classical-music.com | Thu, 21 Mar 2019 11:11:43 +0000
Early Music Day celebrates its seventh year today with concerts held across Europe. To mark the occasion, we spoke to Early Music Day ambassador Jean Rondeau about the music he is listening to and enjoying at the moment.
'In the past decade, we've discovered a lot of new composers from centuries ago, and I hope this movement of discovering older music will continue. It's a legacy that is important to continue working on.'
classical-music.com | Thu, 21 Mar 2019 07:00:39 +0000
Musorgsky composed at the piano, and often discovered striking and unorthodox harmonies through extemporising. In this way, he hit upon the remarkable bell harmonies which open the coronation scene of his opera Boris Godunov.
Language of the heart
Musorgsky’s expressiveness derives to a degree from Schumann’s harmonic language. Yet one of his greatest achievements was the way his music reflects the fractured, multi-dimensional nature of the individual human soul or identity – whether the mighty yet tormented Tsar Boris or a humble peasant woman.
Musorgsky's Boris Godunov at the Mariinsky Theatre in 2012
Particularly when Musorgsky’s music is without the thread of a vocal line, an idea is often not so much answered as complemented or contrasted with another idea. ‘Dawn on the Moscow River’ which opens Khovanshchina offers a brilliant depiction through a mosaic of musical ideas – a technique Stravinsky, for instance, was to push further in his music from Petrushka onwards.
That martial sound
An exception to the above technique, perhaps not surprisingly for a former guards officer, is when Musorgsky composes a march. For these, he structures the thematic material more conventionally: excellent examples include the festive march from Mlada, and the hair-raising march of the Streltsy in his incomplete opera Khovanshchina.
classical-music.com | Wed, 20 Mar 2019 10:00:21 +0000
The best recording
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn RCA 88875126952
André Previn was principal conductor of the LSO for most of the 1970s, and during that period they made many wonderful recordings together. This A Pastoral Symphony was among the best of them, and it continues to set a high bar for other interpretations to aspire to.
The LSO was packed with outstanding section leaders at the time, and the quality of the solo playing eclipses that on any other recording. Violinist John Georgiadis, clarinettist Gervase de Peyer and flautist William Bennett all make telling contributions, as do the oboe and viola soloists, while the important horn and trumpet solos in the second movement are plangently expressive.
Previn’s shaping of the Pastoral has an organic, naturally unravelling quality that is deeply satisfying, and invites repeated listening. The dip and swell of VW’s string writing in the opening movement is sentiently registered, its uneasy dynamic surges unsettling the listener without grandstanding or over-emphasis.
The third movement has a grungy, glowering demeanour owing much to the LSO’s unshakable corporate virtuosity and Previn’s rhythmic trenchancy. Again, though, Previn deftly avoids overstatement – the physical threat carried in the music is palpable, but there is no unnecessary pummelling. The jittery fugal coda is incisively delivered, and for once seems more than a quizzical afterthought.
Heather Harper is an ideally steady, heartfelt soloist in the finale, her ‘distant’ placing (VW’s stipulation) not so distant that she is audibly in a different acoustic. The inherent sadness of the movement is mitigated by the dignified beauty of the LSO’s playing, shaped by Previn with unfailing sensitivity and insight. Together they find a moving positivity at the symphony’s conclusion, more stirringly articulated than in any other version.
The classic analogue sound is another telling factor in Previn’s favour. No other CD version of the Pastoral holds Vaughan Williams’s subtly intertwining textures so clearly in focus, and there is a tonal richness and plenitude which often seems absent in digital recordings.
Previn’s LSO cycle of the Vaughan Williams symphonies comes and goes in the CD catalogue, regularly finding itself deleted and then repackaged and reissued. It is, however, always available to download or stream. His Pastoral is a classic, the complete cycle an enduring cornerstone of the VW discography.
The Dutchman Kees Bakels was principal guest conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony when he made a near-complete cycle of the Vaughan Williams symphonies with the orchestra. Recorded in 1992, his Pastoral is a particularly fine interpretation, one of the most naturally flowing on disc. The recorded sound is a touch misty in tutti sections, but bass lines have a satisfying presence, and Patricia Rozario is a particularly evocative soprano soloist.
London Philharmonia Orchestra/Roger Norrington Decca 458 3572
Roger Norrington’s 1997 Pastoral is among the quickest versions you’ll come across, bringing an added edginess to the opening movement in particular. Nowhere, though, is it superficial – both the second and fourth movements are full of expressivity and emotion, and the London Philharmonic’s excellent playing is captured in a resonant, rangy Decca recording. Norrington’s Pastoral is texturally leaner than Previn’s, and filled with flickering monochrome shadings suggesting the ghostly legacy of wartime conflict. Cumulatively it’s a notably moving experience, and as an interpretation has been seriously underrated.
Vaughan Williams was once a pupil of Ravel, and no version of the Pastoral makes that clearer than Mark Elder’s 2013 recording with the Hallé orchestra. The opening movement in particular has a sensuality reminiscent of Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé, but it has the necessary dark undercurrent too. The third movement feels slightly rushed and scrambled, but there is no doubting the depth of feeling in both Elder’s interpretation and the Hallé’s playing.
Adrian Boult was a great Vaughan Williams conductor, but his 1968 Pastoral with the New Philharmonia Orchestra is not his finest moment. Phrasing is often curiously glib and flat, and at times the deeper emotions of the music seem glided over. Rhythms are also relatively listless, and ensemble can be sloppy. The stereo recording has a greater range than his 1953 mono recording with the London Philharmonic, but that earlier version has a fire and vibrancy that the re-make cannot equal.
classical-music.com | Tue, 19 Mar 2019 10:00:48 +0000
Premiere: Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 5 April 1803
On 6 October 1802 in the village of Heiligenstadt on the outskirts of Vienna, Beethoven wrote an impassioned letter to his brothers Carl and Johann. Including instructions that it should be read after his death, the ‘Heiligenstadt Testament’ describes in bleak terms the composer’s despair at the onset of deafness.
‘How could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection?’ he wrote. ‘…What a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing.’
It was also while staying at Heiligenstadt over the summer months of that year that Beethoven composed the bulk of his Second Symphony. Does the composer reflect in this work the frustrations expressed in his letter? In fact, cast in a sunny D major, the overall mood of the Second is largely upbeat.
Here and there, though, there are moments that point towards the growling and fist-thumping composer of Beethoven’s later years. The score is scattered with brutal sforzandos and sudden, and dramatic, changes of dynamic markings. And listen out, too, for the moment at the end of the exposition in the long first movement when the key unexpectedly shifts from A major to an unusual and ever-so-slightly disconcerting D minor.
Beethoven's Second Symphony, performed by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim at the 2012 BBC Proms
Taken as a whole, Beethoven’s Second is by no means a game-changer in the course of classical music – that would come with the Eroica two years later. There are, though, already plenty of signs here that he was itching to go his own way. Take for instance, the third movement, where he ventures a step further along the path he’d already began to tread in the First Symphony – where tradition would normally place a courtly and graceful minuet and trio, here Beethoven presents us with a decidedly rustic scherzo.
And then there is the finale’s coda. Why follow convention by finishing with a charming little endpiece, when there’s the opportunity to go out in a blaze of timpani- and trumpet-adorned triumph? Here was a precedent that he would continue in the symphonies to follow.
And the Second Symphony’s reception? Not great, with the descriptions of some critics almost matching the colour and inventiveness of the work itself. Complaining about its ‘barbaric chords’, Paris’s Tablettes de Polymnie reckoned that it sounded ‘as if doves and crocodiles were locked up together’. Vienna’s Zeitung für die elegante Welt, meanwhile, described it as ‘a hideously wounded, writhing dragon that refuses to die’. Posterity has treated it more kindly.
Skrowaczewski and his Saarbrucken players bring a rare fire and fury to the first movement. And few can match their bonhomie in the following two movements – as the music bounces from orchestral section to section, masterfully paced by the conductor, one gets the impression of players thoroughly enjoying each others’, and Beethoven’s, company.
Saarbrucken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stanisław Skrowaczewski OEHMS OC522
Words by Jeremy Pound. This article first appeared in the December 2015 issue of BBC Music Magazine.
classical-music.com | Tue, 19 Mar 2019 10:00:00 +0000
'Not a bar of it is uninvolving, and the recorded sound is excellent'
This week's free download is the second movement, Andante, from Elgar's Violin Concerto, performed by violinist Ning Feng with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Carlos Miguel Prieto. It was recorded on Channel Classics and was awarded four stars for performance and five for recording in the February issue of BBC Music Magazine.
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classical-music.com | Mon, 18 Mar 2019 12:10:05 +0000
When not dismissed out of hand, Reger is often derided as the master of unwieldy German stodge. That’s unfair...
Think of three great composers active in the first decade of last century, all with two-syllable names ending in ‘r’. Elgar... yes. Mahler... yes. But the third? Max Reger. Max Who? That’s just the trouble. Reger is well known in his native Germany, but his name has obstinately refused to travel abroad.
Verdi et al. Messa per Rossini: 11. Agnus Dei (Veronica Simeoni, Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Riccardo Chailly)
Ethel Smyth Violin Sonata in A minor: IV. Finale. Allegro vivace (Tasmin Little, John Lenehan)
Berlioz Harold en Italie: 3. Sérénade d’un montagnard des Abbruzes à sa maîtresse (Tabea Zimmermann, Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth)
Xenakis Pléïades: IV. Mélanges (DeciBells, Domenico Melchiorre)
Schubert Symphony No. 3: IV. Presto vivace (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner)
Vivaldi Il Giustino, Act II: Scene 1. Sento in seno ch’in pioggia di lagrime (Anastasio) (Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone, Silke Gäng)
Gulda Concerto for Cello, Wind Orchestra and Band: I. Overture (Edgar Moreau, Raphaël Merlin, Les Forces Majeures)
Roxanna Panufnik Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis: I. Magnificat (Richard Johnson, Exultate Singers/David Ogden)
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4: IV. Finale (London Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda)
Weber Piano Sonata No. 2: III. Menuetto capriccioso. Presto assai (Paul Lewis)
Francis Lai Love Story – Theme (Arr. Campbell) (Jess Gillam, BBC Concert Orchestra/Ben Dawson)
Berlioz Harold in Italy: II. Marche de pèlerins chantant la prière du soir (Tabea Zimmermann, Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth)
Arthur Lourié A Phoenix Park Nocturne (Vladimir Feltsman)
Ramin Djawadi The Rains of Castamere (Arr. Lawson) (VOCES8)
Philip Glass Etude No. 2 (Jeremy Denk)
Tallis Suscipe quaeso Domine (prima pars) (The Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace/Carl Jackson)
Debussy Livre I: II. Pour les tierces (Roger Muraro)
Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor, Op. 23 No. 5 (Live at Philharmonie, Berlin) (Yuja Wang)
Stravinsky The Firebird: Tableau II, XIX: Disparition du palais et des sortilèges de Kastchei, animation des chevaliers petrifies. Allegresse génerale (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Amy Beach Violin Sonata in A minor, Op. 34: II. Scherzo. Molto vivace (Tasmin Little, John Lenehan)
Hauscha Dew and Spiderwebs (Hauschka)
Frank Horvat The Thailand HRDs: No. 5, Boonsom Nimnoi (Mivos Quartet)
Trad. Deep River (Arr. Coleridge-Taylor, Kanneh-Mason) (Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Braimah Kanneh-Mason)
Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte, Op. 19: No. 6 in G minor (Andante sostenuto) ‘Venetian Gondola Song’ (Jan Lisiecki)
Wim Henderickx Nostalgia (Boho Strings)
Mozart Così fan tutte, Act 1: Aria ‘Come scoglio’ (Héloise Mas, Alexander Sprague, Nazan Fikret, Francesco Vultaggio, European Opera Centre, Biagio Pizzuti, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Laurent Pillot)
Philip Glass Melodies for Saxophone (arr. for trumpet): No. 3 (Craig Morris)
Giovanni Paisiello Partimento in F minor (Nicoleta Paraschievescu)
Ramin Djawadi The Rains of Castamere (VOCES8)
Triumphal Parade (Scottish National Jazz Orchestra/Tommy Smith)
Josquin Des Prez Miserere mei, Deus, IJ. 50: I. Miserere mei, Deus (Cappella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss)
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)
The more flamboyant of Elgar’s two finished symphonies, the Second characteristically contrasts opening swagger with a sense of brooding apprehension and reflection, and includes a nightmarish whirlwind for a scherzo.
Elgar’s final masterpiece, written in the aftermath of the First World War and shortly before the death of his wife Alice, is noble and restrained yet unmistakably expresses grief for an irretrievably lost era.
Recommended recording: Jacqueline du Pré; LSO/John Barbirolli EMI 562 8862
classical-music.com | Fri, 15 Mar 2019 12:58:36 +0000
Faust et Hélène (1913)
Based on a poem by Eugène Adenis – itself based on Goethe’s Faust – Boulanger crafted a thirty-minute cantata for choir and orchestra, featuring solo parts for mezzo-soprano, tenor and baritone. The work won her the 1913 Prix de Rome, the first time the prize had been awarded to a woman composer. She is said to have written it in just four weeks.
Du fond de l’abîme (1914-17)
This ambitious work, based on Psalm 130, was on Boulanger’s writing desk for a long while, largely thanks to the outbreak of war. During the war years, the composer volunteered for the Franco-American Committee; she also became quite ill during this period. The work is arranged for contralto, tenor, chorus, organ and orchestra.
Another work which Boulanger had to find time to return to during the war years was her take on a Buddhist prayer (indeed ‘a daily prayer for the whole universe’). An intensely spiritual work, it remains one of the composer’s greatest accomplishments and sits in quite stark contrast to the more nihilistic Du fond de l’abîme of the same period.
La princesse Maleine (1916-18)
The writer Maurice Maeterlinck was no stranger to his works being taken on by composers; the most famous example might be Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. Maeterlinck’s La princesse Maleine, however, was one piece he was quite protective of. The only composer he allowed to take it on was Lili Boulanger. It’s said she identified greatly with Maleine, but progress on the five-act opera was slow and she struggled to complete the work. Only fragments of it remain, which leads most scholars to believe it went unfinished.
D’un soir triste / D’un matin de printemps (1917-18)
This two-part work was completed just a couple of months before her death in 1918, the first half being the moving portrait D’un soir triste (Of a sad evening). Boulanger originally arranged the piece for cello and piano. The second half, D’un matin de printemps (Of a spring morning), is the sprightlier of the two works that make up this musical diptych, and was originally arranged for flute/violin and piano. Both halves were also arranged for piano trio and orchestra.
Pie Jesu (1918)
Her final work, the Pie Jesu is a deeply emotional and personal work that is in many ways her own Requiem. So unwell was she while working on the music, she actually finished it on her deathbed, dictating what was required to her sister. Nadia Boulanger is said to have been so distraught at Lili’s death, she turned her back on her own composing and decided to focus on teaching instead.