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30.11.07

NSO and Han-Na Chang

Han-Na ChangLorin Maazel led the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center Thursday evening in a convincing performance of Fauré, Elgar, and Saint-Saëns. After Maazel's charming, fluent rendition of Fauré’s Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande, young Korean cellist Han-Na Chang took the stage for a unique reading of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. (She played Prokofiev the last time with the NSO, in 2004, and Shostakovich, among others, in her 2006 recital.) Chang had a poised, quiet demeanor onstage, where it appeared that only the bow was in motion. Also unique was her deep tone, which sounded rich throughout the instrument’s entire range; interestingly, high notes never sounded high. The viola section did a nice job blending with a cello note at one point and then carefully beginning their lilting melody from it. Additionally, Chang instilled a sense of trust with musicians and audience alike by seeking coordination from Maazel and the concertmaster. Chang did not have the variety of tone color, warmth, or intonation accuracy of Alisa Weilerstein’s recent BSO performance of the same work, but it is perhaps not helpful to compare apples and oranges.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Maazel, Fit to Beat the Bland (Washington Post, November 30)
Organist William Neil joined the NSO for Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, the Organ Symphony. While enjoyable, this work does not impart a vivid sense of journey and wonder. The 1972 pipe organ’s warm foundation sounds tonally complemented the orchestra; however, no matter how careful Neil was in changing chords in the slow texture of Part I, the organ seemed to thud from chord to chord. Basically, the smooth sound of the NSO string section made the organ sound less than ideal: perhaps Neil’s registrations were too loud, or it was the lack of sensitivity from an electro-pneumatic action (the pipes are opened by magnets instead of mechanically linked from key to pipe) or a lack of reverberation in the Concert Hall for an organ to sound ideal.

The texture of four-hand piano, strong organ, and full orchestra in Part II was distinctive and gripping. It was interesting to hear the pedal point – when a bass note is held for an extended period – following the fugue held by the actual pedal of an organ in addition to the lower orchestral instruments. Though lacking power and bass, the Kennedy Center Organ was a treat to hear, and the audience absolutely loved the heroic ending. Perhaps Maazel thought Neil dragged part of the end, since the organist was not allowed a deserved individual bow.

This concert repeats today (November 30, 1:30 pm) and tomorrow evening (December 1, 8 pm). Other than pops, children's concerts, and a Messiah, the NSO's regular schedule will not resume until the New Year, with the Corigliano second symphony and violinist Sarah Chang playing the Brahms concerto (January 17 to 19).

Feast of St. Andrew

November 30, the feast day of St. Andrew, marks the end of the sanctoral calendar, as it is usually the last major saint's day celebrated before the first Sunday of Advent. The apostle to the East, Andrew's travels according to legend took him to Greece, Romania, Byzantium, Turkey, along the Black Sea, and other locations. His relics have been displaced by historical calamities from Patras, where he was killed, to Constantinople and finally to Amalfi in Italy. His head, once preserved in the Vatican reliquary, was recently returned to Patras. He is the chief patron of Russia and of Scotland, and his symbol, the X-shaped cross on which he died this day during the reign of Nero, can be found on many flags, including the Union Jack. In Poland and other countries in eastern Europe, unmarried girls are often read their future on St. Andrew's Night, and in many locales it is said that an unmarried woman should ask Andrew for help in finding a husband and then sleep naked on the eve of his feast, to receive a vision of her future husband.

Photo image: Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), Saint Andrew (17th c.)

29.11.07

Dante! (with Jazz-Hands)


Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
Last winter, I mentioned a new opera by Monsignor Marco Frisini, an Italian priest who is maestro di cappella at St. John Lateran, based on Dante's Commedia. The work, La Divina Commedia, L'Opera: L'uomo che cerca l'Amore has finally been premiered, and it sounds much more like a Broadway musical than an opera. Elisabetta Povoledo has a review (Setting Dante's journey to eternity to song, November 29) for the International Herald Tribune:
The show opened last week and runs to the end of January. Reviews, so far, have generally focused more on the special effects that were created by Carlo Rambaldi, who has two Oscars to his name for the visual effects in "Alien" (1979) and "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982), than on the content. But audiences have been enthusiastic. "What I like most is the plot, watching Dante's interior voyage from false love to freedom," said Sister Maria, one of some two dozen nuns from the Daughters of the Church Order, who attended a recent matinee. "And it's very forceful because of today's technology, though the music is a little loud."

Indeed, the special effects are so spectacular - including a triumphal march of golden-winged angels, acrobats, flower-strewing damsels, and a gigantic griffin pulling a golden cart - that a special theater measuring 40 meters by 150 meters, or 130 feet by 492 feet, was built in Tor Vergata, a Roman suburb about 14 kilometers, or 9 miles, from the city center. There are red-LED-eyed demons writhing acrobatically in various spheres of Hell against a backdrop of sets inspired by Gustave Doré, whose 19th-century engravings of "The Divine Comedy" are arguably the most famous. There are dramatic smoke-machine-propelled entrances and apocalyptic battles between Good and Evil played out on invisible trapezes.
Dante is as popular and relevant as ever, as shown by Roberto Benigni's improbable stand-up act about the Commedia. Now there is real money involved: a company called Nova Ars has invested €10 million ($14.8 million) to defray production costs. You can listen to a clip at the flashy Web site: it sounds like Howard Shore.

Julia Fischer's Latest Mozart

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Mozart, Concertone, Sinfonia concertante, J. Fischer, G. Nikolić, NCO, Y. Kreizberg
(released October 30, 2007) [$17.99]

Download MP3 Album [$8.99]
We are on record at Ionarts as rather fond of Julia Fischer's Mozart. Her full-bodied set of Mozart concerti was appropriately scaled, not too historically informed to raise objections with most listeners. In this third volume, she collaborates again with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and conductor Yakov Kreizberg, adding in Gordan Nikolić to play second fiddle, literally, on the second violin part in the Concertone (K. 190) and viola in the Sinfonia concertante (K. 364). While Fischer, Gramophone's 2007 Artist of the Year, is as cool and polished as ever, the contributions of Nikolić and the NCO seem a little rough and not unified. These are such familiar pieces -- especially K. 364, which has been recorded commercially hundreds of times -- that one wishes for something a little less conventional. The plainness sometimes had me reaching for a version more off the beaten path instead, like the Sinfonia concertante in Harnoncourt's brash recording with Gidon Kremer and Kim Kashkashian or the recent recording by Anne-Sophie Mutter and Yuri Bashmet. Not coincidentally, both feature full-time violists on the second part.


Mozart, Sinfonia concertante, K. 364, Julia Fischer and Gordan Nikolić,
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Yakov Kreizberg (see Part 2)

While the tempi of the second and third movements of the Sinfonia concertante are roughly comparable to generally selected conventions, the first movement is on the fast side of Allegro maestoso, ending up with about a minute shaved off even from Harnoncourt's timing. This produces some excitement by making it impossible to predict what is going to happen with the ensemble, but the overall effect after a couple listenings is mostly just agitation. Fischer is radiant in the short but sweet Rondo for Violin and Orchestra, K. 373, complete with her own reserved cadenza. Nikolić is a stronger foil for her in the K. 190 Concertone, with lovely support from oboist Hans Meyer and cellist Herre Jan Stegenga. A worthy recording, if not essential: if you liked her two volumes of Mozart concerti (and you should), you will need this disc to complete the set.

Pentatone PTC 5186 098

Julia Fischer on Disc:
available at Amazon
Bach, Sonatas / Partitas
available at Amazon
Glazunov, Khachaturian, Prokofiev, Violin Concertos
available at Amazon
Mozart, Violin Concertos 1,2&5
available at Amazon
Mozart, Violin Concertos 3&4
available at Amazon
Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto

28.11.07

ArcoVoce @ NGA

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

Rosa Lamoreaux, sopranoThe crowd at the National Gallery of Art's regular free concert on Sunday evening was surprisingly large for a holiday weekend. The draw for Ionarts was a program (.PDF file) of 18th-century music, performed by the ArcoVoce Ensemble and the lovely Rosa Lamoreaux. Billed as "The Eighteenth Century Rediscovers the Ancient World," this concert anticipates an upcoming exhibit at the NGA that is sure to be a knockout, Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples, which will open in October 2008. A preparatory visit by members of the NGA Music Department to the Campania region this summer opened up the possibility of a musical collaboration with the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival. The evening began with a brief speech, in Italian, by Dr. Loredana Conti, Director of Museums and Libraries for the Region of Campania. She has brought a selection of musical and historical documents from the region, now on display at the Italian embassy.

To go with the theme of the Neapolitan rediscovery of Roman antiquity, the highlight of the program was a series of cantatas (and opera excerpts) on mythological themes, by Scarlatti père et fils and Pergolesi. The best of the lot opened the program, Alessandro Scarlatti's Correa nel seno amatto, an Arcadian trifle concerning a lovesick shepherd. After a charming sinfonia and balletto featuring the two violinists (Elizabeth Field and Nina Falk) and harpsichordist (Steven Silverman) of ArcoVoce, a soaring melisma from Lamoreaux drew the audience into the opening recitative. In spite of a few minor tuning issues (the musicians may have been seated just a little too far away from one another), there were gorgeous moments to be heard in the stony acoustic of the West Garden Court. The descending chromatic line representing Daliso's weeping at the end of the aria Onde belle, che pietose was particularly lovely.

Tenor Wolodymyr Smishkewych was a less moving Orfeo in the A. Scarlatti Poi che riseppe Orfeo, with a voice that can be lovely and has good agility but can also turn a little pinched. His best moments were in duets with Lamoreaux, especially Domenico Scarlatti's Lasciami piangere from Tetide in Sciro, where the tenor-soprano repeated dialogue was punctuated by keening violin interludes. Two instrumental pieces provided the singers a brief respite. The A. Scarlatti first toccata in G major was almost doubled in length by the long-winded introductory remarks made by its performer, harpsichordist Yonit Kosovske. Far more interesting musically -- and mercifully uncommented upon -- was a sonata for violin and continuo by Isabella Leonarda, a 17th-century nun and accomplished composer, played well by Nina Falk, especially when spinning out long, arching lines. Some of Lamoreaux's strongest singing came on the final piece, which she probably knew the best, Pergolesi's Orfeo: it's a gem, and she sang it with the Folger Consort last month.

For more excellent performances of Neapolitan music of the 18th century, we recommend the upcoming concert by the Cappella della Pietà de' Turchini on Saturday (December 1, 8 pm), at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall. It is part of the first American tour of this historically informed performance ensemble, reviewed by Ionarts this summer in Siena. The program, called Angeli e demoni, features little-heard music by the likes of Paisiello, Sarro, Caresana, and Veneziano. The next free concert at the National Gallery is a reprise of John Musto's new opera, Later the Same Evening (December 2, 6:30 pm).

27.11.07

The Yellow Label Goes On-Line



“Deutsche Grammophon (DG), a division of Universal Music Group, the world’s leading music company, will become the first major classical record label to make the majority of its huge catalogue available online for download with the launch of its new DG Web Shop (www.dgwebshop.com).”

It takes some creative re-thinking of the term “major classical record label” to exclude the excellent and by most counts larger Naxos label, but even if DG & Company don’t consider the humbly innovative budget label from Hong Kong en par, they do take note what the competition does. After all, their new and laudable web-venture does seem to have taken more than a cue from Naxos’s on-line offerings (on Naxos.com and ClassicsOnline.com) which have proven highly successful over the last years. Asked if there had been any inspiration from those ventures, UMG’s Johnathan Gruber said that “the DG Web Shop has in common with Naxos that we all want to see classical music expand its availability and its audience” but that “DG took little inspiration from Naxos” and that the DG Web Shop had been in the planning long before the ClassicsOnline site was launched. Of the other differences/advantages of the DG Web Shop I had pointed out, the most curious (or bold) is surely that their site “carries only Deutsche Grammophon products [therefore providing] the strongest guarantee possible that whatever you buy […] is a great performance” (emphasis mine).

That’s the “shopping by brand-name” strategy, the virtues and disadvantages of which I have extolled in a previous post (where I used DG as an example) — but it’s still strange to hear from a seller the argument that less choice is really in the consumer’s interest.

In any case Deutsche Grammophon should not be chided for being late to the party, they should be applauded for joining others in what simply is a good idea and - presumably - good business. DG will launch its Web Shop on November 28th, enabling consumers in 40 countries to download music “at the highest technical and artistic standards.”

“This global penetration includes markets where the major e-business retailers, such as iTunes, are not yet available: Southeast Asia including China, India, Latin America, South Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe including Russia.

Almost 2,500 DG albums will be available for download in maximum MP3 quality at a transfer bit-rate of 320 kilobits per second (kbps) – an audio-level that experts agree is indistinguishable from CD quality audio; and which exceeds the usual industry download-standard of 128-192 kbps (as well as EMI’s 256 kbps on iTunes).”

A little jibe at EMI must be irresistible - and though I find that there is almost always a better word than “penetration” to use in a press release, the venture does sound impressive, indeed. (Audiophiles meanwhile might disagree about “indistinguishable from CD quality audio” — but then they often don’t find CD quality audio very appealing in the first place.)

The best news is surely that the DG Web Shop makes available almost 600 album titles which are no longer available on CD – with more out-of-print titles to follow.

“The goal is to digitize all the great Deutsche Grammophon recordings to be accessible for download – a treasure of music history, always available.”

This is the dream of perfect availability come true. Particular recordings need no longer have a minimum popularity to be available. Even if just a dozen ears consider Conductor X’s rendition of a particular piece a musical revelation (not enough to merit a costly re-issue and catalog maintenance in the traditional way), they will be now be able to have access to it.

Individual titles (< 7 min.) will be just over one dollar, regular-length albums just over $10. E-booklets - which include liner notes and cover art and would be particularly attractive to have for those out-of-print items, would be an extra dollar.

And for all those who are concerned about being able to play their downloads only on one player, or only so many times, or copy the music twice but then not be able to use the burned disc in the car etc., DG will offer all titles MP3s without Digital Rights Management - which is happy news for all your iPods and Walkmans and regular CD players for which you can burn copies.

Judging by Naxos’ success, DG won’t regret this move while classical aficionados and novices alike will benefit.

Opera on DVD: Il Viaggio a Reims

available at Amazon
G. Rossini, Il Viaggio a Reims,
Mariinsky Theater, V. Gergiev

(released May 29, 2007)
The Mariinsky Theater has taken its zany production of Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims around the world. We have written about it when it was in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet, at the Kennedy Center here in Washington, as well as in St. Petersburg. Opus Arte recently released a DVD produced during that Paris run of the production, featuring the Mariinsky Theater Academy of Young Singers, compiled from four performances at the Châtelet. (Incredibly, this is not the only DVD of the opera available, as there is a production from the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, roughly comparable to it in price and quality.)

The opera, Rossini's last one in Italian, was created for a single performance (eventually allowed to be given a total of four times), in honor of the coronation of Charles X as King of France on May 28, 1825. The rather silly libretto by Luigi Balocchi concerns a group of distinguished guests from all over Europe on their way to Reims for the coronation, all forced to stop at an inn in Plombières. They miss the coronation but are consoled to discover that the festivities will continue in Paris in the following weeks, celebrations that included the performance of a Rossini opera named Il Viaggio a Reims (premiered on June 19, 1825, at the Théâtre Italien in Paris).

The politics of the time are complicated: Charles X, a younger brother of Louis XVI, was an ultra-conservative traditional royalist. He held his coronation at Reims for the connection of that city's cathedral to the Bourbon past, while Napoleon and his successors were crowned in Notre-Dame. Charles X even took part in the ceremony traditionally following a coronation where he laid hands on people suffering from scrofula, a disease thought to be healed by the anointed hands of the king. The ceremony had been discontinued in the 18th century, and this was the last time it was ever witnessed in France.


Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Portrait of
Madame de Staël as Corinne
, 1808
It is anyone's guess why the librettist drew one of his characters, the Roman poetess Corinna (the role created by legendary soprano Giuditta Pasta), from Madame de Staël's beloved novel Corinne, ou L'Italie (1807, English translation of Part 1). Corinne was generally associated with the person of her creator, the daughter of Louis XVI's finance minister, Jacques Necker, who became a diplomat's wife and early Romantic author. In fact, Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun painted a portrait of Madame de Staël as Corinne, complete with her famous harp. Madame de Staël did have an infamous run-in with Napoleon and generally opposed the politics of empire, but she was no more sympathetic to the Bourbons and generally supported the English model of constitutional monarchy, something that Charles X swore he would never accept.

Rossini went on to recycle many parts of the music from Il Viaggio a Reims in his French comic opera Le Comte Ory. The score of Il Viaggio, believed lost because it was never published, was reconstructed by Janet L. Johnson in the 1970s. Her critical score in the new Rossini complete works edition, published by the Fondazione Rossini in Pesaro, is based on a partial autograph score in the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, with other original sources in Paris and Vienna. The demands of the score include a stunning total of 14 named roles that clutter the stage, culminating in a Gran Pezzo Concertato for all 14 voices in the final scenes. Little wonder that the opera is rarely performed, and the solution used by the Mariinsky, casting participants in a Young Artists Program, is ingenious.

Larisa Yudina as the Contessa de Folleville.  Photo by Natasha RazinaIt means that the cast has its ups and downs. Although his voice had declined by the time of the 2007 performance at the Kennedy Center, tenor Daniil Shtoda was in grand form as the Russian Count Libenskof in Paris, with strong high notes and clear melismas, even when seated on a white horse in his hilarious entrance amid stereotypical gulps of vodka. Larissa Youdina is a ravishingly platinum blonde Contessa di Folleville (if there ever was a folle ville, Paris is it), with great promise in her voice, capable of shimmering runs and piercing high notes, but sadly sharp and harsh with disappointing frequency here. Also worth note are Anastasia Belyaeva as the Swiss owner of the Golden Lily Inn, Madame Cortese, and Irma Guigolachvili as Corinna, who enters wearing a gown illuminated by light sources within (the outrageous and often beautiful costumes were designed by Mireille Dessingy).

Director Alain Maratrat places the orchestra at the back of the stage, with actors moving among and around the audience on narrow platforms that extend over the pit. (Although the costumes and sets seem to place the action later than 1825, the orchestra is oddly dressed in 18th-century wigs and court livery, which may explain why the pianoforte accompaniment for the recitatives is played instead by a harpsichord.) As travelers arrive at the opening of the opera, conductor Valery Gergiev strides through the house to take his place at the podium. The pit is traditionally in front of the singers for a reason, and Gergiev does his best to keep his forces together. The best part of having the orchestra on the stage is that the harpist featured in Corinna's major arias interacts with the action, as does the flutist who plays the daring obbligato part in Lord Sydney's aria. The minimalist set pieces (designed by Pierre Alain Bertola) are cleverly moved on and off by the chorus. All in all, a pleasing production of an opera worth knowing.

Opus Arte 0967 D

26.11.07

From Russia with Love: Hvorostovsky

Dmitri HvorostovskyLast Tuesday, Washington Performing Arts Society presented Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the superb Academy of Choral Art Adult Chorus, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, and Style of Five Folk Ensemble in a powerful concert of beloved Russian sacred, operatic, and folk favorites, as part of a North American tour. The program opened with moving sacred works incorporating texts from the Orthodox liturgy and Bible for choir and baritone by Bornyansky (1751-1825), and works by three composers from the turn of the 20th century: Tolsyakov, Arhkangel’sky, and Chesnokov. Specializing in the revival of early Russian religious music, the virtuosic 40-member mixed adult chorus of Moscow’s Academy of Choral Art had reedy fff moments and a rich tone quality the rest of the time. The religious works on the program were performed with the conviction of an African-American spiritual, while Hvorostovsky’s fast, narrow vibrato allowed his rather heavy voice to lighten and soar above the chorus. The last chord of a few of the works ended with a gripping crescendo more forceful than any full orchestra these ears have ever heard in Strathmore’s hall.

Other Reviews:

Arthur Kaptainis, From Russia, classical to pop (Montreal Gazette, November 26)

---, Opera pop phenom (Montreal Gazette, November 22)

Daniel Ginsberg, With Russian Love Songs, Baritone Woos His Audience (Washington Post, November 22)

Fred Kirshnit, A Rare Bird of Paradise (New York Sun, November 19)

Bernard Holland, The Russian Songbook, Under Western Influence (New York Times, November 17)

Scott Cantrell, Russian program proves intriguing, if a bit schlocky (Dallis Morning News, November 7)
The precise Moscow Chamber Orchestra joined in for arias and choruses from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades, each featuring the dark sentimentality of the Russian temperament. As in his last visit to the area, Hvorostovsky conveys this affect well, though the theme of mourning lost love continued for the next dozen or so arias and songs – most of the rest of the program – perhaps becoming rather stale. Most memorable was Yeletsky’s Aria from The Queen of Spades, where Hvorostovsky’s beautiful begging for the lady’s ear was overwhelming. Hvorostovsky’s unrivaled breath control and impeccable tuning were gripping.

A trio of instrumentalists from the Style of Five Folk Ensemble then joined Hvorostovsky, chorus, and orchestra for selections of Russian folk songs and popular music. When Western youths rebelled against the establishment through the Beatles, Stones, and Elvis, Soviet popular music remained more traditional, judging by its use of folk instruments over drum sets. The lyrical songs of love and longing were truly lovely until Hvorostovsky began using a microphone partway through the second half, thus ruining the acoustic balance of Strathmore’s hall.

The next classical concert sponsored by WPAS features the Philadelphia Orchestra, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (December 6, 8 pm). Instead of Christoph Eschenbach, James Conlon will conduct a memorable program combining Varèse's Amériques and Ravel's La Valse with Hélène Grimaud playing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. A few tickets remain unsold.

Where Death can no Longer Cry and Life no Longer Laugh


available at Amazon
V.Ullmann, Der Kaiser von Atlantis,
Zagrosek / Leipzig Gewandhaus /
H.Lippert, W.Berry, C.Oelze, M.Petzold, F.Mazura, M.Kraus, I.Vermillion et al.
Decca - Entartete Musik


Hitler as an opera’s protagonist would strike most culture and opera-loving people as a somewhat tasteless choice. But what if the opera had been composed in a concentration camp? Inexorably wedded to the circumstance of its creation, “Der Kaiser von Atlantis” – considered Viktor Ullmann’s masterpiece – is just that. A work of art, theater, and music created under circumstances that must seem unlikely or impossible to us. But Viktor Ullmann, “Director for Musical Leisure Activities” at Theresienstadt (Terezín) seemed to have taken his cynically titled position at the transit camp (like Bergen-Belsen one of the camps intended to deceive international observers about the true atrocities going on elsewhere) with some vigor and zeal. For two years – from September 1942 to October 1944 - it was, tragically ironic, the most productive time of his life. Then, on October 18th, 1944 his life was brought to an end in Auschwitz, only two days after being deported from Terezín.

The short one act opera “The Emperor of Atlantis” (also known as “Death Resigns” or “Death’s Refusal”) was created with librettist Peter Kien in the Winter of 1943/44 for seven characters or “Archetypes” and small orchestra. Rehearsals faltered when too many of the participants were either shipped off or became sick in early 1944. Later that year, the inmates managed to put together a dress rehearsal, after all. Not surprisingly to anyone who has seen or heard the opera, the efforts to avoid censorship through abstraction and symbolism in the opera could not have fooled even the densest SS Guard. With the blatant references to Hitler via “The Emperor” a.k.a. “Supreme General” – more than just a hint at “GröFaZ”(1) – the opera was deemed unacceptable, was banned, and never premiered. Only shortly thereafter – related to the production or not – the collaborators on this opera were shipped off to Auschwitz. The opera only survived because Viktor Ullmann handed off the score to his fellow inmate at Terezín, Emil Utitz, whose fate was more fortunate.

The Orchestra Jakobsplatz München, formed by young musicians of the Jewish community of Munich and beyond, performed that infrequently heard (though hardly neglected) work at the opening of the 21st Festival of Jewish Culture in Munich. After Philip Glass’ “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Vivaldis’ “Juditha Triumphans”, this was the third collaboration of the Orchestra and the Bavarian State Opera. And the involvement of one of the largest and most professional opera houses showed! I would not be surprised if, in turning the Jewish Community Center’s auditorium into a little opera house, twice as many technicians, artists, and stage hands than musicians were involved . (Markus Koch, direction; Iris Jedamski, stage; Michael Bauer, lighting.)

And since the State Opera also lent its singers to the effort, vocal contributions were extraordinary among all, though perhaps most noteworthy with Christian Miedl’s Emperor and Kevin Conners’ Harlequin.

But no matter the amount of effort, there is of course no way to perform this opera with even the slightest degree of ‘authenticity’. An authenticity that would not only demand the recreation of the ghastly and dire circumstances – but also the execution of a random 80 percent of audience and musicians after the performance. If ever there was a good argument against “Period Performances”…


available at Amazon
Estranged Passengers - In Search of Viktor Ullmann,
J.Conlon et al.
Delta Music

Viktor Ullmann’s life and work has been rescued from near total obscurity to relative prominence by this opera and performances of it that have increased appreciably since 1994, when Schott Publishing decided to make Ullmann’s work available in print. There are two recordings of it by now: Decca’s 1993 ‘luxurious’ version with a fine cast and full-size orchestra, part of the discontinued but sporadically reissued “Entartete Musik” edition, and a 1995 Czech release with a small orchestra (as indicated in the score) on STUDIO MATOUŠ MK. Washington National Symphony Orchestra Principal Guest Conductor Iván Fischer has just conducted an ‘prop-enhanced’ concert performance at the Budapest Mahlerfest. James Conlon has long championed it, too, and further contributed to the Ullmann reception with the DVD “Estranged Passengers - In Search Of Viktor Ullmann”. (The title is taken from Ullmann’s diary, written largely in verse; the DVD contains a documentary, an interview with Conlon, and a performance of Ullmann's orchestrated Fifth Piano Sonata.)


Just like the opera cannot be performed in an even remotely ‘authentic’ way, it cannot be separated from its story, either. Viewed and heard in isolation, it would merely be a stange opera, pleasantly short at under 50 minutes, influenced by Revue and Jazz (reminiscent of “Johnny spielt auf”), veering between the lyrical, the alienating, and the ugly. Emperor “Űberall” (invariably translated as “Emperor Overall” – though that’s all-too literal… “Emperor Everywhere” is more apt, as would be “Emperor Above All”, or “Emperor Omnipresent”) cruelly rules, fighting a war of “all against all”. Death, who feels co-opted into the Emperor’s schemes, decides to go on strike. As a result, people can still get shot, mutilated, and torn apart, but they can no longer die. The Emperor tries to use this to his advantage, promising his soldiers eternal life. But even with his propaganda tool, “The Drummer” (the beautifully acting and singing Stephanie Hampl), he cannot prevent more an more rebellions from springing up in response to the misery and suffering that is caused by the absence of death. The Emperor despairs and in a delirium he sees Death.


Death promises to resume his duties as long as the Emperor is willing to be the first to meet the “new” Death. Eventually he agrees – but not without prophesizing that his fall will hardly mean the end to violence. A chorale (a warped “A Mighty Fortress is our God”) praises Death as giving value to life and ends the opera. A “Speaker” (an imposing Andreas Kohn) announced the action and participants before the opera and serves as the communication manager for the Emperor. Harlequin (though looking a bit more like Pierrot in Claudia Gall’s costume) is a stand in for life and serves as a constant reminder of hope. A young soldier and a female colleague of his from the opposing army provide a romantic subplot in the third scene. They were sung by Michael McBride and Elif Aytekin who, if equipped with a more natural German, could have done more of the speaking parts – the same of which goes for Adrian Sâmpetrean’s otherwise striking Death.

The orchestra, led by their young and engaging founder Daniel Grossmann who displays a charmingly nervous confidence, did as well as might have been expected – playing the music which offers few ‘thankful’ parts to show off with, anyway, in a perfectly capable manner. As the Decca recording shows, a souped-up professional and polished orchestra can make the music sound much better. But if that is desirable during a live performance that wishes to touch upon the spirit of the opera and perhaps also the occasion of its composition and first rehearsals, is questionable.

“Der Kaiser von Atlantis” remains – beyond being embraced as exciting due to its history – a troublesome work that is, in every way, difficult to come to terms with. And perhaps that’s precisely what an opera like this, born under the circumstances as it was, precisely the right message it sends to us and reminds us of. In that sense the efforts of the Staatsoper, the Society for the Advancement of Jewish Culture and Tradition, and the Jakobsplatz Orchestra were well expended.



1 - The German mocking acronym for “Greatest General of all Times” denoting Hitler and ridiculing the Nazi’s penchant for acronyms – while the title itself, coined by General Fieldmarshall Wilhelm Keitel, was ‘bestowed’ upon Hitler in all seriousness.


All pictures courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl

25.11.07

Some Recent Naxos Releases (I)

available at Amazon
William Bolcom, Complete Works for Cello, N. Fischer, J. Kierman, A. Moore
(8.559348, released October 30, 2007)
When reviewing new music it is always helpful to know the composer's other works as much as possible. Trying to get a handle on William Bolcom's music has included recent reviews of his opera A View from the Bridge and his song cycle Songs of Innocence and of Experience. This new recording of Bolcom's compositions for cello contains several delights and opens windows on the composer's personality and style. Capriccio has very dissonant sounds alongside a zippy Brazilian Gingando, complete with a 3-3-2 rhythm section in the last movement. The first cello suite, a somber and biting work for the unaccompanied instrument, is drawn from music Bolcom originally composed for Arthur Miller's 1995 play Broken Glass (add the subtitle to the suite now). Recorded by a team now associated with the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University -- two faculty members and one recent alumna -- the performances are strong and have benefited from personal contact with the composer. According to the note by cellist Norman Fischer, the performing editions heard here are based on annotations directly from the composer, changes that will likely be incorporated into revised editions of the scores.

available at Amazon
Bartók, Duke Bluebeard's Castle, Bournemouth SO, M. Alsop
(8.660928, released November 20, 2007)
We have lavished much praise on Bartók's opera A Kékszakállú Herceg Vára, from the staged version at Washington National Opera last season to a 2005 concert version and many others. It is an essential opera of the 20th century, historically speaking, and even more essential because it is dramatically compelling and, to these ears, musically gorgeous, not at all the kind of dissonance one might expect from the name of Bartók. In terms of my favorite version, Éva Marton and Samuel Ramey (CBS Masterworks) outpaces Jessye Norman (DG), both of which suffer from having one of the singers not working in Hungarian as a native language. (The Kertész recording from Decca Legends, while fine, has neither role sung by a Hungarian.) That is far from the only criterion, of course, but Hungarian singers, as well as Hungarian orchestras and Hungarian conductors, tend to have an edge in this work, having generally been introduced to it in the womb.

Add to the host of other versions, many of them no longer widely available, this generally good recording from Marin Alsop's tenure in Bournemouth, with two relatively young singers. The Hungarian Judith, Andrea Meláth, and Czech Bluebeard, Gustáv Beláček, are not the best one could imagine for either role, but they are featured well against Alsop's amply proportioned orchestral fabric. The producer notes that the sound has been engineered to make the singers seem like they are progressing spatially through the seven doors, which strikes me as unnecessary for a concert recording. At Naxos rates ($9.98), this disc edges out the versions mentioned above, but only by a couple dollars since just about all of them can be found at reduced prices.

available at Amazon
Brahms, Sy. 4 and Hungarian Dances, London PO, M. Alsop
(8.570233, released September 25, 2007)
We have had the chance to hear Marin Alsop live conducting Brahms with the Baltimore Symphony: although I was baffled by her third symphony in 2005, things seem to have improved considerably, judging by Michael's favorable review of her fourth symphony. The time difference may help explain the improvement, since the BSO had, by the time of Michael's review, moved beyond its initial opposition to Alsop's tenure as Music Director. Alsop has claimed, in an interview with our own Jens Laurson, that she is known in Europe more for her Brahms and Dvořák than her work championing contemporary composers. It is obviously better to judge Alsop's Brahms in Baltimore now, when she has buried the hatchet with the players. This recording, which concludes a complete cycle of the Brahms symphonies with the London Philharmonic (all in live concert settings), gives one a chance to appreciate Alsop's work with this most traditional composer in Europe. It is extremely hard to make a new recording of something like the Brahms symphonies that matters, and this fourth symphony does not stand out all that much. It is accompanied by something of greater interest, new arrangements of some of the Brahms Hungarian Dances by Peter Breiner, a Naxos commission. Conductors and concert programmers may want to have a listen to them for possible encore material.

In Brief: Things To Be Thankful For

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.

  • Via Boing Boing, an Italian eccentric who goes by the name of Falco (his real name is Oberto Airaudi) has realized a childhood vision underneath his house in northern Italy. With friends who believed in his mystical artistry the 57-year-old former insurance broker excavated 300,000 cubic feet of rock underground, calling it the Temples of Damanhur. The pictures (like that shown at right) are not to be believed, chamber after chamber of stained glass, mosaic, and painting. Calling the American Visionary Art Museum! [Daily Mail]

  • My parents are readers, they made me into a reader, and my kids are readers. Not everyone is so lucky, according to a new and disturbing report from the National Endowment for the Arts. [New York Times]

  • Via Nico Muhly, Pope Benedict XVI has already made the first move toward returning the Roman Catholic Church to its liturgical roots by making it easier to celebrate the Mass in Latin. He is now putting the hammer down on the Vatican choral system. The new choir director, Fr. Pierre Paul, has put Gregorian chant first on the list for the Vatican choir to sing. The Sistine Chapel choir may soon have a new director, too. Gone is the recent tradition of rotating, visiting choirs singing whatever they want in St. Peter's. What begins with the Vatican may soon extend to the church universal, as the Pope is reportedly in favor of creating a new position in the curia for "church music watchdog." You may begin burning your copies of Glory and Praise in the streets now! [The Telegraph]

  • Thomas Adès gave a recital in New York this week, including some of his pieces (that I heard Louis Lortie play last year). He will be in our area this spring, conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in a program that includes his own violin concerto. Mark your calendars. [New York Times]

  • Magdalena Kožená has a new CD of Handel arias out (review forthcoming), with Andrea Marcon and his Venice Baroque Orchestra. Martine Mergeay heard the group live with Kožená at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. [La Libre Belgique]

  • What will Anne Midgette's tenure as interim classical music critic at the Washington Post be like? Apprentice singers can expect a warm-hearted but direct and critical assessment judging by her recent review of an opera production at Juilliard. So far, so good. [New York Times]

  • A favorite writer on music, Philippe Beaussant, has been elected to the Académie Française, taking the seat of Jean-François Deniau. [Le Figaro]

24.11.07

Classical Month in Washington (February)

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!

February 1, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty
American Ballet Theater
Kennedy Center Opera House
Review -- Sarah Kaufman (Washington Post, January 31)

February 1, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Concerto Copenhagen [FREE]
Library of Congress
Review -- Tom Huizenga (Washington Post, February 4)

February 1, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With baritone Thomas Hampson (Mahler, Kindertotenlieder and Sy. 6)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 2)

February 1, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: America
Music by Duke Ellington and Aaron Copland
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Anne Midgette (Washington Post, February 4)

February 2, 2008 (Sat)
1:30 and 7:30 pm
Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty
American Ballet Theater
Kennedy Center Opera House

February 2, 2008 (Sat)
6 pm
Lawrence Dutton, viola
Smithsonian Resident Associates
National Museum of Natural History

February 2, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Fessenden Ensemble with Jerome Barry, baritone
Schubert's Birthday
Embassy Series
Austrian Embassy

February 2, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With baritone Thomas Hampson (Mahler, Kindertotenlieder and Sy. 6)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 2, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: America
Music by Duke Ellington and Aaron Copland
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 2, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Nordic Voices: From a Candlelit Renaissance Cathedral
Dumbarton Concerts
Review -- Ronni Reich (Washington Post, February 4)

February 2, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
With Leon Fleisher, piano
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, February 4)

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
1:30 pm
Tchaikovsky, Sleeping Beauty
American Ballet Theater
Kennedy Center Opera House

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
WPAS
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 5)

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: America
Music by Duke Ellington and Aaron Copland
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
National Philharmonic
With Leon Fleisher, piano
Music Center at Strathmore

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Barnabàs Kelemen (violin) and Shai Wosner (piano)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, February 6)

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Mari-Yan Pringle, soprano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Manhattan Piano Trio
St Luke's Church (McLean, Va.)
Review -- Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, February 6)

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Alban Gerhardt (cello) and Cécile Licad (piano)
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 3, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Hugo Wolf Quartet [FREE]
National Gallery of Art
Review -- Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, February 5)

February 6, 2008 (Wed)
6 pm
Aki Takahashi, piano [FREE]
Kennedy Center Millennium Stage
Review -- Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, February 8)

February 6, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Miranda Blakeslee, viola
Mansion at Strathmore

February 6, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Yura Lee, violin [FREE]
National Museum of Women in the Arts

February 6, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Composers in Conversation: Steven Mackey
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 6, 2008 (Wed)
8 pm
Trio con Brio Copenhagen
Clarice Smith Center
Review -- Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, February 8)

February 7, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music by Strauss, Steven Mackey
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, February 8)

February 8, 2008 (Fri)
1:15 pm
Richard Miller, guitar [FREE]
Georgetown University, McNeir Hall

February 8, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Gil Shaham (violin) and Orli Shaham (piano)
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Robert Battey (Washington Post, February 11)

February 8, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Tafelmusik
The Barns at Wolf Trap
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 10)

February 8, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music by Strauss, Steven Mackey
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 9, 2008 (Sat)
3 pm
Efe Baltacigil (cello) and Anna Polonsky (piano) [FREE]
Baltimore Museum of Art

February 9, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Tribute to Toru Takemitsu
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

February 9, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Ensemble Matheus with Jennifer Larmore, mezzo-soprano [FREE]
Library of Congress

February 9, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Devotion to Our Lady (all-Victoria, double-choir program)
150th anniversary of Lourdes apparition
Chantry
St. Mary Mother of God

February 9, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
State Symphony of Mexico
George Mason University Center for the Arts

February 9, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra: Euphoria
With BosmaDance and Alexandria Performing Arts Association
Schlesinger Concert Hall (Alexandria, Va.)

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Kelly Hall-Tompkins (violin), Anna Reinersman (harp), and
Craig Ketter (piano)
[FREE]
National Academy of Sciences

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Sara Daneshpour, piano [FREE]
Smithsonian American Art Museum

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Alexandria Symphony Orchestra: Euphoria
With BosmaDance and Alexandria Performing Arts Association
Schlesinger Concert Hall (Alexandria, Va.)

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Christian Zacharias, piano
Châteauville Foundation (Castleton Farms, Va.)

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Maurizio Moretti and Angela Oliviero, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Alexander Fiterstein (clarinet) and Alon Goldstein (piano)
FAES
Congregation Beth-El (Bethesda, Md.)

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
4:30 pm
Contemporary Music Forum
Corcoran Gallery of Art

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Orchestra of New Spain [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
7 pm
Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel
Russia: Rebels on the Red Carpet
George Mason University Center for the Arts

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Joyce Yang, piano
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

February 10, 2008 (Sun)
8 pm
Jean-Frédéric Neuburger (piano) and Amedeo Modigliani Quartet
Young Concert Artists
Clarice Smith Center

February 11, 2008 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Laptop Orchestra (Tokyo-based collaborative)
Kennedy Center Theater Lab

February 11, 2008 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Jérôme Hantaï and Kaori Uemura, viola da gamba
La Maison Française

February 12, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Elizabeth Kluegel (soprano), Beth Graham (French horn), and Carl Banner (piano)
Washington Musica Viva
Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum (Bethesda, Md.)

February 14, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Midori (violin) with Miró Quartet
Kennedy Center Family Theater

February 14, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Catherine Reid, The Yellow Wallpaper [WORLD PREMIERE]
Peabody Chamber Opera
Baltimore Theater Project

February 15, 2008 (Fri)
1:15 pm
Mark Janello (harpsichord), Jennifer Ellis (soprano), and Kiri Tollaksen (coronet) [FREE]
Georgetown University, McNeir Hall

February 15, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Altin Volaj, Ion [FREE]
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

February 15, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Chamber Orchestra Kremlin with Julia Kogan, soprano [FREE]
Library of Congress

February 15, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Seven Songs of Love
Folger Consort, with soprano Johana Arnold
Folger Shakespeare Library

February 15, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Purcell, Dido and Aeneas
Mark Morris Dance Group
George Mason University Center for the Arts

February 15, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Catherine Reid, The Yellow Wallpaper [WORLD PREMIERE]
Peabody Chamber Opera
Baltimore Theater Project

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
11 am
Stravinsky, The Firebird (Puppet ballet, Children's Concert)
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
4 pm
American Opera: D.C. and Beyond (lecture)
Mansion at Strathmore

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
5 and 8 pm
Seven Songs of Love
Folger Consort, with soprano Johana Arnold
Folger Shakespeare Library

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
David Finckel (cello) and Wu Han (piano)
Candlelight Concert Society
Wilde Lake Interfaith Center (Columbia, Md.)

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Free to Sing: The Story of the First African-American Opera Company
Post-Classical Ensemble
Music Center at Strathmore

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Purcell, Dido and Aeneas
Mark Morris Dance Group
George Mason University Center for the Arts

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Catherine Reid, The Yellow Wallpaper [WORLD PREMIERE]
Peabody Chamber Opera
Baltimore Theater Project

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
JCCGW Symphony Orchestra
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

February 16, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Michael Adcock, piano [FREE]
Washington Conservatory of Music
Westmoreland Congregational UCC Church (Bethesda, Md.)

February 17, 2008 (Sun)
11 am to 4 pm
Discover Strathmore (Open House) [FREE]
Performances by Opera Lafayette, St. Augustine's Gospel Choir, Members of the Baltimore Symphony, 18th Street Singers
Music Center at Strathmore

February 17, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Seven Songs of Love
Folger Consort, with soprano Johana Arnold
Folger Shakespeare Library

February 17, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Catherine Reid, The Yellow Wallpaper [WORLD PREMIERE]
Peabody Chamber Opera
Baltimore Theater Project

February 17, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Raphael Trio (violin-clarinet-piano) [FREE]
Phillips Collection

February 17, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Juilliard String Quartet [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

February 17, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Masterworks of Four Centuries
Music of Buxtehude, Erlebach, Bach
Smithsonian Chamber Players
Grand Salon, Renwick Gallery

February 17, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Kronos Quartet and Wu Man (pipa)
Music by Tan Dun and Terry Riley
Clarice Smith Center

February 20, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Verdehr Trio
Austrian Cultural Forum
Embassy of Austria

February 20, 2008 (Wed)
8 pm
Takács Quartet
Corcoran Gallery of Art

February 20, 2008 (Wed)
8 pm
State Symphony of Mexico
Music Center at Strathmore

February 22, 2008 (Fri)
1:15 pm
Russell J. Weismann, organ [FREE]
Georgetown University, McNeir Hall

February 22, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Alban Berg Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress

February 22, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Takács Quartet
Corcoran Gallery of Art

February 22, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for the Arts

February 22, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Aires Nuevos Y Tropicales
Great Noise Ensemble
Patricia M. Sitar Center

February 23, 2008 (Sat)
11 am
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Casual Concert)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 23, 2008 (Sat)
5 pm
21st Century Consort: Swan and Stone
Smithsonian American Art Museum

February 23, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Soheil Nasseri, piano
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

February 23, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Red Priest (Baroque ensemble)
Dumbarton Concerts

February 23, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Joseph Gascho, harpsichord
Bach, Goldberg Variations
Woodside United Methodist Church (Silver Spring, Md.)

February 23, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess (concert performance)
National Philharmonic
Music Center at Strathmore

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for the Arts

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Women in Opera: Senta and the Flying Dutchman
Lecture with sopranos Evelyn Lear and Jennifer Wilson
Washington National Opera
National Museum of Women in the Arts

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Peter Pertis, piano
Mansion at Strathmore

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Silver-Garburg, piano duo [FREE]
Phillips Collection

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Elizabeth Kluegel (soprano), Beth Graham (French horn), Carl Banner (piano) [FREE]
Washington Musica Viva
Rock Spring Congregational Church (Arlington, Va.)

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Alban Berg Quartet
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
National Gallery Chamber Players Piano Trio [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Masterworks of Four Centuries
Shostakovich, Chamber Symphonies
Smithsonian Chamber Players
Grand Salon, Renwick Gallery

February 24, 2008 (Sun)
8 pm
Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano
Friends of Music
Dumbarton Oaks

February 25, 2008 (Mon)
8 pm
James Galway, flute
WPAS
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 25, 2008 (Mon)
8 pm
Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano
Friends of Music
Dumbarton Oaks

February 26, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Jian Wang, cello
WPAS
Sidney Harman Hall

February 26, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Salman Rushdie: Baltimore Speaker Series
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 26, 2008 (Tue)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra Benefit Concert
With Christoph Eschenbach
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

February 27, 2008 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Celeste Headlee (soprano) and Danielle DeSwert (piano) [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

February 27, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Miranda Blakeslee, viola
Mansion at Strathmore

February 27, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
CSI: Beethoven (excerpts of symphonies 1-5)
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Baltimore Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 27, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Our Town and More New Music for Wilder’s Plays
Roundtable with Ned Rorem, J. D. McClatchy, and Tappan Wilder
Catholic University School of Music

February 28, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Ned Rorem, Our Town
Catholic University School of Music

February 28, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
CSI: Beethoven (excerpts of symphonies 6-9)
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Baltimore Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

February 28, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Orion Quartet with David Krakauer, clarinet [FREE]
Library of Congress

February 28, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Jonathan Dove, Tobias and the Angel
Opera Vivente (Baltimore, Md.)

February 29, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Roger Tapping (viola) and Judith Gordon (piano)
La Maison Française

February 29, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Mozart, Abduction from the Seraglio
Opera Bel Cantanti
Randolph Road Theater (Silver Spring, Md.)

February 29, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Jonathan Dove, Tobias and the Angel
Opera Vivente (Baltimore, Md.)

February 29, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Guarneri Quartet: Evening of Beethoven
Clarice Smith Center

POSTPONED DUE TO INJURY

February 29, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Charlie Chaplin, City Lights (screening with new orchestration of original score)
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music Center at Strathmore

Alain Planès Completes His Debussy

available at Amazon
Claude Debussy, Images inédites, Estampes, and various works, Alain Planès
(August 7, 2007)
available at Amazon
Claude Debussy, Suite Bergamasque, Deux Arabesques, Children's Corner, Images, Alain Planès
(May 9, 2006)
French pianist Alain Planès has come to the end of his project to record the complete works of Claude Debussy for solo piano, with the 2-CD set released last spring and last year's disc combining the Suite Bergamasque, Deux Arabesques, Children's Corner, and Images. When Planès comes to the Washington area next month, to play a recital on the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences series, it will be hard to know what to hope for more, that he plays Debussy or Scarlatti sonatas (and we at Ionarts love our Scarlatti sonatas). Just as he made such an impression by playing Scarlatti on a fortepiano, Planès made his 2006 Debussy installment on a historical instrument, a piano built by Julius Blüthner in Leipzig in 1902. (I know their pianos because I grew up not far from the company's U.S. headquarters in Michigan.)

This is yet another facet of the polychromatic style of Planès, who was formerly the pianist of the Ensemble Intercontemporain and remains a noted interpreter of 20th-century music. He is also known for his interdisciplinary work, combining music with his other passionate interests, poetry and painting. That mindset, ears on the music and eyes on poetry and art, may be the best possible background from which to approach Debussy, a singularly visual composer ("I like pictures almost as much as music," he supposedly said) who was obsessed with the best poetry of his day. The listener may occasionally long for a broader color chart than the Blüthner instrument can produce, but there is an almost toy-like quality that is perfect for Children's Corner (although in the 21st century, it is hard to see anything about Golliwog's Cakewalk as child's play). Fast, light passages work extremely well, as in the triplet figures of the second arabesque or the light-hearted passepied of the Suite Bergamasque. There is plenty of colorful characterization, especially in Children's Corner and Images, and the instrument is a fascinating aural perspective on what sound Debussy may have heard in his mind and from his own piano.

Alain Planès, Debussy:
available at Amazon
Préludes


available at Amazon
Études, Masques, L'Isle Joyeuse
For his final volume, Planès has returned to the modern piano, a Steinway. The instrument's technological advantages allow for a grander palette of scope and touch, most welcome because this 2-CD set brings together the last two remaining major sets for solo piano. The suite Pour le piano is perhaps not as technically flawless as one might hope, but the textures achieved by voicing and pedaling are widely varied and there is a shimmering quality that is pleasing. The exoticist Estampes is one of my least favorite of the Debussy sets, but Planès makes convincing work of the faux chinoiserie and Spanishisms, aiming for color effects more than anything weightier.

The rest of the set is an assortment of oddities, including some works transcribed for solo piano by the composer or others. Planès has mined these curiosities for as many hues and surprises as possible. Some of these small pieces are forgettable juvenilia, which Debussy himself repudiated as too derivative of his Romantic predecessors. Others are noteworthy because of the odd circumstances of their composition, like Les Soirs illuminés par l'ardeur du charbon (Evenings illuminated by the warmth of coal), offered by Debussy to his coal supplier in payment of outstanding debts.

Harmonia Mundi HMC 901947.48 / HMC 901893

Alain Planès will play a recital on the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences series next month (December 9, 4 pm), at Bethesda's Congregation Beth-El.

UPDATE:
For his recital at An die Musik LIVE! in Baltimore (December 8, 8 pm), Planès will play the following program: Haydn, Sonata No. 31 in A-flat; Schubert, Sonata in A Major; Debussy, Estampes; Janáček, Sur un sentier herbeux.

23.11.07

Unsuk Chin's Akrostichon-Wortspiel

available at Amazon
Unsuk Chin, Akrostichon-Wortspiel and other works, Ensemble Intercontemporain
(2005)
As noted here last month, Korean composer Unsuk Chin's star is on the rise. Her recent opera, Alice in Wonderland, was a critical success in Munich this summer, and she was honored at the Musica Festival in Strasbourg. The world premiere recording of her first major hit, Akrostichon-Wortspiel, has since come across my desk. Chin began it in 1991, when she was only 30 years old and had only just recently completed a period of studies with György Ligeti. She has said that her music is a reflection of her dreams:
I try to render into music the visions of immense light and of an incredible magnificence of colors that I see in all my dreams, a play of light and colors floating through the room and at the same time forming a fluid sound sculpture.
That is as good an explanation as any for the phantasmagoric wash of sounds we hear in the seven movements of Akrostichon-Wortspiel. Written for stratospheric space soprano and chamber ensemble, the piece draws on texts from Michael Ende's The Never-Ending Story and Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. While the latter work makes an obvious connection to Chin's Alice opera, the completion of a project that Ligeti had long contemplated, here the words are only the starting point for a wild voyage. This recording excels as it does largely because of the pure, laser-like voice of Finnish soprano Piia Komsi (those qualities reportedly work well in Baroque music, too). There are times that her forays upward merge perfectly with the flute, piccolo, or oboe: is that a wind instrument or Komsi's voice? Sometimes it is hard to tell. Much of the language is harshly dissonant and thick with complex rhythm, and Chin causes for microtonal mistunings of some of the instruments. Even so, in the fifth movement (Domifare S), the work opens into a lushly post-tonal quasi-Romantic style, as if Alice had suddenly fallen into the world of Korngold's Heliane or the realm of Keikobad. More and more this approach appears to be the way forward for modern composers, not to ignore serial techniques and dissonance but not to be enslaved by them either.

The rest of the recording features later pieces by Chin, none of them quite as immediately gripping as Akrostichon-Wortspiel. For five instruments, stretches of Fantasie mécanique sound unfortunately like a warm-up session, complete with the piano appearing to strike tuning notes for the trumpet and trombone. There are more engaging moments that emerge from its managed rigor here and there. Chin takes a turn working with electronics in Xi, a Webernesque exploration of spatialized Doppler-effect sounds, with the Ensemble Intercontemporain interacting with Chin's 12-channel tape. The most recent work is Chin's Double Concerto (for piano and percussion soloists), recorded live during its world premiere at the 2003 Présences Festival. Along with Akrostichon-Wortspiel, its varied palette of sounds -- including an incredible avian passage in the middle section reminiscent of Messiaen -- is what suggests itself for more extended listening on this fascinating disc. The EIC is on a tour of Mexico this month: too bad that they are not able to stop in the U.S. before returning to Paris.

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