Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tapping into "Broadway in a Box"


Maybe it was a little unfair of me to include William Warfield's performance of "Ol' Man River" from the 1966 Music Theater of Lincoln Center revival of Show Boat in Friday's selections (though he was only 46, the voice showed heavy signs of wear), but I couldn't resist. However, here he is 15 years earlier, in the 1951 film version.

by Ken

In Friday night's preview I explained how I found myself pondering Sony's Broadway in a Box, a 25-CD anthology of 25 Broadway musicals in either Original Broadway Cast recordings (18), later Broadway revivals (4), or Music Theater of Lincoln Center revivals (3) drawn from the combined archives of RCA and Columbia Records, the two most active producers of such recordings, both now under the Sony Music umbrella. And I explained how I realized that among the participants in those 25 efforts I had noticed two five-peaters and even one six-peater. (If you haven't had a crack at this, or you just want to see the contents of the set again, they're listed in the Friday post.)

Then we heard six classic Broadway numbers, among which, I said, both of our five-peaters and our six-peater were represented at least once. I thought we would start by hearing those six songs again -- in the same order, but this time properly identified:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Preview: "Broadway in a Box"




by Ken

I was looking at this box, Broadway in a Box, that I got for some agreeably modest price as an Amazon special -- 25 cast recordings of Broadway musicals, mostly Original Broadway Cast recordings, but with seven revivals mixed in, four from Broadway and three from the Music Theater of Lincoln Center. I only had two on CD, and one of those wasn't an original-label reissue, so I figured what the heck.

So I was looking at the box, which contains an interesting selection. Not necessarily the 25 I would have chosen from the RCA and Coiumbia musical-theater vaults (all now in the Sony fold, of course, making for quite a musical-theater vaultload), but all of at least some interest. And I was trying to see whether any "themes" popped out at me. And after a while I realized I could identify two five-peaters among the contributors and one six-peater. All three are represented at least once in the following six numbers, a pretty grand assortment, I think.

"The Lonely Goatherd"


"Ol' Man River"


"It's the little things you do together"


"Some Enchanted Evening"


"Everything's coming up roses"


"Officer Krupke"



OF COURSE YOU'LL NEED TO KNOW THE
25 RECORDINGS INCLUDED IN THE SET --


Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's "The Nutcracker" -- the whole deal! (again -- our last annual encore presentation)


With the "Nutcracker Suite" sequence of Disney's Fantasia now unavailable, I thought to kick off we'd just look at this little teaser from Helgi Tómasson's San Francisco Ballet staging.

by Ken

[To repeat, this is an "encore presentation" of last year's encore presentation of 2011's complete-Nutcracker post, which I thought came out pretty darned well. You probably think it's a huge labor-saver just running a post "rerun." Perhaps I thought so too, but it never works out that way.]

The plan is pretty simple. As promised in Friday night's preview, when we heard (once again) two quite differently terrific performances of Tchaikovksy's own Nutcracker Suite, today we're going to hear the complete ballet, and chunks of it -- solely at my discretion -- twice!

Pretty much the last thing I added to what you'll see in the click-through is the plot synopsis (filched from Wikipedia). I went back and forth a lot about this, because I really don't pay much attention to plots, or even programs, when I listen to music written for the dance. I'm not a dance person to begin with, and I guess my listening orientation is to allow the music to plug its own built-in "program" into my imagination. Still, in the end it seemed to me that this curious format (for want of a better word) we've got going here at Sunday Classics is actually an extremely good way to hook up the plot and the music.

I'll have some quick (I hope) notes about the specifics when we get to the click-through, so let me just throw out two points about The Nutcracker:

(1) Tchaikovsky really didn't want to write the damned thing. So no, it was about as far from a "labor of love" as you can get.

(2) It was written to share a double bill with one of the composer's less-performed operas, Yolanta, which is the part of the bill that really interested and moved him. It has, in fact, nothing (that I can see or hear) in common with its birth billmate, and it strikes me as an incredibly difficult piece to really bring to life, but as with many difficult, fragile creations, its specialness holds special rewards. It deals, first, with the desperate desire of a very powerful man -- a king, in fact -- to shield a loved one, in this case his only daughter, from pain, in her case the knowledge that she's blind. But in the larger sense it deals with the futility of trying to protect someone from something it's impossible to "protect" her from, like reality. Someday we should undoubtedly talk about Yolanta. (But it's difficult.)


MOVING ON TO OUR COMPLETE NUTCRACKER

Friday, December 20, 2013

Preview: By popular demand, the gala Sunday Classics "Nutcracker (The Whole Deal)" returns AGAIN (one last time!)

You'd want to think twice before bidding on this record. The ABC Command label tells you it's one of the inferior later pressings; you want an original gold-label issue. (Note: Unfortunately, last year's preview-opening video clip of the Nutcracker Suite segment of Walt Disney's Fantasia has disappeared -- not entirely surprisingly, I guess. To be honest, I don't like it much anyway.)

by Ken

As far back as the mind recalls, Sunday Classics has celebrated the holiday musically at last in part with music from Tchaikovsky's ballets, and two years ago I went whole hog and offered a complete Nutcracker, basically double-covered throughout, and assembled from, well, a whole bunch of recordings. I brought it back last year, and now darned if it isn't here again. And as I ventured first in 2011's Nutcracker preview, what better way could there be to "warm up" for the main event than with the composer's own Nutcracker Suite, good old Op. 71a? In the click-through we've got two quite splendid, and interestingly different, performances.


WE HAVE TWO DIFFERENTLY SPLENDID
RECORDINGS OF THE NUTCRACKER SUITE

TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a:
i. Miniature Overture



Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg, cond. Command, recorded c1963

Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, cond. Decca, recorded c1985

You'll note straightaway in the Miniature Overture that William Steinberg is taking a rather spritelier approach and Charles Dutoit a more buoyant, caressing one. Both the Pittsburgh Symphony and the Montreal Symphony play utterly delectably.


IN AUDIO TERMS, BOTH RECORDINGS HAVE
STERLING PEDIGREES, IN QUITE DIFFERENT STYLES


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Three duets from three Verdi operas


Marcelo Álvarez and Sondra Radvanovsky sing the Act II duet from Verdi's A Masked Ball at the Met, Dec. 8, 2012.

by Ken

In Friday's preview we heard answering soprano and tenor snippets from three great Verdi duets, and I hope you heard what causes them, as I noted, to blend in my head. I assume you also guessed that, although the act numbers (I, II, and III) were given correctly, they weren't from the same Verdi opera.

Today we're going to listen to a larger chunk from each duet -- still not the full scene, though perhaps one day we'll get to that. Even though the full duets aren't that long (the longest runs about nine minutes), that would have been just too much to tackle in one post. (We've actually heard the whole of the Ballo in maschera duet, but never mind.)


FIRST LET'S LISTEN AGAIN TO FRIDAY'S SNIPPETS . . .

. . . now properly identified.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sunday Classics preview: Three acts, three duets



by Ken

Okay, so we've got these three duet-chunks for soprano and tenor -- duet-chunks that for reasons which I hope will become apparent have a way of merging and mingling in my head. They're very different, and yet . . . .

I don't think I'm giving away too much by stipulating that the composer is Giuseppe Verdi, or noting that in all three cases our chunk occurs near the end of a dramatic scene and seems to be attempting some resolution of the situation, with one partner tossing out the tune (in two cases the soprano, in one the tenor), and then the other partner lobbing it back.

For tonight we're going to hear pretty much just the tossing out and lobbing back, and I thought I'd skip texts -- we can catch up with that Sunday.


Act I

Soprano, "Ah! Seguirti fino agl'ultimi confini della terra" ("Ah! To follow you to the farthest confines of the earth")


Maria Caniglia, soprano; EIAR (Italian Radio) (Turin) Symphony Orchestra, Gino Marinuzzi, cond. Cetra, recorded 1941

Tenor, "Sospiro, luce ed anima di questo cor che t'ama" ("Breath, light, and life of this heart that loves you")


Richard Tucker, tenor; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Nov. 29, 1952


Act II

Tenor, "Oh, qual soave brivido l'acceso petto irrora!" ("Oh, what sweet throbbing thrills my burning breast!")


Plácido Domingo, tenor; Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1989

Soprano, "Ahi, sul funereo letto ov'io sognava spegnerlo" ("Ah, on its deathbed, where I dreamed of stifling it")


Leontyne Price, soprano; RCA Italiana Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded June 1966


Act III

Soprano, "Ah! Gran Dio, morir si giovine, io che penato ho tanto!"("Ah! Great God, to die so young, I who have suffered so much!")


Victoria de los Angeles, soprano; Rome Opera Orchestra, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded June 1959

Tenor, "O mio sospiro e palpito, diletto del cor mio" ("O my breath and pulse, delight of my heart")


Luciano Pavarotti, tenor; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Richard Bonynge, cond. Live performance, 1970
#

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements

[This post appeared in somewhat different form on Jan. 10, 2010.]

The Bruckner Monument in City Park, Vienna

by Ken

Back in January 2010, when the original versions of this series of posts appeared, we had only recently adagio-ed our way from Beethoven's two great symphonic Adagios, of the Eroica and Ninth Symphonies, to those of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) and Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) -- which I used as a pretty nervy way to tramp onto the turf of two of the trickier composers in the pantheon. Having thus sneaked up on Bruckner, I reasoned at the time, why not try to build some momentum? And the obvious way seemed to be by focusing on the Fourth Symphony, the meeting ground between the die-hard Bruckner Faithful and the people at the other extreme who think the guy just kept writing the same symphony over and over.

I still think it was a pretty good plan, only this time we're going to follow up next week by similarly exhumeing the later series of posts on the Bruckner Seventh Symphony, as a prelude to the Sunday Classics grand finale, the long-promised posts on the Bruckner Ninth Symphony.

OUR BRUCKNER FOURTH PREVIEWS

If you were here for this week's previews, you've already the Scherzo of the Bruckner Fourth Symphony Friday night as performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwängler, from a live broadcast from Stuttgart, Oct. 22, 1951, and then last night the Scherzo again and also the first movement as performed by the Columbia Symphony under Bruno Walter, recorded by Columbia Masterworks (later CBS and Sony Classical) Feb. 13-25, 1960. I might note that I'm actually not that great a fan of Furtwängler's Bruckner, which seems to me to attempt to make constant moment-to-moment drama of music I think has more to do with observation and contemplation unfolding in large arcs of sound.

Back in the original series of Bruckner Fourth posts, we also heard a broadcast performance from Feb. 10, 1940, by the NBC Symphony under Bruno Walter (1876-1962). But when I went to cobble this post together last night, geographically removed from my records, I discovered that the audio files for the Walter-NBC Symphony performance had vanished, so I improvised by offering those two movements from the 1960 Columbia Symphony recording. Walter's Bruckner isn't much in vogue among the hard-core Bruckner faithful, but for me his stereo studio recordings of the Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Symphonies have held up awfully well. Which is lucky, because circumstances have dictated that we're going to have an encore hearing of the first movement today, by Walter and the Los Angeles pickup orchestra Columbia Masterworks assembled for him under the name "Columbia Symphony Orchestra" for the surprisingly extensive series of recordings he made in his 80s.
Our music program for today is simple: We're going to hear each movement of the symphony twice, in performances that have been chosen to provide some contrast. And in order to avoid straying too far from the music, I'm going to confine the yammering to one "story" per movement.

When we first heard the excerpts from Walter's stereo Bruckner Fourth, I noted that it was a month away from being 50 years old. Now, of course, it's 50-plus. Its limitations really aren't a matter of age, though; they were always there. Most importantly, there was the use of a bare-bones-size orchestra that was then sonically "puffed up" a bit in the mastering. Bruckner, more perhaps than any other composer, demands the highest level of orchestral playing imaginable, in terms of both the fullest size and weight and the highest degree of individual tonal refinement. And for the aforementioned die-hard Bruckner Faithful, Walter's way of constantly adjusting expressive content within individual phrases is taboo, a violation of what they perceive as the composer's monolithic structures. It could equally well be argued, though, that this remains the genius of the performance. Walter's Columbia Symphony recordings of the Bruckner Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Symphonies have an expressive sophistication I've never heard anyone else achieve in this music. (There's also a sonically limited but musically pretty darned good 1941 New York Philharmonic broadcast performance of the monumental Bruckner Eighth, which may possibly have been the last time he played the piece.)

As I mentioned last night, today's post features four "stories, and it just so happens that the Walter-Columbia Symphony Bruckner Fourth features in our first Bruckner "story."

I

It was about as close as I ever came to a drug experience. (We all have our talents. That doesn't seem to be one of mine.) I'd come home from summer camp with a wracking cough, and the doctor had prescribed a cough syrup with codeine. Left to my own devices, I'd switched on the little transistor radio my oldest cousin, who was in the Army, had bought for our grandparents at the PX in Germany. I found WQXR in time for the beginning of a piece I recognized (I'd missed the opening announcement) as the Bruckner Fourth Symphony. The codeine high seems to have enhanced my receptivity, and those 65 or so minutes passed like a flash -- or maybe like many more hours than they occupied.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major (Romantic):
i. Bewegt, nicht zu schnell
(Animated, not too fast)



Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Feb. 13-25, 1960

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling, cond. Bells of Saint Florian, recorded live c1996

I don't mean at all to suggest that you need to be high to appreciate Bruckner, or that it's an especially helpful way of listening to the music. But to the extent that it opens you to really listening, to hearing the patterns and the intermingling of huge outpourings and intimate shadings, it's guiding you into a kind of consciousness-raising that Bruckner did a whole lot better than drugs do (even for aficionados). This is a dimension of the music that clearly tantalized the hardy band of supporters he attracted in his difficult lifetime, but that -- as we'll talk about shortly -- even they barely began to understand.

If you think about it, what could be simpler than the opening of the symphony, which just plays with the musically crucial interval of the fifth, first sounding it, then augmenting it, then resounding it? It sounds like the sort of thing that anybody could do. In fact, though, it's something really only Bruckner could have thought of, and then known where to go with it, so that within maybe a minute and a half he's gone from this amazing hushed opening to blazing full-orchestra glory. So for starters, I suggest not "thinking about it," just hearing it. And after all these years I'm amazed at how well the 1960 Walter recording holds up. However, I'm delighted to offer alongside it the more expansive, breathtakingly beautiful performance by Kurt Sanderling (born 1912, retired in 2002). When it came to "the vision thing," musically speaking, Sanderling was one of the more trusty go-to conductors.


II

Bruckner arouses strong feelings, even if the strong feeling is boredom -- as expressed in that notion that he kept writing the same symphony over and over. At the opposite end are a coterie of worshippers whose devotion has many of the characteristics of religious worship -- a phenomenon we find all too often in the arts, and hardly ever to the good. In Bruckner's case, it can have the effect of remaking him into a religious icon. I know it's very unfair of me, but I often sense among the Bruckner religionists an attitude eerily similar to that of the Bruckner detractors: that yes, he wrote the same thing over and over, and yes, it gets kind of repetitious and even monotonous, but that's what's so wonderful!

The Bruckner religionists will stress the composer's naive piety, and his background as a church organist, and when it comes to "architecture" -- an almost unavoidable metaphor given the scale and density of his symphonies -- for them the structures will always be churches, or rather giant cathedrals in the ether. I can't help wondering what exactly these folks are listening to. The idea of Bruckner applying organ logic, or seeking organ sound, in his orchestration just seems to me nuts. This is a man who was deliriously obsessed with the range of expressive possibilities he could draw from a symphony orchestra -- this is the quality I would stress above all others as you listen to today's music, because I think even listening in computer-transmitted MP3 form you will find yourself drawn that way into its expressive core.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major:
ii. Andante quasi Allegretto
(Walking pace but as if it were quickish)


Munich Philharmonic, Rudolf Kempe, cond. Live performance, c1975-76


Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam), Eugen Jochum, cond. Live performance, Jan. 16, 1975


I mentioned last week, when we heard the Adagio of the Bruckner Seventh, that I was tempted to start off with the slow movement of the Fourth, but that it isn't a true Bruckner Adagio, and that I thought as long as we were going to go for it, we ought to go for it. I don't want to call a true Bruckner Adagio "static" (would you describe the Adagio of the Seventh as "static"?), but it seems to me to have more the characteristic of observation or contemplation. First off, the slow movement of the Fourth isn't even literally an Adagio; it's marked the significantly less slow Andante -- and "quasi Allegretto" at that. This is a movement that really does move -- it seems almost to be a travelogue of some sort. For some reason Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) seems always to have had the measure of it, and I'm pleased to be able to share this broadcast performance with the Concertgebouw, along with the more straightforwardly quicker but still remarkably beautiful, clear-headed version by Rudolf Kempe (1910-1976).


III

It's hard to imagine any creative artist who doesn't have at least one "breakthrough" reflected in his or her work in the course of the career. In Bruckner's case, I don't think there's any question that it came with the Fourth Symphony, although -- since nothing came simply to him -- it didn't happen all at once. I've been trying like heck to avoid talking about the bewlidering matter of "editions" of Bruckner symphonies, but even with the Fourth, which comes closer than any to being performed in a single "standard" version, it's not the "original" version. Still, this is the symphony of Bruckner's that most behaves like a "normal" symphony, with four movements of manageable and more or less equal expressive weight. Consequently the Fourth is a meeting ground between the Bruckner Faithful and the take-it-or-leave-it types.

Maybe the most obvious point to make about the Scherzo is how physically capturing it is. It's "captivating" too, but I really mean something more physical here. It grabs hold of you and with the greatest pleasure won't let go.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major:
iii. Scherzo: Bewegt (Animated) -- Trio: Nicht zu schnell. Keinesfalls schleppend. (Not too quick. Not at all dragging) -- Scherzo


Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, cond. Lucerne Festival Edition, recorded live in Tokyo, Oct. 18-19, 2006


Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. and Nov. 1963


The Scherzo is the shortest of the symphony's four movements, and by its nature is a whole lot harder to stretch out than any of the others. Its performance range is pretty much 10-12 minutes. Our two performances represent something like the extremes, Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) at nearly 12 minutes, Claudio Abbado (born 1933) actually crashing the 10-minute lower "limit." I'm not sure I understand this impulse to speed the thing up -- at Klemperer's tempos it still sounds "fast," doesn't it? And the music has more room to really lock in its grip on the listener. No irreparable harm is done at the faster tempos, though, and even played this way, because of the music's sheer physicality, and the volume of sound generated, the movement seems to me to hold its own with the others.


IV

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major:
iv. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
(Animated, but not too fast)


Berlin Philharmonic, Günter Wand, cond. BMG, recorded Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 1998


Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond. DG, recorded September 1987


As I mentioned earlier, in his own time Bruckner attracted enthusiasts and even disciples. Clearly they were responding to the dimension of the music that really wasn't like anything they had heard before (with perhaps the exception of those forebears of the Brucknerian Adagio). But they still tended to think in conventional symphonic terms, and Bruckner's music never worked very well that way -- it's not the way his music was designed to work. On some level he must have had amazing inner confidence, just to continue pursuing his musical vision when almost nobody seemed to get it. What he didn't have, unfortunately, was the outer toughness to stand his ground and insist that yes, this was really what he meant, and while it may not always have worked on the first try, what he needed to do was find a better version of his way, not have well-meaning colleagues "help" him write his music the way they thought it should go.

That takes a lot of toughness, and Bruckner didn't have it. It was also a practical matter. If you write piano music or songs, and your music attracts any enthusiasts at all, it's not hard to find pianists or singers to at least give them a hearing -- so that both you and the public are able to hear them, both of which are awfully important both to the composer's own self-awareness and development and to the establishment of a reputation. However, if you write symphonies or operas, you've got to persuade symphony orchestras or opera companies to play them, and in Bruckner's case this came with even more "suggestions" as to how his symphonies could/should be "fixed." And so began a pattern of endless revisions, involving significant cutting, rewriting, and occasionally expanding.

The worst part of this is that there's really no way of separating revisions that Bruckner himself believed in, revisions that he might not have made on his own but that nevertheless are of genuine artistic value (something that often happens when creators make changes against their will and in the process find new inspirations), and revisions that were simply forced on him. We can certainly guess, and guesswork would be fine if we were dealing with individual performances, but music that is widely performed needs to have some kind of standard edition or editions, which are normally determined by publishers, which after a composer's (or writer's) death is taken out of his/her hands.

The unfortunate image we're left with is of Bruckner as naïf, this pious man of genius but of narrow vision and skill, being easily manipulated by others to produce hybrid works that only partly represent his own inner ear. At another time perhaps I'll try to explain my understanding of just how vast and far-seeing Bruckner's creative vision was. The irony is that today there would be an audience for it. Mahler, who followed in Bruckner's path writing "outsize" symphonies, not only had the benefit of observing Bruckner's example but had all the toughness that Bruckner lacked. When Mahler revised his works, as he did extensively, it was based on his own judgment, with feedback from a group of colleagues and disciples of better judgment than Bruckner's, and whose views would never have been allowed to supersede the composer's own.

Mahler, faced with a life of savage dismissal of his creative work, became famous for saying, "My time will yet come." I'm not sure even he would have guessed how true that turned out to be. It turned out to be true for Bruckner as well, just not as neatly.
#

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Preview 2: In which we hear more of tomorrow's featured work



by Ken

Last night we heard a historic performance of a movement from a great symphony. Let's hear with a more up-to-date recording.




Now let's hear another movement from the same piece, from the newer recording:




IN TOMORROW'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

We identify last night's and tonight's performances, and hear four stories about the whole piece.
#

Friday, December 6, 2013

Preview 1: Feel free to identify the music -- and, if you can, the conductor

[This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on January 8, 2010. By Sunday it should be clear why I've resurrected it.]



by Ken

Yes, this audio clip is in mono -- and we'll have another one [nope! change of plans -- Ed/] in a second preview tomorrow at 6pm PT/9pm ET, but Sunday's main-post offerings will be all stereo, and for this music, it does matter. For tonight's clip, it was necessary to return to mono years in order to represent this conductor. That might give you a clue as to his identity. (Yes, I'll give you that much: It is a man.)

Many of you will recognize the music, of course. It's hardly obscure. But I'm at least as interested in the reactions of those of you hearing it for the first time.
#

Sunday, December 1, 2013

In Gilbert and Sullivan's hands, a madrigal can be buoyant, or sad, or sad and funny

The end of the Sextet in the Off-Monroe Players' 2010 production of Patience

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Patience: from the Act I finale, Lady Saphir, "Are you resolved to wed this shameless one? . . . Sextet with Chorus, "I hear the soft note"
Recitative
LADY SAPHIR [coming left of BUNTHORNE]:
Are you resolved to wed this shameless one?
LADY ANGELA [coming right of BUNTHORNE]:
Is there no chance for any other?
BUNTHORNE [decisively]: None!
[Embraces PATIENCE. Exit PATIENCE and BUNTHORNE.]

Sextet -- the Ladies Ella, Saphir, and Angela;
the Duke, Major, and Colonel

[ANGELA, SAPHIR, and ELLA take the COLONEL, DUKE, and MAJOR down, while GIRLS gaze fondly at other OFFICERS.]
I hear the soft note of the echoing voice
of an old, old love, long dead.
It whispers my sorrowing heart "Rejoice!"
for the last sad tear is shed.
The pain that is all but a pleasure will change
for the pleasure that's all but pain,
and never, oh never, this heart will range
from that old, old love again!
[GIRLS embrace OFFICERS.]
CHORUS: Yes, the pain that is all but a pleasure will change
for the pleasure that's all but pain,
and never, oh never, our hearts will range
from that old, old love again!
DUKE with CHORUS: Oh, never, oh never, our hearts will range
from that old, old love again!
SEXTET with CHORUS: Oh, never, oh never, our hearts will range
from that old, old love again!
[The GIRLS embrace the OFFICERS.]

Marorie Eyre (s), Lady Saphir; Nellie Briercliffe (ms), Lady Angela; George Baker (b), Reginald Bunthorne; Rita Mackay (s), Lady Ella; Derek Oldham (t), Lieut. the Duke of Dunstable: Martyn Green (b), Major Murgatroyd; Darrell Fancourt (bs), Colonel Calverley; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Sept.-Nov. 1930

Beti Lloyd-Jones (s), Lady Saphir; Yvonne Newman (ms), Lady Angela; John Reed (b), Reginald Bunthorne; Jennifer Toye (s), Lady Ella; Philip Potter (t), Lieut. the Duke of Dunstable; John Cartier (b), Major Murgatroyd; Donald Adams (bs), Colonel Calverley; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded September 1961

Elizabeth Harwood (s), Lady Saphir; Marjorie Thomas (ms), Lady Angela; George Baker (b), Reginald Bunthorne; Heather Harper (s), Lady Ella; Alexander Young (t), Lieut. the Duke of Dunstable; John Shaw (b), Colonel Calverley; Trevor Anthony (bs), Major Murgatroyd; Glyndebourne Festival Chorus, Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 17-20, 1961

by Ken

What we've just heard is a repeat performance, from a September post called "In Patience, 'The pain that is all but a pleasure will change for the pleasure that's all but pain'" -- which also referred back to an earlier post, "Poor Arthur Sullivan never knew how well he had succeeded as a 'serious' composer."


I KEEP LISTENING TO THESE CLIPS,
AND THEY KEEP OVERWHELMING ME


Friday, November 29, 2013

"Sing a merry madrigal!"

Yet until the shadows fall
over one and over all,
sing a merry madrigal!

by Ken

I'm not going to identify tonight's madrigal tonight, but I also haven't attempted to conceal its identity. I mean, I could have identified Yum-Yum as "Lady 1" or "Bride" and Nanki-Poo as "Man 1" or "Bridegroom" and so on. Obviously those of you who know the music will know that there's a joke built into it, but for tonight I don't want to think about the joke; I just want to focus on the beauty of the piece.

Madrigal, "Brightly dawns our wedding day"

YUM-YUM: Brightly dawns our wedding day.
YUM-YUM, PITTI-SING, NANKI-POO, and PISH-TUSH [GO-TO]:
 Joyous hour, we give thee greeting!
Whither, whither art thou fleeting?
Fickle moment, prithee stay!
Fickle moment, prithee stay!
PISH-TUSH [or GO-TO]: What though mortal joys be hollow?
PITTI-SING: Pleasures come, if sorrows follow:
YUM-YUM, PITTI-SING, NANKI-POO, and PISH-TUSH [GO-TO]:
 Though the tocsin sound, ere long,
ding dong!
Ding dong!
Yet until the shadows fall
over one and over all,
YUM-YUM: Sing a merry madrigal!
YUM-YUM, PITTI-SING, NANKI-POO, and PISH-TUSH [GO-TO]:
 Sing a merry madrigal,
sing a merry madrigal:
Fa la,
fa la la la la la la.

YUM-YUM: Let us dry the ready tear,
YUM-YUM, PITTI-SING, NANKI-POO, and PISH-TUSH [GO-TO]: Though the hours are surely creeping,
little need for woeful weeping,
till the sad sundown is near,
till the sad sundown is near.
PISH-TUSH [or GO-TO]: All must sip the cup of sorrow --
PITTI-SING: I today, and thou tomorrow
YUM-YUM, PITTI-SING, NANKI-POO, and PISH-TUSH [GO-TO]:
 This the close of ev'ry song,
ding dong!
Ding dong!
What though solemn shadows fall,
sooner, later, over all,
YUM-YUM: Sing a merry madrigal!
YUM-YUM, PITTI-SING, NANKI-POO, and PISH-TUSH [GO-TO]: Sing a merry madrigal,
sing a merry madrigal:
Fa la,
fa la la la la la la.
[Ending in tears]

Jean Hindmarsh (s), Yum-Yum; Beryl Dixon (ms), Pitti-Sing; Thomas Round (t), Nanki-Poo; Owen Grundy (bs), Go-To; New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded October 1957

Elizabeth Harwood (s), Yum-Yum; Barbara Elsy (ms), Pitti-Sing; Edward Darling (t), Nanki-Poo; Ian Humphris (b), Pish-Tush; Westminster Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Faris, cond. EMI, recorded 1961

Valerie Masterson (s), Yum-Yum; Peggy Ann Jones (ms), Pitti-Sing; Colin Wright (t), Nanki-Poo; John Broad (bs), Go-To; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royston Nash, cond. Decca, recorded Jan. 10-15, 1973

Marie McLaughlin (s), Yum-Yum; Anne Howells (ms), Pitti-Sing; Anthony Rolfe Johnson (t), Nanki-Poo; Nicholas Folwell (bs-b), Pish-Tush; Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. Telarc, recorded Sept. 2-4, 1991


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

We'll clear up any lingering mysteries about "Brightly dawns our wedding day" and hear another madrigal from the same source, more or less, and hear some other vocal ensembles from (again) the same source, more or less.
#

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is the slightest of them perhaps the mightiest of Brahms's piano quartets?


Pianist Menahem Pressler, violinist Salvatore Accardo, violist Antonine Tamestit, and cellist Gautier Capuçon play the gorgeous third-movement Andante of Brahms's C minor Piano Quartet, at the 2008 Verbier Festival.

by Ken

As I wrote when I brought up the subject of the third of Brahms's three piano quartets, and wound up presenting only his Second Cello Sonata, the performance of the C minor Quartet I heard in Ian Hobson's New York Brahms piano series, with violinist Andrés Cárdenes, violist Csaba Erdélyi, and cellist Ko Isawaki, finally pushed the piece over the top for me.

The first thing to say about that performance was that it was loud. Oh, not all the time, but when the piece heated up, so did the musicians. (Hobson himself seems more comfortable playing loudly than playing softly, which is harder.) And the first thing to say about the piece is that it is enormously physical. A lot of the melodic material lends itself, even cries out for, real vehemence. It's not just a matter of playing loudly, of course, and certainly not of playing fast -- it's an issue of musical energy, the sort of thing we've heard described so well in pianist Elisabeth von Herzogenberg's letter to the composer regarding the Second Cello Sonata (quoted in the program book for Professor Hobson's series), and the way she imagined he would have played the Scherzo -- better than anyone else -- "agitated without rushing, legato, yet inwardly restless and propulsive."
The piece is so greatly compressed; how it surges forward! The concise development is so exciting, and the augmented return of the first theme is such a surprise! Needless to say, we reveled in the beautiful warm sounds of the Adagio, and especially at the magnificent moment when we find ourselves again in F-sharp major, which sounds so marvelous. I'd like to hear you yourself play the scherzo, with its driving power and energy (I can hear you snorting and grunting in it!). No one else would succeed in playing it as I imagine it: agitated without rushing, legato, yet inwardly restless and propulsive.
In Friday night's preview we heard the scherzo movements of the three Brahms piano quartets, and I think von Herzogenberg's description could serve as an inspiration for performers. That phrase "inwardly restless and propulsive" seems to me to apply equally well to most of the composer's writing.

I thought we would start today by extending Friday's experiment, and hearing the same two sets of performers play the slow movements ot the three Brahms piano quartets. Like the C minor Quartet as a whole, the Andante is written on a noticeably more intimate scale than its predecessors, but I think you'll agree that all three are stunners.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Preview: It's Hungarians vs. Russians in three Brahms scherzos


Arnaud Sussmann, Jonathan Vinocour, Michael Nicolas, and Orion Weiss play the Scherzo of the Brahms Third Piano Quartet at the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, July 29, 2012. (Not much snorting and grunting here, not to mention inward restlessness or inward propulsion.)

by Ken

Or, to be more accurate it's a Brahms intermezzo and two scherzos, though the Intermezzo in question clearly functions as the scherzo, or at any rate scherzo-equivalent, of the work in question. ("Intermezzo" is a term that Brahms came to use to describe, well, pretty much anything, as witness the assorted intermezzos for solo piano.)

And the works in question are the three Brahms piano quartets. We've devoted a fair amount of attention to this extraordinary chunk of the composer's output, but always focusing on either the First or Second, the haunted and haunting G minor and the luscious, discursive A major. As I mentioned two weeks ago in connection with Brahms's Second Cello Sonata (preview, "Brahms in snorting-and-grunting mode," and main post, "Thinking of the 'snorting and grunting' Brahms's 'inwardly restless and propulsive' piano playing"), the work I really wanted to get to was the last and most compact of the three piano quartets, the C minor. I don't think the C minor Quartet is often accorded the same respect as the G minor and A major, but as I also said, I've had my eye on it for a while now, suspecting that, just as the grander, friendlier A major Quartet had earlier overtaken the grimmer, more brooding G minor as my favorite, the C minor Quartet was fixing to make its move.

Ths "snorting and grunting," I should explain for the benefit of those just joining us, comes from a description of the composer's piano playing by the pianist Elisabeth von Herzogenberg, who had been playing his Second Cello Sonata with the same cellist, Robert Hausmann, with whom the composer had recently given the first public performance, and wrote a fascinating letter to the composer, of which a chunk was quoted in the notes that accompanied Ian Hobson's recent series of the complete Brahms solo and chamber works for the piano, including this about the Scherzo:
I'd like to hear you yourself play the scherzo, with its driving power and energy (I can hear you snorting and grunting in it!). No one else would succeed in playing it as I imagine it: agitated without rushing, legato, yet inwardly restless and propulsive.

THIS WEEK WE'RE GOING TO TAKE A CLOSER
LOOK AT BRAHMS'S THIRD PIANO QUARTET


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wotan's bad behavior goes back even before the carving of the spear


1st NORN: At the World-Ash-tree
once I wove,
when fair and green
there grew from its branches
verdant and shady leaves.
Those cooling shadows
sheltered a spring;
wisdom's voice I heard in its waves;
I sang my holy song.
A valiant god came to drink at the spring;
and the price he had to pay
was the loss of an eye.
From the World-Ash-tree
mighty Wotan broke a branch.
and his spear was shaped
from the branch he tore from the tree.
As year succeeded year,
the sound slowly weakened the tree;
dry, leafless, and barren --
death seized on the tree;
whisper waters then failed in the spring;
grief and sorrow stole through my song.
And so I weave at the World-Ash-tree no more;
today I use these branches to fasten the cord.

Lili Chookasian (c), First Norn; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Oct. and Dec. 1969, Jan. 1970

by Ken

We're not going to get as far as I was hoping in Friday's preview, when we reviewed the triumphant love scene of Siegmund and Sieglinde at the end of Act I of Wagner's Die Walküre. Eventually you'll hear why that was important, but for today we're going to jump to another image of Wotan, from the Prologue to the final Ring opera, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods),  as the three Norns spin their web of fate and occupy themselves by remembering and predicting.

Eventually I hope to have the complete Norn Scene here, but my server has been balky all afternoon. So for now we're just going to have to make do with the opening and the first contributions of the First and Second Norns, the two older of the trio.

Remember that in looking at Das Rheingold, we saw how Wotan abused his spear from the very moment of its making, inscribing on the symbol of his authority a totally bogus contract for the building of Walhalla, one he never had any intention of honoring. From the Norns we learn that the making of that spear was even more corrupt and corrupting. We hear Wagner the ecologist, with the First Norn painting an extraordinary picture of the rich life systems supported by the great World-Ash tree.

HERE'S THAT LARGER CHUNK OF THE NORN SCENE

Friday, November 15, 2013

Preview: The long-separated twin brother and sister Siegmund and Sieglinde recognize each other


Plácido Domingo and Adrienne Pieczonka as Siegmund and Sieglinde at the Met, April 2009

by Ken

This week I want to finish up with my contention that that extraordinary depth of pain we hear coming out of Wotan, first in Act II of Die Walküre and then, of course, in the his final farewell to his cherished daughter Brünnhhilde at the end of the opera, is tempered by our knowledge that most of this pain is self-inflicted.

Last time we listened to the whole of Act I of the Walküre, the second opera (but properly speaking "First Day") of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung tetralogy. In preparation for Sunday's installment, we're going to back to the end of Act I, and pick up after Sieglinde, having heard her mysterious guest's woeful life story, has drugged her husband Hunding and returned to share some of her background. Suddenly the door of Hunding's house blew open, and Sieglinde has asked who left.

This is of course one of the supreme scenes in the musical literature. We're going to start with the Melchior-Lehmann performance we already heard as part of the complete Act I recorded by EMI in Vienna in 1935 under the baton of Bruno Walter, but then we're going to hear an earlier Melchior recording -- unfortunately acoustical -- with the great Brünnhilde and Isolde Frida Leider as Sieglinde. Then we hear Jon Vickers, who I think it's safe to say has been the most successful of the post-Melchior Siegmunds, in the Karajan recording with the surprising choice of the lyric soprano Gundula Janowitz as Sieglinde (I happen to enjoy her performance a lot), and finally we have the sturdy Siegmund of Sieglinde coupled with the vocally strongest Sieglinde at least since Leonie Rysanek.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thinking of the "snorting and grunting" Brahms's "inwardly restless and propulsive" piano playing


Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987) and husband Daniel Barenboim play the third-movement Allegro passionato of the Brahms F major Cello Sonata, the movement we heard in this week's preview.

by Ken

For this week's preview I seized on a quote included by the program notes for the performance of Brahms's Second Cello Sonata I heard recently, with the fine young cellist Dmitry Kouzov, in British pianist-conductor-professor Ian Hobson's 14-concert New York series of "The Complete Solo Piano and Chamber Music with Piano of Johannes Brahms," under the general title Brahms: Classical Inclinations in a Romantic Age. (There are still two concerts remaining in the series: a viola-and-piano evening this Tuesday, which I'm going to, and a final solo-piano program on Thursday.)

The quote was from a letter written to Brahms by the pianist Elisabeth von Herzogenberg shortly after the composer gave the first public performance of this sonata in Vienna with the artist for whom it was written, Robert Hausmann, the cellist of the great violinist Joseph Joachim's string quartet and an enthusiastic exponent of Brahms's First Cello Sonata, writtten more than 20 years earlier. (The solo parts of the great Double Concerto were written with Joachim and Hausmann in mind.) Von Herzogenberg had herself been playing the sonata with Hausmann, and this portion of her letter was included in the little book containing program notes for all 14 concerts. Since the introduction, and only the introduction, is credited to Paul Griffiths, I'm assuming that all the annotations are by Professor Hobson, but I don't see any credit to that effect, so I'm referring to the author as "Ian Hobson Annotator" (IHA).

IHA tells us that just over a week after the Vienna premiere, on November 24, 1986, von Herzogenberg wrote to Brahms "with an appreciation that is valuable not least for what it tells us about the composer's piano playing":
The piece is so greatly compressed; how it surges forward! The concise development is so exciting, and the augmented return of the first theme is such a surprise! Needless to say, we reveled in the beautiful warm sounds of the Adagio, and especially at the magnificent moment when we find ourselves again in F-sharp major, which sounds so marvelous. I'd like to hear you yourself play the scherzo, with its driving power and energy (I can hear you snorting and grunting in it!). No one else would succeed in playing it as I imagine it: agitated without rushing, legato, yet inwardly restless and propulsive.

I ACTUALLY MEANT TO TALK ABOUT A WORK ON
A LATER PROGRAM, THE C MINOR PIANO QUARTET

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Preview: Brahms in snorting-and-grunting mode

Note: I don't know how I managed to not schedule this post for posting last night, when it appeared on DownWithTyranny, but here it is. -- Ken


[A]

[B]

[C]


"I'd like to hear you yourself play the scherzo, with its driving power and energy (I can hear you snorting and grunting in it!). No one else would succeed in playing it as I imagine it: agitated without rushing, legato, yet inwardly restless and propulsive."
-- from a letter to Brahms by pianist Elisabeth von Herzogenberg,
who had been playing the composer's new piano-and-cello sonata

by Ken

The music is the third movement of Brahms's Second Cello Sonata in F, Op. 99, and the quote from Elisabeth von Herzogenberg's letter to the composer comes from the program notes for Ian Hobson's 14-concert New York series (which concludes this week) of the complete Brahms solo and chamber works involving the piano. More from the letter and from and about the sonata and the Hobson series in this week's Sunday Classics post.

As the annotator who quoted von Herzogenberg's letter notes, it's "valuable not least for what it tells us about the composer's piano playing." And I thought that you might enjoy listening to tonight's performances "cold," to see how our three very different pianists stack up against our letter-writer's imagining of the way Brahms would have played this music. (Not to worry, the performers will all be identified in a moment.)


WONDERING WHO OUR PIANISTS (AND CELLISTS) ARE?
HERE THEY ARE AGAIN, NOW PROPERLY IDENTIFIED


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Guess who's coming to dinner at Don Giovanni's place


Ildar Abdrazakov as Don Giovanni and Andrew Foster-Williams as Leporello, in Washington last October
Don Giovanni, you invited me
to dine with you, and I have come!

Matti Salminen (bs), the Commendatore; Berlin Philharmonic, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Erato, recorded April 1991

Kurt Moll (bs), the Commendatore; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded Oct.-Nov. 1978

Giorgio Tozzi (bs), the Commendatore; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance, Dec. 14, 1957

by Ken

In Friday night's special Sunday Classics "TV Watch" post we listened to Leporello's Catalog Aria from Act I of Don Giovanni, in which he tries to pacify the hysterical Donna Elvira, abandoned by Leporello's master, Don Giovanni, with an outline of his sexual exploits. Or if not to pacify her, at least to put her off until he can find a way to shake loose from her.

It's a manageable leap to use that as a springboard to one of the towering chunks of musico-dramatic literature that I've had it in mind to get to before we wind up business. So today, with a minimum of chatter from me, we're going to tackle the Final Scene. (Just to be clear, the end of the "Final Scene" isn't the end of the opera. There's an epilogue, which doesn't figure in our considerations today.)


IT ALL GOES BACK TO THE MURKY BUSINESS
OF THE OPENING SCENE OF THE OPERA --
s

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sunday Classics TV Watch: "White Collar" 's Neal Caffrey's Mozart is Leporello's little list


On last week's White Collar episode, "Out of the Frying Pan," Mozzie (Willie Garson) and Neal (Matt Bomer) planned a caper.
LEPORELLO: My dear lady, this is a catalog
of the beauties my master has loved,
a list which I have compiled.
Observe, read along with me.

(1) Gabriel Bacquier (b), Leporello; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded Oct.-Nov. 1978
(2) Ferruccio Furlanetto (bs), Leporello; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Jan. 1985

by Ken

I thought I was going to be really topical tonight, pouncing on Neal Caffrey's choreographed White Collar routine to Leporello's "Madamina," and then I remembered that through the miracle of DVR technology I was watching last week's episode, "Out of the Frying Pan," in which Neal wsa rehearsing this elaborate routine choreographed Mozzie in order -- as we eventually found out -- to surveillance cameras for a necessary heist.


WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THE WOOFY
PERFORMANCE THEY USED ON THE SHOW


Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Up to now I have done nothing even approaching it" (Richard Wagner on Act I of "Die Walküre")


We've already heard the stormy orchestral introduction to Die Walküre -- in the February 2012 post "Storms that set three great operatic scenes in motion (aka: Musical storms, part 3)."

Vienna Philharmonic, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded Oct.-Nov. 1965

Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded live, June-July 1992

New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1969


"The score for Act I of The Valkyrie will soon be ready. It is extraordinarily beautiful; up to now I have done nothing even approaching it."
-- Richard Wagner, in a letter to Franz Liszt dated
February 16, 1855 (translated by M. M. Bozman)

by Ken

For the record, Wagner's guess about the score for Act I of Die Walküre being ready "soon" was wrong, just as he had been wrong in June 1852 when he was finishing the libretto and estimating to Liszt that he would "be able to polish off the music very quickly and easily, for it is only the carrying out of what is complete already." After all, as my friend Conrad Osborne suggested when I mentioned this to him once, Wagner could already hear it in his head.

It wasn't until October 3, 1855, that he was able to send Liszt not just Act I but Acts I and II. That said, the part about Act I being "extraordinarily beautiful" and the composers's "hav[ing] done nothing even approaching it" up to that point -- that part could hardly have been more true. Neither he nor anyone else had done anything like it.

In that spirit, perhaps, we've never done anything like what we're doing today either.

I had the post to follow last week's "Can we fully feel Wotan's pain knowing that it's mostly self-inflicted?" pretty well mapped out (as set up in Friday night's preview, "Brünnhilde asks, 'Who am I if I were not your will?' Question: Is it ever OK for a daughter to say such a thing to her father?," and a number of audio files and some of the texts were already prepared. But to be honest, I just didn't have the energy or concentration to do all the choosing and editing still to be done, not to mention figuring out what to say about it all.

Then it occurred to me that we're at a perfect juncture to just listen to Act I of this First Day of the Ring cycle (Das Rheingold being formally a prologue). In Das Rheingold we left the gods making their grand entrance across the rainbow bridge into Valhalla, Wotan having finessed his original ethical and contractual breach by stealing the ring recently forged by the Nibelung Alberich after he stole the Rhinegold -- the titular Ring of the Nibelung.


WHEN THE CURTAIN RISES ON ACT I OF DIE WALKÜRE --

Friday, October 25, 2013

Preview: Brünnhilde asks, "Who am I if I were not your will?" Question: Is it ever OK for a daughter to say such a thing to her father?


Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde and Bryn Terfel as Wotan in the new Met production of Die Walküre, 2011
BRÜNNHILDE [answers WOTAN softly]:
To Wotan's will you're speaking;
you can say what you will;
what am I,
if not your will alone?
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter
[A]

[B]

[C]

[D]

Our four Brünnhildes could be drawn from this list (in alphabetical order): Kirsten Flagstad, Rita Hunter, Birgit Nilsson, and Astrid Varnay

by Ken

There are, of course, parents who truly don't want their children to be independent -- indeed, whole cultures that depend on squelching any such impulse. But through time there have also been lots of seemingly enlightened parents who wish this devoutly, as long as said independence leads the children to think and behave exactly as they would wish. It doesn't usually work out this way. It's a dilemma.

Now Wotan has particular reasons for needing independence in his children, which we won't go into now, except to wonder how feasible it is for his own flesh and blood to be truly independent of him. This week we're continuing to deal with his unbearable pain at being forced to part with his Valkyrie daughter Brünnhilde, as he does in the great Farewell at the end of Die Walküre, which we heard last week ("Can we fully feel Wotan's pain knowing that it's mostly self-inflicted?"). It's after he has been bitch-slapped by his wife, Fricka, over the whole mess he's gotten into, dating back to his flagrant breach of contract with the giants Fasolt and Fafner, violating a contract he never had any intention of honoring, that he finds himself in dialogue with Brünnhilde.

Brünnhilde has found her father in a state of despair unlike anything she has ever seen, and has implored him to open up to her. He responded with one of the musical literature's most extraordinary outbursts -- an expression of rage and self-pity (which we're going to hear in a moment). Getting a bit of control of himself, he asked whether unburdening himself might not cost him the grip of his will. She responds with the extraordinary passage we've just heard.


LET'S HEAR OUR FOUR BRÜNNHILDES AGAIN,
THIS TIME PROPERLY IDENTIFIED


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Can we fully feel Wotan's pain knowing that it's mostly self-inflicted?

UPDATE: I had the text for the complete Farewell all ready to paste in, and then -- already running late for an appointment -- I forgot to do it! It's done now.


Brünnhilde (Lisa Gasteen) and Wotan (James Morris) at the Met, 2008
BRÜNNHILDE, moved and exalted, sinks on WOTAN's breast: he holds her in a long embrace. She throws her head back again and, still embracing WOTAN, gazes with solemn rapture in his eyes.

WOTAN: These eyes so warm and bright,
which, smiling, often I kissed,
when courage
I acclaimed with kisses,
while childish prattle
in heroes' praise
was heard to pour from your lips:
yes, these gleaming, radiant eyes,
which shone so bright in the storm,
whn hopeless yearning
consumed my spirit,
and worldly pleasures
wee all I longed for,
when fear fastened upon me --
their glorious fire
gladdens me now,
as I take this loving,
last farewell!
On some happy mortal
one day they'll shine:
but I, hapless immortal,
I must lose them forever.
[He clasps her head in his hands.]
And sadly
the god must depart;
one kiss akes our godhead away!
[He presses a long kiss on her eyes. She sinks back with closed eyes, unconscious, in his arms. He gently supports her to a low mossy bank, which is overshadowed by a wide-branching fir tree, and lays her upon it. He looks upon her and closes her helmet; his eye then rests on the form of the sleeper, which he completely covrs with the great steel shield of the Valkyrie. He turns slowly away, then turns round again with a sorrowful look. Then he strides with solemn decision to the middle of the stage, and directs the point of his spear towards a massive rock.]
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter,
used in the Goodall-English National Opera recording

[in English] Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, Dec. 18, 20, and 23, 1975

Friedrich Schorr (b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded June 17, 1927

George London (b), Wotan; London Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded September 1961

Thomas Stewart (b), Wotan; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Aug., Sept., and Dec. 1966

John Tomlinson (bs), Wotan; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded live, June-July 1992

by Ken

As promised in Friday night's preview ("Wotan's Farewell -- feeling the pain"), today we're hearing the whole of Wotan's Farewell, the conclusion of Die Walküre, and we're going to listen to it in the context of the question: Can we feel Wotan's pain even knowing that it's largely self-inflicted?

Above we've heard the "missing" portion -- the central section that follows the opening, which we heard Friday night, and the concluding section that begins with Wotan's call to Loge, the god of fire, which we heard in last week's preview ("To prepare for some serious Bruckner business, we need to consult Wagner's fiery demigod Loge"). Actually, we originally heard the opening and closing orchestral sections attached to the respective opening and closing sections., but I thought it would be nice to hear this central section in full context.


AS TO MY ASSERTION THAT WOTAN'S PAIN IS LARGELY
SELF-INFLICTED, IN THE EVENT THAT IT ISN'T OBVIOUS . . .


Friday, October 18, 2013

Preview: Wotan's Farewell -- feeling the pain


The final parting of Brünnhilde (Anne Evans) and Wotan (John Tomlinson) in Harry Kupfer's Bayreuth production of Die Walküre -- we hear a snatch below.
WOTAN, overcome and deeply moved, turns eagerly towards BRÜNNHILDE, raises her from her knees, and gazes with emotion into her eyes.

WOTAN: Farewell, my valiant,
glorious child!
You were the holiest pride of my heart!
Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!
[Very passionately] Though I must leave you,
and may no longer
embrace you in greeting;
though you may no more
ride beside me,
nor bear my mead in Walhall;
though I abandon you
whom I love so,
the laughing delight of my eye:
a bridal fire
shall blaze to protect you,
as never has burned for a bride.
Threatening flames
shall flare from the rock;
the craven will fear it,
cringe from its fury;
the weak will flee
from Brünnhilde's rock!
For one alone wins you as bride,
one freer than I the god.
[BRÜNNHILDE, moved and exalted, sings on WOTAN's breast: he holds her in a long embrace. She throws her head back again and, still embracing WOTAN, gazes with solemn rapture in his eyes.]
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter,
used in the Goodall-ENO recording

[in English] Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, Dec. 18, 20, and 23, 1975

Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1970

by Ken

Change of plans. I know the purpose of our making the acquaintance of Loge, the god of fire (and of lies), last week was to set the stage for a final Sunday Classics Bruckner exploration, but in the process we inevitably stumbled into the ineffable final scene of Die Walküre, from the point at which Wotan summons Loge to resume his original form as fire to protect the now-sleeping Brünnhilde on her mountaintop from any but the hardiest suitor. And I don't see how we can come this close without pausing to take account of the whole of Wotan's Farewell.

We're hearing the start of the Farewell proper, after Wotan has informed his cherished daughter Brünnhilde that, because she disobeyed him, she is to be stripped of her Valkyrie-dom and abandoned on the mountaintop to be awakened by some passing hero, and she has suggested that he protect her with a ring of fire. And speaking of heroes, ours has to be Norman Bailey, who manages to sustain not only Reginald Goodall's but also Otto Klemperer's extremely gradual tempos -- with the reward that I really don't know of any other performance that communicates more intensely the pain Wotan is suffering.

We're going to round out this preview with pretty much the same group of Wotans we heard last week close out this great scene. And then on Sunday we can take a closer listen to Wotan's pain.


Friedrich Schorr (b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded June 17, 1927

George London (b), Wotan; London Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded September 1961

Thomas Stewart (b), Wotan; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Aug., Sept., and Dec. 1966

John Tomlinson (bs), Wotan; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded live, June-July 1992


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

How deeply can we feel Wotan's pain if we conclude that most of it is self-inflicted?
#

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Ingratitude is always Loge's lot"


English singing translation by Andrew Porter, used in the Goodall-ENO performance below:

LOGE: Never one word
of praise or thanks!
For your sake alone,
hoping to help
I restlessly roamed
to the ends of the earth
to find a ransom for Freia,
one that the giants would like more.
In vain sought I,
and now I can see
in this whole wide world,
nothing at all
is of greater
worth to a man
than woman's beauty and love!

I asked every one living,
in water, earth, and sky,
one question, sought for the answer
and all whom I met,
I asked them this question:
"What in the world
means more to you
than woman's beauty and love?"
But wherever life was stirring
they laughed at me
when they heard what I asked:
in water, earth, and sky, none
would forego the joys of love.

But one I found then
who scorned the delights of love,
who valued gold more dearly
than woman's grace.
The fair and shining Rhinemaidens
came to me with their tale:
The Nibelung dwarf Alberich
begged for their favors,
but he begged them in vain;
the Rhinegold he tore
in revenge from their rock
and now he holds it
dearer than love,
greater than woman's grace.
For their glittering toy
thus torn from the deep
the maidens are sadly mourning.
Return, Wotan,
in anguish, you, for
they ask that you will avenge them;
the gold they pray
that you will restore it,
to shine in the waters forever.

So I promised I'd tell you the story,
and that's what Loge has done.

[in English] Emile Belcourt (t), Loge; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, March 1975

Gerhard Stolze (t), Loge; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded December 1967

Ramón Vinay (t), Loge; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Jan. 26, 1957

by Ken

As I explained Friday night, we're headed toward some serious Bruckner, for which we need to make the acquaintance of music's superscout, the demigod Loge, god of fire and of lies. Friday night we encountered him transformed back into his original state, as fire -- specifically, the Magic Fire with which Wotan surrounds the cherished daughter he is abandoning, Brünnhilde.

We backtrack now to Das Rheingold, and in a moment we're going to meet Loge at his first appearance, fresh from a scouting mission for the head god, Wotan. Now it sounds as if Loge is merely performing an errand for Wotan, looking for a way out of his bind -- having promised his wife's sister, Freia, as payment to the giants Fasolt and Fafner for their heroic efforts in building Wotan's great castle, Valhalla. But Loge is no errand demigod. As he has already pointed out to Wotan (as we're going to hear in a moment, sticking to Andrew Porter's singing translation:
I roam through the whole
wide world as I please!
I'm not held
by house or home.
And for me there's an unmistakable "travelogue" quality to Loge's great narrative, which we've just heard in character-tenorish performances by Peter Schreier and Emile Belcourt, a rather more dramatic one by Gerhard Stolze, and a full-fledged Heldentenor's richly sung rendering (admittedly a distinctly baritonish-sounding) from Ramón Vinay.


MOVING BACK TO LOGE'S ARRIVAL . . .

Friday, October 11, 2013

Preview: To prepare for some serious Bruckner business, we need to consult Wagner's fiery demigod Loge

550

Donald McIntyre as Wotan summons Loge at the end of Die Walküre, with Pierre Boulez conducting, in this installment of Patrice Chéreau's (in)famous Bayreuth Ring production, designed by Richard Peduzzi, video-recorded in 1980.
WOTAN has set the now-sleeping BRÜNNHILDE down on the mountaintop. He turns slowly away, then turns round again with a sorrowful look. Then he strides with solemn decision to the middle of the stage, and directs the point of his spear toward a massive rock.

WOTAN: Loge, hear!
Come at my call!
As when first you were found,
a fiery glow,
asa when you escaped me,
a wandering flicker;
once you were bound:
be so again!
Arise! Come, wavering Loge;
surround the rock, ring it with flame!
[During the following, he strikes the rock three times with his spear.]
Loge! Loge! Appear!
[A flash of flame leaps from the rock, and gradually increases to an ever-brightening fiery glow. Flickering flames break out. Bright, shooting flames surround WOTAN. Wih his spear, he directs the sea of fire to encircle the rocks; it presently spreads toward the background, where it enloses the mountain in flames.]
Only the man
who braves my spear point
can pass through this sea of flame!
[He stretches out the spear as if casting a spell. Then he gazes sorrowfully back at BRÜNNHILDE, turns slowly to depart, and looks back once more before he disappears through the fire. The curtain falls.]
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter,
used in the Goodall-English National Opera recording


[in English] Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, Dec. 18, 20, and 23, 1975

by Ken

I know we haven't finished with Pagliacci yet, but I wasn't happy with the dubs I made of my LP of the 1970 Decca recording, and wound up ordering a CD edition that's coming from England. Meanwhile there's a project I wanted to get to while there's still time: another Bruckner symphony. But to do that properly, we first have to make the acquaintance of Wagner's demigod Loge. And I thought the best way to start would be to meet him in his final incarnation, as the Magic Fire with which the god Wotan, at the end of Die Walküre, surrounds the cherished daughter, Brünnhilde, whom he is abandoning to her fate. This is the final section of Wotan's Farewell, one of the most overwhelming expanses of music Wagner created -- I'm sorry we never got to the whole thing.

WAGNER: Die Walküre: Act III conclusion,
from Wotan, "Loge, hör! Lausche hieher!"


George London (b), Wotan; London Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded September 1961

Thomas Stewart (b), Wotan; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Aug., Sept., and Dec. 1966

Albert Dohmen (b), Wotan; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Christian Thielemann, cond. Opus Arte, recorded live, July-Aug. 2008

Friedrich Schorr (b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded June 17, 1927

IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

We go back to Das Rheingold to meet Loge in chattier form.
#