Recently in Reviews
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
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.
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