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On ClassicsToday: The Cleveland Orchestra's Rusalka from 2008 Salzburg

The Cleveland Rusalka That Made Salzburg Gasp

by Jens F. Laurson
When the Cleveland Orchestra performed Dvořák’s Rusalka at the Salzburg Festival in 2008, the reception was rapturous. “That’s how an orchestra should play opera!” was the consensus, formed as it was coincidentally during a year in which the Vienna Philharmonic delivered particularly sloppy performances. (Since... Continue Reading

Ionarts review of the 2008 live performance here.


On ClassicsToday: The Bavarian Radio Chorus' Frustrating Bach

Oddly Frustrating Motets From Bavarian Radio Chorus

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: ?

Sound Quality: ?

If this recording, with the Bavarian Radio Chorus and Howard Arman in charge, had come out half a century ago, it would have shot to the top of the list of Bach’s motet recordings. As a performance of a then normal-sized choir at unheard-of tempos with never-bettered accuracy, it would have turned heads. But as a contemporary release—and coming from one of the world’s best professional choirs at that—it’s an unmitigated disaster. Yes, if you listen in a certain way, focusing on this or that detail, you may come away with... [continue reading on ClassicsToday]


On ClassicsToday: The Bavarian Radio Choir's Ideal Entry to Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt: Live

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality: ?

Sound Quality: ?

BR Klassik collected performances of its Bavarian Radio Chorus and the Munich Radio Orchestra (the little sister of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) from between 2000 and 2011 and has turned them into an attractive sampler of the Estonian composer’s nouveau-sacred choral music, plus two instrumental works. We get Arvo Pärt the spiritual “tintinnabuli” minimalist in the grand, powerful Cecilia, vergine romana under Ulf Schirmer. We get Pärt the archaic post-Orffian in Litany under Marcello Viotti aided by the Hilliard Ensemble in good shape in 2000... [continue reading]


Ionarts-at-Large from Vienna: Thielemann Conducts the Vienna Phil in Bruckner's 8th (ClassicsToday)

Thielemann’s Good If Not Revelatory Bruckner From Vienna

November 4, 2019 by Jens F. Laurson
Vienna, October 5, 2019; Musikverein—When Christian Thielemann stands in front of the Vienna Philharmonic, you can be sure of one thing: The orchestra does what he wants. Famous for simply ignoring or not caring about who stands in front of them or how they are conducted, the finicky Vienna Philha...  Continue Reading


On ClassicsToday: Tanja Tetzlaff’s Bach, With An Unhelpful Helping Of Encke

Tanja Tetzlaff’s Bach, With An Unhelpful Helping Of Encke

by Jens F. Laurson
Not yet another recording of the Bach Cello Suites? It feels like everyone tall enough to hold a cello must also record them. The problem isn’t more choice, which itself is always a good thing, but recordings that bring nothing new—much less better—to the table.... Continue Reading


Caustic 'Amadeus' opens at Folger

Antonio Salieri (Ian Merrill Peakes) pleads with God in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. Photo: Courtesy of Folger Theater

The lead ingredient in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus is vitriol, from the character of Antonio Salieri and directed not at Mozart, his supposed rival, but at the God who created him. In the brilliant film adaptation directed by Milos Forman, a few years after the play was premiered, Shaffer's screenplay version softened this element somewhat. The script's caustic hatred is again in the spotlight in the new production of the play, directed by Richard Clifford at Folger Theater, seen on Monday evening.

Wielding the words in a tour de force performance is Folger regular Ian Merrill Peakes, who commands attention at all times on stage as the obsessed Salieri. Peakes navigated the emotional shifts of the character masterfully, veering among Salieri's worshipful devotion to music (even Mozart's), his courtly polish, his wry humor, and above all his spiteful resentment toward the God who gave him the gift to recognize sublime music but never to compose it.

Other Reviews:

Peter Marks, ‘Amadeus’ at the Folger will be music to your ears (Washington Post, November 12)
It is worth noting that Schaffer drew the lines of his fictional Salieri before the remarkable resuscitation of the real composer's music. In particular, the recordings of the operas made by Christophe Rousset with Les Talens Lyriques reveal a creative force, someone whose musical expertise, especially in vocal writing and counterpoint, made him among the most sought-after teachers in his day.

The remaining performances in the cast do not feel quite in the same class. Samuel Adams grapples with the unpleasant qualities of Schaffer's characterization of Mozart, the outsized ego, the vulgar humor, and the inane laugh all based on the composer's biographical traits. He did not quite manage to find the sympathetic core of the part. Nor did Lilli Hokama's Constanze, Mozart's wife, get far beyond the angry outer shell: her anger at Salieri's sexual harassment when she seeks his help was an emotional high point. The two whispering, gossipy Venticelli are a somewhat irksome plot device, given a biting edge more by Louis Butelli than his partner Amanda Bailey.

Clifford's direction keeps the play moving forward, an asset in a work that covers a lot of terrain, and the lavish costumes designed by Mariah Anzaldo Hale provide most of the show's 18th-century opulence. The single set, designed by Tony Cisek, evokes the strings and scrolled necks of the violin family, a pleasing gesture to the aura of music that fills the play. The crucial musical parts are integrated seamlessly by sound designer Sharath Patel. What remains at the end, though, is the righteous outrage of the Enlightenment mind of Salieri, an accusing finger raised to God.

Amadeus runs through December 22.

On ClassicsToday: Claudio Abbado's Lucerne Bookend-Bruckner

Abbado’s Bruckner A & Z

by Jens F. Laurson
A new recording of Claudio Abbado conducting Bruckner symphonies at the Lucerne Festival? Of Symphonies 1 and 9, no less, bookending Bruckner’s output—a beginning and an end, entry and exit, and wonderfully symbolic? Not so fast. Both performances had their previous outings. The First on... Continue Reading


On ClassicsToday: Moo Is For Mozart / Notes From The Andermatt Music Festival, Part 1

Moo Is For Mozart: Notes From The Andermatt Music Festival, Part 1

Andermatt is not the prettiest Swiss village. Certainly not the most famous or even otherwise particularly notable in a country positively littered with gorgeous little alpine towns straight out of a kitschy re-make of Heidi. It had been an important trade post along the route connecting Milan and Zurich, Italy, and much of north-western Europe It had been a coveted holiday spot, especially for the English; Queen Victoria hung out incognito and Thomas Cook bundled groups of tourists there – the company’s first international destination package. The rail tunnel built in 1882 took care of most of that: trade went below-stairs and tourists all the way to Italy. Andermatt was then saved from obscurity (and poverty) by the Swiss military, which made it one of the centers of its Réduit defensive military concept of retreat to the mountains and denial of the strategic North-South passes and tunnels. The end of the cold war in 1990 took care of most of that. Andermatt was now left without trade, tourism, or the military, by then the largest local employer... [continue reading at ClassicsToday; more pictures below]