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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..
19 Apr 2009
Pfitzner and Strauss by Staatskapelle Dresden
In the continuing series of releases to document the recorded legacy of the Staatskapelle Dresden, vol. 13 collects music by Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss with performances from 1939 through 1944.
This CD includes Pftizner’s Symphony for Large Orchestra in C Major, Op. 46, which was recorded in January 1941 and released on LP in March of that year. Conducted by Karl Böhm, this recording captures a performance by a conductor who knew the composer firsthand. This historic release benefits from nicely restored sound, which brings an exciting performance from a single recording session. If Pfitzner is known today more for his contributions to opera, particularly Palestrina, his efforts at symphonic composition are by no means insignificant. Among his three symphonies, the Op. 46 work in C major is certainly convincing. The heroic-sounding themes suggest a post-Romantic idiom, which certainly helped to keep this and other, similar works in performance during the Third Reich, when this recording was made. This Hänssler release presents the work in a single, continuous band, which could benefit from divided into three, in order to make the three movements of the Symphony more readily accessible.
The remaining pieces in this volume are works by Richard Strauss, a composer with whom Böhm had a long association. While Böhm’s later recordings are, perhaps more familiar to modern audiences, this reissue offers solid readings from the conductor’s younger days. Consistent with Böhm’s reputation for convincing performances, the recordings demonstrate his fine sense of pacing and dynamic balance, which is apparent even in these relatively early recordings. Don Juan contains a sparkle and verve that brings a sense of immediacy to this recording. The recording techniques for this 1939 recording have a nice, direct sound, with minimal hiss and nice ambience. The virtuosity of the Staatskapelle emerges in the fine ensemble and clear playing of this recording.
Another recording from 1939, the famous “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Strauss’s opera Salome is, perhaps, more familiar from Böhm’s later recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. In the 1939 recording, the excerpt sounds as if it were taken from a performance of the opera. The band opens with brisk tempos and prominent percussion. If the winds sound at first somewhat close to the microphones, they eventually balance the full string sonorities found later in this cut, which are nicely incisive. The percussion, especially the xylophone fit well into the full texture of the piece, and Böhm distinguishes nicely between the agitated rhythmic figure with which the dance begins, and the more romantic motives that intersect the music almost schizophrenically. The performance has a nice drive, which sets up the ending effectively.
Böhm’s performance of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche dates from 1941, and is another solid reading. This more extended piece by Strauss gives further evidence of the Staatskapelle’s fine musicianship and also its longstanding familiarity with the composer’s music. The sound is particularly effective, reflecting in some ways the kinds of sounds found in film scores of the day. Here Böhm is as engaging as he would later evince a solid connection with tradition.
The final selection, which dates from 1944, is a more popular-sounding work of Strauss, the Festliches Präludium, Op. 61. Conducted by Kurt Striegler, this work includes Hanss Ander-Donath, organ, in a work which is certainly less familiar than the other selections found on this recording. Recorded in Dresden’s Frauenkirche, the sound is more resonant than that found in the other selections, which were made in the Semperoper. The venue is appropriate for the inclusion of the organ, which can be heard, but sometimes merges into the mass of sound Strauss used in this work.
With its nice combination of familiar works with less performed literature, this recording is more than an historic curiosity. The recordings are spirited and reflect the engagement of the musicians involved with them in works that drew audiences of period to concerts. This release certainly augments the ongoing audio-documentation of the Dresden Staatskapelle with these well-chosen selections made during the Second World War.
James L. Zychowicz