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31.5.07

Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne in Danger

Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne:

New Opera Films (Ionarts, September 18, 2004)

Auber's Haÿdée in Compiègne (Ionarts, December 5, 2004)
available at Amazon
Saint-Saëns, Henry VIII


available at Amazon
Chabrier, Une éducation manquée


available at Amazon
Meyerbeer, Dinorah


available at Amazon
Thomas, Le songe d'une nuit d'été


available at Amazon
Poulenc, La voix humaine
Pierre Jourdan has made some wonderful productions, especially of forgotten operas, in his role as General Director of the Théâtre impérial de Compiègne. Armelle Héliot's recent article (Le Théâtre impérial de Compiègne en danger, May 15) in Le Figaro reports the disturbing news that that institution has had its government funding slashed (my translation and links added):
This is a man still standing who is fighting for his life's work. A man whose dignity and force of spirit have always struck those who speak with him. A musical aristocrat, an artist who chose to be in the shadows. Pierre Jourdan, after long years spent near Gabriel Dussurget at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, had dreamed of finding a place where the « Théâtre français de la musique », whose mission since 1987 has been to make known works dropped from the repertory, could grow in peace. He rediscovered the Théâtre impérial de ­Compiègne and fought for it to be reopened. That was in 1991.

You would be stunned to rediscover this sleeping beauty now. A hall commissioned by Napoléon III of the architect Ancelet but that did not open because of the 1870 war. It is near the château, built on the very site where there was a convent, razed during the Revolution, the one in Georges Bernanos's Dialogue des Carmélites. Pierre Jourdan still remembers his first visit, when pigeons made the place their kingdom. He loves this theater with its excellent acoustic ("an empty case, wood and air"), whose wood carvings were never gilded, the walls never covered with color.
The productions in Compiègne have featured many great French singers, some of them discovered there. Jourdan, who got started as a film director, always realized the power of film and released many DVDs of the theater's productions, in cooperation with TF1. Only a few of those DVDs are widely available anymore, sadly, as I would also love to see Darius Milhaud's Christophe Colomb or Stavros Xarhakos' Le Visiteur.

For the 2007-08 season, Pierre Jourdan was planning to concentrate on the composer he is calling « le Mozart français » -- Boieldieu. However, the budget is covered partially by the local government, only about half, with the rest coming from wealthy backers (about 45%). The Conseil général de l'Oise has announced that they will cut funding to the Compiègne theater by 35%, or 230,000 €, which was the money intended in the budget to cover the initial costs of the Boieldieu productions, Ma tante Aurore and Jean de Paris. After deciding not to cancel the productions, Jourdan has opted for concert performances.

30.5.07

Bruckneriano


I was reminded just how much I like the Sixth Symphony of Bruckner when I heard a performance of Bruckner’s (allegedly) most popular symphony, the Fourth, last Monday in Rome. The Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Marek Janowski took a crack at the “Romantic”. But while a preceding Horn Concerto by Mozart (No. 3 – Alessio Allegrini blowing his own horn) was solid, sumptuous, with a skilled and softly playing soloist, Bruckner did not quite come across. The very reserved applause from a sparse audience in Renzo Piano’s gorgeous if acoustically limited Sala Santa Cecilia, the biggest of three ‘scarabs‘ sitting on the “Auditorium” complex, suggested that the audience didn’t ‘get’ Bruckner. Not surprising, because neither did the orchestra. There were fine touches amid able music-making, few enough sordid brass moments – but the result sounded like I imagine it would if a German were to recite from theDecamerone or Comedia in perfectly proper Italian, but without actually understanding the language.

available at Amazon
A. Bruckner, Symphony No.6,
Haitink / Dresden Staatskapelle
Hässler PROFIL

If Bruckner’s Fourth didn’t speak to me, it was not only because the orchestra with a history even longer than its name (it made its first music in 1585 as the Congregazione dei Musici sotto l’invocazione della Beata Vergine e dei Santi Gregorio e Cecilia) didn’t know what to do with the Austrian composer nor bothered much with a wide range of dynamics. I just can’t think of the Fourth as quite as great as it is always made out to be. Come to think of it – and given the right recording – I like any of the other 'core' Bruckner symphonies (counting from the Third onward) better than the Fourth. Certainly the Sixth, rarely played and the least recorded of the “mature” Symphonies. I learned to love this symphony, composed between 1879 and 1881 and dedicated to his landlord, in Sergiu Celibidache’s broad-as-can-be recording on EMI. The recording is a little difficult to get but worth every penny for the warmth it conveys and the details that emerge from it. Celi's rendition achieves something that Jochum (DG), Karajan (DG), Wand (RCA) and Klemperer (EMI) do not quite manage. And ever since I’ve been looking for a recording that can match Celibidache while perhaps offering a tighter first and fourth movement. Kent Nagano’s recording was very good (HMU 901901), but still no match.

available at Amazon Bruckner, Sy.6, Celi / MPhil
EMI

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Bruckner, Sy.6, Wand / NDRSO
RCA

UK | DE | FR
That match has now crossed my desk in form of Bernard Haitink’s live recording with the Staatskapelle Dresden on theProfil label’s “Edition Staatskapelle Vol.14″ disc. Profil is Günter Hänssler’s new label and issues live recordings that range from the obscure to definitive collectors’ items. (A German (!) Katja Kabanova from 1949, actually a fine performance in surprisingly good sound represents the former, Günter Wand’s performances with the Munich Philharmonic, or the Dresden Staatskapelle edition, the latter).

With this 2003 Bruckner Sixth, Profil has issued a recording that should enter the mainstream. Taut rhythms in broadly played music, excellent playing, and loving execution make this as engaging a Bruckner Symphony as you could possibly hope to hear. At 57 minutes Haitink is, if anything, on the brisker side, though he never sounds it. The A-major Majestoso rises in its full might without being ponderous. The Adagio, one of Bruckner’s finest next to that of the Seventh, flows gloriously. The Finale is full of the zest that had given rise to Bruckner punning that the Sixth was his coyest (or ‘sauciest’) symphony (“Die Sechste ist die Keckste”). Excellent sound does its part to make this release a winner. Indeed, it’s so good, it might convince even Italians of Bruckner’s genius.

Tic, Toc, Choc

Alexandre Tharaud:
available at Amazon
Rameau suites
(2002)

available at Amazon
Bach Italian concertos
(2005)

available at Amazon
Chopin waltzes
(2006)
Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Tic toc choc, Alexandre Tharaud
(released May 8, 2007)
As previewed last month, Harmonia Mundi has released a new Couperin CD by pianist Alexandre Tharaud. We have reviewed several of this French pianist's recordings -- Chopin, Rameau, Bach (and the complete Ravel set forthcoming). His recordings have been in the No. 1 spot on Jens's survey of the year's best recordings in both 2005 and 2006. One of many things that make Tharaud's playing so exciting is his informed approach to Baroque music, even though he always plays on a modern instrument. In the liner notes of his superb Rameau CD, Tharaud wrote, "It's obvious that today, after the phenomenal work of many musicologists and of musicians like William Christie, Christophe Rousset, Scott Ross, and Olivier Baumont, we play Rameau with a much more profound sense of the style. [...] I no longer play Bach and Scarlatti in the same way as before. I think that nowadays it's essential for a pianist to immerse himself in Baroque music." These are words that make this baroqueux musicologist's heart sing.

Angela Hewitt:
available at Amazon
Couperin 1
(2003)

available at Amazon
Couperin 2
(2004)

available at Amazon
Couperin 3
(2005)
Since that 2002 Rameau disc, Tharaud has continued to play Baroque music, and not just Bach, in recital while planning his next Baroque recording. The kernel of the program of this disc, devoted to the music of François Couperin (1668-1733), was a piece Tharaud has played often as an encore, Le Tic-Toc-Choc, ou Les Maillotins from the 18e Ordre, which gave him the theme of playfulness. Using that work "as the centerpiece," Tharaud writes in the liner notes, he "gathered together some of Couperin's most 'pianistic' pieces, underlining the playful aspect of some of them, such as Les Tours de Passe-passe and Les Calotines." The selections, drawn from all over the four books of Pièces de clavecin that Couperin published later in life, are in no particular order. Only a few of the 27 ordres, or suites, have more than one piece selected, and those are not paired together.

Couperin on Harpsichord:
available at Amazon
Olivier Baumont


available at Amazon
Christophe Rousset


available at Amazon
Gustav Leonhardt


available at Amazon
William Christie and Christophe Rousset
Tharaud's process seems to have been to select the pieces with the most pianistic possibilities and adapt them, almost recompose some of them, albeit with great sensitivity. The results are less true to the score than Angela Hewitt's marvelous recordings: her 3-CD set is also not complete but is arranged in three exquisite volumes with each complete or incomplete ordre generally kept together. The uniformity of the Hewitt recordings, cut from the same sublime cloth, is contrasted by Tharaud's chasse aux couleurs, a greater contrast of sound made possible by a freer use of the sustaining pedal and a willingness to stray from the score. Where Hewitt's reading, the only comparable choice for Couperin on the piano, is gentle, tastefully embellished, and rhythmically propelled, Tharaud is angular, at times frenetic, spirituel, perhaps a little over the edge. There is a definite sense of Tharaud's connection to Le Tic-Toc-Choc as an encore piece.

Les ombres errantes, the last piece in the 25e Ordre, is a good example. Hewitt's shadows wander mutely in a murky twilight, hands reaching out timidly to find something familiar to guide their way, while Tharaud's are more erratic, with stronger voicings that cause lines to ping out against one another. It is the same theatrical leaning that comes out in Tharaud's jagged Tricoteuses (Knitting ladies) and his wistful Carillon de Cithère (Carillon of Cythera, the soundtrack of Watteau's Embarkation for Cythera) with its softly clanging, quasi-obsessive A bell.

Tharaud adapted Musète de Taverni, an evocation of rustic bagpipes notated by Couperin for five hands, by layering his own recording over himself. In a similar way, the Bruit de guerre from La Triomphante is augmented with the sound of a drum, played by Pablo Pico. These playful interpretations are in line with the spirit found in the works selected by Tharaud, many of which are named for games (Tours de passe-passe, or sleights of hand, and Les Maillotins, or rope-dancers) or require the performer's hands to make a playful show of dexterity, especially in hand crossing or inter-manual exchange (difficult, but not impossible, to reproduce on the piano). Appropriately, the world of childhood is evoked by other movements, like the hypnotically beautiful Le Dodo ou l'Amour du berceau (Nighty-night, or Cradle's love), indicated by Couperin to be at the tempo of a cradle song.

As Tharaud did on his Rameau CD, which ended with Debussy's Homage à Rameau, he concludes this Couperin disc with a piece by another composer, Jacques Duphly's La Pothoïn. While not expressly a tribute to Couperin, it was composed at a time when the fortepiano was supplanting the harpsichord, and Tharaud observes quite correctly in his liner note comment that Duphly seems to be looking backward to the golden age of French harpsichord music, represented by the four books published by Couperin.

Harmonia Mundi HMC 901956

New Opera Notes: Faust's Long, Slow Agony

Faust by Philippe Fénelon, directed by Pet Halmen, Théâtre du Capitole, ToulouseThe Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse premiered Faust, the new opera that it commissioned from Philippe Fénelon, on May 25. Fénelon assembled his own libretto, adapting the legend directly (and in German) from Nikolaus Lenau's Faust: Ein Gedicht (1836). Francis Carlin published a review (More modern operatic agony, May 29) in the Financial Times:

For his fourth opera, Fénelon has adapted Lenau’s profoundly pessimistic poem in its original German and the vocal line gags on its abstruse philosophy. The text needs radical pruning to make it opera-viable but Fénelon actually complicates matters by turning on his grand style and throwing the orchestral book at it: for much of the evening, the singers battle it out with thickly scored, hyperactive music that shows off technical virtuosity but dulls the ear with unvarying dynamics. The second of the two acts temporarily abandons the energetic redrafting of Berg’s post-expressionism (think Lulu) for a choral passage redolent of Mussorgsky and a passion-style choral; but both influences seem like padding to help the opera pass the one hour watershed for modern music, beyond which audiences start to fret. There’s more of the same in a dramatic interlude for taped organ, one of those gloriously bright French instruments, and a curious collage of machine noises. This also serves to fill time when the sets are being changed but it still feels like an arbitrary graft. The fleeting quote from the finale of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto sticks out like a sore thumb.

[...] This Faust left me wondering once again why modern composers so often make life so difficult for themselves and their audiences by choosing texts or subjects that are unsuited to operatic treatment. Fénelon has unwittingly written another chapter in the long, slow agony of contemporary opera.
It's funny because it's true. For some context, we go to a French reviewer, Pierre Gervasoni (Un "Faust" sans fantastique ni démesure, May 30) in Le Monde (my translation): "As opposed to Goethe, this is a Faust with no Gretchen, a Faust whom Lenau shows in the midst of thinning out the leaves from the flower of ultimate knowledge. It is a Faust without modernity that Fénelon unfolds very professionally for more than two hours. [...] There was no Faustian excess witnessed until a long, unhinged organ solo (as if Fénelon meant to pay his debts to Olivier Messiaen, the Christian guiding light who was also his composition teacher) and the phantasmagoric universe evoked only by a sequence of musique concrète."

Dip Your Ears, No. 80b (Bruckner 6)

I was reminded just how much I like the Sixth Symphony of Bruckner when I heard a performance of Bruckner’s (allegedly) most popular symphony, the Fourth, last Monday in Rome. The Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Marek Janowski took a crack at the “Romantic”. But while a preceding Horn Concerto by Mozart (No. 3 – Alessio Allegrini blowing his own horn) was solid, sumptuous, with a skilled and softly playing soloist, Bruckner did not quite come across. The very reserved applause from a sparse audience in Renzo Piano’s gorgeous if acoustically limited Sala Santa Cecilia, the biggest of three ‘scarabs‘ sitting on the “Auditorium” complex, suggested that the audience didn’t ‘get’ Bruckner. Not surprising, because neither did the orchestra. There were fine touches amid able music-making, few enough sordid brass moments – but the result sounded like I imagine it would if a German were to recite from theDecamerone or Comedia in perfectly proper Italian, but without actually understanding the language.

available at Amazon
A. Bruckner, Symphony No.6,
Haitink / Dresden Staatskapelle
Hässler PROFIL

If Bruckner’s Fourth didn’t speak to me, it was not only because the orchestra with a history even longer than its name (it made its first music in 1585 as the Congregazione dei Musici sotto l’invocazione della Beata Vergine e dei Santi Gregorio e Cecilia) didn’t know what to do with the Austrian composer nor bothered much with a wide range of dynamics. I just can’t think of the Fourth as quite as great as it is always made out to be. Come to think of it – and given the right recording – I like any of the other 'core' Bruckner symphonies (counting from the Third onward) better than the Fourth. Certainly the Sixth, rarely played and the least recorded of the “mature” Symphonies. I learned to love this symphony, composed between 1879 and 1881 and dedicated to his landlord, in Sergiu Celibidache’s broad-as-can-be recording on EMI. The recording is a little difficult to get but worth every penny for the warmth it conveys and the details that emerge from it. Celi's rendition achieves something that Jochum (DG), Karajan (DG), Wand (RCA) and Klemperer (EMI) do not quite manage. And ever since I’ve been looking for a recording that can match Celibidache while perhaps offering a tighter first and fourth movement. Kent Nagano’s recording was very good (HMU 901901), but still no match.

available at Amazon Bruckner, Sy.6, Celi / MPhil
EMI

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Bruckner, Sy.6, Wand / NDRSO
RCA

UK | DE | FR
That match has now crossed my desk in form of Bernard Haitink’s live recording with the Staatskapelle Dresden on theProfil label’s “Edition Staatskapelle Vol.14″ disc. Profil is Günter Hänssler’s new label and issues live recordings that range from the obscure to definitive collectors’ items. (A German (!) Katja Kabanova from 1949, actually a fine performance in surprisingly good sound represents the former, Günter Wand’s performances with the Munich Philharmonic, or the Dresden Staatskapelle edition, the latter).

With this 2003 Bruckner Sixth, Profil has issued a recording that should enter the mainstream. Taut rhythms in broadly played music, excellent playing, and loving execution make this as engaging a Bruckner Symphony as you could possibly hope to hear. At 57 minutes Haitink is, if anything, on the brisker side, though he never sounds it. The A-major Majestoso rises in its full might without being ponderous. The Adagio, one of Bruckner’s finest next to that of the Seventh, flows gloriously. The Finale is full of the zest that had given rise to Bruckner punning that the Sixth was his coyest (or ‘sauciest’) symphony (“Die Sechste ist die Keckste”). Excellent sound does its part to make this release a winner. Indeed, it’s so good, it might convince even Italians of Bruckner’s genius.

29.5.07

Film Scores for Comedies

A reader of Terry Teachout's recently asked if there were any "Hollywood comedies from the golden age" with great film scores. So far, Alex Ross, Lisa Hirsch, Marc Geelhoed, and Matthew Guerrieri have responded. The conundrum lies in the fact that most of the film scores one might consider truly great tend to be for dramas. Teachout specifies that he is looking not for "film comedies whose well-crafted scores contribute greatly to their total effect" but for a comedy in which "the music [is] truly distinguished in its own right." Alex Ross already suggested the movie that first popped into my head, Charade, and I would add another superb Henry Mancini score to it, Breakfast at Tiffany's (which won Mancini the Academy Award for Best Musical Score in 1961).

Play Time, movie posterThinking of that last movie made me look up the Academy Award winners for Best Score, and although the award used to be specified as "Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture," the list of nominees and winners skews heavily to the dramas, as Teachout assumed would be true. (That is, if we are excluding musical comedies, of course.) Other thoughts that have come to mind are, for movies that are purely comedies, Ernest Gold's music for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and, thinking outside the American box, Michel Legrand's music for Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, although that is really a musical comedy. Other possibilities are films that are not strictly comedies, like the black comedy Poruchik Kizhe (Lieutenant Kije, score by Prokofiev), Jacques Demy's much stronger Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (score also by Michel Legrand, but it's really a musical and not all laughs), Fellini's La dolce vita or Satyricon (although neither is a traditional comedy by any stretch of the imagination) or Zeffirelli's Taming of the Shrew (all scores by Nino Rota).

Well, there is one other category and that is silent films, but the scores have not always survived. An exception is the modern silent genre exemplified by Jacques Tati's Monsieur Hulot movies, where the music sets the tone and tells much of the story, like Mon oncle (music by Franck Barcellini and Alain Romans) and Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (music by Alain Romans). The score by Francis Lemarque for the last Hulot film, Play Time, is probably the best one.

Winners at Cannes

Jane Fonda congratulates Cristian Mungiu
Jane Fonda presents the Palme d'Or to director Cristian Mungiu
The awards at the Cannes Film Festival were announced on Saturday night: this article from Le Monde has stills from all of the winning films and links to full reviews (in French). Rumanian directors won big this year, under a jury presided over by Stephen Frears, with the Palme d'Or going to Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and the award in the Un Certain Regard competition going posthumously to Cristian Nemescu for California Dreamin'. The remaining awards were as follows:
  • Grand Prix du Jury (second prize) -- Naomi Kawase (Japan), Mogari No Mori (The Mourning Forest)
  • Best Director -- Julian Schnabel (U.S.A.), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
  • Best Screenplay -- Fatih Akin (Turkey), The Edge of Heaven
  • Best Actress -- Jeon Do-yeon (South Korea) in Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong)
  • Best Actor -- Konstantin Lavronenko in The Banishment (Andrei Zviaguintsev)
  • Prix du Jury -- Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, Persepolis tied with Carlos Reygadas, Stellet Licht
  • 60th Anniversary Prize -- Gus Van Sant, Paranoid Park
  • Camera d'Or (Best First Film) -- Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen (Israel), Meduzot (Jellyfish)
  • Palme d'Or for Short Film -- Elisa Miller (Mexico), Ver Llover (To see crying)
The French news has been noting that a movie expected to win something this year, No Country for Old Men by the Coen brothers, got shafted. It will not be released in the United States until November. We will bring you reviews if and when we are able to see any of these films.

28.5.07

Brundibár

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Hans Krása, Brundibár, Music of Remembrance, Gerard Schwarz
(released December 12, 2006)

available at Amazon
Brundibár, adapted by Tony Kushner, illustrations by Maurice Sendak


available at Amazon
I Never Saw Another Butterfly, drawings and poems by children in the Terezín ghetto
One of Master Ionarts' earliest operatic memories is a performance he and I attended together a couple years ago (when he was three). Hans Krása's children's opera Brundibár was performed by the prisoners, children and adults, of the Terezín ghetto, where the composer was interned. The production we saw was mounted by the Washington National Opera's Opera Camp for Kids, a summer program for talented kids, from 10 to 14 years old. It was especially memorable because the person who created the role of the Cat, Ela Stein Weissberger, spoke about her experience of performing in the opera and surviving the Holocaust. In short, we both loved the opera and the staging. This past Christmas, I gave Master Ionarts a copy of the book adaptation of the opera, with an English text by Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America, and illustrations by Maurice Sendak, which was the basis of the English-language adaptation of the opera we saw.

Master Ionarts and I read the book together a lot, and recently we have been able to revisit the music, in the world premiere recording of the Tony Kushner version, made by Music of Remembrance. That Seattle-based group has made performing music from the World War II era its specialty, especially music by composers killed in the Holocaust like Hans Krása, who was put to death as soon as he arrived at Auschwitz in 1944. This disc has quickly become Master Ionarts' preferred listening at meal times, and I will probably have to let him keep it in his room eventually. In the production we saw, the cast was entirely composed of children, as it was at Terezín. This recording uses all adult voices, meaning that the performances are all full-voiced and strong as a result, but the loss of the connection with the opera's fragile origins may be greater than what is gained. The only children's voices are the chorus parts, sung by the fine Northwest Boychoir, with a lovely Lullaby, for example, in the final act.

The opera is only 31 minutes long, so it is supplemented on this disc with the Overture for Small Orchestra. It is possible that Krása was planning to use the piece, composed in 1943 to 1944, as an overture to Brundibár, although if true, that plan was never realized. The overture is scored for the same forces as the opera, including a large part for piano (Krása was a pianist). It is a nice little piece that would make a good introduction to the opera, for anyone out there thinking about performing Brundibár. The disc concludes with Lori Laitman's I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a cycle of six songs for soprano and clarinet offered here in its world premiere recording. The songs are set to poetry left behind by the children of the Terezín ghetto, preserved with their drawings. These precious documents, reproduced in a famous book from which this song cycle takes its title, are now housed in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here in Washington. The poems have been set to music many times, and as in most settings, the power of this cycle comes principally from the tragic tone of the words of children forced to understand horrible things.

Naxos 8.570119

UPDATE:
All is definitely not well at the Seattle Symphony, where the players have long been unhappy with their conductor, Gerard Schwarz, and the Board of Directors. [Lisa Hirsch]

27.5.07

BSO's Beethoven and Martinů

After a sensitive reading of Bruckner's 7th symphony last week, Günther Herbig was back in front of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for this weekend's concerts. With no concert at Strathmore, it meant a trip to Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Friday night, and well worth the effort. Once again, the musicians and the conductor indicated, by their playing and reactions after playing, that they have considerable respect for one another. The program opened with one of the little string sinfonias (no. 10, B minor) that Felix Mendelssohn wrote as a teenager. Occasionally exceptional students of mine will ask me to look at their compositions. Any teacher would be thrilled to see their 13-year-old student compose something like what Mendelssohn did (he would have been an 8th or 9th grader). The BSO gave a warm and pleasing performance of this one-movement work, which for whatever reason Mendelssohn wrote in five parts, dividing the violas (perhaps he had been listening to the Mozart string quintets).

The Mendelssohn was only the appetizer to a two-course meal of major symphonies, beginning with the sixth and final symphony of Bohuslav Martinů, an Ionarts favorite. Premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1955, during the composer's mostly unhappy sojourn in the United States, the work is a chimeric series of vignettes, loosely divided into three movements, that Martinů called Fantaisies symphoniques. The work seems to revisit the many chameleon-like transformations of the composer's style, chromatic swarms of bees, an atonal main theme in the first movement, folk-based melodic fragments, and even neoclassical film score writing. We commend Herbig for programming this profound modern symphony and for leading such a varied, well-sculpted performance.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, The BSO on a Very Good Night (Washington Post, May 26)

Tim Smith, Welcome exposure for Martinu (Baltimore Sun, May 26)
The second half of the concert was devoted to one of the most popular works in the symphonic literature, Beethoven's fifth symphony. Martinů refused to comment on the programmatic idea that he claimed lay behind his sixth symphony, although the tension and escape to fantasy seem to be related to the uneasiness of the time of its composition. All Beethoven reportedly said to Anton Schindler about his fifth symphony was that its now famous opening measures represented Fate knocking at the door. Whatever the sound may have meant, those repeated notes pervade the entire symphony, not just the first movement. This was also an excellent performance by the BSO, with Herbig paying particular attention to the soft dynamics, often ignored in Beethoven, which helped make the triumphant sections stand out more. Herbig may have pushed the tempo in the fast movements just a notch too far, as some of the motifs were a little muddied, but this was exciting listening.

Music Director Designate Marin Alsop will lead the Baltimore Symphony for two interesting programs in June, featuring Antonín Dvořák's 9th symphony and the Elgar cello concerto with Alisa Weilerstein (June 7 at Strathmore, June 8 to 10 in Baltimore) and the Brahms 4th symphony and Korngold violin concerto with Jonathan Carney in the season finale (June 14, 15, 17 in Baltimore, June 16 at Strathmore). Günther Herbig will be back with the BSO once next season (November 8 and 9, 2007), for Schubert's 9th symphony and the Sibelius violin concerto.

In Brief: Memorial Day Edition

Your regular Sunday roundup of links to Blogville and beyond.

  • Everyone has been having fun with the LOLcats phenomenon, including Wonkette who came up with a political caption for a certain (temporary) resident of Washington: "LOL!!!1! AHM IN UR WITE HAUS, FUKKIN UP UR COUNTREE." Jeremy Denk asks his readers to add to his attempt on musical ones. The Ionarts contribution is at right. [Think Denk]

  • Our favorite franco- and italophile tells a hilarious story about a French radio show trying to identify the best recording of Che gelida manina. Then she lets you listen to it -- and it's Carlo Bergonzi. [Vilaine Fille]

  • Peter Conrad previews an upcoming exhibit at London's Tate Modern, Dalí and Film, in which the surrealist's paintings and scenes from films are compared. [The Guardian]

  • We have reviewed powerhouse soprano Alessandra Marc, whom I called "an extremely potent dramatic soprano, the hydrogen bomb of the female register." La Cieca's latest installment of Unnatural Acts of Opera is La Marc singing the role of Silvana in Respighi's 1934 grand opera La fiamma. [Parterre Box]

  • Anne-Carolyn Bird has been in the Washington area for several days, but has she called me? Well, she is somewhat busy, preparing a role in the upcoming production of John Musto's Volpone with Wolf Trap Opera. Unfortunately, on opening night (June 22) I will be settling into the summer residence of Ionarts in Siena, Italy. When's the dress rehearsal, ACB? [The Concert]

  • Daniel Ginsberg, the talented young music critic with the Washington Post, published a great piece on Heinz Fricke, music director of Washington National Opera, which uses references to the recent film about the East German secret police's surveillance of artists, The Lives of Others, as a frame of reference. Nice work, Daniel! [Bloomberg News]

  • Alex Ross's travelogue article, visiting several orchestras in middle America, was a brilliant idea. His blog has pictures. [The Rest Is Noise]

26.5.07

La Piau

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Sandrine Piau, Mozart Opera Arias, Freiburger Barockorchester, Gottfried von der Goltz
(2002)
We have reviewed French soprano Sandrine Piau before at Ionarts, including her disc of Handel arias with Les Talens Lyriques and a live performance of Mozart's Il Rè Pastore with the Orchestre des Folies Françoises at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. A copy of her 2002 CD of Mozart arias recently came across my desk, and the experience has been worth the wait. La Piau gave an interview to Philippe Gelinaud shortly after this recording was released, where she has some noteworthy things to say about who created the embellished da capo repeats in her various performances and recordings. Christophe Rousset often writes them for his recordings, she said, as did Emmanuelle Haïm when she was Rousset’s assistant, but not Gloria Banditelli, under Fabio Biondi, when Piau composed her own. Her favorite da capos, she said, are those composed by Jérôme Corréas, including some on this Mozart CD (not credited) and some on the Handel CD (I pointed them out as excellent in my review).

La Piau is in top form on this disc, her high-flying soprano sounding as flexible and laser-like as ever in Nel grave tormento, Aspasia's demanding aria from Mitridate, Rè di Ponto, for example. The selection is well chosen, with only one familiar choice, a shimmering Ach, ich fühls: besides three of Aspasia's arias, there are three of Giunia's pieces from Lucio Silla, one of Elisa's from Il Rè Pastore, one for Servilia from La Clemenza di Tito, and three for Konstanze from Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In all of them, Piau combines a lush sense of legato line, a clear and refined vocal color, and sparkling agility. All of that technique can be used by Piau to create performances of devastating simplicity, as in the final track, Zaïde's Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben (see the video below, with Les Talens Lyriques). The ensemble behind La Piau is the Freiburger Barockorchester, and this is the first time they have reached my ears. The results make me interested in their other recordings.

Naïve E8877


Mozart, "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben" (from Zaïde), Sandrine Piau, Les
Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (recorded at the Festival de Saint-Denis, 2003)

This Week in MP3

Here is what was at the top of the Ionarts playlist for the week. Click on the link to read a review (if we have published one) or the album picture to buy it through Amazon (if available).

available at Amazon
Brahms, String Quartets and Piano Quintet, Emerson Quartet, Leon Fleisher (May 8, 2007)
available at Amazon
Tic-Toc-Choc, Alexandre Tharaud (May 8, 2007)
available at Amazon
Alfred Brendel in Recital (April 10, 2007)
available at Amazon
Véronique Gens, Tragédiennes, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (June 6, 2006)

Review
available at Amazon
Hans Krása, Brundibár (December 12, 2006)
available at Amazon
Korngold, Das Wunder der Heliane, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Gotthold Schwarz, RSO Berlin (2002 / 2007)