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30.6.09

Beethoven Sonatas - A Survey of Complete Cycles
Part 7, 2006 - 2009


Incl: R.BrautigamP.Lewis • J.Muller • I.Nakamichi • G.OhlssonG.Oppitz • K.W.Paik • A.Schiff • S.Sugitani • P.Takács • D.Varínska




Not really available at Amazon

Ikuyo Nakamichi

2003 - 2006 - BMG Japan

Ikuyo Nakamichi studied under Mitsuko Kinpara, Phyllis Rappaport (Michigan), Kazuhiko Nakajima and Prof. Klaus Schilde at the Hochschule fur Musik in Munich on a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Cultural Affairs. In 1982 Nakamichi won first and the Masuzawa Prize at the 51st Annual Japan Music Competition.


Available in Japan and:

Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
BMG Japan

Not really


Imports


Imports

Imports


available at Amazon



Gerhard Oppitz

2004 - 2006 - Hänssler

Oppitz' Beethoven cycle flew under the radar, compared to those of Schiff and Lewis, but it is, along with those two, one of the most notable to have been produced in this decade. I've not come across anything fancy in this cycle, but some astonishingly fine playing.


Availability (previously in eight individual volumes, now also as a box):

Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
Hänssler
Yes
Box


Yes
Box


Yes
Box


Yes
Box



available at ArkivMusic




Garrick Ohlsson

1992 - 2007 -
Bridge (Arabesque)


Availability (in eight individual volumes):


Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
Bridge

Yes


Yes


Yes


Yes



available at ArkivMusic



Peter Takács

2001 - 2007 - Cambria Records


Extraordinarily complete and lavishly presented set of 11 SACDs that includes all 38 (!) Sonatas ("Elector Sonatas" WoO 47 1-3, "Two Easy Sonatas" WoO 50 & 51, Sonata for Four Hands in D-major, op.6) and the Andante favori WoO57.

Availability:



Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
Cambria Records

Yes


Yes


Yes


Yes



available at ArkivMusic



András Schiff

2004 - 2007 - ECM

Schiff used a Boesendorfer and a Steinway Grand for these recordings, taped live (except for the last three sonatas) and played in sequence. A review of volume one exists here. Charles has reviewed several other volumes as they came out.

Availability (in eight individual volumes):



Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
ECM
Yes


Yes


Yes


Yes



available at ArkivMusic



Paul Lewis

2004 - 2007 - Harmonia Mundi

Availability (in four volumes and complete):


Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
Harmonia Mundi

Yes


Yes


Yes

Yes


available at Amazon



Kun-Woo Paik

2005 - 2007 - Decca (Korea)


Perhaps Decca sent up a test-balloon in the West when they released one volume of this cycle world wide. After that it was back to releases for the Asian (Korean?) market only.


Availability of Sonatas 16-26 (complete set only in Asia):


Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
Decca

Partial


Partial


Partial


Partial




available at ArkivMusic



Shoko Sugitani

???? - 2007? - IDC Classic

Not available as far as I know. (Volume 11 found on HMV.co.jp)




Daniela Varínska

???? - 2009? - Diskant

Available (9 of 11? volumes) from Slovakia or in Japan.
available at Amazon.de



Ronald Brautigam

2003 - 2008 (& beyond) - BIS


Among the myriad of new Beethoven cycles flooding the market, this is one of the select few that are consistently exciting, fresh, and superbly played throughout. The fact that it uses original instrument helps, but it isn't the key to this cycle's qualities, nor the key to enjoying it. The instruments (delightful, marvelous Paul McNulty creations) sound so great that even the "HIP-averse" ought to sample and see if they can't be converted. Volumes 1-8 contain all the standard 32 sonatas, volume nine all the non-standard sonatas, and the following volumes all the Bagatelles, Piano Pieces, and Variations. This makes this the most complete cycle by one pianist, ahead of Peter Takács' (see above).

Availability:


Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
Bella Musica

Yes


Yes


Yes

Yes


available at Amazon.de



Jean Muller

2007 - 2009 - Bella Musica


Live recordings from a young Luxenburgian pianist.

Availability:


Country / LabelUSAUKFranceGermany
Bella Musica

mp3 only


Yes


Yes

Yes






Part 1: 1935 - 1969
Part 2: 1967 - 1974
Part 3: 1977 - 1989
Part 4: 1990 - 1996
Part 5: 1996 - 1999
Part 6: 2000 - 2005
Ronald Brautigam Special
Part 8: 2010 - 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.

There are still cycles that I have overlooked or which are still missing vital information. Many of them were/are only distributed on the Asian market. Any further information about these would be much appreciated. Many thanks to Richard Winton, at this point, for vital help confirming the existence of--and supplying information for--Michael Steinberg's cycle (originally on Elysium LPs).

29.6.09

Singer Recitals: Villazón and Bartoli

available at Amazon
Rolando Villazón, Handel, Gabrieli Players, P. McCreesh

(released on March 31, 2009)
Deutsche Grammophon B0012818-02
Tenor Rolando Villazón has been plagued with vocal troubles in the last couple years, making a comeback last year only to withdraw from more performances for the rest of this year and much of the next, reportedly to have a cyst removed from his larynx. Somewhere in the good months (April 2008), he made this album of Handel arias, and happily, with a few noticeable edits here and there, he sounded pretty good. Few would suspect that Villazón would even be interested in singing Handel, but he has been listening to Baroque specialists' recordings since the start of his career. Two years ago, in fact, the French historically informed performance (HIP) conductor Emmanuelle Haïm convinced him to work with her on a recording of Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.

Can a voice trained primarily to sound fabulous soaring up to and holding long notes in the stratosphere and pumping out volume work in Handel? Well, yes, in more or less the same way that Plácido Domingo sounded good in Handel's Tamerlano last year. Villazón's voice has greater agility, too, with only the more disjointed passages, especially requiring the voice to bridge its registers rapidly, sounding a little off-kilter. Even the ornamented da capo repeats and occasional cadenza (credited to Jory Vinikour, whose recording of Handel harpsichord suites we admired recently) are well done. Handel would surely have relished writing for this sort of voice, although he would have composed something specifically for its strengths. If Villazón is good enough for Paul McCreesh, whose Gabrieli Players provide stylish backup, then who am I to complain?

59'26"


available at Amazon
Cecilia Bartoli, La Danza: Melodie italiane, J. Levine

(re-released on March 3, 2009)
Decca 478 1380
One of the singers whose interpretation of Baroque music Rolando Villazón says he admired was Cecilia Bartoli. Bartoli often seems most suited to 17th- and 18th-century music, where the clarity and agility of her voice is best featured. In her recent attempts to claim some of the 19th century, often under the aegis of HIP research, she has not met with approval from some listeners, for the same reasons that Villazón may seem unsuited to Handel, just in reverse. Those who are put off by her vocal mannerisms will never be convinced, but one of Bartoli's virtues is her interest in music off the beaten path. Decca has recently re-released this 1997 recital of rarely heard Italian art songs by opera composers, now available at a pleasantly discounted price if you missed it the first time around.

As the eminent musicologist Philip Gossett wrote at the time in his liner essay, "A vast literature of Italian nineteenth-century song, deposited in libraries and private collections throughout the world, remains to be explored. The music is found in early printed editions as well as in composers' own autograph manuscripts (often unique sources)." (A complete edition of the Rossini songs is planned by Gossett for the University of Chicago complete works.) Gossett points to modern listeners' familiarity with "nostalgic invocations" of this sort of Italian song by northern Europeans although the real thing is mostly forgotten: as part of the "nation-building process accomplished by the Italian Risorgimento," all major Italian composers wrote these sorts of songs. No one is likely to mistake most of these little songs by Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini (all but one actually published in modern editions, a fraction of the number known to exist) for great art, but Bartoli, with all of the vocal intensity and agility adored by her fans, makes a case for them as at least very happy listening. A few, like the quietly smoldering setting of the Requiem Mass introit text that Rossini dedicated to his "beautiful mother," deserve to be much better known (many would make brilliant encore pieces). James Levine provides sparkling, sensitive accompaniment at the piano.

67'23"

28.6.09

In Brief: Leaving the Lake Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.
  • The magnitude of reactions to the death of Michael Jackson this week was, frankly, surprising. His music (mostly mediocre, in my opinion), his performing personality (memorable, if weird), and (most of all) his perversions, excesses, and eccentricities have surely left a mark on the popular imagination. But was the outpouring of grief and commemorations really warranted? In lieu of my own assessment of one of the strangest lives of our age (I just don't care that much), read this one. [Countercritic]

  • Tim Page's look back at his career as a music critic should be required reading for anyone trying to write critically about music. [Opera News]

  • A sneak peek at the set for Santa Fe Opera's premiere production of Paul Moravec's new opera The Letter, from the librettist, Terry Teachout. [About Last Night]

  • Congratulations to Jessica Duchen, who has landed one of those rare blogger/columnist jobs, replacing Ian Bostridge as music writer for a relatively new British intellectual magazine. [Standpoint]

  • Anne Midgette published some great articles on tour with the National Symphony in China and South Korea. Watch her speak about the experience in an interview for PBS. [NewsHour with Jim Lehrer]

27.6.09

Classical Music in Washington (September)

Last month | Next month
Small eye = recommended

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

September 6, 2009 (Sun)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
National Labor Day Concert [FREE]
U.S. Capitol, West Lawn

September 12, 2009 (Sat)
12 noon to 6 pm
Kennedy Center Open House [FREE]
Kennedy Center

September 12, 2009 (Sat)
7 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 12, 2009 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Marco Granados, flute
Embassy Series
Venezuelan Ambassador's Residence

September 12, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
Fairfax Symphony Orchestra
George Mason University Center for the Arts

September 12, 2009 (Sat)
8:30 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Gala Concert (with Lang Lang, piano)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 13, 2009 (Sun)
2 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 13, 2009 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Joyce Yang, piano
JCCGW (Rockville, Md.)

September 14, 2009 (Mon)
7 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 15, 2009 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 16, 2009 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 16, 2009 (Wed)
8 pm
Mobtown Modern: Loopy
Metro Gallery (Baltimore, Md.)

September 17, 2009 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 19, 2009 (Sat)
7 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 20, 2009 (Sun)
2 pm
Rossini, Barber of Seville
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

September 20, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Calder Quartet
Clarice Smith Center

September 20, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Grand Piano Celebration
Jean Carrington Cook Memorial Scholarship Recital
George Mason University Center for the Arts

September 20, 2009 (Sun)
7 pm
Keyboard Conversation with Jeffrey Siegel
George Mason University Center for the Arts

September 23, 2009 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Jerome Barry (baritone) and Michael Adcock (piano)
Songs of the Vilna Ghetto
Embassy Series
Embassy of Lithuania

September 24, 2009 (Thu)
7 pm
NSO Pops: Ben Folds
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 24, 2009 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Argos Trio
Mansion at Strathmore

September 24, 2009 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Higdon, Concerto 4-3
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 25, 2009 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Rossini, Cinderella (in English)
Opera Vivente (Baltimore, Md.)

September 25, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Higdon, Concerto 4-3
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

September 25, 2009 (Fri)
8 pm
Poulenc Trio and Hyunah Yu (soprano)
University of Baltimore Student Center (Baltimore, Md.)

September 26, 2009 (Sat)
2 pm
Cédric Tiberghien, piano
WPAS
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 26, 2009 (Sat)
6 pm
Emerson Quartet
Smithsonian Resident Associates Series
National Museum of Natural History

September 26, 2009 (Sat)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Season Opening Ball Concert (with Evgeny Kissin, piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

September 26, 2009 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Higdon, Concerto 4-3
Music Center at Strathmore

September 27, 2009 (Sun)
2 pm
Rossini, Cinderella (in English)
Opera Vivente (Baltimore, Md.)

September 27, 2009 (Sun)
3 pm
Monument Piano Trio
An die Musik Live (Baltimore, Md.)

September 29, 2009 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Australian Chamber Orchestra
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

September 29, 2009 (Tue)
8 pm
Fessenden Ensemble
Nonets by Martinů, Spohr
St. Columba's Church

September 30, 2009 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Australian Chamber Orchestra
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

À mon chevet: Debussy and Wagner

Fake Holloway book cover
À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
In this nothingness lies (though it is more in the nature of a metaphysical speculation than these concrete examples I have just been discussing) the final Tristan connection in Pelléas. The Tristan progression originated as a breath, the breath, as Wagner said, that 'blurs the clarity of the heavens ... grows, condenses, and solidifies, until finally the whole world confronts me in its impenetrable bulk'. Debussy reverses this process; he liquefies, dissolves, and diminishes, until the impenetrable bulk of the Tristan world vanishes into the empty nothingness from which it had been summoned. And Pelléas has its 'nothingness motif' -- a single tone. As a part of every other motif, or merely an intervallic oscillation, it is omnipresent; it permeates the loose-knit texture more thoroughly than the Welt-Atem or Tristan progression does Wagner's essentially symphonic score -- without, however, binding it together. It is in fact the embodiment of the whole disintegratory, anti-matter emptiness which the work, by its means, consists of as well as expresses. The richness of Wagner's score is already implicit in the progression of the Welt-Atem; the Welt-Atem is pregnant with the abundance and profusion of the accomplished work. By contrast the parsimony of means in Debussy's fully achieved work implies the possibility of a reduction to the central minimum, the nothingness of a single tone.

-- Robin Holloway, Debussy and Wagner, p. 135
In summing up his analysis of Wagner's (unacknowledged) influence on Pelléas et Mélisande, Holloway quotes an apt aphorism attributed to Lichtenberg: "To do just the opposite is also a form of imitation and the definitions of imitation ought by rights to include both." Holloway has the goods in tangible score analysis that show passages in Wagner's operas filtered into Debussy's score, but he does not push his case too far, in light of Debussy's later professed anti-Wagnerism. When Holloway knows that he is making a speculative leap, he says so, and it rarely feels like a stretch. The rest of the book, no less interesting, concerns other Debussy works, including Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien and the ballet Jeux.

26.6.09

Singer Recitals: Garanča and Royal

available at Amazon
Elīna Garanča, Bel Canto, Filarmonica del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, R. Abbado

(released on April 28, 2009)
Deutsche Grammophon B0012818-02
Elīna Garanča made a fairly sensational debut at the Metropolitan Opera last year as Rosina in Barber of Seville. Her name first came up at Ionarts because she sang a small role in Europa Galante's memorable recording of Vivaldi's Bajazet a couple years before that. According to my review her voice had "a husky sound, not overburdened with active vibrato" and was "evocative" and "a little Marilyn [Horne] on the low notes." The Latvian mezzo-soprano's second recital disc for Deutsche Grammophon, a selection of bel canto opera excerpts, confirms that favorable assessment. Many of the pieces are for small ensembles, which highlights Garanča's voice in combination with soprano Ekaterina Siurina, tenor Matthew Polenzani, and bass-baritones Ildebrando d'Arcangelo and Adrian Sâmpetrean. Garanča has received praise for her Mozart and other early opera, too, so her voice is versatile, and she certainly has the power, beauty of tone, and agility for bel canto. This type of disc is not really of interest for the serious collector, of course -- buy the (heavily discounted) complete recording of I Capuleti e i Montecchi with Anna Netrebko (review forthcoming) instead of the few excerpts found here -- but it does give a worthwhile impression of the possibilities of this voice, at least until you have the chance to hear her live in an opera near you.

UPDATE:
See the profile on Garanča by Matthew Gurewitsch in the New York Times.

64'36"


available at Amazon
Kate Royal, Midsummer Night, Orchestra of English National Opera, E. Gardner

(released on June 2, 2009)
EMI 50999 2 68192 2 8
Kate Royal has followed up brilliantly on the success of her debut recital album for EMI, with this selection of mostly 20th-century opera excerpts, called Midsummer Night. The program is likely to be of greater interest to the serious collector, alluring rarities -- like Walton's Troilus and Cressida, William Alwyn's Miss Julie, Bernard Herrmann's Wuthering Heights, as well as pieces by Britten, Barber, Messager, Korngold -- rather than tired favorites. Her voice continues to impress my ears -- as it did live during her first U.S. appearance (reviewed by Jens), here in Washington in 2006: well-aimed if not all that overpowering (no need for that yet, so no pushing), with transparency throughout its range and the true intonation that makes it devastatingly effective in the modern repertoire (think Dawn Upshaw). According to Royal's introductory remarks in the liner notes, the program was inspired by the experience of her first role in a 20th-century opera, as the Governess in Glyndebourne's touring production of The Turn of the Screw. She was surely a good match for the role, and the excerpt recorded here (How beautiful it is, when the Governess sees Quint's ghost appear mysteriously on a tower), as well as the Embroidery Aria from Peter Grimes, indicates that she will likely be a first-rate Britten interpreter. Her statuesque beauty would make her a natural Titania, for example. The same conductor from her first recital disc, Edward Gardner, again proves an excellent accompanist, this time with the ENO Orchestra.

61'45"

Summer at the Museums: Herman Maril @ the Walters

Another gem of a summer exhibit, Herman Maril: An American Modernist, will open at the Walters Art Museum on Sunday. Maril, a Baltimore native, taught in the University of Maryland’s Art Department for 37 years. His first exposure to modern art took place at none other than Etta Cone’s apartment at Eutaw Place. Etta and her sister Claribel’s collection is now the backbone of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

He was a part of the New York art scene of the 30s, befriending such artists as Rothko, Gorky, the Soyer brothers, and of course Milton Avery, with whose work, besides that of Matisse, he is most associated. In addition to the many Baltimore scenes that I became familiar with since moving here in the 80s, Maril also summered on Cape Cod beginning in the 30s, where he produced some of his best work, seascapes, sand dunes, and beach scenes.

It was on the Cape that Maril found his palette and simplified style of painting. Another painter who summered on the Cape with Maril and a kindred spirit is the NYC artist and long-time Parsons teacher, Paul Resika. Although Resika may be more polished, the similarities in their work are striking. Dialogue At Five, shown below, for that matter, a depiction of the Provincetown summer scene, resembles an early Alex Katz composition. Stop me before I connect again! The show is up through August 30th -- images of the installation on Flickr.


25.6.09

Julius Reubke, Sonatas

available at Amazon
Schumann, Kreisleriana / Reubke, Sonata, T. Fellner


available at Amazon
Reubke, Sonatas for Organ
and Piano, J. Filsell


Online scores:
Reubke, Der 94ste Psalm (organ)
Sonata in B-Flat Minor (piano)
Many of the recordings we review here, as usual, are new releases, but sometimes it is fun to look backward to older recordings, either as a way to backfill one’s experience of an artist of current interest or to provide new alternatives to one’s listening of key works. Austrian pianist Till Fellner has been featured in our pages several times in the last few years, especially this year because of his Beethoven piano sonata cycle here in Washington, still in progress. Before his current contract with ECM, Fellner released a few discs on various labels, including this double bill of Schumann and Julius Reubke with Erato. For Kreisleriana, the reference recording is still probably Mitsuko Uchida or Maurizio Pollini, but the 20-something Fellner’s reading, made in 1995, has much to recommend it, showcasing his already prodigious talents as a colorist. The violent contrasts make the piece, but Fellner's reading is sometimes more rashly conceived than technically polished.

The real interest of this recording is the piano sonata by Julius Reubke (1834-1858), a young German pianist who became the favorite pupil of Franz Liszt in 1856, only to die two years later. The symptoms of the tuberculosis that eventually killed Reubke were already apparent at the time he completed this sonata in B-flat minor. Its basic form (sections of contrasting tempo within one large movement) and many of its melodic ideas and harmonic oddities show a kinship with Liszt's B minor sonata, completed just a few years earlier (indeed, Reubke dedicated his sonata to his teacher). Few composers of the mid-century were as harmonically adventurous, although Reubke's brand of chromaticism is cut from the same cloth as Wagner and others, obviously owing much to the influence of Liszt. Fellner's reading reminds me of his performance of the Hammerklavier sonata last month, a little cool, downplaying the technical challenges.

A less expensive and somewhat flashier option for the Reubke sonata is the recording by British pianist Jeremy Filsell, now available from Amazon by MP3 download. Filsell, recently appointed as organist at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington (in the interest of full disclosure, where I am also employed as a singer), has paired it with Reubke's much less obscure sonata for organ, a dramatic setting of selected lines from Psalm 94. Even if you know it (and many organists will), this is a version worth hearing, because it was recorded on the Friedrich Ladegast Organ in the Cathedral of Merseburg, where Reubke himself premiered the work on June 17, 1857, only two years after the instrument was installed. The unusual color palette of its registrations, infelicities of intonation and all, make the piece come to life. Without really critiquing a friend's recording in print, I think it is worth hearing.

24.6.09

Luscious Paint and Wicked Humor: Ensor @ MoMA

If you wait long enough and wish real hard, good things will come your way, or so I’ve heard. My dream this summer has come true with a very rare exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art of work by one of my favorites, Belgian artist James Sidney Edouard, Baron Ensor. A common theme I’ve found when researching artists, also true of Ensor, is that he did poorly in school (ha!) and -- something many young Americans can identify with -- he lived with his parents in Ostend, Belgium and had a studio in the attic. I don’t think there were basements then. It’s very rare to have so many of Ensor’s works assembled, incredibly over 200 paintings, drawings, and prints, allowing a true appreciation of not only his talent as a painter but his abilities as a draftsman and prolific printmaker.

I first came across Ensor’s work in college and was immediately attracted to the bizarre imagery and bold bright palette. His compositions of festively dressed, masked skeletons weren’t frightful: they seemed playful, with a knowing ulterior life that took pleasure in our folly. The real pleasure is that Ensor’s images are still fresh and still relevant. One small oil on panel, like The Bad Doctors or The Assassination -- is quite potent in light of the reports of botched prostate operations at V.A. hospitals. As one commenter on my Flickr page exclaimed -- he was a freak before the freaks boy genius! I think I’m in total agreement.

Ensor rarely traveled, leaving Ostend only for brief trips. His early work was considered scandalous, especially his iconic Entry Of Christ into Brussels, now in the Getty Collection. It took him several years to get his work accepted: the early work on view is a dark somber palette of domesticity. As his palette changed to the brighter colors we’re most familiar with and his subjects became more theatrical and bizarre, incorporating skeletons and masks, his favor grew; including being named a Baron by King Albert. His mother had a gift shop that sold masks for Ostend’s annual Carnival. This could have been inspiration for his carnival subjects, skeletons, and masked characters. The skeleton became more prominent after his father’s alcohol-related death.


Any good exhibition will surely make your head spin as you try to place the art in some kind of context. With Ensor it’s not possible and of course why bother -- he would have hated conformity, so here I go. My first thought was how could this fantastical work find a receptive audience in 1890’s Belgium, but there is a precedent with Hieronymus Bosch and the Bruegels that he took full advantage of with his unique style and wit. The religious themes of redemption, riffs on the Last Supper are repeated themes, and certainly Honoré Daumier’s satires of high and low society, especially through the printing medium (The Doctrinaire of Nourishment is a good example) -- they both a had wicked sense of humor.


It's much easier to spot the influence he had on his contemporaries and beyond, like George Gross, Paul Klee, Chagall, and visionary/outsider types; Henry Darger could have drawn The Cuirassiers at Waterloo. Not likely that they ever saw each other's work, but Ensor's landscapes have an uncanny resemblance to those painted by George Inness. But that's what a good exhibit will do, it inhabits your mind and makes you want to return again and again, and you should because this fabulous show is up only until September 21st -- or it may be a good reason to visit the Musée d'Orsay in October for the next stop. Visit my Flickr page for more images of the installation.

23.6.09

“I'm American, You know” - Interview with Marc Minkowski, Part 2

This continues the interview with Marc Minkowski.



J.S.Bach, Mass in B-minor,
Minkowski / LMdL /
Stutzmann, Balzer, Crow et al.

naïve 5145
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique, Minkowski / Mahler Chamber Orchestra, LMdL members
Archiv 474209
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Bizet, Carmen Suite, L'arlésienne Suites, Minkowski / LMdL
naïve 5130
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Gluck, Orphée Et Eurydice, Minkowski / LMdL / Croft, Delunsch, Harousseau - Archiv 471582
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Gluck, Armide, Minkowski / LMdL / Delunsch, Kozená, Podles et al.
Archiv 459616
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Handel, Hercules, Minkowski / LMdL / Daniels, Croft, von Otter, Pujol
Archiv 469532
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Handel, Giulio Cesare, Minkowski / LMdL / Mehta, Kozená, von Otter, Mijanovic
Archiv 474210
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Mozart, Symphonies 40 & 41, Minkowski / LMdL
Archiv 4775798
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Offenbach, Orphée Aux Enfers, Minkowski / Lyon & Grenoble Opera Orchestras / Gens, Naouri, Fouchécourt, Podles, Petibon, Cole, Dessay et al.
EMI 56725
UK | DE | FR

available at ArkivMusic
Rameau, Une Symphonie Imaginaire, Minkowski / LMdL
Archiv 472036
UK | DE | FR

Sitting in the small backstage dressing room of Salzburg's Grosses Festspielhaus during a rehearsal break, Marc Minkowski and I move on from Bach and his new recording of the B-minor Mass to talk about the vast repertoire for which Minkowski isn’t known to those who only follow his recordings: Bruckner’s “Nullte” Symphony and Wagner’s The Feast of Pentecost (“a very moving and problematic piece, best done in the [Dresden] Frauenkirche”) were on his programs recently; there are plans to do Wagner’s Fairies; he did John Adams’s Fearful Symmetries (“one of my favorite pieces”); and volunteers how much he likes performing Gershwin, Bernstein.

Given that Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique is successfully doing Brahms and Les Musiciens recently recorded Bizet (see review), I wonder how far into Romantic music the HIP bands can or should advance and what it is they can bring to it that is special. “We’re doing [Stravinsky’s] Pulcinella next year,” chuckles Minkowski. “In some pieces, some combinations of instruments are really magic, and very different to reproduce in the modern symphonic sound. I definitely think there is some interesting work to be done with Brahms, and even with several composers of the 20th century the use of gut strings can be very interesting. In Pulcinella I’m trying to find some instruments that are a little less round and a little less massive than today. If you listen to the disc of Stravinsky, the sound is so razor sharp and so full of life; that’s the sort of thing I try to reproduce. If you have a freelance orchestra that is so good and get some soloist to play some of these pieces, they can be quite wonderful. Or consider Berlioz; there’s an incredible range of colors using old instruments. But for me it is very important that the people are extremely good, that they have time to rehearse and to research what we want to achieve; but certainly a modern excellent symphony orchestra would also do it very well.

“Just recently I’ve done a Haydn symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra and I had a great time. Of course, it’s not the same sound I have with Les Musiciens du Louvre (because we are also recording the complete London Symphonies in some months), but they know their Haydn very well, they have their tradition of playing, and they’re very at ease with it. But many other modern orchestras completely panic when you bring Haydn.” When I tell him that it’s Dennis Russell Davies’s goal to “wrestle Haydn and Mozart back from the clutches of historical performance-practice groups” he empathizes, but says that he prefers to do it if the orchestra has a culture of playing Haydn already. “But being a teacher to an orchestra, that’s too heavy when you have to explain everything. Some of my colleagues can do it well, but it’s not at all my thing. It’s not just a question of time, but also of patience. Sometimes they want to learn, and sometimes they want to but can’t. But generally, yes: no segregation of Haydn.”

On the question of how he motivates an orchestra to perform above its usual standards—his orchestral concert with the Bavarian State Orchestra last season was one such standout event—he can’t think of something special. “It just happens. I am just what I am and I go there to make music in the way I want to do it and people follow me. And most of the time it works. Not always,” he adds laughing.

Will being music director of the Sinfonia Varsovia bring new music to his repertoire and recorded output? “We should practice a little more together before recording, I think, because we need to know each other better, but we are thinking about Gershwin and some other American music, which has worked very well. But also Polish music, of course, like Penderecki and Górecki. We’ll have to see, but something different from Les Musiciens it will be, that’s very important.


“There is something I’d like to say,” he interjects before I get on with my questions. “I am not usually thought of as American, but I actually am half American through my mother and have dual citizenship. My grandmother was the American violinist Edith Wade (a student of George Enescu’s, Carl Flesh, and Fritz Kreisler’s, who made her New York debut at Aeolian Hall in April of 1915). Through her I am actually a descendent of William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame). But for some reason, I perform very rarely in the United States—something that will hopefully change in the future, because it’s an important part of me.” So if Peter Gelb called you up, you wouldn’t say no? “No,” Minkowski says, and smiles from ear to ear.

His repertoire choices are not different from his choices of what to record, except that he doesn’t get to record everything he plays in concert, of course. “When I have a very important project, though, it helps to have a recording project like this crazy St. Cecilia project. Haydn, Purcell, and Handel, all of which have anniversaries this year. And then I wait for a lot of repertoire until I am ready to do it. That’s why I waited so long for Mozart—and Beethoven.” Upcoming projects are the Haydn, possibly a Vivaldi program with Nathalie Stutzman, and perhaps some Berlioz. When I ask him if there are still a few composers he feels could be brought out of neglect through his advocacy, he’s ambivalent. “I did a lot for Offenbach, a lot for Rameau, a lot for Handel. Maybe Gershwin,” he adds after a while, “because you always hear the same things, but there are other interesting parts to his output. But really, I would like to record famous pieces now.”


Part II --- return to Part I

Von Otter's Bach

available at Amazon
Bach, Arias, A. S. von Otter, Concerto Copenhagen, L. U. Mortensen

(released on April 14, 2009)
Archiv B0012820-02
Anne Sofie von Otter strikes me as primarily a dramatic singer, but with her rich, puissant voice, turned upon well-conceived programs of music, she can command one's interest and attention as a recitalist, too. Even so, Bach is not necessarily for everybody, and her contributions to this recent selection of arias and duets are uneven enough that it should not receive a completely positive review. Von Otter tends to be suave and mellow at slow tempi (like the sultry chest-voiced and chromatic Schläfert allen Sorgenkummer from BWV 197) but becomes too mannered in the faster selections, over-enunciating and chopping up the melodic line with explosive consonants. She explains her approach in the liner notes, a sort of interview with Kenneth Chalmers, as an exploitation of the text and its sonic qualities. One can understand the intention, but the results in a couple of the tracks, perhaps because of the closeness of the microphones (seated far away in a live recital, the technique would come off much differently), are disappointing.

The best parts of this recording are really on the instrumental side. Lars Ulrik Mortensen, whose recording of the Bach harpsichord concertos with the same ensemble, the Concerto Copenhagen, was recently under review, leads an incisive and well-scaled performance from the continuo organ (with a solo turn in the sinfonia from BWV 35). This is a bonus especially in the selections with little vocal interest, as when the singers simply carry a chorale tune, with the instruments weaving the interesting texture around it. The instrumental obbligati are all well played, especially the three different types of Baroque oboe. In short, it is the playing more than the singing on this disc that makes it worthwhile.

57'04"

22.6.09

“I'm American, You know” - Interview with Marc Minkowski, Part 1


Marc Minkowski, still exhausted from recording sessions of Handel, Haydn, and Purcell’s tributes to St. Cecilia, squeezes me in for a short interview during a rehearsal break in Salzburg where he and his orchestra, Les Musiciens du Louvre, are practicing for a performance of a Haydn concerto, Mozart arias, and the “Posthorn” Serenade. Going over the sixth movement of the Serenade, Minkowski gently, quietly coaxes his original-instrument players into getting phrasing and transitions just right. Suddenly, a rare sight: posthorn soloist Jean-Baptiste Lapierre, at first heard playing his part offstage, enters stage left—on a bicycle! Maneuvering carefully around the second violins, Minkowski, and then the first violins, he steers with one hand and manages to perform his part—flawlessly, at that—holding his instrument in the other. Better yet, he navigates the small strip between podium and the edge of the stage apron, back and forth, without crashing into the orchestra seating of the House for Mozart. His colleagues acknowledge this feat, twice repeated, with generous, bemused applause. (Surely this skill was not part of his job description when he joined Les Musiciens.) Too bad I have to leave Salzburg that night, missing the actual performance and audience reaction.

Minkowski apologizes for having little time; his exhaustion, visible and audible, is not put on. But he patiently listens to questions, volunteers anecdotes, and inquires if I’ve received “the Bach.” Bach is the obvious starting point for the conversation, since his recording of the B-Minor Mass has just been released in France and I had duly listened to it over the last few days. On the notion of “talking about Bach,” Minkowski takes a deep breath, shakes his head as if to jog his brain, and laughs. So much music has piled up since the recording sessions that he needs a moment to get into Bach mode.

The Mass is the first Bach Minkowski has recorded as a conductor, and the beginning of a series of recordings of the great sacred Bach works. This will include the Passions, obviously, and also the Christmas Oratorio? “Maybe.” Why Bach only now? “I stopped myself to record any note of Bach for many, many years—same with Mozart. Mozart, actually, I was performing a lot on the concert stage, but I thought I should be mature enough, because there are so many recordings of all these things and—better be sure you are in the mood. And the same with Bach. And with him that feeling was even stronger, because I played very little of Bach’s music in concert. A cantata here and there, some orchestral suites, but not a lot. After doing a lot of different repertoire, after performing a lot of Handel, Rameau, 19th-century composers, practicing Brahms, Beethoven, there is a moment where I had to go to the roots of this music, which are all coming from Bach. So I thought it was time.”

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Mass in B-minor,
Minkowski / LMdL

naïve 5145 (101:05)
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So when exactly does the point come where one thinks, “The world needs my B-Minor Mass”? Minkowski is nearly horrified of the presumptuousness implied in that question and he waves his hand saying “No, no, no, that’s not the point, no, no!” in that inimitable way only a French accent can vocalize “nonononono.”

“It’s just that all these studies about one singer to a part, they took a long time to be convincing. But for me, now I am convinced and I am happy that I waited, because if you read the writings of Mr. Parrot and Mr. Rifkin it’s so clear”—here he seems to pick up on my quizzically raised eyebrow, because he specifies, “Well, it’s not so clear . . . it’s clear, but there is”—he pauses to think for a few seconds and chuckles—“there is no chorus evidence, anyway.

“In any case, I thought that was a good, new world, a new sound, a new way of having the polyphony of Bach performed. And I’m a great fan of Glenn Gould playing Bach on the piano, because I think there is so much architecture and grandeur present. And I think that if you have a small body of singers, you can achieve the same clear polyphony in his works like a pianist alone or an organist or violinist.” Clear doesn’t mean small or timid, though, and that’s certainly true when listening to his recording. “Well, no, I hope not. The Mass is a monument, I think, like the Bach Chaconne for violin, it’s so incredibly—‘big,’ even with just one instrument.”

Which Bach recordings, since he has mentioned listening to them, did he enjoy particularly? “There are many, and they are maybe of opposite styles, but definitely Peter Schreier when he sings and conducts. His St. John Passion is fabulous. I think it’s so intense and so dramatic—and sounds to me so Germanic, so true. I mean it’s not done in a way I would do it, of course, but I’m completely convinced by the interpretation and the quality of the work. On the completely opposite side, I was a member of Philip Herreweghe’s orchestra [as a bassoonist] and I recorded the B-Minor Mass and the Matthew Passion and some cantatas with him. That was a completely different approach, but I was probably also influenced playing these works with him. Another B-Minor Mass I’ve been listening to for many, many years is Parrot’s recording, but also Rifkin’s, Junghänel’s, and even one of Karajan’s; there are always things that I enjoy and don’t like. And when it comes to Bach, generally, of course most of all Harnoncourt and Leonhardt. I was raised with their cantatas, the big LP sets, the brown covers, the score inside: that’s my adolescence right there.”

When I point out that he takes some parts of the Mass quite a bit slower than other HIP conductors, he chuckles, rather pleased, which, at the time of the interview I interpreted as a sort of approving “Mission Accomplished” agreement. But in direct comparison with two other recent HIP accounts, Veldhoven and Suzuki, the numbers don’t bear that out. Not only is Minkowski at 101 minutes faster than either, there are only two parts, the Agnus Dei and “Qui sedes ad dextram patris,” that are slower than both of theirs. In fact, upon closer inspection, Minkowski’s turns out to be the second swiftest B-Minor Mass on record, bested only by Junghänel, and even then only by a matter of seconds. Still, there are parts where he sounds rather more deliberate than Veldhoven and less hectic than Suzuki. In any case, he doesn’t address the question of tempos except by acknowledging that he is not ideological about such matters.

He is keener to point out that the first part of the Mass strikes him as substantially different from the rest, “darker, more extreme.” The second part he finds “more a story of contrast, of different styles, a small mosaic, very moving but a bit lighter, more of a panorama and inspired from liturgy, whereas the first part is a real prayer. When I see trumpets, timpani, and a 3/8, for me it’s a sign that this is a ‘fly to the sky,’ something that needs to lift off. So my idea is to make the beginning ‘flying’ as much as possible. Certainly [this in response to my suggesting his Gloria imparts hints of a Missa in tempore belli] I never have any feelings of aggressiveness in it. But of course it’s virtuoso music and 3/8 is a sign for me that we should play ‘in one.’ If you have agile enough singers who can do these coloraturas, then it can work. Which I think is what Bach had done. When Bach writes for virtuosity, whether it be for instruments or for the voice, as in Cantata 51, it’s because there were people who could do it.”

To Minkowski’s merriment, I ask him about the birds that contributed to the recording. If you listen closely—he asks me to point it out—very, very closely and loudly or with good headphones, and only between movements—you can hear the chorus of chirping birds delightedly extolling the virtues of Bach and sunshine.

“Yes—they already recorded in this church (Santiago de Compostela). Gardiner did a very nice cantata disc to which I listened and, although I heard the birds, I very much liked the acoustic. So I went there one year before our recording and I heard them even more than last summer, because the weather was a bit colder last summer. The birds are in a big tree, just behind the church, but our recording engineers said it wouldn’t be a problem and I thought that birds are part of nature, after all. There is a recording of Jordi Savall of Marin Marais (“Suitte d’un Goût Etranger”) and they’re much louder on his than on mine.”


Part I --- continue to Part II

Photos of Marc Minkowsky © Philippe Gonthier, courtesy naïve