CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Briefly Noted: Spohr String Quartets

available at Amazon
L. Spohr, String Quartets, Vol. 17, Concertino String Quartet

(released on July 8, 2014)
Naxos 8.225352 | 56'25"

available at Amazon
Vol. 16

(released on May 27, 2014)
Naxos 8.225983 | 57'19"

available at Amazon
C. Brown, Louis Spohr: A Critical Biography
The music of many composers who achieved great fame in their lives has faded into obscurity. Louis Spohr (1784-1859) is one such example, a German composer whose music was almost completely forgotten and is still not played with any frequency. Clive Brown, a professor at the University of Leeds, wrote the definitive biography, published in the 200th anniversary year of Spohr's birth and developed from his doctoral dissertation on the composer. Spohr was a violinist by training, and among his rather prolific output is a cycle of thirty-six complete string quartets, written over the course of a long life -- not to mention four "double quartets" (a genre invented by Albrechtsberger, the string equivalent of a Venetian-style cori spezzati work, but with strings instead of singers), one traditional octet, and seven string quintets.

Naxos has finished a complete recording of the Spohr quartets, plus assorted single movements, on its Marco Polo label, a series begun by the New Budapest Quartet in the 1990s, with one volume by the Dima Quartet, and now finished by the Concertino Quartet, made up of members of the Moscow Philharmonic. (Informative booklet notes were contributed by Professor Brown, with additional essays by Keith Warsop, Chairman of the Spohr Society of Great Britain.) Volumes 16 and 17 have just been released this year, and while these recordings remain the only ones of Spohr's quartets, they are mainly of musicological interest. Most of Vol. 16 was recorded a few years ago, but the first track, the opening movement of op. 82/1, was recorded just last year for some reason and does not represent the group's best playing. The same problems are noticeable on the final track, the Variations (op. 8), although the sound of the first violin is improved on the other tracks.

The quality of playing is generally stronger on the pieces in Vol. 17, also recorded last year, with a particularly lovely slow movement in op. 30, for example. None of the quartets on these two discs grabbed me so strongly as to demand multiple listenings, especially in the two quatuors brillants, showpieces for Spohr's first violin that were something like mini-concertos, rather than equal-voiced quartets, although some movements of the other quartets also seem conceived for a primarius who is not necessarily inter pares. Perhaps these pieces would work better with a great virtuoso, someone on Spohr's level, seated first violin. Until then, the determined listener can at least learn something about a forgotten composer's music, a remarkable achievement by any standard.


'Lion King' at the Kennedy Center

The last time that The Lion King was at the Kennedy Center, in 2008, this break-though, industry-altering musical was just over a decade old. Its director, Julie Taymor, seemed to have the world at her feet: as the Washington Post noted that year, her new Spider-Man musical was "targeted for sometime in 2009 and already much-anticipated." After some disastrous stunt-related accidents, though, the producers of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark have insisted on an "artistic divorce" from Taymor, hoping to turn her Broadway musical into a Las Vegas-style special-effects extravaganza, with an eye towards possibly recovering their massive investment eventually.

Somewhere in there is a metaphor for the decline of the American musical, but another touring production of The Lion King is at the Kennedy Center Opera House, having opened last month and, judging by the crowded house last night, showing no signs of slowing down. It is a handsome and colorful show, but not surprisingly it has all the drama and appeal of a Disney movie intended for younger children. Miss Ionarts spent the evening teetering between alarm (at the "scary puppets" moving through the aisles) and delight. Adults all around me appeared just as enthralled, but for anyone who likes their entertainment a little more sophisticated, be prepared for a long night in the theater.

Other Articles:

Jessica Goldstein, ‘The Lion King,’ views from inside the touring production at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, July 12, 2014)

Nelson Pressley, ‘The Lion King,’ exuberant as ever, takes pride of place at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, June 22, 2014)

---, A Roaring Success and Its Effects on Broadway (Washington Post, June 27, 2008)
Among the cast, Tshidi Manye stood out for her ability to make the antics of Rafiki, the monkey soothsayer, so endearing, L. Steven Taylor made a noble Mufasa, and Jelani Remy's pop tenor was pretty as Simba. Comic relief came in dependable, even routine form from Andrew Gorell as the bird majordomo, Zazu, and the goofy Timon and Puumba of Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz. What makes the show memorable, though, is not the saccharine score and book (Elton John and Tim Rice, with contributions from many others) but the puppetry that brings the panoply of jungle animals to life. Taymor's experimentation with puppetry derived from her study of Bunraku theater in Japan, after undergraduate work in mythology and folklore at Oberlin. She has brought the same kind of magic to her opera productions, most notably the Magic Flute for the Metropolitan Opera. Here it may not add up to much, but it is beautiful to behold.

This production continues through August 17 in the Kennedy Center Opera House.


'Carmen' at Wolf Trap

Wolf Trap Opera's important work is in the intimate indoor venue of the Barns, like Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto last month. The company, a training ground for young singers, also usually gives at least one performance in the Filene Center, a cavernous outdoor venue that appeals for some reasons -- the feel of summer, lawn seating, a large audience -- but is annoying for others, including the necessity of amplification for the singers. This year's Filene offering, a rather plain semi-staging of Bizet's Carmen, fell on Friday night, when the weather was perfect.

The sound experience of this performance was disconcerting on many levels, as the amplification system made it impossible to judge the quality of the singers' voices. Maya Lahyani had enough magnetism to pull off the title role, with a dark, viscous voice that had most of the compass needed, with some iffy notes on top. New York-born tenor Kevin Ray brought out the dorky qualities of Don José -- "il est trop niais," jokes Carmen at one point -- and had some ringing high notes, although the amplification spoiled the sound of his head voice, so crucial in the character's big aria, La fleur que tu m'avais jetée. Melinda Whittington's Micaëla was full-bodied and not so innocent that she wanted anything to do with Don José by the end of the third act, while the Escamillo of Norman Garrett left little impression, either vocally or dramatically.

Other Reviews:

Tom Huizenga, Wolf Trap Opera’s ‘Carmen’ could use a little more of the original’s edginess (Washington Post, July 28)
Balances were made difficult by the amplification, so the supporting voices of the quintet were hard to distinguish. Worse, the National Symphony Orchestra, which played quite well, was placed on stage behind the singers, making the softer instruments, especially harp and flute, hard to hear, even with amplification. A large host of singers from the Washington Chorus were even further away behind the orchestra, not always lining up with the chorus members on stage, and although conductor Grant Gershon, resident conductor of the Los Angeles Opera, had a good handle on the score, he had no way to connect to the lead singers, who were behind him. Tara Faircloth's bare-bones production, with projections by S. Katy Tucker to suggest locations and costumes by Rooth Varland, was about as traditional and boring as they come.

Rather than trying to improve any of these shortcomings, the folks at Wolf Trap expended a lot of effort on some completely unnecessary technological bells and whistles instead. Subtitles that could be beamed to your tablet or other device reportedly did not work most of the evening. David Pogue, a technology writer and opera fan, also came on stage as a supernumerary wearing a Google Glass headset. This coincided almost perfectly with the appearance of Jerry Seinfeld on the cover of Wired as their "Guest Glasshole." No further comment is required.


C.P.E. Bach on Capitol Hill

Charles T. Downey, Sampling of C.P.E. Bach’s music at Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival
Washington Post, July 28, 2014

This year’s installment of the Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival opened with another observation of the tricentennial year of the birth of C.P.E. Bach. On Saturday night at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, flutist Jeffrey Cohan, violinist Marlisa del Cid Woods and harpsichordist Joseph Gascho offered a sampling of music by J.S. Bach’s most famous son.

Cohan performed on an 18th-century transverse flute... [Continue reading]
Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival
C.P.E. Bach Tricentennial
St. Mark's Episcopal Church


Perchance to Stream: Summer Opera 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, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, a performance of Mozart's Magic Flute, performed by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra under conductor Pablo Heras-Casado. [France Musique]

  • The Pygmalion Ensemble, conducted by Raphaël Pichon, performs Rameau's opera Castor et Pollux, at the Festival Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, with Emmanuelle de Negri as Télaïre. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Caterina Cornaro by Donizetti, performed at the Festival Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's Tsar's Bride, recorded last March at the Berliner Staatsoper with Daniel Barenboim at the podium. [ORF]

  • Watch Marc Minkowski conduct the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in a concert performance of Beethoven's Fidelio, starring Ingela Brimberg, Brandon Jovanovich, and Evgeny Nikitin. []

  • At the Proms, Robin Ticciati leads a replay of the Glyndebourne Rosenkavalier with Kate Royal, Tara Erraught, Franz Hawlata, and the London Philharmonic. [Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

  • Watch Charles Dutoit conduct a concert performance of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust at the Verbier Festival. []

  • From Vienna, a performance of Purcell's Fairy Queen with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting Concentus Musicus Wien, the Arnold Schoenberg Chor, and a cast starring Dorothea Röschmann and Florian Boesch. [RTBF]

  • Listen to music of Rameau performed by Les Arts Florissants. [BBC Proms]


Dip Your Ears, No. 173 (The Image of Melancholy)

available at Amazon
Anthony Holborne, John Dowland, et al.
The Image of Melancholy
Bjarte Eike / Barokksolistene

Creaking and Whispering

Modern and ancient, creaking and whispering, haunting and pleading, Irish, oriental, occidental and accidental: The atmospheric, contemplative album from Bjarte Eike and the Barokksolistene combines early music (Holborne, Dowland, Byrd, Buxtehude, Biber) with traditional Norwegian and Irish folk music in his arrangements, and a soupçon of suitable contemporary pieces. The way these works are picked and performed, you can hardly tell where one begins and the other ends until you’re half way through a song. The result is a haunting and varied collection of miniatures that Eike describes as not belonging to any particular style, nationality or period in time; but rather being a string of tunes, songs and expressions that are of personal significance to him. The title “The Image of Melancholy” stems from the fact that those happen to be border- and time-transcending “sad tunes”. The result isn’t entirely genre-defying, but it is genre-overlapping in a way that is bound to involve, not scare off the lovers of each genre into which Eike crosses over: From amid a many tears and much lamenting, a musical entrée arises that causes the gently stringed music lover much rejoicing..

First appeared in AUDITORIUM.

BSO and Beethoven

Pianist Andrew Staupe
After hearing one of the National Symphony Orchestra's concerts at Wolf Trap, it was only fair to take in one of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's summer concerts, on Thursday night. In the comfortable air conditioning of the Music Center at Strathmore, the only sign of a traditional summer concert was the ensemble's white jackets, a nice touch that went well with the lack of mosquitoes and humidity. Like the NSO's programming, this was solid but hardly daring stuff, a standard selection of Beethoven in the traditional order -- overture, concerto, symphony. The performance was not particularly inspired either, falling victim to the uncertainties of substitute musicians in the ranks and an unfamiliar conductor in his BSO debut.

The soloist, Andrew Staupe, was a journeyman-like presence at the keyboard in Beethoven's third piano concerto (C minor, op. 37), with nothing questionable, except some fuzziness in trills and other ornaments, but also nothing all that memorable. He had a nice way with the piano-only introduction of the second movement, taking it very slow and full of dreamy wandering, and gave the harp-like cadenza of the first movement's cadenza a blurred, active quality. In less free sections, though, Staupe had an unconvincing way of phrasing a melody, with jagged ideas popping out here and there rather than following an organic process of growing and relaxing.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Despite some standout playing, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra struggles at cohesion (Washington Post, July 26)
The conductor, Josep Caballé-Domenech, approached both the concerto and the fourth version of the overture to Fidelio (op. 72c, 1814) in a way that suggested an affinity with historically informed performance practices: fast tempos; crisp articulations, even a bit on the dry side; strong dynamic contrasts and forceful crescendi. Unfortunately, the results were a tad sloppy, with sections of the orchestra sometimes at slightly different tempi, seemingly without much help from the podium to create consensus. He was more effective in the concerto, helping the musicians to accompany their soloist with sensitivity and color. The second half was devoted to Beethoven's sixth symphony (not reviewed).

The BSO's 2014-2015 season looks more interesting than the last few seasons. More thoughts on the season ahead to come next week.


Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 2 )
Bruckner Cycle IV • Barenboim, WPh

Bruckner Cycle IV • Barenboim, Vienna Philharmonic

Intimations of Mortality

Above and below pictures (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Monika Rittershaus. Click for the whole picture.

Lorin Maazel was a fixture at the Salzburg Festival, leading 119 performances between 1963 and 2013. It made sense, therefore, to slap an “in Memoriam” label onto one of this summer’s performances and even more so to make it one of the concerts in which a requiem featured… and furthermore with an orchestra that had a history with Lorin Maazel. The first such concert happened to be the Vienna Philharmonic’s opening shot under Daniel Barenboim—the beginning of this year’s Bruckner Cycle at the Salzburg Festival.

available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.4
D.Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin
Accentus blu-Ray

available at Amazon
M.Reger, Requiem et al.
G.Albrecht / Hamburg Phil. / D.Fischer-Dieskau
The Reger Requiem (composed shortly before his, Reger’s, own death) had been performed by the same forces just a while ago at the Musikverein; but coupled with Schubert’s haunting Gesang der Geister über den Wassern D 714 and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. Now it was joined to Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. The soloist in the Reger in Vienna was mezzo Bernarda Fink—and by all accounts she was superb. For the Salzburg Festival performance, the executants opted to cast a baritone by hiring (ex-)tenor Plácido Domingo. Perhaps to bring a little pizzazz to Reger, who—even if it had been a less unknown work of his on the program—has a reputation for being a touch dour.

I can’t say whether the switch sold tickets or whether it was even primarily motivated to do so—it probably did and it probably was—but artistically it was not a step in the right direction. Domingo sang with operatic gusto which, while not unbefitting the Reger, seemed mildly out of place. While the chorus was nuanced (at least until Reger turns it up to 11, when it all became just ear-drum shattering), Domingo was a bit indistinct, a bit wobbly, not a little lost, and probably happy that his text included only two lines, trice repeated. It’s touching to think of the greatest singer of our time (taking the whole career into account), but not so touching to listen to him anymore.

Sadly, it didn’t get much better. Barenboim is currently recording his third complete Bruckner cycle (issued by Accentus on DVD / blu-Ray), and especially the Fourth turned out fantastic; I think his best Fourth yet. That was with the Staatskapelle Berlin. Here in Salzburg, the Vienna Philharmonic didn’t quite play along. Drawn out, near-lugubrious (to my ears, that day, at least—subjectivity being a tricky thing, perhaps especially in Bruckner), the first movement sucked more energy out of the Grosses Festspielhaus than it added. Frustratingly, tauntingly, ever so often there many fine details to be heard among the inner voices. The soft strings and the gentle entry of the winds of the very opening had still been very promising. But there wasn’t much that followed—especially not from the first violins who were having their off-day, much like the majority of the brass in the Scherzo. There were again moments of broadly-lyrical beauty emerging in the fourth movement… but only like rays of sunshine poking holes in a cloud and quickly scanning the ground. Else there was little precision and too little by way of keeping the tension to make up for it… and the result disappointed me, if—judging by the applause—few others.

The actual music dedicated to the memory of the late maestro, it might be pointed out, wasn’t the Requiem, but the specially added, rarely-yet-routinely played Masonic Funeral Music by Mozart, K477. The ever-sophisticated audience applauded four times when it probably shouldn’t have: Once after Barenboim motioned orchestra and audience to stand for the minute of silence after the Funeral Music—applause that he furiously waved down. Then again after the first movement of the Bruckner, again after the Bruckner Andante, and finally after the Bruckner was finished. Barenboim took all that graciously.

See also: A Survey of Bruckner Cycles


For Your Consideration: 'Boyhood'

available at Amazon
Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater
Any new movie directed by Richard Linklater is worth seeing, but nothing prepared me for the avalanche of gushing critics laying garlands at the feet of his latest feature, Boyhood. This is probably due to the daring creative leap behind the film, now widely reported, that Linklater filmed his actors for just a few days each year, over the course of twelve years. In this way we see the eponymous youth of the central character, Mason, as he and the actor who plays him, Ellar Coltrane, grow up before our eyes. It is a daring idea, which could have landed Linklater with a mess but improbably did not, which is probably why, given that the film is extremely watchable, in spite of its meandering and occasional longueurs, that the plaudits are as vociferous as they are.

My slight disappointment with the film likely had a lot to do with the raves heard from so many quarters, so let me not swell the choir of high expectations. Boyhood does not have many of the qualities that can draw one through Linklater's films, which are, like this one, so often about not much at all. Boyhood consists largely of "intimate little moments, all the kind of stuff that would get cut out of other movies," as Linklater put it. There is little of the humor of Slacker or Dazed and Confused, not enough of the intellectual walking and talking of the Before Sunrise trilogy, and none of the surreal qualities of Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly. This film is earnest in a different way, because the boyhood depicted is largely like that of the director himself. Linklater, like Mason, grew up in Texas, raised largely by a divorced mother who became a college psychology professor and receiving only periodic visits from a distant but fun-loving father. Even when Mason goes to college, one has the sense that he might not stay long enough to finish a degree, as Linklater did not.

Other Reviews:

New York Times | Washington Post | The New Yorker | TIME
Christian Science Monitor | Wall Street Journal | David Edelstein | NPR

This film takes its time to examine the wondrous things that happen in families every day, and which most of us barely notice, like the pop songs that come and go (one of the ways to trace the arc of time in the movie). A friend of mine once commented that she wished she could save versions of her kids at many different ages, stored on a hard drive or something: any parent understands that idea, that you are sharing your house with a series of very different people as kids grow up. Seeing that play out on the screen is compelling, and Coltrane, who does not even give that great of a performance in terms of acting, commands attention for that reason. Ethan Hawke gives a free-spirited performance as his dad, a man too restless to settle down and raise a family (there may be elements of Linklater himself in Hawke's character, as the black GTO he drives supposedly belongs to the director), and the director's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, is charming and direct as his older sister, Samantha.

Patricia Arquette, however, towers above the rest of the cast as Mason's mom, a bright woman with terrible taste in men, who has to fight with all her claws to raise her kids. It is the role of a lifetime for Arquette, who has made a lot of dreck but when given a great role (True Romance, Beyond Rangoon, Ed Wood) can knock it out of the park. The character is all too often at the end of her rope, but the heroism of this single mom, which goes largely unrecognized, as well as her bitter regrets, including one that is at the heart of the most moving scene in the film, made me wonder if Linklater missed his actual title: Motherhood.


Ionarts-at-Large: Mozart-Woche 2014 (CPE Bach Oratorio)

In the current issue of AUDITORIUM:

Free Concert Series at National Building Museum

Charles T. Downey, National Building Museum kicks off summer concert series with Reverb
Washington Post, July 22, 2014

For parents of young children, summer often boils down to a frantic search for activities that will divert their kids, even for just a few minutes. By mid-July, the situation can get desperate, so the first summer concert at the National Building Museum, heard Sunday afternoon, was perfectly timed. In partnership with Washington Performing Arts, the museum presented... [Continue reading]
Washington Performing Arts
Sunday Concert Series
National Building Museum


Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 1 )
Bach Recital • Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Recital • Pierre-Laurent Aimard

A Happy Spiritual Vortex

For a couple years, the Salzburg Festival has opened its doors a week earlier than traditionally, dubbing the prequel to the Festival—officially part of it, but taking place before the official opening ceremony— “Ouverture spirituelle”. It began on the 18th with the BRSO and Haitink in Haydn’s Creation. On Saturday came the first highlight—which, paraphrasing everyone I know who was there, was “a concert to remember for years, if not decades”: Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine with John Eliot Gardiner and his bands, that used the Salzburg cathedral to ingenious acoustic effect. I missed that, but Monday I had my own Ouverture spirituelle in the form of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recital of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier.

Pictures (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Monika Rittershaus (BRSO/Haitink/Padmore) & Michael Pöhn (Concentus/Harnoncourt).

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, WTC, Book 1,
P-L. Aimard

Timed to coincide, more or less, with his latest CD release, he performed the whole Book I of the “Old Testament of the classical keyboard” at the Mozarteum’s Great Hall. Unlike his Art of the Fugue tour a few years ago, which left me oddly wanting (after high expectations), this time all those lofty expectations—always in place, with Aimard—were met and exceeded.

A scheduling overlap with Harnoncourt, his Concentus Musicus, and the last three Mozart Symphonies at the Grosses Festspielhaus across the Salzach must have drawn some would-be Bach-listeners and meant a few empty rows in the Mozarteum. But the rest made up with attentiveness and quiet enthusiasm, to listen to Aimard’s pedal-free simplicity. Unpretentious in his playing, Aimard looks like a greatly disturbed Siberian owl—especially in the trickier fugues, where his jaws and eyebrows were working almost as hard as the fingers. Amid a rock-solid, steady pulse throughout, the C-sharp major Prelude was all playfulness, the C-sharp minor Fugue a regal affair from which the D major Prelude seemed to surge forth. The F major Prelude and Fugue were swift and bubbly, almost, except always in that dead-on rhythm that Aimard kept and which makes Bach—and this work in particular—so increasingly compelling: A spiritual vortex into which one lets PLA suck one happily. The first half of the set ended with a bitter-sweet F minor Prelude and an “Art-of-the-Fugue” type of dry Fugue.

After the intermission a fresh and friendly—almost fiendish—F-sharp major Prelude re-opened the proceedings; contrasting immediately with the lyrical somberness of the coupled Fugue. The G major Prelude was animated like hyperactive sprites during happy hour… the staggered, developing trills of the G minor Prelude were worked out with wonderful clarity. After the gravitas of the G-sharp Fugue, the pointillist dotted A major Fugue struck as “Wildness, organized”: A masterpiece of compelling-propelling rigor that suggests the existence of higher planes. After the tender closing B minor (always special with Bach, that key) Prelude and the grand, chromatically shimmering Fugue, the audience took a few seconds of genuine, hazy and reverent silence before bursting out in the greatly deserved applause and standing ovations. Aimard looked like a much happier owl now, and fluttered off stage.


NSO at Wolf Trap

available at Amazon
Ravel, Piano Concertos (inter alia), J.-Y. Thibaudet, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, C. Dutoit
(Decca, 1997)
Charles T. Downey, National Symphony Orchestra shines in quiet moments at Wolf Trap (Washington Post, July 21, 2014)
The National Symphony Orchestra’s summer season at Wolf Trap includes a lot of fluff, quite appropriately. Friday night’s concert in the Filene Center was an exception, featuring three pieces that the group might perform on subscription concerts at the Kennedy Center. In fact, the last time the NSO played two of these pieces, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, was as recent as the spring of 2013.

Little matter, since one does not really expect to be surprised by unusual repertory at an outdoor concert in the summer. The pleasure of this sort of event is in being part of a large listening community, more casual about.... [Continue reading]
National Symphony Orchestra
With Andrew Litton (conductor) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Filene Center at Wolf Trap

Andrew Litton last with NSO (2012)

Ravel G major concerto: NSO with Jeremy Denk (2013); San Francisco Symphony with Jean-Yves Thibaudet (2006)

Tchaikovsky, fourth symphony (NSO, 2013)


Perchance to Stream: Tour de France 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, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Listen to a recital of Lieder by Schubert and Wolf, performed by baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall in London, followed by 18th-century music from northern Europe performed by La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespèrion XXI, and Jordi Savall in the Abbey Church of Fontfroide. [France Musique]

  • From the Festival International d'Opéra Baroque et Romantique in Beaune, Federico Maria Sardelli leads Modo Antiquo in a performance of Handel's Teseo, starring Lucia Cirillo, Emmanuelle de Negri, and others. [France Musique]

  • Watch the world premiere of a new staging of Bach cantatas, directed by Katie Mitchell, with Raphaël Pichon conducting musicians of the Académie européenne de musique, soprano Aoife Miskelly, mezzo-soprano Eve-Maud Hubeaux, and others. []

  • Martha Argerich plays Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto at the Verbier Festival, with Charles Dutoit conducting the Verbier Festival Orchestra. []

  • Watch more concerts from the Verbier Festival. []

  • From last November at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, a performance of Giacomo Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume and starring Veronica Simeoni and Gregory Kunde. [ORF]


À mon chevet: 'The Trial'

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

book cover
Once he had received this notice, K. hung up the receiver without giving an answer; he had decided immediately to go there that Sunday, it was certainly necessary, proceedings had begun and he had to face up to it, and this first examination would probably also be the last. He was still standing in thought by the telephone when he heard the voice of the deputy director behind him -- he wanted to use the telephone but K. stood in his way. "Bad news?" asked the deputy director casually, not in order to find anything out but just to get K. away from the device. "No, no," said K., he stepped to one side but did not go away entirely. The deputy director picked up the receiver and, as he waited for his connection, turned away from it and said to K., "One question, Mr. K.: Would you like to give me the pleasure of joining me on my sailing boat on Sunday morning? There's quite a few people coming, you're bound to know some of them. One of them is Hasterer, the state attorney. Would you like to come along? Do come along!"

K. tried to pay attention to what the deputy director was saying. It was of no small importance for him, as this invitation from the deputy director, with whom he had never got on very well, meant that he was trying to improve his relations with him. It showed how important K. had become in the bank and how its second most important official seemed to value his friendship, or at least his impartiality. He was only speaking at the side of the telephone receiver while he waited for his connection, but in giving this invitation the deputy director was humbling himself. But K. would have to humiliate him a second time as a result, he said, "Thank you very much, but I'm afraid I will have no time on Sunday, I have a previous obligation." "Pity," said the deputy director, and turned to the telephone conversation that had just been connected.

It was not a short conversation, but K. remained standing confused by the instrument all the time it was going on. It was only when the deputy director hung up that he was shocked into awareness and said, in order to partially excuse his standing there for no reason, "I've just received a telephone call, there's somewhere I need to go, but they forgot to tell me what time." "Ask them then," said the deputy director. "It's not that important," said K., although in that way his earlier excuse, already weak enough, was made even weaker. As he went, the deputy director continued to speak about other things. K. forced himself to answer but his thoughts were mainly about that Sunday, how it would be best to get there for nine o'clock in the morning as that was the time that courts always start work on weekdays.

-- Franz Kafka, The Trial (translation by David Wyllie)
Reading Murakami's Kafka on the Shore earlier this summer put me in the mood to read some more Kafka. This was the book that Murakami's protagonist described as his favorite, and it is a great read. What I love about the book is found in this passage, which is the attempt of K. to proceed in life as normally as possible, even after the opening sequence of events, in which he is mysteriously "arrested" when he wakes up in his room one morning. Life appears to continue as normally as possible, and K.'s self-importance and self-delusion continue without any interruption.


Briefly Noted: 'The Lighthouse'

available at Amazon
P. Maxwell Davies, The Lighthouse, N. Mackie, C. Keyte, I. Comboy, BBC Philharmonic, P. Maxwell Davies

(released on May 27, 2014)
Naxos 8.660354 | 72'29"
Peter Maxwell Davies composed this chilling chamber opera for the Edinburgh Festival in 1980. The composer led this performance, with members of the BBC Philharmonic, for a release in 1994 on another label that is now out of print. For those of us who wanted to hear the opera, this Naxos re-release is the only option if you were not lucky enough to have caught one of the revivals here and there, most recently by Boston Lyric Opera in 2012. (One can also watch a performance given by the Psappha Ensemble in 2009: Part 1 and Part 2.) With the composer at the podium, the performance reflects his intentions, and the three singers are all fine, including Neil Mackie, who created the tenor role. The booklet libretto, riddled with errors, is the only drawback.

Maxwell Davies wrote his own libretto, creating a fictionalized version of the actual disappearance of three lighthouse guardians on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The events can easily be read as something from The X Files; in fact, they were the basis of an episode of Doctor Who, The Horror of Fang Rock, broadcast just a couple years before the creation of the opera. The prologue features the three singers as officers of the ship that discovered the empty lighthouse, interrogated at the court of enquiry by a solo horn (at times too like the "wah-wah" sound of the adult voices in a Peanuts cartoon). The model for this ghost story, one imagines, is Britten's The Turn of the Screw, and Maxwell Davies gets a similar range of horripilation-inducing sounds from his group of twelve instrumentalists, including a folksy banjo and, a tribute to Alban Berg, an out-of-tune upright piano.

In his booklet essay, Maxwell Davies invokes the cursed "Tower" card in the Tarot deck, and when the three keepers agree each to sing a song, the performances will determine, as Blazes puts it, who is King, Devil, and Fool. As Blazes and Sandy play a game of cards, the bass sings lines attributed to the "Voices of the Cards," the first sign of the incipient insanity about to grip the lighthouse keepers, who have been stranded at their post by storms long past when they should have been relieved. Some comic relief is provided by the songs offered by the trio, especially the sentimental love ballad sung by Sandy, the tenor, which the other two join, jumbling the words in hilarious ways ("Oh that you held me ... fast ... by the cock").


Briefly Noted: Planès Plays Bartók

available at Amazon
Bartók, Piano Pieces, A. Planès

(released on May 13, 2014)
HMC 902163 | 78'42"
Alain Planès plays the music of so many composers so well, including the Haydn, Debussy, and Scarlatti we have heard over the years. A formidable technician with a painterly sense of color, he excels in vignettes rather than long forms, so it is little surprise that he produces beguiling results in this set of mostly miniatures by Bartók. On disc, some of these pieces have largely been the domain of Hungarian pianists, who almost certainly started playing the composer's works as children. In addition to the widely recorded piano sonata (SZ 80), here pleasingly bouncy and bluesy rather than overly biting, Planès gives the listener a sort of tour of Bartók's transcription and adaptation of folk melodies. This includes four songs from the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs (SZ 71) and all six of the slender Romanian Folk Dances (SZ 56), two sets that show Bartók's affinity for the folk music of both countries. (As the Transylvanian village where Bartók was born was on the border, it actually became part of Romania in the aftermath of World War I.) The Dance Suite (SZ 77) and the relatively rare set of Fourteen Bagatelles (SZ 38) round out the program, with each short movement given a ravishing suavity of touch and melodic phrasing. If you have never fancied Bartók's keyboard music, give it a spin.