Friday, June 29, 2012

Preview: Italy!




by Ken

Yes, Italy! (And yes, I think we really do need the exclamation point!)

It was a source of fascination for all manner of more northerly creative artists, not just for the obvious reason (climate!) but for its position as the cradle of so much of Western culture, and there isn't any group for whom this was more true than musicians.

We're going to kick off with a composer who developed a deep affection for Italy. The composer and piece are so familiar that I thought I'd hold off identifying them for the time being -- and the performers as well. I will say, though, that all three of these (I think) quite wonderful recordings were made on what "neutral ground," which is to say North America. But we have one conductor born in Switzerland, one in Siberian Russia, and one in Hungary (Budapest, in fact). The Russian, at least, I think should be relatively easy to recognize. (For some totally inexplicable reason I had a devil of a time uploading this file, but I think the performance -- which hasn't circulated that much -- was worth the trouble.)

If you don't want to play, you can skip straight to the click-through, where the piece and the performances are all properly identified.

[A]

[B]

[The excerpt up top is from performance B (at 7:56).]
[C]



NOW TO HEAR OUR RECORDINGS PROPERLY IDENTIFIED --
#


by Ken

Yes, Italy! (And yes, I think we really do need the exclamation point!)

It was a source of fascination for all manner of more northerly creative artists, not just for the obvious reason (climate!) but for its position as the cradle of so much of Western culture, and there isn't any group for whom this was more true than musicians.

We're going to kick off with a composer who developed a deep affection for Italy. The composer and piece are so familiar that I thought I'd hold off identifying them for the time being -- and the performers as well. I will say, though, that all three of these (I think) quite wonderful recordings were made on what "neutral ground," which is to say North America. But we have one conductor born in Switzerland, one in Siberian Russia, and one in Hungary (Budapest, in fact). The Russian, at least, I think should be relatively easy to recognize. (For some totally inexplicable reason I had a devil of a time uploading this file, but I think the performance -- which hasn't circulated that much -- was worth the trouble.)

If you don't want to play, you can skip straight to the click-through, where the piece and the performances are all properly identified.

[A]

[B]

[The excerpt up top is from performance B (at 7:56).]
[C]



NOW TO HEAR OUR RECORDINGS PROPERLY IDENTIFIED

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Among our team of operatic avengers, which does Saint-Saëns's Dalila resemble most?


Shirley Verrett sings Dalila's Act II aria "Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse" with Julius Rudel conducting in San Francisco, 1981. If the staging at the opening makes you wonder whether the stage director ever listened to the music (forget reading the libretto), we're on the same page.
Samson, seeking my presence again,
this evening is to come to this place.
Here is the hour of vengeance,
which must satisfy our gods.

Love! come aid my weakness!
Pour the poison in his breast!
Make it happen that, conquered by my artfulness,
Samson is in fetters tomorrow!
In vain would he wish to be able
to chase me out of his soul, to banish me.
Could he extinguish the flame
that memory feeds?
He is mine! my slave!
My brothers fear his wrath;
I, along among all, I defy him
and hold him at my knees!

Love! come aid my weakness!
Pour the poison in his breast!
Make it happen that, conquered by my artfulness,
Samson is in fetters tomorrow!
Against strength is useless,
and he, the strong among the strong,
he, who broke his people's chains,
will succumb to my efforts.

by Ken

Okay, here's where we are. Last week, in both the preview ("In which we hear a lady weighted by a heap of hurt") and the main post ("Meet Saint-Saëns's Dalila"), we heard the seductive side of Dalila -- and also the side, whatever you want to call it (I called it deep hurt) displayed in the great solo she sings when she's finally alone at the start of Act II. Then in Friday night's preview we heard her in "vengeance" mode, swearing along with the High Priest of Dagon, to bring Samson down -- and I also introduced several other operatic vengeance-seekers: Mozart's Queen of the Night, Beethoven's prison governor Don Pizarro, and the heroine of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

I certainly didn't mean to suggest any equivalence among our team of avengers. I wanted to lay the groundwork, because the text of Samson et Dalila doesn't give us much factual background to work with, for the best case I can make that Dalila's closest kin here is Isolde.

First we're going to hear from an actual monster, Don Pizarro in Fidelio, who has been forced into the decision to put an end to the suffering he has been inflicting on his old nemesis, Don Florestan, in a secret dungeon (where, you'll recall, we heard him languishing last month. Then, in the click-through, we'll hear from the Queen of the Night and Isolde, and finally we'll come back to Dalila.

(Note that I've juggled the lineup of recordings somewhat from the samples we heard in Friday night's preview. I wrote a bunch of long-winded explanations and exegeses, and then threw them out. We can talk about some of those issues some other time. Maybe. And note too that inclusion of a recording here doesn't necessarily constitute endorsement. There are some I'm not crazy about but have included for particular reasons.)

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio, Op. 72: Act I, Don Pizarro, "Ha! Welch ein Augenblick" ("Ha! What a moment!")
Ha! What a moment!
My vengeance I will cool;
your fate is calling you!
In its heart dwell,
oh live, good luck!
Already I was nearly in the dust,
by the loud scorn robbed,
there to be stretched.
Now it is up to me,
to commit the murder myself.
In his last hour,
the steel in his wound,
to cry in his ear:
Triumph! Victory is mine!
-- translation by Katharina Fink

Zoltán Kélémen (b), Don Pizarro; Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded 1970

Ekkehard Wlaschiha (b), Don Pizarro; Dresden State Opera Chorus, Staatskapelle Dresden, Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips, recorded November 1989

Walter Berry (bs-b), Don Pizarro; Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Live performance, June 9 or 14, 1970

Hans Hotter (b), Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Otto Klemperer, cond. Testament, recorded live, Feb. 24, 1961

AVENGERS STILL TO COME: WAGNER'S ISOLDE AND
MOZART'S QUEEN OF THE NIGHT. THEN BACK TO DALILA


Friday, June 22, 2012

Preview: Revenge!


THREE SNIPPETS OF REVENGE
(EACH PERFORMED THREE TIMES)


(1)
Hell's revenge seethes in my heart!
Death and despair burn all around me.


(2)
Ha Ha! Ha, what a moment!
I will have my revenge!
Your fate calls you!
In his heart roots --
o wonder! -- great fortune.


(3)
HER: But what once with hand
and mouth I swore --
that I swore silently to keep.
HIM: What did you swear, lady?
HER: Revenge for Morold!


by Ken

Yes, we're still getting to know Saint-Saëns's Dalila, and indeed in just a moment we're going to hear a side of her wildly different from anything we heard in last week's preview or the Sunday main post. By way of preparation, I thought this brief digression on operatic avengers would be helpful.

They'll be familiar to most music-lovers, but we'll hear them again, properly identified (including the performers)), in the click-through.

LET'S PROCEED WITH THIS SPECIAL "REVENGE"
EDITION OF SUNDAY CLASSICS


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Meet Saint-Saëns's Dalila

Including a recording that Maria Callas refused
to allow to be released (don't ask me why!)



Just 'cause we slipped into Act II of Samson et Dalila in Friday night's preview is no reason to go crazy and think we're going to make it to Act III today, but here's the famous "Bacchanale," from the Met's 1983 Centennial Gala, conducted by James Levine.

by Ken

Friday night we heard Maria Callas's riveting 1961 recording of Dalila's Act II-opening "Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse!," one of three excerpts from Samson et Dalila she recorded for the first Callas in Paris LP. Only two of those excerpts -- "Amour! viens aider" and the Act I solo "Printemps qui commence" -- found their way onto the record, though. Callas refused to allow the recording of the opera's best-known number (maybe along with the "Bacchanale") to be released, and in fact it wasn't in her lifetime, not slipping into print until 1982, five years after she died.

Our goal today is going to be to get (finally!) to the end of Act I of Samson. But we're going to digress again into Act II to hear what has become one of Callas's best-known recordings, the amping up of Dalila's seduction of Samson.

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila: Act II, Dalila, "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" ("My heart opens at your voice")

My heart opens at your voice like the flowers open
at the kisses of dawn!
But, o my beloved, to better dry my tears,
let your voice speak again!
Tell me that you return to Dalila forever!
Say again to my tenderness
those promises of before, those promises that I loved!
Ah! answer, answer my tenderness!
Fill me, fill me with delight!
Answer my tenderness, etc.

As one sees ears of corn undulating
under a light breeze,
just so my heart flutters,
ready to take comfort
from your voice, which is dear to me!
An arrow is less swift in carrying death
than is your lover to fly into your arms,
to fly into your arms!
Ah! answer etc.

Maria Callas (s), Dalila; Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded Mar.-Apr. 1961


IN THE INTEREST OF MAKING OUR WAY TO
THE END OF ACT I, LET'S TAKE ONE SMALL STEP


When we left off in April, the High Priest of Dagon had just discovered the body of Abimélech, the satrap of Gaza, "struck down by slaves," meaning the Israelite rabble newly roused by their young rabble-rouser Samson. He storms off, vowing to make those uppity Hebrews pay. We'll hear the end of that again in the click-through, but for now let's listen to the very next thing that happens: this ravishing orchestral daybreak.

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila: Act I, Daybreak

Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded Sept.-Oct. 1962


NOW LET'S FORGE AHEAD IN ACT I OF SAMSON

Friday, June 15, 2012

Preview: In which we hear a lady weighted by a heap of hurt

Yes, in the click-through we're going to hear Callas,
in what I think of as one of her great recordings.

by Ken

I'm not being intentionally mysterious . . . okay, I guess I am, but not gratuitously mysterious. The lady whose musical acquaintance we're about to make isn't normally thought of as a victim, but we're going to hear her in a condition of pain that -- in a good performance -- I find almost palpable. (It shouldn't be any surprise that we're setting up for a performance by Maria Callas. She was especially good at rooting out characters' pain.)

I just thought it would be interesting to hear how the lady's composer sets up this outpouring. So we're going to hear this musical introduction, and then in the click-through we'll go straight into


Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded February 1989


TO MAKE OUR HURTING ACQUAINTANCE --

Sunday, June 3, 2012

How a "second-tier" Mozart piano concerto can command top-tier attention

Eduard Zilberkant: The New York Concert Artists' Evenings of Piano Concerti veteran conducted two of the four EPC IV concerts and was the unquestioned star.

by Ken

We're still talking about New York Concert Artists' latest "Evenings of Piano Concerti" series, EPC IV, which as I noted in Friday night's preview gave me an unexpected measure of sheer musical pleasure, with the largest dose coming thanks to the spirit of the playing conductor Eduard Zilberkant drew from the little pickup orchestra in the two concerts he conducted, the first and third.

But for today I thought we'd scale back and just focus on one of the two concertos I mentioned had particularly delighted me in the performance offered by 22-year-old Shiran Wang and Zilberkant in the third concert, Mozart's K. 414. We already heard the slow movement, with that beautiful main theme the composer borrowed as a form of tribute to the recently deceased J. C. Bach.

Before we turn to the complete concerto, I just wanted to highlight a little Mozartean surprise that occurs in the concluding rondo, in the form of what I will call the "countertheme." I don't know if it will have the same effect it does on me, but it's the kind of thing that has a way of seizing control of my brain and not letting go. (Some readers may recall the October 2009 Sunday Classics post called "Surprise! With wizards like Bach and Mozart, you never know what you may hear next," in which the Mozart surprise was a wonderful little figuration that bursts out of nowhere in the cello in the final variation of the theme-and-variations slow movement of the A major String Quartet, K. 464, and then works its way up through all the instruments.)

Countertheme of the Rondo of Mozart's K. 414 Concerto

This is nuts, I know, but I've extracted the portions of the Rondo that are based on this countertheme, starting with its first statement, from Murray Perahia's recording, which we'll hear complete immediately afterward. In this clip we hear ripped-out chunks that representing the following bits of the 6:19 whole: (1) 0:12-0:31, (2) 0:58-2:15, (3) 2:39-2:46, (4) 3:36-4:13, (5) 4:19-4:51 (including the start of the cadenza at 4:40 -- or 0:20 of our clip).



Now here's the whole movement.

MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 12 in A, K. 414:
iii. Allegretto


English Chamber Orchestra, Murray Perahia, piano and cond. CBS/Sony, recorded June 16-18, 1979



New York Concert Artists put together this promotional video for last year's Evenings of Piano Concerti (EPC III).


NOW LET'S HEAR THE WHOLE OF OUR CONCERTO