated by an artificially soft dynamic. The fourth movement was also quite fast, and Stenz carefully brought out Schumann's reference to the slow movement's theme and the trumpet's octave motif from all the way back in the slow introduction to the first movement. With Schumann like this, there are great hopes for Stenz's time with the orchestra.

Dip Your Ears, No. 194 (Spohr Nonet & Sextet)

available at Amazon
L.Spohr, String Sextet, Nonet,
camerata freden

available at Amazon
L.Spohr, String Sextet, Nonet,
camerata freden
Tacet DVD-Audio

SPOHR String Sextet in C, op.140. Nonet in F, op.31 Camerata Freden TACET 172 (58:22)

Louis Spohr has always had a place in “The Art of the Clarinet” type of compilations and as a pleasant chamber music filler coupled with Brahms, Beethoven, or Schubert. Marco Polo then started a terrific series dedicated to his String Quartets and Quintets that continues to this day. Orfeo and CPO discovered the appeal of Spohr soon thereafter and as of late we have the good people at Hyperion turning their attention to his symphonies.

Spohr can’t, therefore, be said to be a particularly neglected composer, but despite the increasing discography he somehow still manages to stand in the shadow of, among others, Mendelssohn. Every time I hear his music, I want to cry out—lest someone think otherwise—that the reason for that is not to be found in the quality of his work. There is nothing I’ve heard of Spohr yet that was just ‘serviceable’ or ‘competent’, to use two adjectives routinely employed to kill a composer’s output with kindness.

If there is a Fanfare-reader who does not yet know Spohr from his clarinet concertos, chamber works, or perhaps his exceptional opera “Faust”, he or she might do well imagining a continuous line of musical development from Mozart via Spohr to Mendelssohn as if Mozart—Beethoven—Brahms had never happened. There is nothing of the brooding and belabored romanticism of the latter two composers in Spohr’s works which, instead, teem with joyful spirit, luminous but not fluffy; delicate but not flimsy. The skeleton is classical, the meat romantic.

Camerata Freden, the chamber ensemble of the Freden International Music Festival with roving membership, here presents the early Nonet in F (written in 1813, the first to use flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass; predating Onslow’s by over 40 years and Rheinberger’s by 70) and the String Sextet in C, written during and dedicated to the German revolution 1848.

Both works are very easy on the ears— the Sextet a double barreled string trio (like Boccherini’s Sextets) that smoothly skates its classical-romantic course; wind-heavy and bubbly the Nonet. As Colin Anderson rightly said of the Nonet in 31:3 when reviewing the Ensemble 360’s recording: “witty, elegant, and expressive: every bit as good, I suggest, as Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet.” (Although I’d caution against too much comparison of Spohr to Beethoven which might lead to misleading expectations that could be one of the causes of the relative short shrift Spohr has been getting.)

Given how much I like Spohr’s chamber works, I have surprisingly few of the available versions for comparison. For the Nonet, Anderson places the Ensemble 360 slightly ahead of the Gaudier Ensemble on Hyperion. Having heard neither of those, I hold the Consortium Classicum on Orfeo in the highest regards, as I cherish the Villa Musica Ensemble on MDG (receiving “the strongest possible recommendation” by Robert McColley in 25:2). Together with the Camerata Freden they form a classy triptych of which this release has the most precise, transparent sound. The Villa Musica Ensemble (on a different disc, also recommended by Robert McColley, in 28:2) is the main competition in the Sextet, while the New Haydn Quartet (reissued on Naxos) can’t quite match the precision and liveliness of the Camerata Freden players.

First published in Fanfare Magazine


Perchance to Stream: Memorial Day Edition

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

  • Listen to the world premiere of the first symphony of Bruno Mantovani, plus music by Stravinsky and Berio, performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under conductor Pascal Rophé. [France Musique]

  • Alexandre Tharaud joins the Orchestre National de France for Mozart's C major piano concerto, with Semyon Bychkov also conducting Shostakovich's eighth symphony. [France Musique]

  • Jonas Kaufmann, Zeljko Lucic, and Eva-Maria Westbroek star a performance of Giordano's Andrea Chénier, recorded last January at the Royal Opera House in London. [ORF or RTBF]

  • Watch Beethoven's sixth and eighth symphonies, performed by the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris and conductor Philippe Jordan. [ARTE]

  • Chamber music by Ravel, Debussy, and Brahms performed by Emmanuel Pahud and friends at the Cité de la Musique. [France Musique]

  • Daniele Gatti leads a performance of Verdi's Macbeth, starring Roberto Frontali and Susanna Branchini, with the Orchestre National de France and the Chœur de Radio France, recorded at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. [France Musique]

  • The Belcea Quartet plays music of Beethoven, Webern, and Brahms, in a concert recorded this month at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [ORF]

  • It's a Sibelius year: watch Jukka-Pekka Saraste conduct the Helsinki Opera Orchestra in the Finnish composer's symphonic poem Kullervo, which serves as the backdrop to a choreography of the story by Tero Saarinen. [ARTE]

  • Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in the third and fourth symphonies of Sibelius, plus the same composer's violin concerto with Leonidas Kavakos as soloist. [France Musique]

  • More Sibelius from the Vienna Symphony with conductor Olari Elts and cellist Sol Gabetta in Haydn's C major cello concerto, recorded at the Musikverein. [ORF | Part 2]

  • Marc Minkowski leads Les Musiciens du Louvre in two Mozart concerti, with fortepianist Francesco Corti and violinist Thibault Noally as soloists, plus Schubert's ninth symphony, recorded in January at the Salzburg Mozartwoche. [RTBF]

  • Violinist Stefan Jackiw joins the Australian Chamber Orchestra for a concert in Sydney, with music of Mendelssohn, Bottesini, and Wolf. [ABC Classic]

  • To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Geneva joining the Helvetic Confederation, watch Neeme Järvi conduct the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Rossini's overture from Guillaume Tell, plus music by Stravinsky, Ravel, and Frank Martin. [ARTE]

  • From the London Festival of Baroque Music, a performance of Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine by the Choir of Westminster Abbey, led by James O'Donnell. [BBC3]

  • Watch members of Les Arts Florissants perform a children's concert called "Le Voyage de Monsieur Monteverdi," at the Philharmonie de Paris. [Philharmonie de Paris]

  • Listen to early music from the Escorial Codex, performed by La Camera delle Lacrime, Baroque music performed by Les Folies Françoises, and medieval sacred music performed by the vocal ensemble De Caelis. [France Musique]

  • From the Barbican Hall in London, the final concert of the season from Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with music by Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, and Nielsen. [BBC3]

  • Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and tenor Brandon Jovanovich star in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, with James Conlon conducting at the Metropolitan Opera. [ABC Classic]

  • Pianist Imogen Cooper, violinist Henning Kraggerud, and cellist Adrian Brendel perform Schubert piano trios in a concert at St. James's Church in Chipping Campden. [BBC3]

  • Hilary Hahn performs Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien under Cornelius Meister, recorded at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [ORF]

  • The Quatuor Apollon Musagète performs string quartets by Beethoven and Dvorak at the Auditorium du Louvre in Paris. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a new operatic version of Le Petit Prince, composed by Michaël Levinas, recorded last February at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. [France Musique]

  • Music for piano, four hands, by Debussy, Ravel, and Rachmaninov with Jean-Philippe Collard and Michel Beroff at the Lyon Piano Festival. [France Musique]

  • The Choeur de Radio France and Maîtrise de Radio France, directed by Gary Graden and Sofi Jeannin, perform a program of contemporary choral music. [France Musique]

  • From La Folle journée de Nantes, Andris Poga leads the Sinfonia Varsovia in music of Berlioz, Puccini, Chopin, Grieg, and Arturo Marquez. [France Musique]

  • From a concert recorded last year in Barcelona, Jordi Savall leads Le Concert des Nations and the Capella Réial de Catalunya in music Cabanilles, Muffat, Handel, and others. [ORF]

  • Heinz Holliger and violinist Isabelle Faust join the Chor und Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, for music of Schumann, Bartók, and Debussy, recorded last year in Stuttgart. [ORF]

  • Les Paladins, with director Jérôme Correas and soprano Sandrine Piau, perform music by Francoeur, Lully, Rameau, and Grétry, recorded last year at the Opéra de Lausanne. [ORF]

  • Have another listen to the performance of Elgar's oratorio The Kingdom, performed by Andrew Davis, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, BBC National Chorus of Wales, and soloisits Erin Wall, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, and others, recorded at the Proms last July. [ORF]

  • Check out the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, starring Marcelo Alvarez, Eva-Maria Westbroek, and Patricia Racette, with Fabio Luisi at the podium. [ABC Classic]


Koh and Jokubaviciute

Composer Kaija Saariaho

Violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute (listen to her recital at the Freer Gallery of Art in 2004, and read Jens's review) may have played together before. The first time we heard them as a duo, in a concert last night at the Library of Congress, made it clear that, if they are not already, they should become regular collaborators. The revelation was made possible because of a last-minute substitution, as Jokubaviciute was filling in for indisposed pianist Benjamin Hochman, who happens to be Koh's husband. From the very start of Debussy's bittersweet violin sonata, the last piece the composer was able to complete before terminal cancer set in, the sound was set aside from the rest of the concert -- a dulcet, edge-free tone from Koh, supported by Jokubaviciute's evanescent touch on the lacy accompaniment figures in the keyboard part, with snippets of melody in the piano emerging seamlessly. The second movement abounded in playful energy, with a tender middle section and a gorgeous soft ending, unfortunately marred by thoughtless noise in the audience, and the finale, quite Romantic in its excesses, featured glowing low playing from Koh.

As explained by Susan Vita, the Chief of the institution's Music Division, the Library of Congress has been trying to secure a commission from Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, an Ionarts Favorite, for some time. This concert included two of her recent pieces, beginning with a new version of Aure, from 2011, for violin and piano. It is based on a melody from Henri Dutilleux's Shadows of Time, and in this version the two instruments trade fragments contrapuntally, amid clouds of harmonics and other intriguing effects (trills near the bridge, glissandi, among others). It was nicely paired with Ravel's sonata for the same, somewhat rare combination of instruments, from the 1920s, and the basic programming concept, to combine contemporary music with late, forward-sounding Ravel and Debussy made a salient connection.

Here, as throughout the program, intonation problems, leaning mostly toward flatness but also some imprecise attacks on high notes and harmonics, plagued the performance of the cellist, Anssi Karttunen. A longtime favorite collaborator of Saariaho's, Karttunen just had, for whatever reason, an off night, although with some strong moments in Debussy's other late masterpiece, the cello sonata, especially on that soaring melody that rises out of the texture a couple times in the last movement, the most memorable part of the piece.

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, Koh shines in luminous works by Ravel, Debussy and Saariaho (Washington Post, May 25)
The concert ended with local premiere of Saariaho's Light and Matter, first performed last year at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, a meditation on the effects of light for piano trio. Beginning on a rumble in the piano's bass register and on the cello's open C string, the piece builds toward and recedes from amassing of sound into static textures. Shrieks and howls from the strings were answered by the metallic strum of Jokubaviciute's hand directly on the piano's strings, a subtle, shivering sort of sound. Jokubaviciute sagely conducted the piece with the movements of her head and body, her nods occasionally wrongly interpreted by the page turner, requiring the pianist to turn back the page, all without missing anything perceptible. Keening sounds rose out of string bends in violin and cello, and the piano provided much of the driving force, harping on an oscillating figuration of octaves and fifths, until the sound slowly vanished.


Briefly Noted: Veracini's Sonate Accademiche

available at Amazon
F. M. Veracini, Complete Sonate Accademiche, Trio Settecento

(released on May 12, 2015)
Cedille CDR 90000 155 | 186'48"
The versatile American violinist Rachel Barton Pine leads an early music ensemble, Trio Settecento, heard at Dumbarton Oaks in 2011. The latest in the group's series of recordings of mostly 18th-century music for the Cedille label is a complete three-CD set of the Sonate Accademiche by Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768). The twelve sonatas in this set, published as opus 2 in 1744, are a mixture of the sonata da camera and sonata da chiesa varieties, including both dance movements and more serious contrapuntal movements Veracini designated as Capriccios. Veracini's love of counterpoint, noted by Charles Burney among others, makes him an interesting composer to compare to his near-contemporary, J.S. Bach.

Fabio Biondi and Rinaldo Alessandrini have already recorded these works (sample on YouTube -- the inclusion of theorbo on that recording is something missed here), as have the Locatelli Trio. Where Biondi favored a smooth and rhythmically stable style, Barton Pine and her colleagues play just a notch faster in most cases, and with an ear toward a slightly volatile, unpredictable way of playing with the tempo. In a particularly inspired move, she adds Scottish folk fiddle ornamentation to the Scozzese movement of no. 9 and gives a folksy color to other movements based on tunes Veracini likely took from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which he most certainly heard during his travels in Great Britain. Those Capriccio movements are probably the reason behind the identification of op. 2 as sonate accademiche, culminating in the studiously contrapuntal and excessively chromatic twelfth sonata (Passagallo, Capriccio Cromatico with two subjects, Adagio, and Ciaccona). The collection ends with a two-voice canon setting the text of a Latin epigram ("Ut relevet miserum fatum") for violin and cello set close together -- a rather Bach-like musical gesture.


À mon chevet: 'At Last'

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

book cover
Patrick drifted towards Nicholas and Annette, curious to see the outcome of his matchmaking. "Stand by the graveside or the furnace,' he heard Nicholas instructing Annette, 'and repeat these words, "Goodbye, old thing. One of us was bound to die first and I'm delighted it was you!" That's my spiritual practice, and you're welcome to adopt it and put it into your hilarious "spiritual tool box".'

'Your friend is absolutely priceless,' said Annette, seeing Patrick approaching. 'What he doesn't realize is that we live in a loving universe. And it loves you too, Nick,' she assured Nicholas, resting her hand on his recoiling shoulder.

'I've quoted Bibesco before,' snapped Nicholas, 'and I'll quote him again: "To a man of the world, the universe is a suburb".'

'Oh, he's got an answer to everything, hasn't he?' said Annette. 'I expect he'll joke his way into heaven. St. Peter loves a witty man.'

'Does he?' said Nicholas, surprisingly appeased. 'That's the best thing I've heard yet about that bungling social secretary. As if the Supreme Being would consent to spend eternity surrounded by a lot of nuns and paupers and par-boiled missionaries, having his lovely concerts ruined by the rattle of spiritual tool boxes and the screams of the faithful, boasting about their crucifixions! What a relief that an enlightened command has finally reached the concierge at the Pearly Gates: "For Heaven's sake, send Me a conversationalist!" '

-- Edward St. Aubyn, At Last, pp. 15-17
The trend of autobiographical novels -- Elena Ferrante, Karl Ove Knausgaard -- includes the inimitable Patrick Melrose series by Edward St. Aubyn, now available in a complete set including the final book, At Last. It is typical of the series in that it takes place on one single, rather horrid day in the narrator's life, the funeral of his mother. Amid the encounters of the parts of his mother's sad life, many memories of other days flood into the story, in the minds and voices of several characters. Readers who treasure bitchy repartee will be relieved to know that the incorrigible character of Nicholas Pratt has a final turn in the spotlight. Here, he spars with Annette, the irrepressibly happy New Age apostle of the charlatans who trick Patrick's mother into giving them her family house in southern France.


Ernest Chausson's 'Le Roi Arthus'

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) wrote only one opera, Le Roi Arthus, which received a rare performance as one of the centerpieces of the Opéra de Paris's season. The promise of the company's publicity photo, showing the ruins of the medieval Abbey of Glastonbury, where King Arthur is supposedly buried, shrouded in fog, was not borne out in the staging by Graham Vick. Marie-Aude Roux called it a "Scottish shower," running both cold and hot, in her review (Le Roi Arthus n’entrera pas dans la légende, May 19) for Le Monde (my translation):

[Vick] preferred to distance his approach and do without the Arthurian legend as much as he could. An unusual way of serving up a little-known work (even if Montpellier, in 1997, and Strasbourg, in 2014, presented staged versions of it), in any case never staged in Paris, where only a concert version was performed on Radiodiffusion française in 1949, then on Radio France in 1981. The duty of presenting the work for its baptism at the Opéra Bastille with, as godparent, a visual world that resonates with the music, should have prevailed.

Instead of which, we had to suffer through the sets of a model kit universe, with its snippets of buildings, its 1970s furniture, the pragmatic ugliness of odd costumes taken directly from a Ken Loach film on the homeless. King Arthur's half-built mobile home is dismantled bit by bit as his Arthurian ideal -- the spiritual harmony of the Knights of the Round Table -- crumbles and is destroyed, undermined by internal jealousies and the adulterous love of Queen Guinevere and Lancelot. The only relics: a circle of ropes held up by swords, a pathetic (low) round table, the silhouette of a castle tower at the top of a green hill (a subtle Wagnerian allusion?). Nothing in any case that takes into account the musical magic of Chausson, the great symphonist, whose abundant, refined, sensual orchestration clothes a harmonic language of fluid and elegant complexity, reinforced by the almost syllabic prosody of the accompanied recitative.
An excerpt of this beautiful score is embedded above. Chausson never got to hear the first performance, in 1903 in Brussels, because he died in a freak fall from a bicycle before it happened. Philippe Jordan conducts, drawing out the French flavors of this Wagner-influenced score, and Roberto Alagna, Thomas Hampson, and Sophie Koch star. Performance continue through June 14, with a broadcast on France Musique on June 6, so we will hopefully get the chance to hear it in rebroadcast.


How to Say Farewell to Aurélie Dupont

We wrote about Paris étoile Aurélie Dupont in 2012, the last time that the Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris came to the Kennedy Center. Shame on you if you missed it, because the French ballerina, 42, is set to retire from dancing this week, at least at the Garnier, going out on a performance of Kenneth MacMillan's L'Histoire de Manon, which will be filmed by Cédric Klapish and shown later in movie theaters. Ariane Bavelier has an appreciation (Aurélie Dupont, comment lui dire adieu?, May 18) for Le Figaro (my translation):

Aurélie justifies her choice by saying that dancing for her is about telling stories with gestures measured note for note. For her farewell, she wanted to dance with Hervé Moreau. Since she has had Manuel Legris for a partner, from when she was just a soloist in her debut, the search for a perfect match has always obsessed here. With Legris, as with Hervé Moreau, a look was enough, movements spontaneously were in dialogue. "I wanted to leave with Hervé: the work with him is always delicate, musical, stunning. But he is hurt, and I did not feel able to dance with someone from the company. So I asked Roberto Bolle, the star of La Scala. He is very demanding and he is 40 years old: it's a beautiful artistic balance," she says. At one time, Aurélie had dreamed of having Manuel Legris, today director of the Vienna State Ballet, as M. GM and Jérémie Bélingard, her husband, as Lescaut. But he will be in the hall to reassure their two sons, who are 4 and 7, for whom the ballet seems rather long, especially when things go bad for their mother.
Although she will not dance with the company anymore, she has plans to dance in other places, and Benjamin Millepied has given her a new role in Paris, naming her Maître de Ballet.


'Israel in Egypt' at National Presbyterian

available at Amazon
Handel, Israel in Egypt, Trinity Wall Street, J. Wachner
(Musica Omnia, 2012)
Charles T. Downey, Washington Chorus performance was like an ocean liner going up C&O Canal (Washington Post, May 18)
Handel performed his oratorios with relatively small orchestras and choirs. Later audiences heard these works with massive forces playing and singing, an anachronism that the historically informed performance movement stripped away by researching the practices in Handel’s lifetime. Although both approaches can work musically, it makes little sense to mix a small orchestra of period instruments with a nearly 200-voice choir, as the Washington Chorus did in its performance of Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” on Sunday at the National Presbyterian Church... [Continue reading]
Washington Chorus
Handel, Israel in Egypt
National Presbyterian Church


Perchance to Stream: Graduation Edition

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

  • Watch the production of Szymanowski's Król Roger from London's Royal Opera House. [ARTE]

  • Cecilia Bartoli and Andreas Scholl star in a production of Handel's Giulio Cesar in Egitto, with Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico, from the Salzburg Pentecost Festival. [ARTE]

  • The Orchestre National de France and Choeur de Radio France perform Verdi's Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio under Carlo Rizzi at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a performance of Darius Milhaud's opera La mère coupable, starring Markus Butter, Mireille Delunsch, and Angelika Kirchschlager, with the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien and conductor Leo Hussain at the Theater an der Wien earlier this month. [ORF]

  • Marc Minkowski conducts Les Musiciens du Louvre--Grenoble in a performance of Rameau's Les Boréades, recorded last year at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. [RTBF]

  • From the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, listen to a performance of Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, recorded on April 25, with Paolo Arrivabeni conducting a cast starring Anne-Catherine Gillet (Leïla), Marc Laho (Nadir), and Lionel Lhote (Zurga). [RTBF]

  • Daniel Barenboim leads a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio at La Scala, starring Anja Kampe and Klaus Florian Vogt, recorded in Milan last year. [Radio Clásica]

  • Sandrine Piau and Marie-Nicole Lemieux perform duos by Handel, with Ricardo Minasi and Il Pomo d’Oro. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a performance of Solaris, the new opera by Dai Fujikura (b. 1977) on a libretto by Saburo Teshigawara, based on the novel by Stanislas Lem, recorded in March at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris), with the Ensemble Intercontemporain and others. [France Musique]


Filharmonia Szczecińska

The European Union's architectural award, given by the Mies van der Rohe Foundation, went earlier this week to the Filharmonia Szczecińska, the symphonic hall in the Polish city of Szczecin (shown above), created by the Italo-Spanish firm Barozzi Veiga. Covered in glass that is all white and translucent, it has the look of an ice cathedral or, as it struck me the first time, Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Jean-Jacques Larrochelle has a report on the hall (Le prix Mies van der Rohe attribué à la Filharmonia Szczecinska, May 9) for Le Monde (my translation):

The building, completed in 2014 after three years of construction, offers 13,000 square meters of functional space. It includes a 1,000-seat concert hall, a hall for chamber music that seats 200, a multipurpose space used for exhibits and conferences, and a large entry hall. Its cost: 30 million euros.

Built at the intersection of the historical site of the Konzerthaus, an old neighborhood bombed during the Second World War, then renconstructed, the Filharmonia Szczecinska is made up of vertical façades capped with pointed gables. Built up against the headquarters of the Wojewodzka police, made of brick and stone, it generously faces out on green spaces. The architects Barozzi and Veiga wanted to give it "a luminous element." The glass façade, illuminated from the inside by a stiff grill, offers a broad range of color scenarios that play with the architecture, especially at night. During the day, as shown in photographs, the contrast is just as striking between the stark whiteness of the new building and the lackluster environment that surrounds it.
Larrochelle also points that, although singular, the building does not stand out from its surrounding in other ways: its height is in keeping with its surroundings, for example. The architects even speak about its austerity, at least on the outside, because the interior is more colorful and varied.


Kavakos on the Podium and Beside It

available at Amazon
Sibelius, Pelléas et Mélisande (original version), Lahti Symphony Orchestra, O. Vänskä
(BIS, 1999)
Charles T. Downey, Kavakos ends two-week NSO residency by taking up the baton (Washington Post, May 15)
Leonidas Kavakos came to the end of a two-week residency with the National Symphony Orchestra by showing a third facet of his musical personality. After shining as a soloist in Sibelius’s violin concerto last week, he gave what was reportedly an excellent solo recital earlier this week with Christoph Eschenbach at the piano. As heard last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Kavakos concluded by taking the podium for his conducting debut with the orchestra.

Most conductors begin their musical lives playing an instrument, switching later to conducting... [Continue reading]
National Symphony Orchestra
With Leonidas Kavakos, violinist and conductor
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Robert Battey, Kavakos and Eschenbach combine to put on an inspired recital (Washington Post, May 13)

Charles T. Downey, Second Opinion: Eschenbach's Mahler 5 (Ionarts, May 9)

---, A cohesive-sounding conductorless New Century Chamber Orchestra at Strathmore (Washington Post, February 1, 2013)

---, Café Zimmermann (Ionarts, November 5, 2007)


Thierry Escaich @ Kennedy Center

available at Amazon
T. Escaich, Improvisations [live]
(Accord, 2008)
Charles T. Downey, Rubenstein Family Organ Recital Series ends second season with success (Washington Post, May 15)
The Rubenstein Family Organ Recital Series, hosted by the National Symphony Orchestra in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, has come to the end of its second season with admirable success. Once again on Wednesday night, for a recital by French organist Thierry Escaich, a crowd far larger than is generally associated with this specialized instrument showed up, stayed, and was enthusiastic.

As performer, Escaich was daring and brash in choice of tempo and unpredictable rubato... [Continue reading]
Thierry Escaich, organ
Rubenstein Family Organ Recital Series
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

There was not room in the review to mention that Escaich's encore was another improvisation. Some listeners may be wondering why the acoustical canopy was not raised out of the way, so as not to block the view or sound of the full organ. The NSO Press Office gave us the following response: "Although the canopy installation and its mechanisms were up-to-the minute when they were installed, that was in 1997, so the canopy is not terribly easy to adjust. It’s even more complicated when you factor in the other things going on in the hall for a given week. In this case, the hall has NSO concerts and rehearsals all week, and we have a microphone set-up in place for recording the NSO concerts, which means that a great deal of tech time would have been involved with the multiple canopy adjustments and the microphone strike and re-hang, during which the stage would not be accessible for anything else. We are looking at ways canopy adjustments might be implemented in the future."

Charles T. Downey, Et ecce terrae motus factus est (Ionarts, April 15, 2007)

Michael Lodico, Thierry Escaich at the National Shrine (Ionarts, April 17, 2007)

Iveta Apkalna (May 21, 2014)
Paul Jacobs (February 7, 2014)
Cameron Carpenter (October 18, 2013)