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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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?
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