Sunday, February 12, 2017

Nicolai Gedda (1925-2017)

10pm ET UPDATE: We have Yevgeny Onegin audio files!

Anneliese Rothenberger and Nicolai Gedda as Constanze
and Belmonte in Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio,
from the cover of their 1966 EMI recording

MOZART: The Abduction from the Seraglio: Overture and Belmonte's entrance aria, "Hier soll ich dich denn sehen?"
BELMONTE: Here am I then to see you,
Constanze -- you, my happiness?
Let Heaven make it happen!
Give me my peace back!
I suffered sorrows,
o Love, all too many of them.
Grant me now in their place joys
and bring me toward the goal.

[aria at 4:35] Nicolai Gedda (t), Belmonte; Vienna Philharmonic, Josef Krips, cond. EMI, recorded February 1966

Now here it is sung by a younger, fresher-voiced Nicolai --

[aria at 4:20] Nicolai Gedda (t), Belmonte; Paris Conservatory Orchestra, Hans Rosbaud, cond. Recorded live at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, July 11, 1954

Finally, here it is sung in English (from a complete Abduction
recording based on a Phoenix Opera Group production) --


[in English; aria at 4:10] Nicolai Gedda (t), Belmonte; Bath Festival Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin, cond. EMI, recorded Oct.-Dec. 1967 (now available in Chandos's opera-in-English series)

by Ken

Although Nicolai Gedda continued singing publicly well into his 70s, he had, not surprisingly, slipped out of the international circuit well before then, and since he was 91 when he died on February 8, in Switzerland, it may be that to younger music lovers the Swedish tenor is just a name, if that. But there was a time, and a fairly long one at that, when he seemed to be everywhere, singing more or less everything -- at least everything assumable by a generous-voiced lyric tenor, in the wide range of languages in which he sang with both technical and expressive assurance.


I NEVER THOUGHT OF OUR NICOLAI AS A FAVORITE
SINGER. IT'S MORE THAT HE WAS ALWAYS THERE.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Special late-Monday "Better Call Saul" edition: Chuck McGill plays the Fauré "Sicilienne"!


Sure enough, there's a piano in Chuck McGill's living room! Given the light level, don't hold me to it, but isn't this Howard (Patrick Fabian), the managing partner of Chuck's law firm, arriving for his "delivery for McGill" in tonight's Better Call Saul episode, "Cobbler"?

by Ken

If there's one thing probably none of us expected to see, it was Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) at the piano playing the piano part of Fauré's Sicilienne. But there it was, at the top of tonight's Better Call Saul episode, with something like this score page just visible to Chuck, and to us, with the little bit of natural light that found its way into his otherwise-dark living room -- Chuck can't, of course, have electric light.



Krzysztof Smietana, violin; John Blakely, piano. Meridian, recorded c1993?


WHAT CHUCK HAD ON HIS PIANO WAS
A VERSION FOR FLUTE OR VIOLIN SOLO


Sunday, February 14, 2016

No proper post today, but let's listen to Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances"



by Ken

Except for a brief interlude or two, I've had no Internet (and most of that time no phone!) connection most of the day, so I've given up trying to do a post.

As you know, we still need to finish up with Ariadne auf Naxos, but I was also thinking about another post, which would involve Rachmaninoff's last major work, the Symphonic Dances, so for now I thought I'd just present this (unidentified) performance of this virtually symphonic suite of three dances, with some background chatter cribbed from Wikipedia:

RACHMANINOFF: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45



i. Non allegro
ii. Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)
iii. Lento assai -- Allegro vivace


#

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"The secret of life is revealed to them in it," says the Composer of his "Ariadne auf Naxos"

"Das Geheimnis des Lebens tritt an sie heran, nimmt sie bei der Hand" ("The secret of life is revealed to them in it, takes them by the hand")


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

Tatiana Troyanos (ms), Composer; San Francisco Opera Orchestra, János Ferencsik, cond. Live performance, Oct. 28, 1977

Irmgard Seefried (s), Composer; Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 7, 1954

Julia Varady (s), Composer; Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig), Kurt Masur, cond. Philips, recorded January 1988

by Ken

This is, in case you hadn't guessed, once again the possibly over-earnest Composer, in the Prologue to Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Ariadne auf Naxos, having just heard that a little comedy dance entertainment is to be given following the premiere of his new opera seria, Ariadne on Naxos, here in the home of the richest man in Vienna.

This 10-11 seconds of music is one of those infinitely deep-reaching musical nuggets we've been encountering all through the Prologue to Ariadne -- for that matter, all through the opera as a whole -- which lodge in the most intimate recesses of the mind and don't let go. Lately we've been focusing more on the comic view of life represented in the opera by the grand comedienne Zerbinetta and her quartet of commedia dell'arte players, as against the view embodied in the plight of the abandoned Ariadne as argued by her deeply feeling Composer. Now I think we need to return to the Composer's point of view.


NOW LET'S HEAR OUR NUGGET IN CONTEXT

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