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

21.9.23

Ionarts-at-Large: First-time @ Munich's Isarphilharmonie with the Munich Philharmonic

For Munich having been 'my beat' for so long, it felt shocking that I had not yet been at the new, provisional “Isarphilharmonie” concert hall (bound to be a permanent fixture) that was built on a dime (30-some million Euros, a wild bargain), opened two years ago, and that is being accepted, even loved, by audiences and musicians, and necessary, of course, because the Gasteig – the Munich Phil’s home and BRSO’s secondary venue (for the big-ticket composers) had been closed for renovation and revamping (bound never to take place).

This Wednesday, September 20th, the opportunity presented itself to see and hear the place, with the Munich Philharmonic giving the German premiere of a new piano concerto by Thierry Escaich [pronounced, more or less: “ɛz-kɛsh”] and Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony. Escaich’s Etudes symphoniques for piano and orchestra (co-commissioned by the MPhil and the Czech Phil) operates in the post-Messiaenesque, marginally-spectralist, color-as-composition realm that offers more beauty than structure (the fourth movement, notably titled “Toccata”, apart), and with the pill of contemporaneousness generously hidden at the center of an exotically flavored musical marshmallow. Dreamy, suggestive, rhythmic, colorful: All the boxes are checked. Impressionist here, pointillist there. Replete with classical cadenzas. The subscription audience that decidedly did not come for this piece – they were probably just happy to escape the Octoberfest going on outside – really could not complain.

Seon-Jin Cho (2015 Chopin Competition winner; reviews of Chopin and Mozart here and here), Dima Slobodeniouk, and the Munich Philharmonic navigated deftly though the deliciously inoffensive score. The music may not probe its own existential question of “why”, much less attempt to answer it: it just is. And it is enjoyable. There shouldn’t be a greater compliment… even if the work eventually forgets to be over and might be better if only it were a little tighter.

The same applies, let’s be honest, to the Rachmaninov. Had the scheduled conductor, Semyon Bychkov led the charge, it would probably have been loud. With the calmly leading Slobodeniouk conducting this high-caloric piece, it was sensitive but not saccharine in the first movement, and that movement’s finale not milked but laid out almost matter-of-factly. The Scherzo, which could have been written by Prokofiev on one of his ‘classical’ days, zipped by nicely, and for much of the Adagio, where Rachmaninov enters Tchaikovsky-mode (not for the last time), Slobodeniouk (you just know his nickname has got to be “Slobo” among his sauna-buddies back home) managed to transform sugar into energy and, yes, loudness. But you can’t underplay Rachmaninov all the time, lest it sound silly. The sweetly carnivalesque-pompous finale showed the orchestra in good form in every section and with every exposed instrument: clarinet, flute, first violin, etc. Even Slobodeniouk couldn’t make the work feel short – but his to-the-point conducting was surreptitiously impressive. No small feat, in a work that, especially uncut, meanders enough to make the Amazon green with envy.

The hall, meanwhile, disappeared in the best sense, offering a neutral, neither dry nor wet acoustic experience, with the sound mixing well in the first and second third of the stalls. No Yasuhisa Toyota hyper-transparency. The looks of the black wood panelling are simple but pleasing and the integration with the old industrial building that serves as the auditorium in front of it is very well done. Only filing out is tedious, with exits existing only to one side. But for now, I am more interesting in getting into the place than getting out again.






Pictures courtesy Munich Philharmonic, © Tobias Haase

20.9.23

Briefly Noted: More Schubert on Fortepiano

available at Amazon
Schubert, Impromptus, Op. 90 and Op. 142, Ronald Brautigam

(released on September 1, 2023)
BIS-2614 | 61'47"
Ronald Brautigam is one of this century's leading proponents of the fortepiano, noted in these pages for his traversals of the music of Beethoven and Mozart, among others. His new release is a set of Schubert's eight impromptus -- not including the three piano pieces of D. 946 once known, incorrectly, as impromptus -- recorded on a fortepiano built by Paul McNulty in 2007, modeled on a Conrad Graf instrument from around 1819.

Schubert never actually owned a piano, and his only opportunity to play the keyboard came in the homes of friends. The composer almost surely never heard the particular instrument imitated by McNulty: Graf's opus 318, located in a Czech castle. Ardent admirers of Graf's pianos in the early 19th century included Beethoven, Chopin, Robert and Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Brahms, among others. What you hear on this recording is a likely approximation of the sound in Schubert's ears as he composed and played these arch-Romantic pieces.

Even though a Graf had a smaller sound than the later modern piano, because of its thin soundboard and smaller hammers, its fortes are still resonant, as in the middle section of Op. 90, no. 2, or Brautigam's devilish trills in Op. 142, no. 4. The pianoforte's advantage over earlier keyboard instruments was its range of soft sound: this Graf had four pedals, a sustaining pedal and una corda pedal like the modern piano, but with a moderator and even a double moderator as well. This device pushes a thin layer (or double-layer) of cloth between the strings and the hammers, and it was the pianoforte's "secret weapon," in the words of András Schiff, who once sneered at early keyboard revivalists before making his own Schubert recording on a reconstructed fortepiano. Hearing those soft effects helps one understand what Schubert had in mind when he wrote pianississimo.


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13.9.23

Briefly Noted: Pichon's 1610 Vespers (CD of the Month)

available at Amazon
Monteverdi, Vespro della beata vergine, Pygmalion, Raphaël Pichon

(released on September 1, 2023)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902710.11 | xx'xx
Claudio Monteverdi is a favorite composer, and there is no piece of his greater in my estimation than the Vespro della beata vergine. The Vespers of 1610, as the piece is sometimes known, has been reviewed in these pages many times, both in recordings and live. In other words, it would take a lot for me to be surprised by a new recording of this piece, but that is precisely what conductor Raphaël Pichon and his ensemble, Pygmalion, have done in their newly released recording. The opening movement, in which Monteverdi interweaves his brilliant brass fanfare from Orfeo with the opening versicle of the Vespers service, is adorned with added brass riffs. Then, just when I thought that Pichon was going to omit the final statement of "Alleluia" from this compact section, his forces delivered it, after a long pause, with expansive delicacy.

Pichon's St. Matthew Passion was a CD of the Month last year, and this release is no less fulfilling a listen. An older version of the Vespro, led by Frieder Bernius, remains my favorite because it is presented liturgically, rounded out with exquisitely performed chant. Pichon's approach could not be more different: where Bernius favors reserve and propriety, Pygmalion goes for spectacle, with a big chorus on many numbers, clarion brass, and splashy surprises of sound.

Not surprisingly, Pichon says in his booklet interview that he feels that "the Vespro is the first cinematic work in the history of music. Monteverdi’s dramatic genius means that each psalm (and especially the first three) is presented as a genuine scene of dramatic action. He sets the scene, and makes us feel, visualise, even touch it!" This situates the work in that most dramatic of stylistic periods, the Baroque, the same era that created the genre of opera. The experience Pichon wants is "immersive," and it is: as he puts it, "to attend a performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers is to experience ecstasy," in a way similar to a viewing of a room-filling work by Bernini.

Many elements will strike a listener familiar with the work as quite different. Pichon opts to eschew the "chiavette" system, by which the often high tessitura of some music of this period was transposed down by a fourth, as heard on many recordings. By not only adhering to the original keys, but also resorting to the high pitch standard of Italian tunings of the time (A set somewhere between 440 and 465 Hz), the singers add further virtuosic, one might say "operatic," intensity to many key climaxes.

Like most conductors, Pichon shuffles the order of numbers slightly in the work's final section. The most significant change is the interpolation of another piece by Monteverdi, Sancta Maria, succurre miseris (SV 328) from Promptuarium musicum, published in 1627, to serve as the "antiphon" to the Magnificat. (In his "liturgical" recording, Bernius added a chant antiphon with an almost identical text in this position.) The motet is followed by the litany-like Sonata sopra Sancta Maria, with which it shares intriguing melodic elements, as if the composer were alluding to one in the other. The concluding number is also a nod to cinematic style, as the Orfeo fanfare that opened the work returns, retrofitted to the closing formulas of Vespers.


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6.9.23

Briefly Noted: Hamelin Surveys Fauré

available at Amazon
Fauré, Nocturnes and Barcarolles / Dolly Suite, Marc-André Hamelin, Cathy Fuller

(released on September 1, 2023)
Hyperion CDA68331/2 | 163'40"
Marc-André Hamelin has made a name for himself by playing extremely difficult music with ease and musicality. The latest in the Canadian-born pianist's excellent series of deeply probing recitals of unusual music, all on the Hyperion label, is devoted to Gabriel Fauré, specifically to all thirteen of the French composer's Nocturnes and all thirteen of his Barcarolles. Hamelin played a few of these pieces during his most recent appearance in the area, last year on the Candlelight Concert Society's series. (He had just put this recording in the can the previous July and September, in London.)

Fauré apparently disdained programmatic titles, and the genre of nocturne and barcarolle were instead suggested by publishers: the composer's son Philippe famously joked that if left to his own devices, Fauré would have called every piano piece "Piano Piece No. so-and-so." Yet while the nocturnes are not all placid and nocturnal, the Barcarolles are set in the expected compound meter, like the Venetian gondolier songs for which the genre is named. Hamelin approaches these often melancholic, curious works with tasteful reserve, never overstating but leaving no question of technical mastery over them. The stylistic development of harmonic vocabulary and melodic fancy is fascinating to hear, from the first pieces composed in the late 1870s up to the last from 1921, shortly before Fauré's death.

Solidifying the qualifications of this double-CD set as the best to own is the addition of a lovely rendition of Fauré's Dolly Suite, with Hamelin's wife, Cathy Fuller, on the primo part. Fuller is a trained pianist who now works as a broadcaster, and she makes a lovely impression on the upper part, which Fauré intentionally made simpler, for the dedicatee, Regina-Hélène (nicknamed Dolly), the young daughter of his lover, Emma Bardac. (Emma eventually became Debussy's wife.) A perceptive booklet essay by Jessica Duchen, erstwhile blogger and author of an authoritative biography of Fauré (Phaidon Press, 2000), rounds out this most alluring new release.


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5.9.23

Anatol Ugorski, the Great Bewilderer: An Obituary


To say that Anatol Ugorski – born on September 28th, 1942 in Rubtsovsk – was not a favored artist in the Soviet Union is putting it mildly. Something about his character had always seemed to rankle the regime and those in its service. His piano teacher, once Anatol had received his formal training, pretty much left him to his own devices as regarded interpretative personality. (She did insist on Bach.) The talent of this quasi-autodidactic pianist showed early, however, and it couldn’t be quenched entirely: At the Fourth George Enescu International Piano Competition in Bucharest (in a very much Soviet-supervised Romania), he was awarded a Third Prize the year that Radu Lupu won the First. This might have given him a boost, but an early talent for squirreling-out – and performing – the standards of the Western avant-garde gave rise to early suspicions about his political reliability. (Which, in the Soviet Union, was tantamount to being considered morally defective.) He went on to prove the apparatchiks right as best he could by clapping so ostentatiously, demonstratively loud and hard, both hands flat against each other, after a 1967 performance of the BBC Symphony Orchestra led by Pierre Boulez, that he was consequently ivory-blocked by the powers-that-be and from then on played to school children in the vast provinces of the Soviet hinterlands or at private soirées.

In this artistic vacuum, Anatol Ugorski was, to paraphrase Haydn, ‘forced to become original’. And “original” may be an understatement. To quote Jed Distler: “If Deutsche Gramophone thought they had the eccentricity market locked up with Ivo Pogorelich, they hadn’t reckoned with… Ugorski.” Two heaping spoons full of crazy (or inspired or insightful or revealing – which is exactly the question that surrounds his artistry) are most notable in the recording that ended up launching his spell with DG, his Diabelli Variations. These recordings made his name after fleeing post-communist Russia to Berlin – but the transition had been anything but smooth.

Broke and homeless, he resided in a refugee camp with his wife and pianist-daughter Dina in eastern Berlin for a while, before eventually upgrading to regular poverty and a tiny flat, living on the outskirts of town for nearly a year and – once again – on the outskirts of his profession. Dressed in ill-fitting hand-me-downs, Anatol Ugorski certainly made an impression wherever he went. There was something quintessential Soviet, even alien, about him. When he came into a small amount of money, he decided to invest it in a digital piano.

With a dear friend, he set out to go to a store in Berlin that sold such equipment. He wore a black rubber coat, way too large for him, but effectively warming his body and spirits. Looking like something a scarecrow would have glanced at askance, he entered the store, where the German sales staff descended on him at once and tried to shoo him back out of the store. Oblivious and undeterred, Ugorski, made a beeline to the most expensive e-piano model in the store, sat down to the silent gasps of a horrified staff, switched it on, and proceeded to play. Pictures at an Exhibition. The whole way through! It must have been his first performance in the West, technically, and afterwards, the audience, stunned into submission and having successively grown over the course of his playing, burst into loud applause. The episode sounds like an amplified scene that the filmmakers of “Shine”, about David Helfgott, would use a few years later. With the significant difference that, unlike Helfgott, who is a cultural phenomenon but decidedly not a proper pianist, Ugorski could really play!

“Could”, not “can”, because Anatol Ugorski, who passed away earlier today in Berlin> Lemgo, had spent the last four years – since his daughter Dina died of cancer – no longer playing. Instead, he spent his free time listening to music and living – together with his new, young pianist wife.

As a pianist, Ugorski zeroed in on the essence of a work as he, un-influenced by any performing tradition, perceived it – and then he exhumed exactly that essence out of the notes. When he recorded Beethoven’s last piano sonata, he slowed it down to a contemplative crawl – taking as much time for the variation movement alone as the aforementioned Pogorelich took for the whole sonata on his DG recording ten years earlier. The resulting gravitas befits the pathos that Thomas Mann ascribed to this work in his Dr. Faustus. To Ugorski’s great credit, the second movement – while it opens itself to reveal maximum fragrance – does not fall apart like a wilted rose dropping all its petals. His passive-aggressive pianissimos, a specialty of his were a tactical delight as they enforced close listening. Amid his musical finger-pointing with acutely slow tempi and punched-out notes, there was never a sense of any particular school of pianism audible. Just Ugorski for better or, arguably, worse. To what extent this approach succeeded in unveiling hitherto hidden musical details always depended very much on the listener’s subjective response. Those who responded to it never forgot a performance of his.

His name will live on, not the least in his perfectly uncontroversially great recordings of Scriabin and Messiaen. In the latter’s Catalogue d’oiseaux feathers are ruffled here, beaks beckon and claws clutch: The aviary is filled with trilling, thrilling sounds. Colors abound, as they do in and the piano concerto where he performs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez, whom Ugorsky had once applauded so much 30 years earlier, that it almost cost him his career.







30.8.23

Briefly Noted: Faust Channels Locatelli

available at Amazon
P. Locatelli, Violin Concertos / Concerti Grossi, I. Faust, Il Giardino Armonico, G. Antonini

(released on August 25, 2023)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902398 | 68'22"
If you've heard of Pietro Locatelli, it is likely as part of a list of other 18th-century violinist-composers in the mold of Corelli and Vivaldi: one of those Italian -i names. At most, early music groups will include a Locatelli piece along with more famous composers in a program from time to time. So be prepared to be wowed when you take in the latest disc from Il Giardino Armonico and the mesmerizing violinist Isabelle Faust, which is devoted entirely to the works of this under-played composer. He was born in Bergamo in 1695, but his peregrinations took him from Rome, where he trained, throughout Italy and Germany and eventually to Amsterdam, where he died in 1764.

This recording features two of Locatelli's concerti grossi, including the intriguing and intensely introspective Op. 7, no. 6, given the subtitle "Il pianto d'Arianna." Likely a sort of programmatic setting of an unknown text about the abandonment of Ariadne by Theseus, it is a sort of quasi-operatic instrumental drama: conductor Giovanni Antonini compares its structure to that of Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna for clues to each movement's meaning. Broken into ten movements, the first five, all quite short and featuring turbulent contrasts, are joined together here in a single track. The ensemble's lead violinist, Stefano Barneschi, takes the second solo violin parts under Faust in this and the less noteworthy Op. 1, no. 11, with opulent results.

While the concerti grossi emphasize Locatelli's melodic invention and musicality, two solo violin concerti showcase his other compositional side, the virtuosic exploits of a true showman. Locatelli ornamented his solo concertos with astounding cadenzas, each of which he gave the title of Capriccio. These Capricci, twenty-four in number, are an important forerunner of and likely influence on Paganini's 24 Caprices. Faust is magical in the insane runs of whistle-tone harmonics in the Capriccio from the first movement of Op. 3, no. 11. Likewise, she somehow navigates the perilous extended positions in the Capriccio for the third movement, so high in range that it reminds one of the anecdote that Locatelli once stunned a canary off its perch with his sound. Melodically these pieces are often as dull as a Hanon exercise, but the facility of the playing is nothing less than amazing. Locatelli also often marked a fermata in places where the soloist was meant to improvise, and here Faust plays written-out cadenzas by Godefridus Domenicus Reber from an edition of 1743.

As Faust puts it in her booklet essay on the solo concertos, these excessive cadenzas "are of such great technical difficulty that Locatelli expressly left it up to the performer whether to play them or not. He was obviously aware that not every violinist’s hand could master these cadenzas." Fortunately with Faust, her hands are up to the challenge. The tender Pastorale movement from another concerto grosso, Op. 1, no. 8, serves as an encore to cool down the strings.


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28.8.23

Remember the Blogroll?

Ionarts was born during the golden age of blogging, in the millennium's first decade. The subsequent rise of social media proved the demise of blogging, as mini-posts on Facebook, Twitter, and soon a multiplicity of such apps pushed longer-form writing aside. It may be time to reconsider that shift.

One much-admired writer who has ultimately decided to eschew social media, first Facebook and now Twitter and (I think) everything else, is Alex Ross, the classical music critic of The New Yorker. I have missed Alex's wry commentary on the site now known as "X," although I still always read his articles in the magazine. I noted this summer that, instead of feeding the social media noise, Alex has continued to post more-or-less regular (if not daily) items on his old blog, The Rest Is Noise.

Once I realized that, I began to check his site periodically, which made me nostalgic for the era of Ye Olde Blogge. During a look-in yesterday, Alex's excellent post on critic Olin Downes was in the top position. Comparing Downes with a contemporary voice, Virgil Thomson, Alex notes:

[Thomson] cannily shifted with the political tides, switching from New Deal-ish writings in the thirties to a sterner, anti-populist line after 1945. He spoke unswervingly for an élite musical community and mocked crowd-pleasing musicians such as Toscanini, Heifetz, and Horowitz. Downes, it might be said, was a lesser critic but a better musical citizen.
A discontinued feature known as the Blogroll is back in this site's right column, headed by none other than Alex's site. If you know of other active blogs, new or veterans, please suggest them in the comments section. The main activity of the old Ionarts, publishing performance reviews and a concert calendar for the Washington area, has moved to and remains at Washington Classical Review, which you should be reading every day. Check here periodically for reviews of new recordings and links to published articles in other places. Please join me in going to read things directly, and circumvent the irritating social media middlemen.

26.8.23

Dip Your Ears: No. 269 (Gergiev’s London Tchaikovsky)



available at Amazon
Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Symphonies 1, 2, 3
London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev
(LSO Live SACD 0710)

The Crude and the Dainty


In anticipation of the upcoming #TchaikovskySymphonyCycleSurvey™, here comes a review that had been lying in the drawer for a while. Back when I initially drafted it, Gergiev was as reflexively venerated as he is reflexively reviled now. I never quite felt comfortable with either (simplistic) position. While the latter is a matter of politics, conviction, and righteousness, the former was (and still ought to be) one of aesthetics, however subjective. On those counts, Gergiev was always perplexing, veering between the routine and hackneyed and the furiously inspired. This release catches him, as Tchaikovsky generally did, on the good side, if not quite his peak.

When this LSO Live release of Tchaikovsky’s first three Symphonies came out, Gergiev had released the last three symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic on Philips but not yet with his St. Petersburg orchestra on the (then) LSO Live's sister-label of the Mariinsky Orchestra. (Effectively forming a 21st century Gergiev Tchaikovsky-cycle.) To my ears, they nicely dovetailed with Daniele Gatti’s exhilarating recording of Symphonies Four to Six with the Royal Philharmonic (Harmonia Mundi, and incidentally another conductor who has felt the brunt of moral outrage, since). That made for one of the most satisfying 21st century Tchaikovsky Symphony cycles to be an all-London affair. Not surprising, actually: Good Tchaikovsky just seems to ooze out of that town: Markevtich (LSO) provided the best cycle in the 20th century, and Jurowski (LPO) has since provided its successor. (Alas, both are currently out of print.)

But back to the recording at hand: Despite the catchy nicknames “Winter Daydreams”, “Little Russian”, and “Polish”, these inventive, vigorous symphonies haven’t caught on like their three imposingly-saccharine successors. This set won’t challenge the Pathetique-dominance, but it should make new converts out of those who have hitherto skipped these gems of sheer beauty. Happily, instead of wading through sentimentalism, Gergiev puts on his riding boots—mud-crusted in the Third—which balances the energetically crude with the extant daintiness. The live recordings, two from the Barbican, one from Zurich’s Tonhalle, could be crisper but they still pack a real sonic punch if listened to at high volume. .

8/8





23.8.23

Briefly Noted: London, Circa 1740 (CD of the Month)

available at Amazon
London, circa 1740: Handel's Musicians, La Rêveuse, F. Bolton, B. Perrot

(released on August 18, 2023)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902613 | 68'57"
Gambist Florence Bolton and theorbist Benjamin Perrot, who co-direct the early music ensemble La Rêveuse, continue to survey the lesser-known corners of 18th-century music in England. The concept for the first half of their latest release is to bring together music of Handel with other pieces by the virtuosos who performed under him during his English period.

Flutist Carl Friedrich Wiedemann and oboist (and flutist) Giuseppe Sammartini both became principal players in Handel's orchestra. Both were likely featured in humorous engravings by William Hogarth: Sammartini's notorious bad temper was lampooned in The Enraged Musician. Traverso player Oliver Riehl and soprano recorder player Sébastien Marq contribute remarkable solo playing in concertos by Wiedemann and Sammartini, respectively.

Violinist Pietro Castrucci, whom Handel met when they both worked for the Ruspoli family in Rome, later came to London and became the concertmaster of Handel's opera orchestra. Florence Bolton takes the solo part in a gamba sonata by Castrucci, as well as contributing a wide-ranging booklet essay giving a vivid portrayal of musical taste in the period. Handel is represented by a fine trio sonata, featuring the gorgeous, intertwined violins of Stéphan Dudermel and Ajay Ranganathan. As lagniappe, there is the Hornpipe that Handel wrote for the budding concert series at Vauxhall Gardens, organized by the entrepreneur Jonathan Tyers at one of the summer retreats from London for the nobility. (The Prince of Wales, who used his artistic patronage in his ongoing campaign for popularity against his father, King George II, was a patron and even maintained a Prince's Pavilion there.).

The second half of this pleasing disc goes in a completely different, folk music-influenced direction. Cellist and composer James Oswald, although not directly connected to Handel, was a Scotsman active in London from the 1740s on, later even becoming chamber composer for King George III. Born in Crail, a town in Fife (the region where my own Scottish ancestors lived for a time), he made many arrangements of Scottish folk tunes, beginning with a popular Sonata of Scots Tunes in five movements. The recording also features a selection of melodies from his Caledonian Pocket Companion, an anthology of twelve volumes, rounding out this diverting late-summer delight.

18.8.23

Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of "Mockingbird" returns to the KC

Maeve Moynihan and Richard Thomas in To Kill a Mockingbird
at the Kennedy Center. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Harper Lee published one novel in the first half-century of her career, To Kill a Mockingbird. Most Americans read the book in middle school, but the most popular movie adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, likely has the upper hand in people's memory. Aaron Sorkin adapted the play for Broadway in 2018, where it had enormous success, leading to a national touring production that came to the Kennedy Center Opera House last year, a venue critiqued as too large for it. The staging has returned to the arts center on the Potomac, with most of the same cast members, but this time in the much more appropriately scaled Eisenhower Theater, seen on Thursday evening.

The movie version shifted the story's focus from young Scout Finch, Lee's alter-ego, to Atticus Finch, played by Peck, as a sort of white savior figure in his legal defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman in Alabama. Sorkin followed the movie's lead, putting a few monologues of eloquent progressive pieties into the mouths of Atticus, Scout, and other characters, West Wing-style. The play's alterations to the role of Atticus were so profound that a legal battle with the Lee estate ensued. Following in the footsteps of Jeff Daniels and other actors, television actor Richard Thomas gave Atticus a lachrymose, supercilious quality that did not always seem the most fitting. On the other hand, this Atticus at least acknowledged his own shortcomings and racist assumptions. Lee's father, on whom the character was based, was related to Robert E. Lee, after all.


Other Reviews:

Peter Marks, A resonant ‘Mockingbird’ recalls American racism then — and now (Washington Post, June 23, 2022)
Sorkin intentionally emphasized the two black roles, Tom Robinson (a dignified Yaegel T. Welch) and the Finches' maid and cook, Calpurnia (played by Jacqueline Williams with caustic wit that almost stole the show), giving them more of a voice. This is undercut in some ways by having the Ewells, Joey Collins's cartoonish Bob and Mariah Lee's fragile Mayella, become caricatures. The truest portrayal of a southerner, equal parts polish and hate, was the vicious Mrs. Dubose of Mary Badham. Few are likely to recognize her as the same 10-year-old actress who played young Scout across from Gregory Peck in the movie. It was a stretch to cast adults in the three child roles, but Maeve Moynihan (Scout), Justin Mark (Gem), and especially Steven Lee Johnson's Dill used physical elements to appear more awkward and young. In his vocal and physical choices, Johnson seemed to point up the idea that Lee based the character of Dill on her real-life childhood friendship with Truman Capote.

Sorkin's main conceit, that the three children narrate the action, which shifts back and forth between the trial and other scenes, made theatrical sense. The repeated breaking of the fourth wall wearied before the evening was over, especially when Thomas's Atticus directed some of his final summation from the trial pointedly at the audience rather than the jury box (drawing attention, perhaps, to the reason why there were no jurors seated in it). The change to the final scene, where the now-dead Tom Robinson appears and points a line in a Bible out to Atticus, remains in the production.

The elephant in the room for this play is Harper Lee's second book, Go Set a Watchman, published rightly or wrongly in 2015, a few years before the play was adapted. It is Lee's first draft of the book that became Mockingbird, and in it the 26-year-old version of Scout returns from New York to her home town in Alabama to visit Atticus. She is disappointed to realize that Atticus is not the saint he seems in Mockingbird, that he is trying to slow down racial progress in the county, even working against the NAACP. Lee's first take on the material makes Atticus a more human, fallible character than how he is often interpreted. He is a more realistic version of a white man living in the Jim Crow south, rather than the version encouraged by Lee's northern editor, when as Lee herself put it, she was young and did as she was told.

To Kill a Mockingbird runs through August 27. kennedy-center.org

16.8.23

Briefly Noted: A Trio of 20th-century Piano Trios

available at Amazon
Montsalvatge / Tailleferre / Korngold, Piano Trios, Andrist-Stern-Honigberg Trio

(released on August 4, 2023)
Centaur CRC4037 | 57'11"
Audrey Andrist has been a long-time fixture at Washington-area concerts, particularly in contemporary repertoire. The Canadian-born pianist plays often with her husband, violinist James Stern, as a duo and, with National Symphony Orchestra cellist Steven Honigberg, as the anchor of a rather fine piano trio.

While beautifully played, the new disc from the Andrist-Stern-Honigberg Trio, released by Centaur Records, is of interest primarily because of its intriguing combination of music. First is the Piano Trio by Xavier Montsalvatge, dating from the 1980s, when the Catalan composer was in his 70s. This suave, refined work, infused with jazz and folk elements, feels like a love letter to Spain. Its first movement is a "Balada a Dulcinea," infused with tender sweetness for Don Quixote's imagined sweetheart, followed by a "Diálogo con Mompou," referring to another composer, Montsalvatge's contemporary from Barcelona.

Adding to the recent rediscovery of Germaine Tailleferre's piano music is her Piano Trio, composed during World War I, when it went unnoticed and unpublished. The French composer took the piece up again in 1978, when she was in her 80s, and the revised version is a mixture of early and late styles, as she wrote a new second movement and added a fourth-movement finale. With each of the four movements clocking in at a balanced three minutes each, the piece has a pleasing unity.

Erich Korngold composed the final Piano Trio on this disc, the longest of the three works, when he was only twelve years old. The piece was among the fruit of his tutelage with Zemlinsky, study recommended by Gustav Mahler, who had heard a cantata the boy had written. A child prodigy, Korngold had already had a ballet score performed professionally in Vienna, and Artur Schnabel was performing his piano sonata around Europe. This trio is a tour de force for the pianist, and Andrist rises to the occasion, especially in the rollicking Scherzo, an hommage to the Viennese waltz redolent of both Strauss and Mahler.

7.7.23

Mahler, who was born today: Two Record Reviews from the Archives



Mahler. Sometimes it's just a bit too much. But a post today is appropriate though, because today, 163 years ago, Mahler was born. Mahler recycled his ideas (and sometimes those of others) - and so will I, adapting a post (part of which ended up here) that was published on WETA's website on this day, 13 years ago, in order to rescure two short record reviews that would otherwise have been lost to the æther:

available at Amazon
Mahler,
Symphony No.1
Honeck / Pittsburgh SO
Exton SACD


Because we don’t have enough Mahler to satisfy our every taste and desires, Manfred Honeck has also started a cycle “if it is possible, in the next five, six years” with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. If the audiophile Exton label doesn’t get its distribution act together, it may not matter, since we can’t get a hold of the recordings… but if we do (and I’ve snagged a copy of the First, released in April; the Fourth will be out next, and the Third was recorded in June), we might find it’s much more than another layer of Mahler-overkill.Über-idiomatic and rambunctious, joyously self-celebratory, laugh-out-loud daring, hyper-romantic but without the (differently-appealing) heavy hand of Bernstein, it is one of the most notable Firsts to have appeared in a very long time. Perhaps that can be partly blamed on the old zither teacher of Honeck.

When Honeck was a kid, he was—very reluctantly, because it was deemed cruelly uncool even then—made to learn the zither. He had an old teacher; not technically gifted but of a generation that had the Austrian folk music and rhythms in their blood and able to pass it on. Recording Mahler now, Honeck said that now he knows why he has reason to be thankful for those lessons: because he took to Mahler’s Ländler-rhythms like fish to water. “That’s something you can’t learn”, he suggests, “but rather absorb and hope to be able to pass on. In any case, that’s what I’ve tried with these recordings and so far I am very happy with the result.” The fact that he plays the unique rhythms and snaps up wherever they appear, contributes a good deal to the zest and color of this recording.


.

available at Amazon
Mahler,
Symphony No.9
Norrington / Stuttgart WRSO
Hänssler

Yet another Mahler cycle [Ed.: Correction: just a recording; no cycle planned as of yet] from Roger Norrington who finds himself delighting in a happily controversial golden fall of his career. With the ideology and methods of the original instrument and historical performance practice movement, he’s been inching his repertory ever further up, suggesting that the modern tradition of performing romantic music is in fact much more modern than the music itself and that in just a few decades the newfound habits—especially that of permanent orchestral vibrato—have clogged out memory of how the composers themselves still had (and expected) their music (to be) played. When he forces this theory down an unwilling or unable orchestra’s collective throat—regardless of the merits of his theories—the results have been frankly awful. I shudder to remember the Bruckner Fourth he made the NSO perform a few years back. But he has his own modern orchestra lab now—the excellent SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, and they have wisely learned to go along with Norrington’s shtick. Not just hesitatingly, by the sound of it, but with considerable enthusiasm and even more dexterity. The results are performances of staple repertoire played in ways you haven’t likely heard before (Norrington goes further, with more teeth, than Herreweghe) which has in turn put the Stuttgarters squarely on the map of record collectors and concert-goers—both as object of derision, but more and more so of admiration.

Norrington calls the vibrato-free playing of his strings the ‘pure tone’ and suggests that the last time we’ve heard an orchestra play with such a pure tone was the pre-World War II Vienna Philharmonic, still led by concertmaster Arnold Rosé (Mahler’s friend and brother in law), and conducted in such a ‘pure’ Mahler 9th by Bruno Walter’s famous EMI recording (which I happen to think is woefully overrated). So Norrington gives the great diffuser and comfort-smudger that permanent vibrato admittedly is, the boot, and has his modern instrument violinists, violists, cellists, and double basses hit the notes and play them clean without—literally—the wiggle room that vibrato provides, intonation-wise. Since his orchestra knows how to do that now, the sound isn’t off; instead it’s more direct, seeming a little more strident at first, a little sharper, but certainly also more detailed and clearer. Or, I suppose, ‘purer’.

I’ve only now heard the Ninth Symphony of Mahler with Norrington (aFirst, Second, Fourth, and Fifth are also available), and while I wouldn’t say that loving this performance means being sold on his theory to the exclusion of the various other current ways of performing Mahler, I, well… I love it. There is a zany bite and yet a plain simplicity to the music that is very refreshing, gripping, and exciting. Although Norrington certainly doesn’t stretch the heavenly closing Adagio to its limits at 19’24’’ (that’s two minutes faster than Boulez), he draws out the ethereal quality just right. He also manages to keep the tension in those last minutes when the energy of the symphony drops to what can end up a hesitant whimper rather than carefully stringed repose evaporating into a confident, gentle goodbye.






8.6.23

City Ballet, Modern and Contemporary

Joseph Gordon and Unity Phelan performed in Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun, New York City Ballet. Photo: Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet returns to the Kennedy Center Opera House this week for its expected early summer visit. For the first of two programs, seen on Tuesday night, the company has revisited four short ballets by its celebrated founding choreographers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. A second program features the work of more recent choreographers leading the way into a new era.

A theme emerged over the course of the evening, perhaps intended but perhaps not: reflections in a mirror. In two striking Balanchine works based on Baroque music, Square Dance and Concerto Barocco, ensemble and soloists are balanced, often dancing in symmetrical patterns. Balanchine attempted a cross between American folk dance and classical ballet in Square Dance, from 1957, even using a square dance caller originally, an innovation he wisely removed later. The music, concerto grosso movements by Vivaldi and dance pieces by Corelli, often features twinned melodic lines, which Balanchine interpreted visually in movement, with fine solo work here from Megan Fairchild and Joseph Gordon. The final movement, a spirited Giga by Corelli, even had something like the feel of square dance music.

This later ballet, although seen first, hearkened back to Concerto Barocco, from 1941, redone for NYCB in 1948. The music, Bach's Double Violin Concerto in D Minor, was even more explicitly about image and reflection in its twinned lines. Two groups of four women mirrored one another, echoed by two lead soloists, the graceful Isabella LaFreniere and Mira Nadon. In the gorgeous slow movement, a male soloist intruded, the long-armed Russell Janzen, upsetting the perfect symmetry of this world of female friendship and balance. Played without scenery and in stark lighting, designed by Mark Stanley, it was likely the first ballet Balanchine had danced in practice clothes rather than costumes, which became a signature of his updated style. The dancers welcomed violinists Oleg Rylatko and Ko Sugiyama to the stage for a well-deserved curtain call.

Tiler Peck performed in Balanchine's Donizetti Variations, New York City Ballet. Photo: Paul Kolnik

The evening's most striking work was the only choreography by Jerome Robbins on the program, the gorgeous and erotic Afternoon of a Faun, from 1953. Claude Debussy's rapturous score received a marvelous performance from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, conducted for the evening by Andrews Sills, down to the exotic touches of crotales and harps. Robbins devised a meta-updating of the infamous earlier choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky: the faun and nymphs here become a male and female dancer who meet in a ballet studio, indicated by the barre running around its edge.

The oneiric quality of the scene, suggested by the fact that Joseph Gordon is seen asleep on the floor and returns to sleep at the end, implied that the stunning Unity Phelan was a figment of the man's imagination. He (and she, to a degree) spend most of the time staring at the audience as if seeing their reflections in a mirror, even in their most intimate moments. This vain self-regard - two beautiful people watching themselves in the mirror - was sexually charged and, of course, an acknowledgment that this is what dancers spend some of their rehearsal time doing. The awkward kiss Gordon planted on Phelan's cheek, to which she pressed her hand as if it burned, the shock seeming to propel her out of the room, now brought to mind, at least to me, the charges of sexual abuse by female dancers against former NYCB artistic director Peter Martins. At the same time, the effortless surprise lift of Phelan by Gordon, as Debussy's music swept upwards, was strikingly beautiful.

After these three more serious works, it was good to end the evening with some low comedy in Balanchine's Donizetti Variations, a 1960 romp set to ballet music from Donizetti's French grand opera Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal. It's a ballet that is as silly as it is fun, and the pairing of the sassy veteran Tiler Peck with the vivacious Roman Mejia, a rising star, lifted the end of this meaty program with effervescence. The whimsical moment when a corps dancer thinks that a trumpet solo is her cue for an ill-advised leap into the spotlight garnered hearty laughter, and don't leave the theater before you hear the incredible solo turn by the orchestra's glockenspiel player.

Alexei Ratmansky's updated Pictures at an Exhibition, New York City Ballet. Photo: Erin Baiano

The highlight of the B program, featuring City Ballet's new crop of choreographers, was Alexei Ratmansky's surprising, varied Pictures at an Exhibition, last seen at the Kennedy Center in 2015. The piece remains light-hearted yet powerful, with an ensemble of ten dancers moving through the space of an art museum to the strains of Musorgsky's "Promenade" movements (original piano version played somewhat tentatively by Susan Walters). The dancers form smaller solos and ensembles for the intervening movements, representing artworks, their colorful costumes mimicking the bright circles of Kandinsky paintings projected on the screen at the rear of the stage. Ratmansky, who has publicly and strenuously criticized his native Russia's war in Ukraine, has made a significant addition to the final tableau of this ballet, the movement known as "The Great Gate of Kyiv": a large image of the Ukrainian flag, in the style of a Mark Rothko painting.

Justin Peck's first solo ballet, Solo, featured the lovely Naomi Corti making her debut in the role. String players from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, under the direction of Tara Simoncic, gave an ardent rendition of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, often seeming only tangentially related to Corti's movements. The two most recent works disappointed by their length and repetition: Standard Deviation, choreographed by Alysa Pires to the pulsating, blues-saturated music of Australian composer Jack Frerer, and the robotic Love Letter (on shuffle), choreographed by Kyle Abraham and set to a (long, ear-piercing) prerecorded track by James Blake. Both pieces have some eye-catching moments, with long stretches in between.

New York City Ballet presents both programs in alternation through June 11. kennedy-center.org

27.5.23

Scottish Ballet's Gothic 'Crucible' lands at the Kennedy Center

Scottish Ballet's production of Helen Pickett's The Crucible. Photo: Andy Ross

Helen Pickett created her choreographed adaptation of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible for the Edinburgh Festival in 2019. The troupe that premiered it, the Scottish Ballet, is finally touring it in the United States. (The work's planned premiere at the Kennedy Center, in May 2020, was canceled for obvious reasons.) After its run at the Kennedy Center, which opened on Wednesday, the production will go to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston. The play's setting, the Salem Witch Trials, and the subtext of its premiere, the Red Scare led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, are both eras of American history we should not be wanting to repeat but may be doomed to do. Pickett's grim and grimy version, with its techno- and electronica-infused score by Peter Salem, seemed more timely than ever at the second performance, Thursday night, in the Eisenhower Theater.

Pickett's adaptation both telescopes the action of the play and fleshes out some of the characters by examining their motives. Act I opens with Abigail, the orphan girl whom the Proctor family has hired as a servant, dreaming of a happy family life. Elizabeth Proctor, burdened with a baby and perhaps suffering from post-partum depression, learns that her husband, John Proctor, has had an affair with the girl. Discovered dancing naked together in the forest, Abigail and a group of local girls accuse Tituba, an enslaved woman, of leading them into witchcraft. A council of churchmen, determined to root out the devil in their midst, solicit more accusations from the girls, leading to the eventual downfall of the Proctors.
Other Articles:

Kyra Laubacher, Scottish Ballet Tours Helen Pickett’s The Crucible to the U.S., Bringing Miller’s Tale to Its Home Soil (Pointe, May 15)

Elliot Lanes, Interview: Theatre Life with Peter Salem (Broadway World, May 25)

The Crucible is a mixture of theater and ballet, which deprives itself of the greatest strengths of both art forms. The accusing shrieks of the girls and even talking by some characters shatters the idea of a story told exclusively by movement, but the use of ballet like periodic arias partially undermines the potential realism of theater. The set pieces, designed by Emma Kingsbury and David Finn, float and tilt into different shapes, with occasional hanging pieces of fabric, all creating the sense of a drab industrial environment.

The most effective use of dance was in the church scenes, where unified movement became a metaphor for the group-think of religious conformity: the gray-swathed congregants moving in lockstep and imitating faithfully the movements of their pastors. The Men of God, whom the work's creators reportedly thought of "as a menacing flock of birds," leapt and spun with bravado and more than the occasional hint of Merce Cunningham's Preacher in Appalachian Spring. The duet between Kayla-Maree Tarantolo's needy Abigail and Bruno Micchiardi's conflicted John Proctor is striking for its overt sexuality, balanced by the latter's tender scenes with Bethany Kingsley-Garner's Elizabeth Proctor.

Salem's score is austere, with a bass-heavy string ensemble (two violins, one on a part, against three violas, three cellos, and two basses) providing drones and keening melodies, conducted by Daniel Parkinson. The instruments in the pit are all miked, and Salem has added reverb for atmospheric effect at times. In addition to live oboe, flute, bassoon, and trombone, two keyboards and electronic sample pads mix in other sounds. The score leaned most to the electronic side in the forest scene, with over-amplified thudding rhythm giving the nude dancing scene the air of a night club. Salem's next collaboration with Pickett is reportedly a new ballet based on Flaubert's Madame Bovary, planned for this November at the National Ballet of Canada.

The Crucible runs through May 28. kennedy-center.org

22.5.23

Ionarts-at-Large: Muscular Lyricism. A Stupendous Budapest Festival Orchestra Visit to Vienna

A week after Riccardo Chailly had been in town with the Filarmonica della Scala – a curiously disappointing affair, it was time to listen to Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, this time over at the Musikverein, in a triple-B program.

Bach’s Fourth Orchestral Suite, individual glitches aside, was a gorgeous rendering that reminded, how badly missed Bach is in such orchestral concerts, ever since the composer has been left to the HIP-specialists, except for the high holidays when the choral works get wheeled out. And in fact, it was the BFO’s own early-music wing that entered onto the stage of the Golden Hall, outfitted with a set of age-appropriate instruments. Stately yet driven, this set the auspicious tone.

Harpsichord went, Steinway came, and with it András Schiff for the lyrical Third Piano Concerto. From the first note, the noble power, stately restraint, and again the brimming forward momentum, stood out. Schiff’s matter-of-factly lyricism was coupled with a sweet, forceful touch and the orchestra was full of verve and color.

It seemed hard for Brahms’ Third to better this. But the tight, propelling way Fischer had with it, leaving no chance for rhythmic confusion in that tricky first movement, just about did that. It’s rare to hear an orchestra play with such purpose, concentration, and beauty of tone – and on this evening, all those elements were in place, in spades. But then, this almost shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore, with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Or maybe any orchestra from Budapest, for that matter.









Wiener Zeitung

Muskulöse Lyrik

Das Budapest Festival Orchestra mit einer Sternstunde.

...Brahms‘ Dritte Symphonie musste da schon zum Ereignis werden, um mithalten zu können. Wurde sie: Dominant, musikalische Rufzeichen, treibende Bässe und gezügelte Kraft. Energie wurde hier zu Masse, nicht Geschwindigkeit. Alles spielte mit gleicher, fast ungehöriger Intensität, gerne laut, aber ebenso konsequent in leiseren, lyrischen Momenten. Zu guter Letzt transformierte sich das Orchester noch zum Chor für die Zugabe von Brahms‘ "Liebe Schwalbe, kleine Schwalbe". Fünf Sternchen? Fünf Herzchen! [weiterlesen]

Photo: © Sonja Werner

16.5.23

Kennedy Center revives clownish "Spamalot"

Cast of Spamalot in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Monty Python nerds and opera fans, rejoice: this month the Kennedy Center has righted the backwards state of things at the arts venue on the Potomac. The city's leading presenter is mounting an opera in its Opera House and a musical in the Eisenhower Theater, the way things are supposed to be. Your choices are devastating tragedy, in a fine production of Puccini's La Bohème, or inane comedy with a hilarious revival of Eric Idle and John Du Prez's 2005 Broadway hit, Spamalot, seen on Sunday evening. Or one can have both, as it should be.

The best musicals of recent years have tested the boundaries of vulgarity and inappropriate humor: Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, and Matilda come to mind. Likewise, the Pythons have been grandfathered into the present age with their politically incorrect wit intact. Most of the scenes we all quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail are transformed into stage action, often in ways that are transparently low-tech, which only makes them funnier: the killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, the Black Knight ("It's only a flesh wound"), the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, the cow-catapulting French soldiers who spout absurd insults. Other jokes, like the troll's three questions ending on a stumper about the air velocity of an unladen swallow, are worked into the show in other ways. For good measure, other great Python musical numbers, including "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian and the fish-slapping scene from The Flying Circus, also make an appearance.

Other Reviews:

Peter Marks, ‘Spamalot’ might be retro, but it’s still a riot (Washington Post, May 15)
Josh Rhodes directs this zany Broadway Center Stage production, which features not a weak link in its very strong ensemble cast, including many faces Broadway fans will recognize. James Monroe Iglehart makes an amusingly clueless King Arthur, who gathers together the Knights of the Round Table from the misfits he meets in his travels, assisted by the true-hearted Matthew Saldivar as his sidekick, Patsy. Alex Brightman's vain Sir Lancelot, in a 21st-century twist, learns something about himself thanks to his rescue of Rob McClure's fey Prince Herbert, the young man who only wants to sing and not marry the woman with the large tracts of land coveted by his father.
Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer camps it up as the Lady of the Lake, with a classic Liza Minnelli send-up in the Vegas as Camelot scene and an acidic parody of a Broadway prima donna in "Whatever Happened to My Part" in the second act. Michael Urie's cowardly Sir Robin gets the best number in the show, "You Won't Succeed on Broadway," which prompts King Arthur to search for that quintessential element for the success of any musical, Jews. In the list of the Chosen People projected on the screen (Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg...) is the name of a certain "Jew-ish" freshman congressman from New York. John Bell conducts members of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, seated out of view on a high platform at the back of the stage. The amplification makes them sound like pre-recorded tracks at times, but they really are live.

Spamalot runs through May 21. kennedy-center.org

10.5.23

Ionarts-at-Large: Riccardo Chailly, Filarmonica della Scala, and Mao Fujita at the Konzertaus (@ Wiener Zeitung)

The expectations for the concert of the Filarmonica della Scala were high, what with Riccardo Chailly bringing Stravinsky's rather recently re-discovered Chant funèbre, op.5, to the Konzerthaus: the work he has given such a tantalizing premiere-recording with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. (Review on Forbes). To boot, the whole thing was embedded in a program of Russian gorgeousness: Rachmaninov's Third and Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony.

Mao Fujita, second-place winner at the last Tchaikovsky Competition, was the soloist – and he, too, has left a very fine recent memory on record, with his young, neatly considered cycle of Mozart Sonatas. His performance, replete with some curious rythmic accentuations, was met by roaring applause and localized Bravos – and perhaps for the sheer athleticism of that work and not being sidetracked during a minute-long rogue hearing-aid vaguely going along with the music, auto-tune-like, they deserved it. But the orchestra sounded muffled, with strange balances and instruments popping out of the mix unexpectedly. The short, tart little trumpet accents that blurted like an 1970s Fiat honking in brief anger, were a solitary delight amid a strange, massive, energized listlessness. Chailly seemed to do all the right things but the sound wanted to tell another story.

That was the problem with the Chant funèbre, too, where there was little left of that Wagner-goes-Tchaikovsky-reaches-Dukas magic, that his recording suggests. The strings seemed wooden, the cellos were scarcely audible, and while the double basses did their best, even they couldn’t push the greater apparatus into gear. The Prokofiev Seventh (with the coda-finale) – too nice a symphony to be taken seriously – was a little better in most regards, including balance, but still a brooding lump of sound. The Glockenspiel whinged and a lusty tuba brought smiles to faces. The two “3-Orange” encores, loud and fun, began to show some vigor – but still didn’t suggest that one had just heard a great orchestra on even a decent day.









Wiener Zeitung

Robuste Romantik

Die Filarmonica della Scala gastierte im Konzerthaus..

Nach der Wiederauffindung des "Chant funèbre" war es Riccardo Chailly, der das atmosphärisch funkelnde Strawinsky-Frühwerk beeindruckend ersteingespielt hat. Zusammen mit der Filarmonica della Scala im Wiener Konzerthaus brachte er nun mittels eines kraftvoll warmen, jedoch nicht sonderlich differenzierten Klangteppichs immerhin etwas von dieser von Wagner zu Tschaikowski bis Paul Dukas reichenden Magie über die Bühne... [weiterlesen]

© apaweb/apa/afp/dpa/Soeren Stache

13.4.23

Karajan's Brahms. A Discographic Clarification (#HvK115)



► An Index of ionarts Discographies



Herbert von Karajan conducted - and recorded - Brahms a lot! And, by and large, always well. So it is only reasonable that newcomers would still wish to explore it. But which of his recordings? The 60s cycle? Or the one from the 70s, after all? Or even the one from the 80s? How many recordings did he make? And which ones are hiding behind which labels? This post, an addendum to my series of discographies, was inspired by the #HvK115 Project on Twitter, where TheSymphonist and I challenged ourselves to come up with 115* great Karajan recordings on the occasion of his 115th birthday, seeing that HvK is still often snubbed by the self-proclaimed cognoscenti. Turns out, the challenge was to keep it down to 115! Anyway, with regards to the Brahms (the 60s DG recordings were included in the #HvK115 list, although many others could have rightly been, too), this little post is meant to help you identify which release contains which cycle (or parts thereof). The performances, to the excent they can be sensibly lumped together, are listed in chronological order. Individual releases from the various cycles are included, too, so you know which ones you might already have and which performances are hiding behind which cover, if you're in the market for some Karajan-Brahms.

For orientation: Karajan has recorded the Brahms Symphonies as a cycle four times, all with the Berlin Philharmonic and for DG (or the DG-affiliated Unitel). Once in 1963/64, in the Jesus Christus Kirche, then live on video in 1973, in new recordings from the Philharmonie in 1978, and finally in digital recordings from the Philharmonie between 1986 and 88 (which is more or less identical with the Sony/Telemondia visual releases). Additionally, he recorded Brahms in the studio in London (Kingsway Hall) for EMI with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Sys. 1, 2 & 4) and in Vienna: A one-off from the Musikverein with Brahms' 2nd from 1949 and then two fabled recordings - Symphonies 1 and 3 - with Culshaw for Decca from the Sophiensaal. The rest consists of radio broadcasts throughout the years, most notoriously perhaps the 1943 (!) Brahms 1st with the Concertgebouw, which must have just loved to play under Karajan.

(Survey begins after the break, if you didn't land on this page directly)