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This Summer in Canada

As a supplement to Sunday's regular feature, Perchance to Stream, one of the concerts I missed is embedded above. It features mezzo-soprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux and I Musici de Montréal, conducted by Jean-Marie Zeitouni, recorded last July in Saint-Irénée, Québec. The program includes music by Respighi, Ravel, Berlioz, and Saint-Saëns.


'Fearsome songs of ancient Chaos': Hamelin in College Park

available at Amazon
N. Medtner, Complete Piano Sonatas / Forgotten Melodies, M.-A. Hamelin
(Hyperion, 1998)

available at Amazon
Debussy, Images / Préludes (Book 2), M.-A. Hamelin
(Hyperion, 2014)

available at Amazon
R. Rimm, The Composer-Pianists: Hamelin and the Eight
(Amadeus Press, 2003)
A recital by Marc-André Hamelin may leave you breathless. The technical achievement, to be sure, will be awe-inspiring, but few other pianists can so easily convince a listener of the merits of music they likely do not know well, if at all. Washington has been blessed with a large number of recitals from Hamelin in the last few years, the latest of which was at the Clarice Smith Center on Sunday afternoon, to kick off the 50th anniversary celebrations for the International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland. In a post-intermission chat with IPAM's curator, Donald Manildi, Hamelin reminisced about his father's contact with the Archives in its first decade, as well as his own research association with the institution over the years.

The first half of this excellent recital was focused on Russian obscurities, beginning with two of Samuil Feinberg's short piano sonatas from the World War I years. Feinberg was one of the eight composer-pianists covered in Robert Rimm's book on the subject, a tradition in which Rimm included Hamelin, who plays his own inimitable pieces from time to time. Three of those composers (Rachmaninov, Medtner, and Scriabin), Feinberg once said (as quoted by Rimm), "were wonderful composers who came to their pianism through their own composition." One senses the same mechanism at work in Feinberg's music -- and in Hamelin as well -- in the meandering, longing melody of the second sonata (A minor, op. 2) buried almost beyond recognition in tangles of figuration, for example, or the extravagant harmonic vagaries of the first sonata (A major, op. 1). Hamelin voiced the melody of the second sonata with great care, making a right-hand raindrop-like motif shower over it.

These shorter works were paired with the mammoth second sonata of Nikolai Medtner (E minor, op. 25), a piece Hamelin also played at his Kennedy Center recital in 2013. Subtitled "Night Wind" after the poem of that title by Fyodor Tyutchev, it is a work of fearsome pianistic challenges, realized tempestuously in often thunderous cacophony by Hamelin, but it seduces because of the driven sense of melody and form. The piece never wanders, as Feinberg seems to do at times, at least not in Hamelin's hands.

Hamelin also played Book 1 of Debussy's Images again, and the interpretation was better than how I remembered it in his 2013 recital at Shriver Hall. Here the second movement (Hommage à Rameau) had much more rubato than I recalled and yet a greater delicacy, while the first movement (Reflets dans l'eau) still startled with its aquatic transparency, and the third (Mouvement) had an ultra-fast but still finely etched quality.

Other Reviews:

Patrick Rucker, A performance to restore the virtue of ‘virtuoso’ (Washington Post, October 6)
Sheer virtuoso display came out in the last piece, Liszt's Venezia e Napoli, from the Italian year of Années de pèlerinage. Hamelin took the barcarolle of the first movement (Gondoliera) at a leisurely tempo, tickling the ear with the many lacy figurations and trills of the right hand. Somehow the insistent tremolos of the second movement, at times almost like a furiously strummed mandolin accompanying the song -- an aria from Rossini's Otello -- managed not to sound hokey, and the Tarantella of the third movement provided the necessary ignition to fuel a bacchanal of encores. (Another outrageous Liszt concert paraphrase, Réminiscences de Norma, served the same purpose in Hamelin's 2011 recital at Strathmore.)

In response to enthusiastic ovations, Hamelin generously offered four encores, beginning with the first of Earl Wild's Seven Virtuoso Études on Popular Songs, based on George Gershwin's song Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away). This was followed by Liszt's arrangement of Chopin's song My Joys, Godowsky's mind-blowing transcription of Chopin's Revolutionary Etude for the left hand alone (!), and The Punch and Judy Show, a madcap miniature by Eugène Goossens (embedded below).

The next recital in the series honoring IPAM will feature Orion Weiss (December 3), at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park.

#morninglistening: Rattle-Sibelius, Symphonies


'Rienzi' at Strathmore

available at Amazon
Wagner, Rienzi, R. Kollo, S. Wennberg, Staatskapelle Dresden, H. Hollreiser
(Warner Classics)
Wagner's Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen, Hans von Bülow reportedly quipped, is Meyerbeer's best opera. Wagner completed it, his third opera, when he was still in his late 20s, before he disavowed his one-time admiration of French grand opera. Meyerbeer, who was so instrumental in getting the young Wagner's early operas to the stage, ended up with Wagner's scorn as thanks, when Wagner targeted Meyerbeer in his anti-Semitic tract Das Judenthum in der Musik. Wanting to bury that part of his development as a composer, Wagner banned Rienzi from performance at Bayreuth. Kudos to the National Philharmonic and conductor Piotr Gajewski for bringing an all too rare concert performance of the work to the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday evening. Sadly, ambition in programming, as happens all too often, was rewarded with a small audience, but a loudly appreciative one.

The title character was a Roman politician, risen from humble beginnings to become the city's tribune in the mid-14th century. Rienzi tried unsuccessfully to negotiate the hazardous terrain between the papacy, then removed to Avignon, and the Holy Roman Emperor. Although lifted up for a time by the admiration of everyday Romans, Rienzi runs afoul of the Colonnas and other powerful aristocratic families and ends his days, in the opera, burned alive in a fire set by a mob on the Capitoline Hill. The story of the rise to power of a common man on the shoulders of the populace was a favorite of Adolf Hitler's, for obvious reasons, and the leader of the Nazi party came to own Wagner's manuscript of the opera, still in his possession when he died and so now lost.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, ‘Rienzi,’ a Wagner work rarely performed, pleases at Strathmore (Washington Post, October 5)

David Rohde, The National Philharmonic’s ‘Rienzi, A Concert Opera’ at Strathmore (D.C. Metro Theater Arts, October 5)

Alex Baker, Rienzi with the National Philharmonic (Wellsung, October 6)
Mercifully, this performance featured a heavily cut version of the opera, excising far more music than just the half-hour ballet in the second act. Tenor Issachah Savage, whom we have been following since his student days at Catholic University, gave a heroic rendition of the title role, with enough power and beauty at the top of his voice to carry the evening, especially in the moving Act V prayer scene. Mezzo-soprano Mary Ann Stewart was equally strong as Adriano, Colonna's son (en travesti), beautifully matched with the more slender sound of Eudora Brown as Irene, Rienzi's sister and beloved of Adriano. Kevin Thompson, with a vast and brutish tone, and Jason Stearns made a potent pair of villains as Colonna and Orsini, respectively. Things were not always optimal, starting from the somewhat raspy trumpet solos in the overture and continuing with some hesitant entrances in the orchestra and especially the chorus. Gajewski not only held the whole thing together but found many moments in this over-packed score worth discovering.


Perchance to Stream: Joaquin 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, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From the Vienna Staatsoper de Viena, a performance of The Tempest by Thomas Adès, starring Audrey Luna, David Daniels, and others. [Música Clásica]

  • Friedemann Layer conducts Offenbach's Fantasio, recorded last July in Montpellier. [France Musique]

  • Watch a staging of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore, conducted by Thomas Rösner and directed by Damiano Michieletto, from Brussels. [De Munt]

  • Philippe Jordan conducts a performance of Chausson's King Arthur, from the Bastille Opera, starring Thomas Hampson, Sophie Koch, and Roberto Alagna. [ABC Classic]

  • Watch the concert opening the 120th season of the Czech Philharmonic. [ARTE]

  • From the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège, a performance of Verdi's Ernani. [RTBF]

  • Listen to Zubin Mehta lead the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Bruckner's eighth symphony, recorded in August at the Grafenegg Festival. [ORF]

  • Andrey Boreyko leads the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and cellist Sol Gabetta in music by Dvorak and Saint-Saëns. [ORF]

  • Listen to a performance of Rossini's La gazza ladra starring Nino Machaidze, Simone Alberghini, René Barbera, and others, recorded at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro. [ORF]

  • Marzena Diakun leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in performances of Holst's The Planets and Rautavaara's Angels and Visitations. [France Musique]

  • The Doric String Quartet plays music by Haydn, Bartok, and Schubert at the Festival du Lubéron. [France Musique]

  • The Quatuor Zaïde plays quartets by Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven at the Festival international des Quatuors à cordes du Lubéron. [France Musique]

  • Pianist Maria Joao Pires joins the Bremen Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra and conductor Trevor Pinnock for music by Schubert, Chopin, and Haydn. [RTBF]

  • Sébastien Daucé leads the Ensemble Correspondances in music of Henry du Mont at the Festival d'Ambronay. [France Musique]

  • Academia Montis Regalis, under Alessandro De Marchi, perform Jommelli's opera Don Trastullo, starring Robin Johannsen, Francesco Castoro, and Federico Sacchi. [ORF]

  • Franco Fagioli performs arias by Handel and Lully, accompanied by the Basel Chamber Orchestra. [France Musique]

  • The Balthasar-Neumann-Chor and Ensemble perform music by Claudio Monteverdi, Henry Purcell, Sven-David Sandström, and Thomas Jennefelt, recorded last month at St. Pölten Cathedral. [ORF]

  • Richard Tognetti leads the Australian Chamber Orchestra in music of Beethoven and Jonny Greenwood, recorded in 2014. [ABC Classic]

  • From the Couvent des Capucins de Fribourg, a concert recorded last year by Les Passions de l'Ame, conducted by Meret Lüthi, with music by Schmelzer, Fux, and others. [RTBF]

  • A recital by pianist Lisa Moore, recorded in August at Eugene Goossens Hall in Sydney, with music by Philip Glass and Robert Schumann. [ABC Classic]

  • Listen to Giordano Bruno, an opera by Francesco Filidei, recorded at the Théâtre de Hautepierre for the Musica Festival. [France Musique]

  • The Ensemble Gombert celebrates its 25th anniversary with a concert of music by Gombert, Byrd, Tallis, and others, recorded at Xavier College Chapel last month. [ABC Classic]

  • Riccardo Muti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Ligeti's Lontano, Beethoven's Triple Concerto, and Tchaikovsky's second symphony, recorded last March. [CSO]

  • Jérôme Correas directs Les Paladins in a concert for the Festival Classique au Vert in Paris. [France Musique]

  • Kristian Bezuidenhout plays a recital of music by Mozart on the pianoforte, recorded last year at the Festival de Wroclaw in Poland. [RTBF]

  • Renaud Capuçon joins the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Cornelius Meister, for Busoni's violin concerto, plus Bruckner's sixth symphony. [ORF]

#morninglistening: Tigran Hamasyan, Luys I Luso


BSO Off the Cuff

Lecture-concerts -- with that losing combination of half the music and twice the talk -- are generally not my thing. So the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's decision to double down on its "Off the Cuff" concerts, to which two of its four performances are devoted this week, seemed mysterious to me. Best not to judge such things without experiencing them, however, so Friday evening found me braving the monsoon rains to get to Strathmore for the latest concert in the series. If the chatty format is meant to make newcomers to classical music feel more comfortable, all while charging the same ticket price without having to play the week's entire program, one would hope there are more seats filled at the Music Center in weeks without a hurricane looming off the east coast.

The rest of my weekend review schedule meant that this performance of Markus Stenz's first concert as the BSO's Principal Guest Conductor, focused on excerpts from Mozart's Don Giovanni, was my only option. Stenz was charming and generally informative in the half-hour lecture, an introduction of the opera's music and story with live orchestra examples, complete with Tcherman accent and amusing minor grammatical errors. His ideas about the opera seemed influenced by the René Jacobs recording, with some rather fast tempo choices, strings light on vibrato, crisp articulation over legato phrasing, and timpani and brass allowed to push into the foreground at loud moments.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, BSO offers kinetic Mozart program with Stenz, Meade (Baltimore Sun, October 2)
Another reason to brave the weather was the chance to hear soprano Angela Meade, who made a powerhouse Donna Anna, albeit without the most suave floating tone at the top, so crucial for the musical characterization of Anna's innocence. Likewise, soprano Jennifer Black, who sang Donna Elvira at the Castleton Festival last year, did not really have the vocal force for that character's vengeful harshness. (Not for the first time, I wondered what the opera would sound like if you switched these voice types around in casting.) Pureum Jo made a noteworthy BSO debut as Zerlina, a role that did not come off as mousy at all with her voice, and Thomas Richards was a strong Leporello, outshining the Don Giovanni of Morgan Smith in the Act II finale.

Dip Your Ears, No. 207 (Bach Metamorphosed)

available at Amazon

J.S.Bach, various transcriptions,
Hänssler CLASSIC

available at Amazon

J.S.Bach, various transcriptions,
Hänssler CLASSIC

Probing the Unknown

Recitals of little known transcriptions of less-than-famous pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach are just what excites me. Throw in Walter Braunfels with his sumptuous, quasi-orchestral rendition of the Prelude & Fugue BWV 536 as the recital opener, and I’m sold.

Almost: It takes Angelika Nebel’s stately, regal navigation of the liturgical year via the appropriate chorales that seals the deal on Metamorphosis. She does a similar thing in the follow-up album Illuminations, only that she adds her own transcriptions this time, which works out very nicely indeed.

Like Tzimon Barto’s Goldberg Variations [I love it; Charles’ review here], this CD ends with a transcription of the Chorale “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland”, but here for two pianos. I cry either way. Two more quality releases from the recently sold Hänssler label. [See Forbes: Merger Reunites Classical Music Labels Of Father And Son.]


On Forbes: Merger Reunites Classical Music Labels Of Father And Son

Merger Reunites Classical Music Labels Of Father And Son

Because the Christian Media Foundation (“Stiftung Christliche Medien”, SCM) based in Holzgerlingen near Stuttgart, Germany, no longer cared for having a classical music label on their hands – which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly the type of business that would be raking in profits or even breaking even without considerable effort – they wanted to dump the storied and well-reputed hänssler CLASSIC label. Now SCM has found someone to take it off their hands that will continue the wonderful work the label has been doing for well over 40 years. The taker-over? The smallish label Profil, which publishes most of its releases in the “Edition Günter Hänssler“. As the name suggests, the latter label is run by Günter Hänssler. And yes, he is related to the Hänssler in “hänssler CLASSIC”: He is the son of the founder and has long worked with the former label before founding his own. Now the mothership is with the son; a classical family-reunion story, you might say...

Full review on

Runnicles with the NSO

available at Amazon
R. Strauss, Four Last Songs (inter alia), J. Eaglen, London Symphony Orchestra, D. Runnicles

available at Amazon
Elgar, Enigma Variations, London Symphony Orchestra, C. Davis
The National Symphony Orchestra is looking for a successor to their current music director, Christoph Eschenbach, who will step down at the end of next season. Figuring high on my list would have been Scottish conductor Donald Runnicles, whose recordings I have much admired and who had an excellent run at San Francisco Opera. His term as music director of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra ends next year, although he will apparently continue leading the Deutsche Oper Berlin for now. This week's NSO concerts offered the first chance to hear Runnicles live, and the experience far exceeded expectations.

The overture to Mozart's The Magic Flute featured sharp ideas, with the beat crisply marked by the baton in Runnicles' left hand. All those critical "knock" chords, the Masonic signature, were clearly defined and unified, with beautifully balanced tutti sound, and all sections paid close attention to delineating the repeated-note theme of the fast section, which bubbled with energy, if some occasional ensemble disagreements, all minor.

Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko, who had to cancel her local debut with the Washington Concert Opera one year ago, made an exemplary NSO debut in Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, a piece we would gladly hear once a year. We have been following her via online streaming, and the reports of our European correspondent have been enthusiastic. Little surprise, then, that this is a voice worth hearing, firm and earthy at the middle and bottom, clear and unrestrained at the top. The latter quality made the end of the third song, Beim Schlafengehen, particularly beautiful, as the soul yearns to soar in the magic wreath of the night. Runnicles, who made a fine recording of these songs with Jane Eaglen some years ago, here had a voice more uniformly up to the task (and an improvement over the last singer to perform them here, Renée Fleming in 2010). The NSO responded with intense violin solos, not overly lachrymose, from concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef and a luscious, poignant horn solo from outstanding principal player Abel Pereira at the end of the second song, September.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, The NSO starts its regular season with a promising debut (Washington Post, October 2)

Kate Molleson, BBCSSO/Runnicles review – warm, bold and incisive (The Guardian, September 30)
Without doing any kind of official count, I probably have issues with the NSO's string sections most often in my reviewing. What a delight to hear the strings sounding so good in Elgar's Serenade for String Orchestra, op. 20, the violas purring on the little energetic motif running through the first movement and the first violins weaving a single, limpid thread of sound. The second movement, taken not too slow and therefore more heartfelt than schmaltzy, was lush and tender, capped by a genial third movement, in no way agitated, which felt completely opposite from the approach often taken by Eschenbach.

available at Amazon
Edward Elgar and His World, ed. Byron Adams
(Bard Music Festival, 2007)
The same was true with the larger orchestra playing for the Enigma Variations, far surpassing the merely quirky rendition from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra earlier this month. Runnicles carefully measured every crescendo, and the fast movements rollicked and thundered, grabbing the listener by the collar, brief and coordinated bursts of sonic wallop. The eighth variation, depicting the ladies of the Worcester Philharmonic Association, was graceful and passionate, leading into the famous ninth variation by a fragile sustained violin note, a moment marred by the crash of something at the back of the hall. Given the title "Nimrod," this graceful piece represents Elgar's beloved friend August Jaeger (German for hunter, thus the biblical hunter of the title), who encouraged Elgar in a moment of despondency, so the minor-mode theme, representing the loneliness of composition, is transformed into major. (Elgar used to sign letters with the first four notes of the mysterious theme, and now every time I hear the piece, I think of those first four notes sung to the words "Edward Elgar.") Runnicles brought out all sorts of details, like the delicate solos on viola and flute, the latter in its silvery low range, in the tenth variation.

This concert repeats tonight and tomorrow night, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Through a special promotion, $20 tickets on the orchestra level are available for both performances.

#morninglistening: Conrad Tao, Pictures


On Forbes: Gergiev Starts Munich Tenure With Mahler

Gergiev Starts Munich Tenure With Mahler

On September 19th, Valery Gergiev began his tenure as Music Director with the Munich Philharmonic – more than two and a half years after he signed his contract. If the occasion – a performance of Mahler’s grand Second Symphony – didn’t quite feel like the event it was, it was perhaps because his extensive presence (to the extent that the elusive, fast-paced Gergiev can be said to be truly present anywhere) with the city of Munich’s orchestra in the previous years: He had a number of guest appearances in town, conducting a complete Shostakovich cycle, for example, but also helping the orchestra out when their last music director, Lorin Maazel, died before the end of his scheduled tenure...

Full review on

#morninglistening: Everything Itzhak Perlman on Warner


Royal Family Memorabilia

Descendants of Louis-Philippe, the last king of France, are selling a trove of over two hundred objects that belonged to their family, raising fears that relics of France's history will leave France. An article by Baudouin Eschapasse (Patrimoine : le trésor de la couronne de France dispersé, September 29) for Le Point has the details (my translation):
The eleven heirs of the Count and Countess of Paris, descendants of Louis-Philippe (1773-1850), the last king of France, are letting go of furniture, paintings, and other family jewels during an exceptional sale on September 29 and 30. In the catalog, works signed by major artists of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Such as gouaches by the painter-decorator Louis Carrogis, known as Carmontelle; or Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié, royal portraitist, who affords an intimate glimpse of the French royal family. One of these canvases, depicting the Duke of Valois in his cradle [shown at right], the future Louis-Philippe, is particularly moving.
The French Minister of Culture could oppose the sale of only three works (out of almost 250), which are not allowed to leave France: that includes the account book of the Château d'Amboise, portraits of Louis XIII by Philippe de Champaigne, and the portrait of the Duchesse d'Orléans by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. The government reportedly purchased these three items, secretly, a few days ago.


Grigory Sokolov refuses Cremona Music Award because this Guy's also on the List

Update: On An Overgrown Path weighs in: Churnalism is destroying classical music
Update: A response from the Cremona Music Award's Paolo Bodini can be found in the comment section.
Update: A response from Norman Lebrecht, after two days of silence, also below.
Update: Gavin Dixon on the specific reasons behind Sokolov's distaste for Lebrecht.
Update: On An Overgrown Path delves into what the "Cremona Music Awards" actually are all about.

Because he shares a prize of the new Cremona Mondo Musica Awards with past (2014) winner Norman Lebrecht (check his tweets here), Grigory Sokolov refused his prize, calling it “a shame to appear on the same list”.

Translated into English, more or less, the text reads:

Dear Mr Bianchedi, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Artistic Committee of the Cremona Mondomusica Piano Experience

I refuse to receive the 2015 Cremona Music Award, because it goes against my ideas of elementary decency, and is [indeed] a shame to appear on the [same] list of winners with Lebrecht.

G. Sokolov

Original letter in Italian (above) and Russian below.

Production Photos from the Zurich Opera's Wozzeck with Christian Gerhaher

Spoiled by a masterful, cinematic production by Andreas Kriegenburg for the Munich State Opera, I was trying not to expect all that much – and certainly not something to supplant my experiences with Kriegenburg’s Wozzeck. And yet, the deceivingly simple production of the director (and Intendant of the Zurich Opera) Andreas Homoki did just that. Anchored by the set and costumes of Michael Levine (with further costume-help from Meta Bronski), it looked at first like a simple frame – yellow paint on black wood; the setup for a grim and grimy Punch & Judy show. As more and more frames opened behind the first one, revealing up to six layers, it became clear that it was a little cleverer than that, and wickedly effective to boot...

Full review on Click on excerpted images below to find a higher resolution version of the full picture.

All images courtesy Zurich Opera, © Monika Rittershaus