classical-music.com | Fri, 19 Oct 2018 14:26:55 +0000
‘A blazing comet’ was how Hector Berlioz described Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini. So faultless was his playing that many were convinced he had made a pact with the devil – a theory substantiated by his somewhat ghoulish stage persona.
The music he composed and performed throughout the early 19th century completely altered people’s perceptions of what could be done on a violin. His dazzling collection of techniques and special effects would often drive members of his audience to hysteria.
There were ghostly multiple harmonics (achieved by touching several strings very lightly), a ricochet bow-stroke that enabled him to play rapid sequences of notes at once, and high-velocity pizzicatos plucked by a spare finger in the left hand.
These virtuosic displays were in part possible due to his suffering from Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which gave him the ability to negotiate the violin at extraordinary speed without changing position. The 12 hours of practice a day might have also had something to do with it.
However, beneath the showmanship lies a music firmly rooted in the Italian tradition. Paganini’s instinct for singable melody gives his compositions an accessibility that proves irresistible. It also explains why so many were inspired to compose variations on his music. The main theme from the 24th Caprice, for example, was developed by Brahms, Rachmaninov, Lutosławski and even Andrew Lloyd Webber.
We’ve put together a list of what we believe to be his six greatest compositions.
Paganini’s First Violin Concerto comprises all the pioneering techniques he developed while on tour in his home country of Italy.
Through a clever sleight of hand with the music's key and the violin's tuning, Paganini made sure that the solo line shone out from the orchestra. While the orchestral parts are in the key of E flat major, the violin part was written in D major with instructions for the violin's strings to be tuned up a semitone.
This use of scordatura allowed Paganini to write a part that had the freedom of D major – a comfortable and versatile key on a violin. The greater tension in the strings, combined with a higher proportion of notes played on open strings, has the effect of making the violin sing more clearly than its orchestral accompaniment.
It became popularised in a version entirely written in D major.
Written in the form of Etudes - short, solo works of extreme difficulty designed to perfect a particular element of playing – the 24 Caprices remain to this day an imposing prospect to all but the bravest of concert violinists.
Countless arrangements have since been made, for various combinations of instruments. There is a complete set for solo flute by Patrick Gallois, for example, while No. 24 was arranged for clarinet and jazz band by Benny Goodman.
Paganini was giving a concert when one by one his violin's strings began to break, so the tale goes, until all that remained for him to play on was the lowest, G string. Far from putting him off, the mishap inspired the virtuoso to write his Moses Fantasy, based on Rossini's opera Mosè in Egitto, and written exclusively for the G string,
This performance direction has struck fear into the hearts of violinists ever since. But when performers adhere to it, the audience is treated to the rich sonority that can only be achieved by playing on the thicker G string.
'The violin is my mistress but the guitar is my master,' Paganini is once reported to have said. He often wrote for the guitar, and this collection of sonatas for violin and guitar marks a period of maturity in his compositional output.
Written during a stay in Prague, the music relies less on the fireworks and bombast of his youth, and more on a sense of compositional finesse. The gentle melodies and jolly guitar accompaniment evoke a sense of Mediterranean calm.
Towards the end of his life Paganini composed the Moto perpetuo as a response to his failing health, and its effect on the flexibility of his left hand. The piece is more about stamina and co-ordination than athletic prowess, although with its breathless, unceasing flow of semiquavers, it is still numbered among his most difficult.
Originally written for violin and piano, the work remained unpublished until after his death in 1840, and didn’t enter the standard repertoire until 1932 when Fritz Kreisler made a transcription for violin and piano.
In writing a piece based on the British national anthem, Paganini joins a host of composers who have paid musical tribute to the UK monarchy.
Beethoven, Rossini, Liszt and even Charles Ives have all had a crack at arranging this tune, although some have been more sincere in their borrowing than others. Paganini’s furiously difficult set of variations is full of extended techniques.
classical-music.com | Wed, 17 Oct 2018 09:00:00 +0000
Written between 1887 and 1890, Fauré’s Requiem in D minor is one his best-known works. A long career as a church organist accompanying the burial services of countless Parisians left the composer with a more philosophical attitude to death.
He described his Requiem as having ‘a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest’, and indeed, its remarkable modesty and unusual tenderness provide a stark contrast to the grandiloquent solemnity that defines so many other Requiem settings.
The omission of a ‘Dies Irae’ is telling of his attempt to do something different, and two of the final seven movements – ‘Hostias’ and ‘Libera me’ – weren’t added until 1893. A fully orchestrated version was finally published in 1901, and the debate over the ‘correct’ interpretation continues to this day.
We’ve put our heads together and come up with a definitive list of recordings…
In this modest interpretation, faithful to the 1893 edition, Matthew Best commands an immaculate performance from the Corydon Singers. Wonderful accounts of the solos from soprano Mary Seers and Michael George blend perfectly into the undemonstrative aesthetic. Fauré would have been proud.
Arguably the most ‘authentic’ version, Herreweghe managed to procure manuscripts for an updated version of the 1983 ‘chamber’ score, which placed heavier impetus on the horns.
The use of boy trebles adds a layer of cherubic purity to the already excellent sound of Le Chapelle Royale, and soloists Agnès Mellon and Peter Kooy provide wonderful accounts of the solos. Certainly a recording not to be missed.
In another return to the ‘chamber’ version, Rutter strips the score of most of its woodwind and violin parts to create a delicate texture, conducting the players at a pace similar to that of Herreweghe. Avoiding any drama or fuss, this excellent recording finds an immaculate balance between the voices and instruments.
Ample headroom is given to the singers, allowing for powerful surges that accurately depict the drama of the text, but without giving into the indulgence that Fauré so wanted to avoid.
classical-music.com | Tue, 16 Oct 2018 09:00:00 +0000
'Bravo Benevolo - and his latter-day champions!'
This week's free download is the Kyrie from Benevolo's Missa Si Deus pro nobis, performed by Le Concert Spirituel and conducted by Hervé Niquet, recorded on the Alpha label. The recording was awarded five stars in the October issue of BBC Music Magazine.
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classical-music.com | Fri, 12 Oct 2018 12:05:07 +0000
Over the next ten months the BBC will broadcast a series of TV and radio programmes celebrating the most memorable moments in classical music from the last 100 years.
A host of well-loved guests will take part in a series of documentaries and performances that culminates in a specially-commissioned work on the First Night of the BBC Proms in July.
Four episodes of Our Classical Century will be presented by Suzy Klein on BBC Four, each exploring how classical music collided with popular culture. The first two, featuring guests Lenny Henry and John Simpson respectively, will capture the profound influence of the First and Second World Wars on composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.
In part three, Klein will be joined by journalist and broadcaster Joan Bakewell to explore the increasing entanglement of classical music with that of television and film, generating its own roster of high-profile stars who achieved celebrity status.
In the final programme in the series, singer Alexandra Burke will be exploring the world of classical music from the 1980s right up to the present day – a period in which the genre became accessible to millions through the advent of new technologies.
BBC Four will also be broadcasting a series of programmes discovering the stories behind seminal works from the last century, complete with performances from various of the BBC’s ensembles. In November an archive documentary by award-winning director John Bridcut will be broadcast, in which HRH The Prince of Wales, a longstanding enthusiast of composer Hubert Parry, uncovers the story behind one of Britain’s best and least-known composers.
Brian Cox, Amanda Vickery and Tom Service will present documentaries on composers and their works on BBC Two over the course of the year, while historian Lucy Worsley will be exploring the British Musical Revolution under Queen Victoria, in a unique programme to be aired in June.
Throughout the year BBC Radio 3 will be counting down its top 100 Essential Classics, identifying the key moments from the world of classical music, including premiers of seminal works like The Planets and Boléro.
Director general of the BBC Tony Hall has said: ‘This autumn marks the most ambitious classical music programming to date, exploring a century of classical music across BBC TV and radio.’
Part One: November-December 2018 (1918-1936)
Our Classical Century Episode 1, 1918-1936, on BBC Four presented by Suzy Klein and Sir Lenny Henry
Holst & Vaughan Williams - Making Music English, on BBC Two presented by Tom Service and Amanda Vickery
Discovering... Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgard, on BBC Four presented by Josie D'Arby
The Prince and the Composer: A Film about Hubert Parry, on BBC Four presented by HRH The Prince of Wales
Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (1-25) on BBC Radio 3
Part Two: February-March 2019 (1936-1953)
Our Classical Century Episode 2, 1936-1953, on BBC Four presented by Suzy Klein and John Simpson CBE
Discovering... Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Moritz Gnann, on BBC Four presented by Kate Derham
Britten's War Requiem at English National Opera, on BBC Four
Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (26-50) on BBC Radio 3
Part Three: April-May 2019 (1953-1971)
Our Classical Century Episode 3, 1953-1971, on BBC Four presented by Suzy Klein and Joan Bakewell
Discovering... Arnold's The Bridge on the River Kwai, performed by the BBC Concert Orchesta/Christopher Seaman, on BBC Four presented by Katie Derham
Brian Cox on Holst's The Planets, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra/Ben Gernon, on BBC Two
Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (51-75) on BBC Radio 3
Part Four: June-July 2019 (1980's-Present)
Our Classical Century Episode 4, 1980s-present, on BBC Four presented by Suzy Klein and Alexandra Burke
Lucy Worsley presents Queen Victoria and the British Musical Revolution on BBC Two
Discovering... Saariaho's Graal Théâtre performed by the BBC Philharmonic/Ludovic Morlot, on BBC Four presented by Tom Service
Top 100 Countdown in Essential Classics (76-100) on BBC Radio 3
First Night of the Proms 2019
See the December issue of BBC Music Magazine for an accompanying feature on Our Classical Century.
classical-music.com | Thu, 11 Oct 2018 11:28:17 +0000
Self-restraint was evidently not at the top of Respighi’s list of priorities when he composed Pines of Rome in 1924.
The orchestral forces enlisted for this 20-minute symphonic poem include a large organ – ideally with a 32-foot pedal stop – six bucinas (Roman trumpets), a vast percussion section and even a gramophone player. It isn’t just about creating a big noise, however, and over the four movements the composer beguiles us with vivid depictions of various pine tree-adorned scenes in Italy’s capital city.
Antonio Pappano (conductor) Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (2007) Warner Classics 394 4292
Though Rome’s finest orchestra undoubtedly rises to the occasion of playing its ‘home’ music, the magic here is really down to conductor Antonio Pappano who, in a performance rich in imagination, captures the mood of the work’s four very differing moments spot on.
Outside the Villa Borghese, Pappano lets his children run gleefully amok – as the movement frantically gathers tempo, the orchestra sounds as though it’s on the cusp of haring out of control… but is just about kept in check. And in the following ‘Pines Near a Catacomb’, Pappano creates the necessary sense of space by duly following the composer’s instruction to place the trumpet soloist ‘as far away as possible’ – many, surprisingly, don’t.
A feel for distance, too, distinguishes Pappano’s march along the Appian Way. As his Roman soldiers first come into view, they are an ominous presence on the horizon, the pounding of their feet scarcely discernible.
Only as they draw near, and the sun glints off their armour, does Pappano unleash the full force of his vast orchestra. Some conductors peak too soon here or progress in fits and spurts; Pappano paces the march to perfection.
As for caveats? With this being a live performance, Respighi’s magnificent array of sounds is joined here by the occasional cough or two from the Rome audience. It’s a small gripe, though.
Respighi’s Pines was championed in the US by Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic soon after its premiere, and its continuing popularity across the pond is amply reflected by a sizable clutch of excellent recordings by American orchestras: the Philadelphia Orchestra and Riccardo Muti (Warner) make up for lack of subtlety with raw excitement, while Fritz Reiner’s similarly thrilling 1957 recording with the Chicago Symphony (RCA) and Seiji Ozawa’s lively account with the Boston Symphony (DG) are also worth exploring.
For an elegant performance coupled with truly opulent sound, however, Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra get the nod – to pick out just one moment, the thundering organ and brass emerging from the dark depths in Maazel’s ‘Pines near a catacomb’ are simply awe-inspiring.
Charles Dutoit (conductor) Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (1984) Decca 410 1452
While others like to linger and enjoy the Roman views, Charles Dutoit is a man on a mission – his let’s-keep-things-moving approach is a bit of a one-off, but remarkably effective. The fast-driven tempos give unity and cohesion to a work that can sometimes feel episodic, and yet at no time does the listener feel rushed.
Yes, Dutoit’s ‘Pines of the Janiculum’ could be a little more perfumed and self-indulgent, but his brisk march up the Appian Way works a treat. Whereas others trudge, Dutoit’s Roman legion pounds toward us with an aggressive, Stravinsky-like menace. This is an army that means business, and don’t we know it.
As a young man, Respighi went to study under Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia, and one can detect glimpses of the great man’s influence in the lush Romanticism of the ‘Pines of the Janiculum’ – a movement that also has a touch of the Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel about it.
It is here that the Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra come into their own. In superbly recorded sound, Oue carefully blends the various colours that make Respighi’s night-time soundscape so seductive, picking out details here and there but never over-emphasising them – notice, for instance, how the cello solo is given a dreamy wistfulness by setting the player slightly back from the mic.
It’s extraordinarily atmospheric, and a timely reminder that Respighi’s Pines is not all about power and bombast.
Herbert von Karajan (conductor) Berlin Philharmonic (1996) DG 4497242
There’s not much fun to be had when Mr Karajan is on playground duty. Ever the control freak in this 1978 Berlin Philharmonic recording, the maestro keeps his children outside the Villa Borghese in strictly regimented, neatly rhythmical order – there’s no joie de vivre.
In his ‘Pines of the Appian Way’, meanwhile, we get brass, brass and more brass, to the near-obliteration of any other orchestral texture. It all leaves one feeling a little short-changed.
classical-music.com | Wed, 10 Oct 2018 11:15:32 +0000
What’s coming up on Radio 3 that you’re particularly excited about in the coming months?
Horatio Clare, who walked in the teenage Bach’s footsteps last year from Arnstadt to Lübeck, is going to be looking at the German 18th-century notion of the wanderer, which as a trope inspired a lot of musicians and poets like Goethe, Schubert and Mahler.
The programme will be interweaved with poetry and music, and is a chance for the listener to pause the outside world and engage in a journey around the Black Forest. We’re not quite sure what the starting point will be yet but we’ve got the maps out. It will be part of Slow Radio, and will take place on Christmas Eve.
Slow Radio is receiving its own dedicated slot. What will that entail?
There are various programmes scheduled: Clocks at Upton House and Night at the Zoo. We’ll also listen to the sounds of Durham Cathedral at night and the Burren cattle blessing, which is an old ritual in County Galway where the herd move from one pasture to another. It happens at the same time every year, and apparently the sounds are magical.
How would you explain Slow Radio to a newcomer?
It’s an opportunity to step back from the world in order to think about it differently. It will take however long it takes, and certainly won’t rush you. The sounds might be something you haven’t come across before or ones you've passed by and not taken any notice of.
I think silence actually sets music off, and the sounds within that silence give you a different perspective on music. That’s what we’ve been working on in our Sounds of the Earth on Sunday mornings. We take a sound, whether its rainfall or wind in the forest, and present music attached to it, in order to make you think differently. These will be available as podcasts as well.
Speaking of podcasts, will you be doing a second season of Classical Fix?
Yes, Classical Fix has proven to be very popular. Clemency Burton-Hill interviews someone who doesn’t necessarily know about classical music and suggests a menu for them. The first season was particularly successful as a podcast, so we'll be continuing with that.
How will you be commemorating Armistice Day?
We’re broadcasting Mark Anthony-Turnage’s The Silver Tassie, as well as some silent moments from around European battlefields. These will be Slow Radio-style – the sounds from the battle-sites today and their links with the past give an opportunity for contemplation.
For the Berlioz 150-year anniversary we’ve got a special weekend planned, with all the BBC orchestras coming together to do performances of his larger-scale works.
Also, towards the anniversary of the moon landing we’ll be looking at the influence of space on music, which also links back to our BBC Symphony Orchestra concert from the end of September – a performance of Holst's The Planets with professor Brian Cox.
And is it business as usual for weekly programmes like Essential Classics and Inside Music?
Yes, Inside Music - which we introduced relatively recently - continues. It gives you an insider’s perspective on great repertoire, and what it’s like to be a musician playing it. We’re going to have guests like Jacob Collier and Sofi Jeannin, the new BBC Singers conductor, David Charles Abell, singer Jeanine De Bique and violinist Jennifer Pike.
The Listening Service will also continue, with lots of stimulating explanations of music and how it works, including the impact of minimalism on music. We'll be looking at what it is about composers like Steve Reich that inspires very extreme reactions of liking and loathing.
Essential Classics is going to have some really great guests joining Suzy Klein and Ian Skelly, including actors Stephen Mangan, Graham Fellows and Lenny Henry, novelist Jessie Burton and conductor Sakari Oramo. So it’s going to be action-packed.
The BBC is undertaking a huge classical music project this year. Could you tell us more about it?
Our Classical Century is a wonderful pan-BBC project involving four TV programmes, which will look at great classical music moments in the last century. We’re going to match that on air on Radio 3 with 100 significant moments in classical music over the last 100 years, as well as illustrating key works that come out of the TV series by the BBC's orchestras and choirs.
This is the first time in the BBC where we’ve done something around classical music that incorporates both television and radio. It’s looking at great events and placing them in a social context. There’s everything from the premiere of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring to cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Chineke!.
At the End of the Road festival this summer you announced that Late Junction was getting its own festival as well?
That’s right, that will be in East London in February. Some festivals just seem to make sense. We actually had an evening at the End of the Road Festival devoted to Late Junction, and it worked really well.
classical-music.com | Mon, 08 Oct 2018 12:44:35 +0000
Montserrat Caballé, the Spanish soprano whose career spanned over 50 years, has died in her home city of Barcelona. She was admitted to hospital last month after a long period of illness.
‘La Superba’, as she was lovingly referred to by her fans, was one of the most exciting opera singers of the latter half of the 20th century. A leading figure in the resurgence of the bel canto technique, Caballé became a hugely revered singer in an era where the limelight was often dominated by conductors and directors.
Caballé always denied her reputation as a fierce prima donna, insisting: ‘I am not now nor have I ever been a diva… I am only Montserrat!’. Indeed, her indomitable stage presence was matched by an irresistible charm off-stage, endearing her to countless musicians and non-musicians alike, not least her close friend Freddie Mercury, with whom she recorded the Olympic anthem for the 1992 Barcelona games – Mercury, alas, died before the games began.
The daughter of an industrial chemist, Caballé was born in the 1930s in the midst of the Spanish civil war. She was not from a wealthy family, and her childhood home was bombed when she was four years old. Fortunately family friends offered to pay for her training at the Conservatori Liceu.
Here she studied under Eugenia Kemeny and the well-known Spanish soprano Conchita Badia, both of whom she would continually attribute the longevity and success of her career to. Her breakthrough came with a portrayal of Donna Elvira at the Vienna State Opera in 1960.
This was followed by a concert performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia for the American Opera Society, in which she sang the title role, filling in for an ailing Marilyn Horne. The performance made her an international sensation overnight, and was followed by an enormously successful 1965 season at Glyndebourne playing both Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro.
Some of her most notable recordings include interpretations of rarely performed works by Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi, all of which display her impeccable technique and unparalleled ability to tap into the emotions of the characters she portrayed. As she said herself: ‘When a singer truly feels and experiences what the music is all about, the words will automatically ring true.’
Despite regular bouts of illness – in 1985 she spent three months in hospital with a brain tumour – Caballé showed a dogged determinat to return to the stage. She once professed her doctors had called her a ‘witch’, amazed at her ability to overcome illness.
Caballé found it difficult to leave her public and continued performing well into the new century, finally retiring to her husband Bernabé’s farm.
classical-music.com | Mon, 08 Oct 2018 10:05:46 +0000
The director general of the BBC, Tony Hall, is to announce the release of the corporation’s back catalogue of classical music recordings and broadcasts. The accouncement is due this Thusday at the launch of the BBC’s Our Classical Century project, which looks back over 100 years of classical music in the UK.
The catalogue will be available to the public online via BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sounds app, and is one of the largest in the world. It includes iconic recordings from the BBC Proms, BBC Young Musician and BBC Introducing.
Lord Hall is expected to say: ‘In an age of every-growing platforms and social media sharing, these historic and recent performances will be returned to the public as their rightful property.
‘Whilst the way we consume and share content is changing rapidly, music’s ability to bring us together has stayed the same, and classical music’s role in that should not be underestimated.’
Our Classical Century will be available on BBC Radio 3, BBC Sounds, BBC Two, and BBC Four from mid-November. See the Radio & TV page of our November issue for more information.
classical-music.com | Thu, 04 Oct 2018 14:30:36 +0000
Omer Meir Wellber has been named the new chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, succeeding Juanjo Mena, who held the post for eight years. The 36-year-old has fast established himself as one of today’s top conductors, having directed many of the world’s most prestigious ensembles, including the London Philharmonic, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Bavarian State Opera.
He has worked with the BBC Philharmonic on a number of previous occasions, most recently in Salford’s Media City with a programme of Mozart and Brahms. He will next be conducting the orchestra on Saturday 6October at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.
Born in Israel, Wellber studied conducting and composition at the Jerusalem Music Academy under Eugene Zirlin and Mendi Rodan. He has been a guest conductor at the Israeli Opera for over ten years.
A passionate advocate for social change, Wellber is music director of the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra, which was set up in 1991 in part to provide work for immigrants. He also regularly collaborates with a number of outreach programmes that support the next generation of conducting students.
Wellber will join a roster of BBC Philharmonic conductors that includes John Storgårds (chief guest conductor) and Ben Gernon (principal guest conductor).