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