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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..
05 Dec 2008
London Philharmonic Orchestra — 75th Anniversary, Vol. 3: 1983-2007.
Released to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the three multi-disc sets of recordings makes available recordings that document the triumphs of the ensemble since its founding in 1932 by Sir Thomas Beecham.
The third and final volume brings the documentation to the present, and celebrates some fine contemporary conductors of the London Philharmonic, with a disc devoted to each of its four recent conductors. Taken from a number of live performances, the recordings represent well the quality of the performances in the vividness of the concert hall. Reaching back a quarter century to 1983, the choice of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony under the direction of the late Klaus Tennstedt not only pays tribute to that conductor’s exemplary leadership and also demonstrates the caliber of soloists involved, with the late Lucia Popp, soprano, Ann Murray, mezzo soprano, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor, and René Pape, bass. The performance of the “Choral” Symphony stems from a concert on 8 October 1983 at Royal Festival Hall. While it is difficult to recommend a limited number of recordings of this iconic work of nineteenth-century symphonic literature, this particular release conveys a dynamic tension that is not always possible in various fine studio recordings. This performance captures Lucia Popp at an excellent time in her career and, at the same time, includes the young René Pape, a bass who has since achieved an international reputation. The addition of Ann Murray and Anthony Rolfe Johnson make this a festival-level cast for this intensive reading of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Dating from the later 1980s through the 1990s, the tenure of Franz Welser-Most includes music from several concerts and is denoted by several representative works for voices and orchestra. The disc includes five selections: Mozart’s Mass in C minor, K. 427, recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall in February 1987; Mozart’s Requiem, recorded at St. Augustine’s Church, London, in 1989; the final scene from Richard Strauss’s opera Capriccio, with soprano Dame Felicity Lott and bass Michael Georg from a concert on 25 February 1992; Schubert’s Stabat Mater, D. 175, from a concert at Royal Festival Hall, on 26 October 1992; and Bruckner’s Te Deum, recorded in October 1995 at All Saints’ Church, London. While most of the works are well-known, Schubert’s Stabat Mater is, perhaps, less familiar than the others and nonetheless of interest because of Welser-Most’s exemplary attention to the choral textures of this work. As one of the finest contemporary interpreters of Bruckner, the recording of the Te Deum brings together a remarkable cast, which includes soprano Jane Eaglen; contralto Brigit Remmert; the late tenor Deon van der Walt, and bass Alfred Muff. It is an exciting performance that stands well with other releases of the work. The relatively large amount of choral music on this disc does not need an explanation, but the inclusion of the scene from Strauss’s Capriccio remains a kind of commentary. With the nature of musical composition at the core of the libretto for Strauss’s opera, the final scene in this famed “conversation” about music contains the unresolved argument as to whether the text of the music should be foremost. It remains for the listener to decide, but the works chosen make a strong case for the place of choral music in the tradition of the London Philharmonic.
Moving to the early twentieth century, Kurt Masur, familiar to American audiences for his fine work with the New York Philharmonic is represented here with two critical works by Dmitri Shostakovich, the composer’s First and Fifth Symphonies. The recordings of those two symphonies are taken from performances given in the relatively short time between 31 January and 3 February 2004. Masur’s lively interpretation of Shostakovich’s First Symphony bears hearing for its fine sonics that make bring a nice clarity to the solo lines and thinner textures that are characteristic of the work. With the Fifth, Masur strikes a fine balance between the range of moods and textures that are part of the score. The slow movement, the penultimate band on the recording, is seamless, with a welcome spaciousness to its elegiac quality. The ensemble required for a successful execution is present in this masterful performance, which demonstrates the quality of playing that has been part of the London Philharmonic since its founding. The culmination of the movement, with the percussive line with xylophone and piano leads to a moving conclusion under Masur’s direction.
The final disc of the set is an opportunity to hear the young conductor Vladimir Jurowski, whose recorded legacy is not yet as extensive as those of his predecessors. Jurowski brings his own intensive musicality to the London Philharmonic in a performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 14, a work that brings together settings of poetry by Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker, and Rilke, in a symphonic song cycle that stands well alongside other such twentieth-century works as Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and Britten’s Les Illuminations. With soloists Tatiana Monogarova and Sergei Leiferkus, this recording from February 2006 is an excellent introduction to Jurowski’s work.
As part of the anniversary celebration of the London Philharmonic, this last installment stands well with the other two. The sound is consistently fine, and audience noise, minimal. Not only do these recordings serve well in documenting the recent years of the London Philharmonic, but they represent well the conductors involved, each a major figure at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.