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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..
17 Mar 2010
Karl Böhm: In Rehearsal and Performance
For many, the fine recordings of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan by the late Karl Böhm seem to have emerged full-spring from the baton of Karl Böhm and the playing of the various orchestras he led.
As effortless as those performances may see, Böhm worked to achieve the results, and as much as his legacy points to the work he would do in rehearsal, it is not easy to find visual documentation of it. Yet a fine DVD exists to call attention to this aspect of the conductor’s career. Recorded on 17 September (rehearsal) and 18 September 1970 (performance), this recording offers a welcome focus on the final preparations of a single piece from start to finish. While some recordings offer selections of rehearsal footage as a bonus or among the “extras” included with a video, the premise behind this release is the rehearsal. In doing so, it affords a glimpse at Böhm in rehearsal, where the formal face known from stills and several recordings gives way to the conductor’s involvement with the details of the score.
With the orchestra in shirtsleeves, the tone is set to show the conductor working out the details that make a difference in Strauss’s finely detailed score. While some of the stops may seem for minutiae, when taken together those refinements make the core come to live in performance. The subtleties of dynamics emerge in the first part of the rehearsal, and Böhm was good not only in attending to the mistakes, but also to call attention to places where the performances succeeded. In the reality of this rehearsal, Böhm is not merely running through the score for the sake of neither the camera nor positing an image of a tyrannical director. Rather, he reviews the details to his satisfaction, even when some of the players seem from their facial expressions to tire of the continual interruptions the conductor brings to the playing. After all, this is where the work needs such dissection, and the comments Böhm makes to the performers is crucial to the results he would bring to the performance.
Just as he would stop rehearsal to describe certain markings (like the “non espressivo” marking before rehearsal letter G), Böhm’s remarks over the music also help to show how he wanted to shape the interpretation. It is unusual to see this kind of detail used on a piece which some orchestras perform with less preparation, but the concepts he brought to this work would have a bearing on style Böhm brought to Strauss’s orchestral music. It is not difficult to imagine how he could shape the other tone poems, since the details in the released performances bear out such fine attention.
This video is an excellent opportunity to see Böhm working with his musicians in one of the more familiar pieces of orchestral repertoire. As much as the score is well known, he brings out details that not only address the color of the orchestration, and thus, the effects important to the tone poem, but also the articulations and other elements essential to punctuating phrases and placing emphases. Lengths of notes, pauses, and silence come into play as this score takes shape from the fine rendering the Vienna Philharmonic would be expected to give this or any work, to the distinctive way they present a reading under the leadership of Karl Böhm. It is interesting to see the rehearsal’s duration of forty-five minutes - about three times the length of the actual performance of the piece.
Those familiar with the conductor’s work should find this recording of interest for the insights it gives to the score of this familiar tone poem. Böhm emerges as demanding, but not obsessive, with the demands taken as a whole demonstrating the standards he would expect of his players. Just as studies of sketches and drafts should point to an increased appreciation for the finished works, this recording resembles such source studies in preserving the process that takes the orchestra into a polished execution. (The concert performance is offered in a single track, framed by a brief introductory trailer and the final credits.) While it is difficult to generalize from a single video like this one, Böhm’s rehearsal for this specific 1970 rehearsal of Don Juan serves to document the efforts of this highly respected conductor. Moreover, it offers a sense of the Vienna Philharmonic in the latter part of the twentieth century.
This DVD is in color, with crisp, clear images that suggest a documentary film rather than a televised broadcast. This makes it possible to observe accurately the gestures, body language, and demeanor of Böhm and his performers. More than that, the sound is clear and resonant, giving a good sense of the quality associated with Vienna’s Grosser Musikvereinssaal. Also, the navigation of this rehearsal documentary helps for those who would want to use the film in the classroom. Music students may gain an enhanced appreciation of this work when they see it in rehearsal and those unfamiliar with German benefit from the solid translations found in the subtitle track. All in all, the presentation and the content have much to recommend in this DVD, which documents the career of one of the outstanding conductors of the twentieth century. This is the first of several DVDs, which capture Böhm’s work, and we anticipate further releases under the label “Karl Böhm in Rehearsal and Performance.”