Sunday, January 31, 2016

One of these "Parsifal" performances doesn't belong in the company of the others



WAGNER: Parsifal: Prelude and Good Friday Spell

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1957

by Ken

We first heard the Prelude and opening of Act I of Parsifal in a March 2010 post called "Wagner, master of musical motion, Part 2," in which I wrote: "Our subject this week, you'll recall, is "musical motion," how performers find -- or don't -- what makes a piece of music move forward from the inside, how they re-create it with real energy and purpose instead of just grinding out one damned note after another."

The Jochum studio recording of the frequent concert coupling of the Parsifal Prelude and "Good Friday Spell" (from Act III), by no means a speedy performance, seems to me a shining example of the "re-created with real energy and purpose" kind.


IN 2010, OUR PRINCIPAL WAGNER TESTING GROUND . . .

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Is Ariadne waiting for death, or for another lover?


Leonie Rysanek as Ariadne

From part 2 of the abandoned Ariadne's monologue, as she awaits the messenger of death:
ARIADNE: But soon a messenger will draw nigh,
Hermes they call him.
With his staff
he rules all souls:
Like birds on the wing,
like dry leaves,
he drives them before him.
Thou beautiful, serene god!
See! Ariadne awaits!

Leonie Rysanek (s), Ariadne; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Christa Ludwig (s), Ariadne; Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Live perfomance from the Salzburg Festival, July 26, 1964

From the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos, in which the Composer and Zerbinetta take different views of Ariadne's "death":
COMPOSER: She is one of those women who belong to one man only in their life and after that to no one else --
ZERBINETTA: Ha!
COMPOSER: -- to no one else, save Death!

COMPOSER: She takes him for the god of Death. In her eyes, in her soul, he is Death, and for that reason, for that reason only --
ZERBINETTA [from the door, very gently]: That's what she'd have you think
COMPOSER: -- for that reason only she goes with him on his ship.

COMPOSER: Ariadne is the one out of a million. She is the woman who does not forget.
ZERBINETTA: Childishness!

Sena Jurinac (s), Composer; Roberta Peters (s), Zerbinetta; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

by Ken

We've already heard the tiny bit above from part 2 ("Es gibt ein Reich") of Ariadne's monologue, as she awaits the messenger who will take her to the realm "where everything is pure" -- the realm of death. (See the November 1 post "Why won't everyone just let poor abandoned Ariadne die in peace?" and the December 13 post "Ariadne is "the symbol of human solitude" -- which is "just why she needs company" (says the Dance Master).") And I'll say even more strongly than before that this 49 seconds of Leonie Rysanek's recording is some of the most thrillingly beautiful singing I've heard.

Now we've added the above tiny bits of the Prologue, containing some more of the most thrillingly beautiful singing I've heard -- from, you'l notice, the very same recording of Ariadne auf Naxos, as Sena Jurinac as the Composer of the opera seria expresses her understanding of the title character.


"THE WOMAN WHO DOES NOT FORGET"

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Out in the countryside cutting sticks with Wozzeck and Andres

Updated with musical harkbacks for Wozzeck and Marie


Joel Sorensen as Andres and Franz Hawlata as Wozzeck in Act I, Scene 2 of Wozzeck, in San Diego, 2007
Scene change from the opening scene, in which WOZZECK has been patronized and verbally browbeaten by the CAPTAIN while the poor schlepp gives him his daily shave.

Scene 2 ("Andres")
Open countryside, the town visible in the distance. Late afternoon. ANDRES and WOZZECK are cutting sticks in the bushes.
WOZZECK: Hey, this place is cursed!
ANDRES [continuing to work]: Oh, nonsense!
Song, 1st stanza
A hunter bold I'd like to be.
Behind a gun a fan is free!
And so will I a-hunting go,
a hunting-go!
WOZZECK: The place is cursed! Can you see the pale patch across the grass where the toadstools are growing? In the evenings a head rolls about there! Once someone picked it up, thinking it was a hedgehog. Three days and nights later he'd kicked the bucket!
ANDRES: It's getting dark here. That's why you're growing nervous. Come on!
[Stops working and strikes a pose.]
Song, 2nd stanza
A hare in flight runs there by me,
and asks if I a hunter be.
I tell him yes, I like it fine,
but shooting, no -- that's not my line!
WOZZECK: Hush, Andres! That must be freemasons.
ANDRES: Song, 3rd stanza (beginning)
Two hares there were, upon the grass,
and eating all that hares could . . .
WOZZECK [overlapping]: It is! The freemasons! Be quiet!
[ANDRES stops singing, a little uneasy himself. Both listen intently.]
ANDRES [trying to calm WOZZECK -- and himself]: Why not sing with me?
[Continuing the song] And eating all that hares could ask,
they ate . . . so fast . . .
WOZZECK [overlapping; stamps his foot on the ground]: Hollow! It's all hollow! A chasm! It's cracking! Can you hear? There's something following us down there! [Terrified.] Let's go, quickly! [Tries to drag ANDRES off with him.]
ANDRES [restraining WOZZECK]: Hey, have you gone mad?
WOZZECK [stops]: It's suddenly gone quiet. And how oppressive it is. You feel like holding your breath. [Gazes around.]
ANDRES: What?
[The sun is just setting. The last bright rays touch the horizon in the most garish sunlight, after which the sudden twilight seems intensely dark.]
WOZZECK: A fire! A fire rising from earth to heaven and a turmoiol descending like the last trump. What a din!
ANDRES [feigning unconcern]: The sun has gone down, and now they're drumming back there.
WOZZECK: Quiet, everything quiet, as if the world were dead.
ANDRES: Night! We must go home!
[Both go off slowly.]
[Scene change. Orchestral postlude, and military music beginning behind the scenes.]

Scene 3 ("Marie")
Marie's room. Evening.
March [Military music is heard approaching.]
MARIE [at the window with her child in her arms]: Zing boom! Zing boom, boom, boom, boom! Do you hear, baby? They're coming there!
[The military music, with the DRUM MAJOR in the lead, arrives in the street outside MARIE's window.]
MARGRET [in the street, talking to MARIE through the window]: What a man! Like a tree!
MARIE [speaks out the window]: He stands on his feet like a lion!
[The DRUM MAJOR salutes MARIE, who waves back in a friendly manner.]
MARGRET : Oh, what a friendly look, neighbor! You're not usually so familiar!

Walter Berry (bs-b), Wozzeck; Richard van Vrooman (t), Andres; Isabel Straus (s), Marie; Ingeborg Lasser (ms), Margret; Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Pierre Boulez, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded 1966

by Ken

Okay, this was supposed to be a "Boulez post," following up on last week's quick musical remembrance of the late composer-conductor. And sure enough, up above we've got Pierre Boulez conducting a scene from Berg's Wozzeck which I especially love -- the second of the five "character studies" that make up Act I, nestled between the scenes in which we're introduced first to Wozzeck himself (in the scene of his presumably daily humiliation by the Captain) and to Marie, the mother of his infant son -- which were among the scenes we listened to way in June 2011 in the preview posts "Berg's Wozzeck -- (1) Introducing Marie" and "'Wretches like us' -- Berg's Wozzeck: (2) Introducing Wozzeck" and the main post, "'Wretches like us' -- class warfare and the tragic depths of Berg's Wozzeck."

Somehow, though, in the course of gathering materials to present this weird and wonderful scene, the post turned more Wozzeck-y.

Maybe you had to be around in 1966 to appreciate how remarkable it was that this recording was made as a result of the enormous international acclaim showered on the Paris production of Wozzeck that Boulez had been conducting. After all, it had been only a year since the first stereo recording -- and only second-ever recording of any kind -- of Wozzeck, the one conducted by Karl Böhm for DG with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Evelyn Lear as Wozzeck and Marie. (Its predecessor was Columbia Masterworks' live recording of the concert performance by Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic with Mack Harrell and Eileen Farrell -- a performance I still love.)


NOWADAYS THIS MIGHT NOT SEEM SO EXTRAORDINARY . . .

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)



HANDEL: Music for the Royal Fireworks: Réjouissance

New York Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Dec. 22, 1973

by Ken

As I mentioned in my earlier tease, mostly what we're going to do today is revisit some Boulez performances that have found their way into Sunday Classics posts over the years.

BOULEZ THE HANDELIAN

Coming up: Some musical memories of Pierre Boulez




BBC Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, cond. Live performance, 1970

Vienna Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, cond. DG, recorded March 1996

by Ken

Once upon a time, probably nobody would have been more surprised than Pierre Boulez to think of himself as an eventual recipient of a traditional Mahlerian sendoff like the Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony. In fact, over the quarter-century that separates these two performances, I think we can hear his own relationship to the music evolving. But even the quicker earlier one has a ring of sincerity that's surprising coming from the man who, in his Domaine Musical days (which in fact hadn't ended yet), inveighed so polemically against music . . . well, music pretty much like this.

We're not going to go very deep in the full post, but I thought it would tell us something just to rehear some musical memories of Boulez -- some of the Boulez performances we've already heard over the years at Sunday Classics over the years, with some selective augmentations. More anon.
#

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A New Year's toast times three, courtesy of the company of "Die Fledermaus"

[There's still some filling in of performances to be done here, and the texts for the Champagne Trio to be added, but] UPDATE: Here more or less, finally, is this week's post.


Richard Leech (t), Alfred; Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Rosalinde; Vienna Philharmonic, André Previn, cond. Philips, recorded November 1990

[in English] Richard Tucker (t), Alfred; Marguerite Piazza (s), Rosalinde; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, cond. Live performance, Jan. 20, 1951
[Note that the English translation doesn't even attempt to retain the sense of the original. But just listen to the sounds being made by the young Tucker! Note that he's also the Alfred of American Columbia's recording of Fledermaus based on this Met production.]

by Ken

Three New Year's toasts from Die Fledermaus, starting with the one in Act I that's excerpted above, with this invaluable lesson taught by the Alfred, a tenor (yes, in "real" life) who never lets anything get him down. But first, in accordance with common Sunday Classics practice, we start at the beginning, with the Overture.

J. STRAUSS Jr.: Die Fledermaus: Overture


Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded June 1960

Vienna Philharmonic, André Previn, cond. Philips, recorded, November 1990

Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Ackermann, cond. EMI, recorded June 1959

Bavarian State Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber, cond. Live performance, Dec. 31, 1974

We've heard all of these performances before, but let me say again -- as I do each time the Karajan-Decca Fledermaus comes up -- that it's one of the handful of recordings I would offer in evidence of Karajan's greatness as a conductor, along with, I think, his first DG Beethoven symphony cycle (you can hear how hard he worked on that set, not in the effort but in the results), the DG Ring cycle, and the EMI Fidelio.


NOW WE SKIP TO THE FINALE OF ACT I . . .

Sunday, December 27, 2015

We continue our detour through "Così fan tutte" on the road back to poor Ariadne, abandoned -- only now with company! -- on the isle of Naxos

"Soave sia il vento"
("Gentle be the breeze")



FIORDILIGI, DORABELLA, and DON ALFONSO:
Gentle be the breeze,
calm be the waves,
and every element
smile in favor
on their wish.


Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; Yvonne Minton (ms), Dorabella; Hans Sotin (bs), Don Alfonso; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan. 25-Feb. 18, 1971

Irmgard Seefried (s), Fiordiligi; Nan Merriman (ms), Dorabella; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b), Don Alfonso; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1962

[in English] Elizabeth Harwood (s), Fiordiligi; Janet Baker (ms), Dorabella; John Shirley-Quirk (bs-b), Don Alfonso; Scottish National Opera Orchestra, Alexander Gibson, cond. Live performance, May 1969

by Ken

Okay, I know we've heard "Soave sia il vento" bunches of times before. And it seems likely that we'll hear it bunches of times again, maybe even in this post. (It could be that I know something, but I'm not telling.) It goes like this: We have occasion to listen to it this week, and if you think we're going to bypass a gimme like this, you're wrong.

Last week's post was called "Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings," and you may have noticed that I didn't particularly pursue the theme announced in the title. Mostly I presented Fiordiligi's two stupendous showpiece arias from Mozart and da Ponte's Così fan tutte. Both show Mozart deploying all his craft and a good measure of his genius toward creating a show-stopper of an aria. But there's a world of difference between Fiordiligi's Act I declaration of rock-like fidelity and the heart-rending state of confusion she's reduced to in her Act II rondo as she finds herself prepared to betray her beloved.

The men whom Fiordiligi and her sister Dorabella love -- or at least think they love in Act I -- aren't drawn in anything like the depth of the women, but their music reflects the same schism: trafficking in Act I with unthinking, abstract images of people, and then in Act II coming up against feal feelings as they find themselves dealing with their fiancées as real people. Here, for example, is how it all starts.

Well, not quite how it all starts. It all starts with a sparkling Overture, and long-time visitors to Sunday Classics know that we often like to start at the start. So here's the actual start. (We've heard all these performances before, but let me just say a couple of things again. The Jochum and Klemperer are from complete recordings of the opera, and the Jochum Così, which I've been living with now for 50-plus years, still seems to me a wonder -- perhaps more of a wonder than ever. The Klemperer Così remains indispensable if only for the almost-superhuman Fiordiligi of Margaret Price. The Colin Davis performance comes from a wonderful early Davis LP of Mozart overtures which is still the way I would wish to remember him.)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ariadne and Fiordiligi: Real people and feelings vs. ideas about people and feelings

[This isn't the full post yet, but it's closer than I was expecting. Stay tuned. UPDATE: Okay, this is pretty much the post. I scaled down the intended scope, so that we still have some Così business to pursue along with making the connection to Ariadne. -- K]
[LATER UPDATE: There's now a linked list of "The Ariadne Posts" at the end of this post.]


In pity's name, my dearest, forgive
the misdeed of a loving soul;
amid this shade and these plants
forever hidden, oh God, let it be.

Margaret Price (s), Fiordiligi; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1971

Montserrat Caballé (s), Fiordiligi; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded c1973

by Ken

Yes, we're still talking about Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Ariadne auf Naxos, and we're getting nearer to dealing directly with its supposed musico-dramatic split personality, between the "Italian buffo manner" (as the Music Master refers to it) of Zerbinetta and her commedia dell'arte companions and the tragic world of Ariadne herself, abandoned by Theseus on the isle of Naxos.

If you look at early reviews of Ariadne, whether in its original 1912 format as an entertainment within Hofmannsthal's adaptation of Molière's Le bourgeois gentilhomme, or in the 1916 revision with the added Prologue that made the opera free-standing, you frequently encounter the criticism that the two musico-dramatic worlds that the creators so gleefully moosh together simply don't go together, that they're incompatible. Which is odd, because you'd think that one of the first things an audience member might want to puzzle out is why they've been mooshed together. And you'd think it would be rather obvious that they give us two quite different ways of looking at the same set of circumstances, each of which has something important to show us.

And somewhere along the line this week that got me to thinking about Mozart's Così fan tutte, the last of the three operas he set to librettos by his great librettist Lorenzo da Ponte -- and the only one of the three that on da Ponte's part wasn't an adaptation of existing material. And it occurred to me that the very different understandings of the characters of Così between the start and finish of the opera have a lot in common with the different ways of looking at Ariadne's bust-up with Theseus and subsequent hookup with Bacchus.

And that difference is embedded in the markedly different character of Fiordiligi's two great, hugely difficult showpiece arias, which we've heard before -- and we're now going to hear again. Starting, naturally, backwards. (Isn't that how we usually do things around here?) Just as I've been burbling on about the depth of beauty of Ariadne's music, I would venture that Fiordiligi's Act II aria, "Per pietà," might be the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote. I'm not going to say that it is the most beautiful thing Mozart ever wrote, because there are probably a dozen or two others to set alongside it. But the mere fact that it might be so considered tells us that we're dealing with one of the supremely beautiful creations of the human mind.

And this time I thought we might begin by breaking down just the very opening. In part this is useful because the aria is in the form of a rondo, meaning that we're going to be hearing this "A" section again, and again. And in part this is useful because it allows us to trail along as Mozart puts these musical materials together.


LET'S GET OUR GRAPHIC UP AGAIN AND GET STARTED

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ariadne is "the symbol of human solitude" -- which is "just why she needs company" (says the Dance Master)

[NOTE: This is still a rough version of this post, which needs a bit of fixing and amplifying that I'll get to ASAP. Okay, the updating is pretty well done -- or at least done as well as it's gonna get done.]

THE DANCE MASTER: There's nothing more tasteless than a desert island.
THE COMPOSER: Ariadne on Naxos, sir -- she is the symbol of human solitude.
THE DANCE MASTER: That's just why she needs company.

Murray Dickie (t), Dance Master; Sena Jurinac (s), Compower; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Gerhard Unger (t), Dance Master; Tatiana Troyanos (ms), Composer; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Nov. 29, 1967

by Ken

Awhile back I asked, "Why won't everyone just let poor abandoned Ariadne die in peace?" Rather than try to answer the question directly, I hoped that the answer, or at least an answer, would be clear from the extravagantly gorgeous music the abandoned princess sings in the two-part monologue she has been given upon her awakening from her weeping slumber.

Of course, as we're reminded by the little exchange I've reproduced atop this post, there are two decidedly different schools of thought about Ariadne abandoned on Naxos among the participants in the strange hybrid entertainment about to be performed in the house of the richest man in Vienna: the "serious opera" folk including the Music Master and his student, the Composer, the composer of the opera seria Ariadne auf Naxos that's on offer; and the entertainers "in the Italian buffo manner," as the Music Master puts it, led by the Dance Master and "the incomparable Zerbinetta."

Now I don't believe we've yet seriously encountered the Dance Master, a treat of a little character-tenor role. For one thing, the fellow knows how to present himself. Here we're hearing one of my favorite character tenors, Murray Dickie, a Scotsman we've heard in repertory from Mozart to Wagner to Mahler.
THE MAJOR-DOMO: Where is Master Dance Master? I have an instruction from my honorable master for you both.
THE DANCE MASTER: What's wished of me?

Kurt Preger (spkr), Major-Domo; Murray Dickie (t), Dance Master; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

And he knows how to plead his case. Here he's debunking the notion that the comic presentation will be dragged down if it's give following the soporific opera seria.
THE DANCE MASTER [to ZERBINETTA]: On the contrary. They've just got up from table, they feel much too full and disinclined for anything save forty winks on the side. They clap, then, out of politeness and to wake themselves up. In the meantime they become quite lively. "What's next?" they say to themselves. "The Inconstant Zerbinetta and Her Four Suitors": a merry comedy to follow with dancing, light, tuneful music and a plot as clear as daylight where one knows where one is. "That's what we like," they say to themselves. "This is where we wake up. We know where we are with this!" And afterwards, when they're driving home, they can't remember a single thing, except that they saw the incomparable Zerbinetta dance.

Murray Dickie (t), Dance Master; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Now here's how this occurs in context, reflecting the comedians' view of the Ariadne story, with some other characterful Dance Masters. I would put in a good work in particular for that wonderful Spieltenor of the '50s and '60s Gerhard Unger. (One thing to note in these excerpts is how each tenor copes with that totally exposed, long-held high B-flat at the end, on "Zerbi-net-ta." Peter Schreier may not have been the goldenest-voiced of tenors, but he was a legit lyric tenor rather than, strictly speaking a Spieltenor, and I think that gives him an edge here.)

I was already thinking that maybe we should do a "Murray Dickie Day" post, if only gathering together the repertory we've already heared; now I'm thinking maybe we should do Murray Dickie-plus-Gerhard Unger, since there was of course a good deal of repertory overlap.

R. STRAUSS: From the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos
ZERBINETTA sits on a little straw stool at the front of the stage and finishes applying her makeup assisted by her partners; HARLEKIN holds the light, BRIGHELLA the mirror.

PRIMA DONNA [opens the door and beckons to the MUSIC MASTER]: Have you summoned the Count?
[Comes out a little and notices ZERBINETTA and the rest]
Pfui! What kind of visions are these, pray?
[To the MUSIC MASTER, not exactly softly] Fancy our being mixed up with people of that sort! Don't people hereabouts know who I am? How could the Count --
ZERBINETTA [with an impudent look at the singer and in a purposely loud voice]: If the rubbish is so boring, then we ought to have been allowed to appear first, before they become irritable. If they've been bored for a whole hour beforehand, then it will be twice as hard to make them laugh.
DANCE MASTER [to ZERBINETTA]: On the contrary. They've just got up from table, they feel much too full and disinclined for anything save forty winks on the side. They clap, then, out of politeness and to wake themselves up. In the meantime they become quite lively. "What's next?" they say to themselves. "The Inconstant Zerbinetta and Her Four Suitors": a merry comedy to follow with dancing, light, tuneful music and a plot as clear as daylight where one knows where one is. "That's what we like," they say to themselves. "This is where we wake up. We know where we are with this!" And afterwards, when they're driving home, they can't remember a single thing, except that they saw the incomparable Zerbinetta dance.

Leonie Rysanek (s), Prima Donna; Jeanette Scovotti (s), Zerbinetta; Gerhard Unger (t), Dance Master; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Nov. 29, 1967

Gundula Janowitz (s), Prima Donna; Sylvia Geszty (s), Zerbinetta; Peter Schreier (t), Dance Master; Staatskapelle Dresden, Rudolf Kempe, cond. EMI, recorded June-July 1968

Maria Reining (s), Prima Donna; Alda Noni (s), Zerbinetta (s), Josef Witt (t), Dance Master; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance in honor of Strauss's 80th birthday, June 11, 1944


BUT ABOVE ALL THERE'S ARIADNE'S MUSIC

And now, as promised way back when, we're returning to Ariadne's monologue, this team hearing the whole chunk of the opera seria through the second part of the monologue. Is it really possible to stand by and allow Ariadne to will herself into oblivion, even for the commedia dell'arte players?

R. STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos, Op. 60:
The first part of the Opera Seria

(1) Overture

(2) Ariadne watched by the nymphs Najade, Dryade, and Echo (Najade, "Schläft sie?")

ARIADNE lies prostrate on the ground before the mouth of a cave. NAJADE is left, DRYADE right, ECHO at the back against the wall of the grotto.

["Is she sleeping?" first NAJADE and then DRYADE ask. "No, she is weeping," they determine. "Weeping in her sleep." "Day after day benumbed in sorrow." And they continue their lamentations, joined by the echoing ECHO, until finally ARIADNE awakens.]

(3) Ariadne awakens ("Ach! Wo war ich?")

ARIADNE [on the ground]: A-ah!
ECHO: A-ah!
ARIADNE: Where was I? Dead? And alive, alive again
and still living?
And yet it is no life that I live!
Broken heart, will you continue forever beating?
[Half raising herself]
What then was I dreaming? Woe is me! Forgotten already!
My head retains nothing anymore.
Only shadows slip
through a shadow.
And yet, something suddenly blazes up and pains me so!
A-ah!
ECHO: A-ah!

(4) Ariadne's monologue, part 1: "Ein schönes war, hiess Theseus-Ariadne"

ARIADNE [to herself, as in a monologue]:
There was a thing of beauty, called Theseus-Ariadne,
that walked in light and rejoiced in life,
that walked in light and rejoiced in life.
A thing of beauty was: Ariadne. Theseus.
Theseus! That walked in light and rejoiced in life.
Ariadne. Theseus.
Why do I know of it? I want to forget!
[Another idea occurs to her poor deranged mind.]
This one thing I have still to find: It is shameful
to be as confused as I am.
I must try to rouse myself: Yes, this I still must find:
the maiden that once I used to be!
Now I have it -- the gods grant that I hold on to it!
Not the name -- the name has grown together
with another name, one thing grows
so easily into another, alas!
NAJADE, DRYADE, and ECHO [trying to awaken her]:
Ariadne!
ARIADNE [motioning them away]:
No, not again! She lives here quite alone.
Lightly she breathes, lightly she moves,
not a blade stirs where she treads,
her sleep is chaste, her mind serene,
her heart as pure as a spring;
she keeps herself undefiled, for the day is soon to come
when she can wind herself in her mantle,
cover herself with a cloth
and lie there,
among the dead.

(5) Ariadne not quite alone (including Harlekin's song)

ZERBINETTA [from the wings]:
Oh then, try a little song!
HARLEKIN [singing from the wings]:
Love, hatred, hope, fear,
every joy and every pain,
all this can a heart endure
once and many times again.
ECHO: repeats it soullessly, like a bird, without words.
HARLEKIN: But to feel not joy nor sadness,
even pain itself being dead,
that is fatal to your heart,
this you must not do to me!
You must lift yourself from darkness,
were it but to fresher pangs!
You must live, for life is lovely,
you must live again once more.
ECHO: as before.
[ARIADNE, unmoved, dreams on as before.]
ZERBINETTA [sotto voce]: She didn't raise her head once!
HARLEKIN [the same]: It's all no use.
I felt as much while I was singing.
ZERBINETTA: You're quite upset.
HARLEKIN: Never have I been so moved by any human being.
ZERBINETTA: You're the same about every woman.
HARLEKIN: And aren't you the same about every man?

(6) Ariadne's monologue, part 2: "Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist"

ARIADNE: There is a realm where all is pure:
it has a name too: Realm of Death.
[Rises from the ground.]
Here nothing is pure.
All is finished here.

[She pulls her robe close around her.]
But soon a messenger will draw nigh,
Hermes they call him.
With his staff
he rules all souls:
Like birds on the wing,
like dry leaves,
he drives them before him.
Thou beautiful, serene god!
See! Ariadne awaits!

Oh, my heart must be cleansed
of all wild grief,
then your presence will call me,
your footsteps will approach my cave,
darkness will cover my eyes,
your hand will touch my heart.
In the beautiful festal robes
that my mother bequeathed me
my body will remain;
the silent cave will be my tomb.
But mutely my soul
will follow its new lord,
as a light leaf in the wind
flutters downward, gladly falling.
Darkness will cover my eyes
and fill my heart;
this body will remain,
richly adorned and all alone.

You will set me free,
give me to myself,
this burdensome life,
take it from me.
I will lose myself entirely in you;
with you Ariadne will abide.
[She stands lost in thought.]
-- English translation of texts by Peggie Cochrane

Erika Wustmann (s), Najade; Annelies Burmeister (ms), Dryade; Adele Stolte (s), Echo; Gundula Janowitz (s), Ariadne; Hermann Prey (b), Harlekin; Sylvia Geszty (s), Zerbinetta; Hans-Joachim Rotzsch (t), Brighella; Siegfried Vogel (bs), Truffaldin; Peter Schreier (t), Scaramuccio; Staatskapelle Dresden, Rudolf Kempe, cond. EMI, recorded 1967
[(1)-(6) tracks 1-6]

Mimi Coertse (s), Najade; Hilde Rössl-Majdan (ms), Dryade; Liselotte Maikl (s), Echo; Leonie Rysanek (s), Ariadne; Walter Berry (b), Harlekin; Roberta Peters (s), Zerbinetta; Murray Dickie (t), Brighella; Gunter Adam (bs), Truffaldin; Kurt Equiluz (t), Scaramuccio; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958
[(1) start; (2) 3:38; (3) 7:30; (4) 10:15; (5) 16:00; (6) 18:53]

Eleanor Bergquist (s), Najade; Gwendolyn Jones (ms), Dryade; Pamela South (s), Echo; Leontyne Price (s), Ariadne; Dale Duesing (b), Harlekin; Ruth Welting (s), Zerbinetta; Robert Johnson (t), Brighella; Alexander Malta (bs), Truffaldin; Joseph Frank (t), Scaramuccio; San Francisco Opera Orchestra, János Ferencsik, cond. Live performance, Oct. 28, 1977
[(1) track 1; (2) track 2; (3) track 3; (4)-(5) track 4; (6) track 5]

Deborah Cook (s), Najade; Enid Hartle (ms), Dryade; Norma Burrowes (s), Echo; Leontyne Price (s), Ariadne; Barry McDaniel (b), Harlekin; Edita Gruberová (s), Zerbinetta; Gerhard Unger (t), Brighella; Manfred Jungwirth (bs), Truffaldin; Kurt Equiluz (t), Scaramuccio; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded November 1977
[(1) start; (2) 3:30; (3) 7:41; (4) 11:00; (5) 18:15; (6) 20:19]

Emmy Loose (s), Najade; Melanie Frutschnigg (ms), Dryade; Elisabeth Rutgers (s), Echo; Maria Reining (s), Ariadne; Erich Kunz (b), Harlekin; Alda Noni (s), Zerbinetta; Peter Klein (t), Brighella; Marjan Rus (bs), Truffaldin; Richard Sallaba (t), Scaramuccio; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance in honor of Strauss's 80th birthday, June 11, 1944
[track 1: (1) start, (2) 3:58, (3) 8:38, (4) 11:53; track 2: (5) start; (6) 1:56]

UPDATE: A note about the recordings

We already heard Leonie Rysanek's thrilling "Es gibt ein Reich," from the Leinsdorf-RCA studio recording, in the earlier Ariadne's-monologue post, at which time I promised that we would be hearing the whole scene. I assumed nobody would mind hearing the Es gibt ein Reich" again! By virtue of the voice's natural weight and soaring upward extension, it seems to me a just about ideal Ariadne voice -- like Jessye Norman's, which we heard in both halves of the monologue, with its sumptuous lower range as a vocal bonus.

Gundula Janowitz, of course, is a representative of the lighter-weight sopranos who have made the role work, and while some listeners have been put of by the quasi-instrumental quality of the vocalism, I really loved the sound of the voice in these glory years -- and especially working with a conductor as inspiring as Rudolf Kempe in this outing, she remains for me a memorable Ariadne.

I haven't included two Leontyne Price performances because I think either is "definitive"; I would have loved, for one thing, to hear her in the role when she was younger -- as in the gleaming studio recording we heard of "Es gibt ein Reich" (and also the first two of the Four Last Songs). The San Francisco performance and the London studio recording are almost contemporary; one gets the feeling that Price headed straight from San Francisco to London to make the recording. That said, she sounds to me vocally more assured and dramatically more comfortable in the live performance, but since I had already made a file of the studio version, I decided to include both.

Finally, I'm happy to have included the excerpt from the June 1944 Vienna State Opera performance conducted by Karl Böhm to commemorate Strauss's 80th birthday, from which we've already heard the Prologue. Maria Reining, the Ariadne, was not at all surprisingly in considerably better vocal health here, at age 41, than she was in the recording for which she's surely best known, the Marschallin in the June 1954 Decca recording conducted by Erich Kleiber, when she was about to turn 51. The Ariadne seems to me an all-round lovely piece of work.


STILL TO COME: No, we're not done with Ariadne

We still have to look at the way the comic and tragic elements are not only balanced but in fact brought into harmony.
#

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Richard Strauss in the twilight




The Metamorphosen really is "a study for 23 solo strings" -- it's scored for 23 individual instruments (10 violins, 5 violas, 5 cellos, and 3 double basses).

"Metamorphosen . . . is a work I have loved, on paper, as a concept, for nearly thirty years but which I had long since written off. . . . All that changed when I first heard Karajan's magisterial recording. For weeks . . .. I played that disc, passed through the eyes-uplifted-in-wonder stage, went well beyond the catch-in-throat-and-tingle-on-the-spinal-cord phase."
-- Glenn Gould (1976), quoted on the Arkiv Music website

by Ken

As we'll see, my experience with the Metamorphosen is rather different from Glenn Gould's, but rest assured, we are going to hear the Karajan recording in question. The point to take away here is that this is an extremely unusual, and extremely complex piece, this product of Richard Strauss's final years.

No, we haven't finished with Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos -- or, for that matter with his Four Last Songs. But since the Four Last Songs have already raised the subject of Strauss in his final years, I thought this might be a good occasion to fill out that picture a little.

As we learned several weeks ago ("Richard Strauss: 'Music is a holy art,' sings Strauss's Composer -- plus Two (out of Four) Last Songs, part 2"), the last of the Four Last Songs to be completed, the Hesse setting "September," was completed on Sept. 20, 1948, when the composer was 84, less than a year before he died, on September 8, 1949.


THE WORKS ON TODAY'S MENU ARE
EARLIER, BUT NOT BY THAT MUCH

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Chausson's "Poème": a gem of French Romanticism

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), around 1895




Ginette Neveu, violin

David Oistrakh, violin

Zino Francescatti, violin

by Ken

Now that, I dare say, is one gorgeous tune, and a tune gorgeously suited to the solo violin. (One feature worth noting in the tune's formal notation: The accented beats the ear hears hardly ever occur on the downbeats where one would expect them. What seems like such a simple, straightforward flowing melody actually isn't so simple or straightforward.)

As I mentioned last week, when we listened to Ravel's "funny music," the concert rhapsody for violin and orchestra Tzigane, it was actually its frequent disc-mate, Ernest Chausson's Poème for Violin and Orchestra, that actually got me thinking about the pieces, which were both included, with Zino Francescatti as soloist, on a CD in Sony's Leonard Bernstein Edition, filling out Lenny's 1961 New York Philharmonic recording of Berlioz's Harold in Italy (with William Lincer, the orchestra's principal violist from 1942 to 1972, as soloist).


SO THIS WEEK: CHAUSSON'S POÈME

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Ravel's "funny music"


The first 18 bars (1:48 in the Heifetz recording, 1:42 in the Francescatti, and
1:56 in the Perlman) of the 58-bar solo that opens Ravel's "funny music"

RAVEL: Tzigane (concert rhapsody for violin and orchestra):
Opening solo


Jascha Heifetz, violin (1953)

Zino Francescatti, violin (1964)

Itzhak Perlman, violin (c1974)

by Ken

No, we haven't by any means finished with our listen-in to Richard Strauss's serio-comic operatic treasure Ariadne auf Naxos -- or to Strauss's Four Last Songs (we still have the two most ambitious songs to cover). But for several weeks now I've had another musical itch eating at me, so I thought we could take some time out to deal with it.

And it involves a little story.

Playing in my NYC public-high-school orchestra wasn't all toil; there was the occasional perk. Okay, I'm way overstating the "toil" part, being that I wasn't what you would call a nose-to-the-grindstone practicer, which probably has something to do with how mediocre a violinist I was. And the perks weren't so grand either. The one I'm thinking of this week was a pass to a presentation on that week's New York Philharmonic subscription concert, at the Juilliard School -- not where it is now, in Lincoln Center, but in its old home on Claremont Avenue in the vertiginous reaches of Manhattan's Morningside Heights, premises that were taken over by the Manhattan School of Music when the Juilliard packed up and moved downtown.

Note that this beneficence didn't include a ticket to the actual concert.

It was a pretty venturesome solo subway journey from Brooklyn for a young teen still relatively new to the city, but I actually found the place, and then found my way back home, and in between I was treated to a presentation by the professor and composer Hugo Weisgall (right), who was so charming and witty and welcoming and smart that ever since, whenever I happen to listen to some of his music, I wish I enjoyed it half as well as I enjoyed Dr. Weisgall himself that evening.

I no longer remember the full program for that concert, or who the perfomers were -- in large part because the perk didn't include a ticket to the actual concert. But I do remember Dr. Weisgall talking about two of the works on the program. It was, I think, my first exposure to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor (one of only two Mozart concertos in a minor key), and that exposure must have something to do with the lifelong passion I've since enjoyed for Mozart's piano concertos.


THEN THERE WAS RAVEL'S TZIGANE