classical-music.com | Wed, 16 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000
The best recording
Junge Deutsche Philharmonie/Péter Eötvös BMC CD1118
To perform The Rite of Spring with any degree of conviction or accuracy demands total dedication. Of the many recordings available, most of the leading versions can claim at least that.
However, the score for The Rite is too eventful for any one record to capture everything that’s going on. To gain a pretty comprehensive understanding of what The Rite of Spring really does sound like, it’s worth trying one choice, living with it for sixth months or so and then having a change.
That top choice, at least for the moment, is the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie under Péter Ëotvös. Right from the expressive bassoon playing at the outset, this recording has imagination, it charts the various climaxes with energy but never a hint of vulgarity, and Ëotvös avoids what Stravinsky labelled self-glorification… his is the thoughtful, guiding approach of a genuinely creative mind.
Notice how he traces the architecture of the ‘Dance of the Earth’ that closes Part I, plus the dark ominous thumping of bassoons, timpani and basses in the passage immediately before it, as the sage blesses the earth – Ëotvös keeps the heat in while letting us hear virtually everything. There is also considerable sensitivity in the Pagan Night that opens Part II while, in the next episode where the young girls mark a circle where the glorified one will dance, the line is always kept mobile and fluid.
Above all, though, Ëotvös never lets us forget that The Rite of Spring is a ballet – but with a difference: this is dirty dancing.
Valery Gergiev is the conductor to choose if it’s raw primitivism you’re after and blow the detail. There’s plenty of red mist, and at times you can almost smell the sweat and tribal greasepaint, but it’s also unkempt in places and not for all moods.
Even after almost 50 years, Igor Markevitch and the Philharmonia orchestra hit the spot, burning from the inside and sounding genuinely live. The downside, though, is the recorded sound which is showing its age just a little.
classical-music.com | Tue, 15 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000
'The whole reading has a pleasing impulse, balance and bloom'
This week's free download is the third movement from Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A, K581. It is performed by the Carducci Quartet with clarinettist Julian Bliss and recorded for Signum Records.
This is Mozart's only completed clarinet quintet and was written for the clarinettist Anton Stadler, who Mozart also wrote his Clarinet Concerto for. It was written at the end of Mozart's life, in 1789.
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classical-music.com | Mon, 14 Jan 2019 16:52:26 +0000
Classical music consumption in 2018 increased by more than a tenth on the previous year, as stated by the BPI in new figures released this week. Sales and streams of classical music have grown by 10 per cent in the past year, outperforming the overall 5.7 per cent rise in UK music consumption as a whole.
The rise in classical music consumption was primarily driven by a 6.9 per cent increase in the sales of CDs, which account for nearly 60 per cent of the UK’s classical music. Streaming now accounts for 25.2 per cent of classical music consumption, which is an increase on previous years but is still lagging behind other musical genres. The BPI has suggested that this could be as a result of the difficulties in search functions on streaming platforms.
The combined sales of the top-30 albums increased by 69 per cent on 2017, showcasing the wide-reaching success of albums including Andrea Bocelli’s Si and In Harmony by Aled Jones and Russell Watson, which were the two best-selling classical recordings this year.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s appearance at the Royal Wedding helped put classical music on a wider stage, with his debut album Inspiration reaching the top of the classical charts for 14 weeks.
Ludovico Einaudi was the most popular classical artist on streaming platforms, accounting for 8.6 per cent of all classical music streams. This was closely followed by a handful of film music composers.
Dowland Come, Heavy Sleep (Grace Davidson, David Miller)
Schumann Humoreske Op. 20: II. Hastig (William Youn)
RO Morris Love Came Down at Christmas (arr. Stephen Cleobury) (Stephen Cleobury, Henry Websdale, Choir of King's College, Cambridge)
Tchaikovsky The Seasons Op. 37a: XII. December. Christmas (Barry Douglas)
Berlioz Roméo et Juliette: Pt. 3, Finale - Oath of Reconciliation (San Francisco Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Michael Tilson Thomas)
Elgar Chanson de nuit (Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder)
James Burton Tomorrow Shalle Be My Dancing Day (Jack Hawkins, Michael Bell, James Adams, Joseph Wicks, Choir of St John's College, Cambridge)
Julian Anderson Heaven is Shy of Earth: III. Gloria (With Bird) (Susan Bickley, BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Oliver Knussen)
Richard Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1: III. Rondo. Allegro (Live) (William Caballero, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck)
Derek Bermel Murmurations: I. Gathering at Gretna Green (ROCO)
Frank Martin Ballade for Flute & Piano (Bridget Bolliger, Andrew West)
Debussy Violin Sonata in G minor: III. Finale. Très animé (Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov)
Anonymous Now May We Singen (ORA Singers/Suzi Didby)
Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor Op. 23 No. 5 (Live at Philharmonie, Berlin/2018) (Yuja Wang)
James Newton Howard Violin Concerto: II. Andante semplice (James Ehnes, Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Cristian Măcelaru)
Sally Beamish In the Stillness (Sonoro/Neil Ferris)
Parry Suite moderne (arr. J Dibble for Orchestra): III. Romanza. Lento (BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba)
Jonathan Dove A Brief History of Creation: X. Whales Return to the Sea (Hallé Children's Choir, Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder)
Purcell King Arthur, Act 1: 'Come if You Dare' (Robert Buckland, Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier)
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 4 (Live at Kimmel Center, Philadelphia) (Daniil Trifonov, The Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin)
Fagerlund Höstsonaten, Act 1: charlotte Andergast! Vilken konstnär! (Krista Kujala, Mari Sares, Jere Martikainen, Jarmo Ojala, Finnish National Opera Chorus, Finnish National Opera Orchestra/John Storgards
Julian Anderson Heaven is Shy of Earth: III. Gloria (With Bird) (Susan Bickley, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen)
Zemlinsky Albumblatt (Erinnerung aus Wien) (William Youn)
Schreker The Birthday of the Infanta: Suite I. Reigen (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta)
Mozart Violin Concerto No. 1 K.207: III. Presto (Nikolaj Znaider, London Symphony Orchestra)
Tchaikovsky The Seasons, Op. 37a, TH 135: XII. December. Christmas (Barry Douglas)
Holst In the Bleak Midwinter (Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Isata Kanneh-Mason)
Glazunov The Seasons ‘L’été: No. 9, Scène de l’été (Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Kitayenko
JS Bach Prelude & Fugue BVW 855a: Prelude No. 10 in B minor (Vikingur Ólafsson)
Magnus Lindberg Tempus fugit Pt. 1 (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu)
Gurney Since I Believe in God the Father Almighty (Tenebrae/Nigel Short)
Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker Act 1: No. 6 Clara and the Nutcracker (Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel)
Ravel Ma mère l’Oye Suite, M. 60: V. Le jardin féerique (Prague Philharmonia/Emmanuel Villaume)
Eric Whitacre Deep Field: Earth Choir (Eric Whitacre Singers, Virtual Choir 5, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Eric Whitacre)
classical-music.com | Wed, 09 Jan 2019 10:00:00 +0000
‘The awakening of joyful feelings upon arriving in the countryside’
Beethoven’s sub-title for the opening movement of his Sixth Symphony must have been far from the thoughts of those Viennese citizens who had braved the winter weather on 22 December 1808 to attend a mammoth all-Beethoven concert in the Theatre an der Wien.
His warmest symphony was first heard in joyless conditions as the theatre’s heating had broken down. Whereas the Fifth, also premiered that day, epitomises the defiant side of Beethoven’s personality, the Sixth is its antithesis, both an expression of his love of Nature and a hymn of thanksgiving.
Musical imitations of rural life include the drone of a bagpipe, a babbling brook, the unlikely trio of nightingale, quail and cuckoo, a rustic dance, a summer thunderstorm and the carolling of a shepherd’s pipe.
Otto Klemperer’s radiant recording of the Pastoral Symphony may be over 50 years old, but once the taste for it has been acquired, it’s addictive.
Yes, it has its idiosyncrasies. Take, for instance, his view of the Scherzo – his insistence that it’s a Ländler, a heavy footed Austrian dance, is possibly inherited from his mentor Gustav Mahler, who it is documented conducted this movement at a similarly easy-going tempo.
Never intended as fleet-footed Arcadians, Beethoven’s merrymaking peasants, as portrayed by Klemperer, even more resemble those grotesques found in the paintings of Flemish artist Pieter Breughel. But Klemperer’s tempo for the Allegro ma non troppo first movement strikes one as ideal, measured but purposeful.
In the Andante, the water in the brook flows naturally and the birdsong cadenza shows off the Philharmonia’s woodwind trio to charming effect. Taken at a quickish tempo, the Shepherd’s Hymn is a real Ode to Joy, both euphoric and strong.
There is no noticeable slowing for the Coda, no nostalgic glancing back; the symphony’s spell is finally broken with a peremptory ‘Amen’ from full orchestra. Klemperer, as always, divides his violins left and right, opening up the texture, and the 1957 stereo recording sounds better than it has any right to.
Until the 1980s, Beethoven symphony performance was largely the preserve of the standard symphony orchestra. Next up was period instrument performance, removing excess varnish but sometimes risking damage to original paintwork.
But now hear what the 25 players of Musica Viva Moscow – a chamber-sized orchestra playing on modern instruments – can do. Suffice to say, they are a class act. The opening chord is struck rather than gently insinuated: this Pastoral is unique in being kick-started.
In the Thunderstorm of the fourth movement, cellist conductor Alexander Rudin keeps his brass and timpani in check – thus delivering more of a summer shower than an elemental deluge.
Throughout, there are countless wayside details to stop and admire, making this live, imaginative and finely recorded Pastoral, complete with violins divided either side of the orchestra, a hugely enjoyable one.
Should the Pastoral Symphony be thrilling? This one certainly is. The sound that this young chamber orchestra produces is dazzling. With fresh, incisive string tone, wonderfully bucolic horns in the Scherzo, vibrant woodwind (the ravishing oboe playing in particular is deserving of a special mention), Giovanni Antonini’s Pastoral is a joy from start to finish.
For those attuned to the Old School of Beethoven Conducting, exemplified by the likes of Bruno Walter or Karl Böhm, Antonini’s tempo for the first movement may sound merely breathless; however, in context and on repeated hearing, it makes perfect sense.
Even without antiphonal violins, this beautifully recorded disc must feature on any shortlist.
Like Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Warner Classics, 1992), Paavo Järvi opts for a medium-size ensemble playing on modern instruments. Interpretatively, they are quite similar and both can be warmly recommended, but Järvi’s decision to divide his Bremen Chamber Philharmonic violins ultimately gets him my vote of the two.
In addition, he offers beautifully judged tempos, transparent orchestral textures and a real sense of engagement with the score. This Pastoral really does seem to be lit from within.
Järvi’s marvellously played and recorded account, free of any interpretative quirks, is true both to the letter and spirit of Beethoven – though, ultimately, no single recording can tell us absolutely everything about this inexhaustible score.
Herbert von Karajan made several recordings of the Pastoral. The earliest and best was in mono with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the 1950s – a beautifully played, invigorating performance with plenty of fresh air in its lungs.
However, his 1970s digital re-make is a dull run-through with a jumbo-size Berlin Philharmonic machine on autopilot. If you crave a BPO Pastoral, it must be André Cluytens’s wonderful 1960 recording.
classical-music.com | Fri, 04 Jan 2019 16:03:54 +0000
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6
My favourite piece to perform by Liszt is the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. I started to play this piece at a very early age (around 10 years old) and it really helped me to build confidence at the keyboard.
It helped me enormously with my technique, especially because of the famous octaves, and is a good way of teaching students how to play rubato (in the middle section).
I think it is extremely important for young artists to learn these skills, particularly when performing Liszt. It taught me a key and invaluable lesson – how to make a difficult piece feel and sound easy. This work has stayed with me for years and even after all this time, I never ever tire of it.
Liszt’s B minor Sonata is, I think, one of the greatest works of the 19th century, and probably the one work in which he completely fulfilled the potential of his youth. It’s an exploration of human experience, a mountain, an ocean. And yet it’s interesting that Liszt, who gave poetic titles to most of his music, simply calls this one ‘Sonata’.
The work holds together so well that giving it a title would perhaps have limited it. Anybody can press the keys of the piano and make it sound, but this piece is difficult because you need to keep the tension of the architecture.
A performance of it has to have two things: it has to sound like you’re improvising, but also feel like every single bar is inevitable. I can only compare it to a great novel or play, in which everything is a surprise but when you look back at the end, everything seems to fit.
I would say the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 has most inspired me as a pianist. People often think it’s just about virtuosity, but actually he tells a strong story. That’s difficult to do in a ten-minute piece, but Liszt does it here.
Based on Lenau’s Faust, it’s set in the Dorfschenke, a village inn where there’s a wedding. Mephisto plays the violin – a waltz – while Faust starts to dance with Gretchen. It’s an emotional, rather than erotic, love story, though there’s also this dark Mephistophelian side. Of course the piece is difficult to play but for me it’s all about emotion and telling a story.
s a pianist, Liszt took a lot of risks and in his music there are always huge jumps between registers. But you have to play Liszt without fear, and with total freedom. With Liszt the power doesn’t come from totally clean, planned playing but from the crazy and diabolic.
In general, the image people have of Liszt is loud, fast, bombastic, virtuosic and pyrotechnical. There is a lot of that, it’s true, but he was a much deeper composer than that.
The Deux Légendes (St François d’Assise: la prédication aux oiseaux and St François de Paule marchant sur les flots) show Liszt as a poet and are incredibly powerful spiritually, too. When you play them in concert, you find that there is something completely magical that happens every time.
For me, St François d’Assise is like time is completely stopping – plus you have all those incredibly beautifully written birdsongs and the trills and tremolos: very difficult to render, but incredibly touching and moving, and inspiring to play. St François de Paule is also very intense and very powerful.
It also shows the orchestral side of Liszt on the piano – he had a mastery of transcribing the orchestra to the piano and you really find that here.
I’d have to say the B minor Sonata has most inspired me, because it’s Liszt’s towering achievement, in any form. He broke so much ground with this piece; it’s a fantastic piece of architecture and the ideas have such quality and depth.
There’s been so much debate as to whether it’s one, three or four movements, yet it’s incredibly cohesive. It seems, well, the best word I can come up with is ‘inevitable’. I like to think that, in a good performance, the listener should be aware, at least instinctively, of how long the piece will last and what’s likely to be said or expressed. It’s very much like telling a story.
Some pianists, unfortunately, seem to treat it as a virtuoso vehicle first and foremost. Some listeners, too, I think. But to me thinking of it like that is like tearing a page off a Gutenberg Bible and using it to wrap carrot peelings.
The B minor Sonata is Liszt’s most complete work for piano. You sometimes feel in other pieces that – inspired though they might be – there are slightly weaker passages or extraneous notes that don’t fulfil a genuine musical purpose, but no one could ever say that about the Sonata.
As a player, it offers huge challenges: at almost 30 minutes without a break, there’s a lot of stamina needed; you have to try to keep an overview of the whole piece so you don’t lose its shape or narrative; and, of course, you have to display a spectrum of emotions that ranges from the spiritual to the demonic.
It’s a work I’ve played for almost the length of my career. Recently, I played it at my own festival, and felt it was one of my best performances. It was great to know that, at 58, I can still play that piece!
I’ve been studying and playing the Années de pèlerinage a lot this year. From the Troisième Année, the ‘Jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este’ has struck me as being so incredibly adventurous. This piece really heralded 20th-century pianism – all the pianistic ideas of Ravel, Debussy and Messiaen are already present here.
The fluidity of the pianistic style of it didn’t exist before, and it also must have sounded almost shocking at the time as it has so little feeling of functional harmony. It is tonal, but even the relationships between dominant and tonic are blurred. Liszt loves to add so many tones – an added sixth, a seventh, a ninth – to the chords so they always sound suspended, which is one of the tricks of Impressionism.
Technically it is challenging due to the fact that you have to barely touch the keys – on a modern piano it’s really difficult to get the fluidity and transparency that you want in all the tremolandos that accompany the main theme. It’s such a wonderful piece, though. I’m always in awe of it when I play it.
It’s an easy choice: Liszt’s oratorio Christus is simply the best piece of music he wrote. I get inspired as a musician, and then play the piano. Fortunately, though, he did arrange four numbers from it for solo piano, and I’ve been lucky enough to conduct the whole thing. I think it’s far and away the best Romantic oratorio, and it’s criminal that it’s little known here.
Wagner went to the first performance, and he stole bits of it for Parsifal – he also used bits of Liszt’s The Bells of Strasbourg Cathedral. If I had to pick one inspirational piece from Christus as far as the piano goes, it’s the ‘March of the Three Holy Kings’.
It’s kind of a symphonic poem in itself and the piano version is beautifully done. When Liszt does piano versions of orchestral pieces, like his Beethoven Symphony arrangements, he manages to get the spirit and sound absolutely right.
classical-music.com | Thu, 03 Jan 2019 11:19:27 +0000
Following on from the successes of 2018’s live orchestral film screenings, we’ve compiled a list of the film, silent film and television performances of 2019, and where to find them. There’s sure to be something to suit everyone!