Monday, February 22, 2016

Special late-Monday "Better Call Saul" edition: Chuck McGill plays the Fauré "Sicilienne"!

Sure enough, there's a piano in Chuck McGill's living room! Given the light level, don't hold me to it, but isn't this Howard (Patrick Fabian), the managing partner of Chuck's law firm, arriving for his "delivery for McGill" in tonight's Better Call Saul episode, "Cobbler"?

by Ken

If there's one thing probably none of us expected to see, it was Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) at the piano playing the piano part of Fauré's Sicilienne. But there it was, at the top of tonight's Better Call Saul episode, with something like this score page just visible to Chuck, and to us, with the little bit of natural light that found its way into his otherwise-dark living room -- Chuck can't, of course, have electric light.

Krzysztof Smietana, violin; John Blakely, piano. Meridian, recorded c1993?


Sunday, February 14, 2016

No proper post today, but let's listen to Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances"

by Ken

Except for a brief interlude or two, I've had no Internet (and most of that time no phone!) connection most of the day, so I've given up trying to do a post.

As you know, we still need to finish up with Ariadne auf Naxos, but I was also thinking about another post, which would involve Rachmaninoff's last major work, the Symphonic Dances, so for now I thought I'd just present this (unidentified) performance of this virtually symphonic suite of three dances, with some background chatter cribbed from Wikipedia:

RACHMANINOFF: Symphonic Dances, Op. 45

i. Non allegro
ii. Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)
iii. Lento assai -- Allegro vivace


Sunday, February 7, 2016

"The secret of life is revealed to them in it," says the Composer of his "Ariadne auf Naxos"

"Das Geheimnis des Lebens tritt an sie heran, nimmt sie bei der Hand" ("The secret of life is revealed to them in it, takes them by the hand")

Sena Jurinac (s), Composer; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Tatiana Troyanos (ms), Composer; San Francisco Opera Orchestra, János Ferencsik, cond. Live performance, Oct. 28, 1977

Irmgard Seefried (s), Composer; Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Live performance from the Salzburg Festival, Aug. 7, 1954

Julia Varady (s), Composer; Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig), Kurt Masur, cond. Philips, recorded January 1988

by Ken

This is, in case you hadn't guessed, once again the possibly over-earnest Composer, in the Prologue to Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Ariadne auf Naxos, having just heard that a little comedy dance entertainment is to be given following the premiere of his new opera seria, Ariadne on Naxos, here in the home of the richest man in Vienna.

This 10-11 seconds of music is one of those infinitely deep-reaching musical nuggets we've been encountering all through the Prologue to Ariadne -- for that matter, all through the opera as a whole -- which lodge in the most intimate recesses of the mind and don't let go. Lately we've been focusing more on the comic view of life represented in the opera by the grand comedienne Zerbinetta and her quartet of commedia dell'arte players, as against the view embodied in the plight of the abandoned Ariadne as argued by her deeply feeling Composer. Now I think we need to return to the Composer's point of view.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

One of these "Parsifal" performances doesn't belong in the company of the others

WAGNER: Parsifal: Prelude and Good Friday Spell

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded December 1957

by Ken

We first heard the Prelude and opening of Act I of Parsifal in a March 2010 post called "Wagner, master of musical motion, Part 2," in which I wrote: "Our subject this week, you'll recall, is "musical motion," how performers find -- or don't -- what makes a piece of music move forward from the inside, how they re-create it with real energy and purpose instead of just grinding out one damned note after another."

The Jochum studio recording of the frequent concert coupling of the Parsifal Prelude and "Good Friday Spell" (from Act III), by no means a speedy performance, seems to me a shining example of the "re-created with real energy and purpose" kind.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Is Ariadne waiting for death, or for another lover?

Leonie Rysanek as Ariadne

From part 2 of the abandoned Ariadne's monologue, as she awaits the messenger of death:
ARIADNE: But soon a messenger will draw nigh,
Hermes they call him.
With his staff
he rules all souls:
Like birds on the wing,
like dry leaves,
he drives them before him.
Thou beautiful, serene god!
See! Ariadne awaits!

Leonie Rysanek (s), Ariadne; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

Christa Ludwig (s), Ariadne; Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. Live perfomance from the Salzburg Festival, July 26, 1964

From the Prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos, in which the Composer and Zerbinetta take different views of Ariadne's "death":
COMPOSER: She is one of those women who belong to one man only in their life and after that to no one else --
COMPOSER: -- to no one else, save Death!

COMPOSER: She takes him for the god of Death. In her eyes, in her soul, he is Death, and for that reason, for that reason only --
ZERBINETTA [from the door, very gently]: That's what she'd have you think
COMPOSER: -- for that reason only she goes with him on his ship.

COMPOSER: Ariadne is the one out of a million. She is the woman who does not forget.
ZERBINETTA: Childishness!

Sena Jurinac (s), Composer; Roberta Peters (s), Zerbinetta; Vienna Philharmonic, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded 1958

by Ken

We've already heard the tiny bit above from part 2 ("Es gibt ein Reich") of Ariadne's monologue, as she awaits the messenger who will take her to the realm "where everything is pure" -- the realm of death. (See the November 1 post "Why won't everyone just let poor abandoned Ariadne die in peace?" and the December 13 post "Ariadne is "the symbol of human solitude" -- which is "just why she needs company" (says the Dance Master).") And I'll say even more strongly than before that this 49 seconds of Leonie Rysanek's recording is some of the most thrillingly beautiful singing I've heard.

Now we've added the above tiny bits of the Prologue, containing some more of the most thrillingly beautiful singing I've heard -- from, you'l notice, the very same recording of Ariadne auf Naxos, as Sena Jurinac as the Composer of the opera seria expresses her understanding of the title character.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Out in the countryside cutting sticks with Wozzeck and Andres

Updated with musical harkbacks for Wozzeck and Marie

Joel Sorensen as Andres and Franz Hawlata as Wozzeck in Act I, Scene 2 of Wozzeck, in San Diego, 2007
Scene change from the opening scene, in which WOZZECK has been patronized and verbally browbeaten by the CAPTAIN while the poor schlepp gives him his daily shave.

Scene 2 ("Andres")
Open countryside, the town visible in the distance. Late afternoon. ANDRES and WOZZECK are cutting sticks in the bushes.
WOZZECK: Hey, this place is cursed!
ANDRES [continuing to work]: Oh, nonsense!
Song, 1st stanza
A hunter bold I'd like to be.
Behind a gun a fan is free!
And so will I a-hunting go,
a hunting-go!
WOZZECK: The place is cursed! Can you see the pale patch across the grass where the toadstools are growing? In the evenings a head rolls about there! Once someone picked it up, thinking it was a hedgehog. Three days and nights later he'd kicked the bucket!
ANDRES: It's getting dark here. That's why you're growing nervous. Come on!
[Stops working and strikes a pose.]
Song, 2nd stanza
A hare in flight runs there by me,
and asks if I a hunter be.
I tell him yes, I like it fine,
but shooting, no -- that's not my line!
WOZZECK: Hush, Andres! That must be freemasons.
ANDRES: Song, 3rd stanza (beginning)
Two hares there were, upon the grass,
and eating all that hares could . . .
WOZZECK [overlapping]: It is! The freemasons! Be quiet!
[ANDRES stops singing, a little uneasy himself. Both listen intently.]
ANDRES [trying to calm WOZZECK -- and himself]: Why not sing with me?
[Continuing the song] And eating all that hares could ask,
they ate . . . so fast . . .
WOZZECK [overlapping; stamps his foot on the ground]: Hollow! It's all hollow! A chasm! It's cracking! Can you hear? There's something following us down there! [Terrified.] Let's go, quickly! [Tries to drag ANDRES off with him.]
ANDRES [restraining WOZZECK]: Hey, have you gone mad?
WOZZECK [stops]: It's suddenly gone quiet. And how oppressive it is. You feel like holding your breath. [Gazes around.]
[The sun is just setting. The last bright rays touch the horizon in the most garish sunlight, after which the sudden twilight seems intensely dark.]
WOZZECK: A fire! A fire rising from earth to heaven and a turmoiol descending like the last trump. What a din!
ANDRES [feigning unconcern]: The sun has gone down, and now they're drumming back there.
WOZZECK: Quiet, everything quiet, as if the world were dead.
ANDRES: Night! We must go home!
[Both go off slowly.]
[Scene change. Orchestral postlude, and military music beginning behind the scenes.]

Scene 3 ("Marie")
Marie's room. Evening.
March [Military music is heard approaching.]
MARIE [at the window with her child in her arms]: Zing boom! Zing boom, boom, boom, boom! Do you hear, baby? They're coming there!
[The military music, with the DRUM MAJOR in the lead, arrives in the street outside MARIE's window.]
MARGRET [in the street, talking to MARIE through the window]: What a man! Like a tree!
MARIE [speaks out the window]: He stands on his feet like a lion!
[The DRUM MAJOR salutes MARIE, who waves back in a friendly manner.]
MARGRET : Oh, what a friendly look, neighbor! You're not usually so familiar!

Walter Berry (bs-b), Wozzeck; Richard van Vrooman (t), Andres; Isabel Straus (s), Marie; Ingeborg Lasser (ms), Margret; Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Pierre Boulez, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded 1966

by Ken

Okay, this was supposed to be a "Boulez post," following up on last week's quick musical remembrance of the late composer-conductor. And sure enough, up above we've got Pierre Boulez conducting a scene from Berg's Wozzeck which I especially love -- the second of the five "character studies" that make up Act I, nestled between the scenes in which we're introduced first to Wozzeck himself (in the scene of his presumably daily humiliation by the Captain) and to Marie, the mother of his infant son -- which were among the scenes we listened to way in June 2011 in the preview posts "Berg's Wozzeck -- (1) Introducing Marie" and "'Wretches like us' -- Berg's Wozzeck: (2) Introducing Wozzeck" and the main post, "'Wretches like us' -- class warfare and the tragic depths of Berg's Wozzeck."

Somehow, though, in the course of gathering materials to present this weird and wonderful scene, the post turned more Wozzeck-y.

Maybe you had to be around in 1966 to appreciate how remarkable it was that this recording was made as a result of the enormous international acclaim showered on the Paris production of Wozzeck that Boulez had been conducting. After all, it had been only a year since the first stereo recording -- and only second-ever recording of any kind -- of Wozzeck, the one conducted by Karl Böhm for DG with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Evelyn Lear as Wozzeck and Marie. (Its predecessor was Columbia Masterworks' live recording of the concert performance by Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic with Mack Harrell and Eileen Farrell -- a performance I still love.)


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pierre Boulez (1925-2016)

HANDEL: Music for the Royal Fireworks: Réjouissance

New York Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Dec. 22, 1973

by Ken

As I mentioned in my earlier tease, mostly what we're going to do today is revisit some Boulez performances that have found their way into Sunday Classics posts over the years.


Coming up: Some musical memories of Pierre Boulez

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Pierre Boulez, cond. Live performance, 1970

Vienna Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, cond. DG, recorded March 1996

by Ken

Once upon a time, probably nobody would have been more surprised than Pierre Boulez to think of himself as an eventual recipient of a traditional Mahlerian sendoff like the Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony. In fact, over the quarter-century that separates these two performances, I think we can hear his own relationship to the music evolving. But even the quicker earlier one has a ring of sincerity that's surprising coming from the man who, in his Domaine Musical days (which in fact hadn't ended yet), inveighed so polemically against music . . . well, music pretty much like this.

We're not going to go very deep in the full post, but I thought it would tell us something just to rehear some musical memories of Boulez -- some of the Boulez performances we've already heard over the years at Sunday Classics over the years, with some selective augmentations. More anon.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A New Year's toast times three, courtesy of the company of "Die Fledermaus"

[There's still some filling in of performances to be done here, and the texts for the Champagne Trio to be added, but] UPDATE: Here more or less, finally, is this week's post.

Richard Leech (t), Alfred; Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Rosalinde; Vienna Philharmonic, André Previn, cond. Philips, recorded November 1990

[in English] Richard Tucker (t), Alfred; Marguerite Piazza (s), Rosalinde; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy, cond. Live performance, Jan. 20, 1951
[Note that the English translation doesn't even attempt to retain the sense of the original. But just listen to the sounds being made by the young Tucker! Note that he's also the Alfred of American Columbia's recording of Fledermaus based on this Met production.]

by Ken

Three New Year's toasts from Die Fledermaus, starting with the one in Act I that's excerpted above, with this invaluable lesson taught by the Alfred, a tenor (yes, in "real" life) who never lets anything get him down. But first, in accordance with common Sunday Classics practice, we start at the beginning, with the Overture.

J. STRAUSS Jr.: Die Fledermaus: Overture

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded June 1960

Vienna Philharmonic, André Previn, cond. Philips, recorded, November 1990

Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Ackermann, cond. EMI, recorded June 1959

Bavarian State Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber, cond. Live performance, Dec. 31, 1974

We've heard all of these performances before, but let me say again -- as I do each time the Karajan-Decca Fledermaus comes up -- that it's one of the handful of recordings I would offer in evidence of Karajan's greatness as a conductor, along with, I think, his first DG Beethoven symphony cycle (you can hear how hard he worked on that set, not in the effort but in the results), the DG Ring cycle, and the EMI Fidelio.