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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.
24 Jun 2009
MAHLER: Symphony no. 8
The Gala release of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony from Hamburg performances on 29 and 30 November 1954 serves to document further the composer’s presence in the concerto hall prior to the well-known Mahler-renewal in 1960.
While Mahler’s music is heard with increasing regularly in the latter part of the twentieth century, his works were not completely ignored after World War II. Yet recordings of his symphonies were rare, especially when it comes to something as demanding as the Eighth. The Hamburg performance on this recent Gala CD dates from that time, which is just after Leopold Stokowski recorded the Eighth in 1950. Led by the composer-theorist Winfried Zillig (1905-63), this performance is a fine effort, which stands well when compared to other recordings of the time. The soloists are suited to the task and include a young Herman Prey and youthful Franz Crass; the choruses worked well together in a nicely blended sound. And if there is a weakness it is in the orchestral sound, which falls short at times. The first section of the Eighth, “Veni Creator Spiritus,” is nicely paced and the modest tempos allow for a sense of clarity to emerge. Yet those familiar with the score will find some awkward transitions and, unfortunately, a disappointing ending to the movement. The abrupt cutoff does not fit the style, sounding more tacked on than conclusive.
The second part, the setting of the conclusion of the second part of Goethe’s Faust is similar in concept. The opening section seems louder and more direct than indicated in the score, with the chorus of anchorites more prominent than later conductors might allow. Some of the other passages are well sung, but on the whole, the performance seems to be an accumulation of sections. Yet among those sections, the solo of the Pater Ecstaticus “Ewiger Wonnebrand” receives a notable and impassioned reading by Prey. Elsewhere, the tempos sometimes drag, with some uncharacteristic results in the section “Ich spur’ soeben,” a point where the solo tenor interacts with the chorus. A similar situation occurs later in the passage “Bei der Liebe,” in which the tempos flag at the expense of building toward the concluding section. It is unfortunate, though, that the final section of the second part occurs on the second disc and does not continue from the music which precedes it. While other conductors might shape the phrases differently, the Zillig does bring the performance to a satisfying conclusion. In some places the instrumentalists seem a bit taxed, but the solo voices and, especially, the chorus sustain the intensity implicit in the score.
In addition to the Eighth Symphony, this recording includes a performance on 19 August 1951 by the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau of Mahler’s cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with the Vienna Philharmonic led by Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Salzburg Festival. This recording shows Fischer-Dieskau to fine effect with music he return to at various times in his lengthy career. Here, the involvement of Furtwängler is also of interest in a vivid recording of this familiar work. Also included is a slightly later performance by Fischer-Dieskau of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with the NDR-Sinfonieorchester conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt on 6 June 1955. The two-disc set also includes Hugo Wolf’s Gesänge des Harfners sung by Herman Prey and also accompanied y the NDR-Sinfonieorchester led by Schmidt-Issersted from 13 September 1955. A bonus is the inclusion of Hans Werner Henze’s Fünf Neapolitanische Lieder from 19 September 1956 (again with the NDR-Sinfonieorchester and conducted by Schmidt-Isserstedt).
As important as the Mahler recordings are to document the composer’s reception at a time when his music needed champions to bring it to performance, they also represent the work of two major German singers, Prey and Fischer-Dieskau, who would become some of the most important voices of their generation in the decades that followed. At the same time, the efforts of the Schoenberg student Winfried Zillig are preserved in this rare recording of the Eighth. At a time when Mahler’s works were rarely heard, it is reassuring to know of the efforts to perform one of the composer’s more demanding scores.
James L. Zychowicz