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Intermittents Back in Action

You may recall our periodic reports on the strikes and demonstrations of the intermittents du spectacle, arts specialists who may not work year-round, in France. This week, members of the various unions representing this group staged "a coordinated wave of theater occupations." The latest activities were in conjunction with the negotiations with the French government over changes proposed to the terms of unemployment insurance to cover these workers during periods when they may not have work. According to statements reported in an article (Les intermittents organisent « une vague coordonnée » d’occupations de théâtres, April 27) in Le Monde (my translation):

They are are calling for even stronger action. "This determination which we have proven until now shows that we are ready to organize ourselves together for the day of April 28 and those that follow: only a general and prolonged strike will make the government bend." A performance of Phèdre(s) with Isabelle Huppert, scheduled for April 26, was canceled because of a "call" from the intermittents to "disturb" the performance, announced a release from the Théâtre de l’Odéon, which "refuses to perform under the protection of the police."
Groups have so far occupied the theater of La Comédie-Française, Le théâtre national de l’Odéon, and national theaters in Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Caen, Lille, and Montpellier. The latest news is that in marathon negotiations that ran through last night into today the intermittents have come to an agreement on terms they can accept. It is not certain yet what will happen with the theaters that have been occupied or if performances will continue to be canceled. Le Monde also reports that art students around France have mobilized in solidarity with the intermittents, occupying some schools and other locations.

#morninglistening: My First Bach

Organ Works w/Stockmeier on Arts & Music; my first complete such set, picked up at Tower Records in DC back in the old days.
RIP Tower Records: The Tower That Fell (


#morninglistening: The Greatest Pre-Mozart Opera

The highlights-disc, basically a shortened hybrid taken from both versions, is real treat!


Antoine Tamestit Returns

available at Amazon
Bach, Cello Suites 1/3/5 (arr. viola), A. Tamestit
(Naïve, 2013)

available at Amazon
Bach, Partita No. 2 (arr. viola) / Ligeti, Sonata for Solo Viola, A. Tamestit
(Naïve, 2007)
Charles T. Downey, Tamestit ably straddles the cello-music-on-viola gap at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, April 26)
The viola and the cello have the same tuning, an octave apart, but the transfer of one instrument’s music to the other is not without challenges. French violist Antoine Tamestit played both borrowed music and a modern masterwork in a Sunday evening recital presented by Washington Performing Arts. The event marked his return to the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater more than a decade after his debut there.

Tamestit played two of the three solo cello suites of Bach he has recorded on the viola for the Naïve label. At times one misses the gravitas of the lower instrument, on the low notes of the C and G preludes, for example, or the folksy drone section of the C suite’s Gigue... [Continue reading]
Antoine Tamestit, viola (on 1672 "Mahler" Stradivarius viola)
Music by Bach, Ligeti
Washington Performing Arts
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

jfl, Ionarts at Large: Widmann's New Viola Concerto (Ionarts, March 15, 2016)

---, Ionarts at Large: BRSO Season Opening Concerts (Ionarts, October 7, 2012)

Tim Page, From Antoine Tamestit, Arresting Viola Voicings (Washington Post, November 25, 2003)

#morninglistening: Jimmy, the Lopéz

Buff composers.


#morninglistening: Bach with Boys

The best so far, by far, of the Thomaner in Bach on record.


Perchance to Stream: Bard of Avon 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.

  • From the Church of Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, a concert of Shakespeare-inspired works performed by Ex Cathedra and City Musick, directed by Jeffrey Skidmore. [BBC3]

  • A performance of Janáček's Jenůfa, performed by the Czech Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek. [BBC3]

  • Daniele Gatti conducts soprano Camilla Tilling and the Orchestre National de France in music of Mozart, Berg, and Mahler, recorded at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées. [France Musique]

  • The London Philharmonic Orchestra, with conductor Markus Stenz and violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, plays music by Beethoven and Thomas Larcher. [ORF]

  • Bach cantatas and the Magnificat, performed by Masaaki Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan, sopranos Hana Blaziková and Joanne Lunn, and other soloists. [ORF]

  • From the Wiener Staatsoper, listen to the performance of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera starring Piotr Beczala, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Krassimira Stoyanova. [ORF]

  • A recital by pianist Evgeny Sudbin, playing music by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Ravel, and others, recorded in March at the Klavierfrühling Deutschlandsberg. [ORF]

  • The Ensemble Pygmalion performs the Saint Matthew Passion, recorded at the Chapelle Royale of Versailles. [France Musique]

  • Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert of music by Dukas, Saint-Saëns, and others. [BBC3]

  • Violinist Janine Jansen plays the Brahms violin concerto with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. [ABC Classic]

  • Pianist Lars Vogt joins the Hallé Orchestra and conductor Louis Langrée, for music by Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. [ORF]

  • Music by Haydn and Britten performed by the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, conductor Cornelius Meister, soprano Eleanor Dennis, and other soloists. [ORF]

  • A performance of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra at the Baltic Sea Festival. [France Musique]

  • From 2015, Kent Nagano leads a performance by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, with violinist Shunske Sato, in music by Tchaikovsky and Bach. [ORF]

  • The BBC Philharmonic performs music by Ginastera, Bernstein, and Stravinsky. [BBC3]

  • The ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, under conductor Andrey Boreyko, joins violinist Sergej Krylov for music by Franz Schreker, Mahler, and Shostakovich. [ORF | Part 2]

  • A recital by pianist Khatia Buniatishvili with music of Liszt and Stravinsky, recorded at the Philharmonie de Paris. [France Musique]

  • The Ensemble La Ninfea performs music by Sainte-Colombe le fils, Marin Marais, Jean de Sainte-Colombe, Robert de Visé, and others. [ORF]

  • A concert from the Présences Festival with conductor Maxime Pascal, soprano Léa Trommenschlager, and others, including music by Gesualdo. [France Musique]

  • Listen to the recording of Rimsky-Korsakov's Snegurotschka (The Snow Maiden), starring Valentina Sokolik, made in Moscow in 1976. [ORF]

  • Under Yasuaki Itakura, the Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitaine performs music by Jean-Louis Agobet, Toru Takemitsu, and Debussy. [France Musique]

#morninglistening: Raasted - Bach Channeled Strongly

Total #SurprisedByBeauty candidate. Bach channeled strongly in these 20th Ct. works.

Ionarts-at-Large: The Vienna Symphony's B Minor Mass: Bach to Snooze To

The Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Philippe Jordan has taken on the sensible, laudable, wonderful mission of adding Bach to its regularish fare. Last year they performed the St. Matthew Passion.[1] Next season it will be the St. John Passion. And on March 19th, it was the Mass in B minor at the Vienna Konzerthaus – part of the now defunct “Osterklang” Festival of secular music associated with the Theater an der Wien (or rather: its Intendant, Roland Geyer).

In short, this Karl Richter memorial performance was an


CD Review: Braunfels Lieder

available at Amazon
W. Braunfels, Lieder, M. Petersen, K. Jarnot, E. Schneider

(released on February 12, 2016)
Capriccio C5251 | 55'40"
Charles T. Downey, CD review: The forgotten bird songs of a ‘degenerate’ composer (Washington Post, April 24)
In the 1930s, Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) ran afoul of the Nazi party in his native Germany. His music was condemned as “degenerate” because his father was Jewish, even though the composer was raised a Protestant and later converted to Catholicism. After World War II, Braunfels returned to his teaching post at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne, but the moment for his largely tonal style of music had come and gone. Since his opera “Die Vögel,” based on Aristophanes’s “The Birds,” was revived in the 1990s, his music has enjoyed a rebirth, helped by the advocacy of his grandson Stephan Braunfels, a prominent architect in Germany. Conductors James Conlon, of the Los Angeles Opera, and Manfred Honeck, of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, are among his champions.

In addition to his operas, string quartets and symphonic music, there is now a recording of some of Braunfels’s songs, all composed before he was condemned by the Nazis, released earlier this year by Capriccio...
[Continue reading]


Takács Quartet @ KC

available at Amazon
Franck, Piano Quintet / Debussy, String Quartet, M.-A. Hamelin, Takács Quartet
(Hyperion, 2016)
We used to hear the Takács Quartet more frequently in the Washington area. As long as they come back to these parts every year or two, Ionarts can probably survive. The most recent chance to hear them was on Wednesday evening, presented again by the Fortas Chamber Music Series at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. In between we remain on the life support of recordings, which the group continues to release at the rate of one or two each year. Although the two founding members, second violinist Károly Schranz and cellist András Féjer, are not getting any younger, the quartet adds to its discography at a dizzying pace, always hungry for new vistas in the repertoire. The next disc, available next month, combines music by Franck and Debussy.

Something about the opening work on this program, Dvořák's 14th string quartet (A-flat major, op. 105), just did not sit right. The first movement is somewhat episodic, and the many stops and starts did not always sound unified. The scherzo, with its furiant-like hemiola shifts, was light and even more relaxed in tempo in the trio, but by the third movement there was the sense that maybe the golden era of the Takács had come and gone, with intonation issues cropping up and the feeling that the work had not been fully digested. Happily, what followed this less than polished rendition showed it was only a fluke, a rare example of the Takács missing the target and not a sign of general decline.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, The dependable artistry of Takács Quartet (Washington Post, April 22)
In the rest of the evening's selections, the group was back in their accustomed sweet spot, beginning with Webern's youthful, tragic Langsamer Satz from 1905. The piece is labeled "in E-flat major," which should be enough to signal that it is not the Webern you might expect. The Takács teased out the carefully layered voices and lush harmonies, always clearly putting one in the foreground over the others, balanced even in the loudest sections.

The third of Beethoven's "Razumovsky" quartets (C major, op. 59/3) was even more winning, from the enigmatic opening chords, which proceed by sneaky chromatic shifts from an F# fully diminished seventh chord to C major. The fast section was chatty and charming, mercurial but not overly fast, and the drawn-out setup of the recapitulation was excellent, as was first violinist Edward Dusinberre on the little cadenza moment. All in all, an eye-twinkler of a piece, followed by wonderful, warm viola solos in the slow movement, with the cello staying extra-soft on the pizzicato accompaniment. This movement's restraint and dark quality are so Takács, and no one does this melancholy tone better. The Menuetto was a contrast, ultra-genial in nature, with the first violin's ornamented lines in the trio not overshadowing the melody. The concluding fugal finale was fun and fleet, the wry side of the Takács sound.


Hilary Hahn, Again

No season in Washington seems to go by without an appearance by violinist Hilary Hahn. She is a perennial favorite with area orchestras, and Washington Performing Arts presents her frequently in recital. It was not clear whether the empty parts of the Music Center at Strathmore, where WPA presented her on Tuesday night, were due to audience fatigue with Hahn or to an ongoing trend of declining audiences for the presenter.

There was nothing on the program that could be construed as ear candy for audiences: relatively obscure sonatas by Mozart and Copland, interspersed with half of a set of six new partitas by Spanish composer Antón García Abril (b. 1933). Abril was one of the composers commissioned by Hahn for her ill-fated — but Grammy award-winning — Encores project, and Washington Performing Arts ponied up the money to commission this further set of pieces from him for Hahn to play. (She will play the other three partitas in the set, again presented by WPA, on October 28, 2016.) The title of Partita is somewhat misleading, implying a set of dance movements, as in Bach's set of three. What Abril has created struck me more as fantasias, as each one consists of sections in various moods and characters; perhaps we are meant to understand an earlier meaning of the word partita, before it became associated with dance movements.

Abril emphasized double-stops in all three of the pieces heard in this concert, although he did not use them in the truly polyphonic way Bach did most memorably. For example, the meandering melody of the first partita had occasional double-stops providing a short of homophonic accompaniment, and in another section drones accompanied the tune. After a series of mostly unrelated sections, the first partita just faded away on a passage of repeating sixteenth notes. The second partita was more tart in harmonic flavor, with biting rhythms, and lasted only about half as long as the first one, not adding up to much. The third partita seemed closer in character to the first, with more introspective melodies and not all that polyphonic double-stops, leaving the impression of a set of possibly pretty but rather boring pieces. The less said about the composer's embarrassing, puerile program idea ("H-I-L-A-R-Y is for heart, immensity, love, art, reflexive, you," supposedly describing the six pieces), the better. This is one of those programmatic ideas that the composer, as Mahler did with some of his symphonic programs, should perhaps have kept to himself.

Other Reviews:

Simon Chin, A lot riding on Hilary Hahn’s bow at Strathmore (Washington Post, April 21)

Jesse Hamlin, Violinist Hilary Hahn to premiere Abril partita at Davies Hall (San Francisco Chronicle, April 20)
The Mozart sonata (G major, K. 379) was a showpiece for Hahn's partner at the keyboard, Cory Smythe, who had the most challenging music of the evening. He went for a super-delicate sound, so delicate that some of the filigree-thin notes did not really sound clearly. It is a fairly mediocre piece, and the response of both performers, to give it a more Romantic swooning sensibility, had mixed success. Copland's elegiac violin sonata, last heard live from James Ehnes, brought out the best of Hahn's tone, as she played it with an airy simplicity. Here at last, in the faster movements, was some of the dance that seemed lacking in the Abril pieces.


CD Review: Slatkin's Ravel Double-Bill

available at Amazon
Ravel, L'heure espagnole / Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, L. Lombardo, I. Druet, F. Antoun, Orchestre National de Lyon, L. Slatkin

(released on February 12, 2016)
Naxos 8.660337 | 55'40"
Charles T. Downey, CD reviews: Slatkin turns to France
Washington Post, April 15

When Leonard Slatkin’s tenure at the National Symphony Orchestra came to an end in 2008, he became music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; in 2011-12, he also assumed the leadership position at the Orchestre National de Lyon. Almost immediately, he inaugurated a series of live recordings with his French ensemble, focused on music by French composers, for the Naxos label. The latest discs in his Ravel set are devoted to the composer’s two one-act operas, most recently his charming but rarely heard 1911 comedy “L’heure espagnole.”

The rich-toned mezzo-soprano Isabelle Druet is a seductive, sometimes acidic Concepción, the cheating wife of the clockmaker Torquemada, played by the light-voiced tenor Luca Lombardo. She schemes with Don Iñigo Gomez, sung with oily smoothness by the bass Nicolas Courjal, to get her husband the job of winding the municipal clocks, which gets him out of the house regularly...
[Continue reading]

Julia Bullock @ Vocal Arts

available at Amazon
L. Bernstein, West Side Story, J. Bullock (inter alii), San Francisco Symphony, M. Tilson Thomas
(Chandos, 2011)
Charles T. Downey, Julia Bullock shows almost any song can soar in her capable vocal cords (Washington Post, April 20)
The recital by Julia Bullock, presented by Vocal Arts D.C. in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Monday evening, had many things going for it. The American soprano had a winning stage presence, a diverse and eclectic program, and a crackerjack musical partner in pianist Renate Rohlfing. It was easy to see why she has become the darling of many critics.

Bullock’s sparkly persona went a long way in selling experimental songs by Henry Cowell and John Cage... [Continue reading]
Julia Bullock, soprano
Renate Rohlfing, piano
Vocal Arts D.C.
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Sarah Bryan Miller, Soprano Julia Bullock gives a virtuoso recital (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 31)

---, Soprano Julia Bullock returns to her hometown with a recital (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 27)


Bernard Herrmann Festival

available at Amazon
B. Herrmann, Moby-Dick / Sinfonietta, R. Edgar-Wilson, D. Wilson-Johnson, Danish National Choir and Symphony Orchestra, M. Schønwandt
(Chandos, 2011)
Charles T. Downey, Ensemble shines spotlight on Herrmann’s film scores, and for good reason (Washington Post, April 19)
Bernard Herrmann was the score composer for many great film directors, beginning with Orson Welles and continuing with Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese.

Joseph Horowitz, whose PostClassical Ensemble is co-hosting a festival honoring the composer, wants us to remember that Herrmann was more than just a film composer, even though the majority of the festival’s events are film screenings. PostClassical Ensemble’s last festival performance fell on Sunday afternoon at the National Gallery of Art.

There should be no shame in being known as a film composer, especially when one’s credits include Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” which critic Alex Ross once described as “a symphony for film and orchestra”... [Continue reading]
PostClassical Ensemble
Bernard Herrmann: Screen, Stage, and Radio
National Gallery of Art

Armando Trull, 'Psycho' And So Much More: Composer Bernard Herrmann Gets A D.C. Festival (WAMU, April 15)


'Das Lied von der Erde' from San Francisco

available at Amazon
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, T. Hampson, S. Skelton, San Francisco Symphony, M. Tilson Thomas
(SFS Media, 2008)
The San Francisco Symphony's last East Coast tour, in 2013, was canceled because of a strike by the musicians. Their last visit here, then, was in 2010, with an unusual program including obscure Liszt and Victor Kissine. Their appearance on Saturday afternoon, presented by Washington Performing Arts in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, returned more to the feel of their 2006 tour, when they gave heady, refined interpretations of Debussy's Jeux and the Adagio from Mahler's tenth symphony. The new program, combining Schubert's eighth symphony and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, was a calculated tour de force, intended not to shock and awe by its force but to seduce by its subtlety.

Music director Michael Tilson Thomas zealously watched over a most delicate rendition of the "Unfinished" Symphony, immediately hushing the low strings in the introduction to the first movement. With a restrained pace he took the tempo marking of “Allegro moderato” at face value, a moderation that extended into all musical areas. The cellos presented the famous B theme with consummate introspection, and after the development’s mysterious chords with rumbling bass, the recapitulation returned just as serenely, at precisely the same tempo as the one set at the outset. The second movement was just as rarefied, with the oboe solos striking just the right air of plangent longing, matched by strong contributions from clarinet, flute, and horn, all allowed to be limpid and graceful, never forced into shrillness.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, A renowned American orchestra shows its refinement (Washington Post, April 18)

James R. Ostreich, A Mahler Mini-Festival in New York (New York Times, April 18)

Anthony Tommasini, San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall (New York Times, April 14)

Niels Swinkels, S.F. Symphony Plays from the Heart in Mahler, and Schubert (San Francisco Classical Voice, April 13)

Joshua Kosman, Cooke, SF Symphony combine in intoxicating Mahler (San Francisco Chronicle, April 7)
The “lean in” ethos Tilson Thomas was after continued in an extraordinary, disembodied reading of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” or at least part of it. In his Mahler cycle with San Francisco, Tilson Thomas recorded this piece, which allowed Mahler sneakily to circumvent having to write a fateful ninth symphony, with baritone and tenor. The New Zealand-born tenor Simon O’Neill had some force on the extroverted tenor arias, perhaps too much, not quite focused enough in tone, and rushing in some of the songs. Mahler’s orchestration is symphonic and can feel merciless in the tenor pieces, requiring some storminess in the singer, which O’Neill had to a degree, with some strain on the top notes.

If you are wondering why Tilson Thomas would trade out the baritone version of the cycle for the mezzo-soprano one, the answer could be that he had Sasha Cooke available. Tilson Thomas coaxed more exquisite sounds from the orchestra to envelop Cooke’s silky legato phrases, but under which she was never submerged. In “Von der Schönheit,” the orchestra turned on a dime, one minute floating ethereally, the next ranting through the interlude of boys galloping on their horses, and then sighing in the postlude with the yearning maiden. The sense of desolation in “Der Abschied” was overwhelming, the masterfully gloomy orchestration, the gorgeous flute and oboe solos. Oh, eternally Love-Life-drunk world indeed.