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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..
24 Oct 2005
The Karajan Collection—Wagner Orchestral Music
“Das Wunder Karajan” – “the miracle of Karajan” – is a phrase associated with the conductor since he was thirty years old, and that phrase holds true in his recorded legacy. In addition to recent DVD releases, EMI has issued a series of CDs in its “The Karajan Collection,” which preserves many fine studio recordings.
Among the volumes in the set is a collection of orchestral music from Wagner’s operas, which stems several concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic between the end of September and early October in 1974. (Originally released in 1975, the selections were remastered in 2001.) Since Karajan was noted as an interpreter of Wagner’s music, and his work with the Berlin Philharmonic is well known, this recording preserves several fine pieces that are rarely played with such consistent intensity, and one can imagine the immediate impact on the audience.
The Overture to Tannhaüser, the longest selection on this CD, makes use of the Paris version of the score, and it includes the chorus of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, rather than the exclusively orchestra rendering something found on recordings of excerpts from Wagner’s operas. The balance between chorus and orchestra is effective, just as the shifts in orchestral color that are part of the Overture are achieved with smoothly. The solid string textures form a rich foundation for the sometimes exposed woodwind and brass playing in this piece, and the result is as vibrant as it was thirty years ago, when Karajan recorded it.
Likewise, the full string sounds with which the Prelude to Lohengrin opens are difficult to match. While some may quibble with Karajan’s tempos, which can be a little quicker than some would like, this performance is hardly willful: Karajan shows a clear direction as the piece grows in intensity and orchestral color before it subsides in the rich string sounds found in the opening measures. Such masterful direction is borne out in the Prelude to the third act of the same opera, where the prominent brass sonorities offer the kind of polished sound usually associated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Georg Solti.
At the center of this recording is the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, a work for which Karajan was respected in the opera house. Karajan’s performance of the Prelude is among his finest, as he renders the details of the score precisely and elicits the emotional pitch that this piece must have. The only caveat about this performance is the attaca that connects the orchestral version of Isolde’s “Liebestod” to the end of the Prelude to the first act. While this may work in concert, the banding on a CD should reflect the discrete pieces. With the two pieces connected in this way, the pathos that is essential to the Prelude maps directly onto the “Liebestod” from the end of the third act. Even without including the voice in this performance, Karajan draws the appropriate emotion from the instruments in his cantabile approach to this piece.
It is difficult to follow the music from Tristan und Isolde in this collection, except with something different, and the Overture to Der fliegende Holländer offers sufficient contrast. This selection is, again, a solid performance that evokes the mood of the opera itself. As with the other pieces on this CD the sound vividly captures the fine playing. Karjan’s tempos are compelling, and fit not only the score as Wagner left it, but also the level of playing of the Berlin Philharmonic. Nothing is out of place in this performance, with every detail sounding in place, as though the Orchestra were a single instrument – an achievement of “das Wunder Karajan.” Yet in the final piece on this recording, Karajan builds somewhat on tradition to offer a more paced and majestic reading of the Overture to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In this in this performance, the work even slows a bit near the ending to bring out the fanfares and string accompaniments that are often blurred on other recordings. As the tempos slow toward the final passages, the intensity of the playing increases, with dynamic, resonant sounds that culminate in the well-spaced chords at the conclusion of the Overture.
This recording is a fine collection on its own merits, but it even more impressive as part of EMI’s “Karajan Collection.” The liner notes by Richard Osborne give a synopsis of Karajan’s work with Wagner’s music, but could be enhanced with a discography of the conductor’s recordings. The distinctive look of the CD packaging identifies the volumes in this series, with a black-and-white photo presumably from the time of the recording against a brown-tan background. While a list of the CDs in the set is not part of this recording, those interested might consult the website www.emiclassics.com. It is a fine release on its own merits, and all the more impressive as part of the set being issue by EMI.
James L. Zychowicz