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The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
22 Sep 2005
SCHOENBERG: Accentus | Ensemble intercontemporain
Schoenberg, born in Vienna in 1874, is remembered as a composer and a music theorist. He held strong attitudes toward the craft of composition and its pedagogy, which have been received as the beginnings of a theory of music, though Schoenberg denied ever attempting to create a systematic theory.
Schoenberg believed that music had an evolutional history that included the development and perfection of tonal systems in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Schoenberg deeply respected tonal music and he trained his composition pupils thoroughly in tonality and traditional counterpoint; however, he viewed the increasing use of chromaticism and non-diatonic chords in the later nineteenth century as a teleological process leading to the necessary—if uncomfortable—abandonment of tonality in the twentieth century. The pieces on this album illustrate Schoenberg’s compositional development and his strange position as both conservative and herald of “the music of the future.”
Two powerhouse ensembles specializing in modernist music performance joined together on this album. The result of this collaboration is an outstanding collection of some of Arnold Schoenberg’s lesser-known pieces along with better-known classics from his oeuvre. Ensemble Intercontemporain—a group of 31 soloists—has been an institution since its founding in 1976 by Pierre Boulez. And, in 1991, Laurence Equilbey brought together 32 professional singers to form the choir Accentus. Equilbey’s primary goal was the revival of an a capella choir tradition, and his group tackles a largely modernist repertoire. In addition to a capella performances, Accentus collaborates with instrumental groups in order to perform and record mixed ensemble pieces, and this is not the first time they’ve worked with Ensemble Intercontemporain.
Particularly exceptional about this recording is the inclusion of two versions of Schoenberg’s choral work, Frieden Auf Erden. Track 1 is the version with the orchestral accompaniment that Schoenberg write in 1911 because the original a capella version was declared “unperformable.” Time and many performances have proven that Frieden Auf Erden is indeed performable, though I think rarely with such grace and confidence as displayed by Accentus on this recording.
Also of note is a transcription of the third movement of Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchetra by Franck Krawczyk completed in 2002. According to the liner notes, Krawczyk was motivated to do this transcription by the Second Viennese School’s practice of doing transcriptions in order to “shed light” on someone else’s musical composition. What Krawczyk and Accentus accomplish is an extraordinary piece of music.
Nestled among the less frequently performed choral works is the Schoenberg Kammersymphonie, opus 9 (1906) performed by Ensemble Intercontemporain. Although this piece is available on other high-quality recordings, its inclusion adds variety and interest to this assortment of pieces.
Schoenberg’s music was met with great resistance and little understanding from critics and audiences. At the end of his life, having been exiled from the very country whose music he had hoped to progress and forced to teach lower-level courses to UCLA undergraduates, it is probably fair to say that Schoenberg was disillusioned by the future of music in general, and his music in particular.
While popular opinion may have it that Schoenberg brought ruin to classical music with his “emancipation of the dissonance,” sensitive and smart performances like those by Accentus and Ensemble Intercontemporain prove that Schoenberg’s output contains more than just theoretical pieces; rather, his music is rich, varied, and emotionally compelling as well as intellectually challenging.
CUNY – The Graduate Center