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


Briefly Noted: Cavalli's Vespers

available at Amazon
F. Cavalli, Vespero delle domeniche, Coro C. Monteverdi di Crema, La Pifarescha, B. Gini

(released on May 26, 2015)
Dynamic CDS7714 | 87'04"
Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) was one of the important composers of the first wave of Venetian opera. As such we have even had the occasional chance to review his work in live performance. He was also one of the successors of Claudio Monteverdi, his one-time teacher, as director of music at San Marco in Venice. Italian conductor Bruno Gini has been undertaking a recorded survey of Cavalli's sacred music with his Coro Claudio Monteverdi di Crema. The most recent disc includes all of Cavalli's late Vespers service, including the five standard psalms of Vespers plus Magnificat, as well as a series of alternate psalms, from which one could have all possible versions of the Vespers service for Sundays throughout the year.

The connection to the ensemble is pleasing, since Cavalli was born and raised in Crema, receiving his first musical education as a boy chorister in the cathedral there, and this disc was captured in the Chiesa di San Bernardino in Crema, which has been made into an auditorium. To date, Gini and his forces have also made recordings of the composer's Requiem Mass, his five other settings of the Magnificat, and the Vespero Delli Cinque Laudate for San Marco. By comparison to the works on those recordings, which feature more operatic pieces for solo and duo voices, the rather plain double-chorus style Cavalli sticks to in these Vespers pieces is boring and homophonic, with the only variation between a small chorus of favoriti and full chorus. On one hand, Gini's singers are not all exceptional, and there are some infelicities in blend, intonation, and tone color. On the other hand, the CD is presented without "any manipulation, equalization, or dynamic alteration," which is refreshing by its bracing qualities, with generally fine instrumental playing from the ensemble La Pifarescha sometimes overpowering the voices.


New Preljocaj Work at Avignon

Angelin Preljocaj has big successes with his ballet troupe, like a 2012 work for the Biennale de la Danse de Lyon about a poor young man beaten to death for drinking a can of beer in a store (based on a text by Laurent Mauvignier, Ce que j’appelle oubli), and big failures. Raphaël de Gubernatis has a report on his new ballet for the Avignon Festival (Avignon : "Retour à Berratham", Angelin Preljocaj donne (presque) le meilleur, July 23) for Le Nouvel Observateur (my translation):
It was surely in the hope of recapturing what must be called the miracle of that Lyon performance that the Avignon Festival returned to this surprising relationship between Mauvignier and Preljocaj. And from that miracle came a good part of the interest aroused by this new work, Retour à Berratham. This time, however, the choreographer did not rely on an already published text, but on one requested by him from the author, so that he could imagine a dramatic narrative for this work that lasts a little less than two hours, whose text is spoken on the stage by three actors while it is illustrated by eleven dancers.

"It's dismaying!" cried out an overwhelmed woman in the audience at the premiere, at the very moment where the performance came to a close, as the Cour d'honneur in the Palais des Papes was briefly plunged in silence and darkness, and before the audience broken into a mixture of boos and applause. [...]

Spoken rather than acted by the actors, and sometimes in a way hard to understand, Mauvignier's text, infinitely too long, heavy on pathos, even weepy, does not have the edge and anger of Ce que j’appelle oubli. One ends up turning away from it, no longer hearing anything but the intonation of the reciters' voices without truly listening to them. For his part, Preljocaj has not kept the same distance with Retour à Berratham that he had so remarkably imposed on himself with the text for Ce que j’appelle oubli, and the choreography ends up sometimes literally illustrating the narration, in a way that is redundant and extremely uninteresting. Nevertheless, for the first half-hour of the work, the choreography and the staging of Angelin Preljocaj are irreproachable, but it goes bad starting with the portrayal of the heroine's constrained marriage.
Preljocaj's work has come under review here live only once, on their visit to the Kennedy Center in 2012. It is one of the pieces de Gubernatis singles out as inferior. Programmers tend not to offer the most interesting works, he says, in favor of the works that are most facile. It also shows that "audiences no longer know how to discern what has value and what does not, and that they also are participating in the artistic decline happening to dance in France.


À mon chevet: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

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

book cover
Every town the size of Maycomb had families like the Ewells. No economic fluctuation changed their status -- people like the Ewells lived as guests of the county in prosperity as well as in the depths of a depression. No truant officers could keep their numerous offspring in school; no public health officer could free them from congenital defects, various worms, and the diseases indigenous to filthy surroundings.

Maycomb's Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a Negro cabin. The cabin's plank walls were supplemented with sheets of corrugated iron, its roof shingled with tin cans hammered flat, so only its general shape suggested its original design: square, with four tiny rooms opening onto a shotgun hall, the cabin rested uneasily upon four irregular lumps of limestone. Its windows were merely open spaces in the walls, which in the summertime were covered with greasy strips of cheesecloth to keep out the varmints that feasted on Maycomb's refuse.

The varmints had a lean time of it, for the Ewells gave the dump a thorough gleaning every day, and the fruits of their industry (those that were not eaten) made the plot of ground around the cabin look like the playhouse of an insane child: what passed for a fence was bits of tree-limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts, all tipped with rusty hammer-heads, snaggle-toothed rake heads, shovels, axes and grubbing hoes, held on with pieces of barbed wire. Enclosed by this barricade was a dirty yard containing the remains of a Model-T Ford (on blocks), a discarded dentist's chair, an ancient icebox, plus lesser items: old shoes, worn-out table radios, picture frames, and fruit jars, under which scrawny orange chickens pecked hopefully. [...]

Atticus took us with him last Christmas when he complied with the mayor's request. A dirt road ran from the highway past the dump, down to a small Negro settlement some five hundred yards beyond the Ewells'. It was necessary either to back out to the highway or go the full length of the road and turn around; most people turned around in the Negroes' front yards. In the frosty December dusk, their cabins looked neat and snug with pale blue smoke rising from the chimneys and doorways glowing amber from the fire inside. There were delicious smells about: chicken, bacon frying crisp as the twilight air. Jem and I detected squirrel cooking, but it took an old countryman like Atticus to identify possum and rabbit, aromas that vanished when we rode back past the Ewell residence.

All the little man on the witness stand had that made him any better than his nearest neighbors was, that if scrubbed with lye soap in very hot water, his skin was white.

-- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, pp. 170-71
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” On the way back from our family trip to the United Kingdom earlier this month, I bought a copy of the just-released new novel by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman. Before reading it, though, I realized I should read her earlier book again, a novel I very much enjoyed when it was assigned to me in 8th grade but had not read since. The book is even better than I recalled, and passages like the one excerpted above have deeper meaning for an adult than they did for a kid. This is from the trial of Tom Robinson, and the man testifying is Robert E. Lee Ewell.


Briefly Noted: Giovanni Battista Somis

available at Amazon
G. B. Somis, Violin Sonatas, op. 1, K.-M. Kentala, L. Pulakka, M. Meyerson

(released on June 24, 2014)
Glossa GCD921807 | 73'46"
Harpsichordist Mitzi Meyerson specializes in surprises, the sort of musician who delights in the unexpected turn of phrase or sonority. The same team featured on this recent disc -- violinist Kreeta-Maria Kentala, cellist Lauri Pulakka, and Meyerson on harpsichord -- brought us the violin sonatas of London violinist Richard Jones, a companion set to the harpsichord works of the same composer that Meyerson recorded. The trio, which the musicians took to calling the Jones Band, has now resurrected another unknown composer, Giovanni Battista Somis (1686-1763), with his first opus, a set of sonatas for violin.

Somis was born in Turin, where his father (Lorenzo Francesco) and brother (Giovanni Lorenzo) were both violinists, and he made a living there teaching and playing the same instrument, even leading the court orchestra by the age of 10. He dedicated the op. 1 set to the French-leaning Duchess of Savoy, Marie-Jeanne-Baptiste, who married her son to Louis XIV's niece, sealing relations with France. Acting as her son's regent, she began the construction of a Baroque palace for herself in Turin, designed by Filippo Juvarra, the Palazzo Madama. As a student at one time of Corelli and the teacher of Jean-Marie Leclair, Somis provided a sort of bridge between Italian and French styles, a nexus hard-wired by his upbringing in Savoy.

The musicians approach the scores of these twelve sonatas, all in three movements (slow-fast-fast), with considerable and pleasing freedom, arranging them in a different order. Many embellishments are added, and each sonata yields different results as cellist and harpsichordist take the continuo line in different combinations. For example, the minuet final movement of no. 5 opens with the harpsichord in a tinkly registration, answered jauntily by violin with only cello pizzicato, then all three together. Meyerson, a connoisseur of instruments, plays on two different harpsichords, reconstructions of double-manual instruments by Keith Hill and Michael Johnson. The best is saved for last, sonata no. 11, where an actual bell accompanies a music-box harpsichord registration and pizzicato cello in the introduction to the last movement, which returns at the very top of a harpsichord arpeggio that rolls off into the sunset.


'Aida' at Wolf Trap

Scott Hendricks, Marjorie Owens, and Michelle DeYoung in Aida, Wolf Trap Opera, 2015 (photo by Kim Witman)

You give birth to children, and you raise them with such care, keeping them safe and guarding their every step, until they grow up and become their own people. And after all that, can they even be bothered to call or visit once in a while? One can imagine the maternal guilt trip that Wolf Trap Opera could lay on the many singers launched by its young artist program over the years. Every once in a while, one of the kids comes home to visit, as Alan Held did in 2006, but the concert performance of Verdi's Aida on Friday night in the Filene Center, featuring four of the company's distinguished alumni, will hopefully become a tradition. In other words, all you distinguished Wolf Trap Alumni, be good and come home to see your mother once in a while.

available at Amazon
Verdi, Aida, M. Caballé, P. Domingo, New Philharmonia Orchestra, R. Muti
Aida is the grandest of grand operas, produced at the Metropolitan Opera, where it has had immense popularity (second only to La Bohème), in the most extravagant pomp over the years. However, it works just as well in small-scale productions -- like that seen at Glimmerglass in 2012 (with significant reservations) and at Virginia Opera in 2011 -- and when you have a strong cast like this one, it can be devastating even without any sets or costumes. The only problem, as is always the case in Wolf Trap's cavernous outdoor venue, was the amplification. A few seconds of no amplification made it clear that you cannot do without it, but problems with the microphone levels made the situation worse: singers on the left side of the stage were heard much more clearly after intermission than in the first half.

The four lead singers, all graduates of the Wolf Trap apprentice program, have made strong impressions in Washington in recent years. Soprano Marjorie Owens could project over the huge ensembles but also sing with delicate pianissimo at crucial points for the role ("Numi, pietà" and "O patria mia"). In those exquisite moments of Verdi soprano suffering, as the libretto puts it, Owens's pain was indeed sacred ("il suo dolor mi è sacro," as Amneris puts it), something meant for delectation. Tenor Carl Tanner was a brilliant, heroic Radamès, not a singer known necessarily for subtlety (no mincing about with the final B-flat of Celeste Aida, for example), but with enough forza to match Owens step for step. Baritone Scott Hendricks played Amonasro with savage snarl, chewing the non-existent scenery with his over-acting but leaving no doubt as to the character's passion.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Wolf Trap Opera brings back alumni for big-gun ‘Aida’ (Washington Post, July 27)

Emily Cary, ‘Aida’ tenor Carl Tanner returns to D.C., where he started trucking and bounty hunting careers (Washington Times, July 22)
No one, however, matched the intensity of mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, whose Amneris was fawning, venomous, deceitful, and yet ultimately sympathetic, someone who pays dearly for loving too deeply. When the microphone level was adjusted in the second half, it brought her searing voice into sharp focus, and it was guilty fun watching her exult in Aida's pain. Current members of the young artists program filled out the cast quite nicely, Evan Boyer as Ramfis, Christian Zaremba as the Egyptian king, and Kerriann Otaño as the high priestess (the last two heard to good effect in the company's Marriage of Figaro last month).

Conductor Daniele Callegari led a strong performance at the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra, with lovely divisi strings in the introduction to Act I and strong solos from oboe and clarinet. Four trumpeters came out to the edge of the stage, with long ceremonial trumpets, for the famous triumphal march, which was a nice touch. Members of Julian Wachner's Washington Chorus were well prepared for the choral parts of the score, both suave and bombastic. The weather had turned out cool and dry, so it was surprising not to see the lawn seating full of wine-sipping spectators.

The National Symphony Orchestra and Wolf Trap Opera will be back for one more performance this summer, a staging of Puccini's Madama Butterfly (August 7), in the Filene Center.


Perchance to Stream: End of July 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.

  • François-Frédéric Guy plays all of the Beethoven piano concertos, while also conducting the Sinfonia Varsovia, recorded at the Opéra Berlioz de Montpellier. [France Musique]

  • A rare performance of Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier by Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel, recorded at the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. [France Musique]

  • From the Festival de Beaune, René Jacobs conducts the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra in two of Bach's secular cantatas (BWV 198 and 213). [France Musique]

  • Ingo Metzmacher conducts a performance of Wolfgang Rihm's opera Die Eroberung von Mexico at the Salzburg Festival, starring Angela Denoke (Montezuma), Bo Skovhus (Cortez), Susanna Andersson, and others, with the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien. [ORF]

  • Listen to Christian Thielemann conducts Tristan und Isolde at the Bayreuth Festival. [BR-Klassik]

  • Watch the rest of the concerts streamed from the Verbier Festival. []

  • Andris Nelsons leads Beethoven's ninth symphony with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. [BBC Proms | Part 2]

  • Listen to Mark Wigglesworth conduct a performance of Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, from last March at the Royal Opera House. [RTBF]


Dip Your Ears, No. 201 (Brahms by Bax)

available at Amazon
J.Brahms, 4 Ballades, 8 Pieces for Piano, Paganini Variations,
Alessio Bax

Purring Brahms

Alessio Bax has a way of taking big, growling, potentially overwrought romantic piano animals—lately Rachmaninoff, now Brahms—and making them purr like kittens. The brooding depth of Brahms’ Four Ballades is transformed into steady calm, especially the serene murmur of the Fourth is sensitive, sentimental, and light. With no browbeating Brahms in sight (crude stereotypes all too often confirmed), Bax and listeners emerge irretrievable into the light with the second of the Eight Pieces for Piano, the ambiguously-jocund B minor Capriccio. The Paganini Variations—more afterthought than main ingredient—are individually tracked (convenient but avoid free Spotify: you get hammered with commercials). Bax’ edgeless tone is matched by the sound on this Signum release.

Made possible by Listen Music Magazine.


BSO Four Seasons

available at Amazon
Vivaldi, Le Quattro Stagioni, Concerto Italiano, R. Alessandrini
Charles T. Downey, BSO skillfully illuminates familiar terrain of Vivaldi, Handel and Bach (Washington Post, July 25)
When ensembles perform chestnuts like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” it is easy to fall into a routine. In the latest performance of this perennial favorite, heard at Strathmore on Thursday night, members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra by contrast sounded like they had made the piece their own.

Concertmaster Jonathan Carney played the solo parts with panache, adding many small embellishments, especially in the slow movements, and some folk-fiddle-like twists and extra virtuosic flash.... [Continue reading]
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Jonathan Carney (violin) and Grant Youngblood (baritone)
Vivaldi, Four Seasons
Handel, Water Music
Bach, Ich habe genug
Music Center at Strathmore


Briefly Noted: Chirk Castle Part-Books

available at Amazon
Music from the Chirk Castle Part-Books, Brabant Ensemble, S. Rice

(released on April 14, 2009)
Hyperion CDA67695 | 71'04"
My favorite kind of research project brings together elements of music history, art history, architecture, and other disciplines. Liturgical music in the Middle Ages and Renaissance is an area ripe for such studies, making links between notated music, the spaces in which it was sung, the art that decorated those spaces, and the manuscripts in which the music was copied. An intriguing example of this sort of work came to my attention on a family visit to Chirk Castle, thanks to friends we were staying with in mid-Wales. In the 17th century, Thomas Myddelton renovated this castle's chapel, appointing William Deane, a musician from nearby Wrexham parish church, to create a musical establishment for his home. A set of part-books (five for vocal parts, plus one for organ parts where necessary) was compiled for use by the organist and small choir at Chirk Castle.

By the end of the 17th century, the chapel fell silent and the part books were lost and sold off. The matter came back to scholarly attention only in 1969, when the Myddleton descendants auctioned the remaining books, and Sotheby's sold them to the New York Public Library. Musicologist Peter le Huray tracked down what he could for an article in Early Music History in 1982, and a few years ago Stephen Rice and the Brabant Ensemble made a recording of the unaccompanied music from the Chirk Castle Part-Books. (Last year, in a concert at Chirk Castle, where the chapel was in the last century sadly converted into a music room, the same forces performed some of the music with and for organ, too.) This beautiful disc has tracks of pieces that are recorded only in this source: settings of the Te Deum and Benedictus by William Mundy ("for trebles"); a motet snippet by Tallis (Not every one that saith unto me), inserted into the source's copy of the composer's Dorian Service; and pieces by William Deane, the choirmaster at Chirk.

The Brabant Ensemble's sound is beautifully balanced, with particularly evanescent and pure soprano sound that brings to mind Stile Antico: in fact, Helen and Kate Ashby, who sing with that ensemble, are also featured in the soprano section here, as is Emma Ashby in the altos. The hair-raising cross-relations at the conclusion of Edmund Hooper's motet Behold it is Christ, on the words "remission of their sins," are expertly tuned, and the "Man that is born of a woman" section of the Burial Service (possibly by Robert Parsons), so simple and austere, is remarkably effective when sung in a hush as it is here.

Hear some excerpts from the disc in the video embedded below, plus some images and information about Chirk Castle -- narrated in lovely Welsh. Shamai and iechyd da to all our Welsh friends!


Ghosts at Versailles and in the Supreme Court

available at Amazon
Corigliano, The Ghosts of Versailles, T. Stratas, H. Hagegård, R. Fleming, M. Horne, Metropolitan Opera
Charles T. Downey, Ghosts, Ginsburg Given Justice As Summer Delights
Classical Voice North America, July 22
WASHINGTON, D.C. – For opera to thrive, companies must be willing to commission new works and, just as important, to revive recent operas so they can be heard more than once. Two summer festivals near Washington did their part, premiering a new comedy and reviving one of the great operatic successes of the late 20th century.

Wolf Trap Opera, a young artist training program based in a national park in a far Virginia suburb of the District, aimed high with its first production of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, heard at its final performance on July 18. A “grand opera buffa” (Corigliano’s term) commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera for its centennial celebration, Ghosts was sized in every way to the cavernous proportions of the Met, where it received its premiere in 1991....
[Continue reading]

Corigliano, The Ghosts of Versailles
Wolf Trap Opera

Wang, Scalia/Ginsburg
Castleton Festival

Robert R. Reilly, 'Ghosts of Versailles' at Wolf Trap (Ionarts, July 12)

Robert Battey, A return to grand style for Wolf Trap Opera with ‘Ghosts of Versailles’ (Washington Post, July 13)

Mark Swed, 'Scalia/Ginsburg' opera underscores how opposites can be in harmony (Los Angeles Times, July 13)

Philip Kennicott, ‘Scalia/Ginsburg’: An affectionate comic opera look at the high court (Washington Post, July 12)

Geoff Edgers, From ‘rage aria’ to ‘lovely duet,’ opera does justice to court, Ginsburg says (Washington Post, July 8)

Nina Totenberg, Judicial Differences Take Center Stage In 'Scalia V. Ginsburg' (NPR, July 10, 2013)


À mon chevet: 'The Arabian Nights'

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

book cover
When everything was readied before the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, he turned to one of the damsels who had come with him and said, "Sweetheart, sing me a song." The damsel played the lute and sang the following verses:

If water can turn cheeks into green fields,
My tears might have covered my cheeks with green,
Reflecting the same tincture in their flow,
Turning my face into a verdant scene.
Except that I have shed nothing but tears
When my departing soul bade me adieu
And, finding no relief but death, I said,
'Welcome, O death', when the hour nearer drew.

The two men looked and saw that Shams al-Nahar was so agitated that she slumped and fell off the chair to the ground, while the girls rushed to her and lifted her up. Abu al-Hasan kept looking at her, and when he turned to her beloved, he found him unconscious, lying on his face motionless. He said to himself, "Fate has proved kind to them both, by treating them equally." But, aware of the grave danger, he was overwhelmed with alarm. Presently, the girl came and said, "Rise for we do not have much leeway, and I fear that all hell will break loose tonight." The druggist asked her, "Who can arouse this young man in his condition?" The girl sprinkled Nur al-Din Ali's face with rosewater and rubbed his hands until he came to himself. His friend the druggist said to him, "Wake up at once or you will destroy us with you." Then they carried him and went down with him from the gallery, and the girl, opening a small iron gate, brought them out to a jetty on the river. She clapped her hands softly, and a rowboat appeared with a boatman, who rowed until the boat touched the jetty. Abu al-Hasan related later, "As we entered the boat, the young lover, stretching one hand toward the palace and the young lady's apartment and placing the other on his heart, recited in a faint voice the following verses:

I stretched one feeble hand to bid adieu
And placed the other on my burning heart.
But let this nourishment be not my last,
Nor this parting keep us always apart.

The boatman rowed us away, together with the damsel.

But morning overtook Shahrazad, and she lapsed into silence. Then Dinarzad said to her sister, "What a strange and entertaining story!" Shahrazad replied, "What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if the king spares me and lets me live! It will be even stranger and more amazing!"

-- The Arabian Nights, pp. 372-73 (trans. Husain Haddawy)
Haddawy's choice of the oldest complete manuscript source for his translation of these famous tales reveals a core of the most authentic stories. The many layers of accretions, added to collections, editions, and translations over the years, are stripped away, including the famous tales of Sindbad, Ali Baba, and Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. That last one, perhaps the most famous story associated with these tales, was actually written by an 18th-century Frenchman named Antoine Galland and then translated into Arabic and mixed into later collections. As Haddawy puts it in his fine introduction, reading only the tales in this old source reveals a structure that is obscured when the other stories are added. Shahrazad's storytelling reaches a climax with two longer tales, including this one of the immortal love between Shams al-Nahar, the caliph's favorite slave girl, and a young man named Nur al-Din Ali ibn-Bakkar, who are aided by the young man's friend, the druggist Abu al-Hasan. In this passage, their love is almost revealed as Shams al-Nahar passes out hearing poetry about her feelings of love. Her beloved, watching from a hidden place with the druggist, has the same reaction. He may be too weak to do much of anything, but Ali ibn-Bakkar can still recite poetry about his love.


Fabio Luisi Steps In at Castleton

available at Amazon
N. Medtner, Piano Sonatas, A. Taverna
(1201 Music, 2015)
Charles T. Downey, Young players bolstered by pros in last classical performance at Castleton (Washington Post, July 21)
The Castleton Festival struggles on in Rappahannock County, a year after the death of its founder, Lorin Maazel. The programming is sharply reduced, with jazz taking over from classical music for the final two weeks, and all performances open with pleas for donations. A smaller, less-assured orchestra, made up of young apprentice players bolstered by professional ringers in some first chairs, gave the last of just three concerts of symphonic music on Sunday afternoon in the Castleton Festival Theater.

Maazel’s absence at the podium is the festival’s biggest problem... [Continue reading]
Castleton Festival Orchestra
Alessandro Taverna, piano
Fabio Luisi, conductor
Castleton Festival


Perchance to Stream: Back from the U.K. 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.

  • Kate Aldrich, Inva Mula, and Jonas Kaufmann star in a performance of Bizet's Carmen, conducted by Mikko Franck, recorded at the Chorégies d'Orange. [France Musique]

  • Watch a performance of Svadba, the gorgeous new opera by Ana Sokolović, recorded at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. [ARTE]

  • The Festival d'Aix-en-Provence hosted the world premiere of Jonathan Dove's new opera, Monster in the Maze, based on the legend of the Minotaur. [ARTE]

  • Watch the production of Wagner's Götterdämmerung directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, starring Evelyn Herlitzius and Stephen Gould, recorded at the Wiener Staatsoper. [ARTE]

  • The Stuttgart Staatsoper mounted Niccolò Jommelli's opera Il Vologeso, starring Sophie Marilley and Ana Durlovski. [ARTE]

  • From the Armel Opera Festival, watch a performance of Private View, a new opera by Annelies Van Parys. [ARTE]

  • Rinaldo Alessandrini conducts a performance of Mozart's La Finta semplice in Munich, recorded in May. [ORF]

  • Listen to a performance of Vivaldi's Bajazet, recorded by the Pinchgut Opera in Sydney. [ABC Classic]

  • Péter Novák directs a production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro at the Armel Opera Festival, with Zsolt Jankó conducting a cast led by Amélie Robins and Sébastien Lemoine. [ARTE]

  • Watch a rare performance of Donizetti's L'assedio di Calais, staged at the Armel Opera Festival by James Conway. [ARTE]

  • Róbert Alföldi directs the Armel Opera Festival's production of Mozart's Magic Flute, with Sándor Gyüdi conducting. [ARTE]

  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts Concentus Musicus Wien and the Arnold Schoenberg-Chor in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, with Laura Aikin, Bernarda Fink, and other soloists, recorded earlier this month at the Styriarte Festival. [ORF | Part 2]

  • Watch the production of Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail from Glyndebourne (starting later today). [Glyndebourne]

  • Listen to a performance of Goethe's Faust from the Teatro Regio in Turin, starring Charles Castronovo, Ildar Abdrazakov, and Irina Lungu under conductor Gianandrea Noseda. [ABC Classic]

  • Watch the production of Rachmaninoff's Troika, in a staging by Kirsten Dehlholm, from the Théâtre Royal de La Monnaie in Brussels. [De Munt]

  • Paul Van Nevel conducts the Ensemble Huelgas in a concert of music by Firminus Caron, musician at the court of Charles the Bold, recorded at the church of St. Loup in Namur. [RTBF]

  • Watch Jérémie Rhorer conduct a production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, starring soprano Patricia Petibon, recorded at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence in 2012. [ARTE]

  • Peter Brook directs a production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, recorded in 2002 at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. [ARTE]

  • Watch Patrice Chéreau's staging of Mozart's Così fan tutte at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, recorded in 2005. [ARTE]

  • At the opening concert of the Carinthischen Sommers Festival, the Bamberg Symphony, under Adam Fischer, plays Mahler's 7th symphony. [ORF]

  • Florian Boesch sings the three great song collections of Schubert, recorded in Melbourne with pianist Malcolm Martineau. [Winterreise | Schwanengesang | Die schöne Müllerin]

  • From the Wigmore Hall in Londres, pianist Yevgeny Sudbin plays music by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Scriabine. [France Musique]

  • Martha Argerich, Katia Buniatishvili, Renaud Capuçon, and Alexander Gurning play concertos by Prokofiev, Bruch, Poulenc, and Liszt with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, recorded last month in Lugano. [RTBF]

  • Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and pianist Alexander Melnikov perform music by Beethoven and Robert Schumann, recorded at the Wigmore Hall in London. [France Musique]

  • From the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, a double-bill of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and Stravinsky's Persephone, with Teodor Currentzis conducting the Choirs and Orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon. [RTBF]

  • Mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold and lutenist Thomas Dunford play music by Barbara Strozzi, Kapsberger, Caccini, Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, and Tarquino Merula at the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier. [France Musique]

  • Hans-Christoph Rademann is stepping down as music director of the RIAS Kammerchor, but not before directing this performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah, with Marlis Petersen and other soloists, recorded at the Rheingau Musik Festival. [ARTE]

  • The Sixteen perform music of the Spanish Renaissance, recorded at the York Early Music Festival. [BBC3]

  • The Clerks perform music from the court of Henry V, recorded at the York Early Music Festival. [BBC3]

  • The Proms got under way this weekend: have a look at all the music you can hear. [BBC Proms]

  • The early music ensemble Café Zimmermann plays music by members of the Bach family. [France Musique]

  • From the Wiener Konzerthaus, baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber perform music by Robert Schumann, Gabriel Fauré, and Jörg Widmann. [France Musique]

  • From the Royal Festival Hall, Christoph von Dohnanyi conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in music by Bartok, Mozart, and Beethoven to close out their season. [BBC3]

  • Listen to the rounds of the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. [ABC Classic]

  • From the Utrecht Chamber Music Festival, Janine Jansen and friends play Bartok's piano quintet in C. [Avro Klassiek]

  • Piano trios by Mozart and Schubert performed by pianist Mitsuko Uchida, cellist Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, and violinist Veronika Eberle. [RTBF]

  • Two concerts by the Collegium Vocale Gent, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, recorded at the Oratoire du Louvre (music by Gesualdo) and at the Eglise Saint-Roch in Paris (music by Bach). [France Musique]

  • Have another listen to Carl Nielsen's oratorio Saul and David, recorded at the Danish Royal Opera. [ABC Classic]

  • Juraj Valcuha conducts the Camerata Salzburg in symphonies by Mozart and Schubert, plus Piotr Anderszewski as soloist in Mozart's 17th piano concerto, recorded in Salzburg. [RTBF]

  • The Academy of Ancient Music, led by violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk and harpsichordist Robert Levin, perform music by Mozart and J. C. Bach, recorded at Milton Court in London. [BBC3]

  • Watch the production of Mozart's Idomeneo, recorded at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence in 2009. [ARTE]

  • From the Halle Festival, Roderich Kreile conducts the Dresdner Kreuzchor and Halle Festival Orchestra in music of Handel (Te Deum), Vivaldi (Gloria), and Charpentier (Te Deum). [RTBF]

  • Gustavo Dudamel conducts Daniel Barenboim and Staaskapelle Berlin in both of the Brahms piano concertos. [France Musique]

  • Watch Daniele Gatti lead the Orchestre National de France in a performance of Brahms's German Requiem to close the Festival de Saint-Denis, with soprano Annette Dasch and baritone Peter Mattei. [ARTE]

  • The ensemble Les Siècles, the Jeune Orchestre européen Hector-Berlioz, La Maîtrise de Radio France, and other ensembles perform the Te Deum by Hector Berlioz, conducted by François-Xavier Roth. [France Musique]

  • Two Sibelius symphonies from the Berlin Philharmonic, plus the composer's violin concerto with Leonidas Kavakos, recorded under Simon Rattle last January. [France Musique]

  • Antonio Giovannini, Fabio Bonizzoni, and La Risonanza play music by Vivaldi, Hasse, Porpora, and Giacomelli, recorded at the Festival de musique ancienne et baroque de Saint-Michel en Thiérache. [France Musique]

  • From Orange, Myung-Whun Chung conducts his very last concert as music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, with Martha Argerich and Nicholas Angelich. [France Musique]

  • Organist Michael Schöch plays a concert of music by Max Reger, Louis Vierne, and Julius Reubke, recorded in May at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [ORF]

  • Simon Rattle conducts pianist Menahem Pressler and the Berlin Philharmonic in Mozart's 23rd piano concerto, plus music by Rameau, Dvorak, and Kodaly. [France Musique]

  • Krzysztof Urbanski conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in music by Smetana, Martinu, and Dvorak. [France Musique]

  • Soprano Johannette Zomer joins the Locke Consort for music by Lawes, Gibbons, Lanier, Jenkins, Morley, and Purcell. [France Musique]

  • Petra Müllejans and Gottfried von der Goltz lead the Freiburger Barockorchester in performances of concertos by Handel, Vivaldi, and Schmidt, recorded in 2014. [ORF]

  • From the Eglise Sainte Thérèse d'Hirson, pianist Kit Armstrong plays music by Bach at the Festival de Musique Baroque et Ancienne. [France Musique]

  • Pianist Fazil Say performs at the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier, with a concert of music by Mozart, Chopin, and Janacek. [France Musique]

  • Watch the production of Shakespeare's Richard III directed by Thomas Ostermeier at the Festival d’Avignon. [ARTE]

  • Pianist Louis Schwizgebel and the Quatuor Voce play music of Liszt and Janacek, recorded in Montpellier. [France Musique]

  • The Atanassov Piano Trio plays music by Mozart, Fazil Say, and Robert Schumann recorded at the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a recital by pianist Judith Jauregui, with music by Haydn, Debussy, Garcia Abril, and Mompou, recorded at the Festival de Radio France et Montpellier. [France Musique]


Dip Your Ears, No. 200 (Schulhoff Symphonies for Voice)

available at Amazon
E.Schulhoff + A.Zemlinsky, Two Symphonies for Voice & Orchestra: Menschheit, Landschaften + Six Maeterlinck Songs,
M.Tang / R.Stene / Trondheim SO

Voluptuous Melancholy

Landschaften – Symphony for Mezzo and Orchestra, op.26, is a 16-minute orchestral song cycle from 1912 that Schulhoff dismissed later when he changed his style after World War I… but what a glorious work to dismiss! Mahler or Zemlinsky might have been jealous, so expansive in concentrated form, so soaring is this work on five poems of Johannes Theodor Kuhlemann that Schulhoff called a. Schulhoff revisited the idea of a “Symphony for Voice and Orchestra” after the war, when he wrote Menschheit, op.28, with a completely different idea about composing and yet achieved similarly pleasingly late-romantic results.

Made possible by Listen Music Magazine.


Alan Curtis (1934-2015)

Handel operas:

available at Amazon
Giove in Argo

available at Amazon

available at Amazon

available at Amazon

available at Amazon

available at Amazon
Handel operas:

available at Amazon

available at Amazon

Vivaldi operas:

available at Amazon
Catone in Utica

available at Amazon


available at Amazon
Gluck, Ezio

Alan Curtis died in Florence on Wednesday, at the age of 80. The pioneering musicologist and conductor was born in Mason, a small town in central Michigan not far from where I grew up. He completed a doctoral degree at the University of Illinois, with a dissertation on the keyboard works of Jan Sweelinck (later revised for publication), and was first a harpsichordist, teaching that instrument at the University of California, Berkeley, and other places. His early work was on historical repertoire for keyboard instruments, especially the harpsichord, and he was among the first to make significant recordings of that music using research on historical performance practices.

Curtis began conducting period-instrument performances of Baroque operas in the 1980s, eventually forming his celebrated group Il Complesso Barocco, based in Italy. We have followed his work with that ensemble closely here at Ionarts, especially his recordings of Handel, as you can see in the columns on both sides of this post, with some other works by Vivaldi and Gluck. Although Curtis also made major recordings of the works of Monteverdi, an area of significant interest here at Ionarts, they predate the foundation of this site, so we have not had occasion to write about them. Reviews to all of the complete opera recordings are linked here.

Many of those recordings required new editions of the music, often involving extensive reconstruction to give the work complete form. In Vivaldi's Motezuma, Curtis began with another scholar's discovery of a lost source for much of the opera, once thought lost, onto which reconstructions and outright composition, by Curtis and his lead violinist, Alessandro Ciccolini, were grafted. For his recording of Handel's Berenice, Regina d’Egitto, Curtis reinstated some of the music that Handel cut before the opera's premiere and corrected some of the omissions in the Chrysander complete works edition. When he recorded Handel's Ezio, Curtis preferred to make his own new edition, working from the sources, instead of using Michael Pacholke's edition of the opera, published in Die Hallische Händel-Ausgabe the previous year. Curtis and Ciccolini also helped their singers create lavish ornamentation and cadenzas, setting an example in this area for all others to follow.

Among leaders of historically informed performance ensembles, few have had as much scholarly clout as Alan Curtis, and among full professors of Renaissance and Baroque music, few have done as much concrete performance work. In that sense, Curtis represented an ideal of the practical side of historical musicology. He was an authority on the sources and the historical background of the music, and he could bring it to life with his hands and musical skill. Even more astounding, the recordings he led are not valuable because of their scholarly interest, although there was plenty of that, too, but because they are such beautiful listening.


Remembering Charles Mackerras

Today, five years ago, Charles Mackerras died. Well worth resuscitating this remembrance which was initially written for WETA 90.9 where it has since been chucked.


'Ghosts of Versailles' at Wolf Trap

Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from Wolf Trap.

After nearly a quarter-century delay, the Washington D.C. area has finally gotten the chance to see and hear John Corigliano’s opera The Ghosts of Versailles, composed for the Metropolitan Opera and premiered in 1991. It was worth the wait.

On Friday evening, July 10, 2015, Wolf Trap Opera opened its four-performance run (ending July 18) with an exhilarating performance. It was a coup de théâtre and a jeu d’esprit, performed with joie de vivre. I choose my French words advisedly as the opera is based on the works of Pierre-Austin Caron de Beaumarchais, the renowned French author of The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Guilty Mother; the first two works of which provided the librettos for Rossini’s and Mozart’s famous operas.

available at Amazon
Corigliano, Phantasmagoria, Fantasia, et al.,
E.Klas/Tampere PO

available at Amazon
Guilty Pleasures, Moments for self-indulging and a little Corigliano exerpt,

William M. Hoffman provided the libretto for Corigliano, meanwhile, and he did a brilliant job of assimilating Beaumarchais’s characters and creating a fascinating, wholly original work that melds a world of ghosts from the eighteenth century, the theatrical world of opera, and the real, tragic world of the French Revolution. Here is how Corigliano describes it: “My opera The Ghosts of Versailles takes place on three different planes of reality: (1) the world of eternity, inhabited by the ghosts of Versailles, including the playwright Beaumarchais and Marie Antoinette; (2) the world of the stage, inhabited by eighteenth century characters of Beaumarchais (Figaro, Susanna, the Count and Countess, etc.); and (3) the world of historic reality, primarily the reality of the French Revolution itself, populated by the characters of (1) and (2). Thus The Ghosts of Versailles represents a journey from the most fantastic to the most realistic.” The action is driven by Beaumarchais’s love of Marie Antoinette and his desire to reach back into history to change it in order to save her.

My only acquaintance with Corigliano’s music for this opera is from Phantasmagoria—Suite from ‘The Ghosts of Versailles’ (Naxos). Musically, Corigliano captures the three worlds within the opera with idiomatic ease and he portrays their occasional disorienting intersections with an attractive eeriness and spectral glow. The occasional uneasiness during his excursions into aleatory music is dramatically apt and perfectly expressive of the disorientation that occurs when ghosts, theatrical figures, and real people confusedly intermix. So there’s no reason to be scared by this aspect of the work. For most of the almost three-hour work, Corigliano musically inhabits the imagined worlds into which the action travels. And it travels fast. By this I mean the madcap pace that propels the characters forwards (or backwards) depending on which world they are traveling to or from. We hear snatches of Mozart and Rossini, and music that is both a parody and an apotheosis of their styles.

What we witness in the first act—after the harrowing scene of Marie Antoinette recalling her execution—is certainly opera buffa, full of mayhem and hilarious pranks that reminded me strongly of a Marx Brothers production. From Figaro’s aria to the section at the ambassador’s residence with Turkish singer Samira—mezzo-soprano Jenni Bank in the comic performance of a lifetime—one scene after another was hilariously funny. Ms. Bank has a wonderfully supple voice and she is first-class comedienne. One of the “you-had-to-have-been-there” moments was a singer in