Sunday, February 16, 2014

Today we hear the whole of Beethoven's grand, stirring "Archduke" Trio

The Atos Trio plays the beautiful third-movement Andante cantabile of Beethoven's Archduke Trio in Berlin's Joseph-Joachim-Saal, December 2011.

by Ken

As I mentioned in last night's preview, a piece dear to my heart popped into my head yesterday, and it was extremely welcome, because I think of it as, for want of a better way of putting it, a "good new" piece. I love it end to end, but I especially love that magisterial opening given to the piano. Once upon a time, way back when, I picked up a used copy of the piano part of the complete Beethoven piano trios for $5, and was shocked to discover when I hacked out the opening bars, that hacked-up as my rendering was, it gave me the tingle I'd come to expect, or hope for, when hearing the piece, and maybe then some, because now the sound coming out of the piano was directly connected to my fingers.

Ironically, the recording that gives me perhaps the best version of that frisson is the performance in the EMI Beethoven trio cycle by Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, and Jacqueline du Pré, which, alas, I have only on open-reel tape. That's the performance I thought I had on CD which turned out to be instead the later Ashkenazy-Perlman-Harrell EMI cycle, from which we heard the opening of the piece last night (along with the celebrated 1941 recording by the "Million Dollar Trio" of Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz, and Emanuel Feuermann).


The nickname, by the way, comes from its dedication to the Austrian Archduke Rudolph, an amateur pianist who actually studied composition with Beethoven. Once I had the idea, my first thought -- thinking of that grand, stirring opening -- was to cluster round its proudly proclaimed key of B-flat major. But as I noted in the preview, I was soon reminded that, while lots of composers used the key of B-flat major, hardly anyone, including Beethoven himself, otherwise used it this way. As I said last night, the closest match in my mind is Brahms's Second Piano Concerto, and I have to think that somewhere in his head while he was composing that gorgeous piece Beethoven's Archduke Trio was playing.

I'm not going to say anything more about the piece or the performances. The piece, I think, is pretty straightforward, its most expansive statements coming in the aforementioned grand opening Allegro moderato and the haunting third-movement Andante cantabile, filled out with a spritely second-movement Scherzo and finale. As usual the performances have been chosen to provide different sorts of contrasts.

BEETHOVEN: Piano Trio in B-flat, Op. 97 (Archduke)

i. Allegro moderato

Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio (Eugene Istomin, piano; Isaac Stern, violin; Leonard Rose, cello). Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded in Winterthur (Switzerland), Oct. 2, 1965)

Peter Frankl, piano; György Pauk, violin; Ralph Kirshbaum, cello. BBC, recorded live in London, Sept. 16, 1989


Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Jascha Heifetz, violin; Emanuel Feuermann, cello. RCA-BMG, recorded in Holllywood, Sept. 12-13, 1941

Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin; Lynn Harrell, cello. EMI, recorded in New York, c1979

ii. Scherzo: Allegro

Eugene Istomin, piano; Alexander Schneider, violin; Pablo Casals, cello. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded in Perpignan (France), August 1951

Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano; Sándor Végh, violin; Pablo Casals, cello. Philips, recorded live in Bonn, September 1958

iii. Andante cantabile

Suk Trio (Josef Hala, piano; Josef Suk, violin; Josef Chuchro, cello). Supraphon-Denon, recorded in Prague, June 13-16, 1983

Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (Joseph Kalichstein, piano; Jaime Laredo, violin; Sharon Robinson, cello). Arabesque, recorded in Purchase (NY), Jan. 21-23, 1997

iv. Allegro moderato; Presto

Trio di Trieste (Darlo de Rosa, piano; Renato Zanettovich, violin; Libero Lana, cello). DG, recorded in Hanover (Germany), Apr. 24-26, 1960

Guarneri Trio Prague (ivan Klánský, piano; Čeněk Pavllík, violin; Marek Jerie, cello). Praga, recorded in Prague, Sept. 1-4, 1999

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Here's the key -- or is it?

Piano Trio: 
i. Allegro moderato -- opening

Arthur Rubinstein, piano; Jascha Heifetz, violn; Emanuel Feuermann, cello. RCA-BMG, recorded in Holllywood, Sept. 12-13, 1941

Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano; Itzhak Perlman, violin; Lynn Harrell, cello. EMI, recorded in New York, c1979
UPDATE: If you looked at this post before 10pm ET/7pm PT, you saw only the Ashkenazy-Perlman-Harrell clip, and in fact originally the whole first movement. When I went back to edit it to include just the opening, I was disheartened by how namby-pamby the performance is. (I actually thought the EMI CDs contained a different one, and then I figured how far wrong could we go with this one? I learned.) Most of my CD versions are on a hard-to-get-at shelf, so as an add-on I chose a much grander performance that happened also to be more readily at hand.

by Ken

This piece suddenly popped into my head this afternoon, and I couldn't have been happier that it did. So we're going to hear it tomorrow. Meanwhile it set me to thinking about other works in the same key, with the realization (I'm sure not for the first time, but then, who remembers?) that it's hard to find others of the same character.


Friday, February 7, 2014

" 'La Traviata' at the foot of Masada" -- say what?

"La Traviata at the foot of Masada"

VERDI: La Traviata: Prelude and Opening Scene
(through Alfredo and Violetta's Brindisi)

[You can find an Italian-English libretto for La Traviata
at "DM's opera site."]

[in English] Valerie Masterson (s), Violetta Valéry; Della Jones (ms), Flora Bervoix; Denis Dowling (b), Marquis d'Obigny; Geoffrey Pogson (t), Gastone, Viscount of Létorières; John Brecknock (t), Alfredo Germont; John Gibbs (b), Baron Douphol; English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. EMI, recorded Aug.-Oct. 1980

[clip 1: Prelude; clip 2: Opening Scene] Rosanna Carteri (s), Violetta Valéry; Lydia Marimpietri (s), Flora Bervoix; Leonardo Monreale (bs), Marquis d'Obigny; Glauco Scarlini (t), Gastone, Viscount of Létorières; Cesare Valletti (t), Alfredo Germont; Arturo La Porta (b), Baron Douphol; Rome Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Pierre Monteux, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded 1956 (mono)

by Ken

I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't go just because the idea strikes me as a tiny bit, er, peculiar. It's certainly an amazingly dramatic as well as historic site -- there in the Judean desert, at the foot of the towering plateau of Masada, in range of the Dead Sea.

But "dramatic" in rather particular ways, I would think. I imagine that when the Israeli Opera Festival did Verdi's crypto-Old Testament epic Nabucco, much of which takes place outdoors in the ancient Near East, with scenes of definite blockbuster character, the site may have enhanced the experience. Ditto with Verdi's Egyptian epic, Aida.
The Opera Festival

We witness here the realization of the vision of an international opera festival in one of the most meaningful sites in our history, proving that the State of Israel can become a centre for culture tourism from all over the world. And indeed more than 4,000 tourists will attend these performance of Nabucco in tandem with thousands of Israelis coming to Masada from all corners of the land.

Many partners have joined us in this cultural, historic grandiose cultural celebration including the Tamar Regional Council, The National Parks Authority, The Ministry of Tourism, The Ministry of Culture, The Dead Sea Hotel Association, Discount Bank, IDB who enable thousands of spectators from the periphery attend the performances, The Meitar Family Fund and others. We thank all of them and many others without whom we would not have been able to be here today and enjoy a production that will not be easily forgotten.

I thank you dear guests that you have chosen to enjoy with us Nabucco at the footsteps of Masada. I wish you a unique operatic experience and already am looking forward to seeing you here next year for Aida.

Hanna Munitz
Israeli Opera General Director

But La Traviata?

"La traviata at the foot of Masaada" was the actual legend on the online promotional something-or-other that caught my eye. And what could say "19th-century Parisian demimonde" more surely than the Judean desert, Masada, and the Dead Sea? Not to mention that, while Traviata has party scenes that are crucial to the drama, the heart of the thing is the scenes among the three principals -- Violetta and Alfredo and, later, papa Giorgio Germont.

There are four performances scheduled between June 12 and 17. If you go, let us know how it turned out!

Aida at Masada 2011

YouTube caption: For the second year running Eyal Lavee and his production team at The Design Group in Israel returned to the purpose built site they carved out of the desert last year for the Israeli Opera at the foot of Masada Mountain at the Dead Sea.

This historically significant and exquisitely raw setting saw the staging of Verdi's Aida, conducted by Daniel Oren, a co-production with Les Choragies d'Orange in France for the 2011 Dead Sea & Jerusalem Opera Festival 2011.

The Design Group - encompassing 3 different companies - Stage Design, Irgunit and LEDIM - and embracing multiple technical disciplines, handled all aspects of the technical production and site management. Lavee worked with his core production management team of Elad Mainz and Eviatar Banayan, and up to 150 other crew and technicians at peak times on site.

Once again, The Group's international connections were energised to bring onboard HSL and Britannia Row from the UK to provide lighting and audio equipment respectively. "Last year was a huge success, so it made sense to keep the same teams and collaborate with the best companies in the industry to supply the large quantities of premium kit required. Both HSL and Britannia Row did another fantastic job," says Lavee.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

In our missing "Song of the Earth" song, Mahler's "Lonely One in Autumn" begs for "peace" and "consolation"

Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Israel Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded live, May 18, 20, and 23, 1972

by Ken

In the above audio clip we're near the end of the second song of Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), "Der Einsame im Herbst" ("The Lonely One in Autumn"), where Mahler pulls another of those minor-to-major switcheroos we've talked about. It occurs at 1:25 of our clip. Well, that's the lead-in; the actual moment occurs at about 1:31 -- and it's one of the stupendous moments of this extraordinary song-symphony, the first new project the composer undertook after learning that he was suffering from terminal heart disease.

From the heaven-storming conclusion of the Eighth Symphony to Das Lied represents, one of the most striking sudden changes of course in the work of any creative artist I'm aware of. We actually heard the juxtaposition in the August 2010 post "In the opening vision of Mahler's Song of the Earth: 'Dark is life, is death,'" which focused on the opening tenor song, "The Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrow," but also included the two later tenor songs.

In this week's preview I said we would be filling in the one song we still haven't covered and then hearing the six movements of Das Lied finally put together. For all sorts of reasons we're not going to manage that today. I'm going to content myself with presenting that final missing link, the second song (and the first for the alto or baritone soloist who alternates with the tenor).