classical-music.com | Wed, 19 Dec 2018 10:00:00 +0000
Few concertos begin as ominously as Elgar's for the cello. When the soloist's bow bites into those stark E minor chords, it's like a summons - and not to cocktails and a gossip. What we know of the work's genesis reinforces this sombre impression. Elgar began writing it towards the end of the First World War.
The Edwardian world, his world, had been blown apart. Many friends were dead. He had turned 60 and just undergone a throat operation. Alice, his stalwart wife, was ailing.
To pile misery on misery, Elgar accurately sensed that taste had turned against him - a suspicion cruelly confirmed when the grossly under-rehearsed premiere of this concerto was received with indifference in November 1919. He never completed another major work, though he lived for 15 more years.
All this suggests that the composer was feeling pretty low. On the concerto's final page he even wrote ‘RIP’. No wonder that some cellists play the piece like a requiem. But is such morbidity valid? Much of the music is vitality itself. Elgar himself described it as ‘a real large work and, I think, good and alive’.
Jacqueline du Pré (cello); London Symphony Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli Warner Classics 6230752
Seven years after John Barbirolli conducted André Navarra's version of this concerto in 1958, he found himself recording the Elgar again. This time the soloist was a British sensation, just turned 20.
Her name was Jacqueline du Pré. She opted for audaciously slow speeds and even more daring dynamics, often producing something between a whisper and a whimper, and intensifying the solo line with old-fashioned portamenti. Barbirolli must have been the first to realise that du Pré's interpretation was unlike any other. It still is.
Elgar himself said that this concerto summed up ‘a man's attitude to life’, and I think this places an obligation on intepreters to dig deep into their own souls. Which is exactly what du Pré did, over and over again, when she performed this work. Perhaps in her later recordings (three live-concert versions; one for television) she overdid the soulful angst.
Her 1971 recording with Daniel Barenboim, for instance, seems almost a self-parody. But back in 1965, guided by the wise and humane Barbirolli, she achieved a much more satisfactory balance between head and heart. Hers is not a performance that I would want to live through every week. But it's the one recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto that I would not want to live without.
Beatrice Harrison (cello); New Symphony Orchestra/Sir Edward Elgar Naxos 8111260
The question is, did Elgar really imagine the piece as unrelenting tragedy? One way to answer that is to dig out the 1928 recording that the composer conducted, with Beatrice Harrison as soloist.
What you find comes as a bit of a shock. Elgar allows Harrison to pull the music around, but in the orchestral passages he surges on with amazing zest. Clearly, he didn't regard the piece as particularly doom-laden.
Yo-Yo Ma (cello); London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn Sony G010002679548T
Somewhere between du Pre's hyperactive romanticism and Steven Isserlis's monkish austerity [in his early first recording in 1988] is Yo-Yo Ma. Lovingly accompanied by André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, he creates a stunning sonic landscape: misty, mellow, very Cotswoldsy. His timbre is like the delicate brush-strokes of a great watercolourist.
And in the fiendish second movement, where several cellists don't quite convince in technical terms (including the otherwise dignified Julian Lloyd Webber), Ma gives a model demonstration of how to deliver those scampering semiquavers with rock-steady clarity and intonation.
Truls Mork (cello); City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle Erato 5453562
The mood is much darker on a recording made in 1999 by the Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Mørk turns the piece into an epic trudge through ominous terrain.
And Rattle, a superbly responsive accompanist, enhances this sense of a figure battling against malevolent fate like some woebegone Thomas Hardy heroine, by bringing out the thickest, deepest sounds he can find in Elgar's orchestration.
This article by Richard Morrison was first published in the May 2004 issue of BBC Music Magazine. Which recordings of Elgar's Cello Concerto made since then would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.
classical-music.com | Tue, 18 Dec 2018 10:46:15 +0000
The BBC Proms has announced that it will be adding Japan to its growing list of international tours, following Australia in 2016 and Dubai in 2017.
Thomas Dausgaard will lead the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in concerts across the six-day festival in Tokyo and Osaka, in the orchestra’s first trip to Japan.
As with BBC Proms Australia and Dubai, the festival will feature the traditional elements of the BBC Proms, including the First and Last Nights. The concerts will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 for BBC Sounds.
The full programme will be announced in early 2019.
‘We are delighted to both be making our first trip to Japan in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s history and to represent the BBC Proms while we are there,’ says Dominic Parker, director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. ‘This tour comes at a time when the world will be focusing on the build-up to 2020 in Tokyo.’
classical-music.com | Tue, 18 Dec 2018 10:00:00 +0000
For the first time, cameras have been allowed access to the Choir of King's College, Cambridge's annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. To celebrate ther service's 100th anniversary, BBC Two will be following the choir's rehearsal process and the preparations for the big day.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols began 100 years ago in the wake of the First World War, as a reaction to the horrors of war and the need to unite the community in faith.
The BBC Two programme will be shown on 21 December at 7pm.
This year's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day on Radio 3 (with full organ voluntaries).
Read more about the centenary of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in the Christmas 2018 issue of BBC Music Magazine.
classical-music.com | Tue, 18 Dec 2018 10:00:00 +0000
'Tinged with jazz inflections'
This week's free download is an arrangement of Debussy's Minstrels, one of his Préludes, performed by Quatuor Debussy and recorded on the Harmonia Mundi label. It was awarded four stars in the December issue of BBC Music Magazine.
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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)
Monday 26 November 2018
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
Monday 19 November 2018
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 | Mon, 17 Dec 2018 10:00:00 +0000
Every Christmas, we invite a leading composer to write a carol for our readers.
This year's is written by composer Dobrinka Tabakova and you can download the score for the carol here.
We hope you'll include this carol in your service or concert. We'd love to hear your performances, so send any audio or video files or links to firstname.lastname@example.org we'll share them with our followers and readers on our website and social feeds.
When I was invited to write a carol for BBC Music Magazine, I had just completed one for the Truro Cathedral Nine Lessons and Carols service and had a previous advent work close to mind – my Alma Redemptoris Mater for the choir of Merton College, Oxford.
Both of these works were conceived to be performed in a sacred context. In this new carol, I still wanted to retain some liturgical mystery, but add another, more playful element.
While researching texts for the Truro carol, I came across Ralph Dunstan’s collection The Cornish Songbook and was drawn to one of the carols there: Heavenly sound.
As well as the upbeat good wishes, it was probably the ‘Hark, hark’ which adds a percussive punctuation and lifts the words, and gave me the idea of a (gentle) clapping counterpoint.
The image I had for the performance of my carol was more social – a Christmas sing-along at home or, perhaps, a slightly eccentric group of enthusiastic amateurs singing from smart-phones in a pub (I know a few of those).
The general mood is that of a contemporary round. The words dictated the rhythm of the carol, which I initially wrote in a stream of changing time signatures.
The ‘look’ of the carol didn’t quite sit with the more laid-back image I had of people singing it, so I thought either to dispense with bar lines or simply not have time signatures and leave the bar lines to give some structure to the melodies.
One of the things I’ve noticed when people are faced with a page of different time signatures is that they make the music quite spiky and bouncy. That is not my intention here, and I hope that the lack of time signatures will put emphasis on phrasing rather than rhythm.
In some places the melodies are quite long, so there will need to be stagger breathing – where each singer from the same line takes a breath at different times, creating the illusion that they are all singing one continuous melody with no break. Those places are marked with a broken slur where a natural breath would be taken.
The clapping is also not compulsory – in fact it would be better to just have some singers clap – and it’s always the same pattern, which would ideally be learned by heart.
The section from bar 77 (‘Let mortals catch…’) has a very low alto line, which may be welcomed by some, but it’s fine to have those who find it too low to sing the soprano line and add tenors to the alto line.
I do hope my carol brings you joy. As much as the title ‘Good-will to men and peace on Earth’ may be a nod to past seasonal tunes, I couldn’t think of a better wish now and for the future.
classical-music.com | Sat, 15 Dec 2018 10:00:48 +0000
It’s officially the festive season, so we’re all finally permitted to don our finest reindeer jumpers, have mugs of mulled wine thrust upon us on entry into any room, and generally indulge in all things rich and fruity (that counts for food and music in equal measures).
To coincide with our Christmas playlist on Apple Music (available here), the BBC Music Magazine team have chosen their favourite seasonal pieces.
‘Troika’ from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé Suite conjures up a crisp, bell-filled wintry scene and fits this time of year perfectly. After a grand brass introduction, the famous fourth movement ‘Troika’ breezes along, creating the impression of a fast-moving sleigh. The music was written for a Soviet film in 1933 – when Prokofiev returned to his homeland after a ten-year residency in Paris – and charts the life of a fictional military officer.
Recommended recording: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton BIS BIS1994
There seems to be a dearth of cheery Christmas choral works – most tend to be reflective rather than joyful (think Warlock, Howells, Michael Head, etc etc). But John Gardner’s sprightly two-minute burst of joy is inspired, its off-set rhythms and constantly changing time-signatures giving a wonderful sense of forward movement. Gardner, born in 1917, was a prolific composer of orchestral, chamber, vocal and instrumental music, but it’s for this delightful Christmas miniature that he’s almost solely known today.
Recommended recording: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers CORO COR16004
Adams’s nativity oratorio is one of the more unusual retellings of the Christmas story. The text is drawn from various biblical sources as well as a number of poems written by Latin American women, and the musical language is littered with inflections of Latin American folk music. Its theatrical writing is John Adams to a T, and the floating harmonies and unusual rhythms in this movement are warm and otherworldly. The trio of countertenors make this movement completely magical.
Recommended recording: Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Dawn Upshaw, Willard White, German Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano Nonesuch 7559 79634-2
Amid all the choral hurly-burly of Britten’s wonderfully invigorating A Ceremony of Carols comes the moment of extraordinary stillness that is the Interlude for solo harp. Based on the plainchant that we hear at the beginning of the work, this is music that reminds me of a frozen, deserted landscape, in which the only movement is the occasional drip from a slowly melting icicle. It’s extraordinarily atmospheric, and an essential part of my festive listening each year.
Recommended recording: James O’Donnell (organ), Sioned Williams (harp), Choir of Westminster Cathedral/David Hyperion CDA66220
If I haven't heard or sung O come, O come Emmanuel at least once over Christmas, even an extra mince pie won't stop me feeling short-changed on the festive front. This haunting hymn for Advent and Christmas has an ancient quality that I love. The text and tune developed separately through the centuries, and various versions exist, but the familiar words-and-music combination in English came into being in 1851. Rejoice, Rejoice!
Recommended recording: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Sir David Willcocks Warner Classics 9992365032
classical-music.com | Fri, 14 Dec 2018 10:00:00 +0000
As well as mop-wielding Mickey Mouse, Disney’s feature-length cartoon has a gorgeously animated section devoted to The Nutcracker, including music from the Sugar-Plum Fairy, the Arabian Dance, the Russian Trepak and the Waltz of the Flowers.
Further cinematic Nutcracker delights, as a computer-animated Barbie embarks on a ballet adventure. It is, needless to say, all very pink, though our heroine does dance a neat little Sugar-Plum Fairy routine.
‘I hope I never hear that God-awful Nutcracker music again,’ complains a typically grumpy Homer Simpson. And guess what comes next? Yup, the Simpsons cast sings a Christmas medley to the tune of the Act I March.
Few musicians have fused the worlds of classical and jazz as sublimely as The Duke, whose 1960 take on Tchaikovsky comes complete with natty titles such as ‘Sugar Rum Cherry’ and ‘Toot Toot Tootie Toot’.
Two years after Duke Ellington, American rockers B. Bumble & the Stingers were inspired to create their own high-octane arrangement of The Nutcracker’s March, a version that’s been covered by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, among others.
From Frank Muir pootling around in a punt in 1976 to a 1980s office worker being serenaded by a singing chocolate bar and her hunky-chunky almonds, Cadbury’s brilliant ad campaign had us all singing ‘Everyone’s a Fruit and Nut case’ to the Dance of the Reed Pipes.
Here’s one for sharp-eyed Nutcracker spotters, courtesy of Monty Python’s 1970 sketch. As Graham Chapman enters the Richard III Ward at the Royal Hospital for Overacting, a group of King Mice pass in the other direction.