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

31.7.07

Paolo Pandolfo's Forqueray

available at Amazon
Antoine Forqueray, Pièces de Viole avec la Basse Continue, Paolo Pandolfo et al.
(re-released February 27, 2001)

available at Amazon
Improvisando (2006)


available at Amazon
Bach, Cello Suites (2001)
After hearing Paolo Pandolfo in concert at Dumbarton Oaks, I reviewed his rather fanciful adaptation of the Bach solo cello suites for his instrument, the elusive viol. That concert led me to several of Pandolfo's other recordings, too, beginning with this 2-CD set devoted to one of the composers Pandolfo played here in Washington, Antoine Forqueray (1672-1745). An approximate contemporary of J. S. Bach, Forqueray's life as performer and composer was bound up with the viol, an instrument that by that time was bordering on hopelessly antiquarian. This was especially true after the death of Marin Marais, Forqueray's rival, in 1728: Hubert LeBlanc famously said that if Marais played the viol like an angel, Forqueray played it like a devil.

Perhaps the viol and its ultra-subtle, complex music were too strongly associated with the court of Louis XIV, whom Forqueray served for much of his life, continuing in positions at court and royal chapel until his death. He never published any of his music, and all that remain from a posthumous collection published by Forqueray's son are 32 pieces gathered loosely in 5 suites, all of them presented in this set. That includes three of the pieces by Forqueray's son added to the third suite, but not the handful of other pieces attributed to Forqueray père in other anthologies. Indeed, some experts suspect that all of the music in the collection is actually by Forqueray's son, perhaps elaborations of pieces his father taught him. Forqueray fils (Jean-Baptiste Antoine, 1699-1782) dedicated the collection, in his father's name, to his own patron and then 20-year-old viol student, Madame Henriette de France (1727-1752), second daughter of Louis XV, who was shown playing her viol in a portrait by Jean-Marc Nattier.

The music is notated in the collection with the viol part on a single staff, always accompanied by a part for basso continuo, with figures. The recordings were made at two sessions, in 1994 and 1995, with various combinations of four other players covering the continuo part. In addition to Pandolfo on his 17th-century viol made by Nicolas Bertrand, a second bass viol, played by Guido Balestracci, sustains the bass line. The harmonies are filled in by Guido Morini (harpsichord), as well as Rolf Lislevand and Eduardo Eguez (on either theorbo or Baroque guitar). In one case, the pretty evocation of a mandolin in the second suite, there are guitars only and no harpsichord.


Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gamba
Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gamba

Madame Henriette de France by Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766)

The pieces are mostly named after people of characters, seeming to underscore their nature as volatile (Forqueray himself in the first suite), irrepressible (La Leclair in the second suite), affectionately grand (Couperin in the first suite, a return tribute for that composer's piece, La Forqueray), gentle (La Borde, who complimented the harpsichord playing of Forqueray's daughter-in-law), pompous (La Regente in the third suite), or pensive (La Du Vaucel in the third suite). The three pieces which Forqueray fils admitted were his own sound cut from different cloth, especially La Angrave in the third suite, which has a number of unusual progressions that do not sound that harmonious. Although the fifth suite is the most virtuosic, the pieces of the fourth suite please the most, from a tragically morose sarabande (La D'aubonne), through a neurotically oscillating La Sainscy, to two movements evoking the melancholy bells in the Parisian suburb of Passy. The second version, performed only by the two bass viols (a sonority used also in the sarabande of the fifth suite), is a particularly somber and austere moment in this generally lively recording.

Glossa GCD 2K0401

Classical Month in Washington (September)

Last month | Next month

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature. If there are concerts you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (ionarts at gmail dot com). Happy listening!

September 2, 2007 (Sun)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra Labor Day Concert [FREE]
U.S. Capitol, West Lawn

September 5, 2007 (Wed)
6 pm
Film Screening: Balanchine's Don Quixote (new print of 1956 performance)
Introduced by Suzanne Farrell (who starred as Dulcinea)
Millennium Stage
Kennedy Center

September 6, 2007 (Thu)
12:15 pm
Charles Miller, organ [FREE]
National City Christian Church (5 Thomas Circle NW)

September 7, 2007 (Fri)
5 pm
National Gallery Chamber Players Brass Ensemble [FREE]
National Gallery of Art (Sculpture Garden)

September 7, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Ground
American Opera Theater
Georgetown University, Davis Performing Arts Center
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, September 12)

September 7, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Kronos Quartet, Awakening
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 10)

September 7, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Christina Webster (flute) and Ya-Ting Liou (piano)
An die Musik LIVE (Baltimore, Md.)

September 8, 2007 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Verdi, Macbeth (Washington National Opera, 2007)
WETA (90.9 FM)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 14)

September 8, 2007 (Sat)
12 noon to 7 pm
Kennedy Center Open House
Kennedy Center

September 8, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Ground
American Opera Theater
Georgetown University, Davis Performing Arts Center

September 8, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Beethoven Festival Concert and Silent Auction
Washington Sinfonietta
National City Christian Church (5 Thomas Circle NW)

September 9, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
Bach, Goldberg Variations
An die Musik LIVE (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 11)

September 9, 2007 (Sun)
5 pm
Ground
American Opera Theater
Georgetown University, Davis Performing Arts Center

September 11, 2007 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Ralitza Patcheva, piano [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)

September 11, 2007 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Washington Musica Viva: Mighty Saxophone of Charley Gerard
Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum (Bethesda, Md.)

September 12, 2007 (Wed)
8 pm
Moscow Sretensky Monastery Choir [FREE]
Library of Congress
Review -- Cecelia Porter (Ionarts, September 14)

September 13, 2007 (Thu)
12:15 pm
Stephen Kalnoske, organ [FREE]
National City Christian Church (5 Thomas Circle NW)

September 14, 2007 (Fri)
5 pm
U.S. Navy Band Commodores [FREE]
National Gallery of Art (Sculpture Garden)

September 14, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Theodore M. Guerrant, organ
Saint Margaret's Episcopal Church (1830 Connecticut Avenue NW)

September 15, 2007 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Nicholas Maw, Sophie's Choice (Washington National Opera, 2006)
WETA (90.9 FM)
Review -- Charles T. Downey and Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, October 10, 2006)

September 15, 2007 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Sean Jones Quintet [FREE]
National Gallery of Art (Sculpture Garden)

September 15, 2007 (Sat)
6 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra 2007 Celebration Gala
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Joe Banno (Washington Post, September 17)

September 15, 2007 (Sat)
6 pm
Emerson String Quartet
Kaija Saariaho: Terra Memoria
Smithsonian Resident Associates Program
National Museum of Natural History

September 15, 2007 (Sat)
7 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 17)

September 15, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Louis Cheslock, The Artist (c. 1950)
World premiere of an operatic setting of H. L. Mencken's 1912 play
Peabody Chamber Opera
Maryland Historical Society

September 15, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Symphonic Blockbusters: National Voices
National Philharmonic
Music Center at Strathmore

September 15, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Larissa Dedova, piano [FREE]
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

September 16, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
U.S. Army Field Band [FREE]
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

September 16, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Symphonic Blockbusters: National Voices
National Philharmonic
Music Center at Strathmore

September 16, 2007 (Sun)
7 pm
Season Opening Ball Concert
With soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Peng Peng
National Symphony Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall (live radio broadcast, WETA 90.9 FM)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 18)

September 17, 2007 (Mon)
7 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 17, 2007 (Mon)
9 pm
Eusia String Quartet with pianist James Dick
Concert from the National Gallery of Art
Front Row Washington (WETA 90.9 FM)

September 18, 2007 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Immanuela Gruenberg, piano [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)

September 19, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 19, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Sandra Ferrandez (soprano) and Laïla Barnat (piano)
French and Spanish songs
An die Musik LIVE (Baltimore, Md.)

September 20, 2007 (Thu)
12:15 pm
Mary Mozelle (organ) and Chuck Seipp (trumpet) [FREE]
National City Christian Church (5 Thomas Circle NW)

September 20, 2007 (Thu)
7 pm
Soheil Nasseri (piano)
Music by Beethoven, Schumann, and Haskell Small
An die Musik LIVE (Baltimore, Md.)

September 20, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 20, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Margarete Babinsky, piano
Music by Egon Wellesz
Embassy of Austria
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, September 22)

September 20, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Levine Woodwind Quintet
The Mansion at Strathmore

September 21, 2007 (Fri)
5 pm
U.S. Navy Band Commodores [FREE]
National Gallery of Art (Sculpture Garden)

September 22, 2007 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Puccini, Madama Butterfly (Washington National Opera, 2006)
WETA (90.9 FM)

September 23, 2007 (Sun)
2 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House (live simulcast, National Mall)

September 23, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Monument Piano Trio
Music by Vaques, Arensky, Sheng
An die Musik LIVE (Baltimore, Md.)

September 23, 2007 (Sun)
4 pm
Nathan Gunn (baritone) and Julie Gunn (piano)
Châteauville Foundation (Castleton Farms, Va.)

September 23, 2007 (Sun)
4:30 pm
Contemporary Music Forum
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, September 25)

September 23, 2007 (Sun)
6 pm
Bellini, I Puritani
Lawrence Brownlee (tenor) and Sarah Coburn (soprano)
Washington Concert Opera
Lisner Auditorium
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 25)

September 23, 2007 (Sun)
7 pm
Keyboard Conversations: America the Beautiful
Jeffrey Siegel, piano
George Mason University Center for the Fine Arts

September 24, 2007 (Mon)
4:30 pm
Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor (with Natalie Dessay)
Season Opening Gala, Metropolitan Opera
Sirius Satellite Radio

September 24, 2007 (Mon)
9 pm
Till Fellner, piano (Ionarts review)
Concert from the National Gallery of Art
Front Row Washington (WETA 90.9 FM)

September 25, 2007 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Ensemble Gaudior [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)

September 25, 2007 (Tue)
7:30 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 26, 2007 (Wed)
5 pm
Guarneri String Quartet, open rehearsal [FREE]
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

September 26, 2007 (Wed)
7 pm
Bach, B Minor Mass
Washington Bach Consort
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, September 29)

September 26, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Composers in Conversation: John Adams
Baltimore Theater Project
Report -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 27)

September 26, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Alexander Gheorghiu (violin) and Florian Müller (piano)
Music by Schoenberg, Webern, Cage
Embassy of Austria
Review -- Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, September 29)

September 26, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Mariusz Patyra, violin
La Maison Française

September 27, 2007 (Thu)
12:15 pm
Grace Cho (piano) with string trio [FREE]
National City Christian Church (5 Thomas Circle NW)

September 27, 2007 (Thu)
7 pm
NSO Pops: An Evening with Roberta Flack
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, September 29)

September 27, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 27, 2007 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Adams, Fearful Symmetries and Mahler 5th
First concert with Marin Alsop as Music Director
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Michael Lodico and Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, September 30)

September 27, 2007 (Thu)
8 pm
University of Maryland Symphonic Wind Ensemble [FREE]
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

September 28, 2007 (Fri)
5 pm
Bruno Nasta, jazz violin [FREE]
National Gallery of Art (Sculpture Garden)

September 28, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Adams, Fearful Symmetries and Mahler 5th
First concerts with Marin Alsop as Music Director
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 28, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

September 28, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Bin Huang (violin), Sa Chen (piano), and Wendy Law (cello)
Music Center at Strathmore

September 28, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
NSO Pops: An Evening with Roberta Flack
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
1:30 pm
Duke Bluebeard's Castle / Gianni Schicchi (Washington National Opera, 2007)
WETA (90.9 FM)

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
7 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
7 pm
Domenico Scarlatti and His Circle [FREE, reservation required]
Zarabanda Baroque Consort
National Portrait Gallery (Reynolds Center, 8th and G Streets NW)

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Benefit Recital and Dinner
Vocal Arts Society

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Katryna Tan, harp
Embassy Series
Embassy of Singapore (3100 International Place NW)

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Adams, Fearful Symmetries and Mahler 5th
First concerts with Marin Alsop as Music Director
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Bach Double Bach
With violinists Nicolas Kendall and Mariusz Patyra
National Philharmonic (Chamber Orchestra)
Music Center at Strathmore

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra
With Carlos César Rodriguez (music by Liszt, Adams, Rachmaninoff)
Rachel M. Schlesinger Center (Alexandria, Va.)

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
NSO Pops: An Evening with Roberta Flack
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Benefit concert for vendors of Eastern Market
Countertop Quartet (vocal ensemble)
Saint Peter's Catholic Church (2nd and C Streets SE)

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (with pianist Carlos Rodriguez)
Schlesinger Concert Hall (Alexandria, Va.)

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Great Noise Ensemble, with Duo46
Music by Berio, Adams, and others
Catholic University School of Music, Ward Hall

September 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Peabody Symphony Orchestra
With Manuel Barrueco
Peabody Institute, Friedberg Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 30, 2007 (Sun)
2 pm
La Bohème
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 30, 2007 (Sun)
2 pm
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Young Concert Artists Series
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, October 2)

September 30, 2007 (Sun)
2 pm
Beth Chandler (flute) and Gabriel Dobner (piano)
Kennedy Center Family Theater

September 30, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Adams, Fearful Symmetries and Mahler 5th
First concerts with Marin Alsop as Music Director
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 30, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Piano Society of Greater Washington: Concert and reception
Calvary Lutheran Church (Silver Spring, Md.)

September 30, 2007 (Sun)
4 pm
Bach Sinfonia, Carmina, and Washington Kantorei [FREE]
Program includes Bach's Magnificat
National Presbyterian Church

September 30, 2007 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, October 3)

30.7.07

Ionarts in the Low Countries: Expo Musica Antiqua Brugge


Johann Zahler fortepiano, ca. 1805 (all photos by Michael Lodico)
The Expo Musica Antiqua, as part of the 44th annual Brugge Early Music Festival, began July 25th as part of the Flanders Festival and offers visitors an exhibition of early keyboard instruments, most of which are new instruments constructed after historical examples. Among the many exceptional instruments in the Expo is an antique circa 1805 5.5-octave (FF-c4) fortepiano by Johann Zahler of Brünn, now known as the Czech city of Brno. Besides being unique as apparently the only example of Zahler’s work in known existence, the instrument may be heard on two recent Mozart recordings from Harmonia Mundi by Richard Egarr -– the newly appointed director of the Academy of Ancient Music -- Mozart Fantasies and Rondos (2006) and Mozart Violin Sonatas, 1781 with violinist Andrew Manze (2005).

Wanckel and Temmler, ca. 1845 (notice that the strings do not cross)
Washington, D.C., audiences will hopefully remember Egarr’s exceptional performance at the National Gallery of Art earlier this year. Having had the opportunity to spend some time with the instrument at its restorer’s Amsterdam workshop (Gijs Wilderom), later at the Expo I found it special to realize that it is possible for the public to also get to know this instrument via professional recording.

Wilderom found the Zahler instrument in not-so-good shape in the Czech Republic and indeed had to “warp it back” into condition. In addition to its visual beauty, the aural results of the restoration include a tone that is light, yet deep, a superb clarity of sound, and the possibility of absolute pianissimos with or without the modulator (soft-pedal). It is no wonder that Wilderom is hesitant to let the instrument go. Wilderom’s Opus 1, a circa 1805 5-octave (FF-g3) copy of an Anton Walter instrument in a private Prague collection, is also on display.


Lute-Harpsichord
Other instruments of note at the Expo include an early 18th-century Lute-Harpsichord -– J. S. Bach supposedly possessed two of them –- reconstructed only from early writings about music since no actual or iconographic examples of this warm-sounding instrument exist; a copy of a Clavicytherium by an anonymous builder from 1480; and a gentle-sounding antique Wanckel and Temmler piano with intact Viennese action from circa 1845 (restored by Roeland Moorer).

The Festival van Vlaanderen's Brugge Musica Antiqua continues through August 8th and includes among many things the various early music competitions, a harpsichord performance by Gustav Leonhardt on July 31, and a semi-staged production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by La Venexiana on August 4, exactly 400 years to the day after its premiere. See the Ionarts reviews of recent performances of Orfeo in Aix-en-Provence and Siena.

29.7.07

Geminiani on Corelli

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
F. Geminiani, Concerti Grossi, Academy of Ancient Music, Andrew Manze
(released September 12, 2000)
Having recently reviewed the new set of Handel's op. 3 concerti grossi from the Academy of Ancient Music, it was good to return to an older recording of works by one of Handel's leading competitors. Francesco Geminiani came from a similar Italian background as il caro Sassone, having also worshipped at the feet of Arcangelo Corelli. To make the point of his musical heritage, Geminiani published a set of twelve concerti grossi, adaptations and reworkings of Corelli's famous op. 5 set of violin sonatas. The first six were better received, the pieces based on Corelli's sonate da chiesa. This summer, I have been listening to the second set of six, based on sonata da camera models. This little re-release of the second half of Andrew Manze's 1999 recording of the complete set of twelve concerti grossi, with the Academy of Ancient Music, has provided much pleasure.

The most substantial and, to my ears, best of the six is no. 12, the final piece in the set and the one that breaks the mold. In D minor, it is a set of 24 variations on the Follia theme, a simple little ditty and set of chords that has yielded some magnificent elaborations, especially in the Baroque period. Geminiani's expansion of Corelli's original makes for infectious rhythmic interplay in this enervated rendition. (I last heard this piece live from the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin at the Library of Congress two years ago, a performance that was even more stunning in terms of virtuosity.) The other five concerti consist of a prelude and three or four dance movements of various types, with the most beautiful being the substantial no. 8, in E minor. Much of the delight comes from the lucid, rarefied solo playing of violinist Andrew Manze, whose slightly conservative pacing lent grace more than brio in many cases. As encore, Geminiani's D minor cello sonata (op. 5, no. 2) is a subtle dessert, featuring the group's current music director, Richard Egarr, at the harpsichord.

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907261.62

28.7.07

Holy German Art: Wagnerian Games on the "Green Hill"

The 25th of July 2007 will be a notable date in the history of the Bayreuth Festival, since it marks the premiere of Katharina Wagner's production of Die Meistersinger. In and of itself it might not be that remarkable that a Wagner descendant stages an opera on the "Green Hill" - not even at the tender age of 29. Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner, the grandsons of Richard, were 33 and 31 respectively, when they took over the Festival in 1951 and most Wagner scions are in the business of directing operas. But ever since Wolfgang Wagner's elder daughter Eva Wagner-Pasquier (*1945 - from Wolfgang Wagner's first marriage) was chosen to succeed Wolfgang Wagner as the Festival director in 2002, which led the stubborn father to refuse the board's choice and insist on his appointment for life, his younger daughter has been built up as the new Festival Director. This anointment is supposed to take place this year; her Bayreuth Meistersinger the "trial shot". It's all jolly good theater, even if viewed from as far away as Munich.

Die Meistersinger, Bayreuth, K.Wagner, All pictures by von Pölnitz-Eisfeld

Young Miss Wagner has not directed much, so far: a debutante Flying Dutchman in Würzburg (2002), Lohengrin in Budapest (2004), Lortzing's Der Waffenschmied at the Gärtnerplatz Theater in Munich (2005) and Il Trittico in Berlin - a path that now leads to a potential coronation-production of the most difficult to stage of Wagner's Operas - the "Comedy" that is "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg". It is in many ways a fine coincidence (?) that it should be the Die Meistersinger that may or may not give her the last necessary push unto the Wagner-throne.

The work about "holy German art", about tradition for its own sake, about revolting against tradition, about renovating it, and finally adapting to it is chock-full of analogies that will necessarily play into the story around Katharina Wagner's treatment of the subject and her own projected ascension to become Festival Director. The latter is a cultural throne that highlights the balancing act between preserving a tradition, not to say 'cult', and creating new things. With a repertory of only 10 works (Dutchman - since 1901, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Meistersinger, Tristan, Parsifal, and the Ring), burdened by a world of always specific, yet widely varying, expectations and traditions, and with increasing competition from other festivals, the position isn't an easy one. Under Wolfgang Wagner's direction, Bayreuth has proven innovative at times, but largely stagnating in its artistic ambitions (especially as regards his own, rather conservative productions that may have lacked the deeper and more novel artistry of his brother Wieland with whom he was co-director from 1951 until Wieland's death in 1966 ), and as of late seemingly of a wilful radicalism in the choices of directors such as Schlingensief (Parsifal, 2004), Marthaler (Tristan & Isolde, 2005), and Lars von Trier (Ring, 2006 - eventually replaced by Tankred Dorst). It was as if Wolfgang Wagner had been bent to disprove the accusation of having become a conservative flame-keeper, draining Bayreuth of all innovative impulses.


Die Meistersinger, Bayreuth, K.Wagner, All pictures by von Pölnitz-Eisfeld

available at Amazon
R. Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Sawallisch / Weikl, Studer, Heppner, Moll et al.
EMI



available at Amazon
R. Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Kubelik / Stewart, Konya, Janowitz, Fassbaender, Crass et al.
Music & Arts

Perhaps he was already setting the stage for his daughter's work in Bayreuth. Katharina Wagner's work is closer to the "Regietheater" school of directing than tradition - and with three fairly wild premieres preceding her debut, her updated Meistersinger might not seem as radical or even sacrilegious as otherwise. Strategy or not, Die Meistersinger is by far the most difficult opera to update - because it is much more literal and concrete than Wagner's other works. No monsters, gods, or myths that can be transformed or replaced at will to represent abstract ideas in other shapes. But the Meistersinger takes place in a very identifiable (if strangely Lutheran) Nuremberg, with very real people and every-day props. A demi-godly, dwarf-raised hero may smith his sword any which way he wants to, one is tempted to admit, but a humble medieval cobbler must always fix a shoe with his little hammer, no? Little wonder that the opera has usually been left in its somber and quaint origins - when challenging the expected, here more than elsewhere, bears so many risks.

Over the last years some notable attempts at pushing Die Meistersinger out of its perfectly cliché-laden medieval picture-frame have been made. Not the least Peter Konwitschny's Hamburg production from 2002. (Konwitschny is also responsible for a stunning Dutchman that premiered at the Munich Staatsoper this season. Reviewed for WETA here.) And Kathrina Wagner, too, takes risks and 'updates' the opera. And she can do without shoes and hammers, for that matter. (A typewriter serves the purpose here - one of the many superficial changes in the production. Just like the Meistersingers themselves don't just sing but paint and play instruments. "Gesamtkunstwerk" - get it?.) Conformity amid breaking with tradition, conservatism in a modern guise spotted with provocation (that seems to be the public verdict so far): if that were indeed her skill and talent, she will have done much for her chances of being nominated Festival Director.


[continue reading this post at WETA's blog] (Edit: Link broken)

All pictures courtesy Bayreuth Festival, © von Pölnitz-Eisfeld

27.7.07

Dantes's Malignant Beauty

Just a quick footnote to Dante's view of the papacy of his day, which is a major subject in the poem, to which I will probably return. The article by Thomas Oestereich in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907) on Boniface VIII does its best to show Boniface VIII in a way truer to the view of the papacy. After presenting the details of the pope's life in a sympathetic light, the author provides the following hilarious summation of Dante's attacks in the Commedia:

The memory of Boniface, curiously enough, has suffered most from two great poets, mouthpieces of an ultra-spiritual and impossible Catholicism, Fra Jacopone da Todi and Dante. The former was the "sublime fool" of spiritual love, author of the "Stabat Mater", and chief singer of the "Spirituals", or extreme Franciscans, kept in prison by Boniface, whom he therefore satirized in the popular and musical vernacular of the peninsula. The latter [Dante] was a Ghibelline, i.e., a political antagonist of the Guelph pope, to whom, moreover, he attributed all his personal misfortunes, and whom he therefore pilloried before the bar of his own justice, but in quivering lines of immortal invective whose malignant beauty will always trouble the reader's judgment [emphasis mine].
First of all, Dante was a Guelph, a member of the White Guelphs driven out of Florence partially thanks to the wiles of Boniface VIII. The author of the article points to one contemporary account of Boniface VIII that he deems the most balanced, which while praising some of the pope's personal qualities does admit that he was guilty of "explosive violence and offensive phraseology [in] some of his public documents" and "the occasional imprudence of his political measures." The same source says that Boniface VIII was a "lover of magnificence, but also arrogant, proud, and stern in manner, more feared than loved, too worldly-minded for his high office and too fond of money both for the Church and for his family. His nepotism was open." In spite of the author's attempts to castigate Dante, these accusations match very closely to the qualities that Dante criticizes most emphatically. Dante is also quick to condemn Philip IV's abusive treatment of the Pope, the attack at Anagni that certainly hastened Boniface VIII's death. While Dante despised Boniface VIII's political and self-serving abuse of the office of the pope, Dante always maintained his respect for that office, even when it was held by Boniface VIII.

Images of Boniface VIII, including the sculpted portrait placed on the façade of Florence Cathedral (above) and the damaged fresco by Giotto, inaugurating the Jubilee Year of 1300 (the year in which the Commedia is supposed to take place), now in the Lateran Basilica. See also the beautiful tomb of Boniface VIII, sculpted by Arnolfo di Cambio, now in the Musei Vaticani. More about Arnolfo di Cambio to come.

26.7.07

Siena's Archivio di Stato

The seminar has taken us to many artistic treasures, with the aim of making cultural connections to Dante's Commedia. I am delaying writing about many of them until I reach an appropriate point in my series of posts on the poem, which is obviously going to continue for a while after I return home. The most recent place we visited is the set of exhibits in Siena's Archivio di Stato, in the former palazzo of the Piccolomini family, which is just down the street from my apartment in the Via Pantaneto. That collection includes an incredibly complete set of tax and customs records for the city of Siena, going back to the 13th century. The records of the Biccherna and Gabella, as they were called, were bound into codices every six months, and the city government began to commission painted wooden panels as covers for these codices. Over the city's history, these panels were commissioned from the leading Sienese artists, a commitment to local art that continues today in the commissioning of the Palio, the standard that is the prize of the famous horse race of the same name, from a local artist.

Some of these panels are now in the collections of other museums, like the Met in New York, and some of you may have seen the special exhibit of the biccherna panels, following their restoration, at the Corcoran in Washington in 2002. The panels still kept here in Siena are now in a beautiful display in the Archivio, which the public can visit for an hour, free of charge, on weekdays and Saturdays, starting at 9:30, 10:30, or 11:30 am. It is not to be missed. The Biccherna panels offer a history of Sienese art in miniature, over the course of which you can watch the Byzantine formality yield to a Gothic sense of realism, then supplanted by Renaissance one-point perspective, and so on. The panels also offer crucial historical information, showing the monks and nobles who served as tax officers.

Especially in later years, the panel was given over to a depiction of an important event in Siena during the six-month period of that codex of records. The panel shown above, by Francesco di Giorgio Martini, shows the city of Siena during a series of earthquakes in August 1466. You can see what the Duomo looked like and how the towers of Siena were more numerous and much taller in that period. The Sienese, fearing that those towers were going to collapse if the earthquakes continued, left the city in large numbers and lived in temporary shelters, which are shown in the foreground. The one shown to the left is a tribute to Ambrogio Lorenzetti's figure of Ben Comune in the Fresco of Good Government, in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico. Another favorite on my first visit (I am going back on Saturday) was a panel from a year in which a new sumptuary law was passed in Siena, forbidding wealthy women from wearing extravagant gold-lined cloaks. The image on the cover that year shows, more wistfully than judmentally, a beautiful woman in just such a beautiful, golden get up.

Just as dazzlingly, a second room in the Archivio has a display of archival documents all related to the text of Dante's Commedia, including a copy of one of Boniface VIII's papal bulls, a manuscript with someone's favorite passages of the Commedia copied out, and many other amazing treasures, all with little signs that describe the piece and give the relevant passage from Dante's poem. Many of these are simple civil documents, like the record of a charitable donation by one of the Sienese mentioned briefly by Dante. Some of them relate more directly, like the record of a fine levied against the musician Casella and his friend, a poet Dante knew here in Siena, following a complaint that they were singing and carrying on too loudly late one night. When Dante encounters Casella in ante-Purgatory, Dante asks his old friend to cheer his heart with one of the songs he made on a poem of Dante's. Casella does so and they are quickly chastened by Cato, who urges them not to think anymore on worldly things. Art imitates life.

25.7.07

Die Ersten Menschen

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Rudi Stephan, Die ersten Menschen, Orchestre National de France, M. Franck
(released May 29, 2007)
What was I just saying about releasing recordings of major operatic events? While this came up in my review of a new opera, Hartke's The Greater Good, it is just as true of those rare revivals of forgotten operas. Such is the case with this new release of Die ersten Menschen (The first people), completed by German composer Rudi Stephan just before World War I put an end to his life. Under the baton of Paul Hindemith, the opera was premiered in Frankfurt after the war, in 1920, and after a few revivals, it disappeared. This performance by the Orchestre National de France was recorded live in January 2004, with the young conductor Mikko Franck on the podium.

The story is a post-Freudian re-imagining of the aftermath of the fall of man, based on the erotic mystery play of Otto Borngräber, a sort of cross-fertilization of Genesis with the Oedipus myth. True to a medieval Christian interpretation, Chabel (Abel) is a sort of Christ figure, revealing the presence of the creator to his family, who have forgotten God in the sweat of their labor. When the first act concludes with God's acceptance of Chabel's lamb, offered on an altar, Kajin (Cain) does not even bother to offer any of his harvested crops. He is concerned only with finding a woman, after his lust for Chawa (Eve) has been awakened. Chawa, herself inflamed for an uninterested Adahm, calls out for God to let her see her husband as he was when he was young.

Composer Rudi Stephan (1887-1915)
Just then, Chabel approaches in the moonlight: cue the glockenspiel and the shimmering orchestration. One of the strangest love duets ever conceived, between mother and son (and you thought Salome's lust was indecent), is interrupted by the arrival of Kajin, accompanied by saxophone solo. It is the envy from this incestuous love triangle that leads to the first murder.

The musical style is closer to Strauss and Korngold than Berg, with the broad, sweeping gestures of a large late Romantic orchestra, as in Adahm's impassioned remembrance of his first glimpse of the newly created Chawa in Paradise ("Wie sie vor mir stand") in Act I, scene 2. The cast of four solo voices is strong, with some occasional stridency at the edge of vocal control from heroic tenor Wolfgang Millgramm as the visionary Chabel (Abel). Franz Hawlata is a stentorian, all-serious Adahm (Adam) to the flighty, insistent Chawa (Eve) of Nancy Gustafson. Donnie Ray Albert, whom we last heard live in the Symphony of a Thousand in Washington, is a vibrant and puissant Kajin, responding with force to the sweeping orchestral sounds behind him in his final passage ("Etwas glüht wo in meinem Him"). This is an opera worth getting to know much better.

Naïve V 5028

24.7.07

Dante in Siena: Inferno 19-27

Dante's Inferno:
Canto 21 | Canto 22 | Canto 23
Canto 24 | Canto 25 | Canto 26 | Canto 27

O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci,
che le cose di Dio, che di bontate
deon essere spose, e voi rapaci

per oro e per argento avolterate,
or convien che per voi suoni la tromba,
però che ne la terza bolgia state.


O Simon Magus, o wretched followers –
the things of God, that should be brides
of goodness, you rapacious men

prostitute for gold and silver, now it
is right that the trumpet sounds for you,
because you are in the third pocket.

Featured Dante Link:
Danteworlds: Inferno
The man in many ways responsible for Dante's exile from Florence was the meddling Pope Boniface VIII (reigned 1294-1303), who is one of the most vilified figures in the Commedia. The great champion of the temporal power of the papacy, Boniface did not die until 1303, three years after the fictional date of Dante's poem. That did not stop Dante from making it clear in Inferno 19 that Boniface VIII would be among the simoniacs in Hell after his death, condemned for buying and selling the authority of the church. In fact, all three of the sinners mentioned by Dante as being in the third pocket of Malebolge, now or in the future, are the major popes of Dante's lifetime: Nicholas III (reigned 1277-80), an Orsini kinsman of Boniface VIII and the first pope widely condemned for abuse of the papal office; Boniface VIII, whose worldly struggle with the Colonna family is also condemned in Inferno 27; and Clement V (reigned 1305-1314), who never set foot in Rome and, in league with the king of France, Philip IV, had the seat of the papacy removed to Avignon, where it stayed until 1377.

There are two accusatory apostrophes in Canto 19, one of which opens the canto in the two terzinas quoted to the right. Simon Magus, from whom the sin of simony takes its name, was a magician who tried to buy the powers of God from the apostles (Acts 8). The Acts of Peter provides the apocryphal continuation of the story, in which Simon Peter and Simon Magus, now both in Rome, compete in a contest of magic and miracles. Simon Magus appears to win, flying with the help of a demon, until Peter's prayer to God prevails: the demon is forced to drop Simon Magus, who falls to the ground, headfirst. That opposition of the two Simons, Magus and Peter, underscores Dante's revulsion that the successors of Simon Peter are abominably behaving like the followers of Simon Magus. Their punishment, slowly being encased in burning rock as they slide one after another into font-like holes, recalls both an inversion of apostolic succession and the headfirst fall of Simon Magus.


Fall of Simon Magus, capital in Autun Cathedral
Dante again alludes to a criminal punishment of his own time: thieves were sometimes buried alive, head down. The sense of inversion, which is common to many parts of hell, is manifest throughout Inferno 19. The simoniacs not yet fully buried in the rock (pietra in Tuscan, recalling Petrus) have an oily fire burning on the soles of their feet, an inversion of the tongues of flame that rested over the heads of Mary and the apostles at Pentecost. The holes are explicitly compared to baptismal fonts, one of which Dante claims he broke in the Baptistery of Florence. The layman Dante acts in the role of priest more than once here, another inversion, for example calling himself 'l frate che confessa lo perfido assessin (the friar that confesses the evil assassin) when he speaks with ("confesses") Nicholas III (that article in the Catholic Encyclopedia does not even mention Dante's condemnation). Simony is a rare example of a type of sin that Dante the pilgrim openly condemns in his own voice and is clearly distanced from in Inferno.

Dante is more than willing to act against the proclamations of the papacy, also putting into the first circle of Inferno colui che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto (the one who through cowardice made the great refusal, Canto 3), a reference most likely to Pope St. Celestine V. A pious monastic reformer much admired by Dante and others, he became pope in 1294, only to abdicate very soon afterward, in favor of Cardinal Benedetto Gaetano who would become Pope Boniface VIII. Dante and others believed that Boniface had unscrupulously influenced Celestine's decision. Pope Clement V, in another repudiation of Boniface VIII, who dared to oppose the king of France, put Boniface on trial after his death and proclaimed Celestine V a saint. The only pope from Dante's lifetime he does not place in hell is Adrian V, who appears in the parallel Canto 19 in Purgatorio.

Papal Triclinium, Lateran Palace
The nephew of Pope Innocent IV, he was elected for a reign of only 38 days in 1276. Dante has him call himself a "servant of avarice" all his life, who experienced a sudden conversion when he became pope. In Purgatorio, Adrian V finally learns the meaning of the title taken by the popes, Servus servorum dei (Servant of the servants of God).

Dante's condemnation of papal simony in Inferno 19 concludes with the second accusatory apostrophe, castigating the emperor Constantine, not for his conversion to Christianity but for the infamous Donation of Constantine, by which the emperor had supposedly transferred the power and wealth of the western Roman empire to the papacy. This was the legacy that led to the temporal power claimed by late medieval popes like Nicholas III and especially Boniface VIII, who was the first pope to wear the imperial three-tiered tiara. The document on which the claim was based was later proven in the Renaissance to be a fraud, but both Dante and the popes of his day believed it was true. While the seminar has discussed Dante's negative view of the papacy, we have also been examining what remains of the popes' own artistic statements about their temporal power, especially on our trip to Rome. In the Lateran cloister, we saw the great papal mantle of Boniface VIII, richly made in opus anglicanum, the vestment by which Nicholas III identifies himself as a pope (i' fui vestito del gran manto, line 69). Later, in the Opera del Duomo in Florence, we saw one of the many grand statues of Boniface VIII as imperial pope that he had installed all over Italy, this one among the original façade sculpture of Florence Cathedral. That must have made Dante grind his teeth at night.


Nicholas III Offers the Sancta Sanctorum to Christ, fresco in Lateran Basilica
When he was still a young Cardinal from the Orsini family, the future Nicholas III attended the dedication of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, the magnificent Gothic chapel in the flamboyant style built by Louis IX to house the Crown of Thorns and other relics. When he became pope in 1277, Nicholas III had a former chapel in the Lateran renovated as the Sancta Sanctorum, a reliquary to house the most important relics in all of Christendom. (The inscription, visible in that linked picture, reads NON EST IN TOTO SANCTIOR ORBE LOCUS, or There is no place holier in the whole world.) Although most of the Lateran palace and basilica burned to the ground in 1307, during Dante's lifetime, the Sancta Sanctorum is one of the pieces that survived, in the building at the top of the Scala Santa, across the street that now runs by the rebuilt Lateran basilica. It is normally closed off from most viewers, although most of the relics have been moved to other locations. The miraculous image of Christ is still kept there, used to be carried through the streets of Rome to Santa Maria Maggiore once a year, where it "met" the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary kept there. You can also still see the series of frescos that Nicholas III had built, most importantly showing himself, assisted by Saints Peter and Paul, generously presenting the Sancta Sanctorum before the throne of Christ. The other images tell the stories of St. Lawrence, who gave away all of the church's wealth, and St. Nicholas, who gave money to keep three girls from being forced into prostitution. How far one is there from Inferno 19!


Donation of Constantine (Emperor Constantine Bestows Imperial Authority on Pope Sylvester I), SS. Quattro Coronati, Rome

Emperor Constantine Gives Fealty to Pope Sylvester I by Leading His Horse, SS. Quattro Coronati, Rome

Later in the trip to Rome, we visited the Chapel of St. Sylvester in the church of SS. Quatro Coronati, a 4th-century church largely rebuilt in the 12th century. Rebuilt as a fortress, it was for much of its history the home of the papal vicar, who could oversee the armed protection of the Lateran palace. The chapel was used as a chapter house for the community that lived there, and its extraordinary fresco decoration retells the story of the conversion of the emperor Constantine by Pope Sylvester in the 4th century. According to Dante, the conversion was a good thing, but the final two panels show the Donation of Constantine and Pope Sylvester taking on the temporal authority of the western empire. This is an event that we know now is completely fictional, but it was the centerpiece of the papal argument for temporal power, which Dante so sternly condemns.

23.7.07

Ionarts in Siena: Giuliano Carmignola

available at Amazon
Vivaldi, Four Seasons / Locatelli concertos, G. Carmignola, Venice Baroque Orchestra, A. Marcon (remastered, 2003)
Reading Dante's Commedia is all about making connections, with other literature, with art that Dante knew well, and not least with parallel sections of the poem itself. In tribute to that self-referential spirit, we found ourselves back where the whole Dante seminar got started, the monastery that we visited on the first full day here, Sant'Antimo near Montalcino. The place is a Romanesque monastery church with a stunning acoustic resonance, in which we heard the present monastic community chant a Latin Vespers (on the feast day of John the Baptist). It was also the site in which a wonderful recording of Palestrina's settings of texts from the Song of Songs was made. On Saturday night, Sant'Antimo was host to a recital by violinist Giuliano Carmignola and pianist Yasuyo Yano, which was part of the 76th Estate Musicale Chigiana. Both musicians teach in summer courses offered at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, here in Siena.

Carmignola performed with Andrea Marcon's Venice Baroque Orchestra at the Library of Congress in February, a concert I heard but did not feel obligated to review. That feeling was certainly not due to the quality of the performance, which was stunning. As a result I started listening intently to one of the many Vivaldi recordings featuring those forces, a disc still possibly up for review (Jens has reviewed a more recent one). This recital program combined four pieces for violin and keyboard, all from within a relatively short period in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As a result, Carmignola played not his usual 17th-century instrument but a magnificent 1733 Pietro Guarneri violin from 1733, and Yano played on a pianoforte, with a beautiful, mellow timbre. The effect of the sound of those instruments in the vaulted space was fascinating, and Carmignola and Yano could be observed from time to time looking up toward the timbered ceiling as unexpected echoes came back to their ears.

Giuliano Carmignola, violinist
Giuliano Carmignola, violinist
The evening began a little tentatively with Mozart's E-flat major sonata (K. 380), as Carmignola's sound warmed up slowly, perhaps the result of a slight holding back at first. It is true that this piece is mostly a sonata for piano, which almost always takes the lead, introducing melodies that the violin ornaments. The performance matured over the forlorn melody of the second movement, in which Carmignola gave an interesting, almost blue-note tuning of some of its notes. The third movement rondeau was a spritely romp with earthy, rural inflections. Much better in the first half was Beethoven's G major sonata (op. 30, no. 3), which satisfied directly from its arresting opening measures, in which a brillante tempo and approach were set. Carmignola and Yano had an incisive attack together on the numerous sforzando effects in the first movement and negotiated the wild tour of harmonic areas toward the end of the gracious minuetto. The crescendo of the half concluded with the extremely fast, almost modo perpetuo-like third movement, over the booming drone of the keyboard's left hand.

The second half was given over to Schubert, beginning with a relatively early sonata, D. 408, not published until after the composer's death (op. post. 137, no. 3). It opens with a thundering first theme, and at the repeat of the exposition, Carmignola turned and seemed to jab the insistent sound in the direction of the carved crucifix at the back of the apse, again perhaps looking for different reverberations. This work, although pleasing and melodically rewarding, seems short and not too harmonically adventurous for Schubert, with a balletic menuetto and trio and a carefree final movement. With the B minor rondo (op. 70, D. 895), we arrived at a more characteristic Schubert, with a work that is harmonically all over the place. Its first movement, marked Andante, is a sort of fantasia that prompted the largest, most assured tone from Carmignola. In the second movement, which requires so much high E string playing from the violinist, he seemed to tire just slightly. After considerable effort on a warm evening, both Carmignola and Yano looked exhausted and went to a well-deserved rest, but not after two encores, reprises of movements from the Mozart and Beethoven. Just to prove that they had more energy to give, they played the encores at even faster tempi and added in some much missed embellishments and improvised touches.

Concerts continue throughout August, in Siena and nearby towns, in the 76th Estate Musicale Chigiana, including performances by harpsichordist Christophe Rousset (August 1), cellist Antonio Meneses (August 3), and pianist Maurizio Pollini (August 12). Reviews will be forthcoming until Ionarts is constrained to leave Italy.

22.7.07

Christophe Coin's New Vivaldi

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Vivaldi, Concerti for Violoncello I, Christophe Coin, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
(released May 29, 2007)
Vivaldi Edition:
available at Amazon
Griselda (2006)


available at Amazon
Arie d'opera, with Sandrine Piau (2005)


available at Amazon
La verità in cimento (2003)
A recent release in the growing Vivaldi Edition from Naïve, vol. 34, contains the first installment of the Venetian composer's concerti for cello. Christophe Coin, a recent favorite at Ionarts, joined Il Giardino Armonico for five cello concerti, as well as one for violoncello piccolo and an unusual double concerto for cello and bassoon. Coin, playing an instrument made by Alessandro Gagliano around 1720, has a lean but flavorful sound graced by tasteful embellishments. Over half of Vivaldi's output of concerti is intended for solo violin, and it is always good to be reminded that he did compose for other instruments. In fact, the Red Priest was one of the first composers to write concerti for the cello (about 30 of them) in the early 18th century. As is generally true of Vivaldi's corpus, especially the concerti, some of the works selected for this recording are better than others, but all are performed well.

The A minor concerto (RV 419, first on the disc) has exciting outer movements, particularly the last movement, a series of variations on an ostinato bass pattern. The continuo section of Il Giardino Armonico stands out from the ensemble by creating pleasing textures, alternately suave and crunchy. In the first movement of RV 410, Riccardo Doni's harpsichord and the Baroque guitar of Luca Pianta offer percussive backgrounds to the melody. The slow movement of the D minor concerto (RV 406) is one of the most melancholy pieces, with soft and daring theorbo realization of the continuo line, again by Luca Pianta. Conductor Giovanni Antonini encourages active sounds, without seeming to opt for fast tempos only for the sake of virtuosity, although there are some daringly fast movements. As in the first movement of RV 398, Antonini seems concerned only with finding the just tempo for each character. When the Vivaldi edition is completed, we will have a much more complete understanding of this extraordinary, sometimes maligned composer.

Naïve OP 30426

21.7.07

Ionarts in Siena: Duccio's Maestà


Duccio di Buoninsegna and Workshop, Maestà
Digital reconstruction by EXCEL project
One of the best parts of the Dante seminar, for which I am here in Siena, is that while reading the Commedia we are making connections with the art and history of Dante's time. One of the most obvious is Duccio's masterpiece, the Maestà, an enormous altarpiece commissioned in 1308 by the Duomo of Siena for its main altar. The Maestà took three years to design and paint, and it is thought to be the work of at least six artists, led by their master, Duccio di Buoninsegna. All six of them probably worked on at least part of each individual panel. Almost 700 years ago, in the summer of 1311, it was carried triumphantly in several pieces from Duccio's workshop to the Duomo and assembled on the cathedral's main altar. Unfortunately, we are not exactly sure how the Maestà looked, because it fell victim to changing artistic tastes in the later life of Siena (see one possible reconstruction). In 1506, the Maestà was removed from the high altar in the reform-minded years leading up to the Council of Trent. It was first placed on a side wall, which meant that only one side of it was visible. The frame was taken apart and the panels separated, so that both sides could be seen on the wall.

Some unscrupulous person or persons later decided it was a good idea to sell some of the panels, and one of the great treasures of Sienese history was lost. As medievalists and art historians have revived Duccio's reputation, many of the dispersed panels, but not all, ended up museum collections. While this means that people around the world can see parts of the Maestà -- two panels are in the National Gallery of Art back in Washington, where I visit them regularly -- we can only imagine its former glory. What is clear is that the upper panels were raised up for viewing by a base, called a predella, about 18 inches high, that was itself covered with panels. Duccio may have invented the idea of the predella, and in any case, the Maestà is the oldest altarpiece known to have had one. The altarpiece Duccio made for a chapel in the Palazzo Pubblico, now lost, also stood on a predella.

The large panel showing the Virgin and Child enthroned with angels, saints, and apostles dominated the front side. This public face of the Maestà was also surrounded by panels on the predella showing the stories of Christ's conception and childhood, alternating with Old Testament prophets. Above the main panel was a row of apostles and the sequence telling the story of the end of the Virgin's life, pointing heavenward to her assumption and coronation. The back panels of the Maestà, more often viewed by priests, show the ministry of Jesus, his passion and death, and the resurrection of Christ and the events that followed it. An octagonal building that appears in a couple panels, usually as the Temple in Jerusalem, is thought to be the baptistery of Siena, a building that no longer exists, located at the entrance to the piazza to the side of the Duomo.


Christ and the Samaritan Woman (detail of the Maestà, back of the predella)
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Disciples meet Christ on the road to Emmaus (detail of the Maestà, top right of main back panel)
Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena

It is possible that Dante had the panels of the Maestà in mind as he thought of some of these sacred scenes that turn up in the Commedia. For example, when Virgil and Dante meet the poet Statius (Purgatorio 21), Dante cites the stories of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman (John 4) and the disciples meeting, but not recognizing, the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Both scenes are depicted memorably among the back panels of the Maestà. The panels of the Maestà still in Siena are kept in a museum next to the Duomo, the Museo dell'Opera della Metropolitana. Its collection consists mostly of artwork formerly in the Duomo, like the original statues of the ornate façade and the stained glass rose window designed by Duccio for the west wall. You can also climb the stairs to walk out on the facciatone, the large wall remaining from the city's failed attempt to enlarge the Duomo. The view of Siena and the surrounding countryside is worth the effort.

20.7.07

Young Musicians in Siena

The free concerts sponsored by Siena's Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali "Rinaldo Franci" continued this week (see my review of the first concert in this series). The winners of the Vittorio Baglioni scholarship competition presented a Tuesday concert in the school's auditorium in the Prato Sant'Agostino. After an early summer of unusually cool temperatures, the heat arrived in Italy last weekend, and the small auditorium at the top of a warren of hallways offered a lovely view of the city's rooftops but little circulation of the warm air among a full audience. The musicians who performed were all advanced students of exceptional promise, beginning with clarinetist Diego Rappuoli. The E-flat major clarinet sonata (op. 120, no. 2) is an example of Brahms's compositional tendency toward long melodic lines and frustrated harmonic motion. Rappuoli played with a mellow, amber tone, and occasional intonation issues can probably be blamed on the heat. His unnamed accompanist navigated the harmonic surprises, especially in the final movement, and she had a strong, heroic touch in the loud passages.

Soprano Claudia Ciabattini, like Rappuoli born here in Siena, offered three bel canto selections that favored her light and flexible voice. The most impressive was Rossini's Una voce poco fa, in which she managed many daring embellishments of that beloved aria. It was enlightening to have the reverse experience of Italians hearing Americans sing bel canto opera, as Ciabattini concluded with Glitter and Be Gay from Leonard Bernstein's Candide. While the English pronunciation was charmingly Italianate, Ciabattini embraced the spirit of Bernstein and left me humming those concluding coloratura melismas for the following days.

The best performance of the evening was last, with pianist Lorenzo Peri, who has a distinct musical voice unusual in someone so young. During his edgy rendition of a Brahms rhapsody (op. 79, no. 2), we saw why the large windows were closed at the start of the concert, as a bat flew in and flapped its way around the room for a minute or two. Peri, not flustered, proceeded to impress with Schubert's Klavierstück No. 2 (D. 946), a piece of many technical challenges and not much else. He seemed to connect most with the Rachmaninov selections, the first and third movements of the op. 16 Moments musicaux. As one who does not care all that much for Rachmaninov's schmaltz, I was surprisingly moved.

These free concerts in Siena conclude next Tuesday (July 24, 9:15 pm), back in the Auditorium Istituto "Rinaldo Franci," with a program of Hispanic music (Piazzola, Ravel, Ibert, Castelnuovo Tedesco, Ginastera) by flutist Sara Ceccarelli and guitarists Michele Cappelletti and Dario Vannini.

19.7.07

Dante in Siena: Inferno 15-20

Dante's Inferno:
Canto 15 | Canto 16 | Canto 17
Canto 18 | Canto 19 | Canto 20


Other Images of Brunetto Latini:
Bodleian Library, Holkham misc. 48
Guido da Pisa's commentary on Inferno
John Flaxman
Sandro Botticelli


Featured Dante Link:
Princeton Dante Project
It is often clear in the Commedia that Dante is writing on several levels simultaneously. A good example is in the seventh circle of Inferno, where Dante relates the punishment of the sodomites. Modern scholarship is not at all in agreement about exactly what is being punished here. The traditional interpretation is that these sinners are guilty of homosexuality, and the punishment of being burned seems to echo one of the common medieval punishments for homosexuals. Even so, Virgil is described as being among the pagans who did not sin, although Dante knew of Virgil's second eclogue, in which the shepherd Corydon burns with unrequited love for the beautiful boy Alexis.

In Canto 15, Dante speaks with his teacher, Brunetto Latini, as a representative of the literary and clerical sodomites. The context could be Dante's acknowledgment of at least his own temptation in the sometimes homosexual dynamic of teacher and student in his day. The shades appear as a band moving along the bank of the circle, as they may have done in the evening along the city wall of Florence. They look Dante and Virgil over with sharp eyes as they pass by, and that is when Brunetto recognizes Dante. Although the literary sodomites are punished harshly, Dante speaks with reverent respect to his old master, using the formal address of voi and calling him Ser Brunetto. Improbably for this conversation deep in Inferno, they fall easily into the pattern of teacher and pupil, with Brunetto calling Dante his dear little son ("O figliuol mio") and imparting advice about his literary career. Like an attentive student, Dante promises to take careful note of what Brunetto says, to be glossed later by Beatrice.


Dante speaks to Brunello Latini, engraving by Gustave Doré
Brunetto's main concern is his own literary fame, and that self-serving style of authorship seems to be what Dante is really condemning. As he runs off to join the pack of shades at the end of Canto 15, Brunetto commends his most famous book, the Lis Tresors, to Dante, saying that in it he still lives (nel qual io vivo ancora). Perhaps if Brunetto had not stored up all of his treasure in earthly things, Dante the poet says between the lines, if his writing had served a good greater than his own fame, he would not be here in the seventh circle. Dante is pursuing something greater and attaches himself faithfully to Virgil in Inferno, who wryly advises Dante to note carefully what Brunetto is saying about the search for literary fame. The theme of self-absorbed writing and reading returns with the figure of Geryon (Canto 17) and most explicitly with the tale of Ulysses (Canto 26).

After describing the habits of the intellectual sodomites, Dante continues with the aristocratic sodomites in Canto 16, where he speaks with three men who were great military leaders of Florence. At this point, Dante removes the cord around his waist and throws it down into the pit that opens up at the midpoint of Inferno. The only way that the journey can continue, Virgil knows, is for them to be carried down to Malebolge by the demonic Geryon (see as imagined by William Blake, Gustave Doré, and Sandro Botticelli). This is where Dante, designing the punishments for the fraudulent in ten little pockets (bolgias), is the most comically gross: the flatterers are submerged in shit, the successors of Simon Peter are inverted like the fallen Simon Magus, the diviners weep tears down their own butt cracks, and so on. Here especially, the more recent translations, which do not shy away prudishly from Dante's bathroom humor, are crucial to understanding the spirit of Inferno.