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


Dip Your Ears, No. 212 (Alice Sara in Wonderland)

Alice Sara Ott’s latest release is titled “Wonderland”, because, well “Alice”, you know, finds herself enchanted in Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. It makes for a catchy play on words and suggests a concept album. Not surprising, because these days, every release from Deutsche Grammophon seems to be a little bit of a cross-over release; chasing the Zeitgeist, but with shoelaces tied together. It fits that Alice Sara Ott writes in the generally lucid liner notes how these Lyric Pieces (what with trolls and elves and speluncean royalty and lepidoptera being depicted) are a ‘Wonderland’ to her.

On the cover she’s is surrounded by what are – I think – paper origami butterflies, a reasonably subtle hint at Grieg’s Sommerfugl (op.43/1) and perhaps Alice Sara Ott’s half-Japanese background. In a PR department’s mind she is probably considered the ‘classical’ answer to her ‘romantic’ contemporary pianist colleague Yuja Wang (born in 1988 & 1987 respectively); sharing an instrument, the technical skill (Ott’s perhaps not quite as furiously prodigious), and beauty – where Ott scores high(er) on classical beauty and dress – even with the occasional skin-tight


Forbes Classical CD of the Week

…Johanna Martzy, a favorite violinist of conductor Ferenc Fricsay to work with (they recorded a famous Dvořák Violin Concerto together), was forgotten after a short, splendid career in the 50s. Perhaps time was not ready for the likes of her – or Erica Morini, another Fricsay collaborator. Or it was her illness, or not giving into the amorous advances of powerful producer Walter Legge (who produced this recording for HMV/EMI), or the birth of her daughter and subsequent focus on motherhood that kept her out of the limelight. Whatever the reasons…

-> Classical CD of the Week: Classical CD Of The Week: Bach Woman in Mad Men Times


Perchance to Stream: End of Summer Edition

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

  • Listen to a performance of Handel's Ariodante, starring Marina Rebeka (Ginevra), Yuriy Mynenko (Ariodante), Clara Meloni (Dalinda), and others, conducted by Diego Fasolis and recorded last April at the Lausanne Opera. [Ö1]

  • Jordi Savall conducts Le Concert des Nations, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, and soloists in a performance of Purcell's The Fairy Queen, recorded last June in Barcelona. [Ö1]

  • From the Rencontres internationales de Musique Médiévale du Thoronet, medieval polyphony performed by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois and the Ensemble Tavagna. [France Musique]

  • Listen to Marek Janowski conduct this year's production of Das Rheingold at the Bayreuth Festival. [France Musique]

  • From the Salzburg Festival, Daniel Harding conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in music by Eötvös, Brahms, and Mahler. [France Musique]

  • Watch Tugan Sokhiev conduct the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester perform Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, recorded in Berlin. [ARTE]

  • Watch several productions from the Glyndebourne Festival, including this summer's Barber of Seville. []

  • From the Styriarte Festival, Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducts Concentus Musicus Wien and the Arnold Schoenberg Chor in Beethoven's ninth symphony, with soloists Regula Mühlemann, Elisabeth Kulman, Steve Davislim, and Florian Boesch. [Ö1]

  • Have a listen to what was on this week at the Proms in London. [BBC Proms]

  • The Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg, conductor Gérard Korsten, and pianist Aaron Pilsan perform music by Miroslav Srnka, Mozart, and Strauss at the Bregenz Festival. [Ö1]

  • David Robertson conducts the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in George Lentz's Jerusalem and two symphonies of Schumann. [ABC Classic]
  • From the Festival de Radio France, the Orchestre National de Montpellier, under conductor Michael Schönwandt and with mezzo-soprano Karin Deshayes, perform Carl Nielsen's Suite for Orchestra, op. 34, Ravel's song cycle Shéhérazade, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. [Ö1]

  • Soprano Jodie Devos and mezzo-soprano Caroline Meng perform arias and duets by Massenet, Chausson, Rossini and others, accompanied by the Giardini Quartet and recorded at the Festival Palazzetto Bru Zane in Paris. [France Musique]

  • Music by Handel and Telemann from Il Botto Forte and countertenor Flavio Ferri-Benedetti, recorded at the church of Brunnenthal bei Schärding. [Ö1]

  • From the Rencontres Musicales de Vezelay, the vocal ensemble Aedes and Les Surprises perform Bach's St. John Passion under conductor Mathieu Romano. [France Musique]

  • Neville Marriner conducts the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg at the Salzburg Festival, with violinist Alina Pogostkina as soloist, in music by Mozart. [Ö1 | Part 2]

  • From the Styriarte Festival, music by Bartók, Gershwin, and others performed by clarinetist Daniel Ottensamer, violinist Chouchane Siranossian, and pianist Christoph Traxler. [Ö1]
  • Music by Stravinsky and others with the Academia Allegro Vivo, conductor Bijan Khadem-Missagh, singer Caroline Jestaedt, and saxophonist Michaela Reingruber. [Ö1]

  • Listen to Alan Gilbert conduct the New York Philharmonic in Ravel, Nielsen's clarinet concerto, and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. [NY Phil]

  • Chamber music by Mark Simpson, Kurtág, Schumann, and Stroppa performed by clarinetist Mark Simspon, violist Antoine Tamestit, and pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. [Ö1]

  • Have another listen to the performance of Janacek's Makropulos Affiar, with Jiri Belohlavek conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a cast starring Karita Mattila, recorded at the Proms in London. [France Musique]

  • Listen to the recording of Verdi's Don Carlo starring Giulio Gari (Don Carlos), Leonie Rysanek (Elisabeth), and Robert Merrill (Posa). [Ö1]


CD Reviews: Rautavaara's 'Rubáiyát' / Stenz's Henze

Charles T. Downey, CD reviews: Late works by late composers Rautavaara, Henze
Washington Post, August 26

available at Amazon
E. Rautavaara, Rubáiyát (inter alia), G. Finley, M. Pohjonen, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Helsinki Music Centre Choir, J. Storgårds

(released on May 13, 2016)
Ondine ODE1274-2 | 59'29"
Einojuhani Rautavaara, Finland’s leading composer, died in July. This new disc from the Ondine label, which has produced more than 40 recordings of Rautavaara’s music, contains some of his final works. If the death of Pierre Boulez earlier this year signaled the end of serialism’s attempted stranglehold on composition, Rautavaara had already found one way around that dogmatic dead end. Having experimented with the 12-tone technique and other modernist approaches, he changed direction after his fourth symphony (“Arabescata”) and, more convincingly than some other more purely neo-Romantic composers (Pärt, Tavener, Górecki), sought a mixture of tonal harmony and melodic dissonance.

The oldest piece on this release is four choral excerpts from Rautavaara’s last opera, “Rasputin.” They are some of the best parts of that unwieldy and fascinating work, premiered in Helsinki in 2003. In particular, the last of them, “Loista, Siion, Loista!” (“Shine, Zion, shine!”), is a riotous orgy of sound, with litany-like repetitions and apocalyptic clatter of percussion. “Into the Heart of Light” (Canto V), premiered in 2012, was the last of Rautavaara’s Canto string orchestra pieces, a series of compositional self-portraits he had been creating since the 1960s. While Canto V opens in lush tonal harmony, the frequency of dissonance is heightened, until in the last four minutes, the violins soar together in an arching series of chromatic clusters. Clashing minor seconds suggest the intensity of bright light.

John Storgards leads loving, informed performances by the Helsinki Philharmonic and Helsinki Music Center Choir. In “Balada,” premiered in 2015, Rautavaara set surrealist Spanish poetry by Federico García Lorca, somewhat awkwardly and monotonously, in a work — sung here by tenor Mika Pohjonen — that was originally conceived as an opera but that perhaps should have been left in Rautavaara’s desk drawer.

The baritone Gerald Finley and London’s Wigmore Hall played a crucial role in Rautavaara’s completion of a long-planned song cycle on the hedonistic verse of medieval Persian poet Omar Khayyam. Finley premiered the version for piano in 2014, using the rhymed English translation by Edward FitzGerald, “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” and he is the skilled soloist here in the orchestral version. Instrumental interludes flow from the ends of the first four songs, as if, in the composer’s words, “this music did not want to stop and simply should flow onward,” like the wine that yields miracles.

available at Amazon
H. W. Henze, Symphony No. 7 (inter alia), Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, M. Stenz

(released on June 10, 2016)
Oehms Classics OC446| 65'46"
The German composer Hans Werner Henze was a brilliant orchestral colorist. The best parts of his late opera “L’Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe” (“Upupa and the Triumph of Filial Love”), for example, were the intricate, gorgeous combinations of wind instruments, delicate tinkling percussion, and recorded sounds of bird wings and birdsongs. The German conductor Markus Stenz, now the principal guest conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who conducted the world premiere of “L’Upupa” at the Salzburg Festival in Austria in 2003, has recorded two collections of Henze’s orchestral music with his former group, the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, the second released this summer.

The new disc centers on Henze’s seventh symphony, composed from 1983 to 1984. Henze conceived the work’s four movements in homage to the traditional Germanic symphony. The first movement, “Tanz,” is rhythmically effervescent. Masses of chaotic dissonance rise up here and in the otherwise lush “mourning ode” movement that follows. Henze connected the symphony to the life of Friedrich Hölderlin, a poet who had a mental breakdown in Tübingen, living his last 36 years in a tower room overlooking the Neckar river. The finale, an instrumental rendition of Hölderlin’s poem “Hälfte des Lebens” (“Half of Life”), is the best part of this often too-cacophonous symphony; here, Henze’s orchestration is at its most colorful, somehow sheltered from total chaos. Stenz delivers one of the fastest recordings of this work on record.

Henze was even more effective in smaller orchestral pieces. The “Seven Boleros” are short, evocative pieces for a large orchestra, originally written for Henze’s opera “Venus and Adonis.” Fandango and other Latin rhythms enliven the texture. Fun saxophone solos are complemented by traces of castanets and snare drum. Any conductor thinking of programming Ravel’s “Boléro” should instead put this in its place, while still calling the program “Boleros” to get people to buy tickets.

Two miniatures round out the selection. “L’Heure Bleue,” a chamber arrangement of music from “L’Upupa,” is a musical tribute to the infinite changing shades of blue at dusk on the Mediterranean coast, as Henze saw it from his home in Italy. “Overture for a Theater” was commissioned by the Deutsche Oper Berlin to mark its 100th anniversary, in 2012; it’s a barnburner that ends with an apocalyptic clamor. It turned out to be the last piece Henze completed; he died only a few days after he attended the performance.
Charles T. Downey, Opera on DVD: 'Rasputin' (Ionarts, November 29, 2006)

Michael Hoffmann, The unquenchable spirit (The Guardian, November 19, 2004)

Friedrich Hölderlin, Hälfte des Lebens (Half of Life)


Forbes Classical CD of the Week

Summer Night, for strings and solo violin, is of almost disturbing beauty for having been written in 1945, but with tiny wistful fissures that hint at its time…

-> Classical CD of the Week: Schoecking Beauty From Switzerland


Forbes Classical CD of the Week

…Kodály’s two quartets are exactly contemporaries of Bartók’s first two attempts in the genre. Had he kept writing such inspired and especially idiomatic quartets, we would speak of him in one breath with Shostakovich and Bartók (and perhaps Villa-Lobos) as a seminal composer of string quartets.…

-> Classical CD of the Week: Bartók & Kodály, Toothsome Hungarian Twosome


Suspicious Cheese Lords

Tanti auguri di buon compleanno to Friends of Ionarts the Suspicious Cheese Lords. The group was founded twenty years ago this July, and on Saturday the Washington-based all-male vocal ensemble celebrated with an anniversary concert in the gorgeous acoustic of the Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes downtown. As I learned when I broke bread with the Lords a few years ago, the group is a way of life. Many former Lords were also in the audience on Saturday afternoon, and a number of them joined the current members for a few numbers. With their normal roster of about a dozen doubled by alumni, on the first two pieces from Tallis's settings of the Lamentations, for example, the group had a much richer, more complex sound. Perhaps the Lords should think about taking a "reunion tour" with that mix of singers.

The program began with the first piece the group ever learned, Francesco Landini's L'alma mia piange, and continued through many of the Renaissance rarities the Lords have revived and recorded over the years, including Ludwig Senfl, Jean Mouton, and Elzéar Genet. The Lords also remained true to their secondary interest, the championing of new music for male choir, with the top three pieces given awards in their first composition contest. While Andrew Robinson's setting of Psalm 141 received first place, the piece struck me as largely rehashing the popular tropes of far too much recent choral music (think Eric Whitacre, for example). Of far greater interest was a setting of the Benedictus canticle by Adam Taylor (b. 1989), which won second place. (After the composition contest, Taylor ended up joining the Lords, so he actually sang in his own work.) Taylor studied composition rather than vocal performance, and his score displayed an excellent grasp of counterpoint and textural interest in a believably late Renaissance style. Catholic music directors looking for music that is both current and traditional should check out some of Taylor's music at his Web site.


Perchance to Stream: Books, Dirty Looks 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.

  • The Vienna Philharmonic performs Strauss's Die Liebe der Danae at the Salzburg Festival, with Franz Welser Möst conducting a cast starring Krassaimira Stoyanova (Danae), Tomasz Konieczny (Jupiter), and Norbert Ernst (Mercury). [France Musique]

  • Contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux and pianist Daniel Blumenthal perform mélodies by Fauré, Lekeu, Hahn, Koechlin, Debussy, and Duparc at the Festival Palazzetto Bru Zane in Paris 2016. [France Musique]

  • Watch the production of Handel's Saul, staged by Barrie Kosky, from the Glyndebourne Festival. [ARTE]

  • From the Salzburg Festival, Mariss Jansons conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in Mozart's E-flat major piano concerto, with Emanuel Ax as soloist, plus Bruckner's sixth symphony. [Ö1 | Part 2]

  • Bertrand de Billy conducts Halévy's opera La Juive, starring Robert Alagna, recorded last June at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. [Ö1]

  • Watch Gautier Capuçon join the Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille for a concert at the Bad Kissinger Sommer. [ARTE]

  • From the Festival de musique de La Chaise-Dieu 2016, a concert by the Orchestre National d'Ile-de-France recreating the opening concert of the festival in 1966, with music by Georges Hugon, Franck, Liszt, and Schubert, recorded in the abbey church of Saint-Robert. [France Musique]

  • The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin plays a selection of concertos for multiple instruments by Georg Philipp Telemann, recorded last May at the Arolsen Baroque Festival. [Ö1]

  • Piano quartets by Brahms performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris by violinist Christian Tetzlaff, violist Tabea Zimmermann, cellist Clemens Hagen, and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. [France Musique]

  • Have a listen to what was on at the Proms this past week, including Stile Antico and Fretwork at Cadogan Hall, Augustin Hadelich and Steven Isserlis with the Britten Sinfonia and conductor Thomas Adès, Alice Coote and Gregory Kunde with the Hallé, the Sixteen in Bach motets, Jiří Bělohlávek leading a concert performance of Janacek's Makrupulos Case with Karita Mattila, and more. [BBC Proms]

  • Watch an outdoor concert by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, under the baton of Andrés Orozco-Estrada. [ARTE]

  • Valery Gergiev conducts the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra in the closing concert of the Bad Kissinger Sommer. [ARTE]
  • Watch Martin Grubinger and Vilde Frang join the Orchestre National de Lyon for a concert at the Bad Kissinger Sommer. [ARTE]

  • The Altenberg Trio plays the Carinthischer Sommer Festival, with music by Beethoven, Lera Auerbach, and Brahms. [Ö1]

  • From the Lugano Festival, Alexander Vedernikov leads the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, with violinist Renaud Capuçon, pianist Polina Leschenko, and cellist Mischa Maisky. [Ö1]

  • Riccardo Muti leads the Vienna Philharmonic in a matinee concert at the Salzburg Festival, with Gerhard Oppitz as piano soloist, in a program including Bruckner's second symphony. [Ö1 | Part 2]

  • From this past March, Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius's second symphony, plus Beethoven's fourth piano concerto with Emanuel Ax as soloist. [CSO]

  • Jaap van Zweden leads the New York Philharmonic in music by Wagenaar, Korngold, and Beethoven. [NY Phil]

  • Music by Schubert recorded at the Styriarte Festival with tenor Markus Schäfer and friends. [Ö1]

  • The Bavarian Radio Choir, under Howard Arman, performs Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. [Ö1]

  • Music by Josquin Desprez, Anoine Busnoys, and Johannes Ockeghem from Cut Circle, recorded last May at the Dominican church in Regensburg for the Tage Alter Musik Regensburg. [Ö1]

  • Music by Kurt Schwertsik, HK Gruber, and Friedrich Cerha performed by the österreichisches ensemble für neue musik at the Salzburg Festival. [Ö1]

  • From La Roque d'Anthéron recital programs by pianists Nathalia Milstein and Ran Jia. [France Musique]

  • A piano recital by Christian Zacharias recorded at the Château de Florans for the La Roque d'Anthéron Festival, with music by Scarlatti, Ravel, Soler, and Chopin. [France Musique]

  • Listen to the recording of Eugen d'Albert's Tiefland, with Hans Zanotelli conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, recorded in 1963 in Berlin. [Ö1]


Announcing Washington Classical Review

Ionarts quietly celebrated its 13th anniversary last month. This site was born in the heyday of the blog, a form that has come and gone in the last decade. Most bloggers, including those who made Ionarts happen, have moved into other areas of the new media. You may have noticed that the daily posting here at Ionarts has lapsed in the last few weeks, as I have devoted a good part of my summer writing hours to a couple book projects (more about those, hopefully, at a later date). Furthermore, it has not escaped our notice that fewer and fewer people actually come to this Web site — any Web site, for that matter — every day to read a regular post.

At the end of this month, most of the regular features of this site will be transferred to a new publication called Washington Classical Review. It is the most recent addition to The Classical Review network, led by Lawrence A. Johnson, and I will serve as Associate Editor and critic. WCR will cover all major classical events in Washington, D.C., as well as selected events in Baltimore and Virginia. Prominent Ionarts features such as the concert calendar, season and monthly concert picks, the Sunday streaming audio and video roundup (Perchance to Stream), and concert and dance reviews will instead appear at WCR starting in September.

Ionarts will not disappear. The archived posts from the last 13 years will remain exactly where they are. Jens and I will likely continue cross-posting our work published by other outlets. Occasional posts on art, theater, film, and recordings will appear here from time to time.

The alchemy of how any writing accrues hits online relies on a mysterious and apparently random series of events, as people link to it on various social media. If there are ways you think that classical music coverage might reach you more conveniently or if there are ways to improve your digital access to our content, please send me a message: ionarts (at) gmail dot com.


Perchance to Stream: Assumpta est Maria Edition

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

  • From the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence 2016, listen to Beethoven cello sonatas performed by Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov. [France Musique]

  • Emmanuelle Haïm leads a Monteverdi gala concert, with Le Concert d'Astrée and soloists including Rolando Villazón, Magdalena Kožená, and Topi Lehtipuu, recorded at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris. [ARTE]

  • Riccardo Chailly opens the Lucerne Festival with a performance of Mahler's eighth symphony. [ARTE]

  • From the Bregenz Festival, Enrique Mazzola leads the Vienna Symphony in Donizetti's Requiem Mass. [Ö1]

  • Alfredo Bernardini conducts Concerto Copenhagen and soprano Julia Doyle in music by Handel, recorded at the Tivoli Festival. [Ö1]

  • From the Lugano Festival, Stephen Kovacevich, Martha Argerich, and friends perform music by Fauré, Mozart, and Ravel. [Ö1]

  • Listen to a performance of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra from the Sydney Opera House. [ABC Classic]

  • Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Namekawa play music for two pianos, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. [Ö1]

  • From the Styriarte Festival, Concentus Musicus Wien and conductor Andrés Oroczo-Estrada perform symphonies 4 and 5 by Beethoven, recorded last month. [Ö1]

  • Soprano Sandrine Piau and pianist Susan Manoff perform songs by Fauré, Wolf, Chausson, and others, recorded last May at the Schwetzinger Festival. [Ö1]

  • Watch the performance of Berlioz's Béatrice et Bénédict from the Glyndebourne Festival. [Glyndebourne]

  • Listen to the concerts from this week at the Proms in London. [BBC Proms]
  • The Vienna Philharmonic plays a concert in the Schönbrunn Gardens, with Zubin Mehta conducting music of Richard Strauss, Nielsen, Grieg, and others. [France Musique]

  • Helene Grimaud joins the Australian Youth Orchestra and conductor Manfred Honeck at their homecoming concert at Hamer Hall in Melbourne. [ABC Classic]

  • The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, performs in Perth, Australia. [ABC Classic]

  • Listen to Jaap van Zweden conduct the New York Philharmonic in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante and Shostakovich's eighth symphony. [NY Phil]

  • The Sinfonia Orchestra plays Mozart concertos with Frank Braley and Anne Keffélec, recorded at the La Roque d'Anthéron Festival. [France Musique]

  • Also from La Roque d'Anthéron 2016, a recital by pianist Nikolai Lugansky. [France Musique]

  • Watch more concerts from the Verbier Festival. []

  • From the Salzburg Festival, Ivor Bolton leads the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg in music by Mozart. [Ö1 | Part 2]

  • Cornelius Meister leads the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien in music by Ravel and Friedrich Cerha, recorded at the Salzburg Festival. [Ö1]

  • Charles Richard-Hamelin and Seong-Jin Cho perform concertos by Mozart and Chopin with the Sinfonia Varsovia, at La Roque d'Anthéron. [France Musique]

  • From the Août Musical de Deauville, music by Schubert, Debussy, and Schumann from pianist Ismaël Margain and friends. [France Musique]


CD Review: Egarr's French Suites

Charles T. Downey, CD reviews: A cellist’s solo “Trance.” / Egarr's French Suites
Washington Post, August 14

available at Amazon
J.S. Bach, French Suites R. Egarr (harpsichord)

(released on May 27, 2016)
HMU907583.84 | 105'33"
J.S. Bach’s keyboard suites should leap off the page and tickle the ear. The challenges are more pronounced on the harpsichord than on its modern equivalent, and one of the best at making the older instrument sparkle is Richard Egarr. Continuing to work his way through Bach’s keyboard works, Egarr has released a new recording of Bach’s “French Suites.” The poor cousins of the longer, more complex “Partitas” and “English Suites,” these “little” pieces, Egarr says, “are simply a collection brought together with no particular through story.”

Egarr takes considerable rhythmic freedom. He adds ornamentation, and not only on the repeats, making this a fine primer for pianists in how to embellish. Furthermore, the disc offers a mini-lesson in how to create a performing edition. The dances gathered in this collection probably began life as educational pieces for members of the Bach family. Bach’s wife, Anna Magdalena, his sons and his students copied some of them into their notebooks, providing a range of variants to be chosen from and studied. Following the “straight” versions of the six suites, Egarr has recorded four alternative tracks for the C Minor Suite, one variation of the Menuet and three versions of the Courante.

If this sounds like a dry academic exercise, it’s not. Egarr plays on a relatively new instrument, built by Joel Katzman in the Netherlands, modeled on the Joseph Johannes Couchet harpsichord owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has a broad range of possible registrations, all beautiful, increased because the player can divide the sound between the treble and bass halves of each keyboard, and Egarr seems to use all of them. Aficionados may be interested to know that in his tuning, Egarr has backed away from the Bradley Lehman “hidden temperament” that he used in his recordings of the “Goldberg Variations” and “Well-Tempered Clavier” in favor of his own modification of the Vallotti temperament, although the difference is probably imperceptible to most listeners.

Most important, Egarr’s interpretative choices follow the sunny arc of Bach’s set, in which three suites in minor keys are succeeded by three in major keys. Bach creates a sort of crescendo of variety in the dances, increasing the number of optional dances (those falling between the sarabande and the gigue) from one in the first suite to an eclectically diverse four in the sixth suite. Egarr’s approach becomes more virtuosic and varied as he nears that final piece, especially in the ebullient gigues of the last two suites.
Harpsichord by Joseph Johannes Couchet (undated), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Goldberg Variations
Well-Tempered Clavier
English Suites


Forbes Classical CD of the Week

…in a way the additional highlight-disc, compiled from both versions, is a real kicker! A tasteful Best-Of that combines the strengths of both versions with the added bonus of brevity…

-> Classical CD of the Week: Orfeo And Counter-Orfeo


À mon chevet: 'Electra' (Olympics Edition)

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

book cover
[Orestes] went to the glorious gathering that Greece holds
in honor of the Delphic Games, and when
he heard the herald's shrill proclamation
for the first contest — it was a running race —
he entered glorious, all men's eyes upon him.
His running was as good as his appearance.
He won the race and came out covered with honor.
There is much I could tell you, but I must tell it briefly.
I do not know a man of such achievement
or prowess. Know this one thing. In all the contests
the marshals announced, he won the prize, was cheered,
proclaimed the victor as "Argive by birth,
by name Orestes, son of the general
Agamemnon who once gathered the great Greek host."
So much for that. But when a God sends mischief,
not even the strong man may escape.
when, the next day, at sunset, there was a race
for chariot teams, entered with many contestants.
There was one Achaean, one from Sparta, two
Libyans, masters in driving racing teams.
Orestes was the fifth among them. He
had as his team Thessalian mares. The sixth
was an Aetolian with young sorrel horses.
The seventh was a Magnesian, and the eighth
an Aenean, by race, with a white team.
The ninth competitor came from God-built Athens,
and then a Boeotian, ten chariots in all.
They stood in their allotted stations where
the appointed judges placed them. At the signal,
a brazen trumpet, there were off. The drivers
cheered their horses on, their hands vibrating the reins,
all together. All the course was filled
with the noise of rattling chariots. Clouds of dust
rose up. The mass of drivers, huddled together,
did not spare the goad as each one struggled
to put the nave of his wheel or the snorting mouths
of his horses past his rival, wheels and backs
of the foremost drivers all beslobbered with foam,
as the breath of the teams behind beat on them.
So far all chariots were uninjured. Then
the Aenean's hard-mouthed colts got out of hand
and bolted as they finished the sixth lap
and turned into the seventh. There they crashed
head on with the Barcaean. After that,
from this one accident, team crashed team
and overset each other. All the plain
of Crisa was full of wrecks. But the man from Athens,
a clever driver, saw what was happening, pulled
his horses out of the way and held them in check,
letting past the disordered mass of teams in the middle.
Orestes had been driving last and holding
his horses back, putting his trust in the finish.
But when he saw the Athenian left alone,
he sent a shrill cry through his good horses' ears
and set to catch him. The two drove level,
the poles were even. First one, now the other,
would push his horses' heads in front.
Orestes always drove tight at the corners
barely grazing the edge of the post with his wheel,
loosing his hold of the trace horse on his right
while he checked the near horse. In his other laps
the poor young man and his horses had come through safe.
But this time he let go of the left rein
as the horse was turning. Unaware, he struck the edge
of the pillar and broke his axle in the center.
He was himself thrown from the rails of the chariot
and tangled in the reins. As he fell, the horses
bolted wildly to the middle of the course.
When the crowd saw him fallen from his car,
they shuddered. "How young he was," "How gallant his deeds,"
and "How sadly he has ended," as they saw him
thrown earthward now, and then, tossing his legs
to the sky — until at last the grooms
with difficulty stopped the runaway team
and freed him, but so covered with blood that no one
of his friends could recognize the unhappy corpse.
They burned him on the pyre. Then men of Phocis
chosen for the task have brought here in a small urn
the lamentable ashes — all that is left
of this great frame, that he may have his grave
here in his father's country.

-- Sophocles, Electra (trans. David Grene), lines 681-761
(in Greek Tragedies, vol. 2, ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore)
It is time for the Olympics again. I tweeted recently that "in 2020 the Olympics should include a revival of the Dionysia (competition for tragedy) and the Delphic competitions for music and poetry." The Panathenaic Games, held every four years in Athens included competitions for the recitation of Homeric poetry, and for instrumental performance on the aulos and kithara, as well as for singing with those instruments. The Pythian Games, held at Apollo's sanctuary at Delphi, were one of the four most important games held in Greece, which included competitions in the singing of hymns, the playing of the aulos and kithara, acting, dance, and painting. Second in importance to the Panathenaia in Athens was the Dionysia, in honor of Dionysus, at which almost all of the important surviving Greek tragedies were premiered.

In Electra, one of the later tragedies of Sophocles, Orestes returns to the royal palace of Mycenae in secret. The Paedagogus, the old tutor who took Orestes away after the murder of his father, concocts a story about the death of Orestes at the Pythian Games. As made clear in the section quoted here, there were no silver or bronze medals given at the Panhellenic Festivals in ancient Greece. Winning was all that mattered, and in this fake story Orestes wins big, taking the prize in every competition he enters. Tragically, he is killed in the chariot race and has returned to Mycenae as ashes in an urn. The basic thrill of watching an Olympic race, related in the play-by-play narration of the Paedagogus, has not changed much since the 7th century B.C. Orestes' mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, let down their guard when they hear the news of Orestes' death, and Orestes slays them both through even more deception.


Tanglewood Fellows Take on Weighty Subjects with Aplomb

TMC Vocal Fellow Fleur Barron and Dominik Belavy perform in Seven Deadly Sins in Ozawa Hall (photo by Hilary Scott)

It is a rare night when one can experience as varied a program as Shostakovich’s fourteenth symphony and Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, described by the composer as a ballet with song. The occasion was an evening concert by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra and the TMC Vocal Fellows, some of the world’s most talented college-age and graduate-student musicians and singers.

Weill had recently escaped Germany, and arrest by the Gestapo, in 1933 when he collaborated in Paris with his former partner Bertolt Brecht on The Seven Deadly Sins, a commission from George Balanchine’s new dance company, Les Ballets. Brecht disliked ballet but proposed a hybrid: a cantata with dance. It tells the story of a girl named Anna from Louisiana. Anna’s dual sides were to be assumed by two women: Anna I, played by a singer, is practical; Anna II, a dancer, is beautiful but careless. Weill’s estranged wife, Lotte Lenya, was the original Anna I. Backing Anna is a quartet of male singers, a Greek chorus of sorts, representing her family.

Anna leaves her family in Louisiana to seek her destiny on a seven-year, seven-city U.S. trip. Her orders are to to make money and send it home so the family can build “a cozy house” on the banks of the Mississippi. At each stop along Anna’s journey another deadly sin is encountered, beginning with sloth, moving to pride, anger, gluttony, lust, avarice, and ending with envy. In reality, the work is a critique of capitalism and world politics, understandable given the ordeal Weill and Brecht, both of whom had to flee Germany, had undergone.

Other Articles:

Jeremy Eichler, Illuminating darkness in Weill and Shostakovich (Boston Globe, August 10)

Andrew L. Pincus, Two howls of protest in TMCO double bill of works from the dark days of the 20th century (Berkshire Eagle, August 9)

Charles T. Downey, From the NSO, a pops concert that fizzled (Washington Post, April 29)
The TMC performance altered things slightly, with both sides of Anna played by the English mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron, who was asked to sing and dance. Barron’s voice was clear and pleasant, and at times the brass of the large orchestra drowned her out, but this is a quibble. Where she excelled was crafting a character, using her voice, stage presence and just enough dance movement. It was a dazzling performance. Kudos, too, to her ‘family’ of Daveed Buzaglo, Christopher Sokolski, Ryne Cherry, and T. Hastings Reeves, whose ensemble and solo singing were highlights. The stage director and designer Nic Muni, a TMC faculty member, used a sparse stage well. Portuguese conducting fellow Nuno Coelho was an appropriate choice to lead the orchestra, which he did expertly. Recently appointed assistant conductor of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, Coelho is attending Tanglewood on a Maurice Abravanel Scholarship. Abravenel was the conductor for Seven Deadly Sins’ first performance in 1933.

While Seven Deadly Sins contained flecks of humor, nothing approaching a laugh enters Shostakovich’s fourteenth symphony, which centers on death. Concerned for his health after a massive heart attack in 1966, Shostakovich composed this non-symphony-like symphony, in 10 movements, for 19 strings, 10 percussion instruments, soprano and bass. Despite its singular subject matter, the work was a revelation, if a sobering one. Led with great sensitivity and skill by Christian Reif, recently appointed resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, the soprano and bass solos were handled by five TMC Vocal Fellows and two TMC Vocal Fellow alums/faculty members: Dawn Upshaw and Sanford Sylvan. The variety of voices was a welcome update to the work, which has the vocalists singing death poems by four different authors.

The acoustics and intimacy of Seiji Ozawa Hall helped highlight Shostakovich’s orchestration. Featuring some of the most difficult string parts in the repertoire, the symphony evokes the somber tone of death with a series of solos for principal players of the lower strings: violas, celli, and basses, eschewing the sweeter sound of the violin. In addition, Shostakovich frequently has section members join the principal after a solo. Accompanied mostly by a solo cello, played gorgeously by Andrew Laven, Ms. Upshaw was in splendid voice during the spare fourth movement. Later, in the ninth movement, a gorgeous cello trio accompanied Sylvan to poignant effect. While the symphony’s texts are depressing, the performance of them was masterful.

The seats in the hall for this Monday evening performance seemed about 80% full, but the lawn attendance, on a beautiful, cool, clear night was sparse. For the 2nd half, when many in the Deadly Sins orchestra were able to sit in the audience to hear the Shostakovich, the room filled up to about 90%. The lawn and Shed crowds on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were noticeably smaller than in the past. Sunday especially was generally a near sell-out in the Shed in most years. Not so this past Sunday where wide swaths of empty seats could be seen up front and in the back. In previous years to make your way through the lawn you literally had to step on peoples' picnic blankets. That was not the case this weekend. There was plenty of room to walk between picnic parties. Hopefully, this dip in attendance was only a momentary blip and not an indication of a general trend.


At Tanglewood: A Young Conductor's Marvelous Mahler

Moritz Gnann debuts with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, August 7, 2016 (photo by Hilary Scott)

One thing is certain when you hear a world-class orchestra in concerts back to back to back with different conductors on the podium: you can hear when the players and the conductor are especially motivated to make music, as opposed to getting through a work. That was the case this weekend at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s bucolic summer home. Performances earlier in the weekend were executed with precision, but were not memorable. That changed Sunday afternoon when Moritz Gnann, the orchestra’s assistant conductor, took the podium. Although not unknown to the orchestra, he had never led it in a public performance.

Gnann’s first BSO effort as a collaborator showed promise. An experienced opera conductor, the lanky German followed Nelson Freire nicely in Mozart’s ninth piano concerto number, K. 271. The 71-year-old Brazilian’s playing was stiff at times, although he cemented his reputation for avoiding overt showmanship. Pianist, orchestra, and conductor were at their best in the operatic middle movement. Freire took the role of singer, playing lightly, with the modest orchestra — strings joined by oboes and horns — never overpowering him. The third movement, marked Presto, begins with the solo piano. Freire’s tempo was brisk indeed, maybe a bit too fast as his technique was a touch muddy at times.

The concluding work, Mahler’s youthful first symphony, was where Gnann’s interpretative talents and energy shone. It was also apparent that he has been influenced by one of his mentors, Andris Nelsons, the orchestra’s music director, whom he has assisted since 2010, beginning with Lohengrin at the Bayreuth Festival. From the first bars, where Gnann had urged the orchestra in rehearsal the day before to play the opening dominant A pitch as softly as possible, there was promise that this performance might be special. It was that and more.

Gnann had complete control over the shape and color of the opening movement, the softness of the A helping to evoke the quiet of the forest, which Mahler augmented with bird calls, offstage trumpet fanfares, and horn melodies. That the concert venue, the Koussevitsky Music Shed, essentially is located in a semi-cleared forest made Mahler’s music seem that much more appropriate. As the work progressed, Gnann’s attention to detail became apparent. He masterfully weaved the threads of Mahler’s music, allowing parts rarely heard clearly, such as those from the harp and bass drum, albeit played softly, to contribute to the sonority.

Other Reviews:

Andrew Pincus, BSO: Into the harmony machine (Berkshire Eagle, August 8)
Gnann’s tempi were on the slow side, reminiscent of, but not quite as slow as those Otto Klemperer used when conducting Mahler. A slightly slower Mahler allowed Gnann to bring out the layered nature of the music. Indeed, Mahler urges the first movement to be “slow” and “dragging” (Langsam. Schleppend) and the second to have “powerful motion, but not too fast.” Movement two begins with a peasant-like Austrian Ländler. A trio in F follows it. In a lifetime of listening to Mahler performances, I’ve never heard it played more beautifully or sound more Austrian.

After the well-controlled third movement, featuring Frère Jacques in a minor key, Gnann led a final movement that was filled with tempestuous passion, and yet individual parts still were audible. The final climax called for the brass players to deplete their reserves, playing as loudly as they could. They did so in tune and, believe or not, with beauty. It was a moment of white heat. That the conductor and players had modulated their sound beautifully throughout the work made the final, boisterous climax much more effective. It was a fantastic ending to a rousing performance and the audience recalled the young conductor to the stage thrice. Gnann is an animated conductor and he was spent by the symphony's end, as were his players. It was a triumphant exhaustion that reminded one of Mahler's assessment that a symphony "must be like the world. It must embrace everything." For nearly one hour at Tanglewood, it did.

Why Do We Love 'La Bohème' So Much?

D'Ana Lombard (Mimi) and Yongzhao Yu (Rodolfo) in La Bohème, Act I, Wolf Trap Opera, August 2016
(photo by Scott Suchman for Wolf Trap Opera)

Henry Mürger was a working-class writer born in Paris, the son of a tailor and a shop-worker. In his youth Mürger was so poor that his group of friends, who included the photographer Nadar, called themselves the Buveurs d'Eau (Water Drinkers) because they could not afford to buy a drink when they went out. Most of us have been there.

Mürger wrote about the desperate poverty he and his friends endured while trying to pursue their artistic interests in a book called Scènes de la vie de bohème. It was first read as a self-published serial, a feuilleton included as a literary supplement in another publication. Mürger eventually gathered the stories into a book published in 1851, when he was not yet 30 years old. For Mürger it was the combination of poverty and artistic drive that made the life of a bohemian, as he defined it, "any man who enters into the arts without any other means of existence except the art itself." The book made Mürger's name, and he went on to have some success as a poet and playwright.

In the 1890s, Giacomo Puccini and his librettists, Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, adapted the story into an opera, La Bohème. It premiered in 1896 in Turin, followed just one year later by an alternate version composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo. This opera has become intensely popular with audiences. As proof, we have reviewed a never-ending stream of productions over the years, including from Washington National Opera (in 2007 and 2014), the Castleton Festival in 2011, and Santa Fe Opera (2011 and 2007). Wolf Trap Opera turned to it again this summer, having taken this long to recuperate after Jens vivisected both the work and a performance there in 2004. It returned to the stage of the Filene Center on Friday night in a staging that was not so successful.

La Bohème may not be for everyone, but it was one of the first operas that made a major impression on me as a teenager, so I have a weak spot for it to this day. The opera keeps to a few scenes from the book, focusing on the characters of Rodolfo (who represents Mürger himself, the struggling poet), Schaunard (the musician Alexandre Schanne), Marcello (the painter François Tabar), and Colline (the philosopher Jean Wallon), whose coat of many pockets is always heavy with books. The Café Momus, where the second act is set, was a favorite haunt for writers on the Rue des Prêtres-Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois, near the Louvre. Rodolfo's garret is on the Rue de la Tour-d'Auvergne, near Montmartre, the same street where Mürger lived. It is an intensely nostalgic work, and it makes just about everyone who hears it think fondly of their student days when they did not have two dimes to rub together after the rent was paid.

Other Reviews:

Grace Jean, Strong ‘La Bohème’ at Wolf Trap makes a good case for more opera there (Washington Post, August 8)
The awkward body-mike amplification at the outdoor Filene Center made it difficult to judge the quality of the voices in this production. Soprano D’Ana Lombard, who was Rosina in Ghosts of Versailles last summer, had the range for Mimi, if not the floating vocal quality that makes her seem most innocent. Reginald Smith, Jr., who was an exceptionally strong Count in last summer's Le Nozze di Figaro, was equally powerful here as Marcello, with the same kinds of comic gifts that lightened his presence on stage. The Rodolfo of tenor Yongzhao Yu, new to my ears, seemed strong, but it is impossible to know how the voice would fill a hall when not amplified. Summer Hassan had the sass for Musetta, if not necessarily the laser-focused vocal goods. Shea Owens, who stepped into the role of Junius in The Rape of Lucretia in June at only a week's notice, and Timothy Bruno had capable turns as Schaunard and Colline, respectively.

Paul Curran updated the setting to the end of World War I. This made one question why Mimi was bothering with lighting her candle in the hallway, as well as why young men were still in Paris writing plays and painting canvases. (Even worse, it's been done before.) Erhard Rom designed one large set piece, Rodolfo's garret, that was somewhat cumbersome to roll on and off. A few small backdrop objects suggested the other scenes, as well as several large video screens (designed by S. Katy Tucker) that set the tone of Paris in the winter. The National Symphony Orchestra was again placed at the rear of the stage, with the same problems in amplification noticed last month. In particular, Grant Gershon had almost no way to control the rushing of the singers from behind the set, judging by the number of bad misalignments between the cast and the orchestra, not to mention the balance problems. A truly great production of this opera has eluded Ionarts up to this point, but the best one so far indicates that you need a straightforward production, not too heavy on the sentimentality, and a first-rate conductor who can actually conduct the singers.

Ionarts in Santa Fe: Further Thoughts on 'La Fanciulla del West'

Ensemble in The Girl of the Golden West (Photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016)

Charles T. Downey, Santa Fe Opera, part 2: the 60th anniversary’s big-ticket items
Washington Post, August 4

available at Amazon
Puccini, La Fanciulla del West, R. Tebaldi, M. del Monaco, C. MacNeil, Orchestra of Accademia di Santa Cecilia, F. Capuana
Puccini's La Fanciulla del West may not be a rarity in some parts of the world, but Santa Fe Opera had not produced this work since 1995 when it revived it for this year's 60th anniversary season. The company bet on the draw of Puccini's name, even though this opera is perhaps the composer's most unwieldy, and its regular Mozart to fill the house for ten performances each. By comparison Roméo et Juliette was given seven performances, and Capriccio and Vanessa, the latter arguably the best production of the season, just five each.

Other Reviews:

John Stege, Pistol-Packin’ Minnie (Santa Fe Reporter, July 6)

Scott Cantrell, Santa Fe scene: A British stage director and a French conductor take on Puccini's Western opera (Dallas Morning News, August 3)

Heidi Waleson, The 2016 Festival Season at the Santa Fe Opera (Wall Street Journal, August 9)
Emmanuel Villaume and the Santa Fe Opera orchestra turned in a compelling reading of this most accomplished score. It was not in the same class as Lorin Maazel's poised conducting of the work, the only other time it has come under review on this side of the Atlantic, at the Castleton Festival in 2013. Still, Villaume and especially the male chorus gave the work the nostalgic warmth needed to soften some of the less believable twists of the story.

If we do not find credible the homesickness of the miners in the first act, in their need to believe, as in the psalm taught to them by Minnie, in the possibility that every one of them can be saved by God, then their decision not to hang Dick Johnson at the end of the third act will seem doubly ridiculous. Probably, the opera likely would work better, would seem less silly, if it ended tragically. If Johnson got hanged and the boys shot their beloved Minnie as she tried to save him, the dying heroine would have found, as suffering women always do, her perfect complement in the music of Puccini.


Ionarts at Large: BSO Tackles Difficult Work at Tanglewood

Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero leads the BSO and pianist Ingrid Fliter (photo by Hilary Scott)

It was reasonable to leave the Friday evening concert of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in a relaxed mood. A cool breeze blanketed the Koussevitzky Music Shed as the orchestra finished a symphony-free program with soft, melodic works: Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the Blumine movement from Mahler's third first symphony, and Brahms’ Second Serenade in A. Nashville Symphony Orchestra Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero led both works ably, with strong control over sound and phrasing. Skip ahead 24 hours to Saturday night and anyone still feeling the calming effects of those works was shaken out of their relaxed state by the pounding E minor chords for percussion and brass of John Adams’s massive Harmonielehre.

Guerrero again was leading the Boston players, providing relative consistency after five weekends of guest conductors as well as one weekend where Music Director Andris Nelsons was on the podium. With a schedule at Tanglewood that asks the orchestra to mount three different programs each weekend with minimal rehearsal, programming Harmonielehre was somewhat risky. Mixing elements of minimalism — pulsating rhythms, repetition and quicksilver ornamentation — with more traditional harmonies, the dense, three-part work is loaded with constant movement and is a heavy lift on few rehearsals. Perhaps this explains why it was the orchestra’s first performance of what has become one of the most successful post-WWII compositions.

Fortunately the BSO had several factors in its favor. A technically sound conductor with a clear beat, Guerrero is very comfortable with contemporary music. Second was the orchestra’s world-class skill and musicianship. The combination yielded an accurate first performance, although one that seemed to sacrifice speed and interpretation for safety, particularly in the first movement, whose lack of energy negated many of Adams’s musical effects.

The slower Part II, “The Anfortas Wound,” named for the legendary Fisher King, yielded a far better result. The somber movement’s second climax, quoting the screaming chords of the Adagio of Mahler’s tenth symphony, was appropriately vexing. Ditto an extended piccolo trumpet solo, performed with a gorgeous, otherworldly sound by Thomas Rolfs. The contrasting third part, “Meister Eckhardt and Quackie,” emanates from a dream Adams had of the German theologian (1260-1328) flying with Adams’ daughter, Emily, on his shoulders. Accordingly it’s a swirling, uplifting movement. Toward the end of it, Guerrero increased the tempo and energy level, leading to a triumphant conclusion on an E-flat major chord.

Other Reviews:

Ken Ross, Soloist-turned-conductor impresses with NSO’s Mahler (Mass Live, August 7)
The Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter had the unenviable task of being a late replacement for Daniil Trifonov, one of classical music’s current “It” pianists, whose ear malady prevented him from traveling. A Chopin specialist, Fliter was more than up to the task of dispatching Chopin’s second piano concerto. Her light touch and fine technique were well suited to this composition, completed when Chopin was just 20. It made one wonder how a more demonstrative player, like Trifonov, would have handled the concerto. Again for Guerrero and the BSO, though, it was more a matter of keeping soloist and orchestra together throughout the piece than making bold interpretive statements. Fliter cooperated, keeping tempi steady and eschewing rubato, allowing the music, rather than her technical prowess, to take the lead. To his credit, Guerrero proved a sensitive collaborator, following Fliter expertly. As was the case in the Adams, Guerrero was most effective in the middle slow movement, said to be a paean to Chopin’s boyhood amours, as he correctly highlighted the interplay between Fliter and bassoonist Richard Svoboda.

Guerrero’s comfort with slow movements gave your reviewer concern about the final work, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks of Richard Strauss. There was little need to worry. The orchestra bounded through the Strauss, a Boston Symphony staple, alternating between loud and soft passages, climaxing with a raucous gallows scene. Hornist James Sommerville handled the solo horn parts with style and William R. Hudgins was appropriately irreverent on clarinet. Indeed Guerrero proved adept in both quiet moments and boisterous ones.

Perchance to Stream: Dog Days 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.

  • Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara died last week. Watch a 2013 performance of his Vigilia, in the Ouspenski Orthodox Cathedral in Helsinki. [ARTE | Part 2]

  • From last year's Rossini Festival in Pesaro, listen to a performance of Rossini's La gazza ladra starring Simone Alberghini, Nino Machaidze, René Barbera and others. [Radio Clásica]

  • Have another listen to the July 25 performance of Wagner's Parsifal, from the Bayreuth Festival. [France Musique]

  • From the Chorégies d'Orange, Louis Désiré's staging of Verdi's La Traviata, starring Ermonela Jaho, Francesco Meli, and Plácido Domingo, under conductor Daniele Rustioni. []

  • Watch more concerts (and rehearsals) from the Verbier Festival. []

  • From earlier this year, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in his own composition Foreign Bodies and Lutosławski's third symphony. Also Yo-Yo Ma plays the first Shostakovich cello concerto. [CSO]

  • Manfred Honeck conducts the New York Philharmonic in music of Beethoven and Strauss. [NY Phil]

  • Conductor Lorenzo Viotti and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili join the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien at the Salzburg Festival, with music by Kabalevsky, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin. [Ö1 | Part 2]

  • The Vienna Philharmonic and Hungarian Radio Chorus, under Daniel Harding, perform Peter Eötvös's oratorio Hallelujah at the Salzburg Festival with mezzo-soprano Iris Vermilion and tenor Topi Lehtipuu. [Ö1]

  • Have a listen to some of the concerts at this year's Proms in London. [BBC Proms]

  • A concert of chamber music by Beethoven and Zemlinsky, performed by Eric Le Sage, Emmanuel Pahud, and others at the Festival International de Musique de Chambre de Provence. [France Musique]


CD Reviews: Goerne and Eschenbach's Brahms / 'Dinorah'

Charles T. Downey, CD reviews: Eschenbach and Goerne take on somber Brahms
Washington Post, August 6

available at Amazon
Brahms, Lieder und Gesänge, M. Goerne, C. Eschenbach

(released on May 27, 2016)
HMC 902174 | 55'49"
When the baritone Matthias Goerne has been a guest with the National Symphony Orchestra in recent years, he has performed fine lieder recitals with Christoph Eschenbach at the piano, a collaboration preserved on a series of recordings for Harmonia Mundi. The latest release is devoted to Johannes Brahms, and Goerne’s intense, almost overbearing approach works beautifully in these often gloomy songs.

Goerne’s voice, growling and dark-hued, fits aptly with the depressing and bitter “Lieder und Gesänge,” Op. 32, nine songs with poetry alternately by August von Platen and Georg Friedrich Daumer. Eschenbach doesn’t stint on the equally somber accompaniments, in which Brahms lingers often in the bass territory of the keyboard, as in the first track, “Wie rafft’ich mich auf,” and the poem’s repeated statements of “in der Nacht.” In the third song, von Platen’s narrator asks, “Und könnt’ich je / Zu düster sein?” (“And could I ever be too gloomy?”); one can imagine Brahms posing the same question, with a wry smile.

Five of Brahms’s Heinrich Heine songs, selected from the Op. 85 and Op. 96 sets, are something of a breath of fresh air, which is surprising given the ironic bitterness of much of Heine’s poetry. Goerne unfurls with unaffected tenderness the undulating phrases of “Sommerabend” and “Mondenschein,” songs Brahms paired through key choice and harmonic pattern. Eschenbach keeps pace with him at the keyboard, willing to stretch and pull the music wherever Goerne wants to go.

With the “Serious Songs” of Op. 121, composed the year before Brahms died, this disc becomes somber again. Brahms composed these songs on Bible texts with the approaching death of Clara Schumann, whom he had long secretly loved, weighing on his mind. In an informative booklet essay, Roman Hinke quotes a letter written by Brahms around this time: “The thought of losing her can terrify us no longer, not even me, the lonely man for whom there is all too little alive in the world.” The ineffable sweetness of the harmonies in the second stanza of “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” (“O death, how bitter you are”) and the tender sound Goerne coaxes from his top range in these phrases are a glorious, longing embrace of death. Brahms must have thought his own end could not be far off.


available at Amazon
Meyerbeer, Dinorah, ou le pardon de Ploërmel, P. Ciofi, E. Dupuis, P. Talbot, Deutsche Oper Berlin, E. Mazzola

(released on May 13, 2016)
cpo 555014-2 | 133'47"
If Giacomo Meyerbeer is remembered at all these days, it is for his grand operas, larger-than-life tragic works that profoundly influenced Richard Wagner. With this recent release on the CPO label, the orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin has revived the most successful of Meyerbeer’s comic operas, “Dinorah, ou le pardon de Ploërmel,” premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris in 1859.

The work’s three main roles are all cast well in this concert performance, recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie in 2014. Italian soprano Patrizia Ciofi sounds a little faded and not exactly effortless on the many vocal acrobatics, but she brings a dramatic differentiation of vocal colors to the innocent girl Dinorah. When disaster strikes her father’s farm in the Breton village of Ploërmel, Dinorah goes mad, dancing with her own shadow in a famous scene in Act II. When she makes her entrance in the first act, it is to sing a lullaby to her goat, Bellah, whose appearances are heralded by the ringing of a small bell, always on F sharp.

Baritone Etienne Dupuis has a broad, refined tone as Hoël, the goatherd who was supposed to marry Dinorah but, worried that her father’s loss will leave her destitute, follows a magician who has promised to teach him the secret of obtaining a hidden treasure from the fairies that haunt the local gorge. The best of the trio is tenor Philippe Talbot, who brings a light, airy sound to the comic role of Corentin, a superstitious and cowardly bagpiper. The three are combined beautifully at the end of the first act in the delightful “Terzettino of the Bell,” which also features the goat’s bell and a wind machine.

Enrique Mazzola leads a compact, sharply drawn performance that, with about 20 minutes cut from spoken dialogue and faster tempos, fits on two discs instead of the three in the version recorded by James Judd and the Philharmonia Orchestra two decades ago. Particularly fine playing comes from the horns in the hunting music that introduces Act III, where there is a charming pastoral interlude, mostly unaccompanied and featuring a strong supporting cast. Ciofi, having guarded her vocal resources up to this point, cashes in on the pianissimo high-flying writing in the final scene, when Dinorah’s memory is restored and she joins the prayer of the villagers.
Goerne's Die schöne Müllerin
Goerne's Winterreise


Forbes Classical CD of the Week

…These recordings from the 70s and 80s, released on Warner’s budget label Apex in 2002, are an excellent way to ready the appreciation for the wonderful music of Leevi Madetoja (1887-1947). He isn’t among the 66 composers included in Robert Reilly’s “Surprised by Beauty – A Listener’s Guide to the Rediscovery of Modern Music”*, but if there ever will be an all-new third edition, he’s bound to be among the first to be included!…

-> Classical CD of the Week: Madetoja -- Kullervo Without Sibelius

Ionarts in Santa Fe: Further Thoughts on 'Don Giovanni'

Leah Crocetto (Donna Anna) in Don Giovanni (Photo © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016)

Charles T. Downey, Santa Fe Opera, part 2: the 60th anniversary’s big-ticket items
Washington Post, August 4

available at Amazon
Mozart, Don Giovanni, J. Weisser, L. Regazzo, A. Pendatchanska, Freiburger Barockorchester, R. Jacobs
(Harmonia Mundi, 2007)
In Strauss's "Capriccio," heard last week at Santa Fe Opera, the Countess settles on Gluck as setting the highest standard for opera. If only Santa Fe Opera had heeded her advice and replaced its annual Mozart opera with one by Gluck, as I suggested to Charles MacKay a few years ago. Mozart may be a staple at Santa Fe Opera, but Mozart is rarely the highlight of any season here. For the last truly extraordinary Mozart production at Santa Fe Opera, you would have to go back to "Lucio Silla" in 2005. This year's "Don Giovanni," last heard here in 2009, had that same feeling of routine Santa Fe Opera Mozart, mostly pleasant but with some inevitable disappointment. A nice staging of Gluck's "Iphigénie en Aulide" would have been just the thing to lift the season into something extraordinary.

The piece came to life a bit more in the recitatives, when Glenn Lewis took over on the fortepiano, seated at the left corner of the pit so he could see and interact with the singers. The superlative recording led by René Jacobs showed how the fortepiano, played with improvisational fancy, can enliven the recitatives in this opera. Lewis was not quite on the level of that recording, but he worked in witty allusions to other arias, for example, when some characters were mentioned.