jueves, 31 de julio de 2014

Maria João Pires / Gulbenkian Orchestra / Michel Corboz J.S. BACH Piano Concertos BWV 1052, 1055 & 1056

Maria João Pires recorded this recital some years ago; it is thankfully back in the catalog now, finally available again after so many years, thanks to Apex. There are many aspects of the recording which show their age considering the general approach to Bach on the piano in the year 2013—the slower tempos in the fast movements, the thicker orchestral textures, the expressive use of rubato, the numerous hairpin phrasings, especially in the strings. Yet the performances hold up well simply because Pires and Corboz are so in tune with the characters of each of these individual works. The great D-Minor Concerto is splendidly performed. The tempos here are perfectly chosen (how many performances of this work sound like perpetual-motion studies?), the passagework is crystal clear, the sound of the individual notes rounded and bouncy, the dialogue between soloist and orchestra is palpable, and the intensity of the whole is felt from beginning to end. There is reverence for the work, but never does that inhibit expressivity. Pires gives the wonderful bubbly A-Major Concerto a gentle lilt in the first movement—it feels a bit slow at first, yet she is careful to maintain a lovely sense of momentum throughout. After the intensely lyrical and impassioned second movement, the forces end on a sprightly and joyous note in the light-hearted finale. The F-Minor Concerto has a nervous energy in the opening movement, which is highlighted by the restrained dynamics chosen. This paves the way for one of the truly remarkable moments in this recital: the slow movement to the F-Minor Concerto, surely one of Bach’s most beautiful and inspired instrumental ariosos. Here the artists pull back the dynamics to not more than Piano for most of the movement, drawing the listener ever closer in; one’s attention never wavers here, so intent is one on not missing a single second of this tender masterpiece. The finale’s effect is heightened as a result, perhaps ever more so as one waits for the delayed resolution at the second movement’s conclusion.
Though one may prefer the sprightlier tempos of today, less vibrato, leaner orchestral textures, and the like (I don’t always), there is a quality in these performances, which makes them timeless. Pires captures the spirit of this music like no other performer I know. I would not give up my Gould, my Schiff, my Edwin Fischer, my Horszowski, or numerous others in my collection, but for those interested in yet another side of this composer, one which I will surely return to often, Pires makes for an easy recommendation. Grab it while it’s still available! (FANFARE: Scott Noriega)

miércoles, 30 de julio de 2014


This Sony-label debut release by Israeli pianist David Greilsammer has much in common with his earlier recording Fantasie Fantasme, released on the Naxos label. In fact, here Greilsammer might be said to have refined the ideas on the earlier album. Both combine contemporary and mainstream repertory, and apparently Greilsammer has an inclination toward pretentious graphic design. But here the focus is tightened. Greilsammer constructs a sequence of four Baroque three-movement "pieces," each consisting of three compositions. Of these sets of three, the outer two are Baroque works, while the center is a contemporary piece, commissioned in two cases by Greilsammer himself from contemporary Israeli composers. Greilsammer balances these works cleverly: the structure of the sets of three is not fast-slow-fast, but not simply random, either; the pieces instead are linked by motive and mood, with the modern work emerging as just a slight shift from what precedes it, and as a logical introduction to the finale. One might make several objections along the way: the Handel Suite for keyboard in D minor, HWV 447, with its four movements, disturbs the plan for no very good reason, and Greilsammer's readings of the Baroque pieces, especially the opening Gavotte et Six Doubles of Rameau, are a bit too dreamy, a bit too obviously bent to the requirements of the project. Still, there's no denying that Greilsammer has come closer than most other performers to the grail of integrating contemporary music into a mainstream concert program, and that he has done it in a very inventive way. The combination of a Frescobaldi toccata and the Wiegenmusik of German-born composer Helmut Lachenmann, each with little figures gracefully spinning off an underlying rhythm, is especially effective. Recommended for listeners of a speculative frame of mind. (

martes, 29 de julio de 2014

Claudio Abbado / Lucerne Festival Orchestra BRUCKNER Symphony No. 9

Claudio Abbado's concerts were life-changing events for anyone lucky enough to hear them. Towards the end of his life, above all with the concerts he gave with his Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which he founded in 2003 and with whom he gave the last concerts of his life – unforgettable, utterly shattering performances of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and Bruckner's Ninth - Abbado had taken orchestral music into a new realm of possibility and experience.
The Lucerne project was the zenith of a life in music that had as its essential credo a word that you don't always associate with conductors, those supposed tyrants of the podium: "listen". He used that word more than any other in the rehearsals I saw him lead with the orchestra, a hand-picked ensemble of some of the greatest chamber musicians, orchestral players, and soloists in the world, with the young musicians of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at its core (another orchestra Abbado founded, in addition to the European Union Youth Orchestra, the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, and Orchestra Mozart). The message of listening was about encouraging every player in the huge ensemble needed to play Mahler's symphonies to listen to one another, to know the score as well as he did. Their performances of all but the 8th, which Abbado didn't have the chance to play in Lucerne, are the most revelatory and moving Mahler performances of recent decades - arguably ever. The orchestra played with the subtlety, freedom, and intensity of chamber music, revealing new light on the music from within.
But there was another, deeper kind of listening that Abbado wanted to create, and that was to catalyse his musicians and his audiences to listen, to have contact with the musical substance not merely of the sounds the orchestra makes, but with the silence that comes before and after the music. That sounds ludicrous, paradoxical for a concert of orchestral music, which is all about the sounds, after all! But with those musicians in Lucerne, Abbado was able to lift the veil on some other realm of experience, to put us in touch with a larger mystery even than the notes the orchestra was playing.
And what might seem riddle-like in words is unarguably, tangibly real when you encounter it: watch and listen to Abbado's performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony (all the Mahler performances, and many of the other Lucerne concerts, are on DVD or Blu-Ray) to hear the most profoundly full, physical silence you may ever experience at the end of the final movement. Mahler's music passes into another world in the closing bars of the symphony; the silence that Abbado, the musicians, and the audience share after the sounds of the orchestra have crossed the border into nothingness actually embodies whatever that place might be. At the opposite end of the expressive extreme, but with exactly the same power to warp space, time, and existence, was the miraculous, massive coda of Bruckner's Fifth Symphony, when Abbado brought the Lucerne orchestra to the Royal Festival Hall in London, a performance that catapulted its audience into the cosmos. 
Abbado's concerts with Lucerne always had these moments of epiphany, of revelation. But last year's programmes in Lucerne were different. That Schubert Unfinished and Bruckner 9 took place in that transfigured state of being from the very first note to the last. The whole concert was a communion between Abbado and his players of devastating intimacy and astonishing emotional bravery, which asked the most profound questions about what the musical experience, and even what life might be about, with its beginnings and unfinished endings, its questions and unfilled answers, its sounds and its silences. Abbado's concerts weren't mere performances of pieces of music, they were searing, transformative existential journeys. That they have come to an end is an unimaginable loss. (Tom Service / The Guardian)

lunes, 28 de julio de 2014

Viktoria Mullova / Giuliano Carmignola VIVALDI Concertos for two violins

Thanks to The Four Seasons, the solo violin concerto is the genre with which Vivaldi is associated above all others. And indeed, at nearly 250 works, this species of composition forms the largest single portion of his output, outnumbering his next favourite, the concerto for orchestra, by more than four to one. In historical terms, too, his development of the formal aspects of the solo concerto was his greatest legacy: his model of three movements in the sequence fast-slow-fast still wields influence today, and the so-called "ritornello" structural principle - in which returning orchestral statements of a strongly defined, harmonically stable main theme offer a framework for more free-ranging and lightly scored passages involving the soloist - informed every composer's approach to concerto-writing until well into the 19th century.
Yet Vivaldi's concerto output is considerably more varied than that. Not only did he compose concertos for a wide range of string, wind and brass instruments, he also wrote them for differing numbers of soloists, from none to 13. His first taste of international fame, indeed, came with a set of twelve concertos which offered alongside its four solo concertos equal numbers of concertos for four and two violins. Published in Amsterdam in 1711 under the title L'estro armonico, it achieved great popularity in northern Europe in those early days of the instrumental concerto, making its mark on German composers in particular. The flautist and theorist Johann Joachim Quantz later recalled that "as musical pieces of a kind that was then entirely new, they made no small impression on me. I was eager to accumulate a good number of them, and Vivaldi's splendid ritornelli served as good models for me in later days". Vivaldi also acquired a keen following at the Dresden court, who sent their best violinist Johann Georg Pisendel to Venice to study with him; and in Weimar the young J.S. Bach transcribed for solo keyboard six pieces from the 1711 set, including two of the "double concertos".
Only two further concertos for two violins by Vivaldi were published in his lifetime (one as part of his op. 9 La cetra set in 1727, another printed independently in Amsterdam), but there are a further 24 surviving, most of them in the huge manuscript collection of Vivaldi's works now held in the National Library in Turin. These concertos are rarely performed today, either in concert or on record, but, like much of Vivaldi's unpublished output, contain music that is not only undeserving of its neglect, but offer facets of his creative personality that are not always evident in the works he chose to see into print.
The concertos presented on this disc by Viktoria Mullova and Giuliano Carmignola demonstrate for the most part Vivaldi's usual method of writing for two soloists on similar instruments: rapid interchanges of phrases and melodic fragments which echo, overlap and swap over with each other, alternating with passages of parallel motion, almost invariably euphonious (only the slow movement of RV 523 uses the texture to create expressive dissonances). They thus differ from the Vivaldi-inspired but more polyphonic manner of Bach's well-known Concerto for Two Violins, and show the influence of the dominant texture of the chamber music of the time, the trio sonata, in which two matched instruments would duet over a continuo accompaniment consisting of a bass-line instrument and a chord-playing lute, harpsichord or organ. This similarity appears even more obvious in the slow middle movements of RV 509, 516, 523 and 524, which feature "continuo" instead of orchestral accompaniment, and becomes explicit when it is seen that RV 516 shares both its second movement (with slight differences) and much of the material of its first and third with one of Vivaldi's unpublished trio sonatas (RV 71).
Whether these dialogues be virtuosic (as in the outer movements of RV 511 and 514) or melodious (as in the relaxed first movement of RV 509 or the expressive second movement of RV 514), they almost always give meticulously equal treatment to the two soloists, with neither assuming a dominant role in terms of range, technical difficulty or quantity of material. The effect is of a single character in the solo role, albeit one performing musical feats more complex than those achievable by a single player. In this regard it is easy to imagine them providing performance material for the youthful musicians of the Ospedale della Pietà, the Venetian orphanage of whose renowned all-female orchestra Vivaldi had charge as teacher and director for much of his career. Their concerts drew visitors in numbers to the Ospedale's chapel on the Riva degli Schiavoni - to admire the music of course, but also sometimes to search for wives; opportunities to show off the abilities of talented players in solo roles in as democratic a manner as possible must have been welcome. This primarily local use is suggested by the fact that while all of the concertos recorded here can be found in the Turin manuscript, thought to represent Vivaldi's own personal stock of scores, only RV 523 survives in a second contemporary copy.
Occasionally, however, there are breakaways from this two-as-one approach, when one violin will play a snatch of melody while the other accompanies. Such moments are fleeting, but can be all the more striking for that, as in the final movements of RV 524 and, most memorably, RV 516, where a glorious tune emerges from the arrow-like orchestral scales of the ritornelli. Having already pictured a pair of Ospedale inmates sharing the more equal dialogues elsewhere, is it going too far for us to speculate that Vivaldi himself, known as a virtuosic if sometimes unpolished violinist, might have taken one or other of these roles, either advertising his presence as melodic lead or gently supporting a favoured pupil with rock-solid arpeggios?  (Lindsay Kemp)

domingo, 27 de julio de 2014

Ute Lemper FOREVER The Love Poems of Pablo Neruda

This very delicate and beautiful songbook is presented mainly in Spanish, but also has adaptations in French and English. It is a fantastic celebration of these especially sensual poems by Neruda who had written them on the Chilean Isla Negra after years in exile.
Born Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto in 1904, Pablo Neruda took his pen name after the Czech poet Jan Neruda.
Neruda became known as a poet in his teens, and wrote in a variety of styles from surrealist to overtly political tones, as well as erotically-charged love poems. These poems are what Ute's Neruda Song Cycle is based on.
Because of his politically charged activities and writings, when President González Videla outlawed communism in Chile in 1948, Neruda was forced into exile. In 1971 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Neruda also collaborated with Picasso on highly politically inspired works, and Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once called him "the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language."
In 1973, around the time of the Augusto Pinochet coup d'état, Neruda was diagnosed with cancer and died the same year. Pinochet had denied permission to transform Neruda's funeral into a public event, however, his legendary status prompted thousands of grieving Chileans to disobey the curfew and crowd the streets.

Pablo Heras-Casado / Concerto Köln EL MAESTRO FARINELLI

 Quickly becoming known as one of the most exciting conductors of his generation, Pablo Heras-Casado is set to make his album debut, El Maestro Farinelli, on the recently re-launched label, Archiv Produktion for Deutsche Grammophon. Available May 27, 2014, this new album marks Heras-Casado’s return to his core repertoire and musical heritage, performing instrumental and vocal music associated with Farinelli, the legendary 18th-century castrato singer who served as impresario and court musician to the kings of Spain.
With El Maestro Farinelli, Archiv Produktion offered Heras-Casado the opportunity to choose what music to conduct from the Farinelli period, focusing on neglected operas where many orchestral scores had been destroyed in a palace fire in the 19-century and ultimately those that survived had to be transcribed by hand. This album features a rare world premiere of eight recordings with some arias sung by noted countertenor Bejun Mehta as well as including the works of Baroque composers like Hasse, Porpora and Jomelli, which Farinelli presented during his time as concert master in Madrid and Aranjuez.
Enjoying a diverse conducting career thus far, Pablo Heras-Casado has encompassed the great symphonic and operatic repertoire, historically-informed performance, cutting-edge contemporary scores, and has already developed a special rapport with a number of soloists, orchestras and opera houses.

sábado, 26 de julio de 2014

Michala Petri / Keith Jarrett BACH Sonatas

 If you have any doubt that the fipple flute is an acceptable substitute for the specified transverse one in these works, this recording could allay it. What is lost is the warm, intimate, breathy, pitch-bending sound of the minimally-keyed wooden instrument, but what is gained is the luculent clarity and (in Petri's hands) spot-on accuracy of the recorder. Instruments at period pitch (which for her own good reasons Petri does not use) would restore some of the warmth, but rarely can you have everything—and here you have so much to be grateful for. Her RCA recording of Handel sonatas (9/91) unveiled a 'new-born' Petri, with immediate rather than programmed responses, the consequence of her partnership with Jarrett, to whose jazz-musical alter ego such things are second nature, and the sea change is equally apparent here.
The performances are free from distracting mannerisms, flowing as naturally as speech and with recorded balance that supports the players' view that even BWV1033-5 are genuine partnerships. The few octave transpositions in the flute/recorder lines, whether enforced or judicious should disturb no one. Though many tempos are on the brisk side, the focused sound of the recorders and Petri's fluency prevent them from seeming hurried. Both players add a good deal of embellishment, but do not 'parrot' one another mechanically, and know when to leave a good tune to speak for itself, thus Menuetto II in BWV1033 is treated to a delicious, free-running variant that touches the original tangentially in the right places, but the Siciliano in BWV1031 is given with affecting simplicity, good taste is invariably the order of the day.
The Petri/Jarrett partnership was made through social pleasure, not in heaven, but it is one to be celebrated; their fresh-faced account of these sonatas merits a place in any collection, whatever others may already be there. (John Duarte / Gramophone)

viernes, 25 de julio de 2014

Christianne Stotijn / Julius Drake TCHAIKOVSKY Romances

 This is a stunningly beautiful disc, and can be recommended without reservation to anyone who loves the vocal repertoire. I am not enough of a linguist to know if the Dutch mezzo’s Russian is perfectly pronounced, though I can say her diction is clear with crisp consonants. And the disc has direct competition from Philips 442013—a disc of Tchaikovsky songs sung by the great Russian Olga Borodina. Thirteen of the 20 songs on Stotijn’s disc are duplicated on Borodina’s, and as much as I like this, I would find it hard to recommend that kind of duplication to the casual song collector. But for the serious collector, or to anyone who doesn’t have the Borodina, I will state a slight preference for this disc.
One difference is at the piano. Larissa Gergieva plays quite well for Borodina, but Julius Drake is one of the most imaginative and accomplished song accompanists working today, and he brings something special to the piano parts here. But that is not to minimize the accomplishments of Christianne Stotijn. I find a greater range of color and imagination in her timbre and her inflections and phrasing. The hushed beauty of the end of “My Genius, My Angel, My Friend” is quite remarkable, and at the other extreme so is the drama and passion of “Had I Only Known.” She can float gorgeous soft tones, or she can open up full throttle without any edge to the voice. These are highly communicative and deeply moving performances of some very beautiful songs.
Fine notes, complete texts (transliterated and English—no Cyrillic), and extremely natural well-balanced sound quality round out this very special recording. (FANFARE: Henry Fogel)

jueves, 24 de julio de 2014


It seems that there is a trend today for seeking out rare, even previously unrecorded material, for recital discs instead of issuing yet another collection of standard arias. This is a very appealing trend.
On this disc there are only two numbers that can be labelled standard arias: Susanna’s Deh vieni, non tardar (tr. 2) and Despina’s Una donna a quindici anni (tr. 10). Mozart’s concert arias are performed and have seen a number of recordings but they can’t be regarded as standards and definitely not the ones recorded here. Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto is occasionally performed but recordings are few and far between. The Cetra recording from 1951 with Alda Noni, Giulietta Simionato, Cesare Valletti and Sesto Bruscantini is sonically dated but vocally splendid; an EMI recording from 1956 boasts a cast including Graziella Sciutti, Eugenia Ratti, Ebe Stignani, Luigi Alva and Franco Calabrese; in 1978 Deutsche Grammophon produced a real winner with Daniel Barenboim conducting and Arlene Augér, Julia Varady, Julia Hamari, Ryland Davies, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Alberto Rinaldi in the six roles. There is also a DVD recorded at the Schwetzinger Festspiele in 1986, that I reviewed a handful of years ago. On Arts Music there is a 1991 recording featuring Gloria Banditelli, William Mateuzzi and Petteri Salomaa and finally Dynamic released a version in 2008 where Alberto Rinaldi again is featured. Those two last mentioned I haven’t heard. Though Haydn composed more than a dozen operas this music is little known, even though there are excellent recordings of many of them on Hungaroton and Philips. Salieri is represented here with an aria from Armida (tr. 1) which a world premiere recording, and a superb sinfonia. In other words there is a lot of un-hackneyed music here and this could be a recommendation in itself, whatever the quality of the singing.
The singing would in itself have been wholly recommendable even if the programme had consisted of only old war-horses. I hadn’t heard Chen Reiss before but a quick check tells me that she has issued two albums before and also takes part in the film and sound-track album Perfume. Though I was eager to listen to the rarities here, I still started with Susanna’s Deh vieni.’ What a voice!’ I wrote on my pad. It’s beautiful and beauty of tone can provide satisfying listening, also when the interpretation is bland. Chen Reiss’s interpretation is anything but bland. It is a true reading of Susanna’s emotions in this exquisite aria. The young woman stands out as a warm, unsentimental, three-dimensional character. This is a singer with both voice and soul.
Returning to track one I could note that Ms Reiss also is technically well endowed. She executes Salieri’s heavily embellished aria with admirable fluency. Mozart’s early Voi avete un cor fedele is a grand aria with a slow, very beautiful opening and then a fast, dramatic section. The relatively small orchestra – 14 strings – is splendid and in the Cimarosa overture they show their paces with crisp and assured playing, giving a rousing reading of this etarnally fresh music. Carolina’s aria from the same opera is another highlight. Chen Reiss surpasses Alda Noni’s (Cetra) reading with a fuller, rounder tone than the somewhat acidulous Noni and challenges even Arlene Augér (DG).
Every time I listen to something by Haydn that I haven’t heard before I am so fascinated by how seemingly effortlessly he manages to ‘shake grains of gold out of his sleeve’. These three arias are further examples of his inexhaustible supply of memorable melodic inventions. The Salieri overture is another gem – surprisingly, or is it? Both he and Cimarosa were held in high esteem during their lifetime and such popularity is not achieved without some mastery. They were not merely competent ‘music workers’. Those workers never got into the history books, which Salieri and Cimarosa did.
Chen Reiss sings Una donna a quindici anni with that glint in the eye that is Despina’s hallmark, and there is no drawback in hearing a voice that is fuller and rounder than the traditional thin-voiced soubrette. The other Mozart arias are also marvellously sung and it should be observed that Un moto di gioia is the aria written for Susanna for the Vienna revival of Le nozze di Figaro in August 1789. It is shorter and not so deeply penetrating as Deh vieni but it is charming even so.
Chen Reiss is certainly a name to remember and the disc is thus doubly welcome: for the interesting and un-hackneyed programme and for the marvellous singing. I only wish that Onyx had included more music. There was room for another 20 minutes playing time. (Göran Forsling)

miércoles, 23 de julio de 2014

Maria João Pires / Daniel Harding / Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos 3 & 4

The role of interpreter is a delicate one: he, or she, is faced with the score as the sole point of contact with the composer. It is the interpreter’s job to bring a work to life, across distancesin time and space, by making a connection between a personality – often an exceptional one – and ordinary mortals. To achieve this he has to put mind and body at the service of a considerable task: the transmission of art. In music, the word ‘interpretation’ is prone to a number of misconceptions, frequently with unfortunate consequences. Thus we often see two positions set against each other: either the performer must ‘project himself’ in order to give life to the score (to ‘show personality’), at the risk of betraying the spirit of the work; or, on the contrary, he must show the score the utmost respect, so trying to suppress his own personality to give a reading of the work which may well be perfect – but lifeless.

Logically speaking, one might think that the correct approach would be halfway between these two extremes, but such logic would be crude compared to the subtlety of the question. Indeed, these two approaches both fall prey to the same fallacy, through the disproportionate importance they attach to personality. Whether through excess or shortage of personality, this concept gets in the way of music’s essential power to bring out a primal simplicity, so often forgotten, which is present deep inside each one of us, waiting to respond when summoned. Music’s capacity to suggest a stretch of time and yet still exist in the moment amounts to the capacity to reshape every aspect of our sensibility anew. So the act of ‘interpreting’ ceases to be one of simple personal will, to become that civilized conversation where composer and performer lend each other their ears, so to speak, across centuries and borders, with the aim of achieving an eminently simple miracle: for the work to open up, yielding to the source of all music. (Maria João Pires)

Catalina Pereda / Tempus Fugit / Christian Gohmer MARCELA RODRÍGUEZ Las Cartas de Frida

 Marcela Rodríguez’s latest opera ‘Las cartas de Frida’ [Frida's letters], sets out to dispel the ‘folkloric’ myth of Frida Kahlo by showing the artist through her letters. 
According to Rodríguez, the greatest threat to Frida’s legacy is Frida herself. ‘We have stopped looking at Kahlo’s art for looking at Kahlo herself’, she told, referring to Julie Taylor’s movie and Robert X Rodriguez’s opera-musical among other recent works. ‘And yet we can’t even see her. All we see is the relationship with Diego, the rave-ups, the myths I’m personally completely uninterested in’. 
Rodríguez, a native of Kahlo’s own neighbourhood of Coyoacán, based the opera on the artist’s diaries and letters found in her childhood home of Casa Azul (now a museum).
 “I was enthralled by her honesty”, she said. “Her style is beautiful, deeply humorous and scathingly critical of society. She doesn’t shrink from vulgarity either. But this is how we speak here”. 
The opera premiered in Berlin in 2011 and was briefly shown at UNAM in May-June, to enthusiastic reviews.

martes, 22 de julio de 2014

Vanessa Wagner RAVEL Piano Works

Vanessa Wagner is keenly interested in the music of her time and devoted to the great repertoires of the past and the present; she brings out admirably the different dimensions that exist in Ravel’s music. In seeking to understand in depth the actuality of Ravel’s works, she reveals their repercussions today. It is very tempting to see in the works of Ravel a reflection of the main trends in the music of our time: minimalism and repetitive structures (Boléro), spectralism (Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, the introduction), a fondness for early styles (Menuet antique), a tendency to
take instruments to their very limits (Scarbo), and so on. This temptation, both attractive and perilous, has the advantage of reviving the question of Ravel’s continued relevance today. What does Ravel tell us about our time? What happened to the ‘new school’, for which he prepared the arrival in anticipating the move away from Impressionism?
From the Pavane to Gaspard de la nuit, the works of Ravel’s early mature period pose the question
of his successors. Critical interpretations of Ravel are few and far between; rightly or wrongly, Debussy remains the first choice for aesthetic digressions. Commentaries on Ravel are a confused mixture of tribute and falsehood. While few have attempted to see in him the promise of future forms, none have ventured to minimise his importance.
Ravel did not aim to set an example for posterity, nor did he prescribe how his music was to be listened to. He was secretive. And he showed no ambivalence. He had faith in the power of his works and made no attempt to attract a following or create a host of epigones. Who are his heirs? His legacy is diffuse but also indelible, intangible but nevertheless clear. The peril and the strength of his example. (François Meïmoun)

domingo, 20 de julio de 2014

Angela Hewitt / Hannu Lintu / Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin SCHUMANN Piano Concerto

I’m not entirely sure which recording it was of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor it was I listened to about 900 times while tackling the work’s analytical nuances for O Level exams in the UK in the early 1980s, but there have been so many recordings since it hardly matters. One new one I’ve heard recently is that with Sophie Pacini on the Onyx label, and this makes a nice comparison with Angela Hewitt’s Hyperion release as the differences are so palpable. Pacini is urgent and dramatic in the Allegro affetuoso first movement, exploring the poetry of the gentler moments with probing notes which highlight each harmonic progression. Hewitt on the other hand is, dare I say it, less old fashioned. Her approach seeks the flow in the music, obtaining a legato in those accompanying moments where the orchestra takes the lead and adding texture rather than making musical points. The superb balance between piano and orchestra allows this to happen naturally and with an easy grace which is a sheer delight. Hewitt lingers lovingly at the chamber music moments in this movement and, while more drama might be achieved at such points, her contrasts are greater as a result - the rhythm of repose and triumphant thematic elevation beautifully proportioned.
Proportion is an important buzzword in Hewitt’s Schumann. She holds plenty back, but always for a reason. That solo passage from 4:36 might seem a bit too reserved, the tempo too static, but did you ever hear that clarinet entry at 5:35 quite so movingly? All of those essential little tonal and timbral brushstrokes are expressed to perfection, and the drama at 6:06 is all the greater for that minute and a half of suspended expectation. With Hewitt, and of course the superb instrumental weighting brought out by Hannu Lintu, you hear the ‘Bach’ in Schumann as well as the turbulent romanticism. That main theme never sounded quite so much like a Bach chorale than here, and there are little moments all over the place where, if your associative baggage allows it, a penny or more will drop and an ‘ah…’ moment will occur where it probably hadn’t before with other recordings. 
I wasn’t entirely uncritical of Angela Hewitt’s solo Schumann programme from Hyperion, but have few if any such reservations in this piano/orchestra release. Her next release in the Mozart concertos series will also be conducted by Hannu Lintu, and so also promises to be something more than a bit special. This Schumann release, complete with excellent booklet notes by the soloist and its strikingly atmospheric Caspar David Friedrich illustration for the cover, is highly desirable and extremely rewarding. (Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International)

sábado, 19 de julio de 2014

HERMANN NITSCH Island (Eine Sinfonie in 10 Sätzen)

Hermann Nitsch is an Austrian artist who works in experimental and multimedia modes. Born in Vienna, Nitsch received training in painting when studied at the Wiener Graphische Lehr-und Versuchanstalt, during which time he was drawn to religious art. He is associated with the Vienna Actionists—a loosely affiliated group of off-kilter and confrontational Austrian artists that also includes Günter Brus, Otto Muehl, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. Nitsch's abstract splatter paintings, like his performance pieces, address the excessive beauty and intensification of human existence. In the 1950s, Nitsch conceived of the Orgien Mysterien Theater (which roughly translates as Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries or The Orgiastic Mystery Theater), staging nearly 100 performances between 1962 and 1998. 
Having grown up during the World War II, Nitsch reveals his fascination with the intensity of religious feelings for life in his art work with excessive means such as taboo images, nudity, bloody scenes and more. For this, he received several court trials and three prison terms. Also, it is often discussed today that his work may exemplify cultures' fascination with violence. (Wikipedia)

jueves, 17 de julio de 2014

Emmanuelle Haïm / Le Concert d'Astrée PURCELL Dido and Aeneas

Despite its brevity, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas holds many charms for audience and performers alike, so it's no wonder that there has recently been something of a boomlet in recordings and reissues (certainly, it doesn't hurt that this mini-sized opera fits easily on one disc). This particular traversal is helmed by the rising young French conductor and harpsichordist Emmanuelle Haïm, whose snap and vigor in this repertoire is immensely appealing. Another real pleasure is getting to know the stylish Concert d'Astrée, whose poise and elegance is a welcome addition to the roster of Baroque ensembles.
Haïm keeps the work zipping along at a terrific clip but still gives her soloists plenty of room to
luxuriate--and what soloists she has! As Dido, Susan Graham blends her signature warmth with a great deal of sweet wistfulness, particularly in the famous aria "Dido's Lament", in which her melancholy is matched by a chromatically descending bass line. As sung by Ian Bostridge, Aeneas is a soulful warrior, and Felicity Palmer's Sorceress offers plenty of venom without resorting to the nasal vamping that many others singing this role have used. David Daniels' brief turn as the Spirit deserves a special salute for a wonderfully funny caricature (imagine a minor, wheedling office clerk from the bureaucratic pantheon). The sound is as full and rich as the mythic portrayals, making this an easy recommendation. (Anastasia Tsioulcas, ClassicsToday.com)

martes, 15 de julio de 2014

Mitsuko Uchida SCHUMANN G Minor Sonata - Waldszenen - Gesänge der Frühe

Japanese-British pianist Mitsuko Uchida continues to impress with recordings that are not so much intellectual as simply well thought out, making a challenging yet extremely satisfying overall impression. Consider the three works by Robert Schumann recorded here. Only the Waldszenen, Op. 82 (Forest Scenes), are well known. The Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, is an early but not immature work, composed in 1830 and supplied with a new finale in 1838 at the suggestion of Clara Schumann, who pointed out that while she could play the original version, few others would be able to. There is already plenty to chew on here, for Schumann incorporates motivic links to the first movement in the new finale. Clara was lukewarm about the work (calling it "not too incomprehensible"), but Schumann himself thought highly of it. The genesis of the work is fascinating; it began with a song Schumann composed in his student days, and Schumann incorporated it into an inner voice of the slow movement. Rather like Beethoven's theater music, it does have the feel of an innovative composer's ideas being forced into an older mold. But Uchida, with her precise yet explosive style, is the perfect interpreter of the work, which seems to spill over the boundaries of sonata form with quasi-improvisatory ideas. Her performance connects the work to the rest of the output of the young Schumann in an ideal way. Also interesting are the Gesänge der Frühe, Op. 133 (Dawn Songs), one of the last things Schumann finished before going insane: they are strangely serene little miniatures. The Waldszenen themselves are full of fresh, even daring interpretations. Decca's engineering staff outdoes itself with its capture of an ideal sound environment for the work: not the usual concert hall or studio but the well-known audiophile venue the Reitstadel in the German city of Neumarkt. An essential Schumann release. )

lunes, 14 de julio de 2014

Emmanuelle Haïm / Le Concert d'Astrée HANDEL Delirio

Brian Robins’s review comment in Fanfare 29:3, “Those less concerned with Handelian style will doubtless enjoy the disc more than I have,” uttered after essentially castigating this release, captures my feeling very well. For I feel it an error to always judge performances of Handel by what we think we know he is intending. Robins calls for an “idiomatic” approach in music that has, at the very least, redefined “idiomatic” for the last hundred years. While it is true that many of the tempos here are slower than the current norm, I also think that Emmanuelle Haïm, avoiding any sense of the doctrinaire, wishes first and foremost to take every advantage of her solo instrument at hand, namely one Natalie Dessay.
Delirio amoroso is one of Handel’s major cantatas, and is here given a performance worthy of all accolades. One thing that I always try to think of first and foremost in any performance is how good is the singing , and here it is rarified indeed. No doubt that Dessay takes some liberties, but the voice is in such great shape and so utterly entrancing that all other concerns fall away, at least for me. Perhaps it is because I am not a fervent periodist that other issues seem more pedantic; but it is also a testament to the period movement that we have come so far as to begin to put musical questions above doctrine or even what we believe is shackled to a current concept of musical style and think first of beauty of expression and communicativeness of idiom.
Haïm’s continuo playing is supportive and completely within Handelian parameters of any age, while the wonderful oboe playing, soft and pliant, of Patrick Beaugiraud must also be mentioned. The other two works are equally persuasive, and this is one disc that really doesn’t see a lot of shelf life, coming down at least once a month in order to rejuvenate the spirit and cleanse the ears. If you love rapturous singing in this most lyrical of all Baroque composers, you will have to have this deserved Hall of Fame cantata recording. (FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter)

viernes, 11 de julio de 2014

Heinz Holliger / Anita Leuzinger / Anton Kernjak ROBERT SCHUMANN - HEINZ HOLLIGER Aschenmusik

Heinz Holliger’s lifelong fascination with the music of Robert Schumann finds further expression on this newest release: on Aschenmusik, a new interpretation of the Swiss oboist-composer’s “Romancendres” is framed by Schumann’s own works. “Romancendres” refers to the lost “Cello Romances” which Clara Schumann burned on Brahms’s advice, an act of destruction which outraged Holliger and fuelled the composition of this “music from the ashes” in 2003. It’s a portrait of Schumann, packed with quotations, projected like a lifetime passing through the mind of a dying man. “Romancendres” is prefaced by Schuman’s “Romances” for oboe and piano, masterpieces which have been part of Holliger’s repertoire for 60 years, and by the rarely-played “Studies in Canon Form” which find Holliger on the oboe d’amore. The album closes with Schumann’s first sonata for violin and piano, with cello substituting for violin. Holliger: “Schumann himself thought it could also be played on a cello. I find it grandiose with this combination of instruments.” Strong performances by Holliger himself and by Anita Leuzinger, solo cellist from the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, and by Austrian pianist Anton Kernjak make this album another important addition to Heinz Holliger’s ECM discography. Aschenmusik is issued in time for Holliger’s 75th birthday on May 21st.

Alison Balsom ARUTIUNIAN - MacMILLAN - ZIMMERMANN Trumpet Concertos

British trumpet player Alison Balsom has established herself as one of the leading performers on her instrument in the early 21st century. This 2012 album features three modern and contemporary concertos for trumpet. Balsom is phenomenally secure in her technique and in the musicality she brings to each of the pieces. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lawrence Renes, and the Scottish Ensemble, led by Jonathan Morton, provide colorful and energetic accompaniment. Bernd Alois Zimmermann's 1954 Trumpet Concerto is the standout work on the album. It is certainly one of the most distinguished, substantial, and immediately appealing trumpet concertos of the 20th century. It is subtitled "Nobody knows de troubles I see," and uses the melody of the spiritual as the basis for its sophisticated musical development. Like many of Zimmermann's works, its themes are political and he changed the title from "seen" to "see" to highlight the ongoing struggle for racial equality throughout the world, with pointed reference to the lingering racist attitudes of National Socialism in post-war Germany. It's an intensely dramatic and inventive piece; Zimmermann interweaves the original spiritual with jazz influences and modernist techniques in a way that's emotionally direct and thoroughly engrossing. Balsom negotiates its extreme demands with complete assurance. The Trumpet Concerto in A flat by Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian, written in 1950, bears the stamp of the Soviet demand that music be immediately entertaining for the proletariat. The concerto is tuneful and uses folk material and for the most part sounds like it could be the soundtrack for an "exotic" adventure film. What it lacks in musical sophistication it makes up for in the opportunities it gives the soloist to really shine melodically. James MacMillan's 2010 concerto Seraph, which Balsom premiered, is an inoffensive but not especially profound work, characterized by pleasant, lyrical note-spinning. EMI's sound is pristine, balanced, and nicely ambient. (Stephen Eddins)

jueves, 10 de julio de 2014

Batiashvili / Brendel / Fellner / Freston / Williams HARRISON BIRTWISTLE Chamber Music

This album of Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s chamber music and songs, mostly of recent vintage, is issued as the innovative Great British composer approaches his 80th birthday. It features an exceptional cast. Heard together and separately is the trio of Austrian pianist Till Fellner, Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili and English cellist Adrian Brendel. They are joined by London-born singers Amy Freston and Roderick Williams. The compositions include “Bogenstrich” written in 2006 as a short piece in tribute to Alfred Brendel and first played by his son Adrian together with Fellner. It was subsequently expanded into a cycle with the addition of settings of Rilke for baritone, cello and piano. The “Trio” is the newest piece, premiered in 2011, a 16-minute single movement work of elaborate patterning, gestures and responses, for piano, violin and cello. Settings of the writings of US Objectivist poet Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), scored for soprano and cello in 1998 and 2000, begin and close the album. As Bayan Northcott writes in the booklet, “These concentrated songs demand the utmost of their performers in precision, expression and timing. As in Webern’s settings, the few words and notes on the page can seem to imply whole worlds of thought and feeling”. This highly-concentrated chamber-scale expressivity is felt throughout the entire album, recorded at Munich’s famed Herkulessaal, and produced by Manfred Eicher.

miércoles, 9 de julio de 2014

Peter Eötvös / Ensemble InterContemporain / Quatuor Arditti NUNES Esquisses - Musik der Frühe

Emmanuel Nunes was born in 1941 in Lisbon where he studied harmony and counterpoint between 1959 and 1963 in the Academy of Music with Francine Benoît. From 1961 to 1963, he followed courses of Germanic philology and Greek philosophy in the University of Lisbon. He undertook summer courses in Darmstadt (1963 to 1965), where he was particularly marked by the courses of composition of Henri Pousseur and Pierre Boulez. The analysis of Momente, by Stockhausen, is seen by Nunes as the most significant stage of his first initiation to composition. He teached composition, since 1981, at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, and, from 1986 to 1992, he also taught at the Musikhochschule of Freiburg-im-Breisgau. Emmanuel Nunes was nominated professor of composition at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris in 1992. He also pursued his teaching activities at Harvard University, at IRCAM, at the Darmstadt summer courses and at ICONS (Novara, Italy).

martes, 8 de julio de 2014

Thomas Hampson / Wolfram Rieger RICHARD STRAUSS Notturno

This year marks what would be the 150th birthday of the iconic composer, Richard Strauss, and to pay tribute, Deutsche Grammophon releases Notturno, songs by Richard Strauss performed by American baritone Thomas Hampson. Widely recognized as one of the premiere interpreters of German art song today, Hampson celebrates Strauss’ 150th anniversary with several concerts in Europe and North America, along with a new production of the composer’s Arabella which took place in April at the Salzburg Easter Festival.
Adding to an already considerable discography and videography for Deutsche Grammophon, the newly released Notturno highlights Hampson’s incredible talents with an expertly-crafted collection of Lieder by Richard Strauss which also includes guest artist Daniel Hope. Hampson stated, “Richard Strauss’ songs provide each of us havens of contemplations as we travel our own paths and discover our own ‘stories’”.

lunes, 7 de julio de 2014

Emmanuelle Haïm / Le Concert d'Astrée BACH Magnificat - HANDEL Dixit Dominus

The nuanced and lively playing Emmanuelle Haïm draws from Le Concert d'Astrée is the strongest element in this recording of Bach's Magnificat and Handel's Dixit Dominus. Its colorful, briskly articulated performance is a delight throughout, but the singing of the soloists and chorus lacks the same consistency. The chorus' sound is somewhat murky and doesn't have either the blend or the linear clarity this repertoire requires. Most, but unfortunately not all, of the solo work is beautifully executed, with several lovely individual performances marred by a jarring blooper or ill-conceived interpretive choice. Soprano Karine Deshayes handles Bach's long melismatic lines with remarkable smoothness and breath control, but drops a note, very obviously. Soprano Natalie Dessay sings with her typical purity and incisive clarity, but she lurches into the final cadence of her Bach aria with such surprising vehemence that it gives a jolt. The alto parts lie low for Philippe Jaroussky, and while he negotiates them gracefully, there are only glimpses of the brilliance and sensuousness he characteristically brings to parts that are better suited to his voice type. The gorgeous performances of the higher voices in the trio, "Suscepit Israel," from the Magnificat, and the duet for sopranos, "De torrente in via bibet," from Dixit Dominus, are highlights of the album. Tenor Toby Spence and bass Laurent Naouri sing competently, but their voices don't match the sumptuous luster of the other soloists. Virgin's sound is not up to its usual standards -- it's overly bright, and at the same time muddy and thick sounding in the tutti sections. (Stephen Eddins)

domingo, 6 de julio de 2014

George Petrou / Armonia Atenea BEETHOVEN Prometheus

Rejecting academic coolness, Armonia Atenea, under the baton of conductor George Petrou, injects dramatic energy and bright colour to Beethoven’s bold ballet score. Beethoven’s ballet music was written in 1801 (between the First and Second symphonies) and the theme from the overture provided the subject for the finale of the Eroica Symphony and Eroica Variations Based on the Greek fire-stealing myth, the story of The Creatures of Prometheus is conveyed with music full of drama and verve, but was the only ballet score that Beethoven wrote.
Armonia Atenea and George Petrou’s Decca recording of Handel’s Alessandro has received numerous accolades including the Stanley Sadie Handel Recording Prize, the ‘Complete Opera CD of the
Year Award’ at the International Opera Awards, a nomination for the Opera of the Year by viewer of Mezzo TV, as well as being singled out by Classica, Diapason, Fono Forum and the BBC Music magazine.
“For all the star quality, the performance remains a supremely ensemble effort, singers and instrumentalists striking sparks off each other under the energised and energising musical direction of George Petrou.” BBC Music magazine

Emmanuelle Haïm / Le Concert d'Astrée HANDEL Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

Handel wrote the secular oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (The triumph of Time and of Enlightenment) to the text of one of his patrons, Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, in Rome in 1707. The libretto, which doesn't stand up to close logical scrutiny, centers on Beauty, who must choose between self-indulgent Pleasure and the austerity of allegiance to Time and Enlightenment. Needless to say, any patron entering the theater for the performance, having noted the title on the playbill, would have no doubt about the outcome of the struggle, so dramatic suspense cannot have been one of the inducements for an eighteenth century audience. The rewards, however, are real, most notably Handel's remarkably fertile inventiveness and musical ingenuity, which justified sitting through a two-and-a-half-hour performance that was guaranteed to be a dramatic non-starter. Handel keeps recitatives to a minimum, and the oratorio is rich in musical substance and variety. With this CD there's the added attraction of stellar vocal and instrumental performances. Emmanuelle Haïm leads le Concert d'Astrée in a light and sparkling reading, and the energy never lags. Soprano Natalie Dessay as Bellezza is vulnerably delicate, but also has reserves of temperamental strength, and she brings real warmth to the personification. As Piacere, mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg is beguilingly tempting, displaying more than a little naughtiness, and she sings with absolute security and ravishing tonal beauty. Alto Sonia Prina, as Disingenno, is a genuine coloratura alto, with dazzling agility as well as a full, pure tone. Pavol Brslik, as Tempo, has a light but focused and pleasing tenor, and he nails the composer's virtuosic demands. Virgin's sound is immaculate, with depth and ideal resonance. (Stephen Eddins)

sábado, 5 de julio de 2014

Nézet-Séguin / Chamber Orchestra of Europe SCHUMANN The Symphonies

Robert Schumann was a great composer. That any debate about this distinction continues, more than 150 years after his death, is inexplicable. In post-Freudian assessments of Schumann’s music, there is a predilection for focusing overmuch on the effects of the composer’s mental illness on his scores, much as critics and scholars seek to attribute every detail of Dame Iris Murdoch’s novels to forewarnings, manifestations, or ravages of Alzheimer’s, but Schumann’s music is a triumph of ingenuity over adversity. Schumann’s significance as a ‘crossroads’ composer of Teutonic Romanticism is nowhere more evident than in his four Symphonies, composed—and, in the case of the score eventually published as the Fourth Symphony in D minor, revised—over the course of a decade (1841 – 1851), when his creative powers were at their peak. Artistically, Schumann’s Symphonies are collectively like a reservoir: having dammed the inflows of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, this quartet of pivotal scores enriched the musical waters that flowed out into the music of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, and Mahler.
Though Schumann’s Symphonies retain places in the repertories of most of the world’s major orchestras, too many performances seem prompted by duty rather than desire. One of the most gratifying qualities of the performances by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Québécois conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, recorded ‘live’ by Radio France and preserved by Deutsche Grammophon in spacious, meticulously-balanced sound that adheres to the Yellow Label’s legendary standards of excellence, is the audible zeal with which the Symphonies are played. The true madness to which Schumann’s Symphonies fall victim is that of misapprehension and neglect, and it is encouraging to find a young orchestra and one of today’s finest young conductors bringing to these masterworks tonal and interpretive warmth indicative of legitimate appreciation and affection. A smaller ensemble than many orchestras that have recorded Schumann’s Symphonies, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe produces lean textures that heighten the clarity with which Schumann’s orchestration is revealed to the listener without lessening the impact of the boldest passages. In comparison with both his contemporaries and later composers whose music his Symphonies influenced, Schumann’s scoring is rarely dense, and the Orchestra’s sharply-focused playing in these performances enables both Maestro Nézet-Séguin and the listener to give full attention to the nuances of the music and the manner in which Schumann utilized sonic textures as expressive devices. (

Alban Gerhardt / Markus Becker REGER Cello Sonatas

Alban Gerhardt’s profound musicality and charisma have made him one of the most sought-after cellists of his generation. His ebullient personality is present in all his performances; he is nevertheless passionately committed to the intentions of the composer, and his recordings are always the product of an intense personal journey into every aspect of the music. Gerhardt’s espousal of Reger’s cello sonatas and suites is thus greatly welcomed. Pianist Markus Becker has released twelve discs of Reger’s keyboard music and is an ideal interpreter.
Reger’s cello sonatas and suites demonstrate every facet of this complex composer and individual. The composer’s passionate commitment to German Romanticism and his neo-Classical inspirations are both here: the great influence by Brahms and then the conscious shrugging-off of that mantle in the face of a complex and progressive stylistic advance. The sonatas span the duration of his career and culminate in the late unaccompanied suites, whose ambition to emulate J S Bach is both patent and largely fulfilled. The duo sonatas demand—and receive in this recording—not only a cellist of unusual powers of empathy and bravura, but also a first-rate pianist. This is fascinating and difficult repertoire, wonderfully performed and recorded.

'Exceptionally rewarding … it would be difficult to find more persuasive advocates than cellist Alban Gerhardt and pianist Markus Becker, both of whom are steeped inside the idiom and know exactly how to present the music with cogency and a sure sense of direction. The Four Cello Sonatas provide a fascinating overview of Reger's musical development, moving from the Brahmsian warmth of the First to the highly expressionist and unsettling Fourth. With the aid of excellent sound, Gerhardt and Becker map out this musical journey with wonderful sensitivity … Hyperion's decision to add to this already challenging progamme the Three Unaccompanied Suites of 1914 is fully vindictated by an outstanding performance which once again demonstrates Gerhardt's formidable control of musical line and breathtaking virtuosity' (BBC Music Magazine)

viernes, 4 de julio de 2014

Emmanuelle Haïm / Le Concert d'Astrée HANDEL Aci, Galatea e Polifemo

This Italian-language, Neapolitan "cantata a tre" from 1708 bears no resemblance (save for the Aci-and-Galatea-are-in-love-and-the-hideous-Polifemo-loves-Galatea-so-he-kills-Aci aspect of the plot) to the composer's better-known English-language Acis and Galatea, written 10 years later in London. The later work includes extra characters and a chorus. Here the burden of the story and music lies with three soloists and an orchestra, colorfully including recorders, trumpets, oboes, and a bassoon in addition to a string/continuo section with a lute or two, organ, and harpsichord.
The work is great fun and contains wonderful music, some of which Handel re-used elsewhere:
Polifemo's brazen entrance aria (with a few alterations) was later given to the villainous Argante in Rinaldo; other bits show up in Il Pastor Fido and Poro. The characters and situations range from Arcadian perfect love to mustache-twirling wickedness and hard-felt grief (expressed by Galatea after Aci is killed).
The soloists are nearly ideal. Aci is sung by soprano Sandrine Piau (the role was composed for soprano castrato), and despite her entirely feminine sound, she manages to convey a certain force. Indeed her singing of "Che non può la gelosia", with its incredibly florid line expressing anxiety over jealousy and Polifemo's insane passion for Galatea, is a most determined piece. And elsewhere she's just as good. (In a 1988 recording, the part was taken by Emma Kirkby who sang it beautifully but less ardently.) Sara Mingardo is the Galatea, and her strong moments, such as "Benché tuoni", in which she refuses to give in to Polifemo's advances, are as impressive as her touching opening aria and her final lament. Her rich, dark-hued sound is a perfect foil for Piau's brighter tone.
The star turn in this opera, however, is the role of Polifemo. He may be a stock villain (well, if a giant Cyclops--the same one later blinded by Odysseus--can be stock), but his music is anything but. The opening aria is a coloratura showpiece, and his slow, six-minute "Fra l'ombre e gl'orrori", in which he feels sorry for himself, realizing that Galatea would rather die than be his, requires a range from low-D to the high-A more than two octaves above it. Laurent Naouri (billed as a baritone, but I beg to differ) has all the notes and manages to sing the words expressively to boot. Polifemo is a sarcastic bully and Naouri works past the role's nearly impossible demands to create a real monster.
Le Concert d'Astrée plays stunningly under Emmanuelle Haïm. Where, with music this expressive, another conductor might be tempted to allow the roles and instrumentalists to simply play themselves, she leads the full orchestra with the same careful touch with which she approaches the frequent obbligato parts (one aria is accompanied only by harpsichord). The sound is glorious--clear and clean. The 1988 recording under Charles Medlam (on Harmonia Mundi) still stands up well, but this one is even better. This is a fascinating work, full of the surprises only the young, fecund Handel could muster. (Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com)

jueves, 3 de julio de 2014

Anna Prohaska / Eric Schneider BEHIND THE LINES

Judging from the photos used to publicise Anna Prohaska’s new album – one of them is dancing merrily above this review – this gorgeously gifted soprano should have been singing this spin-off recital wearing an army great coat. She compromised with a severe black tunic and trousers with military references and a slight science-fiction cut: she could almost have been a futuristic soldier from the old Korda film Things to Come. In her case the things that came were the complete tracks of her Deutsche Grammophon CD Behind the Lines: songs from around Europe and America about war and the pity of war; songs of drummer boys, valiant grenadiers, mothers, ghosts. Joan of Arc made an appearance too, via Liszt’s dramatic scena Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher. As she launched her programme’s European tour I wondered if Prohaska’s voice – bright, lightweight and magically lyrical – would actually suit a repertoire marked with male bravado, bitter ironies and intense cries of pain. I need not have been bothered. Supported by Eric Schneider’s always conscientious piano accompaniment, she was magnificent, and very penetrating in her top register. When she sang Liszt’s repeated line about saving France I’m sure France heard her. Lower down, if the notes sped by fast, the sunshine of her voice did, it’s true, get a bit clouded over. Hugo Wolf’s Eichendorff setting "Der Soldat" certainly needed clearer projection for the words to carry their full zing. But, whatever the register traversed, Prohaska’s emotional identification and acting skills always helped fill out the song’s picture. No characterisation was better than the child thrilled with her mother going off to war in Eisler’s typically trenchant "Kriegslied eines Kindes". The grisly abandon of the child’s drum imitations; the relish when Kaiser Wilhelm’s name was intoned; the white calm that descended when the child visualised the mother wounded in hospital: every line of this wonderful song delivered a sharp sardonic kick. What joy, too, to find two artists creating a concept album and recital that actually makes musical and intellectual sense. The 25 songs about the dreams and realities of soldiering often involved big jumps in style: another of Eisler’s firecracker songs, from the Hollywood Liederbook, exploded right after one an exquisite meringue by Roger Quilter, "Fear No More the Heat o' the Sun". But in this year marking the anniversary of the First World War, every juxtaposition, sometimes bridged by songs sharing the same key, made the audience think and feel. Prohaska and Schneider’s most stunning coup was to follow the high romance of Schubert’s "Ellens Gesang", to flowery words by Sir Walter Scott, with the Expressionist screams of a poem by Georg Trakl, belligerently set by a young Wolfgang Rihm. I needed the interval to recover. Along the way, Prohaska suggested that she was impressively fluent in every language, not perhaps surprising given her own mixed family background (Austrian, English, Irish, Czech). In Rachmaninov I felt the Russian earth move. French vowels fluted impeccably in Poulenc’s "Le retour du sergent" and the peaceable encore from Fauré. American English bobbed up too in a button-holing trio of Charles Ives, including the marvellous "In Flanders Field", and the concluding duo, less musically satisfying, from Weill’s settings of Walt Whitman. But German remained her chief meat and drink, with the emotional peak probably reached in Mahler’s Wunderhorn song about the girl visited by her soldier sweetheart’s ghost: a song indeed heard many times before, but rarely with Prohaska’s degree of lyrical tenderness, or so much of the art that conceals art. Even if she’d sung this recital wearing bright pink, we’d still have been left heartbroken, lying at her feet. (Geoff Brown)

miércoles, 2 de julio de 2014

Hardenberger / Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra / Eötvös GRUBER Aerial - EÖTVÖS Jet Stream - TURNAGE From the Wreckage

Virtuoso trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger's skills are prodigious and seem made to order for the three cutting-edge concertos presented on this 2006 Deutsche Grammophon release. These are not the flashy crowd-pleasers that most players trot out, but serious modern works that derive equally from the avant-garde and neo-Romanticism, as well as from jazz and popular music. Furthermore, Heinz Karl Gruber, Peter Eötvös, and Mark-Anthony Turnage are not generally noted for writing accessible, easily digested music, yet only the most hardened conservative will resist their colorful, dramatic, and highly expressive pieces. The first movement of Gruber's Aerial (1998-1999) has the melancholy feeling of a jazz nocturne, and Hardenberger's sweetly soulful playing makes it an atmospheric reverie. The melodically angular, rhythmically irregular second movement is edgy and perhaps a little difficult to follow in its lopsided activity, but its quirkiness and charm carry the work to an ebullient conclusion. Eötvös' Jet Stream (2002) is decidedly darker in mood and harmonically denser, and the trumpet has to penetrate rather thick textures; yet Hardenberger soars above the roiling orchestration undaunted, and makes the frequently segmented line cohere through his intensely focused tone. From the Wreckage (2004-2005), a violent tour de force by Turnage, was composed specifically for Hardenberger, and features a progression from flügelhorn to trumpet to piccolo trumpet, showing off this musician's fluid ease in all registers and his wide range of effects. The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, under Eötvös' acute direction, provides a vivid and responsive accompaniment, and the high level of excitement in the playing is apparent in all three performances, but seems even greater in From the Wreckage, where the ensemble has the most material to work with. The reproduction is first rate, with realistic presence and clear separation of the trumpet from the orchestra. (Blair Sanderson)

martes, 1 de julio de 2014

Ensemble Plus Ultra FROM SPAIN TO ETERNITY The Sacred Polyphony of El Greco's Toledo

Several of the composers on this Archiv release - Alonso Lobo, Cristóbal de Morales, perhaps Francisco Guerrero - will be familiar to anyone who has sung in a college glee club. Their short motets, with orderly polyphony that seems to hang in a perfect balance, seem to communicate timeless religious essences. Less common are recordings that situate the music in the Spanish cities where it was composed, and that's not what is here. Although the graphics promise "sacred polyphony of El Greco's Toledo," only the career of the comparatively lesser-known Alonso de Tejeda really overlapped with that of Greek-Spanish master; the rest of the composers worked there earlier or, in the case of Francisco Guerrero, hardly at all (he served there as Morales' apprentice). And even if assigning correspondences between the music and art of a given place and time is a tricky business, the art of El Greco, with its Mannerist distortions of reality, seems almost diametrically opposed to the peaceful world of these composers; his musical cousin is perhaps Italian Carlo Gesualdo. So listeners are left with the cleanly sung readings of the Ensemble Plus Ultra, a bit small at eight singers but precise in that difficult configuration. The sounds coming out of your speakers will be appealing, but the group has plenty of competition on this ground. (James Manheim)