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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.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
23 Aug 2009
Paul Hindemith: Die junge Magd, Op. 23, no. 2; Ernst Toch: Die chinesische Flöte, Op. 29.
Gustav Mahler was not alone in setting verses from Hans Bethge’s collection of Chinese-inspired poetry entitled Die chinesische Flöte, as he did in his symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde.
In contrast to Mahler’s effort, Ernst Toch composed a three-movement work which makes use of Bethge’s title for its setting of three poems: “Die geheimnisvolle Flöte,” “Die Ratte,” and “Das Los des Menschen.” Among the recent selections in the series Edition Staatskapelle Dresden is a CD which includes an historic performance of Toch’s Die Chinesische Flöte, a setting of three of Bethge’s poems, from 22 February 1949 along with a recording from 15 September 1948 of Paul Hindemith’s Die junge Magd, Op. 23b.
Dating from 1922 Ernst Toch’s Die chinesische Flöte, Op. 29 is a substantially different work than Mahler’s more familiar setting of Bethge’s poetry. From the outset the spare timbres connote a different style. In contrast to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, in which chamber-music texts are part of the larger fabric of the work, Toch’s Chinesische Flöte is conceived for solo voice and chamber orchestra. Almost programmatically, the solo flute is prominent in the first movement, Toch’s setting of “Die geheimnisvolle Flöte,” and complements the voice throughout the work. Toch is sensitive to Bethge’s text, and allows the declamation to emerge readily in his sometimes spare orchestral textures. Likewise, he makes effective use of instrumental interludes to set off the verses of the poem and thus underscore the text, rather than render it all at once and thus risk losing the attention of the listeners. Inspired by the original text of Li Tai Pao, Bethge recreated in German the sense of remoteness to which Toch responded appropriately. Trötschel captures the sense of text well with her phrasing and intonations. Since the piece lies well for Trötschel’s voice, she is able to convey in this performance shades of meaning in the text.
The second setting in this cycle is a much shorter, somewhat ironic text entitled “Die Ratte” (“The Rat”), a metaphor for an obsession. Thus, the rapid-fire declamation that Toch uses is entirely appropriate to the verse, and serves as an excellent contrast to the sense of remote calm he achieved in the first piece. Again, Trötschel brings a natural kind of phrasing to the delivery, which is always clear and distinct. The third and final piece is “Das Los des Menschens” (“The Lot of Mankind”) a poem in which the summer season becomes a means of expressing something of the angst about human existence. Here Toch adapts from cliché sounds associated with the orient in the accompaniment in a setting with equal weight to the first. The instrumental music is more prominent than in the first movement and serves to punctuate the verses in this setting. Trötschel’s delivery brings clarity to this performance, which allows the text to be heard distinctly. The latter serves well for those who want to hear Bethge’s text, which is, unfortunately, not reproduced in the liner notes - for these pieces and Hindemith’s Hänssler offers the texts only in English translation, rather than the conventional bi- or trilingual presentation association with Lieder or chansons.
Composed around the same time, Hindemith’s song cycle Die junge Magd also makes use of a chamber ensemble for its accompaniment, specifically a string quartet augmented by flute and clarinet. The resulting timbres involve some of the composer’s distinctive style, which underscores the expressive dissonances he used in his settings some of the Austrian poet’s Georg Trakl’s verse The poems express some of the meaninglessness aspects of human existence, and Himdemith’s settings intensify them. Further, Ruth Lange brought out the introspective nature of the work with her idiomatic performance of the music. Performed in Germany shortly after the end of World War II, this work bears a further level of meaning, through a recording made during the rebuilding of a country which was at the forefront of modernism. The first poem of the cycle is particularly effective “Oft am Brunnen” and each of the succeeding five songs has something to offer. The recording is remarkably reproduced well in this CD, but it would be useful to have the texts reproduced in the accompanying booklet. As interesting as it is to have more background on the performers than usually occurs, the text is essential to pieces like this, which are available less frequently in recordings than other
James L. Zychowicz