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

15.11.19

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


Thielemann’s Good If Not Revelatory Bruckner From Vienna

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

14.11.19

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

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

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

12.11.19

Caustic 'Amadeus' opens at Folger


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

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

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


Other Reviews:

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

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

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

Amadeus runs through December 22.

On ClassicsToday: Claudio Abbado's Lucerne Bookend-Bruckner

Abbado’s Bruckner A & Z

by Jens F. Laurson
BRUCKNER_Symphony_1_9_Abbado_LUCERNE_ACCENTUS_ClassicalCritic_ClassicsToday
A new recording of Claudio Abbado conducting Bruckner symphonies at the Lucerne Festival? Of Symphonies 1 and 9, no less, bookending Bruckner’s output—a beginning and an end, entry and exit, and wonderfully symbolic? Not so fast. Both performances had their previous outings. The First on... Continue Reading

11.11.19

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


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

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

Vulkan und Frosch: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung


Wiener Zeitung

Marin Alsop dirigierte das Wien-modern-Eröffnungskonzert

Das Eröffnungskonzert von Wien Modern unter Marin Alsops bot erst die Pflicht, dann die Kür. Zu letzterer gehörte Berio’s Sinfonia (1968). Jón Leifs, Kultkomponist der hyperromantischen Moderne, versucht mit Hekla (1961) den Ausbruch des Isländischen Vulkans nachzustellen. Die Saaldienerinnen verteilten prophylaktisch Ohropax. Ein einziges Acht-Minuten-Crescendo lässt alles an Steigerung bei Bruckner oder Schostakowitsch wie Lausbubenstreiche aussehen. Zum Finale wird mit Revolvern in die Luft geschossen.
Danach Spaßverderber Peter Ablinger mit "4 WEISS" für großes Streichorchester und weißes Rauschen... [weiterlesen]

31.10.19

Dip Your Ears, No. 257 (Rattle's Bavarian Lied von der Erde)

available at Amazon
Gustav Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde
Simon Rattle/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo), Stuart Skelton (tenor)
(BR Klassik)

There’s a reason to eye musical nepotism critically. Mediocrity rears its head when relatives – usually spouses – ride on the coattails of their more talented counterparts. Just think Garanča/Chichon, Netrebko/Eyvazov, or Zukerman/Forsyth. Even at the more exalted and mutual levels of talent, a critical stance is merited: Much is great, but hardly all. Even the best of them – Britten /Pears, Fischer-Dieskau/Varady, Vishnevskaya/Rostropovich – had their off-moments. And with conductors generally aging better than singers, the same caution is warranted when Simon Rattle and Magdalena Kožená are sold to us as a package.

Happily, this BR Klassik release of the couple’s Das Lied von der Erde stands up to scrutiny – and then some! The river-like clarity of the BR Symphony Orchestra is not of a cold, but elegant, perfection. Every instrument can be heard and every one of them is a joy to listen to. Any number of examples might underscore this, but just try the woodwinds in the opening of “Von der Jugend” for size. Rattle leads with zaftig grace and leaves no ostentatious fingerprints on the score. Kožená is not the first mezzo to sing these songs beautifully, but she really throws herself into it, in all her autumnal glory, dramatic, generous and clear, with warmth and intensity, never swooping and with splendid handling of the text. No hints of an aging voice here, as I’ve encountered on some live occasions.

But of course every Lied von der Erde stands or falls with the contribution of the ‘high’ voice’s part, the tenor. It’s the downfall of many otherwise splendid accounts when those admittedly difficult and much less grateful parts are croaked or wailed or underpowered. Meet Australian heldentenor Stuart Skelton, who actually approximates Kožená in the sonorous warmth of his portrayal, even if he does not match her handling of the text. Without following the libretto it’s occasionally a bit of a guessing game what he is singing about, but in fairness, most native speakers aren’t much better. It’s a minor caveat, given the quality of the whole package here, which amounts to nothing less than one of the finest and best-sounding modern recordings of Mahler’s de-fact Ninth Symphony.

Or is it? Over at ClassicsToday, you’ll find a very, very different, almost diametrically opposed #CDFromHell review of this release, which doesn’t agree with any of the above. Obviously, it sent me scurrying back to this recording, wondering if I had been deceived by headphone-listening or drunkenness. Not from what I can tell. The singers are prominently recorded, yes, which was more notable via speakers, but nothing worrisome. That said, we certainly agree on the reference versions… which you can read more about in the Lied-chapter of the ionarts-Mahler Survey.

9/9












21.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Víkingur Ólafsson's Bach With Heart and Panache

Icelandic Bach With Heart and Panache

by Jens F. Laurson
olafssonbach
It has been 13 years since the Alexandre Tharaud Bach recital “concertos italiens” came out. It’s taken that long for any Bach-on-piano recital disc to come even close to that recording-for-the-ages. By way of clever selection of works—staples of transcribed Bach with original Bach and... Continue Reading [Insider content]





P.S. Víkingur Ólafsson on ionarts & Forbes.com:

Viking(s) and Beethoven (2005)
Víkingur Ólafsson, Easy Listening (2013)
Classical CD Of The Week: Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson; Through The Piano Glass

19.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Jóhann Jóhannsson - 12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann

CD From the Elevator to Hell: 12 Conversations With Thilo Heinzmann

by Jens F. Laurson
BACH_12-Conversations_Johannsson_DG_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann, a new release from Deutsche Grammophon, is best listened to on vinyl (it’s available in that format!) in a fashionable, faux-derelict loft apartment in Soho, London, or Berlin. Thick beard, suspenders, horn rimmed glasses, woolen west and ironic T-shirt, and pork pie hat optional – but recommended... Continue Reading 


18.10.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 006 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.6:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Les Fourmis | Die Ameisen | Ants (2:20)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.

17.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Henri Marteau’s Intriguing Works for String Quartet on CPO

Major Discovery: Henri Marteau’s Intriguing Works for String Quartet

by Jens F. Laurson
MARTEAU_Works-for-string-quartet-v1_CPO_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
Henri Marteau was born in 1874 in Reims. His career as a violinist–where he made something of a name for himself, especially as an interpreter of Reger–took him all across Europe, although he eventually settled in Lichtenberg, Germany, in the northeastern part of Bavaria. As World War I ... Continue Reading

16.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Rusalka at Theater an der Wien (Review & Production Photos)


Between Thursday, September 19th and September 30th, the Theater and der Wien put on Rusalka, conducted by David Afkham and directed by Amélie Niermeyer. The ClassicsToday review is (finally) up.Production Details on the TadW's website.

ClassicsToday: Rusalka Gets Wet Feet In Vienna



More pictures from the production below.

Ionarts-at-Large: The 2018 Pärnu Music Festival

Pärnu Music Festival


Paavo Järvi & EFO At Pärnu Music Festival 2018 – © IMZ Media


In sunny-summery Pärnu, on Estonia’s south western coast, it is possible to wade through the Baltic Sea one moment, and thirty minutes later sit in the concert hall with sand still between your toes, and enough time left to crane your neck to get a better look at Estonia’s Who’s-Who, all present among the audience assuming they aren’t conducting the concert in question. In this case, on August 8th, at the Estonian Festival Orchestra’s concert under Paavo Järvi, those included Neeme Järvi, paterfamilias of the conducting clan, Arvo Pärt (at a sprightly 82 years still hopping – well, clambering – up the stage after his Third Symphony), and the splendid Erkki-Sven Tüür.[1] Also present: the slightly less well known Jüri Reinvere, whose And tired from Happiness… (“Und müde vom Glück”) received its premiere, and Tõnu Kõrvits, who was handed the Lepo Sumera Award for Composition before Järvi gave that night’s first upbeat at Pärnu Concert Hall.

Said hall has a pill-shaped layout, slightly raked orchestra seating and a balcony that goes 370° round all the way – except for a spot stage-right, where two immense 20-foot doors loom over the orchestra. Judging from a third back among the orchestra seats, it has a fine, accurate acoustic, not conducive to loud volumes and a little on the dry side. That proved a good environment to hear finely articulated strings and the clear woodwinds in Arvo Pärt’s Third Symphony, “his most popular to date, [which] makes a charismatic point of [the composer’s] then-newly won melodiously religious sentiment by quoting Gregorian chant amid all the other well-known Pärt contraptions”[2]. It also made the music appear as blocks of music (somewhere between Gabrieli and Bruckner), only reasonably seamlessly fused to form a gratifying whole. Strangely dampened, the Symphony ended up very much a low-octane affair for a concert opener.

The contrast was made more overt by Jüri Reinvere’s wham-bam And tired from Happiness… that opened the second half. The stage filled up to the brim with musicians, instigating the immediate thought: ‘Good luck getting that performed again!’ Then again, he may be onto something: Subsidized orchestra-musicians all over Europe need to work to satisfy the politicians that judge an orchestra’s success by how efficiently the total amount of players were used throughout the year. Never mind that this amounts to a penalty on performing Haydn and Mozart or anything else benefiting from a smaller ensemble – and skews the game in favor of the big romantics and beyond. If you have a harp and tuba and contra-bassoonist on your payroll, you have better use ‘em! Well, Jüri Reinvere does.

Pretty neatly, too: The faintly Wagner-ish “Schatten im Spiegel” movement glides and swells along pleasantly, fully harmonic (you’d scarcely expect anything else from an Estonian composer these days), with transitions that veered between Brucknerian and awkward. The long rising accumulative energy generated the thrill that the Pärt had denied. The mildly pretentious German movement titles can’t distract from that. The clusters are harmless. The string pizzicatos, accentuated by the [continue reading]

15.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Reference Set of Bach Multiple Keyboard Concertos on Alpha

Koroliov’s Multiple-Keyboard Concerto Reference Recording

by Jens F. Laurson
BACH_10-Keyboard-Concertos-Koroliov_Potsdam_ALPHA_ClassicalCritic_ClassicsToday
Every so often the state of Bach’s keyboard concertos—BWV 1052 through 1065—deserves a brief recap: The first six, for cembalo and orchestra, have in common that they were conceived as a set and that they are—like all the rest—transcriptions of earlier concertos (not all of which have surv... Continue Reading

14.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Filling In The Gaps: Dukas’ Marvelous Ariane With Gary Bertini

Filling In The Gaps: Dukas’ Marvelous Ariane With Gary Bertini

by Jens F. Laurson
DUKAS_Ariane-et-barbe-bleue_Bertini_CAPRICCIO_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
If you think of Paul Dukas as a Mickey-Mouse composer, think again. He may be forever associated with a famous musical rodent through Disney’s depiction of his tone poem on Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the film Fantasia. But there’s a good deal more to Dukas, even though he abandoned an... Continue Reading [Insider content]





12.10.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 005 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.5:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Le Scarabée | Der Skarabäus | The Stag Beetle (2:06)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.

11.10.19

On ClassicsToday: BR Chorus in Handel’s Glorious Occasional Oratorio

Filling In The Gaps: Handel’s Glorious Occasional Oratorio

by Jens F. Laurson
Handel_Occasional-Oratorio_BR-KLASSIK_ClassicsToday_jens-f-laurson_classical-critic
George Frideric Handel’s Occasional Oratorio—essentially a pastiche cantata—was meant to buck up the London crowds (and curry political favor) as England was facing a war of succession from Jacobite Charles Edward Stuart. The work presents us with a conundrum: Those for whom having the fringe ... Continue Reading [Insider content]





10.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Parsifal With a Side of Banana Oil from Bernhard Lang

CD From Hell: Bernhard Lang Fools With Parsifal

by Jens F. Laurson
Bernhard-LANG_PARZEFOOL_KAIROS_ClassicalCritic_ClassicsToday
The idea of re-writing and reinterpreting extant works to make them appear in new guise is a well-worn one in contemporary music. For years, the tool of (ostentatiously ironic) quotation was the only “out” for composers to squeeze any beauty or conventional harmony into their works. It o... Continue Reading [Insider content]





9.10.19

St. Petersburg's 'Paquita' makes U.S. debut at Kennedy Center


Paquita, Mariinsky Ballet (Photo: Darian Volkova/ State Academic Mariinsky Theater)

Paquita was the first ballet that Marius Petipa adapted from a French source when he arrived in St. Petersburg. Hardly a surprise, then, that it is not a great work. The Mariinsky Ballet's new adaptation of the ballet, which opened Tuesday night in the Kennedy Center Opera House, is one of the few productions from this esteemed company that you can pass on seeing. A rather long night in the theater, it made one understand why Paquita disappeared from the repertory, except for a few "bleeding chunks" like the Pas de trois and the Grand Pas and divertissement, the latter performed on its own by the Mariinsky in 2015.

The ballet was first created in Paris, with music by Édouard Deldevez, before being expanded into its better-known form by Marius Petipa in St. Petersburg. As was the usual practice, Petipa augmented the work over the years with new music by Ludwig Minkus and some pieces stolen from other composers. Other companies and directors have been trying to revive Paquita in recent years, too, including a restoration from the Stepanov notation by Alexei Ratmansky in Munich and an adaptation by Pierre Lacotte in Paris.

This production, premiered at the Mariinsky in 2017, is mostly new. Rather than reconstructing Petipa's work, Yuri Smekalov has created a new libretto and new choreography, using a reordering and reorchestration of the music. That new work has been grafted on to Yuri Burlaka's painstaking restoration of the Grand Pas, which constitutes most of the third act. The story remains basically the same, concerning a noble girl stolen away by gypsies. She falls in love with an officer who gives up his commission to live among the gypsies, a sort of variation on the story of Bizet's Carmen twenty-five years later.


Other Reviews:

Sarah L. Kaufman, Mariinsky Ballet’s ‘Paquita’: Glittering dancing but a skimpy story (Washington Post, October 9, 2019)
The result is dramatically inert, mostly a series of rather empty pantomime scenes. In particular, the ending of the second act was curiously anti-climactic. The scenic design (Andrei Svebo) and costuming (Elena Zaitseva) are both handsome, including a humorous use of moving shrub trees during one transition. Most of the music, played ably by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra under the baton of the Mariinsky's Gavriel Heine, is not worth a second listen. Some of the more elaborate variations, including extensive solos for violin, flute, and harp (many times), created appropriately dreamy moods in solo dances.

The main reason to see Paquita is for the company's dancers. In the title role is Viktoria Tereshkina, in many ways a cold, steely ballerina (last seen in 2017) who has warmed considerably in this character. Her technique was impeccable, handsome lines and poise that gave her exceptional confidence. Even better in some ways was the Andres of Timur Askerov, a tall, elegant partner for the long-limbed Tereshkina. The Grand Pas of the third act features mostly lower-rung dancers: best among them was Yekaterina Chebykina, also featured to flattering effect as the third wheel in the Pas de trois of the second act.

Paquita runs through October 13 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Dip Your Ears, No. 256 (Gabriela Montero’s Latin Concerto)

available at Amazon
M.Ravel / G.Montero, Piano Concertos
Gabriela Montero / Carlos Miguel Prieto / The Orchestra of the Americas
Orchid Classics

After dipping her toes into the composing waters with her tone-poem for piano and orchestra Ex Patria op.1, Gabriela Montero has now written a full scale piano concerto. While Ex Patria was an emotional plea about the plight of Venezuela, the concerto is intended as a call to consider a more realistic, somber view of Latin America. She wants the world to understand that, while South America is a continent that’s known for its rhythms, flavors, for its spirit, for its humor, and for having a spirit that somehow is able to overcome or transcend the difficulties and extremes of our daily experience, there’s also a darker side to it: Shadows that threaten the countries’ and people’s development and prosperity.

You can question whether any of that specifically comes across in concert or on disc, without reading her liner notes or hearing her speak about it. In fact, that’s almost certain not to be the case. But the idea that in the rhythms, melodies and the vibrancy of the work is embedded a message about the darker aspects of South American nature does seem to come through as a tempering quality. There is a specifically “Latin” cliché in classical music. Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina, Oslvado Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos, or Ariel Ramírez’s Navidad Nuestra and his Misa Criolla are only some examples that are full of it. The separating line between tackiness and vibrancy is fairly thin. Fall down just an inch on the wrong side and a composition will sound as though Speedy Gonzales had got a hold of the Maracas.

Montero’s bitter-sweet piece avoids that trap. Anyone familiar with South American music might notice the El pajarillo (a quintessentially Venzuelan type of dance modelled after the “Joropo llanero”). But the music does not exude a happy-go-lucky dancing vibe. The mambo of the eponymous first movement has a dark undercurrent running through it: A bit of Varese; a bit of urban ‘mechanique’. The fun is measured. The air is rather mature, the structure simple but touching, and the content never banal. It’s an extremely likable work that doesn’t dumb it down much.

The Ravel concerto, by all means given a good performance, aided and abetted by Carlos Miguel Prieto and The Orchestra of the Americas, is a fine companion piece. A courageous one, too, because the very greatness of it might have been considered a risk lest it overshadow the ‘Latin’ Concerto or even expose it as something much lesser. It goes to the great credit of the former that it doesn’t do that. But let’s face it: that’s not the work most people would buy this disc for. At least not when they have Zimerman/Boulez or any other Reference Quality recording on their shelves already.

8/8







8.10.19

On ClassicsToday: Checking Out The Budapest Orchestral Scene Part III

Jenő Koppándi & Zsolt Hamar


For my ongoing survey of Budapest’s orchestral scene, I picked out an all-Bartók evening with the Hungarian National Philharmonic after having heard a great Concerto Budapest concert and the Hungarian RSO in the Ring. The National Philharmonic came to (Western) fame under its longtime director János Ferencsik and again when it was led for two decades by Zoltán Kocsis until the latter’s death in 2016. The ambitious bill on this season-opening night included the Two Portraits Op. 5, the Third Piano Concerto, and Bluebeard’s Castle for the main course. Fab stuff, mosty:

All-Bartók Season-Opener With The Hungarian National Philharmonic


Below are a few photos from the concert to go with that review.





5.10.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 004 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.4:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: Les Talitres | Die Meerflöhe | Sand Hoppers (1:05)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.


30.9.19

Dina Ugorskaja, A Farewell

Dina Ugorskaja, Photo © Ilja Kukuj


There was a darkness in the playing of pianist Dina Ugorskaja’s, these last few years, that made her interpretations of Schubert, Bach, and Beethoven and the likes fearsomely beautiful, harrowing, even menacing. It is hard not to look back on this now, and think that Dina Ugorskaja – daughter of Anatol Ugorsky – wasn’t impelled to darkness by her struggle with cancer. A struggle she lost on September 17th, succumbing to the illness at her home in Munich at the age of 46.

Dina Ugorskaja was born in then-Leningrad, to an artistic musicologist mother and her quirky pianist father. Anatol was also her principal piano teacher; his own career ivory-blocked by the Soviet powers-that-be as he was deemed a political liability. While he, an Enescu Prize-Winner, was sent to play for school children in the vast industrial Soviet hinterlands or played at private soirées, Dina was somehow allowed to study composition and piano at the Leningrad Conservatory. She gave her concert debut as a pianist and as a composer in Leningrad, but eventually anti-Semitic threats compelled the family to flee to Berlin in 1990. There they lived on the outskirts of town, alive and unthreatened but poor and their talents unrecognized. Eventually friends pushed the re-discovery of Anatol Ugorsky’s genius, resulting in his recording of the Diabelli Variations (and many subsequent ones) for Deutsche Grammophon. Dina, meanwhile, went to study at the conservatory in Detmold from which she graduated and where she subsequently also taught piano.

She slowly, deliberately built her career – scrutinizing her own each and every step along the way. Recitals and recordings long remained insider tips, even as the German doyenne of music critics, Eleonore Büning, raved about her Beethoven as early as 2012… and rightly so. When I recommended colleague Damian Thompson that he give Dina Ugorskaja’s late Beethoven sonatas a listen, he responded by taking the words out of my pen: “Ugorskaya in Op 110 is sensational. Such detail in the darkness because she relies on phenomenal finger-control rather than pedal. And she achieves pathos in the recitative, arioso and fugues without rubato, so there’s a hymn-like quality. Glad she heads for ffff in the repeated chords. And because her left hand is so awesome, we get the full encircling of the world in the final bars. Desert island choice. Thanks!” The release and reception of her Well-Tempered Clavier (Forbes.com review) in 2016 brought some much deserved wider publicity; that same year the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts made her a professor. And a recital in Munich, where she substituted on short notice, brought more late recognition from astounded critics in the audience.

Fortunately, I had been there (Forbes.com review). To paraphrase myself: “After presenting tantalizing late Schumann and sublime Scriabin, it was late Franz Schubert – namely the Piano Sonata in B-flat major, D 960 – that turned out the program’s emotional center. Dina Ugorskaja’s playing in general and in this first movement in particular, evoked and underscored discomfiture among any listeners who think they know the work. No less here: Where there is a little oddity among the notes, it got explored with great curiosity. Where there’s a seldom noticed tension between lines, it got investigated. Amid such details, the pianist derailed Schubert’s sonata from conventions and re-established it as something fearsomely dark... For what it’s worth, the sonata – particularly the spectacularly ominous first movement, felt like the crucifixion of Christ, as interpreted as a Schubert sonata with overtones of Bulgakov. Trills in the far left hand were like salt in the wound – the first time around. Pricks of a needle then; finally like questions of existential importance… In fact, there was something about the recital of Dina Ugorskaja’s that suggested that substituting for the initially scheduled artist was, actually, some dark angel or Nazgûl who had swooped in, parenthetically given their version of Schubert to the crowd, only to take to the air immediately afterwards – off to eat a Hobbit or two.”

Just this April we had still conversed about her partaking in a feature about artists and fashion for the German music magazine Crescendo. She was game and submitted a photo – her hair, post-chemotherapy, cropped short, her eyes wide open and quietly challenging – in which she is the very picture of strength and fragility, humility and determination. It’s a wonderful depiction to remember her by.

Two years ago, as part of reviewing her recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier for Forbes.com, I unwittingly wrote what now seems like a fitting epitaph:

There’s ego [in her interpretation], alright… or rather: personality in the act of transcending ego. Dark clouds hover; a flittering sulfurously-silver light illuminates the music, and there is an intensity even among the often slow (though hardly ever relaxed) tempos. What initially came to mind was the title of William Wordsworth’s ode (via Finzi’s tone poem), which I always misremember as “Intimations of Mortality”. (When it is in fact “Intimations of Immortality”.) Even if my impression and the ode itself (rather than the sentiment of my misremembered title) are not directly correlated, the opening stanzas strike me as appropriate to quote:


There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the Rose,
The Moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare,
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.


Indeed, there hath past away a glory from the earth.

27.9.19

My Uncle, Harpsichordist: Session 003 (Jean Françaix)


I grew up with the records of my uncle’s (him performing, that is)—most memorably Scarlatti sonatas and some baroque sonatas for harpsichord and recorder. A few years ago I stumbled across a stack of copied CDs—taken from those out-of-print LPs and home-recordings—and grabbed them for memory’s sake. To my great intrigue, I found several discs devoted to works from the 20th century… which made me realize what a pity it is that I never talked about music with my uncle.

It might just be of interest to present the tracks of these recordings here, as a little personal musical (living) memorial. He was, after all, a formative person in my life, impressing on a kid of five, six, seven years the joys of collecting and tasting wine, eating and enjoying mushrooms and zucchini (garlic was the key to my palate then and it still is), and… Scarlatti.

Here’s track №.3:




Jean Françaix (1912-1997), L’insectarium pour Cembalo: L’Argyronète | Die Wasserspinne | The Water Spider (1:09)
Performance by Detlef Goetz-Laurson, 1980



Score: Schott
Commercial Recording: N/A (Apart from an OOP 7-inch single by Marga Scheurich)
Premiered in 1957, by Wanda Landowska.

25.9.19

Dip Your Ears, No. 255 (Orchestral Works of Lars-Erik Larsson)

available at Amazon
Lars-Erik Larsson, Orchestral Works v.3
Andrew Manze, Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
CPO

CPO is on its third volume of the orchestral works of Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986), performed by the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Manze, who seems to have fully made the move from HIP-violinist to all-purpose cross-genre conductor. Larsson is a late Swedish romantic, in the vein of Erland von Koch and the admittedly much, much more interesting, much darker Allan Pettersson. Hints of Shostakovich’s slow movements haunt his Adagio for String Orchestra; the Adagio of the Third Symphony contains moments of lyrical sweetness. Hindemith lurks in the shadows of the rest. The music is better than it is memorable but the works on the earlier two volumes are far more gratifying. Statt there, work your way back to this if you are sufficiently intrigued.

P.S. Charles has reviewed the first two volumes here. ClassicsToday review (Hurwitz) of this volume here; of volume 2 here; of volume 1 here. (Insider content the latter two.)

7/8









24.9.19

Blusey Tuesday: Charu Suri

Just a bit outside of our swim-lane, but why not post this, in anticipation of Indian American jazz pianist Charu Suri's Carnegie Hall debut. (December 20, Weill Recital Hall) Her brand of jazz, judging by a few other clips on her YouTube page, crosses over (in the best sense) to her Indian roots, too, which adds nice little flavor of fenugreek to the proceedings.

21.9.19

Dip Your Ears, No. 254 (Marx: The Romanticist Manifesto)

available at Amazon
J.Marx, Piano Concertos,
Bochum SO / Steve Sloane
Naxos

Hallelujah, Marx is back! It was only a matter of time before the once popular but eventually wildly out-of-fashion ultra-conservative Viennese composer would enjoy a little mini-renaissance… or two or three. Joseph Marx’ music is “a sort of cross between Delius and Korngold” (Hurwitz). That sounds actually quite good – and, in fact, if you are into the never-truly-in-fashion heavy post-romantic genre, you will find much to love here. You won’t mind that it’s music with a high caloric count but relatively little nutritional value. Or, as Hurwitz put it: “Music in which the closer you listen, the less you actually hear.” Well, some Marx is better and some Marx is worse, and if you avoid the lesser examples of his output, he qualifies as a #SurprisedByBeauty-composer in my book. (And by "my book" I mean Bob Reilly's book... or a future volume III, rather.)

Jed Distler’s review of the original release on ClassicsToday


So it’s good news that Naxos is bringing back the out-of-print ASV recordings of the composer… recordings that were instrumental in putting the Bochum Symphony and their long-long-long time conductor Steve Sloane on the map of (obscure) music lovers around the world. Specifically, we are looking at the re-issue of the piano concertos… which are – just – among the better examples of his output. There’s the grand, aptly named Romantic Piano Concerto. Jorge Bolet loved it, Marc-Andre Hamelin recorded it. And here is the US-French pianist David Lively (a one-time fourth place finisher in the Queen Elizabeth Competition) taking a crack at it. The 40-minute behemoth concerto embeds the soloist firmly into the orchestral texture (with relatively little separate classical-mode give-and-take going on). The grand romantic opening gesture could make any Hollywood score blanch. It moves on to be variously brooding (a rare flavor in happy Marx), dancing, and triumphant flavor with a few longueurs between, but not too many. Hamelin and Vänskä’s Hyperion account, actually the older recording, is a crisper take. Lively (nomen non est omen) and Sloane are closer to overegging the pudding with their leisurely but admittedly luxurious approach.

Jorge Bolet Plays Marx’ Romantic Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta


Castelli Romani, Marx’ second piano concerto, follows in a similar vein, although the more obvious aural paragons to the inspired epigone Marx are Respighi, Lehar (listen for Land des Lächelns-parallels in the opening), and perhaps Bax. It is full of wide-eyed Italianate clichés and sounds no more serious-minded than a tourist, glass of cheap Chianti in hand, on a busy piazza enjoying the heck out of the setting. You’ll be half-surprised the concerto doesn’t just break out into song, “Mamma Mia!”-style. But then there’s something to be said for its frolicking air, if you are not allergic to that stuff. And it keeps everything tighter together than the Romantic Concerto… making it far less prone to meander. The Bochumers aren’t the greatest band in the world, but they are an example of how very high the standards of a well-led third tier German orchestra are.

7/8