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Ionarts-at-Large: Schubert's Ghost, Ravel's Never-Ending Hum(m)dinger

Luciano Berio’s Rendering is one of the main ingredients of the excellent 2005 release “Schubert Epilog” that did so much to put Jonathan Nott’s Bamberg Symphony on the map of record buyers again. At its base are fragments of Schubert’s (presumed) attempt at writing a new symphony (after completion of his Ninth) based on earlier sketches. In Rendering, Berio creates a superb synthesis of old and new by erecting a contemporary work in which Schubert is the main ingredient, rather than guesstimating what Schubert may have intended to arrive at. Berio’s music comes in and goes out amid the Schubert fragments, like a well preserved ruin that a modern architect incorporates into a new glass & steel structure; modern but remaining true to the original proportions. The Berio-bits slowly drift apart and disintegrate before our ears, not unlike Alfred Schnittke melting straight chords into figures askew—but with less robust puckishness and much more gracious refinement on Berio’s part.

Late Schubert—extrapolated by another ten years of equal creativity—suggests greatness to the point of incomprehensibility Berio gives us a modern window through which to try… try to imagine a musical world in which Beethoven would have been “that other romantic composer in Vienna” Berio gives the listener an opportunity to glimpse at this most important musical case of “what would have been” not through a reconstruction that would invariably remain a second-guessing game, incomplete, questioned, and a pale shadow of the platonic ideal of a “Tenth” Schubert Symphony. Berio infuses confidence into the music by making the fragments part of a new whole, endowing the music with a new reality. We hear a modern work, but in it the story of the greatest composer that injudicious sex ever took from posterity. David Robertson, taking over the BRSO from the scheduled Riccardo Chailly (the dedicatee of Rendering), brought this expression to life in magnificent form and in all its subtlety, delicacy, and tear-shaped sublimity. Rendering is not a hodge-podge, it is one of the greater gifts of music; it inspires to thanks-giving.

available at Amazon
L.Berio et al, Schubert Epilog,
J.Nott / Bamberg SO

available at Amazon
M.Ravel, Daphnis et Chloé,
P.Monteux* / LSO
[* conducted the world premiere]

To perform Ravel’s ballet music Daphnis et Chloé afterwards (or pretty much anything else, for that matter) is—to my ears—taking away from this experience. And Daphnis et Chloé—performed in its entirety, not just the two suites—is already Ravel’s longest work…(apparently, inexplicably, also the one Ravel was most proud of).

It’s a lushly expressionist extravaganza with an imaginative orchestration, including wordless choir variously humming (“bouches fermées”) and aaahhh-ing (“bouches ouvertes”)… but with one has to be in the mood for it, or else it sounds mostly repetitive and loud—a colorful kind of ‘loud’—between lulls of the same color. The BR chorus sounded great in this easy part, but contained two visual blots that were painful to look at and just as hard to avoid. Why chorus members would wear trashy glitter tank-tops on semi-see-through dresses (straight out of casting-rejects from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) or ostentatiously flaunt Hedwig-and-the-Angry-Inch hairdo is as baffling as why the rest of the chorus would let them get away with it. Such excesses of narcissism gone horribly wrong, apart from being a distracting, unprofessional aesthetic affront, have no place in a musical group effort where cohesion is the highest goal.

Amidst quibbles and distractions, the orchestra played exceedingly well under Robertson who, if we count Mark Minkowski among them, is among the handful of truly exciting, ever impressive American conductors and one who I am always eager to hear. I should like to hear more of him with the BRSO.


Anonymous said...

any chance you're gonna chime in on the Thielemann Beethoven set? Blu-rays have been out a while but they finally get a proper CD release this month.

jfl said...

Perhaps. I have to admit that I haven't even listened to them yet, partly because I so rarely listen to 'straight' music on DVD/Blu-Ray. But it will be interesting to compare to the new Chailly Beethoven set which I like very much so far (except for the 4th).

Anonymous said...

Nice-- I'm looking forward to the Chailly as well.

The Thielemann Blu-rays each have extended (like 1-hour) interviews where he discusses his artistic choices in considerable length. I haven't seen em yet but supposed to be quite interesting.


jfl said...

I think the interviews are insufferable, actually. (I've peeked.)

The self-absorbed mutual fawning of Kaiser (a once important piano-music critic from Munich who is considered local royalty [also admiringly referred to as the music-pope] and CT (less guilty in this instance) cannot but do a disservice to the performances.

I like CT very much and I like CT's Beethoven (live)... and even when I'm *not* bowled over, I like the fact that he plays L.v.B. the way he does. But that stroke-fest made me gag.

Anonymous said...

Ha I consider myself warned!

FYI check out Spotify if you haven't yet-- a really great resource for classical listeners. $5 a month, unlimited access to music. Certain classical CDs have key tracks made unavailable but by no means all or even most. All the Chailly Beethovens are on there, complete Ring cycles from Barenboim and Thielemann, and much, much more.


jfl said...

If you use Spotify (I wonder how many readers are), I have am building up a selection of Spotify-Playlists (ranging from 20 minutes to an hour) that go along with very short introductions and are meant for music horizon-furthering while on the Metro or during the early hours at work... perhaps a little too introductory for you... but I'd like to think that they are rather cute and that they might be of interest to others. Shame that neither ECM nor Harmonia Mundi is on Spotify (yet), but other than that, the classical selection is quite good. Only a bit hard to search for stuff, sometimes.

jfl said...

I take back SOME of my comments re: Kaiser / Thielemann... if only for for the moment where they discuss the Fourth and Thielemann (after a neat metaphor) almost yells at Kaiser, impatient after feeling his metaphor was being pedantically corrected.