Sunday, February 24, 2013

In "Boris Godunov," the Russian people do just as they're told


Although I titled Friday night's preview post "Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich," we never did get to that famous line from the Coronation Scene of Boris Godunov. If I could have edited this clip, I would have stopped it at 1:58, so we would have heard just:
PRINCE SHUISKY: Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich!
THE PEOPLE: Long live the Tsar, our father!
PRINCE SHUISKY: Praise him!
(This clip of the Coronation Scene is from the Andrei Tarkovsky-directed Unitel film of Boris, with Yevgeny Boitsov as Prince Shuisky and Robert Lloyd as Boris, Valery Gergiev conducting Covent Garden forces.)

by Ken

As noted in the caption above, I never did get around to the line "Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich," from the Coronation Scene of Boris Godunov, in Friday night's preview post of that name. So that's where I wanted to start today, and I remembered that YouTube now at least sometimes allows you to edit clips. But apparently it's only the starting point you can choose, whereas I wanted to start at the start and choose my own stopping point. So I'm trusting you to remember that you're honor-bound to watch no farther than that 1:58 point for now.

I think it's hard for anyone not to be gripped by those stark opening chords of the Coronation Scene of Boris Godunov, especially as amped up -- into lusher starkness! -- by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in his now-widely-disparaged version of the opera. For the record, here's how it sounded in Mussorgsky's head:


Andrei Sokolov (t), Prince Shuisky; USSR TV and Radio Large Chorus and Large Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Fedoseyev, cond. Melodiya-Philips, recorded 1978-83

I have to say that this is the most impactful performance of the composer's version I've heard (though I do wish those damned bells had been reined in). Most pure-Mussorgsky performances tend to sound thin and underpowered. Here again is Rimsky's version:


[ed. Rimsky-Korsakov] Alexei Maslennikov (t), Prince Shuisky; Sofia Radio Chorus, Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded November 1970


THE RIMSKY-REVILERS LIKE TO WAX RHAPSODIC . . .

Friday, February 22, 2013

Preview: Long live Tsar Boris Feodorovich!

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk, part of Novodevichy Convent, near Moscow, where Boris Godunov, who had been the power behind the throne of his brother-in-law the newly departed Tsar Feodor, retreated in 1584, waiting to be implored to accept the throne. The rise of the curtain is preceded by this deeply forlorn orchestral introduction:

MUSSORGSKY: Boris Godunov: Prelude (ed. Rimsky-Korsakov)

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded November 1970

by Ken

No, Sunday Classics isn't back from hiatus exactly. It's more like a hiatus from hiatus. I've been pondering how to proceed with our archival remembrance of that fine conductor Eugen Jochum, and one of the things I had a hankering to represent was his 1957 Munich broadcast performance of Mussorgsky's own version of Boris Godunov, then little heard, with Hans Hotter in the title role. That doesn't qualify as Sunday Classics archival material, though, since we haven't heard any of it yet. What's more, as the post started to take shape, it drifted away from Jochum to focus on the two scenes of the Prologue.

IN THE FIRST SCENE --

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Classics chronicles: Remembering Charles Rosen (1927-2012)

Charles Rosen -- not only a pianist but perhaps
the most illuminating writer on music in our time

He was a lot of fun in snark mode, but it made me think about separating the desire for truth from the need to be right. The most beautiful element of Charles, for me, was after all this learning and accumulation, the smile with which he would play some beloved modulation, or demonstrate some trick of pedalling: suddenly again a child, innocence meeting knowledge at the end of the road. When I played Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze for him, he showed me how releasing the pedal in the middle of a held chord actually creates a crescendo in the bass -- in the middle of a sustained note eerily an unnoticed voice comes alive. When I got the effect he wanted, he beamed with real pleasure, aesthetic pleasure, and the pleasure of having communicated something precious -- the kind of pleasure that life should be all about.
-- pianist Jeremy Denk, in a December 18 newyorker.com
"Culture Desk" post,
"Postscript: Charles Rosen"
by Ken

I won't try to calculate how many hours I spent preparing Friday night's chronicles preview post, only afterward stopping to think that it contained a grand total of less than four minutes. It occurred to me that one thing I might have done simply enough was to provide some context for the new clips I made of Charles Rosen playing the two pairs of pieces from Robert Schumann's great piano suite Carnaval by replaying the versions we heard in the September 2012 post "Taking a closer look at Schumann's Carnaval."

Here, for example, is the pair of musical caricatures of the commedia dell'arte Pierrot and Harlequin -- with, again, Charles's comments from his Nonesuch booklet notes, and now with the additional performances.
A QUICK NOTE ABOUT MY SHOCKING CHEEK
IN REFERRING TO THE MAN AS "CHARLES"


After all, I never met the man. But I know so many people who did know him, and who always refer to him that way, that I have difficulty reverting to "Rosen."

SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9:
2. Pierrot: Moderato (2/4)
3. Arlequin: Vivo (3/4)
2. "Pierrot" (Moderato) is a revolutionary work of pure instrumental music in its use of the grotesque. It is a character piece: relentless, deliberately monotonous, but with sudden jerky movements like the personage of the commedia dell'arte; it makes no pretensions to beauty or charm. The drama arises from the cumulative crescendo towards the end with a final and very original pedal effect, as the penultimate chord gradually frees itself of all the heavy pedal sonority.
3. "Arlequin" (Vivo) is also a grotestque character piece, with sudden changes of dynamics, and with a dancing charm.

Charles Rosen, piano. Nonesuch, recorded in the Netherlands, c1981

Nelson Freire, piano. Decca, recorded in Lugano, Dec. 18-22, 2002

Yevgeny Kissin, piano. BMG, recorded in Freiburg, 2001


CHARLES THE WRITER -- ON RAVEL

Greg Waldmann gives a nice retelling on Open Letters Monthly of the famous story of how Charles's writing career was launched.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sunday Classics chronicles preview: Remembering Charles Rosen (1927-2012)

Cézanne's "Pierrot and Harlequin" (1888)

SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9:
2. Pierrot: Moderato (2/4)
3. Arlequin: Vivo (3/4)
2. "Pierrot" (Moderato) is a revolutionary work of pure instrumental music in its use of the grotesque. It is a character piece: relentless, deliberately monotonous, but with sudden jerky movements like the personage of the commedia dell'arte; it makes no pretensions to beauty or charm. The drama arises from the cumulative crescendo towards the end with a final and very original pedal effect, as the penultimate chord gradually frees itself of all the heavy pedal sonority.
3. "Arlequin" (Vivo) is also a grotestque character piece, with sudden changes of dynamics, and with a dancing charm.

Charles Rosen, piano. Nonesuch, recorded in the Netherlands, c1981

by Ken

Charles Rosen, the American pianist and cultural polymath, died on December 9, and it's been on my mind how to pay tribute. It's still on my mind. But meanwhile, as we're rummaging through the Sunday Classics archives, I thought we could at least hear a little bit of his playing and read an even littler bit of his remarkable writing.

This goes back to another project that's stuck in the "on my mind" stage, and has been September's "Preview: Preparing for a close-up look at Schumann's Carnaval" and "Taking a closer look at Schumann's Carnaval" posts. Back then we actually heard the whole of Rosen's later recording of Carnaval, and we're going to hear it again Sunday.

What's new is that in September we first heard some snippets from Schumann's great piano suite with Rosen's brief annotations but with other pianists' performances. For tonight's post I've reedited the clips so we can hear his own performances -- first of the pair of commedia dell'arte caricatures we heard above, "Pierrot" and "Arlequin," and then the characterizations of the composer's own imagined dual identities, "Eusebius" and "Florestan."


MOVING ON TO "EUSEBIUS" AND "FLORESTAN"


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Classics chronicles: Remembering Eugen Jochum (4) -- Overtures Plus, part 2 (Wagner's "Lohengin" and "Parsifal")

Is there anyone who doesn't know this music?



As you probably know, the world's best-known wedding march isn't a wedding march at all. Elsa and her unknown knight were married at the end of Act II of Lohengrin. Here, at the start of Act III, they're being escorted to their bridal chamber. The 1954 Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra are conducted by our man of the hour, Eugen Jochum.

by Ken

We're forging ahead with our remembrance of that wonderful conductor Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) -- wearing his concert hat in Part 1 and Part 2 (devoted to his Haydn and Bruckner) and now his opera conductor's chapeau in Part 3 (snatches of Weber's Der Freiscütz and Beethoven's Fidelio) and today's installment -- and we still haven't gotten to his Mozart, which is where I was trying to get us. I thought maybe we'd throw in a little Boris Godunov too. But not today; we have too much to do. (And as usual it will look like we're doing more than we actually are, because the texts consume so much space relative to the amount of music they cover.)

One of the recordings I acquired recently -- one of the sources of the "archival" recordings we're featuring in these "chronicles" posts -- wasn't actually new to me. I just didn't have it on CD. It's Jochum's 1954 Bayreuth Lohengrin. (He actually made a studio recording of the opera around the same time, but it's not one of his happiest achievements. Perhaps even he, who often coaxed surprisingly successful results from dubious-looking casts, could do much with that one.)

In a late decision, we're not even going to get to our other Wagnerian destination: Jochum's extraordinarily beautiful 1971 Bayreuth Parsifal, which we sampled in the March 2010 post "Good Wagner conductors find what inside the music makes it move." I'd rather do that another time.

I'm calling these posts "Overtures Plus" because we're hearing a number of overtures and preludes that -- like the two we heard Friday night -- are also familiar as concert pieces. And I thought we'd start by hearing the Lohengrin Act I and Act III Preludes performed as concert pieces. While I actually do have Jochum studio versions, they're mono, so I thought we'd bring in some ringers.

We already heard this performance of the exhilarating Act III Prelude -- in the "Good Wagner conductors post.

WAGNER: Lohengrin:
Prelude to Act III


Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded February-March 1960

That's quite a "wow" piece, but if we go back to the start of the opera, to "the Prelude to Lohengrin, we encounter something even more astonishing, not least for those ethereally shimmering strings. (This is a performance we haven't heard before, from the remarkably beautiful series of Wagner orchestral LPs Sir Adrian Boult recorded in the early '70s. We already heard the Siegfried Idyll from this series in a March 2011 post on the piece.)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sunday Classics chronicles: Remembering Eugen Jochum (3) -- Overtures Plus, part 1

Act III of Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz
Huntsmen's Chorus
What pleasure on earth can compare with the hunter's?
Whose cup of life sparkles so richly?
To lie in the verdure while the horns sound,
To follow the stag through thicket and pond,
Is joy for a prince, is a real man's desire,
Is strengthens your limbs and spices your food.
When woods and rocks resound all about us,
A full goblet sings a freer and happier song!
Yo ho! Tralala!

Diana is present to brighten the night;
Her darkness cools us like any refreshment in the day.
To fell the bloody wolf, and the boar
who greedily roots through the green crops,
Is joy for a prince, is real man's desire,
It strengthens your limbs and spices your food.
When woods and rocks resound all about us,
A full goblet sings a freer and happier song!
Yo, ho! Tralala!

Bavarian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1959

by Ken

Do I need an excuse for bringing back the "Huntsmen's Chorus" from Act III of Der Freischütz? I love it. It's another of this musical bits I can listen to over and over and over. (This isn't theoretical. I've done it a bunch of times, usually along with the preceding Entr'acte, which works the same material in purely orchestral form.)

Looking back, I rather admire the audacity with which I first slipped these goodies into Part 5 of the "Remembering Margaret Price" series, on the pretext that we were hearing Dame Margaret sing Agathe's grand Act II aria "Leise, leise" as well as the following trio and Agathe's Act III cavatina. We also heard the performance of the Freischütz Overture we're about to rehear, along with a bunch of other performances of it. It is, of course, a glorious piece, from its brooding and fraught beginnings to its giddily triumphant conclusion, anticipating the joyful concluding section of Agathe's "Leise, leise."

WEBER: Der Freischütz:
Overture


Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1959

For those just coming in at the point, we're continuing a mostly archival (from the Sunday Classics archives, that is) remembrance of that wonderful conductor Eugen Jochum (1902-1987). Last week we focused on his concert work, specifically on two very different composers for whom he had a remarkable affinity, Haydn and Bruckner. This week we're moving on to his operatic work.

THE FREISCHÜTZ OVERTURE STRADDLES THE DIVIDE

It's probably heard more often in the concert hall than in the opera house. I don't know that Jochum would have conducted it any differently as a concert piece, but I do think it makes a difference atmosphere-wise that he was thinking of it here in its context as a curtain-raiser for the opera. The performance seems to me to work fine either way.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday Classics chronicles: Remembering Eugen Jochum (2) -- Haydn and Bruckner, part 2

The First Day


The Fourth Day

Orchestral depiction of the lighting of the firmament

URIEL: In full splendor rises now
the sun, streaming:
a wondrous bridegroom,
a giant, proud and happy
to run his path.

With gentle motion and soft shimmer
the moon steals through the silent night.
Waldemar Kmentt (t), Uriel; Bavarian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. Philips, recorded July 1966

by Ken

We began this tribute to that wonderful conductor Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) Friday night with samples of his Haydn and Bruckner. Now it wouldn't be that difficult to construct a polemical argument to show how much these composers have in common, but rather obviously they're worlds apart in temperament (Haydn's urbane classicism vs. Bruckner's cosmically and yet somehow chastely sprawling romanticism), scale, and outlook.

As I mentioned Friday night, most of the performances we're hearing in this week's and next's Jochum remembrance, during the Sunday Classics hiatus, come from the Sunday Classics archives, but both this week and next we're going to be hearing some that we haven't heard before. Today it's a recording that was included in the same large Berkshire Record Outlet order that yielded our earlier tribute to those three deeply musical conductorial "K"s, Rafael Kubelik, Josef Krips, and Rudolf Kempe: the CD edition of a performance I'd had on LP for ages, Jochum's Philips recording of Franz Joseph Haydn's great oratorio The Creation. The snippets we've heard above are tastes of the selections we're going to hear shortly from the First and Fourth Days of creation.


OUR MAN FOR KEEPING SLOW MOVEMENTS MOVING

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sunday Classics chronicles: Remembering Eugen Jochum (1) -- Haydn and Bruckner, part 1


Eugen Jochum conducts his longtime orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, in the first part of the opening Allegro moderato of one of his signature pieces, the Bruckner Seventh Symphony. (The conclusion of the movement is posted below.)

by Ken

During Sunday Classics's hiatus, while I ponder its future and concentrate on importing more of the Sunday Classics "legacy" into the new stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken" blog (at sundayclassicswithken.blogspot.com -- hey, on the long march back to 2008 we've already gotten back as far as June 2012!), I've stumbled across issues arising from the stroll through those posts, as well as issues arising from records I've acquired, first from a massive Berkshire Record Outlet order and, more recently, from a visit to my friend Richard that included helping him cull duplicates from his collection.

The BRO order already yielded a December preview-and-post devoted to "Remembering Rafael Kubelik, Josef Krips, and Rudolf Kempe," three conductors who are dear to my heart for their uneccentric deep-rooted musicianship. As it happens there was another conductor who fits well in this group -- and missed it by a single letter, being a "J" rather than a "K" -- and happens to have been intriguingly represented in both those piles of acquisitions. Like our "K" men, Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) has been well represented here in Sunday Classics, and thereupon hangs what I'm projecting to a four-part series this week and next, including both symphonic and operatic representations. (We once heard Bruno Walter talking in a 1958 radio interview about the great differences between symphonic and operatic conducting, and it happens that all four of our J-K conductors, like Maestro Walter himself, happen to have done top-quality work in both fields.)

HERE'S A GORGEOUS PERFORMANCE OF MUSIC BY
A COMPOSER JOCHUM HAD A SPECIAL AFFINITY FOR


From the September 2010 post "Finally we hear the Haydn slow movement we've been gearing up for, from Symphony No. 88" we hear this breathtaking Largo built around a "hymn-like theme" whose phrases are capped by what I described as a "halo."

HAYDN: Symphony No. 88 in G:
ii. Largo


Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded October 1961