Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: "Kaleidoscope" -- a fondly remembered LP happily holds up under decades-later scrutiny


Point A, the opening of the piece (as heard last night):

Shortly we'll hear how we get from there to Point B:

However, Point B leads directly into Point C:

London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. Philips-Mercury, recorded July 1961

by Ken

Last week I reported my discovery of a hidden treasure trove (free!) of overtures, F. Reeder's Internet Archive compendium of "Overtures - Recorded 1926-1847)" -- 33 mp3 transfers of 29 overtures conducted by 18 conductors, most of them legendary (e.g., Barbirolli, Beecham, Furtwängler, Mengelberg, Mitropoulos, Reiner, Rodzinski, Toscanini, Walter, Weingartner). That helped nudge me into an overtury mood. I recalled that a happy heap of my listening over the years has been to recorded collections of overtures and related short orchestral pieces.

As I mentioned, this mood inspired me to finally order CD issues of material that had once been part of my "go to" listening material. As a result, we're not going to do much with the Reeder treasure trove this week, but we'll come back to it. Also, I should mention that in a February 2011 post I already flashed back to one of those treasured overture discs, the Capitol Paperback Classics reissue of Erich Leinsdorf's wonderful c1958 catchily titled Opera Overtures LP with the Philharmonia, augmented on CD with some fine overture performances by Felix Slatkin and Miklós Rózsa.

Another of those LPs sprang back to life with the arrival of those ordered CDs: a Mercury Living Presence CD reincarnation of sorts of Charles Mackerras's Philips LP Kaleidoscope. What we heard in last night's preview was the music that more than anything made me fall in love with the original Kaleidoscope. The CD isn't the original Kaleidoscope, exactly. On it material from two LPs is smooshed together (from the Kaleidoscope LP everything is here except two additional Brahms Hungarian Dances, a minimal loss), all recorded at the same time by the legendary Mercury "Living Presence" team of Wilma Cozart Fine, recording director; Harold Lawrence, musical supervisor; and C. Robert Fine, chief engineer and technical supervisor. The domestic Philips LP was in effect a "Living Presence" LP, which explains why it sounded so good. Unfortunately as with the general run of domestic Philips pressings, it could be, well, problematic -- my copy came badly warped.

But that didn't stop me from listening to it a few zillion times, especially the piece we began hearing last night. What we heard was the hushed, haunting opening -- "Point A" in the A-to-B-to-C sequence above. Now here's the whole thing, starting with the Mackerras recording. Then we have that wise old German hand Robert Heger (from a complete Merry Wives recording) and vintage Herbert von Karajan, plus a dip into the F. Reeder overture grab bag, turning up a conductor now hardly known, Nikolai Sokoloff (1886-1965), who does a pretty nice job while squeezing the thing onto one 78 side.

NICOLAI: The Merry Wives of Windsor: Overture

London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. Philips-Mercury, recorded July 1961

Bavarian State Orchestra, Robert Heger, cond. EMI, recorded 1964

Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. EMI, recorded c1959

[trimmed (and rushed) to fit on one 78 side] Cleveland Orchestra, Nikolai Sokoloff, cond. Brunswick, recorded May 1927 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)


Schedule note

There will be a post today, which will include all of the piece whose opening we heard in last night's preview ("Attention, please!"). But I got bogged down doing some LP dubbing (yes, for a ghost post!). Check back at 2pm PT/5pm ET -- maybe sooner!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: Attention, please!

Can you imagine a more ravishing musical attention-getter?

London Symphony Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. Philips-Mercury, recorded July 1961

by Ken

What we hear above is really and truly a preview; we're not going to hear any more of this piece until tomorrow's Ghost of Sunday Classics post. Many of you will recognize it (we've actually heard it before), but for now I just want to focus on this ravishing opening.

This is a talent, I think, the ability to grab a listener's attention musically. Not in a mechanical, conk-over-the-head way, which I suppose can be done by formula, but in a genuinely imagination-engaging way. The talent can certainly be cultivated, shaped, refined, but I think either you've got stuff in you head that can do the trick or you don't. We've listened, for example, to the way Puccini opened nearly all of his mature operas -- that, I think, is simply astounding, and a measure of unique genius.

One reason I'm so bowled over by the way our composer above seizes hold of our imaginations is precisely because there isn't any conking over the head. Just listen to what he does with that out-of-nothing hush, then gradually gathers momentum. Gorgeous!

This makes me think of the musical solutions Puccini's great predecessor Verdi found for the first of his two supreme masterpieces, Otello. We've heard all of these before (if anyone would like links, please just let me know in the comments; it's so tedious gathering them when there's no earthly purpose), but let's listen first to the similarly quiet orchestral introductions to Acts II, III, and IV.

VERDI: Otello

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: "Baton Bunny" music with and without the Bunny, plus a treasure trove of overtures and, oh yes, "Gaudeamus igitur"

In which we watch part of a cartoon, then listen
to an overture, and then another overture, and then --
can you imagine? -- drift off into other, er, stuff

A nice chunk of Chuck Jones's Baton Bunny (1959) -- from the confident-looking start, things deteriorate pretty quickly.

by Ken

As I mentioned most recently Friday night, New York City's Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, is currently hosting a grand exhibition devoted to one of the giants of animated film, Chuck Jones. And as I mentioned Friday night, this afternoon I hope to get to MoMI for this week's "Chuck Jones Matinee" (each week the same hour-long program is offered on Saturday and Sunday), to see -- in 35mm, on a large screen -- Duck Amuck, which I've already declared the greatest cartoon ever made, and What's Opera, Doc?, the famous Bugs Bunny classical-music extravaganza.

On my last weekend visit to the museum, the CJM program included a different classical-Bugs enterprise, one I didn't remember: Baton Bunny, from 1959. In it Bugs attempts to conduct Suppé's A Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna Overture, and you can see some of it above.

We've heard our fair share of Suppé, entirely in the form of overtures. Yes, occasional efforts are made to revive some of his numerous operettas, but they don't stick. A dozen or so of his overtures do, however, for the simple reason that they're utterly wonderful, utterly gorgeous music, and among them are a couple -- I mean Poet and Peasant and Light Cavalry -- that I would listen to as happily as anything in the orchestral repertory.

When the poster of our Baton Bunny clip posted it, a rash of commenters were frantic to know what the music was. The question was answered in due course, of course, but we're going to answer it in our own way -- with three distinctly different performances.

FRANZ VON SUPPÉ: A Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna: Overture

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: At Castle Adamant, behind enemy lines, the truth is found, the truth is found!

How we got here: Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian make their entry into the grounds of Castle Adamant, from a Savoynet production in Bruxton.

"Darwinian Man, though well-behav'd,
at best is only a monkey shav'd!"

-- Lady Psyche, in Act II of Princess Ida

by Ken

Last week, in "Prince Hilarion's mission of the heart," we left our royal wooing party -- comprising Prince Hilarion and his childhood friends Cyril and Florian -- safely embedded behind enemy walls, in the garden of Castle Adamant, seat of the woman's college founded by Princess Ida, Hilarion's betrothed since she was a 12-month-old and he was twice as old. The princess, alas, has shown herself unwilling to honor her infant betrothal. In fact, in her 21 years she has had quite her fill of men, and has forsworn them; hence the college for women only.

As I noted last week, the common assumption that it's the women being ridiculed in Princess Ida seems to me utterly unsustainable by anyone who has eyes, ears, and a working brain. The lofty goals of Ida and her protégées may be tainted with charming silliness, but at least they have goals that go beyond fighting the next battle. By comparison, the behavior of the men -- whether of the martial or the poetical strain (our dramatis personae includes a quantity of each) -- ranges from preposterous to ludicrous and back.

Two plans are afoot to bring Princess Ida around, and at the moment we've been following the quest of Prince Hilarion to penetrate Castle Adamant and woo his child bride. To that end he, Cyril, and Florian have succeeded in disguising themselves as students of the college, and have even withstood the scrutiny of the princess herself, though in fairness what she has been scrutinizing these ungainly young maidens for isn't male impersonation but the earthly disappointment that is the true mark of an educable young woman.

Last week we heard our young gentleman agreeing with the princess, in a beautiful quartet, that "The world is but a broken toy, its pleasures hollow, false its joy." At this point, a new disaster befalls.
[Exit PRINCESS. The three gentlemen watch her off. LADY PSYCHE enters, and regards them with amazement.]
PRINCE HILARION: I'faith, the plunge is taken, gentlemen!
For, willy-nilly, we are maidens now,
and maids against our will we must remain.
[All laugh heartily.]
LADY PSYCHE [aside]: These ladies are unseemly in their mirth.
[The gentlemen see her, and, in confusion, resume their modest demeanor.]
Here's a catastrophe, Hilarion!
This is my sister! She'll remember me,
Though years have passed since she and I have met!
Then make a virtue of necessity,
and trust our secret to her gentle care.
FLORIAN [to PSYCHE, who has watched CYRIL in amazement]:
Psyche!  Why, don't you know me? Florian!
LADY PSYCHE [amazed]: Why, Florian!
FLORIAN: My sister! [Embraces her.]
LADY PSYCHE: Oh, my dear! What are you doing here -- and who are
PRINCE HILARION: I am that Prince Hilarion to whom
your Princess is betrothed.
I come to claim
her plighted love.
Your brother Florian
and Cyril came to see me safely through.
LADY PSYCHE: The Prince Hilarion? Cyril too? How strange!
My earliest playfellows!
PRINCE HILARION: Why, let me look!
Are you that learned little Psyche who
at school alarmed her mates because she called
a buttercup "ranunculus bulbosus"?
CYRIL: Are you indeed that Lady Psyche, who
at children's parties, drove the conjuror wild,
explaining all his tricks before he did them?
PRINCE HILARION: Are you that learned little Psyche, who
at dinner parties, brought in to dessert,
would tackle visitors with "You don't know
who first determined longitude -- I do --
Hipparchus 'twas — B.C. one sixty-three!"
Are you indeed that small phenomenon?
LADY PSYCHE: That small phenomenon indeed am I!
But gentlemen, 'tis death to enter here:
We have all promised to renounce mankind!
FLORIAN: Renounce mankind!? On what ground do you base
this senseless resolution?
LADY PSYCHE: Senseless?  No.
We are all taught, and, being taught, believe
that Man, sprung from an Ape, is Ape at heart.
CYRIL: That's rather strong.
LADY PSYCHE: The truth is always strong!

John Bernard (Prince Hilarion), Melanie Melcher (Lady Psyche), Bradley Wilson (Florian), Christopher Swanson (Cyril). Newport Classic, recorded live at the 1999 Ohio Light Opera Festival


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Prince Hilarion's mission of the heart

"The world is but a broken toy": Disguised as students of the woman's college established by the Princess Ida, Florian (William Whitefield), Cyril (Patrick Hogan), and Prince Hilarion (Colm Fitzmaurice) meet Ida, Hilarion's betrothed (Kimilee Bryant), in the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players' January 2008 Princess Ida.

by Ken

We've already dealt somewhat with the more martial aspects of Princess Ida, the mortal struggle between Kings Gama and Hildebrand -- the fathers of the bride and groom, respectively -- over the consummation of the union between Princess Ida and Prince Hilarion plighted when she was a 12-month-old and he was twice as old, he's told. The hitch, now that Ida is 21 and Hilarion 22, is that the princess has had quite her fill of men and has sequestered herself in Castle Adamant as the headmistress of a woman's college.

The arrangement ordered by King Hildebrand, you'll recall, is that Gama and Ida's "three hulking brothers" are to be held hostage (an exceedingly kindly and gracious hostagedom, as it turns out) while Hilarion avails himself of one opportunity to persuade his child bride to accept him. Naturally Hilarion chooses to have his childhood friends Cyril and Florian at his side, and one of the keys to the flood of amazing music Sullivan produced, especially in Act II, is this core trio he had at his disposal. As we've often remarked, something about the trio medium set his genius ablaze, and that extends to "expanded" trios -- trio-plus-one quartets (of which we'll hear an instance today) and trio-plus-two quintets (of which we'll hear an instance next week).

In last night's preview we made the acquaintance of the prince himself. Now without further ado, here is Hilarion announcing what we might call --


I should probably say something about the performances, which span three-quarters of the century, dipping back into the acoustical era. You can follow individual performances throughout our excerpts, or listen to the very different treatments accorded individual numbers. There seems to me no question, though, that the strongest "Hilarion and Friends" trio, is that of the 1954 Decca recording -- with a just-right pair of tenors and a fine baritone. The 1965 Decca team (with the same baritone) holds its own, though.

Princess Ida: Act I, Recitative and Trio, "Come, Cyril, Florian" . . . "Expressive glances shall be our lances"
Recitative, Hilarion
Come, Cyril, Florian, our course is plain,
tomorrow morn fair Ida we’ll engage;
but we will use no force her love to gain,
nature has armed us for the war we wage!
Trio, Hilarion, Cyril, and Florian
HILARION: Expressive glances
shall be our lances,
and pops of Sillery
our light artillery.
We’ll storm their bowers
with scented showers
of fairest flowers
that we can buy!
CHORUS: Oh, dainty triolet!
Oh, fragrant violet
Oh, gentle heigho-let
(Or little sigh).
On sweet urbanity,
through mere inanity,
yo touch their vanity
we will rely!
CYRIL: When day is fading,
with serenading
and such frivolity
we’ll prove our quality.
A sweet profusion
of soft allusion
this bold intrusion
shall justify.
CHORUS: Oh, dainty triolet! etc.
FLORIAN: We’ll charm their senses
with verbal fences,
with ballads amatory
and declamatory.
Little heeding
their pretty pleading,
our love exceeding
we’ll justify!
CHORUS: Oh, dainty triolet! etc.

Derek Oldham (t), Prince Hilarion; Leon Darnton (t), Cyril; Sydney Granville (b), Florian; Light Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Harry Norris, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 14, 1924

Derek Oldham (t), Prince Hilarion; Charles Goulding (t), Cyril; George Baker (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 27, 1932 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

Thomas Round (t), Prince Hilarion; Leonard Osborn (t), Cyril; Jeffrey Skitch (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded cOct.-Dec. 1954 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

Phiip Potter (t), Prince Hilarion; David Palmer (t), Cyril; Jeffrey Skitch (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded May 1965

John Bernard (t), Prince Hilarion; Christopher Swanson (t), Cyril; Bradley Wilson (b), Florian; Ohio Light Opera Chorus and Orchestra, J. Lynn Thompson, cond. Newport Classic, recorded live at the 1999 Ohio Light Opera Festival


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics preview: Could we have a royal operetta without a dreamy prince?

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Princess Ida: Act I, Introduction and Opening Chorus, "Search throughout the panorama for a sign of royal Gama"
Pavilion attached to KING HILDEBRAND's palace. Soldiers and courtiers discovered looking out through opera glasses, telescopes, etc., FLORIAN leading.

CHORUS: Search throughout the panorama
for a sign of royal Gama,
who today should cross the water
with his fascinating daughter --
Ida is her name.
Some misfortune evidently
has detained them -- consequently,
search throughout the panorama
for the daughter of King Gama,
Prince Hilarion's flame! Prince Hilarion's flame!
FLORIAN: Will Prince Hilarion's hopes be sadly blighted?
CHORUS: Who can tell? Who can tell?
FLORIAN: Will Ida break the vows that she has plighted?
CHORUS: Who can tell? Who can tell?
FLORIAN: Will she back out, and say she did not mean them?
CHORUS: Who can tell?
FLORIAN: If so, there'll be the deuce to pay between them!
CHORUS: No, no,
we'll not despair, we'll not despair!
For Ida would not dare
to make a deadly foe
of Hildebrand, and so --
search throughout the panorama
for a sign of royal Gama,
who today should cross the water
with his fascinating daughter --
Ida, Ida is her name.

[Opening Chorus at 3:41] George Baker (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 26 and 28, 1932 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

[Opening Chorus at 4:12] Jeffrey Skitch (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded cOct.-Dec. 1954 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

[Opening Chorus at 4:01] Jeffrey Skitch (b), Florian; D'Oyly Carte Opera Chorus, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded May 1965

[Opening Chorus at 3:54] Bradley Wilson (b), Florian; Ohio Light Opera Chorus and Orchestra, J. Lynn Thompson, cond. Newport Classic, recorded live at the 1999 Ohio Light Opera Festival

by Ken

As I mentioned last week, I finally got wise to the existence of the "Gilbert and Sullivan Archive Edition" of the vocal score of Princess Ida (edited by Paul Howarth, first published in 2007, with a somewhat corrected edition published in 2013), and on arrival it has yielded an immediate discovery. You may recall that I had made the momentous decision to downgrade the "stub" of an overture to the opera from "overture" to "prelude." As it happens, I had never seen this piece in score, because the old Chappell edition, which until now was my only Princess Ida score, like the Chappell vocal scores of several other G-snd-S operas, didn't include the overture! These editions seem to have been frozen in time from the moment of original publication, when the publisher apparently hadn't yet received the overtures.

So what do I discover upon opening my new score? Two things:

(1) The orchestral introduction isn't called "Overture," it's called "Introduction"!

(2) The end of the Introduction is marked "attacca," meaning that it's meant to flow directly into the following number, the opera's opening chorus. I had had some reservations about the designation "prelude," since the piece is self-standing, but I harked back to the examples of the Preludes to Verdi's Rigoletto and Traviata. The attacca marking vindicates this, and I would go ahead comfortably calling the piece a "Prelude" if not for the possibility that the score designation "Introduction" actually traces back to Sullivan. So, "Introduction" it is -- and I thought our first order of business now should be to hear the opening of the opera this way. Like we just did above!

Beyond this, I thought that since we slipped into Princess Ida by focusing on the two kings, the fathers of our royal non-couple, this week we might focus on the young bridegrom, the son of King Hildebrand, Prince Hilarion -- and his friends Cyril and Florian (whom we just heard briefly in the vigil for the arrival of King Gama and his daughter).


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ghost of Sunday Classics: Let's meet "a genuine philanthropist" ("All other kinds are sham")

Martyn Green (b); Lehman Engel, cond. Columbia, recorded 1953

John Reed (b); Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded May 1965

by Ken

Yes, we're still in Gilbert and Sullivan's treasurable if troubled musico-dramatic trove Princess Ida, which we dipped into last week to continue spotlighting the great Gilbert and Sullivan bass, specifically the role Arac, the most talkative of Princess Ida's "three hulking brothers." In a moment I'll share with you the logic whereby we've arrived at this week's ghost post, but first --


Yes, I know we already listened to what we decided we were going to call the Prelude (rather than Overture), including the two stereo versions below conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. This week, however, we're going to add the performance from his 1932 complete recording of Princess Ida, one of the recordings he made in his days as music director of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. If you listen to the three performances in sequence, I think you'll hear why I've presented them here not quite chronologically. (Note that the 1965 version was made as part of Sir Malcolm's guest-conducting of the D'Oyly Carte's stereo Princess Ida. The 1961 EMI version was a stand-alone recording for a Sullivan overtures LP.)

GILBERT and SULLIVAN: Princess Ida: Prelude

D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. 26, 1932 (digital transfer by F. Reeder)

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. Decca, recorded May 1965

Pro Arte Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent, cond. EMI, recorded c1961