Sunday, January 25, 2015

Special edition: Getting even more "Carried Away"

COMDEN, GREEN, and BERNSTEIN: On the Town: Act I opening: "I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet"; Introduction; "New York, New York"

John Reardon, Gabey (and First Workman); Cris Alexander, Chip (and Workman); Adolph Green, Ozzie (and Workman); 1960 studio cast recording, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony

Samuel Ramey, Lindsay Benson, and Stewart Collins, Workmen; Thomas Hampson, Gabey; Kurt Ollmann Chip; David Garrison, Ozzie; London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas, cond. DG, recorded in concert at the Barbican Centre (London), June 1992

by Ken

A month or so ago I put together a pair of posts, "New York, New York, it's a heckuva town" and "A cluster of explosive young talents explode in On the Town," inspired by the terrific piece Adam Green wrote for Vanity Fair, "Innocents on Broadway," about the creation of the 1944 Broadway musical On the Town. The show, you'll recall, had book and lyrics by Adam's father, Adolph Green, and his eventual life-long writing partner, Betty Comden, and music by theirt good friend Leonard Bernstein, in collaboration with some other exploding young talents like choreographer Jerome Robbins, who'd had the idea for the ballet he created with Lenny B, Fancy Free, which became the germ for On the Town.

As Adam Green wrote: "On the Town was a landmark, the first show by a bunch of bright upstarts -- Bernstein, Comden and Green, and Jerome Robbins, all still in their 20s -- who would go on, together and apart, to help shape the cultural landscape of the 20th century."

In those posts I turned to the very special 1960 studio recording organzied by Columbia Records' Goddard Lieberson, which was conducted by the composer and featured a number of performers from the original cast, including Comden and Green themselves, re-creating the roles of Claire and Ozzie, which they'd actually written with themselves in mind (but in the end lhad had to auditon for!). Lieberson was a great proponent of "creators' recordings," and was largely responsible for invaluable projoects like Columbia's extensive Stravinsky-conducting-Stravinsky and Copland-conducting-Copland and, yes, Bernstein-conducting-Bernstein, and the 1960 On the Town, whether it was thought of as such or not, certainly qualified.


Saturday, January 17, 2015

How many of the "World's Best Places for 2015" do you plan to hit this year?

Sunday Classics note: This post was prepared for Down With Tyranny, but because of the musical tie-in I thought I would share it here, though I'm not necessarily thrilled with the musical examples. Ezio Pinza and Tancredi Pesaro, both indisputably great basses, get off to a fluttery start in the Vespri siciliani recitative and aria, and in the chunk of the Ping-Pang-Pong trio from Turandot, while I love the RCA recording with Mario Sereni as Ping, I supplemented it at first with the first two CD Turandots I could lay hands on, then dumped one and added two more that I dubbed from LP, and I'm still far from happy -- the truth is that even on records the role of Ping in particular doesn't get sung all that well.

Pretoria Square, Palermo
Recitative, Giovanni da Procida
Palermo! O my country!
Country so regretted!
The exile greets thee after three years of absence!
On thy enchanted shores I had my birth.
I discharge my debt toward thee.
Here is liberty!
Aria, "E toi, Palerme!" ("E tu, Palermo!")
And thou, Palermo, o beauty that's outraged!
Thou, always dear to my enchanted eyes,
ah! raise thy face, bowed under servitude,
and become again the queen of cities!
Everywhere on foreign ground
I went seeking avengers for thee,
but, insensible to thy misery, each said:
"Rise up against your oppressors,
and you will be supported: Rise up!"
And I come -- there I am!
And thou, Palermo, etc.

Samuel Ramey (bs), Giovanni da Procida; Munich Radio Orchestra, Jacques Delacôte, cond. EMI, recorded April 1988

[in Italian, as "O patria! O cara patria" . . . "E tu, Palermo"] Nicolai Ghiaurov (bs), Giovanni da Procida; London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado, cond. Decca, recorded January 1969

[in Italian, compressed to fit one 78 side] Ezio Pinza (bs), Giovanni da Procida; orchestra, Rosario Bourdon, cond. Victor, recorded Feb., 17, 1927

[in Italian, compressed to fit one 78 side] Tancredi Pasero (bs), Giovanni da Procida; orchestra. Odeon, recorded 1936

by Ken

Okay, it's possible that I was motivated to share this feature from AARP, "World's Best Places for 2015," because two of the designated places have inspired such memorable musical effusions, starting with the one we've just heard, the emotional return of the exiled Sicilian patriot Giovanni da Procida to the Sicillian capital of Palermo, his hometown (No. 6 on the list) at the opening of Act II of Verdi's Les Vêpres siciliennes" (The Sicilian Vespers).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

TV Watch (or Listen): "Cheer up, Hamlet! Chin up, Hamlet! Buck up, you melancholy Dane!" -- welcome to "Slings and Arrows"

Cheer up, Hamlet! Chin up, Hamlet!
Buck up, you melancholy Dane!
So your uncle is a cad who murdered Dad and married Mum;
that's really no excuse to be as glum as you've become.
So, wise up, Hamlet! Rise up, Hamlet!
Perk up and sing a new refrain!
Your incessant monologizing fills the castle with ennui;
your antic disposition is embarrassing to see;
and by the way, ya sulky brat, the answer is: "Ta BE!"
You're driving poor Ophelia insane!
So shut up, you rogue and peasant,
grow up, it's most unpleasant,
cheer up, you melancholy Dane!

by Ken

In the clip, that's Graham Harley as veteran New Burbage Festival trouper Cyril -- seen here, as always, in the company of fellow trouper Frank, played by Michael Polley -- belting out "Cheer up, Hamlet!," the rousing opening theme song seen and heard over the opening credits comfortably nestled after the opening scene of each of the six episodes of Season 1 of Slings and Arrows, the show that for sublime season after season after season (but alas, only those three seasons) between 2003 and 2006 took us behind the scenes of the fictional New Burbage Festival, said to bear a more than passing resemblance to the Stratford (Ontario) Festival.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Classics inquiry: How can Mime solve his problem?

WAGNER: SiegfriedAct I Prelude

Vienna Philharmonic, Georg Solti, cond. Decca, May and Oct. 1962

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

Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Dec. 1968 and Feb. 1969

Sadler's Wells Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, August 1973

by Ken

I would have liked, but couldn't find, a nice image of a darkened theater to accompany these miraculous opening pages of Siegfried, the third installment in Wagner's cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, mostly occupied with music associated with the dwarflike Nibelungs, plunging us into the crisis faced by the Nibelung we will re-meet when the curtain rises, Mime (that's two syllables: MEE-muh), the brother of "the" Nibelung, Alberich, the Nibelung of the title.

This is such amazing,music, starting with that weird trio for two bassoons and bass tuba over hushed timpani, punctuated by those stabbing fluorishes first from the cellos, then from the violas. It's music that's murky, growly, mysterious, music that seems to me to demand a heightening of all the senses -- and above all of the imagination, for both performers and listeners. From the performers' standpoint, this is where your musicianship and musicianly instincts are tested, or rather exploited.

You'd have to be a real dunderhead to miss the potent brew of expectation and dread trembling to life here. As it happens, I heard just such a dunderheaded performance; that's one of two recent encounters that I want to tell you a little about, encounters that landed us here at the start of Siegfried, the third installment in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung.

I don't think any of our conductors here have anything to apologize for. Though I've arranged them in order of increasing range of inquisitiveness, Solti's performance seems to me quite lovely, alert and shiveringly alive. Barenboim, however, hears somewhat darker colors, and a more foreboding tread. Then Karajan really digs in, and finally Goodall takes the most searching view, taking nothing for granted here.