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27.7.14

Perchance to Stream: Summer Opera Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, a performance of Mozart's Magic Flute, performed by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra under conductor Pablo Heras-Casado. [France Musique]

  • The Pygmalion Ensemble, conducted by Raphaël Pichon, performs Rameau's opera Castor et Pollux, at the Festival Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon, with Emmanuelle de Negri as Télaïre. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Caterina Cornaro by Donizetti, performed at the Festival Radio France et Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's Tsar's Bride, recorded last March at the Berliner Staatsoper with Daniel Barenboim at the podium. [ORF]

  • Watch Marc Minkowski conduct the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in a concert performance of Beethoven's Fidelio, starring Ingela Brimberg, Brandon Jovanovich, and Evgeny Kikitin. [Medici.tv]

  • At the Proms, Robin Ticciati leads a replay of the Glyndebourne Rosenkavalier with Kate Royal, Tara Erraught, Franz Hawlata, and the London Philharmonic. [Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3]

  • Watch Charles Dutoit conduct a concert performance of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust at the Verbier Festival. [Medici.tv]

  • From Vienna, a performance of Purcell's Fairy Queen with Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting Concentus Musicus Wien, the Arnold Schoenberg Chor, and a cast starring Dorothea Röschmann and Florian Boesch. [RTBF]

  • Listen to music of Rameau performed by Les Arts Florissants. [BBC Proms]

26.7.14

Dip Your Ears, No. 173 (The Image of Melancholy)

available at Amazon
Anthony Holborne, John Dowland, et al.
The Image of Melancholy
Bjarte Eike / Barokksolistene
BIS



Creaking and Whispering

Modern and ancient, creaking and whispering, haunting and pleading, Irish, oriental, occidental and accidental: The atmospheric, contemplative album from Bjarte Eike and the Barokksolistene combines early music (Holborne, Dowland, Byrd, Buxtehude, Biber) with traditional Norwegian and Irish folk music in his arrangements, and a soupçon of suitable contemporary pieces. The way these works are picked and performed, you can hardly tell where one begins and the other ends until you’re half way through a song. The result is a haunting and varied collection of miniatures that Eike describes as not belonging to any particular style, nationality or period in time; but rather being a string of tunes, songs and expressions that are of personal significance to him. The title “The Image of Melancholy” stems from the fact that those happen to be border- and time-transcending “sad tunes”. The result isn’t entirely genre-defying, but it is genre-overlapping in a way that is bound to involve, not scare off the lovers of each genre into which Eike crosses over: From amid a many tears and much lamenting, a musical entrée arises that causes the gently stringed music lover much rejoicing..


First appeared in AUDITORIUM.

BSO and Beethoven


Pianist Andrew Staupe
After hearing one of the National Symphony Orchestra's concerts at Wolf Trap, it was only fair to take in one of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's summer concerts, on Thursday night. In the comfortable air conditioning of the Music Center at Strathmore, the only sign of a traditional summer concert was the ensemble's white jackets, a nice touch that went well with the lack of mosquitoes and humidity. Like the NSO's programming, this was solid but hardly daring stuff, a standard selection of Beethoven in the traditional order -- overture, concerto, symphony. The performance was not particularly inspired either, falling victim to the uncertainties of substitute musicians in the ranks and an unfamiliar conductor in his BSO debut.

The soloist, Andrew Staupe, was a journeyman-like presence at the keyboard in Beethoven's third piano concerto (C minor, op. 37), with nothing questionable, except some fuzziness in trills and other ornaments, but also nothing all that memorable. He had a nice way with the piano-only introduction of the second movement, taking it very slow and full of dreamy wandering, and gave the harp-like cadenza of the first movement's cadenza a blurred, active quality. In less free sections, though, Staupe had an unconvincing way of phrasing a melody, with jagged ideas popping out here and there rather than following an organic process of growing and relaxing.


Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Despite some standout playing, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra struggles at cohesion (Washington Post, July 26)
The conductor, Josep Caballé-Domenech, approached both the concerto and the fourth version of the overture to Fidelio (op. 72c, 1814) in a way that suggested an affinity with historically informed performance practices: fast tempos; crisp articulations, even a bit on the dry side; strong dynamic contrasts and forceful crescendi. Unfortunately, the results were a tad sloppy, with sections of the orchestra sometimes at slightly different tempi, seemingly without much help from the podium to create consensus. He was more effective in the concerto, helping the musicians to accompany their soloist with sensitivity and color. The second half was devoted to Beethoven's sixth symphony (not reviewed).

The BSO's 2014-2015 season looks more interesting than the last few seasons. More thoughts on the season ahead to come next week.

25.7.14

Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 2 )
Bruckner Cycle IV • Barenboim, WPh

Bruckner Cycle IV • Barenboim, Vienna Philharmonic


Intimations of Mortality


Above and below pictures (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Monika Rittershaus. Click for the whole picture


Lorin Maazel was a fixture at the Salzburg Festival, leading 119 performances between 1963 and 2013. It made sense, therefore, to slap an “in Memoriam” label onto one of this summer’s performances and even more so to make it one of the concerts in which a requiem featured… and furthermore with an orchestra that had a history with Lorin Maazel. The first such concert happened to be the Vienna Philharmonic’s opening shot under Daniel Barenboim—the beginning of this year’s Bruckner Cycle at the Salzburg Festival.



available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.4
D.Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin
Accentus blu-Ray


available at Amazon
M.Reger, Requiem et al.
G.Albrecht / Hamburg Phil. / D.Fischer-Dieskau
Orfeo
The Reger Requiem (composed shortly before his, Reger’s, own death) had been performed by the same forces just a while ago at the Musikverein; but coupled with Schubert’s haunting Gesang der Geister über den Wassern D 714 and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. Now it was joined to Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. The soloist in the Reger in Vienna was mezzo Bernarda Fink—and by all accounts she was superb. For the Salzburg Festival performance, the executants opted to cast a baritone by hiring (ex-)tenor Plácido Domingo. Perhaps to bring a little pizzazz to Reger, who—even if it had been a less unknown work of his on the program—has a reputation for being a touch dour.

I can’t say whether the switch sold tickets or whether it was even primarily motivated to do so—it probably did and it probably was—but artistically it was not a step in the right direction. Domingo sang with operatic gusto which, while not unbefitting the Reger, seemed mildly out of place. While the chorus was nuanced (at least until Reger turns it up to 11, when it all became just ear-drum shattering), Domingo was a bit indistinct, a bit wobbly, not a little lost, and probably happy that his text included only two lines, trice repeated. It’s touching to think of the greatest singer of our time (taking the whole career into account), but not so touching to listen to him anymore.

Sadly, it didn’t get much better. Barenboim is currently recording his third complete Bruckner cycle (issued by Accentus on DVD / blu-Ray), and especially the Fourth turned out fantastic; I think his best Fourth yet. That was with the Staatskapelle Berlin. Here in Salzburg, the Vienna Philharmonic didn’t quite play along. Drawn out, near-lugubrious (to my ears, that day, at least—subjectivity being a tricky thing, perhaps especially in Bruckner), the first movement sucked more energy out of the Grosses Festspielhaus than it added. Frustratingly, tauntingly, ever so often there many fine details to be heard among the inner voices. The soft strings and the gentle entry of the winds of the very opening had still been very promising. But there wasn’t much that followed—especially not from the first violins who were having their off-day, much like the majority of the brass in the Scherzo. There were again moments of broadly-lyrical beauty emerging in the fourth movement… but only like rays of sunshine poking holes in a cloud and quickly scanning the ground. Else there was little precision and too little by way of keeping the tension to make up for it… and the result disappointed me, if—judging by the applause—few others.

The actual music dedicated to the memory of the late maestro, it might be pointed out, wasn’t the Requiem, but the specially added, rarely-yet-routinely played Masonic Funeral Music by Mozart, K477. The ever-sophisticated audience applauded four times when it probably shouldn’t have: Once after Barenboim motioned orchestra and audience to stand for the minute of silence after the Funeral Music—applause that he furiously waved down. Then again after the first movement of the Bruckner, again after the Bruckner Andante, and finally after the Bruckner was finished. Barenboim took all that graciously.


24.7.14

For Your Consideration: 'Boyhood'



Any new movie directed by Richard Linklater is worth seeing, but nothing prepared me for the avalanche of gushing critics laying garlands at the feet of his latest feature, Boyhood. This is probably due to the daring creative leap behind the film, now widely reported, that Linklater filmed his actors for just a few days each year, over the course of twelve years. In this way we see the eponymous youth of the central character, Mason, as he and the actor who plays him, Ellar Coltrane, grow up before our eyes. It is a daring idea, which could have landed Linklater with a mess but improbably did not, which is probably why, given that the film is extremely watchable, in spite of its meandering and occasional longueurs, that the plaudits are as vociferous as they are.

My slight disappointment with the film likely had a lot to do with the raves heard from so many quarters, so let me not swell the choir of high expectations. Boyhood does not have many of the qualities that can draw one through Linklater's film, which are, like this one, so often about not much at all. Boyhood consists largely of "intimate little moments, all the kind of stuff that would get cut out of other movies," as Linklater put it. There is little of the humor of Slacker or Dazed and Confused, not enough of the intellectual walking and talking of the Before Sunrise trilogy, and none of the surreal qualities of Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly. This film is earnest in a different way, because the boyhood depicted is largely like that of the director himself. Linklater, like Mason, grew up in Texas, raised largely by a divorced mother who became a college psychology professor and receiving only periodic visits from a distant but fun-loving father. Even when Mason goes to college, one has the sense that he might not stay long enough to finish a degree, as Linklater did not.


Other Reviews:

New York Times | Washington Post | The New Yorker | TIME
Christian Science Monitor | Wall Street Journal | David Edelstein | NPR

This film takes its time to examine the wondrous things that happen in families every day, and which most of us barely notice, like the pop songs that come and go (one of the ways to trace the arc of time in the movie). A friend of mine once commented that she wished she could save versions of her kids at many different ages, stored on a hard drive or something: any parent understands that idea, that you are sharing your house with a series of very different people as kids grow up. Seeing that play out on the screen is compelling, and Coltrane, who does not even give that great of a performance in terms of acting, commands attention for that reason. Ethan Hawke gives a free-spirited performance as his dad, a man too restless to settle down and raise a family (there may be elements of Linklater himself in Hawke's character, as the black GTO he drives supposedly belongs to the director), and the director's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, is charming and direct as his older sister, Samantha.

Patricia Arquette, however, towers above the rest of the cast as Mason's mom, a bright woman with terrible taste in men, who has to fight with all her claws to raise her kids. It is the role of a lifetime for Arquette, who has made a lot of dreck but when given a great role (True Romance, Beyond Rangoon, Ed Wood) can knock it out of the park. The character is all too often at the end of her rope, but the heroism of this single mom, which goes largely unrecognized, as well as her bitter regrets, including one that is at the heart of the most moving scene in the film, made me wonder if Linklater missed his actual title: Motherhood.

23.7.14

Ionarts-at-Large: Mozart-Woche 2014 (CPE Bach Oratorio)



In the current issue of AUDITORIUM:

Free Concert Series at National Building Museum


Charles T. Downey, National Building Museum kicks off summer concert series with Reverb
Washington Post, July 22, 2014

For parents of young children, summer often boils down to a frantic search for activities that will divert their kids, even for just a few minutes. By mid-July, the situation can get desperate, so the first summer concert at the National Building Museum, heard Sunday afternoon, was perfectly timed. In partnership with Washington Performing Arts, the museum presented... [Continue reading]
Reverb
Washington Performing Arts
Sunday Concert Series
National Building Museum

22.7.14

Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 1 )
Bach Recital • Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Recital • Pierre-Laurent Aimard


A Happy Spiritual Vortex


For a couple years, the Salzburg Festival has opened its doors a week earlier than traditionally, dubbing the prequel to the Festival—officially part of it, but taking place before the official opening ceremony— “Ouverture spirituelle”. It began on the 18th with the BRSO and Haitink in Haydn’s Creation. On Saturday came the first highlight—which, paraphrasing everyone I know who was there, was “a concert to remember for years, if not decades”: Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine with John Eliot Gardiner and his bands, that used the Salzburg cathedral to ingenious acoustic effect. I missed that, but Monday I had my own Ouverture spirituelle in the form of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recital of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier.




Pictures (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Monika Rittershaus (BRSO/Haitink/Padmore) & Michael Pöhn (Concentus/Harnoncourt).


available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, WTC, Book 1,
P-L. Aimard
DG

Timed to coincide, more or less, with his latest CD release, he performed the whole Book I of the “Old Testament of the classical keyboard” at the Mozarteum’s Great Hall. Unlike his Art of the Fugue tour a few years ago, which left me oddly wanting (after high expectations), this time all those lofty expectations—always in place, with Aimard—were met and exceeded.

A scheduling overlap with Harnoncourt, his Concentus Musicus, and the last three Mozart Symphonies at the Grosses Festspielhaus across the Salzach must have drawn some would-be Bach-listeners and meant a few empty rows in the Mozarteum. But the rest made up with attentiveness and quiet enthusiasm, to listen to Aimard’s pedal-free simplicity. Unpretentious in his playing, Aimard looks like a greatly disturbed Siberian owl—especially in the trickier fugues, where his jaws and eyebrows were working almost as hard as the fingers. Amid a rock-solid, steady pulse throughout, the C-sharp major Prelude was all playfulness, the C-sharp minor Fugue a regal affair from which the D major Prelude seemed to surge forth. The F major Prelude and Fugue were swift and bubbly, almost, except always in that dead-on rhythm that Aimard kept and which makes Bach—and this work in particular—so increasingly compelling: A spiritual vortex into which one lets PLA suck one happily. The first half of the set ended with a bitter-sweet F minor Prelude and an “Art-of-the-Fugue” type of dry Fugue.

After the intermission a fresh and friendly—almost fiendish—F-sharp major Prelude re-opened the proceedings; contrasting immediately with the lyrical somberness of the coupled Fugue. The G major Prelude was animated like hyperactive sprites during happy hour… the staggered, developing trills of the G minor Prelude were worked out with wonderful clarity. After the gravitas of the G-sharp Fugue, the pointillist dotted A major Fugue struck as “Wildness, organized”: A masterpiece of compelling-propelling rigor that suggests the existence of higher planes. After the tender closing B minor (always special with Bach, that key) Prelude and the grand, chromatically shimmering Fugue, the audience took a few seconds of genuine, hazy and reverent silence before bursting out in the greatly deserved applause and standing ovations. Aimard looked like a much happier owl now, and fluttered off stage.

21.7.14

NSO at Wolf Trap


available at Amazon
Ravel, Piano Concertos (inter alia), J.-Y. Thibaudet, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, C. Dutoit
(Decca, 1997)
Charles T. Downey, National Symphony Orchestra shines in quiet moments at Wolf Trap (Washington Post, July 21, 2014)
The National Symphony Orchestra’s summer season at Wolf Trap includes a lot of fluff, quite appropriately. Friday night’s concert in the Filene Center was an exception, featuring three pieces that the group might perform on subscription concerts at the Kennedy Center. In fact, the last time the NSO played two of these pieces, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, was as recent as the spring of 2013.

Little matter, since one does not really expect to be surprised by unusual repertory at an outdoor concert in the summer. The pleasure of this sort of event is in being part of a large listening community, more casual about.... [Continue reading]
National Symphony Orchestra
With Andrew Litton (conductor) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Filene Center at Wolf Trap

PREVIOUSLY:
Andrew Litton last with NSO (2012)

Ravel G major concerto: NSO with Jeremy Denk (2013); San Francisco Symphony with Jean-Yves Thibaudet (2006)

Tchaikovsky, fourth symphony (NSO, 2013)

20.7.14

Perchance to Stream: Tour de France Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Listen to a recital of Lieder by Schubert and Wolf, performed by baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall in London, followed by 18th-century music from northern Europe performed by La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Hespèrion XXI, and Jordi Savall in the Abbey Church of Fontfroide. [France Musique]

  • From the Festival International d'Opéra Baroque et Romantique in Beaune, Federico Maria Sardelli leads Modo Antiquo in a performance of Handel's Teseo, starring Lucia Cirillo, Emmanuelle de Negri, and others. [France Musique]

  • Watch the world premiere of a new staging of Bach cantatas, directed by Katie Mitchell, with Raphaël Pichon conducting musicians of the Académie européenne de musique, soprano Aoife Miskelly, mezzo-soprano Eve-Maud Hubeaux, and others. [Medici.tv]

  • Martha Argerich plays Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto at the Verbier Festival, with Charles Dutoit conducting the Verbier Festival Orchestra. [Medici.tv]

  • Watch more concerts from the Verbier Festival. [Medici.tv]

  • From last November at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, a performance of Giacomo Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume and starring Veronica Simeoni and Gregory Kunde. [ORF]

19.7.14

À mon chevet: 'The Trial'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
Once he had received this notice, K. hung up the receiver without giving an answer; he had decided immediately to go there that Sunday, it was certainly necessary, proceedings had begun and he had to face up to it, and this first examination would probably also be the last. He was still standing in thought by the telephone when he heard the voice of the deputy director behind him -- he wanted to use the telephone but K. stood in his way. "Bad news?" asked the deputy director casually, not in order to find anything out but just to get K. away from the device. "No, no," said K., he stepped to one side but did not go away entirely. The deputy director picked up the receiver and, as he waited for his connection, turned away from it and said to K., "One question, Mr. K.: Would you like to give me the pleasure of joining me on my sailing boat on Sunday morning? There's quite a few people coming, you're bound to know some of them. One of them is Hasterer, the state attorney. Would you like to come along? Do come along!"

K. tried to pay attention to what the deputy director was saying. It was of no small importance for him, as this invitation from the deputy director, with whom he had never got on very well, meant that he was trying to improve his relations with him. It showed how important K. had become in the bank and how its second most important official seemed to value his friendship, or at least his impartiality. He was only speaking at the side of the telephone receiver while he waited for his connection, but in giving this invitation the deputy director was humbling himself. But K. would have to humiliate him a second time as a result, he said, "Thank you very much, but I'm afraid I will have no time on Sunday, I have a previous obligation." "Pity," said the deputy director, and turned to the telephone conversation that had just been connected.

It was not a short conversation, but K. remained standing confused by the instrument all the time it was going on. It was only when the deputy director hung up that he was shocked into awareness and said, in order to partially excuse his standing there for no reason, "I've just received a telephone call, there's somewhere I need to go, but they forgot to tell me what time." "Ask them then," said the deputy director. "It's not that important," said K., although in that way his earlier excuse, already weak enough, was made even weaker. As he went, the deputy director continued to speak about other things. K. forced himself to answer but his thoughts were mainly about that Sunday, how it would be best to get there for nine o'clock in the morning as that was the time that courts always start work on weekdays.

-- Franz Kafka, The Trial (translation by David Wyllie)
Reading Murakami's Kafka on the Shore earlier this summer put me in the mood to read some more Kafka. This was the book that Murakami's protagonist described as his favorite, and it is a great read. What I love about the book is found in this passage, which is the attempt of K. to proceed in life as normally as possible, even after the opening sequence of events, in which he is mysteriously "arrested" when he wakes up in his room one morning. Life appears to continue as normally as possible, and K.'s self-importance and self-delusion continue without any interruption.

18.7.14

Briefly Noted: 'The Lighthouse'

available at Amazon
P. Maxwell Davies, The Lighthouse, N. Mackie, C. Keyte, I. Comboy, BBC Philharmonic, P. Maxwell Davies

(released on May 27, 2014)
Naxos 8.660354 | 72'29"
Peter Maxwell Davies composed this chilling chamber opera for the Edinburgh Festival in 1980. The composer led this performance, with members of the BBC Philharmonic, for a release in 1994 on another label that is now out of print. For those of us who wanted to hear the opera, this Naxos re-release is the only option if you were not lucky enough to have caught one of the revivals here and there, most recently by Boston Lyric Opera in 2012. (One can also watch a performance given by the Psappha Ensemble in 2009: Part 1 and Part 2.) With the composer at the podium, the performance reflects his intentions, and the three singers are all fine, including Neil Mackie, who created the tenor role. The booklet libretto, riddled with errors, is the only drawback.

Maxwell Davies wrote his own libretto, creating a fictionalized version of the actual disappearance of three lighthouse guardians on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The events can easily be read as something from The X Files; in fact, they were the basis of an episode of Doctor Who, The Horror of Fang Rock, broadcast just a couple years before the creation of the opera. The prologue features the three singers as officers of the ship that discovered the empty lighthouse, interrogated at the court of enquiry by a solo horn (at times too like the "wah-wah" sound of the adult voices in a Peanuts cartoon). The model for this ghost story, one imagines, is Britten's The Turn of the Screw, and Maxwell Davies gets a similar range of horripilation-inducing sounds from his group of twelve instrumentalists, including a folksy banjo and, a tribute to Alban Berg, an out-of-tune upright piano.

In his booklet essay, Maxwell Davies invokes the cursed "Tower" card in the Tarot deck, and when the three keepers agree each to sing a song, the performances will determine, as Blazes puts it, who is King, Devil, and Fool. As Blazes and Sandy play a game of cards, the bass sings lines attributed to the "Voices of the Cards," the first sign of the incipient insanity about to grip the lighthouse keepers, who have been stranded at their post by storms long past when they should have been relieved. Some comic relief is provided by the songs offered by the trio, especially the sentimental love ballad sung by Sandy, the tenor, which the other two join, jumbling the words in hilarious ways ("Oh that you held me ... fast ... by the cock").

17.7.14

Briefly Noted: Planès Plays Bartók

available at Amazon
Bartók, Piano Pieces, A. Planès

(released on May 13, 2014)
HMC 902163 | 78'42"
Alain Planès plays the music of so many composers so well, including the Haydn, Debussy, and Scarlatti we have heard over the years. A formidable technician with a painterly sense of color, he excels in vignettes rather than long forms, so it is little surprise that he produces beguiling results in this set of mostly miniatures by Bartók. On disc, some of these pieces have largely been the domain of Hungarian pianists, who almost certainly started playing the composer's works as children. In addition to the widely recorded piano sonata (SZ 80), here pleasingly bouncy and bluesy rather than overly biting, Planès gives the listener a sort of tour of Bartók's transcription and adaptation of folk melodies. This includes four songs from the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs (SZ 71) and all six of the slender Romanian Folk Dances (SZ 56), two sets that show Bartók's affinity for the folk music of both countries. (As the Transylvanian village where Bartók was born was on the border, it actually became part of Romania in the aftermath of World War I.) The Dance Suite (SZ 77) and the relatively rare set of Fourteen Bagatelles (SZ 38) round out the program, with each short movement given a ravishing suavity of touch and melodic phrasing. If you have never fancied Bartók's keyboard music, give it a spin.

16.7.14

Briefly Noted: Gunnar Idenstam

available at Amazon
Ravel / Debussy (arrangements for organ), G. Idenstam

(released on July 8, 2014)
BIS-2049 | 73'46"
Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel wrote no music for the organ. That bothered Swedish organist Gunnar Idenstam, who decided to make his own arrangements of some of his favorite pieces. With inventive registrations on the 1912/2002 Stahlhuth/Jann organ of St. Martin’s Church in Dudelange, Luxembourg, he gives a reasonable and fun approximation of the orchestral effects of Debussy's La Mer. In the Lever du jour movement of Ravel's second suite from Daphnis et Chloé, he even gives a suggestion of the wordless choir offstage, and various pipes serve as the metronomic percussion in his version of Bolero. As Idenstam explains in his somewhat breathless booklet essay, for those pieces that Ravel originally wrote for piano, he began with the piano score, using Ravel's orchestrations to guide his choice of registration. For two excerpts from the Valses nobles et sentimentales and the Pavane pour une infante defunte, the results are merely pretty, but for the hallucinogenic La valse, Idenstam hits the mark with a heady, swirling performance. Not essential listening, but fun for fans of the organ.

15.7.14

Cost of the Intermittents' Actions


We have been following the actions of the intermittents du spectacle this summer. The group of arts and television workers, who are protesting the loss of government-paid unemployment insurance that supports them during periods between gigs, has been disrupting performances at summer arts festivals in France. While the fallout has not been as disastrous as the last time they had a major strike, in the summer of 2003, the disruptions have been significant. In an article (En cas de grève, les festivals ne sont pas assurés, July 14) for Le Monde, Anne Michel reports that the cost of cancellations at these festivals will fall on the organizers, who are not insured against such losses (my translation):

Already strong, the pressure on the summer festivals was increased, after the day of national strikes by the intermittents on Saturday, July 12. Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, les Francofolies de La Rochelle, les Vieilles Charrues, à Carhaix-Plouguer… Everywhere, the partial or total cancellation of performances is feared. Because beyond the arguments about the movement drawing attention to its cause, and the solidarity expressed without reservation by all the festival directors toward their artistic and technical workers, the blocking of a play or a concert is above all a matter of money. One must reimburse spectators, pay workers who are not on strike, cover the costs of transport, of lodging, of food. So, after an investigation that we conducted with these festivals, it appears that none of the major summer presenters is insured against strike actions, just as Olivier Py, director of the Avignon Festival, claimed at the beginning of July.
The figures amassed so far because of the cancellation of performances amounts to 138,500 euros so far at Avignon; 500,000 euros at Le Printemps des Comédiens in Montpellier; 40,000 euros at Montpellier Danse. For the festivals that had to cancel their entire season, Uzès Danse and Cratère Surfaces, in Alès, the figures are not yet known. Armelle Heliot also reports, for Le Figaro, that audiences at Avignon are "not as large as previous years," perhaps because of worries about cancellations.

14.7.14

Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)


Lorin Maazel, world-striding conductor and consummate musicians' musician, died on Sunday morning, following an exhausting bout with pneumonia. He had already canceled most of his conducting engagements for the foreseeable future, and he had not been strong enough to conduct the operas at this summer's Castleton Festival. Still, the news came as a shock, that someone who had been making music professionally beginning over thirty years before I was born -- here he is as a young boy, conducting at Interlochen, in my home state of Michigan -- was now suddenly gone. The tributes have been universal. Over the years, we caught only a sliver of an epoch-spanning career, having reviewed Maazel with several orchestras, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the Munich Philharmonic. His baton was laser-precise, which could make some of his interpretations too steely or overpowering, but one rarely complained of either sloppiness of execution or lack of self-confidence in his ideas. He knew what he wanted, and he got it, for better and, rarely, for worse. This trait made his collaboration with young musicians so good, in the orchestras he put together for the Castleton Festival. With older professionals, perhaps jaded by years of working with strong-headed conductors, it could backfire sometimes.

For this listener, where Maazel really excelled was as an opera conductor. Washingtonians were lucky in this regard when, in 2009, Maazel inaugurated a summer festival on the grounds of his family home in Rappahannock County. To get there, one drives on highways that become narrower and narrower as you move into more remote areas, eventually landing within view of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The grounds played host to a menagerie of animals -- a camel (named Omar and fond of matzo), a zebra, and the fabled zonkey (the zebra's offspring with a donkey) -- where Maazel, I wrote then, reigned like Prospero on his island. It was a labor of love for Maazel and his entire family, from his wife, actress Dietlinde Turban-Maazel, to several of the Maazel children. In a move that showed he was all in, Maazel auctioned off the 1783 Guadagnini violin he had played for over 60 years, raising $1.1 million for the Castleton Foundation. The festival's first venue, a 130-seat theater with a tiny pit built in the family's house, was supplemented with eventually larger and more stable tent theaters, including the one where we sat out the 2012 derecho, in more than a little anxiety at the rippling roof.

It was only through the Castleton Festival that we were able to experience Maazel's excellent Puccini live, as he slowly made his way through the composer's works list here: La Fanciulla del West, Il Trittico, La Bohème, and this year's Madama Butterfly, which he was not able to conduct. The scope of the festival made chamber operas most suitable, and Maazel led excellent productions of many of Benjamin Britten's small operas in the festival's early years: Albert Herring, The Rape of Lucretia, the adaptation of The Beggar's Opera, and The Turn of the Screw. Based on the taste Maazel gave us last summer, it is regrettable that we will never have the chance to hear him conduct a full performance of Peter Grimes.

His ear was not infallible, for example in his attachment to Andrew Lloyd Webber's setting of the Requiem Mass and his self-funded and widely panned opera, 1984. He had an eye for innovation, though, conducting the music for two of the best cinematic versions of operas ever made, Francesco Rosi's sultry Carmen (with Julia Migenes and Plácido Domingo) and Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni (with Ruggero Raimondi, Kiri Te Kanawa, José van Dam, and Teresa Berganza). Other examples include leading the New York Philharmonic on a controversial concert tour to North Korea, and creating a version of Wagner's Ring "without words" with the Berlin Philharmonic. A sampling of some of our favorite recordings with Maazel is below, but we will hopefully have a more complete roundup of Maazel's recorded heritage soon.

available at Amazon
Sibelius, Symphonies, Vienna Philharmonic, L. Maazel
available at Amazon
Puccini, Il Trittico, L. Maazel
available at Amazon
Mozart, Don Giovanni (film directed by Joseph Losey), L. Maazel