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31.5.15

Dip Your Ears, No. 20 (The Lindsays in Schubert)

In Memory of Peter Cropper (first Violinist of The Lindsays), who passed away today (Mini-obit via The Violin Channel), we push this entry, originally posted Monday, November 29, 2004, up.


available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Late String Quartets & String Quintet,
The Lindsays
Alliance

Judging by output in any one given year, Schubert has to be the greatest composer ever to have put the pen to the paper, by some margin. The proof in the pudding is the String Quintet, an hour of inspired, painfully beautiful chamber music. The slightly earlier string quartets are no mean feat either. Death and the Maiden and the Quartettsatz will make you fall in love with the genre if you are not already. The economic Lindsays' set, as far as sets are concerned, is probably the finest available: emotional and vivacious, leading with a rendition of the quintet that has few, if any, rivals. Another famous quartet (on DG) has a similar set out, but the uninspired (if technically perfect) playing only shows why The Lindsays are the ones to go with.

P.S. There are single discs with cleaner music making that is equally spirited. If you are not looking for all the late quartets at once, the Quatuor Mosaïques' disc is worth your attention!


Perchance to Stream: School's Out Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From the Latvian National Opera in Riga, watch the world premiere of Valentina by Arturs Maskats, in a production directed by Viestur Kairish, conducted by Modestas Pitrenas, and starring Inga Kalna in the title role. [ARTE]

  • Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly sings arias by Handel at the Göttingen Festival. [ARTE]

  • Listen to the world premiere of Edith Canat de Chizy's Voilé, dévoilé with Mireille Delunsch, with Joshua Weilerstein also leading the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in Chausson's Viviane and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. [France Musique]

  • Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink and the Academy of Ancient Music, under Rodolfo Richter, perform music by Francesco Maria Veracini, Tarquinio Merula, Antonio Vivaldi, Tomaso Albinoni, and Giovanni Battista Ferrandini at the Musée d'Orsay. [France Musique]

  • Esa-Pekka Salonen leads performances of Debussy's La damoiselle élue and Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra, soprano Sophie Bevan, mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Valérie Hartmann-Claverie on the Ondes Martenot. [BBC3]

  • Raphaël Pichon leads Ensemble Pygmalion in a performance of Rameau's Dardanus, recorded earlier this month at the Opéra Royal du Château de Versailles, starring Mathias Vidal and Karina Gauvin. [France Musique]

  • Il Ballo performs Cavalieri's oratorio La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo at the Festival Sinfonia. [France Musique]

  • Watch Salue pour moi le monde, the new ballet by Joëlle Bouvier to music from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, performed by dancers from the Grand Théâtre de Genève at the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices. [ARTE]

  • You can watch (or listen to) the twelve finalists in this year's Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels: Tobias Feldmann, William Hagen, Bomsori Kim, Ji Yoon Lee, Ji Young Lim, Fumika Mohri, Thomas Reif, Kenneth Renshaw, Oleksii Semenenko, Stephen Waarts, Xiao Wang, and William Ching-Yi Wei. It is for violinists this year, and the South Korean Ji Young Lim (b. 1995) won. [Concours Reine Elisabeth | RTBF]

  • Christoph and Julian Prégardien, joined by harpsichordist Jos van Immerseel and musicians from Anima Eterna Brugge, perform music by Monteverdi and Schubert, at the Salzburger Pfingstfestspiele. [ORF]

  • Neeme Järvi conducts the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, in a concert recorded earlier this month in Geneva, with music by Rossini, Frank Martin, Stravinsky, and Ravel. [ORF]

  • Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic perform music by Rossini, Sibelius (the violin concerto with Leonidas Kavakos as soloist), and Schumann's third symphony at a concert recorded earlier this month in Athens. [ORF | Part 2]

  • Listen to a performance of Mozart's Così fan tutte from the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, starring Juliane Banse (Fiordiligi), Maite Beaumont (Dorabella), Joel Prieto (Ferrando), and Joan Martín-Royo (Guglielmo), conducted by Josep Pons. [Radio Clásica]

  • Soprano Barbara Vignudelli, the Choeur de Radio France, and organist Mathias Lecomte perform music by Pierre Villette, Yves Lafargue, and Gabriel Fauré. [France Musique]

  • Matthias Pintscher leads the Ensemble Intercontemporain and soprano Yeree Suh in a concert recorded last February at the Philharmonie de Paris. [France Musique]

  • Listen to Christoph Eschenbach conduct the Webern Symphonie Orchester in Mendelssohn's Reformations-Symphonie and Bruckner's sixth symphony, recorded in Vienna. [ORF]

  • From 2013, a concert recorded at the Eglise Abbatiale de Fontfroide as part of the VIIIème Festival Musique et Histoire pour un Dialogue interculturel, Jordi Savall leads a performance by soloists from La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Hespèrion XXI of music from the age of Erasmus, by Dufay, Josquin, Sermisy, and others. [France Musique]

  • Eduardo Portal leads the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the overture to Smetana's The Bartered Bride, Dvorak's Cello Concerto with Natalie Clein as soloist, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. [BBC3]

  • Concentus Musicus Wien, led by violinist Erich Höbarth, perform music by Johann Joseph Fux, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Alessandro Poglietti, and others earlier this month at the Internationalen Barocktage Stift Melk. [ORF]

  • Listen to a recital of music by Debussy, Respighi, Szymanowski, and Elgar performed by violinist James Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong, recorded at the Wigmore Hall in London. [BBC3]

  • Music of Bernstein, Milhaud, and new music by Schnyder and Daugherty, with Kristjan Järvi leading the Orchestre National de France. [France Musique]

  • From the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, the Yale Schola Cantorum and Juilliard415, directed by David Hill, perform Beethoven's Mass in C, plus music by Daniel Kellogg, Roderick Williams, and Haydn. [BBC3]

  • Listen to the May 2 performance of Verdi's Un Ballo in maschera from the Metropolitan Opera, starring Ricardo Tamura (Gustavo), Sondra Radvanovksy (Amelia), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Renato), Heidi Stober (Oscar), and Dolora Zajick (Ulrika). [ORF]

  • From La Folle journée de Nantes, the Sinfonia Varsovia plays music by Mozart, Chopin, and Bach. [France Musique]

  • From St Laurence's Church, Ludlow, for the Ludlow English Song Weekend, baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Iain Burnside perform music by Vaughan Williams, Robert Saxton, and Gerald Finzi. [BBC3]

  • Enrique Mazzola leads the Orchestre National d'Ile de France at the Philharmonie de Paris in music of Philip Glass and David Bowie. [France Musique]

  • The King's Singers perform a concert at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, with music by Thomas Morley, Thomas Weelkes, Claude Debussy, Camille Saint-Saëns, James MacMillan, and more. [France Musique]

  • From Vienna in 2002, a concert by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, with music by Lully and soprano Sophie Daneman, among others. [ORF]

  • A 2002 performance of Handel's oratorio Jephtha from Vienna, with Concentus Musicus Wien, Dorothea Röschmann, Bernarda Fink, and Gerald Finley. [ORF]

30.5.15

On Forbes: Boxing Classical Music: Ferenc Fricsay on Deutsche Grammophon


Boxing Classical Music: Ferenc Fricsay on Deutsche Grammophon


There’s something wonderful about classical music—certainly in its form as recorded music—having become a commodity: It is more easily available than ever before, in greater variety than ever before, and at a lower cost than ever before. Notable part of this trend is the packaging and re-packaging and re-releasing of trusty records as part of box sets. Everything by everyone seems available affordably—and we are talking about the physical product, not downloads, which you might think would spearhead this development… perhaps even at the expense of the trusty CD.

Box sets used to be expensive, much cherished trophies of the collector. I remember my first set of complete Beethoven Sonatas (incidentally not a particularly satisfying set, as it would eventually turn out) and my first Ring Cycle (still a worthy member of the collection) and the hushed reverence that went along with their purchase. With the tumbling of prices, that’s changed entirely (furthered by the budgetary constraints that are not those of one’s student days). There are still some box sets that are expensive, made with great care, and easy to covet. But more-so it has become a trend for labels to use sets to manufacture bargain-basement collections that can be had for a few bucks per disc and entice listeners to fill gaps in their collections they might not otherwise have had bothered or bee able to fill....

Continue reading here, at Forbes.com


29.5.15

For Your Consideration: 'Dark Star: HR Gigers Welt'



Anyone who watched Ridley Scott's space horror film Alien will remember being creeped out by the world it evoked: a hideous alien species that was part organic, part mechanical. Disturbingly insectoid and humanoid, it uses us as its host. The outline of the story and the concept of the alien as interstellar parasite were the work of screenwriters Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, but the way it looked was largely the work of Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger. This new documentary, directed by newcomer Belinda Sallin, examines the details of Giger's world, including extensive interviews with the artist, his friends and family, coworkers, and visits to his current home in Zurich and childhood vacation home in the mountains, plus some footage from earlier films about Giger.

Sallin shot the film over two years, concluding only a short time before Giger's death in 2014. The revelations that come directly from Giger's mouth are few, and one must instead be contented by oblique views into his mind. At one point, he shows the camera the oldest skull in his collection of skulls, which his father, a pharmacist, gave to him. In another memorable description, we learn that Giger, as a child, was frightened by an Egyptian mummy in a local museum, so he went to see it at least once a week. The filmmaker shows a museum staff member wheeling out the actual mummy, lifting the glass box around it, and drawing back the wrappings from its face: we actually get much closer to the time-encrusted body, its face still recognizable, than Giger ever did.


Other Reviews:

New York Times | Los Angeles Times | Washington Post
Philadelphia Inquirer | A.V.Club | Hollywood Reporter
In a documentary that was something of a snoozer, that was in fact the most interesting discovery, the influence of Egyptian art and religious fascination with death on Giger's art. The famous profile of the creature in Alien, with its elongated head, may have been inspired by the Egyptian headdresses of Nefertiti and other queens. Beyond that, though, the film does not say much about Giger or his work that seems new. It is the glimpses of his inner life, innocuous as they are, that may fascinate his art and film fans: his purring Siamese cat, the horror-filled child's monorail and other installations in his backyard, the piles of moldering books in his house.

This film opens today, at Landmark's E Street Cinema.

28.5.15

Briefly Noted: Sunhae Im's Orpheus Cantatas

available at Amazon
Pergolesi / A. Scarlatti / Clérambault / Rameau, Orfeo, S. Im, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

(released on March 10, 2015)
HMC 902189 | 69'12"
The legend of Orpheus is central to music history, most famously in Monteverdi's opera on the subject. Many other composers have set the story of the most famous musician in Greek mythology, and this debut recital disc by Sunhae Im for Harmonia Mundi brings together four less-known examples, all cantatas. The four texts, half in Italian and the other half in French, take up different parts of the story and often switch between the voice of the narrator and those of various characters, including but not limited to Orpheus.

We have reviewed South Korean soprano Sunhae Im live only once, as part of the last local appearance of Les Arts Florissants, sadly back in 2004. My impression of her voice from recordings -- light, butterfly-fluttery, wilting and slightly acidic at the very top -- was not changed much by this recording, which has some beautiful moments. She can float her voice to pleasing effect in slow arias, like the first of two in Pergolesi's Orfeo, which ends with Orpheus resolving strongly to descend into hell. By contrast, Alessandro Scarlatti's L'Orfeo opens with Orpheus leading Eurydice back to earth's surface (as does Rameau's Orphée), and he sings the plaintive Chi m'invola la cara Euridice when he sees her taken away from him. The gleaming paired violins of the always fine Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin soar in searing suspensions, but Im's voice is not quite so nice at the top. This cantata's gorgeous slow aria Sordo il tronco, though, is exceptional, with its accompaniment of whispering low strings.

Im is at her best in Louis-Nicolas Clérambault's Orphée, a piece well worth hearing, which begins with a slow aria depicting Orpheus's sadness. When Orpheus decides to enter Hell, the narrator encourages him on his way, but the musical centerpiece is a slow aria (marked "Fort lent et fort tendre") with high, tinkly harpsichord and breathy solo traverso, delicate and beautiful playing to help Orpheus charm Pluto's ear. This aria is a worthy successor to the tradition of such pieces for that dramatic confrontation, beginning with Monteverdi's Possente spirto.

27.5.15

For Your Consideration: 'L'homme qu'on aimait trop'



available at Amazon
In the Name of My Daughter, directed by André Téchiné
In 1977, Agnès Le Roux disappeared. She was heiress to the family that owned the Palais de la Méditerranée, a luxury hotel-casino on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. She had apparently gone on a trip to Italy for the long Toussaint weekend (around All Saints Day, November 1), with Maurice Agnelet, a man who had been one of her mother's legal advisers and became her lover. Her body was never found, but Agnelet had transferred into his private account all of Le Roux's inheritance, money that he had helped to secure for Le Roux in a deal that helped to force her mother out of the leadership of the Palais. Agnelet has been alternately convicted and exonerated and then convicted again for the next thirty-some years. Another mistress provided him an alibi and then admitted she had lied for him; his own son eventually testified against Agnelet, claiming that his father had told his mother that he had shot Agnès in the head somewhere in Italy; his wife, in turn, denied this claim by her own son. The most recent verdict -- guilty again -- was rendered after French director André Téchiné had shot his latest feature on the story, distributed in the U.S. under the title In the Name of My Daughter.

To no one's surprise, probably, Téchiné, director of Ma saison préférée and Les roseaux sauvages, is not interested in the gory details. In his screenplay, co-written with Cédric Anger and based largely on the book by Agnès's mother and brother, he dissects and slowly, painstakingly examines the relationships among the three principal characters. Catherine Deneuve, a Téchiné favorite, is regal and icy as Renée Le Roux, the mother whose moneyed hauteur distances her from Agnès -- somewhat unconvincingly, she is platinum blonde and with chic cigarette holder in the 1970s portions, graying and walking with a cane in the 2000s, an aging trick that is also a nod to the agelessness of Deneuve herself. Guillaume Canet, now the partner of Marion Cotillard, is smooth and heartless as Agnelet. He is acknowledged, deep into the closing credits, for his part in creating dialogue for his character, the latest example of Téchiné's use of actor improvisation, which he incorporates into the screenplay. Canet's contribution was based in part on his conversations with the real Agnelet: "What is crazy about him is that sometimes you really feel he's guilty," Canet said in one interview, "and sometimes you absolutely don't."


Other Reviews:

New York Times | Los Angeles Times | Washington Post
Christian Science Monitor | A.V.Club
Julien Hirsch's bright-colored cinematography, the latest of several collaborations with Téchiné, drinks in the wealth and luxury of Nice in the 1970s. The story hinges on the performance of Adèle Haenel as Agnès. A young actress who got her start playing a girl with autism in Christophe Ruggia's Les diables, Haenel is inscrutable in many ways, tough as nails one moment and reduced to humiliation as her love for Agnelet drives her to extreme after extreme. Agnès has traveled the world, in a memorable scene demonstrating an ecstatic dance she learned while living in Africa, but she is also fragile and increasingly deluded. For a stronger actress, it would have been the role of a lifetime, and Haenel gets many things right, while relying too much on smoking cigarettes and her wide-eyed beauty for what could have been a more profound exploration of the character. The film's French title translates to "The man they loved too much," which gets at the heart of the film's theme: something about Haenel's performance and the screenplay does not quite explain that. Perhaps it is too much to ask it to do so.

This film is currently playing at Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema.

26.5.15

Ionarts-at-Large: The Vienna Symphony Orchestra's Little New Year’s Concert


available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Orchestrated Songs,
C.Abbado / COE / A.S.von Otter, T.Quasthoff
DG



available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Orchestrated Songs,
W.A.Albert / NDR RP Hannover/ C.Nylund, K.Mertens
cpo

So long as the Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s spring concert takes place in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, it should be possible (if not easy) to sell the place well (if not out). There’s some amount of glitz, television is there, the fare is easily digestible stuff (usually a potpourri; this year it was musically a good deal more ambitious and immediately a tougher sell), there’s little else of quality going on in Vienna at the time, the weather begins to get better but isn’t too great, and if all goes to hell, you can always pick tourists by neck and toss them into the Musikverein because they’re happy just to be inside the famous place.

It was an all-Schubert affair in 2015, with Philippe Jordan himself leading the VSO, and Matthias Goerne taking on song-duties for the orchestrated Schubert-fare. It started out with the D-major Overture D.556, which was a fine-enough warmup, followed by the Rosamunde Ballet Music No.2 (D.797), which came across as heavy-handed, dull, and not as dancy as would be necessary to salvage what’s arguably is second-rate Schubert.

Enter Baloo, the dancing and singing Schubert-bear, Matthias Goerne in person: barrely-chested and lovely and none-too-urbane in “An Sylvia” (in an orchestration of Alexander Schmalcz, world premiered on this occasion as would be three other orchestrations of his that followed). With a melancholic touch, Goerne was Winterreise-like in in “Des Fischers Liebesglück” (Schmalcz) where the solo-flute did well and the solo-viola absolutely, deliciously excelled. Then “Alinde” (Schmalcz), and then “Erlkönig” which had attracted the orchestrating zeal of Max Reger back when, as it seems absolutely made for the orchestral treatment; Goerne did its drama proud.

Then came Symphony No.3, Part 1–as the symphony was split into parts and spliced into the Spring Concert: An unusual approach, but not without interest… and probably more authentic than the “scores-are-sacrosanct-and-don’t-dare-do-anything-but-cough-between-movements” approaches. Especially the Adagio maestoso part of it was slow, not very eventful, good and short, and could have slower still. After the break the second and third movement followed with deliberate delicacy, still on the slow side…. perhaps precisely because the movements were taken more or less singularly. Then more songs (“Tränenregen” from Die Schöne Müllerin, “Abendstern”, and “An die Musik”), the Entr'acte from Rosamunde which was happily unmemorable, and then the finale of the symphony finally with the zip and pizazz that makes early Schubert take off. After the warm applause Goerne rolled out of the wings for a notable encore, which did its part to engender a sense of occasion: Schubert’s Trout, which was particularly charming for the clarinet melodies that bubbled fish-like to the surface. Promising for next year’s VSO Spring Concert, then, in the Konzerthaus and hopefully with the same level of increased musical value. 



25.5.15

Heidi Melton Returns with Strauss

available at Amazon
Schoenberg, Gurrelieder, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, M. Stenz
(Hyperion, 2015)
Markus Stenz, the former Kapellmeister of the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, whom we have reviewed in Europe up to this point, will be Principal Guest Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra beginning next season. His tenure got a jump start with this week's concerts, on a German Romantic theme, heard on Saturday night in the Music Center at Strathmore. In the opener, the overture to Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz, Stenz displayed forceful ideas but not always a clear beat -- at one point, he seemed to mark the beat with lunges of his chest -- that the musicians seemed not always to understand, judging by some ensemble problems. The Romantic contrasts of loud and soft were appropriately dramatic, although the most outrageous coughing was timed perfectly for the softest moment of the piece. Really, people, cough during the loud parts.

The main attraction was Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, marking the return of American dramatic soprano Heidi Melton, who made quite a splash on the BSO's Wagner program two years ago. Melton's German remains beautiful, after training in opera houses in Germany, but her voice, while powerful, is not yet fully reliable at the top of her range. The first high note of the set, the G-flat in Frühling, was on the edge of control and intonation above the staff faltered in places, especially in the first song. The music just did not always seem to be securely in Melton's brain, and worry can lead to vocal uncertainty: while her chest voice was robust and luscious, the top notes could be spotty, like the little sixteenth-note figures up to G or F-sharp in September. Still, when it comes right down to it, much of these songs' impact comes down to the last quartrain of the third song, Beim Schlafengehen, and Melton had the vocal power for her "unfettered soul" to soar freely, as well as the shimmering pianissimo for the final song. The orchestral contributions were all fine, with Stenz holding back the full force of the score at times, and especially fine solos from the concertmaster, Jonathan Carney, the principal horn, and the paired flutes and piccolos of the lark-song at the end. Strained ovations earned a lovely encore, Strauss's song Cäcilie.


Other Reviews:

Simon Chin, Soprano Heidi Melton shows promise in Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs’ program (Washington Post, May 25)

Tim Smith, BSO offers hearty night of German classics with Markus Stenz, Heidi Melton (Baltimore Sun, May 22)
The symphonies of Schumann often leave me disappointed, as did recent performances of the first symphony and the third symphony. The second symphony, though, has a place in my heart, especially its perfectly constructed slow movement, and Stenz knew what to do with the composer's less than successful orchestration, making broad adjustments to the balances to bring out colors hidden by unwise scoring. The development section of the first movement had an urgent, agitated, but soft style, with a beautifully paced pedal point preparing the recapitulation. The scherzo was well drilled, in spite of a rather fast tempo and some oddly mannered distortions of tempo, and the slow movement was ardent and longing, with only the fugato section weirdly etiolated by an artificially soft dynamic. The fourth movement was also quite fast, and Stenz carefully brought out Schumann's reference to the slow movement's theme and the trumpet's octave motif from all the way back in the slow introduction to the first movement. With Schumann like this, there are great hopes for Stenz's time with the orchestra.

Dip Your Ears, No. 194 (Spohr Nonet & Sextet)

available at Amazon
L.Spohr, String Sextet, Nonet,
camerata freden
Tacet



available at Amazon
L.Spohr, String Sextet, Nonet,
camerata freden
Tacet DVD-Audio

SPOHR String Sextet in C, op.140. Nonet in F, op.31 Camerata Freden TACET 172 (58:22)

Louis Spohr has always had a place in “The Art of the Clarinet” type of compilations and as a pleasant chamber music filler coupled with Brahms, Beethoven, or Schubert. Marco Polo then started a terrific series dedicated to his String Quartets and Quintets that continues to this day. Orfeo and CPO discovered the appeal of Spohr soon thereafter and as of late we have the good people at Hyperion turning their attention to his symphonies.

Spohr can’t, therefore, be said to be a particularly neglected composer, but despite the increasing discography he somehow still manages to stand in the shadow of, among others, Mendelssohn. Every time I hear his music, I want to cry out—lest someone think otherwise—that the reason for that is not to be found in the quality of his work. There is nothing I’ve heard of Spohr yet that was just ‘serviceable’ or ‘competent’, to use two adjectives routinely employed to kill a composer’s output with kindness.

If there is an ionarts-reader who does not yet know Spohr from his clarinet concertos, chamber works, or perhaps his exceptional opera “Faust”, he or she might do well imagining a continuous line of musical development from Mozart via Spohr to Mendelssohn as if Mozart—Beethoven—Brahms had never happened. There is nothing of the brooding and belabored romanticism of the latter two composers in Spohr’s works which, instead, teem with joyful spirit, luminous but not fluffy; delicate but not flimsy. The skeleton is classical, the meat romantic.

Camerata Freden, the chamber ensemble of the Freden International Music Festival with roving membership, here presents the early Nonet in F (written in 1813, the first to use flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass; predating Onslow’s by over 40 years and Rheinberger’s by 70) and the String Sextet in C, written during and dedicated to the German revolution 1848.

Both works are very easy on the ears— the Sextet a double barreled string trio (like Boccherini’s Sextets) that smoothly skates its classical-romantic course; wind-heavy and bubbly the Nonet. As Colin Anderson rightly said of the Nonet in 31:3 when reviewing the Ensemble 360’s recording: “witty, elegant, and expressive: every bit as good, I suggest, as Beethoven’s Septet and Schubert’s Octet.” (Although I’d caution against too much comparison of Spohr to Beethoven which might lead to misleading expectations that could be one of the causes of the relative short shrift Spohr has been getting.)

Given how much I like Spohr’s chamber works, I have surprisingly few of the available versions for comparison. For the Nonet, Anderson places the Ensemble 360 slightly ahead of the Gaudier Ensemble on Hyperion. Having heard neither of those, I hold the Consortium Classicum on Orfeo in the highest regards, as I cherish the Villa Musica Ensemble on MDG (receiving “the strongest possible recommendation” by Robert McColley in 25:2). Together with the Camerata Freden they form a classy triptych of which this release has the most precise, transparent sound. The Villa Musica Ensemble (on a different disc, also recommended by Robert McColley, in 28:2) is the main competition in the Sextet, while the New Haydn Quartet (reissued on Naxos) can’t quite match the precision and liveliness of the Camerata Freden players.





First published in Fanfare Magazine

24.5.15

Perchance to Stream: Memorial Day Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Listen to the world premiere of the first symphony of Bruno Mantovani, plus music by Stravinsky and Berio, performed by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under conductor Pascal Rophé. [France Musique]

  • Alexandre Tharaud joins the Orchestre National de France for Mozart's C major piano concerto, with Semyon Bychkov also conducting Shostakovich's eighth symphony. [France Musique]

  • Jonas Kaufmann, Zeljko Lucic, and Eva-Maria Westbroek star a performance of Giordano's Andrea Chénier, recorded last January at the Royal Opera House in London. [ORF or RTBF]

  • Watch Beethoven's sixth and eighth symphonies, performed by the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris and conductor Philippe Jordan. [ARTE]

  • Chamber music by Ravel, Debussy, and Brahms performed by Emmanuel Pahud and friends at the Cité de la Musique. [France Musique]

  • Daniele Gatti leads a performance of Verdi's Macbeth, starring Roberto Frontali and Susanna Branchini, with the Orchestre National de France and the Chœur de Radio France, recorded at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. [France Musique]

  • The Belcea Quartet plays music of Beethoven, Webern, and Brahms, in a concert recorded this month at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [ORF]

  • It's a Sibelius year: watch Jukka-Pekka Saraste conduct the Helsinki Opera Orchestra in the Finnish composer's symphonic poem Kullervo, which serves as the backdrop to a choreography of the story by Tero Saarinen. [ARTE]

  • Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in the third and fourth symphonies of Sibelius, plus the same composer's violin concerto with Leonidas Kavakos as soloist. [France Musique]

  • More Sibelius from the Vienna Symphony with conductor Olari Elts and cellist Sol Gabetta in Haydn's C major cello concerto, recorded at the Musikverein. [ORF | Part 2]

  • Marc Minkowski leads Les Musiciens du Louvre in two Mozart concerti, with fortepianist Francesco Corti and violinist Thibault Noally as soloists, plus Schubert's ninth symphony, recorded in January at the Salzburg Mozartwoche. [RTBF]

  • Violinist Stefan Jackiw joins the Australian Chamber Orchestra for a concert in Sydney, with music of Mendelssohn, Bottesini, and Wolf. [ABC Classic]

  • To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Geneva joining the Helvetic Confederation, watch Neeme Järvi conduct the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Rossini's overture from Guillaume Tell, plus music by Stravinsky, Ravel, and Frank Martin. [ARTE]

  • From the London Festival of Baroque Music, a performance of Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine by the Choir of Westminster Abbey, led by James O'Donnell. [BBC3]

  • Watch members of Les Arts Florissants perform a children's concert called "Le Voyage de Monsieur Monteverdi," at the Philharmonie de Paris. [Philharmonie de Paris]

  • Listen to early music from the Escorial Codex, performed by La Camera delle Lacrime, Baroque music performed by Les Folies Françoises, and medieval sacred music performed by the vocal ensemble De Caelis. [France Musique]

  • From the Barbican Hall in London, the final concert of the season from Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with music by Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, and Nielsen. [BBC3]

  • Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and tenor Brandon Jovanovich star in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, with James Conlon conducting at the Metropolitan Opera. [ABC Classic]

  • Pianist Imogen Cooper, violinist Henning Kraggerud, and cellist Adrian Brendel perform Schubert piano trios in a concert at St. James's Church in Chipping Campden. [BBC3]

  • Hilary Hahn performs Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien under Cornelius Meister, recorded at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [ORF]

  • The Quatuor Apollon Musagète performs string quartets by Beethoven and Dvorak at the Auditorium du Louvre in Paris. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a new operatic version of Le Petit Prince, composed by Michaël Levinas, recorded last February at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. [France Musique]

  • Music for piano, four hands, by Debussy, Ravel, and Rachmaninov with Jean-Philippe Collard and Michel Beroff at the Lyon Piano Festival. [France Musique]

  • The Choeur de Radio France and Maîtrise de Radio France, directed by Gary Graden and Sofi Jeannin, perform a program of contemporary choral music. [France Musique]

  • From La Folle journée de Nantes, Andris Poga leads the Sinfonia Varsovia in music of Berlioz, Puccini, Chopin, Grieg, and Arturo Marquez. [France Musique]

  • From a concert recorded last year in Barcelona, Jordi Savall leads Le Concert des Nations and the Capella Réial de Catalunya in music Cabanilles, Muffat, Handel, and others. [ORF]

  • Heinz Holliger and violinist Isabelle Faust join the Chor und Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, for music of Schumann, Bartók, and Debussy, recorded last year in Stuttgart. [ORF]

  • Les Paladins, with director Jérôme Correas and soprano Sandrine Piau, perform music by Francoeur, Lully, Rameau, and Grétry, recorded last year at the Opéra de Lausanne. [ORF]

  • Have another listen to the performance of Elgar's oratorio The Kingdom, performed by Andrew Davis, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, BBC National Chorus of Wales, and soloisits Erin Wall, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, and others, recorded at the Proms last July. [ORF]

  • Check out the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, starring Marcelo Alvarez, Eva-Maria Westbroek, and Patricia Racette, with Fabio Luisi at the podium. [ABC Classic]

23.5.15

Koh and Jokubaviciute


Composer Kaija Saariaho

Violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute (listen to her recital at the Freer Gallery of Art in 2004, and read Jens's review) may have played together before. The first time we heard them as a duo, in a concert last night at the Library of Congress, made it clear that, if they are not already, they should become regular collaborators. The revelation was made possible because of a last-minute substitution, as Jokubaviciute was filling in for indisposed pianist Benjamin Hochman, who happens to be Koh's husband. From the very start of Debussy's bittersweet violin sonata, the last piece the composer was able to complete before terminal cancer set in, the sound was set aside from the rest of the concert -- a dulcet, edge-free tone from Koh, supported by Jokubaviciute's evanescent touch on the lacy accompaniment figures in the keyboard part, with snippets of melody in the piano emerging seamlessly. The second movement abounded in playful energy, with a tender middle section and a gorgeous soft ending, unfortunately marred by thoughtless noise in the audience, and the finale, quite Romantic in its excesses, featured glowing low playing from Koh.

As explained by Susan Vita, the Chief of the institution's Music Division, the Library of Congress has been trying to secure a commission from Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, an Ionarts Favorite, for some time. This concert included two of her recent pieces, beginning with a new version of Aure, from 2011, for violin and piano. It is based on a melody from Henri Dutilleux's Shadows of Time, and in this version the two instruments trade fragments contrapuntally, amid clouds of harmonics and other intriguing effects (trills near the bridge, glissandi, among others). It was nicely paired with Ravel's sonata for the same, somewhat rare combination of instruments, from the 1920s, and the basic programming concept, to combine contemporary music with late, forward-sounding Ravel and Debussy made a salient connection.

Here, as throughout the program, intonation problems, leaning mostly toward flatness but also some imprecise attacks on high notes and harmonics, plagued the performance of the cellist, Anssi Karttunen. A longtime favorite collaborator of Saariaho's, Karttunen just had, for whatever reason, an off night, although with some strong moments in Debussy's other late masterpiece, the cello sonata, especially on that soaring melody that rises out of the texture a couple times in the last movement, the most memorable part of the piece.


Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, Koh shines in luminous works by Ravel, Debussy and Saariaho (Washington Post, May 25)
The concert ended with local premiere of Saariaho's Light and Matter, first performed last year at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, a meditation on the effects of light for piano trio. Beginning on a rumble in the piano's bass register and on the cello's open C string, the piece builds toward and recedes from amassing of sound into static textures. Shrieks and howls from the strings were answered by the metallic strum of Jokubaviciute's hand directly on the piano's strings, a subtle, shivering sort of sound. Jokubaviciute sagely conducted the piece with the movements of her head and body, her nods occasionally wrongly interpreted by the page turner, requiring the pianist to turn back the page, all without missing anything perceptible. Keening sounds rose out of string bends in violin and cello, and the piano provided much of the driving force, harping on an oscillating figuration of octaves and fifths, until the sound slowly vanished.

22.5.15

Briefly Noted: Veracini's Sonate Accademiche

available at Amazon
F. M. Veracini, Complete Sonate Accademiche, Trio Settecento

(released on May 12, 2015)
Cedille CDR 90000 155 | 186'48"
The versatile American violinist Rachel Barton Pine leads an early music ensemble, Trio Settecento, heard at Dumbarton Oaks in 2011. The latest in the group's series of recordings of mostly 18th-century music for the Cedille label is a complete three-CD set of the Sonate Accademiche by Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768). The twelve sonatas in this set, published as opus 2 in 1744, are a mixture of the sonata da camera and sonata da chiesa varieties, including both dance movements and more serious contrapuntal movements Veracini designated as Capriccios. Veracini's love of counterpoint, noted by Charles Burney among others, makes him an interesting composer to compare to his near-contemporary, J.S. Bach.

Fabio Biondi and Rinaldo Alessandrini have already recorded these works (sample on YouTube -- the inclusion of theorbo on that recording is something missed here), as have the Locatelli Trio. Where Biondi favored a smooth and rhythmically stable style, Barton Pine and her colleagues play just a notch faster in most cases, and with an ear toward a slightly volatile, unpredictable way of playing with the tempo. In a particularly inspired move, she adds Scottish folk fiddle ornamentation to the Scozzese movement of no. 9 and gives a folksy color to other movements based on tunes Veracini likely took from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, which he most certainly heard during his travels in Great Britain. Those Capriccio movements are probably the reason behind the identification of op. 2 as sonate accademiche, culminating in the studiously contrapuntal and excessively chromatic twelfth sonata (Passagallo, Capriccio Cromatico with two subjects, Adagio, and Ciaccona). The collection ends with a two-voice canon setting the text of a Latin epigram ("Ut relevet miserum fatum") for violin and cello set close together -- a rather Bach-like musical gesture.

21.5.15

À mon chevet: 'At Last'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
Patrick drifted towards Nicholas and Annette, curious to see the outcome of his matchmaking. "Stand by the graveside or the furnace,' he heard Nicholas instructing Annette, 'and repeat these words, "Goodbye, old thing. One of us was bound to die first and I'm delighted it was you!" That's my spiritual practice, and you're welcome to adopt it and put it into your hilarious "spiritual tool box".'

'Your friend is absolutely priceless,' said Annette, seeing Patrick approaching. 'What he doesn't realize is that we live in a loving universe. And it loves you too, Nick,' she assured Nicholas, resting her hand on his recoiling shoulder.

'I've quoted Bibesco before,' snapped Nicholas, 'and I'll quote him again: "To a man of the world, the universe is a suburb".'

'Oh, he's got an answer to everything, hasn't he?' said Annette. 'I expect he'll joke his way into heaven. St. Peter loves a witty man.'

'Does he?' said Nicholas, surprisingly appeased. 'That's the best thing I've heard yet about that bungling social secretary. As if the Supreme Being would consent to spend eternity surrounded by a lot of nuns and paupers and par-boiled missionaries, having his lovely concerts ruined by the rattle of spiritual tool boxes and the screams of the faithful, boasting about their crucifixions! What a relief that an enlightened command has finally reached the concierge at the Pearly Gates: "For Heaven's sake, send Me a conversationalist!" '

-- Edward St. Aubyn, At Last, pp. 15-17
The trend of autobiographical novels -- Elena Ferrante, Karl Ove Knausgaard -- includes the inimitable Patrick Melrose series by Edward St. Aubyn, now available in a complete set including the final book, At Last. It is typical of the series in that it takes place on one single, rather horrid day in the narrator's life, the funeral of his mother. Amid the encounters of the parts of his mother's sad life, many memories of other days flood into the story, in the minds and voices of several characters. Readers who treasure bitchy repartee will be relieved to know that the incorrigible character of Nicholas Pratt has a final turn in the spotlight. Here, he spars with Annette, the irrepressibly happy New Age apostle of the charlatans who trick Patrick's mother into giving them her family house in southern France.

20.5.15

Ernest Chausson's 'Le Roi Arthus'



Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) wrote only one opera, Le Roi Arthus, which received a rare performance as one of the centerpieces of the Opéra de Paris's season. The promise of the company's publicity photo, showing the ruins of the medieval Abbey of Glastonbury, where King Arthur is supposedly buried, shrouded in fog, was not borne out in the staging by Graham Vick. Marie-Aude Roux called it a "Scottish shower," running both cold and hot, in her review (Le Roi Arthus n’entrera pas dans la légende, May 19) for Le Monde (my translation):

[Vick] preferred to distance his approach and do without the Arthurian legend as much as he could. An unusual way of serving up a little-known work (even if Montpellier, in 1997, and Strasbourg, in 2014, presented staged versions of it), in any case never staged in Paris, where only a concert version was performed on Radiodiffusion française in 1949, then on Radio France in 1981. The duty of presenting the work for its baptism at the Opéra Bastille with, as godparent, a visual world that resonates with the music, should have prevailed.

Instead of which, we had to suffer through the sets of a model kit universe, with its snippets of buildings, its 1970s furniture, the pragmatic ugliness of odd costumes taken directly from a Ken Loach film on the homeless. King Arthur's half-built mobile home is dismantled bit by bit as his Arthurian ideal -- the spiritual harmony of the Knights of the Round Table -- crumbles and is destroyed, undermined by internal jealousies and the adulterous love of Queen Guinevere and Lancelot. The only relics: a circle of ropes held up by swords, a pathetic (low) round table, the silhouette of a castle tower at the top of a green hill (a subtle Wagnerian allusion?). Nothing in any case that takes into account the musical magic of Chausson, the great symphonist, whose abundant, refined, sensual orchestration clothes a harmonic language of fluid and elegant complexity, reinforced by the almost syllabic prosody of the accompanied recitative.
An excerpt of this beautiful score is embedded above. Chausson never got to hear the first performance, in 1903 in Brussels, because he died in a freak fall from a bicycle before it happened. Philippe Jordan conducts, drawing out the French flavors of this Wagner-influenced score, and Roberto Alagna, Thomas Hampson, and Sophie Koch star. Performance continue through June 14, with a broadcast on France Musique on June 6, so we will hopefully get the chance to hear it in rebroadcast.

19.5.15

How to Say Farewell to Aurélie Dupont



We wrote about Paris étoile Aurélie Dupont in 2012, the last time that the Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris came to the Kennedy Center. Shame on you if you missed it, because the French ballerina, 42, is set to retire from dancing this week, at least at the Garnier, going out on a performance of Kenneth MacMillan's L'Histoire de Manon, which will be filmed by Cédric Klapish and shown later in movie theaters. Ariane Bavelier has an appreciation (Aurélie Dupont, comment lui dire adieu?, May 18) for Le Figaro (my translation):

Aurélie justifies her choice by saying that dancing for her is about telling stories with gestures measured note for note. For her farewell, she wanted to dance with Hervé Moreau. Since she has had Manuel Legris for a partner, from when she was just a soloist in her debut, the search for a perfect match has always obsessed here. With Legris, as with Hervé Moreau, a look was enough, movements spontaneously were in dialogue. "I wanted to leave with Hervé: the work with him is always delicate, musical, stunning. But he is hurt, and I did not feel able to dance with someone from the company. So I asked Roberto Bolle, the star of La Scala. He is very demanding and he is 40 years old: it's a beautiful artistic balance," she says. At one time, Aurélie had dreamed of having Manuel Legris, today director of the Vienna State Ballet, as M. GM and Jérémie Bélingard, her husband, as Lescaut. But he will be in the hall to reassure their two sons, who are 4 and 7, for whom the ballet seems rather long, especially when things go bad for their mother.
Although she will not dance with the company anymore, she has plans to dance in other places, and Benjamin Millepied has given her a new role in Paris, naming her Maître de Ballet.

18.5.15

'Israel in Egypt' at National Presbyterian


available at Amazon
Handel, Israel in Egypt, Trinity Wall Street, J. Wachner
(Musica Omnia, 2012)
Charles T. Downey, Washington Chorus performance was like an ocean liner going up C&O Canal (Washington Post, May 18)
Handel performed his oratorios with relatively small orchestras and choirs. Later audiences heard these works with massive forces playing and singing, an anachronism that the historically informed performance movement stripped away by researching the practices in Handel’s lifetime. Although both approaches can work musically, it makes little sense to mix a small orchestra of period instruments with a nearly 200-voice choir, as the Washington Chorus did in its performance of Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” on Sunday at the National Presbyterian Church... [Continue reading]
Washington Chorus
Handel, Israel in Egypt
National Presbyterian Church

17.5.15

Perchance to Stream: Graduation Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Watch the production of Szymanowski's Król Roger from London's Royal Opera House. [ARTE]

  • Cecilia Bartoli and Andreas Scholl star in a production of Handel's Giulio Cesar in Egitto, with Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico, from the Salzburg Pentecost Festival. [ARTE]

  • The Orchestre National de France and Choeur de Radio France perform Verdi's Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio under Carlo Rizzi at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a performance of Darius Milhaud's opera La mère coupable, starring Markus Butter, Mireille Delunsch, and Angelika Kirchschlager, with the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien and conductor Leo Hussain at the Theater an der Wien earlier this month. [ORF]

  • Marc Minkowski conducts Les Musiciens du Louvre--Grenoble in a performance of Rameau's Les Boréades, recorded last year at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. [RTBF]

  • From the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, listen to a performance of Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles, recorded on April 25, with Paolo Arrivabeni conducting a cast starring Anne-Catherine Gillet (Leïla), Marc Laho (Nadir), and Lionel Lhote (Zurga). [RTBF]

  • Daniel Barenboim leads a performance of Beethoven's Fidelio at La Scala, starring Anja Kampe and Klaus Florian Vogt, recorded in Milan last year. [Radio Clásica]

  • Sandrine Piau and Marie-Nicole Lemieux perform duos by Handel, with Ricardo Minasi and Il Pomo d’Oro. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a performance of Solaris, the new opera by Dai Fujikura (b. 1977) on a libretto by Saburo Teshigawara, based on the novel by Stanislas Lem, recorded in March at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris), with the Ensemble Intercontemporain and others. [France Musique]

16.5.15

Filharmonia Szczecińska



The European Union's architectural award, given by the Mies van der Rohe Foundation, went earlier this week to the Filharmonia Szczecińska, the symphonic hall in the Polish city of Szczecin (shown above), created by the Italo-Spanish firm Barozzi Veiga. Covered in glass that is all white and translucent, it has the look of an ice cathedral or, as it struck me the first time, Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Jean-Jacques Larrochelle has a report on the hall (Le prix Mies van der Rohe attribué à la Filharmonia Szczecinska, May 9) for Le Monde (my translation):

The building, completed in 2014 after three years of construction, offers 13,000 square meters of functional space. It includes a 1,000-seat concert hall, a hall for chamber music that seats 200, a multipurpose space used for exhibits and conferences, and a large entry hall. Its cost: 30 million euros.

Built at the intersection of the historical site of the Konzerthaus, an old neighborhood bombed during the Second World War, then renconstructed, the Filharmonia Szczecinska is made up of vertical façades capped with pointed gables. Built up against the headquarters of the Wojewodzka police, made of brick and stone, it generously faces out on green spaces. The architects Barozzi and Veiga wanted to give it "a luminous element." The glass façade, illuminated from the inside by a stiff grill, offers a broad range of color scenarios that play with the architecture, especially at night. During the day, as shown in photographs, the contrast is just as striking between the stark whiteness of the new building and the lackluster environment that surrounds it.
Larrochelle also points that, although singular, the building does not stand out from its surrounding in other ways: its height is in keeping with its surroundings, for example. The architects even speak about its austerity, at least on the outside, because the interior is more colorful and varied.

15.5.15

Kavakos on the Podium and Beside It


available at Amazon
Sibelius, Pelléas et Mélisande (original version), Lahti Symphony Orchestra, O. Vänskä
(BIS, 1999)
Charles T. Downey, Kavakos ends two-week NSO residency by taking up the baton (Washington Post, May 15)
Leonidas Kavakos came to the end of a two-week residency with the National Symphony Orchestra by showing a third facet of his musical personality. After shining as a soloist in Sibelius’s violin concerto last week, he gave what was reportedly an excellent solo recital earlier this week with Christoph Eschenbach at the piano. As heard last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Kavakos concluded by taking the podium for his conducting debut with the orchestra.

Most conductors begin their musical lives playing an instrument, switching later to conducting... [Continue reading]
National Symphony Orchestra
With Leonidas Kavakos, violinist and conductor
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

PREVIOUSLY:
Robert Battey, Kavakos and Eschenbach combine to put on an inspired recital (Washington Post, May 13)

Charles T. Downey, Second Opinion: Eschenbach's Mahler 5 (Ionarts, May 9)

---, A cohesive-sounding conductorless New Century Chamber Orchestra at Strathmore (Washington Post, February 1, 2013)

---, Café Zimmermann (Ionarts, November 5, 2007)