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31.5.09

Music for Viola and Live Computer at La Maison Française


Christophe Desjardins, violist
Thursday evening, La Maison Française presented violist Christophe Desjardins and sound engineer Christophe Lebreton in a palatable program of works for viola and electronic effects. The main point of the program was to present Philippe Manoury’s Partita I (2007) for solo viola and live electronic effects – yes, “live” electronic effects. The French Ministry of Culture commissioned the work on behalf of GRAME -- with the help of IRCAM -- with the plan to tour it in performance throughout the United States and Mexico.

Manoury, a professor at the University of Southern California, San Diego, gave verbal program notes outlining the history of electronic music. With the performer no longer a “slave” to a fixed recording, computers now may also be an “interpreter” able to control sound quality; however, Manoury made clear that he would never want a machine to replace the human element of art. In other words, the computer in his works functions as an intermediary or instrument used by a performer. In the case of Partita I, the computer is able to record and synthesize (with the help of the sound engineer) the violist’s playing through a small device attached to the player’s finger.

The forty-five minute work begins with the computer mirroring what the violist Desjardins had played at about a twelve-second interval. Soon his virtuosic playing was layered upon itself to become seemingly multi-dimensional, speeding circularly around the room though well-placed speakers. Manoury created a mountainous stacking and reproduction of the soloist’s material into a harmonic whole. The piece was far from aleatoric, as Desjardins took all his instructions from the score. Long harmonic notes contrasted to quick pizzicato patterns were most striking. The versatility of the viola as an instrument served the work well.

With the feedback techniques perpetually changing, your reviewer eventually gave up trying to analyze the specifics of what was going on and just sat back to take in the experience. As the work built to its fullest point, a bounce of the bow created a percussive cacophony around the room, a strong pizzicato a huge violent commotion, and high tremolo chords sounded like low-flying jets passing over the Potomac. Desjardins remained poised and committed throughout the work. Only one person walked out, and that only about a minute before the work’s conclusion.


Other Reviews:

Aaron Grad, A "Partita" For Our Time (Washington Post, May 30)
This program of contemporary music was compact, with a twenty-five minute first half and second half of forty-five minutes. The concert opened with Sébastian Béranger’s Le Triangle de Pascal (2003) for solo viola and Gérard Grisey’s Progolue (1976) for solo viola and electronic effects. Béranger’s brief work featured many different percussive techniques for viola. Grisey featured the computer adding an exotic echo to Desjardin’s playing. More and more foreign overtones were added subtly; eventually noise overwhelmed the viola completely. Once outside of the auditorium in quietness, one felt changed after experiencing this impressive program.

The next concert at La Maison Française will feature the Trio Hantaï (June 11, 7:30 pm), with the three Hantaï brothers -- Jérôme Hantaï (viola da gamba), Marc Hantaï (flute), and Pierre Hantaï (harpsichord) -- playing a historically informed program of music by Couperin, Leclair, Marais, Telemann, Bach, and Rameau.

In Brief: Graduation Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.
  • With hat tip to Boing Boing, the video embedded at right, showing a virtuosic, four-foot rendition of (part of) Bach's D minor toccata, on the big keyboard at FAO Schwarz. Talk about a great gig for a poor music student! [YouTube]

  • The finalists of the Queen Elisabeth Competition this year all have to perform a new violin concerto. The composer of the work, titled Agens, was just announced, a Korean woman named Eun-Hwa Cho (b. 1973). During a press conference with all of the finalists, Cho responded to a question about being a violinist herself by responding that she "plays violin in her head, but not with her hands," something that made the finalists snicker. Apparently, many of them have described the piece not only as very difficult but as not too "violinistic," not exactly "falling" naturally under the fingers. For the first time in the history of the competition, the finalists were all given a CD of the orchestral part to rehearse with, in advance of a single rehearsal with the orchestra. [La Libre Belgique]

  • This just in -- the winners of the 2009 Queen Elisabeth Competition are Ray Chen (first prize), Lorenzo Gatto (second prize), Ilian Gârnet (third prize), Suyoen Kim (fourth prize), Nikita Borisoglebsky (fifth prize), and Soyoung Yoon (sixth prize). You can watch the final and semifinal performances of the entire competition online, made possible by the sponsorship of Belgacom. [Concours Reine Elisabeth]

  • You can also watch the finals semifinals of the Van Cliburn Competition online. The final performances are today. [Cliburn Competition Webcast]

  • Finally, some sanity in the world. You may recall my little post on how advertisements with tobacco-related imagery were being banned on public transit in Paris. It turns out now that the agency responsible for the ban has allowed a loophole for "cultural advertising," as long as there is no connection to the tobacco industry, which will include the famous pipe of M. Hulot and Audrey Tautou's cigarette in her new film about Coco Chanel. [Le Figaro]

  • Stephen Hough, whose entertaining blog we should mention more often, wrote last week about his conversion to Roman Catholicism and the history of the Catholic-Protestant divide in Great Britain. [Cadenza: Stephen Hough]

30.5.09

Haydn 2009 - Fricsay's Symphonies




Perhaps the coupling of Haydn’s 44th, 95th, and 98th symphonies strikes you as slightly random – a little Sturm & Drang (no. 44, the Trauersymphonie - “Mourning-Symphony”), a little London (nos. 95, 98). Perhaps a 1954 mono recording doesn’t obviously kindle your interest or tickle your fancy? And maybe you have not thought much of the short-lived (1914-1963) Ferenc Fricsay—apart perhaps from enjoying a wonderful Beethoven or Dvořák 9th or his Don Giovanni?

Well, this budget disc from Deutsche Grammophon’s Europe-centric “Musik…… Sprache der Welt” collection will make you reconsider on all counts. It’s an absolute gem and (especially for those who don’t already have a Haydn #44 in their collection) there is no reason not to indulge in this recording. The sound quality belies its age (better still than the remastered 58/60 Beecham EMI recordings), the playing of the RIAS Symphony Orchestra Berlin under Fricsay is positively infectious.

“Mourning” may be the featured symphony’s title, but it is actually an unadulterated joy to listen to; the kind of Angst- and tension-free music that allows you to smile, apprehending only skilled, honest beauty and goodness. It’s music with little wings. A delightful 70 minutes of it.

There is a similar disc among the Fricsay unearthing of Audite with Symphonies 44 and 98. Often their remasterings of old radio tapes best similar DG studio recordings (as is the case with Kubelik’s Mahler cycle), but sadly that’s not the case here with considerably limited monaural sound and the Cologne RSO not on the same level as the Berliners. Hopefully, as Audite’s tour of German radio vaults continues, they may unearth more Fricsay Haydn. Meanwhile, the DG disc—released a few years ago—remains a clear, happy first choice.


Available as a download from DG's WebShop.

see also:
Haydn 2009 - Seven Last Words
Haydn 2009 - Minetti Quartet(t)
Haydn 2009 - Harmoniemesse
Haydn 2009 - The String Quartets (Part 1)
Haydn 2009 - The String Quartets (Part 2)
Haydn 2009 - The String Quartets (Part 3)
Why Haydn Should be Mandatory

Summer Opera 2009 (U.S.A.)

The smell coming from your grill last weekend, if you are reading in the United States, was a sure sign that summer is almost here, and with it the summer opera festivals. Tough economic times have forced some companies to reduce their seasons or pad them with money-making chestnuts -- or cancel the entire season -- but for most of them, the show will go on. Here are a few picks for what looks good around the United States, in roughly chronological order.

SPOLETO FESTIVAL (Charleston, S.C.)
Spoleto is mounting only one opera this year, Gustave Charpentier's Louise, which is according to Tim Page, in his summer gig with the Charleston Post and Courier, worth the trip. Only two (of three) performances remain. May 31 and June 6

BOSTON EARLY MUSIC FESTIVAL (Massachusetts)
The track record for the Boston crew's stagings of Baroque operas is quite good, and this year's production of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea is likely to be worth the trip, especially with Stephanie Houtzeel as Ottavia. June 6 to 14, 19 to 21

OPERA THEATER OF ST. LOUIS (Missouri)
If I can make it to St. Louis this summer (see the review from my last visit, in 2005), it would be for the new, reduced-forces version of John Corigliano's Ghosts of Versailles. Will the new edition give this unwieldy but ultimately lovable opera a new lease on life? June 17 to 27

CENTRAL CITY OPERA (Colorado)
This is going to be the year for me to make it to one of the oldest summer opera festivals in the United States, in a historic 19th-century opera house in the Rocky Mountains. Catherine Malfitano directs a production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor with the lovely Lyubov Petrova in the title role and Vale Rideout as Edgardo, and countertenor David Walker, whom we admired so much in Opera Vivente's production of Tobias and the Angel, as Goffredo in Handel's Rinaldo, staged at Central City for the first time. June 27 to August 2

SANTA FE OPERA (New Mexico)
We have been covering the Santa Fe Opera's summer season almost as long as we have been in the blogging business, and the chance to leave the Washington swamps for a couple weeks in the dry desert mountains is most welcome. This season is once again one of the most alluring of the summer, beginning with Natalie Dessay's first Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata (Santa Fe also hosted her first Pamina), even more noteworthy because of the new production by the Laurent Pelly and Chantal Thomas team (who also contributed memorable stagings of Cendrillon and Platée). The world premiere of Paul Moravec's new opera, The Letter, on a libretto by Terry Teachout, will be the other major event. Jonathan Kent will direct Patricia Racette in the role of Leslie Crosbie. We are disappointed to see no other 20th-century opera on the schedule -- where is the Strauss? or Britten? or Janáček? -- but we will console ourselves with the fabulous Christine Brewer in the title role of Gluck's Alceste.

Fluff includes Elisir d'Amore, one of the dumbest operas ever created, with apprentice alumni Jennifer Black, Dmitri Pittas, and Patrick Carfizzi, all of them very good. The Don Giovanni (a production by Chas Rader-Shieber, who directed Washington's Tamerlano) also features mostly apprentice alums, most notably Susanna Phillips and Kate Lindsey, both of whom are worth hearing. July 3 to August 29

CASTLETON FESTIVAL (Castleton Farms, Va.)
At his estate in Rappahannock County, Lorin Maazel launches a new summer festival devoted to the chamber operas of Benjamin Britten this July, in what are not exactly auspicious economic circumstances. We have reviewed almost all of the operas on the schedule of the inaugural festival and have greatly admired them all: The Turn of the Screw (although the production is apparently not the same one as in 2006), the adaptation of The Beggar's Opera, and The Rape of Lucretia. Add in a production of Albert Herring and some symphonic and chamber music concerts, and you have one of the most appealing festivals of the summer. July 3 to 19

BARD MUSIC FESTIVAL/SUMMERSCAPE (Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.)
Interesting offerings at Bard College this summer include some concerts on the theme of Wagner and His World, as well as a staging of Meyerbeer's grand opera Les Huguenots, a multimedia performance of Dance (collaboration of Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass, and Sol LeWitt), and a performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio St. Paul. July 9 to August 23

CINCINNATI OPERA (Ohio)
This company has a strong schedule this year, with three of their four operas tempting me to take my first trip there. Most of all, they have a production of Don Carlo with Angela Brown, James Morris, and Michelle DeYoung (June 25 and 27), but also Roger Norrington will conduct their Marriage of Figaro, with a decent cast including Nicole Cabell and Teddy Tahu Rhodes (July 11 and 13). If you have not seen it yet, you have another chance to see Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar, again with Dawn Upshaw and Kelley O'Connor (July 9 and 11).

GLIMMERGLASS OPERA (Cooperstown, N.Y.)
This is still probably not the year that will draw me to this highly regarded festival in upstate New York, although if I did go it would be to see Menotti's The Consul and to hear the talented Tamara Mumford, who was so good in Rape of Lucretia at the Châteauville Foundation, in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, in honor of the composer's anniversary year. July 18 to August 23

WOLF TRAP OPERA (Vienna, Va.)
Count me in for one of Wolf Trap's productions this summer -- more Monteverdi! -- Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, with several of the young singers we admired last year. All we know is that they are doing everything they can to make the thunder sound authentic. July 24, 26, and 28

CARAMOOR (Katonah, N.Y.)
Yet another performance (in concert, with the Orchestra of St. Luke's) of the supremely dippy Elisir d'Amore here, but with Lawrence Brownlee as Nemorino to make it worth your while. Far more interesting is Rossini's Semiramide, in the critical edition by Philip Gossett including the death scene Rossini added for the Paris version, again with Brownlee, plus Angela Meade and Vivica Genaux. (Hat tip to An Unamplified Voice for the suggestion.) July 18 and 31 (single performances)

SEATTLE OPERA (Washington)
One of these years I will make it to the Seattle Ring Cycle. A quick glance at this year's cast -- Greer Grimsley (Wotan), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Janice Baird (Brünnhilde) -- is promising. Robert Spano conducts. August 9 to 30

MOSTLY MOZART FESTIVAL (New York, N.Y.)
In addition to some Mozart and other stuff, there is the New York premiere of the new John Adams opera A Flowering Tree, at the Rose Theater. August 13 to 16

29.5.09

Beethoven Sonatas - A Survey of Complete Cycles
Part 3, 1977 - 1989

V.Ashkenazy • P.Badura-Skoda II • D.Barenboim II • M.Binns • A.Brendel IIR.Buchbinder IA.FischerJ.JandóJ.LillT.NikolayevaB.Roberts • M.Steinberg



available at Amazon

available at Amazon

available at Amazon
Alfred Brendel II
1970 - 1977 - Philips (analog)

Not long after Brendel had finished these recordings, digital became the new thing in the recording industry and so he would go about it for a third time shortly thereafter, recording what is--at least on CD--his most prevalent cycle.

Availability: Update: This cycle has now been re-issued as part of bringing the Philips recordings into the Decca fold... and include Brendel's first cycle of the Beethoven concertos with Haitink and the LPO (76/77). The Eloquence re-issue of the 70s cycle (in the mildly controversial AMSI-ambience remastering) meanwhile includes the Chicago/Levine Concerto recordings.


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
Philips
(Yes)


(Yes)
(Yes)


(Yes)
Decca Yes YesYes Yes

Eloquence

 No

Yes

Yes

Yes



available at ArkivMusic



Malcolm Binns

197? - 1977 (?) -
L'Oiseau-Lyre

Played on different period instruments.

Never issued on CD.
Availability of last 5 Sonatas:


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
Explore Records

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes



available at Amazon



Annie Fischer

1976 - 1978* - Hungaroton

These performances were recorded phrase by phrase with retakes, cutting, pasting, and editing taking place as late as 1992 and even beyond Fischer's death. Has its (cult?) following.

Availability:
(Also available on individual discs)


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
EMI
Yes


(Yes)


(Yes)

Yes



available at ArkivMusic



John Lill

1975 - 1980 - ASV (Brilliant, Sanctuary)

Availability:


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
Sanctuary
Yes


Yes


Yes

Yes



available at ArkivMusic



Vladimir Ashkenazy

1971 - 1981 - Decca

My first Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle of which especially the early sonatas hold up very well while I've become rather indifferent to much of the rest.

Availability:


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
EMI
Yes


Yes


Yes

Yes



available at Amazon


available at Amazon



Rudolf Buchbinder

1979 - 1981 - Telefunken / Telarc

Buchbinder is one of the worlds most avid Beethoven sonata edition collectors with over 18 complete editions in his library. (Interviews here & here.) This is his first Beethoven cycle, recorded for Teldec, and it includes just about all of Beethoven's pieces for solo piano, making it the most complete single-perfomer-cycle, next to Brautigam's. Re-released in 2012.

Availability:


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
Telefunken
No


No


No

No
Teldec 2012
Yes


Yes


Yes

Yes



available at Amazon


available at Amazon



Daniel Barenboim II

1981 - 1984 - Deutsche Grammophon / Metropolitan

Barenboim, Take Two. Now for Deutsche Grammophon. The DG is apparently the soundtrack to video that was filmed at Palais Lobkowitz, Palais Rasumovsky, Palais Kinsky, and Schloss Hetzendorf… directed by none less than Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. It's been just re-released on Bluray (3 disc set + Barenboim on Beethoven interview) and DVD (5 individual discs).



Availability:


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
DG
Yes


Yes


Yes

Yes
EuroArts Bluray
Yes


Yes


Yes

Yes
EuroArts DVDs
1 - 2 - 3
4 - 5


1 - 2 - 3
4 - 5


1 - 2 - 3
4 - 5

1 - 2 - 3
4 - 5



available at ArkivMusic



Tatiana Nikolayeva

1984 - Melodiya (Olympia (UK), DS Berlin, Scribendum)

What little I've heard about (but not of) this cycle, it must be uncompetitive in every regard. Recorded during a series of Moscow recitals over a few months in very early 1984.

Availability:


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
Scribendum

(Yes)


(Yes)


No

Yes



available at ArkivMusic



Bernard Roberts

1981 - 1984 - Nimbus

Availability:


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
Music & Arts

Yes


Yes


Yes

Yes



available at Amazon
available at Amazon



Michael Steinberg

1981 - 1986 - Elysium LPs

Michael Steinberg (no relation to the music critic) and his Beethoven cycle were hard to track down. (Many thanks to Richard Winton, cousin of the recordings' producer, for essential information!)

Steinberg, a graduate of Yale University and Juilliard School of Music, long time pianist-in-residence at the Villa San Michele (Anacapri, Italy), taught in the Music Department of the University of Delaware. He made these recordings in 20 sessions in the Beethoven Halle, of Hannover's Stadthalle. Originally on 12 LPs, the set was briefly re-issued in the US as three box sets of three CDs each, but is now hopelessly out of print.



Country / Label USA UK France Germany
Elysium
No


No


No

No



available at Amazon

available at Amazon

available at Amazon




Paul Badura Skoda II

1978 - 1989* - Auvidis Astrée

Once available on 9 individual CDs. Not currently available in any form**. Played on seven different fortepianos and Hammerklaviers, ranging from a 1790 Schantz PF to a 1824 Conrad Graf HK.
(*Not 1993, as I had previously thought. Hence the 'wrong' inclusion in Part 4 at first, instead of here.)

Edit: The set has just been re-released on XRCD24s in Japan (where else). **It can be found used, albeit only for a pretty penny, on European Amazon sites.


Country / LabelUSA UK FranceGermany
Auvidis Astrée
No


Not really


Not really

Not really
Astrée XRCD-24
Japan











available at ArkivMusic



Jenő Jandó

1987 - 1989 - Naxos

Naxos' pianist for all seasons seems to have recorded the complete-anything. Some Haydn I have of his is very amiable stuff, but the little I've heard of his Beethoven is too bland for making me explore it further.

Availability:
On individual discs. (Two 5-disc sets containing the cycle have since been discontinued.)


Country / Label USA UK France Germany
Gramola
List


(Yes) mp3


(Yes)

Yes


This listing of all Beethoven Sonata Cycles will continue as more sets reach completion or as I find more information about sets already completed.* There are certainly plenty sets under way that should or may reach completion soon: Among them Angela Hewitt (Hyperion), Igor Tchetuev (Caro Mitis), Jonathan Biss (Onyx), Paavali Jumppanen (Ondine), Yusuke Kikuchi (Triton) et al. I will also add a selection of historically important attempted cycles that were never finished but include >20 sonatas. That would add Rudolf Serkin (CBS, 10 sonatas missing), Bruce Hungerford (Vanguard / Piano Classics, also 10 sonatas missing), Emil Gilels (DG, opp.2/1, 14/1, 54, 78, 111), and Glenn Gould (CBS/Sony, opp.7, 22, 49, 53, 79, 81a, 90 missing, op.106 separate, opp.7 [partly], 49/1, 101 available on CBC recordings).


* If you count, as I did, Backhaus II and Arrau II as complete, despite one and two (respectively) missing sonatas. I do not count Walter Gieseking (tapes of 4, 5, 7, 20, 22 for a radio cycle are lost, a studio cycle for EMI was missing seven sonatas when he died), Wilhelm Kempff "0" (Polydor, opp.2/3, 22, 27/1, 28, 31/2, 101 missing).

Part 1: 1935 - 1969
Part 2: 1967 - 1974

Part 4: 1990 - 1996
Part 5: 1996 - 1999
Part 6: 2000 - 2005
Part 7: 2006 - 2009
Ronald Brautigam Special
Part 8: 2010 - 2013
Part 9: 2014 - onward


If you have additional information about recording dates, availability, cover art -- or corrections and additions -- your input is much appreciated.

This survey is meant to list all complete sets of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas and their availability in different markets, not to review them.

28.5.09

New Bach Recordings: Music for Lute-Harpsichord

available at Amazon
Bach, Music for Lute-
Harpsichord, E. Farr

(released on July 29, 2008)
Naxos 8.570470-71

Online scores:
BWV 995 | BWV 996 | BWV 997 | BWV 998 | BWV 999 | BWV 1000 (transcribed from BWV 1001/ii) | BWV 1006a | BWV 964 | BWV 990
Bach's works for lute are one of those odd corners of the Baroque corpus, another example of Bach's encyclopedic musical interests, even for instruments that were on their way out of fashion. Certainly Bach was acquainted with lutenists at most stages of his career, but he did not own one and conceived his music for it mostly through the medium of the keyboard. Not long after the new complete set of the Bach lute works by Paul O'Dette met with my approval, this recording crossed my desk, with keyboard specialist Elizabeth Farr playing them on a Lautenwerk, or lute-harpsichord. We know that Bach owned two of them, keyboard instruments with gut (and some brass) strings that imitated the sound of the lute, and that he appears to have composed at least some of his "lute pieces" to be played on it. He used keyboard notation instead of lute tablature, and some of the pieces are actually impossible to play on a lute without some creative adaptation.

No historical examples of the instrument have survived from the 18th century, but builders have made attempts to reconstruct them. Historical instrument builder and fellow Michigan State University alumnus Keith Hill designed the Lautenwerk heard on these two discs according to the specifications Bach recorded for one of the instruments in his collection (copied by Jacob Adlung in 1768). Some of the pieces are arrangements by Bach of other works -- a cello suite, a violin partita, and a violin sonata, and they do not necessarily work as idiomatically for this instrument. A delightful piece that is quite new to me is BWV 990, a C major sarabande that Bach reportedly adapted from Lully's Bellérophon (although I have yet to find it in the score), followed by 15 partite, or variations, the last four of which are a mini-dance suite. Farr plays all of this music with a delicious sensibility, embellishing gracefully and providing plenty of variation among registrations between repeats and sections, giving the impression of performance by a consort of instruments.

141'28"

27.5.09

Morales Requiem and Motets

available at Amazon
Morales, Requiem Mass (5 v.), Lamentabatur Jacob, Inclina Domine aurem tuam, Miserere nostri deus, Música Ficta, R. Mallavibarrena

Cantus C 9627
Enchiriadis EN 2002

available at Amazon
Morales, Requiem Mass (5 v.), Gabrieli Consort, P. McCreesh


Online scores:
Morales, Missa Pro Defunctis (5 v.) | Lamentabatur Jacob | Miserere nostri deus | Inclina Domine aurem tuam
If it is not already on your shelf and you are disposed to like austere but intensely mystical Spanish Renaissance polyphony, you need to get to know the five-voice setting of the Requiem Mass by Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500-1555). Morales was one of the greatest Spanish composers of the 16th century, maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of Ávila, in the years just before a young woman named Teresa stole away from her parents' home to join the Carmelite convent there -- Morales went on to Rome to work as a papal chorister. The recording of note was made by the Gabrieli Consort directed by Paul McCreesh, about a decade ago, more faithful to what is known about 16th-century performance practice than an otherwise fine version led by Jordi Savall in the early 1990s. McCreesh's reading of the work is somber and dense, oriented toward the lower voices, with the chant parts of the setting realized in knotty parallel organum and the only instrumental accompaniment given to a dulcian, the historical ancestor of the bassoon.

While the McCreesh recording is still eminently listenable, the Spanish ensemble Música Ficta made a recording of the work around the same time, which has just crossed my desk. It could not be more different: where McCreesh (and Savall) tend toward darkness, the five mixed voices (two women, three men) of this group brighten the work considerably, aided by the ethereal, evanescent accompaniment of an organ. If McCreesh's reading was an earthly yelp, this is a celestial sigh. Ignasi Jordà accompanies discreetly, never overwhelming the voices (to a fault in a few places, where the soprano voice sharpens slightly out of tune), and improvises intonationes for some movements, apt but never showy. Instead of pairing the Requiem Mass with the Morales setting of the texts for the Office of the Dead, as others do, this recording includes three motets that could conceivably all be programmed with the Mass at a funeral, especially the worthy Lamentabatur Jacob, setting the text of Jacob's lament on the death of his sons Joseph and Benjamin. If anyone has recorded the other setting of the Missa Pro Defunctis by Morales, for four voice, I would like to know about it.

64'14"

SVILUPPO:
Through the graceful intervention of Bob Shingleton, I can now direct you to this post at On an Overgrown Path. Apparently, the recording originally reviewed here, distributed by the Enchiriadis label, is a pirated version. In fact, it was the subject of a lawsuit against that company by Cantus Records. I have now corrected the link (and image) to direct you to the correct, legal version. If anyone actually ordered this recording in the few hours this post was up with the wrong recording, you probably still have time to cancel that order and replace it with the Cantus recording, which is apparently better edited -- and cheaper.

Music @ the Mansion

Sunday's May Music Fest at the Park-McCullough House in North Bennington, Vermont, officially began the annual Summer Sundays at Four classical and contemporary concert series with two performances in July, then running the month of August. The first concert is on Sunday, July 5th at 4 pm.

The day-long festival was a celebration of the 20th concert season and featured the return of many musicians who have performed over the years, including Allen Shawn, Yoshiko Sato, Ariel & Joana Rudiakov, Adrienne Finckel, Evita Cobo, David Gibson, Barry Finclair, Andrea Schultz, Polly Vanderlinde, Liz Wright, Kaori Washiyama, Michael Finckel, and others. It was a beautiful day of non-stop performances at an amazing location. For more info contact Park-McCullough at Info@parkmccullough.org.

26.5.09

Tamerlano from Madrid

available at Amazon
Handel, Tamerlano, P. Domingo, M. Bacelli, S. Mingardo, J. Holloway, Teatro Real de Madrid, P. McCreesh

(released on April 28, 2009)
Opus Arte OP 1006 D

YouTube videos
Plácido Domingo continues to take on new roles in a career that may be slowing but has not yet stopped. One of the best of the most recent roles was a sympathetic portrayal of the Ottoman emperor Bajazet, in Handel's Tamerlano, debuted at Madrid's Teatro Real last year. We had the chance to hear Domingo in this opera at Washington National Opera shortly afterward, albeit in a less interesting production. The stylish but quirky one directed by Graham Vick for Madrid has now been released on DVD. Hugh Canning, in a live review of the Madrid staging, aptly described Domingo's take on the role of Bajazet as "Lear-like," as the aged ruler imprisoned and humiliated by the Tartar emperor Timur Lenk. Domingo may not have fully memorized the role and his handling of Baroque musical demands may have left something to be desired, but in his inimitable way Domingo inhabited this role and made it pack quite an emotional punch.

Vick created the production for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino earlier in the decade, and its stylish minimalism reminds one of the Willy Decker La Traviata or the Alden brothers' Baroque stagings. The basic backdrop is a gently curved wall, starkly white, with some pieces that rotate almost unnoticed, around the top of the wall where supernumerary figures appear and a small circle on stage. Above the stage for much of the production hovers a large white globe, under which Bajazet first appears, crushed but slowly lifting it upward. The imagery of Atlas may be what Vick had in mind, but the meaning is more likely related to the enormous sculpted foot that forces the globe back down from the top, bringing to mind the footstool image -- Timur Lenk was rumored to have forced his royal prisoner to serve as his footstool, a story that Handel's libretto recalls when Tamerlano tries to make Asteria to step on her humiliated father to ascend to the throne as his bride. It was a common humiliation applied to foes in the Middle East: even the God of the Old Testament promised to do it to the enemies of the Hebrews:
Dixit Dominus Domino meo, sede a dextris meis: donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum.

The Lord said to my lord, sit on my right: while I shall place your enemies as a stool for your feet. (Psalm 110:1)
Some of the brightly colored costumes and turbans at times are a nod to the Mughals, the dynasties descended from Timur Lenk's Persianization of Afghanistan and northern India, with Irene even arriving in Act I on an enormous blue elephant. Mostly, however, the staging is a neutral backdrop, which misses the point of Baroque opera, in which really incredible singers mostly stood in place and sang difficult, pyrotechnical music in lavish sets and costumes, complete with incredible set effects. Vick also directs the singers in some particularly stylized, often insipid actions (the "high school show choir" hand movements that Peter Sellars also inflicts on his singers), especially Monica Bacelli's otherwise vocally splendid Tamerlano. The singing is quite good, although the Washington cast was in some ways better: Ingela Bohlin's shining if not immaculate Asteria was on par with Sarah Coburn, while Sara Mingardo's loamy voice and intense stage presence were bettered by Patricia Bardon's Andronico. Most of all, David Daniels nailed the loathsome arrogance of Tamerlano much more than Monica Bacelli, who was above all just not that convincingly male in her movement (an alto castrato created the role, after all).



Ingela Bohlin (Asteria) and Sara Mingardo (Andronico), Act III duet
(Vivo in te) from Tamerlano, Teatro Real, directed by Graham Vick

Where the Madrid production convincingly beats what we heard in Washington is the sound of the orchestra, because of the presence of a real Handel authority, conductor Paul McCreesh, in the pit. His strings and wind players are members of the resident band, the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, but he brought in his continuo group (harpsichord, Baroque cello, and theorbo) from the Gabrieli Consort to add some specialist touches (plus traversi and recorders, although apparently not played by specialists). The performance does not follow the newest critical score of HWV 18 but mixes in some of the music from other versions of the score (a couple recitatives and one of Asteria's arias cut from Act II, and similar cuts in Act III, but with Su la sponda added and the concluding scene after Bajazet's suicide). McCreesh explains the version of the score, chosen mostly by Vick and not necessarily what McCreesh would have used otherwise, in a short interview added here as bonus material. Even for three DVDs the price is steep, but the value of this production as a document in one of the most distinguished operatic singing careers, now drawing near its close, speaks for itself.

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