Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids


For Your Consideration: 'A Master Builder'

Wallace Shawn (Master Builder Solness) and Lisa Joyce (Hilde) in A Master Builder

Jonathan Demme seems to be the new Louis Malle, in the sense that he has directed the latest collaboration of Wallace Shawn and André Gregory. The costars of My Dinner with André and Vanya on 42nd Street, both directed by Malle, are reunited in A Master Builder, Demme's new film adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play Bygmester Solness (Master Builder Solness). The screenplay credit goes to Shawn, although the film is based on a stage production of the play created by Gregory, and the changes to the structure of the play are significant. Demme, who has not made a good feature movie since Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia in the 1990s, has directed an earnest and sometimes surprising version of this play, with a twist that transforms the plot from one about an old man ruined by a seductive woman to one about an old man who is saved by one (watch out for spoilers after the jump).

Shawn plays Halvard Solness, a highly regarded architect whose life is coming apart, as a mostly vile and petty egotist, blinded to anyone's concerns but his own. Everything in his life has gone wrong, ever since a fire burned down his wife's family home, in a way killing their three-week-old twin sons. At the same time, the tragedy boosted his career, for which Solness feels he is being punished: "I am being ground down into the dirt," he says at one point, "overpowered by guilt." He is cruel to his ailing colleague, Brovik (played with painful sincerity by Gregory), and his son who aspires to be an architect, keeping the son and his fiancée, with whom he is carrying on a not-so-secret affair, under his thumb. Into this situation comes a young woman, Hilde, who is a stand-in for the older Ibsen's infatuations with young women late in his life. She confronts Solness with his past, when he designed a building in her village and, at a celebration for the opening, treated her, then only a young girl, in a way that we might now describe as molestation.


Ask the Académie Française

No one would likely argue that the French do not love their language. The Académie Française, appointed as guardians over the French language, opened a Web site in 2001, called Dire, ne pas dire, where anyone who can surf the Internet can pose a grammar or vocabulary question. The Web site was so successful that the Académie Française chose two hundred-some of the best questions and published them, along with the official responses, in a book of the same title published by Editions Philippe Rey, as reported in an article ("Dire, ne pas dire" : quand l'Académie française répond aux internautes, September 18) in Le point (my tranlsation):
The book also contains, for example, the origin of the expressions "C'est du gâteau" and "C'est pas de la tarte." In effect, rather than being a policeman of the language, the Académie française, founded by Richelieu in 1635, reminds us that it is also attentive to the need for the language's enrichment and for the struggle against the impoverishment of vocabulary.
The most recent entry on the Web site as of this writing (Cela ressort de mes attributions, September 9) sorts out a puzzler, the two verbs ressortir and ressortir, which are identical in the infinitive but are conjugated differently because they come from different etymological sources. One means to leave a place shortly after having entered it, which is conjugated irregularly like sortir, and the other means to spring from, which is conjugated regularly as an -ir verb. The former verb takes the preposition "de," while the latter takes the preposition "à." Other recent entries concern the distinction of luxuriant from luxurieux, the archaic word mésaise (as used in the works of Chrétien de Troyes), and of course the proscription of English words (le short list, spoiler) when there are perfectly good French words to use instead. E-mail questions and official responses run in the right column of the site, under the words "Courrier des internautes." Great -- yet another way for me to waste valuable time on my obsessions.


Paris's Delamain Bookstore Safe for Now

One of the delights of living in Paris was its booksellers, from the bouquinistes in their stalls along the Seine to the librairies in more fixed stores, especially those in the university quarter. One of the oldest and most famous of Paris's bookstores, the Librairie Delamain, is located in the Hôtel du Louvre, across the street from the Comédie Française. The rents of the neighborhood, the 1er arrondissement, are on the rise, and the owner of the store's building, a Qatari holding company, was threatening to evict tenants who could not pay the higher rents. Even in France, where the book is still idolized, bookstores are losing money to their online counterparts -- would there soon be a day where the Delamain was not selling books on the Rue Saint-Honoré?

Good news is found in an article (Librairie Delamain: des nouvelles rassurantes, September 17) by Pierre Adrian in Le Figaro. Vincent Monadé, president of the Centre national du livre (CNL), got involved and recently announced that the Qatari owners had agreed to take into account "the specific activity of its tenant, as well as the length of time it has occupied the location" when it considers the matter of rent. The CNL considers the Delamain a «librairie de référence», and the store already receives subventions to help pay its rent. Leading cultural luminaries came out in answer to the call to convince the Qatari company to reconsider its decision, and it has apparently worked.


Briefly Noted: Gauvin's Mozart Arias

available at Amazon
Mozart, Opera and Concert Arias, K. Gauvin, Les Violins du Roy, B. Labadie

(released on March 25, 2014)
Atma ACD22636 | 63 min
After the most recent local concert by the Violons du Roy, last year at Strathmore, I was ready to declare the Québec-based group the best historically informed performance ensemble in North America. The group has a long history with Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin, who toured with them here in 2005, a collaboration featured again on this recent release devoted to concert and opera arias by Mozart. My opinion of Gauvin's voice has not changed much since that 2005 concert: she continues to sound at her best here when a slow, sustained tone is called for, especially gorgeous at piano dynamics. In that category is the striking "Ch'io mi scordi di te," a lengthy concert aria with a second solo part for pianoforte, played here with grace by Benedetto Lupo, as well as "Non più di fiori," Vitellia's gorgeous slow aria from La Clemenza di Tito, with a solo part for basset horn, played by André Moisan. Gauvin's feisty character comes through in other ways in the faster pieces, even in the few moments where her voice is not perfectly suited. Music director Bernard Labadie also leads crisp performances of two lesser-known Mozart overtures.


Brian Ganz @ JCCGW

The following article is more of an appreciation than a review, since the concert in question was presented at a venue for which the author also writes program notes. The reader is thus notified of the possible conflict of interest.

available at Amazon
Chopin, Preludes, B. Ganz
Any musician who makes it to the final round of a major competition has talent and training. As the saying goes, the winner of such a competition is often the one who has the least faults, but perhaps not the greatest virtue. There are exceptions among competition winners, to be sure, but sometimes further down the prize list are players who may go on to greater achievements, if they can manage to find their way to regular audiences. One such musician is pianist Brian Ganz, who took third prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1991, the year that Frank Braley won and Alexander Melnikov claimed fifth prize. Ganz has become familiar to Washington audiences, especially since an acclaimed series of concerts at Strathmore, still ongoing, in which he is playing the complete works of Chopin. After many trusted ears have directed me to Ganz's playing, I finally had the chance to hear him in person on Sunday night, when he played a recital of music by Beethoven and Debussy at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.

Ganz still has the impeccable hands of a competitive pianist, taking daring tempi in the outer movements of the first Beethoven sonata, the "Pathétique" (C minor, op. 13) and with absolute clarity down to the tiniest note. The surface perfection, though, was not the source of the performance's appeal, as Ganz told a story with the score, one of suffering in the Grave section of the first movement, balanced by a revolutionary fervor in the contrasting Allegro, an elegiac lyricism in the famous slow movement, caressing unusual harmonies and melodic turns, and a crisp, even merciless finale. It was in the other Beethoven sonata, the always surprising op. 109, that Ganz made his mark, with the serene main theme of the first movement unbalanced by parenthetical outbursts, a feeling matched in the mercurial middle movement. The sublime concluding variations, perhaps the composer's greatest achievement in this form that obsessed him in his final years, elicited from Ganz a riot of ideas, each one standing on its own and yet part of a continuous narrative.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Pianist Brian Ganz’s fresh take on Debussy, Beethoven (Washington Post, September 16)
Ganz took a risk with the Debussy pieces on the program, with which he took his time, exploring meticulously subtle ranges of color and dynamics in a way that put some listeners at the edge of somnolence. Book 1 of Images featured soft, sighing exhalations of sound in Reflets dans l'eau, with brilliant cascades of the right hand, and a sensual delight in the gentle dance rhythms of the Hommage à Rameau. Ganz's emphasis on motoric, even savage sounds in Mouvement revealed Debussy's influence on Stravinsky. Three of the most familiar preludes from Debussy's first book sparked Ganz's gift for story-telling, and L'Isle Joyeuse made for an exuberant conclusion, after which came a single Chopin nightcap, the laconic A major prelude from op. 28, offered as a "goodnight kiss."


Perchance to Stream: End of Summer Edition

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

  • Mezzo-soprano Béatrice Uria-Monzon joins the Vienna Singverein and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, under conductor Myung-Whun Chung, for music by Messiaen and Rossini. [France Musique]

  • Robert Abbado conducts a performance of Donizetti's La Favorite, starring Elina Garanca and Juan Diego Flórez, recorded last month at the Salzburg Festival. [BR-Klassik]

  • Watch many performances of the semifinal and final rounds from the ARD Music Competition -- this year including wind quintet, cello, piano, and percussion. [BR-Klassik]

  • Listen to music by Berg and Mahler with Daniele Gatti leading the Orchestre National de France, joined by violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, and tenor Stephen Gould. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a selection of motets made for the royal convents in France, by Nivers, Du Mont, and others, performed by the Ensemble Correspondances at the Abbaye de Royaumont. [France Musique]

  • Pianist Igor Levit plays a recital of music by Beethoven, recorded last month at the Schubertiade Schwarzenberg. [ORF]

  • From the Haydn Festival in Esterhazy, Adam Fischer leads the Österreichisch-Ungarischen Haydn Philharmonie in a performance of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with Rainer Honeck and Veronika Hagen. [ORF]

  • Alan Gilbert conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No. 3. [BBC Proms]

  • A concert from the Innsbruck Early Music Festival, with the Arnold Schoenberg Chor performing Bach motets. [ORF]

  • Listen to the opening concert of the Brucknerfest in Linz, with Dennis Russell Davies conducting the Bruckner Orchestra Linz in music of Ravel and Bruckner, with pianist Fazil Say. [ORF]

  • The TScottish Chamber Orchestra, under conductor Ben Gernon, performs music by Peter Maxwell Davies. [BBC Proms]

  • Eivind Aadland leads a concert by the Oslo Philharmonic, with music by Vieuxtemps, Schumann, and Christian Sinding, with violist Eivind Holtsmark Ringstad as soloist. [RTBF]

  • The debut of Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski at the Schubertiade Schwarzenberg, in music of Grieg, Schubert, and others, recorded last month. [ORF]

  • Franz Welser-Möst conducts the Cleveland Orchestra in music of Widmann and Brahms at the Proms. [Part 1 | Part 2]

  • Leonard Slatkin leads the Orchestre National de Lyon in versions of Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev and others, as well as a selection of music inspired by machines. [France Musique]

  • The Nash Ensemble, under John Wilson, performs Shostakovich waltzes and Walton's Facade. [BBC Proms]

  • Listen to the Salzburg Festival recital by violinist Vilde Frang and pianist Michail Lifits, recorded last month. [ORF]

  • Violist Liza Ferschman and Het Gelders Orkest perform music by Ravel and Chausson. [Avro Klassiek]

  • Piano duo Lidija and Sanja Bizjak perform music by American composers, including Barber, Nancarrow, and Bolcom, at the Festival Pianos Folies. [France Musique]

  • From the Festival Messiaen au Pays de la Meije, listen to music by Messiaen and Florentz performed by the Ensemble Musicatreize and the Orchestre Régional de Cannes Paca, recorded in July in the Collégiale de Briançon. [France Musique]

  • The European Union Youth Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, performs Shostakovich's fourth symphony and Bruch's first violin concerto, with soloist Vilde Frang, at the Grafenegg Sommerkonzerte Festival. [ORF]

  • Alan Gilbert conducts the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. [BBC Proms]

  • Have another listen to that Flying Dutchman from the Vienna Staatsoper, starring Bryn Terfel. [France Musique]

  • Krzysztof Urbanski leads the Berlin Philharmonic, with cellist Sol Gabetta, in music by Smetana, Martinu, and Dvorak. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a recital of Beethoven sonatas by pianist Abdel Rahman El Bacha. [France Musique]


South African 'Magic Flute' at STC

Mhlekazi (Wha Wha) Mosiea (Tamino) and cast in The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo, Isango Ensemble
Mozart's timeless Singspiel The Magic Flute is a universal tale. Its libretto, in a pseudo-Egyptian setting, is imaginary enough that it can be transposed to almost any other locale, and its Masonic ideals can be applied in any culture where the human heart yearns for freedom from tyranny and men and women seek one another in love. The most recent production under review here, at Washington National Opera, had a Japanese look in its design. South Africa's Isango Ensemble has made a radical adaptation of the opera, now playing at the Shakespeare Theater Company, that merges the story with Tsonga folk legends in southern Africa about the andlati birds believed to cause lightning from their nests high in the mountains. Seen at its opening last night at the Lansburgh Theater, this streamlined and radically altered version is likely not Mozart enough for a strict opera purist, but as a reworking of that beloved original it is sincere and impossible not to like.

The chance to hear the opera's famous overture played on seven rough-hewn marimbas, a sound I will not soon forget and not because it was in any way unpleasant, is probably worth the price of admission, because the repeated-note motifs of the piece work perfectly on that instrument. The general process followed in adapting Mozart's music to mostly marimbas and percussion, by arrangers Pauline Malefane and Mandisi Dyantyis, was to simplify, in terms of the number of repetitions in strophic songs and in the complexity of more complicated melismatic passages. With some numbers removed and others moved around, the run time is reduced to a little under two hours, and there was nothing one felt sorely missing. The level of performance is not, strictly speaking, up to operatic standards, but as the music was ingeniously moved into the idiom of African traditional and even pop music, the way that it was performed was in its own way seductive and pleasing.

Other Reviews:

Peter Marks, South Africa’s Isango Ensemble beautifully remolds ‘The Magic Flute’ (Washington Post, September 16)
The adaptation was actually at its strongest when it took Mozart's melodies and harmonies into completely foreign territory: Papageno and Pamina's duet Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen morphing into a sort of Calypso choir dance number, or the trio of the spirits as a doo-wop song. In the cast, some voices were better than others, with the upper two of the Three Ladies, Papagena (Zamile Gantana), Sarastro (Ayanda Tikolo), and Tamino standing out, although all of them, including the striking Queen of the Night of Pauline Malefane, took liberties with their parts to make it through. Mark Dornford-May's direction was effective, transforming Sarastro's brotherhood into a sort of circle of elders, and adding the sounds of a trumpet for the magical sound of the flute, made of the bone of the andlati in the Tsonga legends, as well as clinked bottles of water for the magic bells. The choreography by Lungelo Ngamlana enlivened the most exuberant scenes.

This production continues through September 21, at the Shakespeare Theater Company.


Pérello? God Help Us

available at Amazon
Love Duets, A. Pérez, S. Costello, BBC Symphony Orchestra, P. Summers
Two American opera singers who also happen to be husband and wife, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez, gave a recital on Wednesday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, to kick off the Washington National Opera season. A last-minute family responsibility kept me home that night, but it sounds like I did not miss much. The two singers are the subjects of an obsequious, often annoying PR strategy, which casts them as a young "power couple," whatever that is. This includes quotes from an embarrassing fluff piece for The Times by Emma Pomfret (Love Is in the Aria for Opera's New It Couple, May 5), for whom such articles are a journalistic specialty, which is the stuff of a flack's wet dreams:
If Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu were the Richard Burton and Liz Taylor of opera (on again, off again, divorce), husband and wife Stephen Costello and Ailyn Pérez are the Jay Z and Beyoncé. They’re modern, they’re hot and their marital status is taking them beyond opera’s heartland into Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post [sic!], and YouTube ubiquity that includes the gushy mini-doc An Operatic Love Story. Labeled opera's It couple and a power couple, in person "Pérello" are charmingly low-key...
It rankles when classical musicians seek out the trappings of the very pop culture that seeks to supplant them, especially when both husband and wife are talented people. Last spring, I took note of Ted Gioia's complaint that pop music criticism had "degenerated into lifestyle reporting," but the same forces are at work in the classical world. This week, Alex Ross fired off two more salvos in his ongoing attack against the elitism of pop culture, beginning with a substantial article in The New Yorker on the approaches of Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin to the pop-classical divide (The Naysayers, September 15). As Adorno foresaw, Ross observes at one point, pop culture has acquired "its own cultic aspect, one neatly configured for technological dissemination."

In a related assessment of pop culture's near-complete annexation of the Kennedy Center Honors, Ross writes, "it’s not enough for pop culture to dominate the mainstream; it must colonize the spaces occupied by older genres and effectively drive them from the field." Crossover endeavors, like the opera-Broadway mish-mash Love Duets album being pushed by "Pérello," are nothing new, but they seem like a disgraceful collaboration with the forces of pop triumphalism.


Briefly Noted: Milhaud's 'L'Orestie'

available at Amazon
D. Milhaud, L'Orestie d'Eschyle, T. Mumford, L. Phillips, B. Rae, University of Michigan Choirs and Symphony Orchestra, K. Kiesler

(released on September 9, 2014)
Naxos 8.660349-51 | 141'24"
One might think that the Oresteia, Aeschylus's trilogy of blood-soaked tragedies, would have been adapted as opera more often. I know of two complete settings, by Sergei Taneyev in Russian and by Washington composer Andrew Simpson in English. Darius Milhaud's electric and pulsating score, over two hours of it made from 1913 to 1923, is not a setting of the complete text. The first two parts, a small section of Agamemnon and a slightly larger portion of The Libation Bearers, were created as incidental music for a staging of the plays by Jean Cocteau. Milhaud made the third play, The Eumenides, into a complete opera, and this new recording from the University of Michigan School of Music brings together all three of the pieces, which trace developments in Milhaud's style. We do not get the chance to review Milhaud's music all that often, especially live. While the recent performance of his one-act opera Le pauvre matelot was a little underwhelming, the brutalist force of these three pieces is not to be missed.

The influence of Stravinsky is heard, especially in the little choral scene of Agamemnon, with its motoric melodic cells repeating over and over again. Much of the music sounds cut from the same cloth as Satie's Socrate, composed around the same period, but more daring sounds come into play in the second and third parts. Milhaud calls for a form of rhythmic speaking, pulsed by percussion, in the creepy Omens section of Les choéphores, something that might seem boring or weird but is riveting when realized. To capture the immortal sound of Athena's voice in Les euménides, Milhaud writes the part for three women singing simultaneously, performed memorably here by soprano Brenda Rae, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, and contralto Jennifer Lane. The performance is good, if not quite great, at its best in large textures.


At the Slovenian Embassy

available at Amazon
Slovenija! (Songs and Duets), B. Fink, M. Fink, A. Spiri
Charles T. Downey, Violinist Lana Trotovsek gives radiant performance in Embassy Series (Washington Post, September 11, 2014)
The concerts offered by the Embassy Series bring together the interests of music, cuisine and international relations in a way that seems peculiar to the nation’s capital. The group’s season opener was a recital by Slovenian violinist Lana Trotovsek on Tuesday evening at the Embassy of the Republic of Slovenia.

Two standards of the violin repertoire were the main courses of this program, beginning with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 5, Op. 24... [Continue reading]
Lana Trotovšek, violin
Anna Shelest, piano
Embassy Series
Embassy of Slovenia


'Lear' from the Globe

Bethan Cullinane (Fool) and Joseph Marcell (Lear) in King Lear, Shakespeare's Globe
Theaters appear to be in a King Lear phase, as Washington Post critic Peter Marks observed recently. Productions of Shakespeare's bleakest play abound, but it remains extremely difficult to pull off on the stage. A touring production of the play from Shakespeare's Globe in London is now playing at the Folger Shakespeare Theater, on the first of several stops in the United States throughout the fall, seen on Sunday evening. Although it did not succeed altogether, there is still much to recommend it.

The success or failure of Lear depends ultimately on the actor in the title role. In this production it was Joseph Marcell, who has a history with the role, having been the first black Lear for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Marcell had the pompous and infantile qualities of the character -- a powerful tyrant who often acts like a spoiled child -- as well as his rages, but although he caught many nuances of the old king's failing mind, the final third of the play dragged. Part of that is Shakespeare's fault, but a more varied expression of Lear's grief could have helped. The tragedy of the play is undermined -- or lightened, according to your preferences -- in this production by some song and dance numbers. The gallows humor of these numbers, with Alex Silverman credited as composer and Georgina Lamb as choreographer, was mostly a nice touch, the only exception being the one that closed the performance, spoiling the catharsis of Lear's demise.

Other Articles:

Peter Marks, A well-played, compact ‘King Lear’ at Folger Theatre (Washington Post, September 10)

---, Here a ‘Lear,’ There a ‘Lear’ (Washington Post, August 23)

Gary Tischler, Who is Lear? Next month at the Folger: Joseph Marcell (The Georgetowner, August 28)
The greatest strength of the production comes in the double casting of Bethan Cullinane as both Cordelia, Lear's most devoted daughter, and the Fool. While she brought admirable dignity and sweetness to the former role, she excelled in the latter, a half-witted but straight-shooting Cockney-inflected goof, in a homely costume topped by a knit child's hat with what looked like dog ears. The doubling, which may have been a feature of the casting in Shakespeare's time, with both roles played by a boy, also heightened the poignancy of Lear's final speech where, as he cradles Cordelia's dead body, he says, "And my poor fool is hang'd!" While one normally would chalk this up to Lear's confusion or to a poetic metaphor, here the statement was literal.

The rest of the cast is fine but not quite at that level, with the exception of the noble Earl of Gloucester and Duke of Albany of John Stahl. Gwendolen Chatfield (Goneril) and Shanaya Rafaat (Regan) were venomous and spiteful, and Alex Mugnaioni was a little too spastic in expression as Edgar and the Duke of Cornwall, but the same tics suited his Mad Tom to a tee. Bill Nash was a rough-neck Earl of Kent, appropriately enough in the guise of the servant later, and Daniel Pirrie was an oily Edmund, although the scene in which he had to play both that role and Oswald simultaneously was not worth the laughs the actors played for, or the embarrassment. This was the low point of an otherwise charming production directed by Bill Buckhurst, set in a sort of rundown 20th century (designed by Jonathan Fensom). The staging went for laughs where it could, which is laudable to a degree in this often dreary play, but it is also important to give tragedy the room it deserves.

This production continues through September 21, at the Folger Shakespeare Theater.


Briefly Noted: Mariinsky 'Romeo and Juliet'

available at Amazon
Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet (chor. L. Lavrovsky), D. Vishneva, V. Shklyarov, Mariinsky Theater, V. Gergiev

(released on October 14, 2014)
MAR0552 | 152 min
The official premiere of Sergei Prokofiev's ballet score Romeo and Juliet was in the Czech city of Brno in 1938. Since the Russian premiere in 1940 at the Mariinsky Theater, though, that St. Petersburg company has laid special claim to the ballet, which it still performs in Leonid Lavrovsky's menacing and heart-breaking choreography. The Russian troupe last brought this production to Washington in 2007, when Miss Ionarts was too young to have seen it. It is hardly surprising, though, that she has become fixated on the work since we received an advance copy of this new DVD/Blu-Ray disc from the Mariinsky's personal label.

That 2007 touring production at the Kennedy Center did not feature Diana Vishneva's Juliet, a reminder that the Mariinsky sometimes visits the U.S. without its best dancers. The reason for the disappointment is evident when one sees Vishneva, one of the great étoiles of our era, dance this role at her home theater, a dizzying mixture of girlish coquette and shy child, with an often breath-taking perfection of line in her movements. All of Vishneva's local appearances have become instant favorites: Kitri in 2009, Aurora in 2010, and especially Giselle in 2011. The Mariinsky took this production, with Vishneva and Viktor Shklyarov in the title roles, to London this summer, so perhaps there is hope that it will come to the Kennedy Center at some point. Vishneva's younger counterpart, Shklyarov, is not yet in the same class, but he captures the character's youthful impetuosity, and his lifts of Vishneva, especially in the tomb scene when he carries Juliet's lifeless body, are uniformly strong.

Seeing this production is, once again, so important for understanding Prokofiev's wonderful score. Lavrovsky's movements do not always reflect a strong ear for music, but the choreography reflects the bitter details of the version of the story Prokofiev had in mind. Nowhere is this more glaring than in the disturbing portrayal of Juliet's family, beginning with the fiery, red-headed Tybalt, whom Juliet's mother mourns just a little too excessively to escape suspicion, straddling her nephew on his funeral bier as he is carried away. The Dance of the Capulets, so heavy-handed musically, is a corrupt courtly affair, with Juliet's father dancing simultaneously with his wife and another woman, about which Juliet's mother is none too happy. The demeaning gesture of men holding women by their wrists hints at the violence and depravity that lurks under the household's surface.


Perchance to Stream: Thanks to Alex Ross Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days. (Welcome to those who found Ionarts because of Alex Ross's column in The New Yorker. Please add suggestions for other streams in the comments.)

  • Listen to Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer at the Wiener Staatsoper, in a production starring Bryn Terfel and Ricarda Merbeth. [ORF]

  • Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBC Singers and Symphony Orchestra in Strauss's Elektra, starring the inestimable Christine Goerke. [BBC Proms]

  • From the Festival de la Journée Européenne de Musique Ancienne, Hervé Niquet leads Le Concert Spirituel in a program of music by Henry Purcell. [France Musique]

  • Marco Mencoboni conducts Cantar Lontano in an F major Mass by Alessandro Scarlatti and a 10-voice Stabat Mater by Domenico Scarlatti, recorded last month at the Innsbruck Early Music Festival. [ORF]

  • Watch Ingo Metzmacher conduct Schubert's opera Fierrabras at the Salzburg Festival, in a production directed by Peter Stein. []

  • Music of women composers -- Barbara Strozzi, Fanny Mendelssohn, Hildegard von Bingen, Clara Schumann, others -- performed by women's voices, including Hasnaa Bennani, Sophie Karthauser, and the ensemble Mora Vocis, as well as chamber works performed by pianist Edna Stern and the Dali Trio. [Part 1 | Part 2]

  • Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Bach's St. Matthew Passion. [BBC Proms]

  • Listen to Christoph Eschenbach conduct the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester in Bruckner's seventh symphony, plus the world premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's second piano concerto, with Tzimon Barto as soloist, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. [ORF]

  • Oliver Knussen leads the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in music by Harrison Birtwistle. [BBC Proms]

  • From the Klassik Open Air concert in Nuremberg, soprano Simone Kermes performs a program called "La Primadonna." [BR-Klassik]

  • Concerto Palatino performs music by Bertali, with soprano María Cristina Kiehr, recorded at the Utrecht Early Music Festival. [Radio Clásica]

  • From the Festival Messiaen au Pays de la Meije, Solistes XXI perform music by Xenakis, Gabrieli, and Luis de Pablo. [France Musique]

  • Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic perform Stravinsky's Firebird and Symphonic Dances at the Proms. [Part 1 | Part 2]

  • Clarinetist Sabine Meyer joins the Modigliani Quartet for Mozart's clarinet quintet, recorded last month at the Schubertiade Schwarzenberg. [ORF]

  • Marin Alsop conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No 1 in D and music of John Adams, recorded at the BBC Proms. [Part 1 | Part 2]

  • Watch the final round of the Operalia Competition, recorded at Los Angeles Opera. []

  • Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor plays music by Chopin, Mompou, Weir, and Gounod at Cadogan Hall. [BBC Proms]

  • Cellist Edgar Moreau and the Modigliani Quartet perform music by Ravel and Schubert, recorded at the Festival Périgord Noir. [France Musique]

  • Roger Norrington and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra perform music by Dvorak and Berlioz, recorded at the BBC Proms. [Part 1 | Part 2]

  • Listen to pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet play Ravel's G minor concerto with the Orchestre National de France, and Daniele Gatti also conducts symphonies by Haydn and Tchaikovsky. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Schubert's Winterreise, with Michael Volle and Helmut Deutsch, recorded at the Schubertiade Schwarzenberg last month. [ORF]

  • Charles Dutoit conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in music by Berlioz, Respighi, and Walton, recorded at the BBC Proms. [Part 1 | Part 2]

  • From the Salzburg Festival, Daniele Gatti conducts Verdi's Il Trovatore, starring Anna Netrebko, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Francesco Meli, and Placido Domingo. [France Musique]

  • Pianist Anna Vinnitskaya joins Les Solistes européens for Brahms's first piano concerto, with Christoph König also conducting music by Debussy and Bizet. [RTBF]

  • The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays music by Saint-Saëns, Falla, Mahler, and Sibelius, with conductor Sakari Oramo and pianist Javier Perianes, recorded at the Festival International de Musique de Grenade. [France Musique]

  • From the Utrecht Early Music Festival, a commemoration of the Turkish siege of Vienna, with Viennese music performed by Armonico Tributo Austria and Turkish music performed by Kudsdi Erguner. [France Musique]

  • Pianists Florent Boffard and Claire Désert play a recital with music by Bach, Schoenberg, Stroppa, and Beethoven, recorded at the Festival Le vent sur l'arbre. [France Musique]

SFO “Summer and the Symphony” – The Beethoven Revolution

Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from out West.

On Friday, August 1st, the San Francisco Symphony’s “Summer and the Symphony” series concluded at Davies Symphony Hall with The Beethoven Revolution, featuring the Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, the Triple Concerto, and Symphony No. 5.

This was my first visit to the series and I had not realized the informality of the occasion. I think I was the only one in the packed concert hall with a tie on. The San Francisco Symphony is obviously trying to engage new, younger audiences, and it seems to be working. In the foyer before the concert began, The Martini Brothers provided dance music and a number of patrons took to the floor. But the evening was to be educational as well as entertaining. Conductor Edwin Outwater began with a standup routine explaining that the first part of the concert would be “conventional” Beethoven on his best behavior, and the second—the Fifth Symphony—the bad boy “revolutionary” part.

Be that as it may, Outwater is an energetic young man who appears to be tightly coiled. He gestures with his hand splayed and his fingers extended as if there were an electric current running through them. From his body language, I began to worry that he might rush through the music and not stop to smell the roses. A decidedly false impression as it turned out.

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Symphony No.7 et al.,
SFSO Media

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Triple Concerto et al.,
N.Harnoncourt / P-L.Aimard, T.Zehetmair, C.Hagen

I was already aware that the San Francisco Symphony knew its Beethoven, as I had been particularly impressed by Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of the Seventh Symphony in his complete traversal of the Nine. I don’t mean to be taking any credit from Outwater by saying this—in fact, I mean it to give a great deal of credit—but in a blind listening session, I might’ve suspected that it was Thomas conducting the program.

The Prometheus Overture was finely articulated, rhythmically animated, and slightly mellow. The introduction in the Triple Concerto positively glowed with a kind of seamless warmth. In this piano trio cum concerto, there are obviously a lot of chamber music textures, and Outwater kept things beautifully scaled in light of them. The Gryphon Trio (violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys, and pianist Jamie Parker) played as among friends, with intimacy and eloquence. It doesn’t seem that Beethoven gave Archduke Rudolph, for whom he wrote piano part, quite as much to do as the others; so the Triple Concerto sometimes seems more of a duo concertante for violin and cello, than a concerto for piano trio. In any case, there was a great deal of joy in the Trio’s music making. In particular, that Roman Borys sang his heart out on the cello. It’s not a work I listen to very often, but I heard more to like in it in this performance than I have before. I will revisit it.

Before being plunged into the revolutionary Beethoven, Matthew Guerrieri, author of The First Four Notes: Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination, addressed the audience in a very casual manner about the historical context of the Fifth. He prepared us for the novelty of seeing displayed on screens at either side of the stage projections of the numbers of times Beethoven repeats the famous four-note motif as the Symphony is played. I am not sure if it was a distraction or an enhancement. You certainly listen differently when you see the numbers flashing before you. In the first movement alone, there were 271 repetitions, and 530 altogether. (Which begged the (equally novel) question: Was Beethoven a proto-Minimalist?)

The Fifth contains an enormous amount of energy, but Outwater was not willing to stampede the music for the sake of it. Yes, he released its power, but there was also some highly expressive playing (particularly in the winds), some delightful pizzicato playing in the strings in the third movement, and a good deal of nuance all around. In other words, Outwater did not strain things to show us how revolutionary the music is. He let it speak for itself, and by doing so displayed its novelty and its exhilarating majesty in a convincing way.


Briefly Noted: Choral Music by Herzogenberg

available at Amazon
H. von Herzogenberg, Requiem / Totenfeier, F. Bobe, B. Bräckelmann, Monteverdichor Würzburg, Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha, M. Beckert

(released on July 8, 2014)
cpo 777755-2 | 102'52"

available at Amazon
H. von Herzogenberg, Sacred Choral Music (a cappella), Ensemble Cantissimo, M. Utz

(released on June 10, 2014)
Carus 83.408 | 62'14"
Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900) is one of those composers on the margins of music history we love to write about here at Ionarts. An aristocratic dilettante who became an accomplished composer, Herzogenberg is generally grouped in the more conservative camp of the late 19th century. His prolific output includes eight symphonies, as well as five string quartets and a pile of other chamber music. A faithful Catholic, he composed a large amount of choral music in German for the Lutheran church in Strasbourg, as well as Latin works for Catholic worship. The style, looking back to J.S. Bach and farther, will appeal to choirs that enjoy the music of Bruckner or Josef Rheinberger, for example.

The Monteverdichor Würzburg and Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha, under conductor Matthias Beckert, have recorded Herzogenberg's setting of the Latin Requiem Mass, premiered in Leipzig in 1891, as well as two other commemorative works for the dead. Herzogenberg's wife, Elisabeth, died in the year following the performance of the Requiem, and he composed the Totenfeier, a Lutheran cantata, in memory of her, a work that contains many personal touches of their life together. (Elisabeth was also a gifted musician, with some published works for piano, also released recently in recording by CPO. Both husband and wife carried on a lengthy correspondence with Johannes Brahms.) Not long after Elisabeth's passing, Herzogenberg's friend Philipp Spitta died, and the composer created the Begräbnisgesang, op. 88, with his own commemorative text, to be performed at the dedication of a stone marker at Spitta's grave.

The Requiem and Totenfeier should be on the radar of any group that wants to perform yet another Mozart, Brahms, or Verdi Requiem. The Requiem is sung entirely by the chorus, with no parts for soloists. It ends on a consoling, celestial tone, with some barn-burning moments earlier in the work, sung here in a good performance by the full-size chorus composed largely of students from the University of Würzburg. By contrast, the Totenfeier has a less liturgical feel, with dramatic movements for bass soloist especially, but also for soprano, the latter sung with radiant tone by soprano Franziska Bobe, a clarity that recalls Arleen Auger at times.

Also released this summer is a new disc of Herzogenberg's unaccompanied choral works, with liturgical texts proper to Advent, Epiphanytide, Holy Week, and Totensonntag (the last Sunday before Advent in the Lutheran liturgy, a day of prayer for the dead akin to All Souls Day), plus the four motets. Almost all of these pieces thus receive their first recording, in rather lovely and balanced performances by a chamber choir called the Ensemble Cantissimo, directed by Markus Utz, a professor at the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste. (Although not packaged as such, this is the sacred followup to the same group's two volumes of Herzogenberg's secular choral music.) The rediscovery of Herzogenberg's music, much of which was thought destroyed when it was held in Germany by the Edition Peters company during World War II, continues at an exciting pace.


Briefly Noted: Barbara Strozzi

available at Amazon
B. Strozzi, Arias and Cantatas, op. 8, E. Galli, La Risonanza, F. Bonizzoni

(re-released on July 29, 2014)
Glossa GCDC81503 | 72'01"
The historically informed performance ensemble La Risonanza was founded in 1995, but we reviewed them live for the first time in a concert at the Library of Congress only two years ago. It was one of the most successful American debuts in recent memory, earning a place on our list of that year's best concerts. They made this recording of the solo arias and cantatas by Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) back in 2000, in Lugano, and it has finally been re-released this summer. It brings together all of the pieces in the Venetian composer's op. 8, published in 1664, the last of eight volumes of her compositions, published over the course of twenty years. The fact that Strozzi was that prolific, as Richard Taruskin wrote, "at a time when prejudice against the creative abilities of women ran high, bears impressive witness to her excellence as a composer in the eyes of her contemporaries." Her harmonic idiom is marked by the savoring of expressive dissonance, from carefully marshaled suspensions to occasionally hair-raising chromatic progressions. In these exceptionally beautiful performances, the voice of soprano Emanuela Galli is flexible, light, and pure, if just slightly brittle here and there. Director Fabio Bonizzoni provides expert leadership at the harpsichord, with varied continuo accompaniment from Caterina dell'Agnello on cello and Franco Pavan on theorbo or Baroque guitar. Two violinists, David Plantier and Elisa Citterio, take the plangent, interwoven obbligato lines in the serenata Hor che Apollo.