Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Prologue to Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" entreats, "Consider our souls"


Juan Pons as Tonio lip-syncs the Pagliacci Prologue in Unitel's 1982 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli, with Georges Prêtre conducting the La Scala orchestra. (Ignore the other clowns Zeffirelli's inserted, mere distractions.) We even get to see the traveling players arrive in the Calabrian village, with Plácido Domingo as the master of the troupe, Canio, and Teresa Stratas as his wife and costar, Nedda.
If I may? If I may?
Ladies! Gentlemen!
Excuse me if I present myself thus alone.
I am the Prologue.
Because the author is putting
the old-style masks
onstage again.
In part he wants to revive
the old customs, and to you
once again he sends me.

But not to tell you, as before,
"The tears that we shed are false,
by our agonies and our suffering
don't be alarmed."
No! No!
The author has sought
to paint truly for you
a slice of life.
He has for maxim only that the artist is a person,
and that he must write for people,
and draw inspiration from what's true.

A nest of memories in the depths of his soul
sang one day, and with real tears
he wrote, and his sobs beat time for him!

So then, you'll see loving, yes, the way
real human beings love; you'll see hate's
sad fruits, miseries' agonies.
Cries of rage you'll hear, and cynical laughter!

And you, rather than our poor
actors' costumes, consider
our souls, because we are people,
of flesh and bone, and since in this orphan
world, just like you, we breathe the air!

I've told you the concept.
Now hear how it worked out.
Let's go -- begin!

by Ken

Hanging on the grimy wall of my college newspaper office was a yellowed sheet that was the "key" to the 5-point rating system we used for movie reviews. Oh, I pooh-poohed the numerical ratings, on the ground that how can you reduce a sensible evaluation to a number? But the fact was that our readers all too clearly paid more attention to the ratings than to the ever-so-wise reviews.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Preview: Our "Vesti la giubba" recordings are identified, and the aria is put in context


Jussi Bjoerling sings the recitative and aria, with Howard Barlow conducting, from the Voice of Firestone telecast of Nov. 19, 1951.

by Ken

First, let's finish last night's unfinished business. Here again are our seven recordings of "Vesti la giubba," now properly identified. You'll notice that the singers are in alphabetical order.
LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Act I, " Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio . . . Vesti la giubba"

[English translation by Peggie Cochrane]

Recitative
To have to act, whilst caught up in mad frenzy;
I no longer know what I'm saying nor what I'm doing.
And yet you must -- force yourself to try!
You're the comedian!
Aria
Put on your costume and make up your face.
The public pays and wants to laugh here.
And if Harlequin should steal your Columbine,
laugh, comedian, and everyone'll clap!
Turn your agony and tears to jest,
your sobs and sufferings to a grimace.
Ah! Laugh, comedian, over your ruined love.
Laugh at the pain that is poisoning your heart.
A

Jussi Bjoerling, tenor; RCA Victor Orchestra, Renato Cellini, cond. RCA/EMI, recorded January 1953
B

Franco Corelli, tenor; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Apr. 11, 1964
C

Mario del Monaco, tenor; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond. Live performance, Jan. 3, 1959
D

Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded June 12-17, 1954
E

Plácido Domingo, tenor; San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Kenneth Schermerhorn, cond. Live performance, Nov. 5, 1976
F

Luciano Pavarotti, tenor; Philadelphia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti, cond. Philips, live performance, February 1992
G

[aria only] Lawrence Tibbett, baritone; orchestra, Alfred Newman, cond. Delos (Stanford Archive Series), recorded for the soundtrack of Metropolitan, 1935

The oddity is that our final Canio is not a tenor but a baritone, perhaps the finest America has produced, Lawrence Tibbett. (Okay, it's transposed down a tone, and yes, that would have been a correct answer to the question of what's odd about one of our recordings. But still . . . ) Tomorrow we're going to hear him back in his proper range, singing the Prologue to Pagliacci. Note that among our tenor Canios we've heard a not-quite-even split between lyric (Bjoerling, di Stefano, Domingo, Pavarotti) and dramatic (Corelli, del Monaco) tenors, and while "Vesti la giubba" is probably the part of the role most accessible to lyric tenors, I think you'll still hear a marked difference in the kind of effect the different voice types make in the music.
BONUS: NOW WE ARE GOING TO HEAR CARUSO

Last night I teased you with a photo of the label of Victor 88061, Enrico Caruso's third (I think) recording of "Vesti la giubba" (famous, by the way, as the first record to sell a million copies), with the news that no, we weren't going to hear it. Well, now we are. (Confession: I didn't realize I had it on CD.)


Enrico Caruso, tenor. Victor, recorded March 17, 1907


Here Giuseppe di Stefano sings just the aria.


NOW WHY DON'T WE HEAR THE ARIA IN ITS PROPER CONTEXT?

Although Pagliacci is normally thought of as a one-act opera -- usually in combination with Pietro Mascagni's one-act Cavalleria rusticana -- it's technically in two acts, separated by an intermezzo (just as Cavalleria is in two scenes separated by the famous Intermezzo). The scene that culminates in "Vesti la giubba" brings Act I to a pretty theatrical close, and since the opera is virtually always performed in one act, it's followed immediately by the Intermezzo sinfonico (technically really an entr'acte), so why don't we hear that as well? We're going to hear it again tomorrow, when it will make more musical sense after we've spent some time with the Prologue, which contributes important music to it. Our final Canio today, the Russian Vladimir Atlantov, is another specimen of the full-weight dramatic tenor.

LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Act I, Scene 4; Intermezzo sinfonico
A little troupe of traveling players, having only recently arrived in this Calabrian village, has a show to put on, "a ventitre ore," as Canio, the volatile boss of the troupe has put it so invitingly to the villagers -- "at 23 hours," or 11pm. Canio accepted an invitation from the villagers for a pre-show libation, and was joined by Beppe but not the hunchback Tonio, who claimed he had to groom the donkey and stayed behind with Canio's wife, the troupe's diva, the extremely unhappy Nedda. Leaving the donkey to fend for itself, Tonio made profoundly unwelcome overtures to Nedda, which she not only rejected but ridiculed, finally driving him off with a whip. Nedda was then joined by a man with whom, in a tender and passionate scene, she agreed to run off after the show, at midnight. Unfortunately Tonio saw them and to get revenge on Nedda has quietly brought Canio back to the scene.

TONIO [to CANIO]: Tread softly and you'll catch them!
SILVIO [climbing over the wall, to NEDDA]: I'll be waiting there at midnight. Clamber down cautiously and you'll find me.
NEDDA [to SILVIO]: Till tonight, and I'll be yours forever. CANIO [overhearing these words]: Ha!
NEDDA [shouting in Silvio's wake, as she becomes aware of CANIO's presence]: Fly!
[CANIO rushes to the wall. NEDDA goes to bar his way but, shoving her aside, he vaults over.]
NEDDA: Help him, Lord!
CANIO's voice offstage: Coward! You're hiding!
TONIO [laughing cynically]: Ha ha ha!
NEDDA [to TONIO]: Bravo! Bravo, my Tonio!
TONIO: I do what I can.
NEDDA: That's what I thought.
TONIO: But I don't despair of doing a great deal better!
NEDDA: You revolt and disgust me!
TONIO: Oh, you don't know how happy I am about it! Ha ha ha!
CANIO [clambering back across the wall]: Derision and scorn! Nothing! He knows that path well. No matter -- [furiously, to NEDDA]: since you're going to tell me your lover's name now!
NEDDA: Who?
CANIO: You, by our eternal Father! [Drawing his knife] And if I haven't cut your throat before this it's because, before I soil this blade with your stinking blood, you shameless woman, I want his name! Speak!
NEDDA: Insults won't do any good. My lips are sealed.
CANIO: His name, his name, don't delay, woman!
NEDDA: No!
[At this point BEPPE comes hurrying onto the scene.] No! I'll never tell it!
CANIO [rushing at NEDDA, knife upraised]: By Our Lady!
BEPPE [seizing him, as he rushes at NEDDA, wrestling the knife away from him and flinging it away]: Boss! What are you doing? For the love of God! People are coming out of church and coming here for the show. Let's go . . . come along. Calm yourself!
CANIO: Let me go, Beppe! His name! His name!
BEPPE [calling to TONIO]: Tonio, come and hold him!
CANIO: His name!
BEPPE: Let's go, the public is arriving! You'll talk things over later! [To NEDDA] And you, come away from there. Go and get dressed. [As he pushes her inside and goes in with her] You know, Canio is violent but good-hearted.
CANIO: Disgrace! Disgrace!
TONIO [softly, to CANIO]: Calm yourself, boss. It's better to dissemble; the gallant'll return. Rely on me! I'll keep a watch on her. Now let's give the performance. Who knows but he won't come to the show and give himself away. Come now. One must dissemble, in order to succeed!
BEPPE [coming from the stage]: Let's go, come on, get dressed, boss. [Turning to TONIO] And you beat the drum, Tonio.
[Both go off, leaving CANIO alone.]
CANIO: [Recitative]
To have to act, whilst caught up in mad frenzy;
I no longer know what I'm saying nor what I'm doing.
And yet you must -- force yourself to try!
You're the comedian!
[Aria]
Put on your costume and make up your face.
The public pays and wants to laugh here.
And if Harlequin should steal your Columbine,
laugh, comedian, and everyone'll clap!
Turn your agony and tears to jest,
your sobs and sufferings to a grimace.
Ah! Laugh, comedian, over your ruined love.
Laugh at the pain that is poisoning your heart.

Bernd Weikl (b), Tonio; Wolfgang Brendel (b), Silvio; Lucia Popp (s), Nedda; Vladimir Atlantov (t), Canio; Alexandru Ionita (t), Beppe; Munich Radio Orchestra, Lamberto Gardelli, cond. Eurodisc, recorded December 1983

Tito Gobbi (b), Tonio; Mario Zanasi (b), Silvio; Lucine Amara (s), Nedda; Franco Corelli (t), Canio; Mario Spina (t), Beppe; Orchestra of the Teatro all Scala, Lovro von Matačić, cond. EMI, recorded 1961


TOMORROW: The Prologue to Pagliacci begs us, "Consider our souls."
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Preview: What's odd about one of these "Vesti la giubba" performances?

And while we're at it, you might
as well name the singers


No, we're not hearing Caruso sing "Vesti la giubba."

by Ken

One of these performances of Vesti la giubba (from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci) has something distinctly unusual about it. (No, I don't mean that one that doesn't include the prececding "Recitar!" recitative.)

I can't identify the singers for you, for reasons that will become obvious in tomorrow night's preview when we do identify all the recordings. But these are seven of the most recognizable voices since . . . well, since they began recording voices. And so, as I said, while we're at it, you might as well identify them, just to get that out of the way
LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Act I, " Recitar!
Mentre preso dal delirio . . . Vesti la giubba
"

[English translation by Peggie Cochrane]

Recitative
To have to act, whilst caught up in mad frenzy;
I no longer know what I'm saying nor what I'm doing.
And yet you must -- force yourself to try!
You're the comedian!

Aria
Put on your costume and make up your face.
The public pays and wants to laugh here.
And if Harlequin should steal your Columbine,
laugh, comedian, and everyone'll clap!

Turn your agony and tears to jest,
your sobs and sufferings to a grimace.
Ah! Laugh, comedian, over your ruined love.
Laugh at the pain that is poisoning your heart.
A

B

C

D

E

F

G [aria only]



SATURDAY NIGHT: The "Vesti la guibba" recordings are identified, and supplemented with a special bonus performance, and the aria is put in its dramatic context.

SUNDAY: The Prologue to Pagliacci begs us, "Consider our souls."
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

The piano-and-orchestra Liszt -- the orator meets the poet


Here's the first part of the Second Piano Concerto played by Alfred Brendel, with Eliahu Inbal conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. (The performance concludes here. There's an interesting video performance by pianist Yakov Fliere, from 1974, with Maxim Shostakovich conducting -- part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.)

by Ken

We've heard a sampling of Liszt the orchestral virtuoso (in the form of the best-known of his 13 symphonic poems, Les Préludes, Friday night) and of his virtuosic but equally poetic keyboard wizardry (performances by Sviatoslav Richter, Georges Cziffra, and Aldo Ciccolini last night, along with a video performance of the First Piano Concerto).

We've talked before about the emergence in the West of the roster of great Soviet musicians long prevented from performing here by the Stalinist and immediately post-Stalinist regimes. When Emil Gilels, by any standard one of the century's great pianists, caused the predictable furor, he told interviewers that the pianist they really needed to hear was Richter, who was still being kept under wraps. Rather amazingly, he lived up to the hype.

In 1961 in London Richter played both Liszt piano concertos and the Hungarian Fantasia for piano and orchestra with his compatriot Kiril Kondrashin and the London Symphony, and happily Philips recorded the concertos, for a disc that remains a phonographic landmark -- recorded, incidentally by the Mercury "Living Presence" team of producer Wilma Cozart Fine and engineer Robert Fine, though the tapes have for decades now rested exclusively in the hands of the sonically more conservative Philips technical people. It's a pity the two concertos made such a convenient LP, which is presumably what discouraged Philips from recording the Hungarian Fantasia, which turns out to be quite a loss when we hear the live performance. True, notes get spilled all over the place when all hell breaks loose, and this would have been fixed in a studio recording, but my goodness, is it possible not to be blown over by the hurricane force of this outburst?

LISZT: Hungarian Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra


Sviatoslav Richter, piano; London Symphony Orchestra, Kiril Kondrashin, cond. Live performance, 1961

Jorge Bolet, piano; Symphony of the Air, Robert Irving, cond. Everest, recorded c1959

Michel Béroff, piano; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Kurt Masur, cond. EMI, recorded June 1979

Liszt wrote his two piano concertos (and indeed most of a third, only in modern times come to light) at basically the same time, which allowed him to pursue markedly different expressive agendas; the two are so different, and yet so complementary, that they have flourished in each other's company since early LP days. The First Concerto, as you may gather from the video clip we saw last night, is in large measure the Liszt of Les Préludes: grandiose, sweeping, a robust treat. While the Second Concerto indeed builds to a wonderfully grandiloquent march finale, the wonder of this piece is the gentle songfulness of its opening theme, and the way it evolves into that finale.

The piece is basically a theme-and-variations set, in a single movement, though with significant changes of tempo -- and, more significantly, and deliciously under-conspicuously, a slide from triple meter, first to 6/8 duple meter (at the Allegro agitato assai), then briefly back to the 3/4 of the opening (Tempo del Andante) before switching to good old-fashioned square-jawed 4/4 at the Allegro moderato -- the very tempo we're going to need (even with a brief return to the still-duple-meter 6/8) for the outbreak of the Marziale. (And when the Marziale finally breaks out, you really shouldn't have any difficulty hearing in it the lovely original theme.)

We're going to hear the 1961 Richter-Kondrashin studio recording I mentioned above, and also a performance by the highly poetic Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman, whom we heard playing the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto, also with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony, and finally Alfred Brendel's first recording (for Vox).

On a technical note: CD programmers naturally enough treat some (and some cases all) of the tempo changes in the Liszt A major Concerto as appropriate points for tracking; of course on a CD we don't hear those track points. Since in our format I have no way of creating seamless track switches, we're going to hear the piece somewhat broken up, and not identically broken up, so that in the Richter-Kondrashin recording we hear the buildup to and outbreak of the Marziale un poco meno allegro, whereas in the Zimerman-Ozawa the Marziale gets its own track point, and the Vox recording has a slightly different breakdown.

LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A:
Adagio sostenuto assai; Allegro agitato assai Allegro moderato Allegro deciso; Marziale un poco meno allegro; Allegro animato


Sviatoslav Richter, piano; London Symphony Orchestra, Kiril Kondrashin, cond. Philips, recorded 1961

Krystian Zimerman, piano; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, cond. DG, recorded April 1987

Alfred Brendel, piano; Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Michael Gielen, cond. Vox, recorded 1975
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

In the opening vision of Mahler's "Song of the Earth": "Dark is life, is death"


Jon Vickers, not in his best vocal shape but still a powerful presence, sings "The Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth" in a 1985 Proms concert, with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. (The other soloist was Vickers' partner in the 1982 Philips recording with Colin Davis, Jessye Norman.)

by Ken

Nobody who's visited Sunday Classics will be surprised that we're taking on Mahler's Song of the Earth (Das Lied von der Erde) backwards. This is the work, you'll recall that Mahler conceived, after soaring with Goethe to the cosmological heights in his Symphony No. 8, in the aftermath of the diagnosis of his terminal heart condition.

In Hans Bethge's German translation and adaptation of Chinese poems, The Chinese Flute, Mahler found texts for the six song-movements that made up what should by rights have been his Symphony No. 9, if he hadn't had such superstitious dread of the doom a Ninth Symphony had spelled for Beethoven and Bruckner. (To compound the craziness, by the time the decision about naming was made, the work he would call his Ninth Symphony was mapped out in his head, which led him to believe that he had circumvented the jinx. Of course the joke, such as it was, was on him. He didn't live to complete the work that by his numbering would have been his Tenth Symphony.)

Talk about working backwards! First, in a need to celebrate the artistry of Maureen Forrester, we simply blundered into the undisputed crowning glory of Das Lied, the half-hour final alto song-movement, "The Farewell" ("Der Abschied"). In a way, though, it was helpful to be focusing on Forrester, since it allowed us to focus on her stupendous performances of this music. That spared us the distraction of other, differently glorious performances.

Now, as I explained in Friday's and last night's previews, we've been working our way backwards through the three tenor songs of Das Lied: movements No. 5, "The Drunk in Spring"; No. 3, "On Youth"; and now finally No. 1, "The Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth." I made the point, in connection with "On Youth," that I have found rather circuitious paths to personal identification with the songs of Das Lied, and I might make the general point that this is what, for me, music or any other art form is about: finding one's own connection to it. I don't believe that anyone can "teach" us how to listen, though many people can, by design or otherwise, provide us with lessons of varying usefulness as we develop our own way of listening.

Just by way of demonstrating how never-ending this process is, in the course of my relistening for these posts, I put on the 1959 EMI recording conducted by Paul Kletzki (made, by cosmic coincidence, some two weeks before the memorable RCA recording conducted by Fritz Reiner), intending to listen, of course, to the first movement, but I let it play, and for as much as I've said I'm unpersuaded by the octave-lower baritone option Mahler offered for the alto songs, and as often as I've listened to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's performance in this recording and been left unpersuaded by it, this time I found myself warming to it more, especially in the movement that I confess remains most elusive for me, No. 4, "On Beauty." Just goes to show ya . . . er, something.

I've already made an embarrassing attempt to describe my personal connection to "On Youth." You'll surely be relieved to learn that I don't propose to do the same with "The Drinking Song of the Sorrow of Earth." Let me just say that this movement, despite being not even a third as long as "The Farewell," has come to be just as personal. But then, it is perhaps one of the abiding deep truths of Das Lied that the small matters as much as the big.

Mahler doesn't leave much idea about the central idea of this drinking song. Three times, at the end of what we might think of as the song's three stanzas, the tenor sings to us:
"Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod"
("Dark is life, is death")



Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded March 1981

BREAKING IT DOWN

I've broken this movement down according to those three "stanzas" defined by the "Dunkel ist das Leben"s. I had a much more ambitious musical plan, though still following this breakdown plan, but it self-destructed via my clumsy editing skills and the obstreperousness of the editing software I'm using. Still, we do have what I'm calling parts A, B, and C, more or less as I intended them, with parts parts A and B going beyond their "Dunkel ist das Leben" to include the orchestral music between "stanzas" (and in one case maybe a tiny bit into the next) and parts B and C going back to the previous "Dunkel ist das Leben," so that there is considerable musical overlap. That was intentional, if only to give you an opportunity to hear this amazing music more often.

Before we go there, however, I thought it might be helpful, since I keep mentioning the shocking transformation of Mahler's artistic identity between the climax of the Eighth Symphony and the start of its successor work, to hear that climax of the Eighth Symphony, a setting of the final scene of Goethe's Faust, so here it is.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E-flat: Part II, conclusion: "Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis"
[English translation by Peggie Cochrane]

All things transitory are but parable;
here insufficiency becomes fulfillment,
here the indescribable is accomplished;
the ever-womanly draws us heavenward. [much repeated]


Soloists, choruses, London Symphony Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein, cond. BBC Legends, recorded live in the Royal Albert Hall, March 20, 1959

Now let's hear the start of Mahler's Song of the Earth, the opening chunk of "The Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth." Note that all of the Das Lied translations are by Deryck Cooke.

part A
Now beckons the wine in the golden goblet,
but drink not yet, first I'll sing you a song!
The song of sorrow
shall in gusts of laughter through your souls resound.
When sorrow draws near,
wasted lie the gardens of the soul.
Withered and dying are joy and song.
Dark is life, is death.

Murray Dickie, tenor; Philharmonia Orchestra, Paul Kletzki, cond. EMI, recorded October 1959

part B
Dark is life, is death.
Master of this house! Your cellar holds its fill of golden wine!
Here, this lute I name my own!
To strike the lute and to drain the glasses,
these are the things that go together.
A full goblet of wine at the right time
is worth more than all the kingdoms of this earth!
Dark is life, is death.

Francisco Araiza, tenor; Berlin Philharmonic, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. DG, recorded Feb.15-17, 1984
[UPDATE: Thanks to my clip-editing and -processing ham-handedness, and to my general organizational gracelessness under time pressure, I originally posted a defective version of this clip, which started in the right place but continued to the end of the movement. I've got it right now. I think.]

part C
Dark is life, is death.

The firmament is blue eternally, and the earth
will long stand fast and blossom in spring.
But thou, O man, how long then livest thou?
Not a hundred years canst thou delight
in all the rotten trash of this earth!

Look there, down there! In the moonlight, on the graves
squats a mad spectral figure!
It is an ape! Hear how his howling
screams its way through the sweet fragrance of life!

Now take the wine! Now it is time, companions!
Drain your golden goblets to the dregs!
Dark is life, is death!

James King, tenor; Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips, recorded September 1975


NOW LET'S PUT IT BACK TOGETHER

Now we're going to hear "The Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth" from my three all-around favorite recordings of Das Lied. (There's a large group of wonderful recordings, including some we've sampled, like the Reiner-RCA, the Kletzki-EMI, and the Giulini-DG, or even better the live Giulini performance with the Vienna Philharmonic on Orfeo, that occupy what for me is an elite "second tier.")

We start with Bruno Walter's final recorded crack at this work whose premiere he had conducted not quite 50 years earlier, in Munich in November 1911, five months after the composer's death. This is the eternally splendiferous New York Philharmonic recording for Columbia, from which we heard tenor Ernst Häfliger sing the fifth song, "The Drunk in Spring," Friday night.

Colin Davis's Philips Das Lied offers its share of frustrations but nevertheless seems to me a truly great performance. Davis has never been known for his "way" of working with singers, and in this recording he seems hardly aware of what sort of tenor he's working with in Jon Vickers, with that oddly produced but engulfingly huge voice and singular personal intensity; clearly, to take advantage of his special qualities, he should have had less driven tempos, and a bit of give and take with his conductor, which might also have smoothed out his German. (Vickers traveled with his own set of vowels, which weren't right for any of the languages he sang regularly in -- German, Italian, French, and English.) Davis was more considerate of his alto soloist, Jessye Norman, whose voluminous soprano descended easily into true contralto territory.

MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth):
i. "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde"
("The Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth")

Now beckons the wine in the golden goblet,
but drink not yet, first I'll sing you a song!
The song of sorrow
shall in gusts of laughter through your souls resound.
When sorrow draws near,
wasted lie the gardens of the soul.
Withered and dying are joy and song.
Dark is life, is death.

Master of this house!
Your cellar holds its fill of golden wine!
Here, this lute I name my own!
To strike the lute and to drain the glasses,
these are the things that go together.
A full goblet of wine at the right time
is worth more than all the kingdoms of this earth!
Dark is life, is death.

The firmament is blue eternally, and the earth
will long stand fast and blossom in spring.
But thou, O man, how long then livest thou?
Not a hundred years canst thou delight
in all the rotten trash of this earth!

Look there, down there! In the moonlight, on the graves
squats a mad spectral figure!
It is an ape! Hear how his howling
screams its way through the sweet fragrance of life!

Now take the wine! Now it is time, companions!
Drain your golden goblets to the dregs!
Dark is life, is death!

Ernst Häfliger, tenor; New York Philharmonic, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded April 1960

Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded March 1981

And now, from what just may be my very favorite Das Lied recording, Otto Klemperer's EMI stereo remake (which by the way was Christa Ludwig's first recording of the piece, when she claims she didn't understand the music yet -- ha! so much for the importance of "understanding"), let's hear all three tenor songs, in part for the opportunity to hear the astounding Fritz Wunderlich sing them. I think, by the way, that it must surely have been via the Wunderlich-Klemperer recording that I experienced the revelation regarding "On Youth" which I tried to describe last night; now if only Colin Davis had had the sense to take a tempo like this in his recording with Jon Vickers!

(I notice that we haven't talked at all about the strange vocal requirements of this music, which result in its being sung by such a strange assortment of tenors, from light "character" tenors like Murray Dickie and Richard Lewis to full-fledged heroic tenors like Vickers and James King. Well, some other time perhaps.)

MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde
i. "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde"
("The Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth")

Now beckons the wine in the golden goblet,
but drink not yet, first I'll sing you a song!
The song of sorrow
shall in gusts of laughter through your souls resound.
When sorrow draws near,
wasted lie the gardens of the soul.
Withered and dying are joy and song.
Dark is life, is death.

Master of this house!
Your cellar holds its fill of golden wine!
Here, this lute I name my own!
To strike the lute and to drain the glasses,
these are the things that go together.
A full goblet of wine at the right time
is worth more than all the kingdoms of this earth!
Dark is life, is death.

The firmament is blue eternally, and the earth
will long stand fast and blossom in spring.
But thou, O man, how long then livest thou?
Not a hundred years canst thou delight
in all the rotten trash of this earth!

Look there, down there! In the moonlight, on the graves
squats a mad spectral figure!
It is an ape! Hear how his howling
screams its way through the sweet fragrance of life!

Now take the wine! Now it is time, companions!
Drain your golden goblets to the dregs!
Dark is life, is death!

iii. "Von der Jugend" ("On Youth")
In the middle of the little pool
stands a pavilion of green
and of white porcelain.

Like the back of a tiger
arches the bridge of jade
over to the pavilion.

In the little house friends are sitting,
beautifully dressed, drinking, chatting;
several are writing verses.

Their silken sleeves slip
backwards, their silken caps
perch gaily on the back of their necks.

On the little pool's still
surface everything appears
fantastically in a mirror image.

Everything is standing on its head
in the pavilion of green
and of white porcelain;

Like a half-moon stands the bridge,
upside-down its arch. Friends,
beautifully dressed, are drinking, chatting.

v. "Der Trunkene im Frühling
("The Drunk in Spring")
If life is but a dream,
why then toil and fret?
I drink till I can drink no longer,
the whole livelong day!

And when I can drink no longer,
since gullet and soul are full,
then I stagger to my door
and sleep stupendously!

What do I hear on awakening? Hark!
A bird sings in the tree.
I ask him if the spring is here;
I feel as if it were a dream.

The bird twitters, "Yes!
Spring is here -- came overnight!"
In deepest wonder I listen.
The bird sings and laughs.

I feel my glass again,
and drain it to the dregs,
and sing, until the moon shines bright
in the black firmament.

And when I can sing no longer,
then I go back to sleep;
for what does spring matter to me?
Let me be drunk!

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; Philharmonia/New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1965-66
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Preview: Mahler's view of idyllic youths turns them upside-down


Tenor Robert Dean Smith sings "On Youth" from Mahler's Song of the Earth, with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink, in November 2006 (part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Haitink's association with the orchestra).
MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth):
iii. "Von der Jugend" ("On Youth")

[English translation by Deryck Cooke]

In the middle of the little pool
stands a pavilion of green
and of white porcelain.

Like the back of a tiger
arches the bridge of jade
over to the pavilion.

In the little house friends are sitting,
beautifully dressed, drinking, chatting;
several are writing verses.

Their silken sleeves slip
backwards, their silken caps
perch gaily on the back of their necks.

On the little pool's still
surface everything appears
fantastically in a mirror image.

Everything is standing on its head
in the pavilion of green
and of white porcelain;

Like a half-moon stands the bridge,
upside-down its arch. Friends,
beautifully dressed, are drinking, chatting.

by Ken

As I explained last night, heading toward tomorrow's Sunday Classics post, we're working our way backwards through the three tenor songs (Nos. 1, 3, and 5) of Mahler's Song of the Earth (Das Lied von der Erde), starting last night with the last of them, "The Drunk in Spring" ("Der Trunkene im Frühling"). Tonight we come to the shortest of the song symphony's six movements, No. 3, "On Youth" ("Von der Jugend"), which typically lasts 3-3½ minutes -- though tomorrow we're going to hear the longest as well as most remarkable performance of the song I've ever heard.


FOR THIS SONG I PROMISED YOU A STORY . . .

. . . of "the special personal identification that opened this song up for me -- or perhaps opened me up for this song" type. Here goes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Preview: In Mahler's "Song of the Earth" we meet a springtime drunk

The elegant Swiss tenor Ernst Häfliger is our first
soloist in Mahler's song "The Drunk in Spring."

by Ken

Bruno Walter's 1960 Columbia recording of Mahler's song symphony Song of the Earth (Das Lied von der Erde), the composition that fell between his Eighth and Ninth Symphonies and would have been No. 9 if he hadn't been so superstitious about allotting that fateful number to a symphony, was originally released on three LP sides. Surprisingly quickly, though, it was compressed onto two very well-filled sides, and that was my first recording of Das Lied, whose texts are German adaptations by Hans Bethge (from the collection The Chinese Flute) of Chinese originals.

Even as I was getting to know the piece, it was obvious that the emotional center of gravity was the concluding sixth movement, the half-hour song "The Farewell" ("Der Abschied," which we blundered our way into in our Maureen Forrester remembrance), about equal in length to its five predecessors put together, so that was where I usually headed, and since it was preceded on Side 2 by the last of the tenor songs, that meant I listened just as often to the contrastingly very brief song "The Drunk in Spring" ("Der Trunkene im Frühling"), as sung by the elegant Swiss tenor Ernst Häfliger -- a studio replacement, you'll recall, for the English tenor Richard Lewis, who sang in Walter's live New York performances that April but had only months earlier recorded Das Lied with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony for RCA. (We're going to hear some of that performance tomorrow night.)


INEVITABLY, THE ATTENTION OF THE DAS LIED LISTENER
GRAVITATES TO THE WEIGHTIER ALTO SONGS (NOS. 2, 4, 6)


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Roaming the landscape (and seascape!) of the imagination -- the full orchestral splendor of Debussy


Valery Gergiev conducts the London Symphony in the concluding "Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea" from Debussy's La Mer in March 2007.

by Ken

After Friday's quick look at Debussy's world of piano miniatures, in last night's preview we left off with the full orchestral splendor of one of the staples of the orchestral repertory, the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. As I noted, it's part of one of the seemingly endless stream of busted plans and projects that lined the creative career of Debussy (1862-1918), in this case what was to have been an orchestral suite inspired by Mallarmé's poem "L'après-midi d'un faune" ("Afternoon of a Faun"). As with so many of those aborted projects, however, the yield was nonetheless some extraordinary music.

(Quick faun-check: Remember, we're not talking about a fawn, such as Bambi, but a faun, the half-man, half-goat Roman woodland spirit known for its insatiable horniness.) Here's the Afternoon of a Faun again:


Alain Marion, flute; Orchestre National de l'ORTF, Jean Martinon, cond. EMI, recorded 1973-74

Here's another work of Debussy that was born of a plan that didn't come to fruition the way that was intended, of all things a Rhapsody for Saxophone and Orchestra:


Jean-Marie Londeix, alto saxophone; Orchestre National de l'ORTF, Jean Martinon, cond. EMI, recorded 1973-74


LET'S PLAY OUR FAVORITE DEBUSSY GAME,
"WHICH CAME FIRST?"


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Preview: Debussy from "Syrinx" to "Afternoon of a Faun" -- or is it vice versa?


Paula Robison plays Debussy's "Syrinx" at the 1986 Festival Casals in Puerto Rico.

If you spend much time among flutists -- a course of action I'm neither recommending nor especially warning against -- you'll find that "Syrinx" is one of the standbys to which they return constantly in warmups and instrumental noodling.

by Ken

You may have noticed that in last night's preview featuring three simple but exquisite little pieces by Claude Debussy (1862-11918), in assorted arrangements as well as the piano originals, I neglected to include dates of composition. This wasn't entirely neglect. Except in the broadest terms, I have more difficulty hearing time with Debussy than with almost any other composer. The dates just didn't seem to come into the discussion. For the record, the Suite bergamasque, which includes "Clair de lune" ("Moonlight"), was written around 1890.
PLEASE DON'T ASK WHAT BERGAMASQUE MEANS

It's a good question, and deserves an answer. The answer is that nobody knows. Oh, it has a bunch of linguistic analogs that suggest various meanings, but what exactly it means, we don't know. You might think it would help that Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)wrote a piece called Masques et bergamasques, but he didn't do that until 1919, when Debussy had recently died, and the likelihood is that what he meant by "Bergamasques" was, "whatever the heck Debussy meant, morbleu.")

Friday, April 16, 2010

Preview: Debussy -- the man who heard the music in moonlight


David Oistrakh plays "Clair de lune" ("Moonlight") with trusted accompanist Frida Bauer in Paris, 1962.

by Ken

So you think you don't know from Claude Debussy (1862-1918)? Here are three little pieces, originally written for piano solo, that have been absorbed into the general culture, arranged for just about every imaginable performance situation.

(1) "Clair de lune" ("Moonlight")

arranged (again) for violin and piano

Jascha Heiftez, violin; Emanuel Bey, piano (arr. Roelens). American Decca/MCA, recorded Nov. 29, 1945
arranged for guitar
Angel Romero, arr. and guitar. Telarc, recorded Aug. 3-6, 1987

played on the organ of New York City's Riverside Church

Virgil Fox, organ of the Riverside Church (New York City). Capitol/EMI, recorded Oct. 4, 1960


Sunday, April 11, 2010

In perfect balance -- Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto, where everything comes together just right


This is the first part (of three) of longtime pals Martha Argerich (born 1941) and Nelson Freire (born 1944) playing Rachmaninoff's delightful Second Suite for Two Pianos. (We last heard Argerich and Freire, separately, playing Schumann.) We'll hear more of the performance below.

by Ken

Friday night we heard the first movement of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2, as played by Arthur Rubinstein and Fritz Reiner -- the way I first encountered the music on RCA's Rubinstein Heart of the Piano Concerto compilation LP. Last night we detoured to make a quick run through Rachmaninoff's "other" piece for piano and orchestra -- other than the four concertos, that is -- the wonderful Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Today we're back to the Second Concerto.

It's not Rachmaninoff's most ambitious concerto, which would be the Third. I know people who are nuts for the Third Concerto, but I've never warmed to it nearly as much as the Second, which seems to me not only one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, but one of the most amazingly well-balanced, in terms of its movements, in the classical literature.

NOW THIS ISN'T WHAT MAKES IT A MASTERPIECE

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Preview: A peek at the "fifth" Rachmaninoff piano concerto


Paganini started it all, with the theme that every composer wanted to write variations on -- as if Paganini (1782-1840) hadn't already done it himself in the 24th Caprice for solo violin. We've got a proper violin performance below, but here guitarist Eliot Fisk plays his own transcription.

by Ken

Last night we sampled the second of Sergei Rachmaninoff's four piano concertos, in anticipation of our look tomorrow at the entire piece. In addition to the four formal concertos, Rachmaninoff's piano-and-orchestra output includes a remarkable set of variations, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, on "the" Paganini tune. It's one of his most inspired and loved creations, and I don't know of any better way to illustrate the richness of his imagination than to make a tactical leap from the early variations to the most famous of them, the 18th (of 21).

To go back to the beginning, here's what Paganini actually wrote, as played by the young Itzhak Perlman.

PAGANINI: Caprice No. 24 in A minor


Itzhak Perlman, violin. RCA/BMG, recorded March 1965

Friday, April 9, 2010

Preview: Heart of the piano concerto, Part 2: Rachmaninoff's 2nd


The opening movement of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto works even if the soloist (Arkady Volodos here) doesn't have all that much imagination. Fortunately the movement (not quite complete -- these aren't exactly speedsters, and that introductory piffle runs the clock down) is nicely conducted by Riccardo Chailly.

by Ken

I explained recently how I was first exposed to Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto: via an RCA compilation LP called Heart of the Piano Concerto, which consisted of single movements from Arthur Rubinstein's then-most-recent RCA recordings of six popular piano concertos. It was the biting, driving Rondo finale of the Beethoven concerto that was included, and that had won my heart by the 50th or 60th playing.



MY SECOND-FAVORITE PIANO CONCERTO MOVEMENT WAS
THE OPENING OF RACHMANINOFF'S SECOND CONCERTO


Sunday, March 28, 2010

In the piano concertos, we hear Beethoven in hard-fought sort-of-harmony with the universe


No less than Van Cliburn introduces the piano-playing Serkins, Rudolf (1903-1991) and Peter (born 1947), playing Schubert's four-hand Military March in G, D. 733, No. 2, on the occasion of Serkin père's 85th birthday in 1988, from a 1988 concert featuring 26 pianists, issued by VAI.

"Rudolf Serkin was once asked, jokingly of course, if Beethoven had composed the Choral Fantasy for Marlboro. The piece has everything Marlboro could have wanted for its final concert: an orchestra in which everyone could play; solos within the orchestra; ensemble playing among various instruments; piano solo; and a chorus for everyone else in the Marlboro community. Rudolf Serkin responded, with his characteristic smile, 'No, Beethoven didn't compose it for Marlboro.... But he approves.'"

by Ken

What Christopher Serkin, a distinguished law professor, discreetly doesn't mention here -- though his last name is certainly suggestive -- is that Rudolf Serkin, a co-founder of the Marlboro Music Festival who was for decades its presiding artistic spirit -- was his grandfather, and Peter Serkin, whom he later mentions conducts the Choral Fantasy performance included in this Marlboro anniversary issue, is his uncle. (Peter Serkin, while a dramatically different sort of musician from his father, established himself at an early age as one of the leading pianists of his generation. It's kind of weird, for me at least, to think that young Peter is now in his 60s.)


NOT MANY PEOPLE TAKE THE CHORAL FANTASY SERIOUSLY

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Preview: Down in the basement with Beethoven


In a state of grace, Claudio Arrau plays the first part of the first movement of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, with Riccardo Muti conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. (The rest of the movement is here.)

by Ken

Last night I related how Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto intruded on my musical consciousness, thanks to the inclusion of the concluding Rondo on RCA's Arthur Rubinstein compilation LP Heart of the Piano Concerto. It was by far my favorite of the six movements from favorite concertos featured. (One of these weeks we'll come back to the six concertos that were included.)

Today it's Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. How it happened that I hadn't been exposed to the Fourth Concerto despite my already-formed attachment to at least the Rondo of the Third Concerto, is a silly story for another time. It had to do with endlessly agonizingly weighing the economics of RCA's Rubinstein-Krips Beethoven concerto cycle on five LPs vs. Epic's Fleisher-Szell and London's Backhaus-Schmidt-Isserstedt ones on four, and American Decca's Kempff-van Kempen one in mono but on only three! I was paralyzed.


SIT BACK, FOLKS, IT'S TIME FOR AN ANCIENT FAMILY STORY

Friday, March 26, 2010

Preview: Beethoven and the "heart of the piano concerto"



Krystian Zimerman performs the first half of the Rondo finale of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. (The rest of the movement is here.)

by Ken

Before I began collecting classical records, the family LP collection included a handful (five that I recall), one of which was an RCA compilation called Heart of the Piano Concerto, consisting of single movements from Arthur Rubinstein's catalog recordings of six favorite piano concertos. I was especially fond of the side that, as I recall, ended with AR's biting, ebullient performance of the Rondo finale of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto.

Eventually I got to know and love the whole Third Concerto -- and its four companions -- in a way that's special even among Beethoven's output. Tomorrow night I'll recall my similarly idiosyncratic introduction to the Fourth Concerto, in preparation for some notes Sunday on the Beethoven piano concertos, including hearing Nos. 3 and 4 complete (in a specially concocted "all-Rubinstein" No. 3, an "all-Schnabel" No. 4, and "all-star" performances of both), and we'll celebrate the often-orphaned sixth family member, the wacky and wonderful Choral Fantasy for piano, vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra (with not one, not two, but three recordings by the performer who for so long breathed so much life into it).


FOR NOW, HERE'S THAT RUBINSTEIN RECORDING OF THE
RONDO OF THE THIRD CONCERTO I LISTENED TO SO OFTEN


BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37:
iii. Rondo: Allegro



Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Symphony of the Air, Josef Krips, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded December 1956

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gluck confronts the basic life principle that when you're dead, you're dead


And one last time: We hear Marilyn Horne sing "Divinités du Styx" from Gluck's Alceste again, in a performance I'd guess is about 20 years later than the early recording we heard in our Friday and Saturday previews. Some YouTube commenters natter about the downward transposition, apparently unaware that in Gluck's time it would have been done without hesitation. (The conductor, by the way, is Horne's longtime accompanist Martin Katz.)

"It would be frightful if the dead came back."
-- King Herod, in Richard Strauss's Salome
(text adapted from Oscar Wilde's play)

by Ken

We left Alceste last night more or less knocking at the gates of Hell, bound to trade her life for that of her husband, Admète, king of Thessaly.

Is it just a coincidence that two of Christoph Willibald von Gluck's three Vienna "reform" operas, Alceste and Orfeo ed Euridice, chronicled the two most famous breeches in Greek legend of the basic principle that once you're dead, you're dead? As noted, this principle was especially dear to King Herod, no doubt because he had personally moved so many people from the "not dead" to "dead" column.
from Richard Strauss's Salome:

JOCHANAAN (JOHN THE BAPTIST) [from the cistern in which he is imprisoned]: See, the day is at hand, the day of the Lord, and I hear in the mountains the footsteps of Him who will be the Redeemer of the World.
HEROD: What is that supposed to mean, the Redeemer of the World?
1st NAZARENE: The Messiah has come.
1st JEW [of Herod's five court Jews]: The Messiah has not come.
1st NAZARENE: He has come, and everywhere he is working miracles. At a wedding in Galilee he changed water into wine. He healed two lepers of Capernaum . . .
2nd NAZARENE: By simply touching them.
1st NAZARENE: He has also cured the blind. He has been seen on a mountain in conversation with angels.
HERODIAS: Oho! I don't believe in miracles. I have seen too many.
1st NAZARENE: The daughter of Jairus -- he awakened her from the dead.
HEROD: What? He awakens the dead?
1st and 2nd NAZARENES: Yes indeed, he awakens the dead.
HEROD: I forbid him to do that! It would be frightful if the dead came back. Where is the man at the moment?
1st NAZARENE: Sir, he is everywhere, but it's hard to find him.
HEROD: The man must be found.
2nd NAZARENE: It's said that he's in Samaria.
1st NAZARENE: He left Samaria a couple of days ago. I believe he's in the neighborhood of Jerusalem.
HEROD: Just listen: I forbid him to awaken the dead. It would be frightful if the dead came back.
VOICE OF JOCHANAAN: O, about this wanton woman, the daughter of Babylon, thus says the Lord our God . . .
HERODIAS: Order him to be quiet.


Bryn Terfel (b), Jochanaan (John the Baptist); Kenneth Riegel (t), Herod; Peter Rose (bs), 1st Nazarene; Uwe Peper (t), 1st Jew; Hanna Schwarz (ms), Herodias; Martin Gantner (b), 2nd Nazarene; Vienna Philharmonic, Christoph von Dohnányi, cond. Decca, recorded Apr. 11-18, 1994

I never knew I had any special relationship with the opening chorus of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice until I saw it trashed. A friend had invited me to the last New York City Opera production, in which the chorus was banished to the orchestra pit, leaving the job of trying to console Orfeo on the unimaginable and inconsolable loss of his adored wife Euridice to a bunch of dancers flitting mutely around the stage.

I think maybe it sneaked up on me, because one of life's inevitabilities is that you grow older, you more often find yourself in this position -- trying to provide some sort of consolation to people close to you who are grieving, when you have no consolation to offer, only sympathy and the knowledge that you're there for them. None of that helps, of course, at least with the grief, but the psyche has a separate chamber where those expressions of sympathy and communality are stored up for the time when they can be drawn on for the necessary psychical reconstruction project.

And here in this infuriatingly pretentious and misbegotten production, listening to the hidden-away chorus do the heavy lifting in this scene, I suddenly grasped the Gluck had been through this territory, charting a path for those of us destined to follow. The scene, I suddenly understood, is about two impossibilities: the impossibility of Orfeo dealing with his grief, and the impossibility of his friends, feeling the loss of Eurdice intensely personally themselves, and feeling so much of Orfeo's pain, to reach across that barrier of loss.

Well, this hack director had certainly made it literally impossible for the chorus to reach out to Orfeo. Unfortunately, because he apparently doesn't know much about human beings, he had cut Orfeo's friends off in the one way they're not separated from him: physical closeness. Anyway, here are some distinctly different-sounding versions of the opening of the scene:

GLUCK: Orphée et Eurydice: Act I, "Ah! Dans ce bois tranquille"
The translation is of the French version. (The Italian is similar.)

ORPHÉE periodically punctuates the chorus with cries of "Eurydice!"

NYMPHS AND SHEPHERDS: Ah, in this tranquil and somber wood,
Eurydice, if your spirit hears us,
be moved by our alarms,
See our sufferings, see our tears
That are shed for you.
Ah, take pity on the unhappy Orphée!
He sighs, he moans, he laments his fate.
The loving turtledove,
always tender, always faithful,
thus sighs and dies of sorrow.

In Italian: Risë Stevens, mezzo-soprano; Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded June 15-26, 1957

In French: Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano; Monteverdi Choir, Orchestra of the Opéra du Lyon, John Eliot Gardiner, cond. EMI, recorded Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 1989

In French: Richard Croft, tenor; Chorus of Les Musiciens du Louvre, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, cond. [pitch: A = 403] Archiv, recorded June 2002

The gods having heard Orpheus's pleas, in Act II he descends into the Underworld to retrieve Euridice. There he encounters first the Furies and then the gathering of Blessed Spirits, for both of which Gluck added appropriate dance music in the expanded Paris version of Orfeo.

GLUCK: Orphée et Eurydice: Act II, Dance of the Furies


Rome Opera Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded June 15-26, 1957

Orchestra of the Opéra du Lyon, John Eliot Gardiner, cond. EMI, recorded Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 1989

GLUCK: Orphée et Eurydice: Act II, Dance of the Blessed Spirits


Rome Opera Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded June 15-26, 1957

Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, cond. [pitch: A = 403] Archiv, recorded live June 2002

Orfeo finally finds Euridice but has strict instructions not to look back at her until he has led her safely out of Hades, or else! Of course he also can't explain why he won't look at her, and she assumes he has abandoned her. Finally he is unable to resist glancing back, and promptly she dies -- again. Horrified by what he has done, he sings the aria that is probably the best-known music Gluck wrote: "Che farò senza Euridice?" ("What will I do without Euridice?") in the original Italian, "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice" ("I have lost my Eurydice") in the French translation.

We hear first the original Italian version, sung by a female (rather than castrated male) alto, then the revised French version for tenor, and finally -- I couldn't resist -- the young Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sailing through (basically) the Italian version taken down an octave, though the German translation he sings ("Ach, ich habe sie verloren") appears based on the French text.

GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice: Act III, "Che farò senza Euridice?"
The translation is of the French text. (The Italian is similar.)

ORPHEUS: I have lost my Eurydice.
Nothing equals my unhappiness.
Cruel fate! What severity!
Nothing equals my unhappiness.
I succumb to my sorrow.

Eurydice! Eurydice!
Answer! What torture!
Answer me. It's your faithful spouse.
Hear my voice that's calling you.

I have lost my Eurydice. etc.

Eurydice! Eurydice!

Fatal silence!
Vain hope!
What suffering!
What torments tear at my heart!

I have lost my Eurydice. etc.

In Italian: Vesselina Kasarova, mezzo-soprano; Munich Radio Orchestra, Friedrich Haider, cond. BMG, recorded Sept. 11-16, 1996

In French: Richard Croft, tenor; Les Musiciens du Louvre, Marc Minkowski, cond. [pitch: A = 403] Archiv, recorded live June 2002

In German: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ferenc Fricsay, cond. DG, recorded Sept. 8-12, 1956


SUNDAY CLASSICS POSTS

Here is the current list.
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