Monday, May 18, 2015

"Mad Men" Watch: A wistful but fond farewell to all our friends -- and what it was like watching the finale as part of an audience

What's this? Peggy and Stan? This kiss from 2013
wasn't serious, but last night was a different story.

by Ken

Although it was past 12:30 this morning by the time I got home from my real-time big-screen viewing of the Mad Men finale at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, I still did what I suspected I was going to do: watch the whole episode again via DVR. Partly to see the whole episode again, partly to pick up lines I'd missed at the screening, and partly to see how differently the thing played in my living room, as opposed to that theaterful of buoyant Mad Men fans.

The answer to that last question is that it played very differently indeed. There were probably a hundred moments large and small where the audience's involvement changed the way we as a group experienced unfolding events.

Take that wonderful scene when Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), about to begin his new life with his big-time new job and his reunited family, arrives to pick up Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) in her office for their lunch, and are eventually joined by the third member of their party, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), who professes to be mortally wounded by the news that Peggy can't make lunch but clearly is more concerned but getting to lunch and is only mollified when Pete offers him the tin of cookies baked by Sarah (do I remember who Sarah is? not really), his only remaining farewell swag after he's fobbed the baby cactus off on Peggy on the ground that "I have a five-year-old" -- as one once again does. (Yes!) And Harry, as he leaves Peggy's office, immediately opens the tin to take a cookie. At home this was an amusing moment; at the museum it had gotten a major audience-wide laugh.

Or there was the moment after the McCann-Erickson traffic meeting when our Peggy surprised the heck out of everyone by standing up to that Lorraine bitch (Francesca Ferrara) and demanding to know why the Chevalier account had been taken away from her and Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson), her long-time artist colleague. Stan cringed; the audience cheered. Peggy pursued her case; the bitch Lorraine caved; and the audience went wild! And so it went all through the episode. Can you imagine the way the audience took in the phone call between Stan and Peggy as it took its unexpected turn? I expect I'll be rewatching the episode a number of times in the years to come, and when I do, the experience I expect to recall is the viewing-with-audience.


It doesn't seem likely that we'll stop talking anytime soon about the fraught and enigmatic wind-up David Chase and Co. crafted for The Sopranos. And when Vince Gilligan and his team brought Breaking Bad to a close, there was still so much mess to be brought to a climax and then sorted out that a thrill-a-minute finale was all but mandated.

By those standards I don't think last night's Mad Men finale is going to be remembered as an event for the ages. It's worth remembering that series creator-mastermind Matthew Weiner was at the table for the end of The Sopranos finale, and has certainly had ample opportunity to contemplate that path, and it's not the one he chose.

It's not that Matt doesn't know how to stage a spectacular farewell. Consider the mind-blowing song and dance he conjured to say sayonara to Bert Cooper (and Bobby Morse) in "the first half of Season 7." But the show's grand finale he seems to have chosen instead to take care of business, and I'd be surprised it there are Mad Men fans who are unhappy with the way the show reached its conclusion.

For one thing, having dropped the bombshell of Betty Francis's impending demise in the next-to-last episode, he had no disasters lurking up his creative sleeve. Oh, there was certainly disappointment for Joan in the unwillingness of her splendid swain Richard (Bruce Greenwood) to stand by while she launches her business. Joan may have imagined that she could handle both the relationship and the new business, but I think Richard was being utterly reasonable in insisting that she couldn't, that not only would the business seriously diminish her availability for the new life he was imagining for them, but that at every turn, anytime the business needed her attention, it would take precedence. As Richard knew only too well, how else do you get a new business going?

Besides, did viewers imagine that the writers could create a man we would believe could really be worthy of Joan? I still count her "fate" a solid win, for the wonderful way her new business venture animated her? Especially as a pushback to the appalling treatment she had received at McCann-Erickson, which was not only so personally abusive but such a monstrous waste of her limitless capabilities, which after all even Sterling Cooper had made such modest use of. It's horrible to think of Joan never enjoying the relationship she deserves, but Joan having a shot at achieving personal fulfillment -- that counts for something.

And it counts for something even if she's not going to have Peggy as a partner. Which is probably the right choice for Peggy, who needs to fight her way through to what she can accomplish at McCann-Erickson in order to rise to the heights both Pete and Stan insist on predicting for her -- predictions she herself is scarcely able to hear. But that doesn't stop Joan. As we hear when her new employee answers the phone, Joan even fulfills her perceived need to have two names for her company, to make it sound more solid -- even if both names in Holloway Harris happen to be her own!

There's so much I could talk about, but the best way I can pay tribute to Matthew Weiner's stewardship of this remarkable set of characters he and his team created is by looking a little more at those two great scenes between Peggy and Stan -- first the one in her office which ends so disastrously, and then the one on the phone which ends so well. I thought it was fantastic the way Stan on the phone was able to explain to Peggy be who he wants to be in talking to her in person and how different it is when he then talks to her on the phone, and finds himself talking to the person he'd hoped to be talking to to begin with.

Which sent me, at least, thinking back to all those phone conversations the two of them shared, not just when they were working together but while Peggy had left Sterling Cooper. Aren't these the only times we've seen Peggy truly at ease with herself and with someone she's talking to, relaxed and engaged and funny and silly. Then when Peggy finally recovers from her astonishment over Stan's audacious declaration that he likes her (I imagine that the length of those pauses before each time she said "What?" were the subject of considerable discussion in the editing room), she tells him -- and this too rings totally true for viewers -- that those phone calls were always precious to her because he was always right.

As much as we're accustomed to thinking of phone relationships as limited and in important ways artificial by comparison with real interpersonal contacts, we get to see that for Peggy and Stan the opposite has been true: Their "real" relationship has been in the phone calls. And at that moment during this phone conversation when Stan burst into Peggy's office and did, you know, what he did, and as you can imagine the audience at the museum went into sheer pandemonium, that was also the truth of the moment. I'm sorry you couldn't have been there.

Still, I'm sure that all audience-deprived home viewers got the basic message: that over this past decade Matthew W and his people have given us this wonderful bunch of characters and then treated them with fantastic imagination, yes, but also with scrupulous respect. Thanks, guys.


Amid last night's festivities, MoMI Chief Curator David Schwartz delivered a welcome piece of news: that the amazing Mad Men exhibition the museum put on, which was scheduled to run through June, has by popular demand been extended through Labor Day. I'm grateful for the opportunity for all those additional re-viewings I hope to get in over the summer, because the material is so broad and deep that it really requires a kind of attention that's hard to muster in just a few viewings.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Aren't the jolly boys and girls of "The Gondoliers" really somebodies after all?

"The Piazzetta in Venice, Looking East with the Doge's Palace, the Columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore, the Riva degli Schiavoni and the Bacino di San Marco," oil painting by Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780)

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: The Gondoliers: Act I, Francesco, Good morrow, pretty maids . . . Antonio, For the merriest fellows are we
During the previous chorus, in which the CONTADINE (peasant girls) have been discovered in the Piazzetta in Venice arranging floral bouquets, ANTONIO, FRANCESCO, GIORGIO, and other GONDOLIERS have entered unobserved by the girls -- at first two, then two more, then half a dozen, then the remainder.

FRANCESCO: Good morrow, pretty maids. For whom prepare ye
these floral tributes extraordinary?
FIAMETTA: For Marco and Giuseppe Palmieri,
the pink and flower of all the gondolieri.
GIULIA: They're coming here, as we have heard but lately,
to choose two brides from us who sit sedately.
ANTONIO: Do all you maidens love them?
CONTADINE: Passionately!
ANTONIO: These gondoliers are to be envied greatly.
GIORGIO: But what of us, who one and all adore you?
Have pity on our passion, we implore you!
FIAMETTA: These gentlemen must make their choice before you.
VITTORIA: In the meantime we tacitly ignore you.
GIULIA: When they have chosen two, that leaves you plenty.
Two dozen we, and ye are four and twenty!
FIAMETTA and VITTORIA : Till then, enjoy your dolce far niente!
ANTONIO : With pleasure, nobody contradicente!
Song, Antonio and Contadine
ANTONIO : For the merriest fellows are we, tra la.
CONTADINE: Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la-la-la, tra-la-la-la la.
ANTONIO : That ply on the emerald sea, tra la.
CONTADINE: Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la-la-la, tra-la-la-la la.
ANTONIO : With loving and laughing
and quipping and quaffing,
we're happy as happy can be, tra la.
With loving and laughing
and quipping and quaffing,
we're happy as happy can be, tra la.
ALL: Tra la-la-la-la, etc.
ANTONIO : With sorrow we've nothing to do, tra la.
CONTADINE: Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la-la-la, tra-la-la-la la.
ANTONIO : And care is a thing we pooh-pooh, tra la.
CONTADINE: Tra la, tra la, tra la, tra la-la-la, tra-la-la-la la.
ANTONIO : And jealousy yellow,
unfortunate fellow,
we drown in the shimmering blue, tra la.
And jealousy yellow,
unfortunate fellow,
we drown in the shimmering blue, tra la.
ALL: Tra la-la-la-la-la-la-la, etc.

Alexander Young (t), Francesco; Stella Hitchens (s), Fiametta; Helen Watts (c), Giulia; James Milligan (bs-b), Antonio; James Milligan (bs-b), Giorgio; Lavinia Renton (s), Vittoria; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Mar. 11-15, 1957

Dawn Bradshaw (s), Fiametta; Joseph Riordan (t), Francesco; Daphne Gill (ms), Giulia; Michael Wakeham (b), Antonio; George Cook (b), Giorgio; Ceinwen Jones (s), Vittoria; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded September 1960

Enid Walsh (s), Fiametta; Thomas Hancock (t), Francesco; Joyce Wright (ms), Giulia; Geoffrey Sanders (b), Antonio; Radley Flynn (bs), Giorgio; Yvonne Dean (ms), Vittoria; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Promenade Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded Mar. 11, 1950

by Ken

This week's late-scheduled musical snapshot is kind of blurry, I'm afraid, but seems important nevertheless. I expected to be proceeding, finally, with Part 2 of the "Sound of Aging, Verdi-style" miniseries I began a few weeks ago with Giorgio Germont's calculatedly fatigue-ridden appeal to his wayward son Alfredo to abandon wicked Paris and come home to beautiful, sunny, wholesome Provence -- in the form of the celebrated baritone aria "Di Provenza il mar, il suol." But Friday night I attended a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers which went beyond good-or-bad (there were good things and there were bad things) to show me something about the piece I've never heard before, and that's always exciting.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: "Papa" Monteux, "Petrushka," and fiddlers four

Monteux conducted Saint-Saëns (!) in the Schumann Concerto
[from the 80th-birthday interview with Edward Kelly included in the set]

How Monteux came to conduct the premiere of Stravinsky's
Petrushka (and later, of course, The Rite of Spring)

Monteux conducts the opening of Petrushka

As we know, he conducted the ballet's premiere with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1911. This excerpt is from the recording he made with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for RCA, Jan. 25-28, 1959.

by Ken

If we had an actual snapshot to accompany today's musical ones, it would be of me arriving at my desk to find a package of a size that didn't immediately suggest anything I'd ordered. This is the plus side of dissipating memory: the occasional surprise "gift." (In fairness of a sort to me, the two things I could recall having ordered both had special circumstances -- meaning complications -- attached.)

I had to rip the package open to find, as you've probably guessed by now, the Sony set of Pierre Monteux: The Complete RCA Album Collection, which is to say all the recordings he made for RCA. (There's a fellow online who refuses to grasp, no matter how many times it's explained to him, that this is not the same thing as "all the recordings of his that were issued on RCA" (and thus it excludes those made during the label's affiliations with EMI and then Decca, which after all don't belong to it), and keeps insisting that he was somehow cheated. I have suggestions of what he might do, but I'll be good and keep them to myself.

I ordered this set, even though I already had a lot of the material on CD -- there's the rest that I didn't have, and some that I did that I hoped might sound better. And more than anything, this is Monteux, and longtime readers will have some idea how much that means to me. This is a musician with as deeply resonant and finely tuned musical sensibilities as any conductor I'm familiar with.

When I came to musical consciousness, Monteux (1875-1964) was still very much among us, and still -- into his 80s -- amazingly active. So perhaps it's understandable that for me he is permanently "Papa" Monteux. The new set reminds me, however, that his air of seniority goes back a ways. When he made his first RCA recordings, in San Francisco in April 1941 (weirdly, by telephone line to RCA's recording studio in Los Angeles), he was already 66! And though Sony bills the first 10 of these 39 music CDs, devoted to the pre-LP recordings (there's also a "bonus" CD with a 29-minute 80th-birthday interview), "The Early Recordings," these are of course only Monteux's early RCA recordings; he had been recording in Europe for decades.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: "My day in the hills has come to an end, I know"

My day in the hills
has come to an end, I know.
A star has come out
to tell me it's time to go.
But deep in the dark green shadows
are voices that urge me to stay.
So I pause and I wait and I listen
for one more sound,
for one more lovely thing
that the hills might say.

by Ken

You know what today's musical snapshot is, I'm sure. Or just possibly maybe not. It wasn't till yesterday that I discovered that people all over the world who are intimately familiar with the source may never have heard these beautiful lines.

Need a hint? Here's another haunting musical setup, one that we've already heard (back in January 2011), that's kin to the above. (In my head I frequently get their respective musical destinations mooshed up.)

When I think of Tom, I think about a night
when the earth smelled of summer
and the sky was streaked with white,
and the soft mist of England was sleeping on a hill.
I remember this, and I always will.

There are new lovers now on the same silent hill,
looking on the same blue sea.
And I know Tom and I are a part of them all --
and they're all a part of Tom and me. . . .

Valerie Masterson, vocal; National Symphony Orchestra, John Owen Edwards, cond. Jay, recorded July 1994


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: The sound of aging, Verdi-style (1)

An aging Renato Bruson sings "Di Provenza" (to a here unseen Alfredo) at Ravenna in 1991.
[Some noise is heard outside.]
ALFREDO: There's someone the garden. [About to go out] Who's there?
[A MESSENGER appears at the door.]
MESSENGER: You're Monsieur Germont?
ALFREDO: I am, yes.
MESSENGER: Here's a note from a lady for you. I said I'd bring it. Her coach drove off for Paris.
[He gives ALFREDO a letter and leaves.]
ALFREDO: From Violetta! But why am I so nervous?
Does she want me to join her in Paris?
I'm trembling! O God! Have courage!
[He tears the letter open and reads aloud.]
"Alfredo, as soon as you have read this letter --"
[Turning, he finds himself face to face with his father. ALFREDO falls into his arms.]
Father, father!
GERMONT: Alfredo! I know you're suffering!
Come, no more sorrow!
Return and cheer your father, beloved Alfredo!
[ALFREDO, in despair, sits down and buries his face in his hands.]
GERMONT: In Provence, your native land,
we still long for your return.
We still long for your return.
in Provence, your native land.
Oh, how happy you once were --
not a trace of grief or pain!
Not a trace of grief or pain --
oh, how happy you once were!
For you know that only there
peace will shine on you again.
For you know that only there
peace will shine on you again.
God hear my prayer! God hear my prayer! God hear my prayer!

How we missed you, dearest boy,
you will never, never know!
You will never, never know
how we missed you, dearest boy!
How we hung our heads in shame
when you left without a word.
When you left without a word,
how we hung our heads in shame!
But I've found you once again,
and I will not let you go
If your honor still can claim
to instruct you what do do!
Now I've seen you once again,
I will never let you go!
God led me here! God led me here!
God led me here! God led me here!
-- singing translation by Edmund Tracey
(used in the ENO recording)

[in English] John Brecknock (t), Alfredo Germont; John Kitchiner (b), Messenger; Christian du Plessis (b), Giorgio Germont; English National Opera Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded Aug.-Oct. 1980

[from "My son"] Riccardo Stracciari (b); piano. Fonotipia, recorded 1906

by Ken

In the booklet for RCA's 1960 recording of Verdi's La Traviata with Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, and Robert Merrill, then Met Assistant Manager and prized raconteur Francis Robinson tells this story about a celebrated Merrill Germont from 11 years earlier:
The elder Germont is the first role Robert Merrill undertook at the Metropolitan. His performance is recorded as having been "polished and powerful" but he was soon to face an ordeal more grueling than a Metropolitan debut. He was chosen by Arturo Toscanini for the historic broadcasts of La Traviata, a performance happily still available on RCA Victor records.

At one of the early rehearsals the Maestro fixed Merrill with a scathing eys.

"Have you ever been a father?" he demanded.

"No, Maestro," Merrill stammered.

"It sounds it," the old man said.

When Merrill did become a father the first telegram went to Toscanini, but before the Maestro had finished with him he was singing Germont with the compassion of a distressed parent.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Glinka's "Russlan" Overture packs a way more pungent wallop than you'd guess from "Mom"

"The Father of Russian Music": Mikhail Glinka (1804-1867)

GLINKA: Ruslan and Ludmila: Overture

Kirov Orchestra (St. Petersburg), Valery Gergiev, cond. Philips, recorded February 1995

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded Oct. 14, 1963

Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Alessandro Siciliani, cond. CSO Showcase, recorded February 2001

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded Mar. 14, 1959

by Ken

As I've mentioned occasionally in my occasional TV Watch reports, I occasionally try to watch Mom. And each a time I get a jolt when I hear the rousing strains of Glinka's Rusland and Ludmila Overture -- at least the couple of bars' worth that are all we get, for cheap 'n' cheesy effect. Whereas the piece itself is one of the glories of musical civilization, uniquely rousing but also soaring.

This week I got farther than usual into the episode, with that fine actress Allison Janney (who plays, you know, Mom) finally getting an opportunity to do something other than make herself look foolish, with the current plotline that has her sinking toward rock bottom in her pills and booze abuse. (Whether she has actually hit rock bottom remains to be seen. Or whether she in fact has a rock bottom.)

It happens too that the Ruslan Overture is one of the pieces I thought of when I was thinking recently about music that, as best I recall, we've never heard in Sunday Classics asI plan for the shutdown. So let's consider today's snapshot a gap-plugger -- and a perennial delight.

The opera it introduces is a delight too, but such a genre-bending farrago of story-telling modes -- fairy tale, heroic epic, romance -- that it makes almost impossible demands on the resources, not least of the imaginative kind, of an opera company.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: "Is life a boon?"

Longtime D'Oyly Carte Opera Company principal tenor Thomas Round was not only long gone from the company but, unfortunately, in his late 50s by the time he made the recordings below.
Is life a boon?
If so, it must be befall
that Death, whene'er he call
must call too soon.
Though fourscore year he give,
yet one would wish to live
another moon!
What kind of plaint have I,
who perish in July?
who perish in July?
I might have had to die
perchance in June!
I might have had to die
perchance in June!

Is life a thorn?
Then count it not a whit!
Man is well done with it
soon as he's born.
He should all means essay
to put the plague away,
to put the plague away;
and I, war-worn,
poor captured fugitive,
my life most gladly give.
I might have had to live
another morn!
I might have had to live
another morn!
Revised (standard) version

Thomas Round (t), Col. Fairfax; Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Orchestra, Peter Murray, cond. G and S for All, recorded 1972
Original version

Thomas Round (t), Col. Fairfax; Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Orchestra, Peter Murray, cond. Pearl, recorded in Battersea Town Hall (London), Sept. 12, 1972

by Ken

We'll come back to "Is life a boon?," the song that blossomed from tedium to magnificence when the composer was nudged by his wordsmith partner to start over. But first, let me explain as quickly as possible that it and our other musical snapshot today arise from two convergences:

• While I was waiting for the Museum of the Moving Image screening of Paddy Chayefsky and Delbert Mann's 1957 film The Bachelor Party (an adaptation of their 1953 live-TV version), part of the Matthew Weiner-curated series of films that impacted him in the making of Mad Men, I forced myself to finally finish Ben McGrath's April 13 New Yorker piece on fantasy sports, from which I learned that fantasy sports has pretty well eliminated any connection to the play of sports even as it has exploded all over the place and apparently provided the only reason to live for a lot of people who therefore may be thought to have no reason to live. This was a dangerous convergence because The Bachelor Party depicts a night in the life of five humdrum office mates, where four of them take the fifth out for a bachelor party that unswittingly slipslides into a crossroads that none of them is well-equipped to cope with, at least not without throwing open the question of what meaning or purpose, if any, their lives have.

• And the musical snapshots by that convergence further converged with one of last week's musical snapshots: the tenor's "Ingemisco" from the awesome "Dies irae" of the Verdi Requiem. For me personally, the other peak of Verdi's "Dies irae," the mezzo-soprano's "Liber scriptus proferetur" -- we heard the two together in the April 2011 Sunday Classics post "Verdi blows the lid off the whole Krap Kristian hypocrisy."

So I thought we would just listen again to the three complete performances of the "Liber scriptus" we heard back then -- sung, as I wrote then, by two suitably deep-voiced mezzos (Jard van Nes and Florence Quivar) and a genuine contralto (Lili Chookasian)."(We also heard Ebe Stignani's recording broken into segments.)

VERDI: Requiem: ii. "Dies irae": mezzo-soprano solo, "Liber scriptus proferetur" ("A written book shall be brought forth")
A written book shall be brought forth
in which all is recorded,
whence the world shall be judged.

Therefore, when the Judge shall be seated
nothing shall be held hidden any longer,
no wrong shall remain unpunished.

Jard van Nes (ms); Munich Bach Choir, Frankfurt Singing Academy, Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hanns-Martin Schneidt, cond. Arte Nova, recorded Oct. 30, 1988

Florence Quivar, mezzo-soprano; Ernst-Senff Chorus, Berlin Philharmonic, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. DG, recorded April 1989

Lili Chookasian, contralto; Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 5-6 1964, Apr. 5, 1965


We're going to be coming back to them.


A song of the splendor of (the second) "Is life a boon?" deserves a comparably magnificent performance, and unfortunately I don't have one of those to offer. Still the closest to me is Leonard Osborn's, which for all the familiar problems of his singing is the performance the not only has plenty of real vocal ring but a goodly helping of dramatic importance. Although as I've said I'm not a great fan of onetime D'Oyly Carte Opera Company principal tenor Derek Oldham, I kind of like both of his recordings, though I'm still bothered by the fake-classy verbal frilliness -- much better controlled, it seems to me, in the 1928 version. I suppose Richard Lewis's recording represents something of a compromise between the two, though you certainly can't say it's beautifully sung.

Which is why I've included the remaining two versions, which are both quite prettily sung but don't seem to me to carry any vocal or emotional weight, and pretty much miss the point of the piece.

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: The Yeomen of the Guard: Act I, Ballad, Col. Fairfax, "Is life a boon?"
Is life a boon?
If so, it must be befall
that Death, whene'er he call
must call too soon.
Though fourscore year he give,
yet one would wish to live
another moon!
What kind of plaint have I,
who perish in July?
who perish in July?
I might have had to die
perchance in June!
I might have had to die
perchance in June!

Is life a thorn?
Then count it not a whit!
Man is well done with it
soon as he's born.
He should all means essay
to put the plague away,
to put the plague away;
and I, war-worn,
poor captured fugitive,
my life most gladly give.
I might have had to live
another morn!
I might have had to live
another morn!

Leonard Osborn (t), Col. Fairfax; New Promenade Orchestra, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded July 18, 1950

Richard Lewis (t), Col. Fairfax; Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Dec. 10-14, 1957

Derek Oldham (t), Col. Fairfax; D'Oyly Carte Opera Orchestra, Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 29-Dec. 4, 1928 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

Derek Oldham (t), Col. Fairfax; orchestra, George Byng, cond. EMI, recorded Mar.-Oct. 1920 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

Philip Potter (t), Col. Fairfax; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded Apr. 5-11, 1964

Kurt Streit (t), Col. Fairfax; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner, cond. Philips, recorded May 1992

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Comfort ye

Tenor James Johnston's "Comfort ye" recording was an
inspiration to me, but we're still not going to hear it.

"I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal the wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds."

"Cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned"
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

Nicolai Gedda, tenor; Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1965

Jon Vickers, tenor; Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sir Ernest MacMillan, cond. RCA, recorded c1953

Jon Vickers, tenor; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. RCA, recorded 1959

[in German] Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Heinz Mendes, cond. Live performance, Mar. 20, 1959

"Thou who art good and kind, rescue me from everlasting fire"
I groan as one who is accused;
guilt reddens my cheek;
Thy supplicant, Thy supplicant spare, O God.
Thou who absolved Mary,
and harkened to the thief,
and who hast given me hope,
and who hast given me hope.
My prayers are worthless,
but Thou who art good and kind,
rescue me from everlasting fire.
With Thy sheep give me a place,
and from the goats keep me separate,
placing me at Thy right hand.

Nicolai Gedda, tenor; Philharmonia Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. EMI, recorded 1963-64

Jon Vickers, tenor; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded April 1970

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; South German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Helmut Müller-Kray, cond. Live performance, Nov. 2, 1960

by Ken

Last Sunday I offered a post called "Garry Wills, contemplating Pope Francis and his critics, says there are 'two forms of Christianity now on offer' -- and it's up to Catholics to choose" which began with the quote from the pope that I've placed atop this post as well, since it is rather obviously the inspiration for today's pair of musical "snapshots" -- pieces that are both intensely personal to me, and that we've dwelled upon at some length in past posts.

Fresh from the challenge, in the first of these "snapshot" posts, "Rosina I and Rosina II," of finding a singer, namely Victoria de los Angeles, to put in the lead-off slot singing both Rossini's young Rosina (in The Barber of Seville) and Mozart's only slightly older but sadly way more mature Rosina (aka Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro), I was pleased to come up with our three tenors singing the similarly improbable combo of the opening vocal number of Handel's Messiah and the heart-rending "Ingemisco" from the "Dies Irae" of Verdi's Requiem. We've actually heard all of the above performances of "Comfort ye" and "Ev'ry valley" (and once again I couldn't resist including both Vickers recordings); I just needed to add the Gedda and Vickers "Ingemisco" performances.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Count Almaviva goes a-wooing, then and now

Urged on by Figaro (Ross Benoliel), "Lindoro" (Luigi Boccia as Count Almaviva) identifies himself to Rosina (Stephanie Lauricella), with Enrico Granafei playing the guitar and Jason Tramm conducting, at New Jersey State Opera, June 2012. (For English text, see below.)

by Ken

I'd like to think we established the premise well enough in last week's "snapshots" post, "Rosina I and Rosina II," where we heard aural snapshots of young Rosina first as the spitfire being wooed by the supposed poor student Lindoro in the opera Rossini fashioned from the popular Beaumarchais play The Barber of Seville, and then, a mere three years later, as the desolate, pretty much emotionally abandoned Countess Almaviva in the opera Mozart fashioned from Beaumarchais's equally popular sequel, The Marriage of Figaro.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Classics snapshots: Rosina I and Rosina II

Victoria de los Angeles as Rosina II at the Met in 1952

Rosina I
I'm docile, I'm respectful;
I'm obedient, gentle, loving;
I let myself be ruled and guided. But --
but if you touch on my weakness,
I shall be a viper, I shall,
and a hundred tricks
I'll play before I'll yield.
And a hundred tricks, etc.
I'm docile, I'm respectful;
I let myself be ruled and guided, etc.

Victoria de los Angeles (s), Rosina; Orchestra of the Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires), Carlo Felice Cillario, cond. Live performance, June 1962

Rosina II
Grant, love, that relief
to my sorrow, to my sighing.
Give me back my treasure,
or at least let me die.
Grant, love, etc.

Victoria de los Angeles (s), Rosina; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Reiner, cond. Live performance, Mar. 1, 1952

by Ken

It's not that we've never done this sort of thing before in Sunday Classics. In fact, I like to think we've taken pretty frequent advantage of the oportunity afforded by this peculiar, er, format, to put together any two (or three or more) damned things we want which can benefit from being heard together. Butting together "the two Rosinas," as we've just done, is an idea so obvious that it doesn't seem to occur to many people that it really doesn't get done that often.

Well, here it is.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fischer-Dieskau and Richter just perform "Schlummert ein" way better than anybody else I've heard

So here's how the cantata begins

BACH: Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug":
i. Aria, "Ich habe genug"

-- from the Bach Cantatas Website

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Manfred Clement, oboe; Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, cond. DG Archiv Produktion, recorded July 1968

Hermann Prey, baritone; Willy Garlach, oboe; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Kurt Thomas, cond. Eterna-EMI, recorded Dec. 14-19, 1959

Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; Michael Dobson, oboe; Bath Festival Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin, cond. EMI, recorded July 1966

by Ken

So a couple of weeks ago I told the story of how suddenly the audio cassette became a medium for music for me: when I listened to a DG-Archive cassette of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's second (1968) recording of the popular coupling of Bach's two solo-bass cantatas, and we heard all three of his recordings of the great central aria, "Schlummert etin," of Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug." I warned that we might be returning to the scene of the crime, in the form of taking a shot at hearing the margin of superiority of this not-really-wildly-heralded recording in collaboration with the once-admired (but not so much anymore) baroque specialist Karl Richter, over any other I've encountered.

So here we are.

But first, as noted above, I thought we might hear how Cantata No. 82 begins, with the aria "Ich habe genug." (This is not exactly a coincidence. We know the Bach cantatas by the title, usually the first line, of their opening number.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

From the Sunday Classics Technology Dept.: When music can sound like THIS . . .

BACH: Cantata No. 82, "Ich habe genug":
iii. Aria, "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen"

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (May 28, 1925–May 18, 2012)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, cond. DG Archiv Produktion, recorded July 1968

by Ken

Awhile ago I shared WNYC's New Tech City's "Bored and Brilliant" project, which was aimed at helping smartphonomaniacs get some control over their habit. Judging from the onsite response the project seems to have stimulated a lot of phone compulsives to (a) recognize their jones and (b) take some steps to overcome it.

One thing I tried to refrain from was getting too judgy, even though I probably am pretty judgmental when it comes to the smartphone compulsion and the related "social media" one. As it happens, perhaps merely by some fluke, I don't seem to have any temptation toward either, and really can't fathom what the attraction is. But I try to be careful about judging others, first under the "There but for the Grace of God" precept, but also in recognition of my own technological compulsions.