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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
26 Sep 2005
Arvo Pärt: A Tribute
Paul Hillier has written the book on Arvo Pärt, quite literally. He has spent significant time with the Estonian composer interviewing him, working with him, and studying his music. He has not only authored the only text researching Pärt's music and background, but Hillier also seems to one of the first to perform and record his music, thereby exposing it to the general public.
Arvo Pärt: A Tribute, was released in celebration of Arvo Pärt's 70th birthday on September 11, 2005. This compilation disc offers an exquisite retrospective of the composer’s choral music. Nearly all of Pärt's choral music comes from his second period, in the now familiar tintinnabuli style and with sacred texts. Despite the technique's strict rigidity, the sustaining of a single triad throughout the work, the works on this recording represent great variety. Over the past thirty years or so Pärt has expanded his emotional palette by varying the textures of tintinnabuli.
The second track, the Women With The Alabaster Box, evokes the cold artic north of the Baltic. The sound is hollow and stark with wide voicings and slow moving tempo and harmonic motion. In a complete contrast the short Bogoroditse Djevo, the Eastern Orthodox Ave Maria, is light and quick. This joyous setting is Russian in style with a thick but bright harmonic texture. Pärt also achieves great warmth in his setting of I am the True Vine. The harmonic progressions are rich and sonorous and even include occasional, vague melodic ideas in the soprano. The piece with the densest and fullest sound is the fabulous Which Was The Son Of... . The frequently repeated words “which was the son of” are set with great variety from pulsing incantation to strong declamation. Driving rhythmic patterns build up to large full climactic cluster chords and ultimately a beautiful resolution at the final cadence at “God.”
As a compilation, this disc includes three choirs all led by Paul Hillier. There is also variety in the performances because of the nature of the choirs. The Estonian Chamber Choir has quickly risen in the public eye as one of the leading European Choirs. Their singing is robust yet clean, virtuosic yet subtle, and extremely passionate. The Theater of Voices, Hillier's regular ensemble, carries the bulk of the CD with beautiful clarity. A smaller group, their sound is quite refined and clear with precise intonation and uniformity across all parts. Joining them on three tracks is the Pro Arte Singers, bulking their numbers, but maintaining the exquisite sound.
The liner notes provide a little background to Pärt's music, the tintinnabuli style, and the text and origin of each work. But it is the music and the performance that sets this recording apart from many contemporary choral releases. Hillier's scholarship and artistry bring out the subtlety and passion in Pärt's music with honesty and integrity. Hillier notes in the liner booklet that “Arvo Pårt's music is now famous.” What he humbly fails to mention, is that in large part it is due to him.