Monday, 16 October 2017

Jonas Kaufmann Tenor for the Ages the Hagiography

One giant selfie ! Jonas Kaufman Tenor for the Ages, hagiography not documentary. The Curse of Celebrity.  It's not JK's fault.  When marketing hype takes over, the artist becomes Commercial Product, his art incidental by-product.  Kaufmann truly is one of the greats. "A singer who thinks" as Antonio Pappano "with matinee idol presence". Absolutely. We're incredibly lucky to have JK, he's more than just a singer.  But this film, by John Bridcut, is  embarrassing, catering to a market that thrives on hype.  So, love JK, don't love the promo video.
True fans love the artist, and love the art. They don't bitch if he cancels even if they lose money because they understand voice and don't expect singers to deliver like machines.  They aren't obsessives who push themselves above all else,  it's not good for  mental health.  JK is so charismatic that his personality is magnetic, which is something to celebrate.  Nothing wrong with being sexy, either.  But knicker throwing is daft, and the media types who play it up are cynical manipulators, who care more for clicks than quality.
It was good to see the dressing rooms at the Royal Opera House again and recall the buzz that goes into making a production.  Antonio
Pappano's enthusiasm is always fun. And it was good to hear the clips of the Vienna Tosca where things might not have gone to plan.  JK is a genuine artists whose love for repertoire spurs him on to new challenges.  Taking JK to Aldeburgh struck me more as a thing than a serious attempt on JK's part to take on Peter Grimes. But who knows ? JK has the intelligence to realize that it's always prima the repertoire, and how it can be explored. Sadly not many get that  Please read my piece on  JK's Mahler Das Lied von der Erde. No-one is so expert that they know everything and don't need to learn.  But a lot of the script seemed geared towards the mantra that art can't be taken seriously.. 

 Thank goodness that the show was followed by real opera,  Verdi Otello at the Royal Opera House, good enough to convert anyone to the genre if they care enough to listen and pay attention.  Here is a link to the thoughtful review in Opera Today of the live performance. Please read and enjoy. The range lies low, so it suits JK well : If his interpretation wasn't macho, so what ?  Otello's a much more complex figure than macho man. Delicious singing !


Original Content: Jonas Kaufmann Tenor for the Ages the Hagiography

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Hans Werner Henze Kammermusik 1958 Sharoun Ensemble

"....In lieblicher Bläue" .  Landmark new recordings of  Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge  and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Rock and Daniel Harding

A landmark recording because it reflects the Scharoun Ensemble's years iof experience with Henze and his music. Their relationship began in 1983, shortly after the ensemble was formed. Kammermusik 1958 is one of their signature pieces. "It  soon became clear" they write "that the composer's interpretation of Kammermusik 1958 was freer than the written score. Henze took some tempi more slowly, which resulted in more songful, indeed quite romantic music". This performance is outstanding, more assured and more idiomatic than the original recording made in November 1958 with Peter Pears and Julian Bream. Though Henze himself conducted that premiere, he was young, still very much in thrall to Britten, Pears and their cliquey circles.  As Henze developed, he became himself, finding the freer, more poetic approach this recording honours.  Obviously the first recording is part of the archive, but this new performance opens horizons: very much in the spirit of the poetry of Hölderlin's text and of Henze's mature work.  This performance  also uses Henze's 1963 revision of the score. 

Kammermusick 1958 is also a landmark because it represents a  period in which Henze made a creative breakthrough.  It connects to the sensuality of Undine and to the esoteric Being Beauteous, but also explores ideas which Henze would develop in later years.  The piece begins with a horn call, which is repeated more quietly, as if in response - a deliberate reference to Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. Almost immediately, though, Henze breaks into new territory - long, shimmering lines that seem to stretch into endless space. The clarinet leads, like the call of a shepherd's flute sounding out over distance.

From this evolves the first song with its long, arching lines that rise expansively, accompanied by guitar:  The text is abstract, almost impressionistic iun its evocation of colour and mood. ."In lieblicher Blue blühet mit dem metallenen Dache der Kirchtum."  Hölderlin in his tower, singing to the moon,  Andrew Staples and Jürgen Rock, eternal troubadours.   Hölderlin's poetry fascinates modern composers.This particular hymn has also been set by Wilhelm Killmayer and Julian Anderson (whose version will be heard  21/10/17 at the Barbican.)  Staples's singing is pristine, for "Reinheit aber ist auch Schönheit" Two Tentos for solo guitar frame the second song in which Henze sets another section of Hölderlin's hymn.  Innen aus verschiedenem entsteht, where the poet connects humble mankind with the vastness of the universe.   "als der Mensch, der heisset ein Bild der Gottheit". Rock's playing creates intimacy, cradling the song with protective warmth. It also recreates the flowing rhythms of Tento I which Henze titled "Du schönes Bächlein"   a reference to images in the text, which resurface in the third song, where the pace picks up.   Staples sings the phrase "Du schönes Bächlein" with minimal accompaniment, as if the poet were transfixed by a vision.

As the voice falls silent, the ensemble emerge in a short Sonata for the ensemble, brisk, turbulent figures that seem to have a life of their own.  "Möcht ich ein Komet sein?" Staples sings.  Key phrases like  "eine schöne Jungfrau" deliciously savoured. The final line "Myrten aber gibt es in Greichenland" shone with intense light, for this epitomizes Hölderlin's  concepts of beauty, from the ideals of antiquity far into the future.  For Henze, the guitar is more than "Mediterranean" device. It connects to the lute of Orpheus and all that implied in classical mythology.  An inventive cadenza, where the strings dance and cor and bassoon moan, until strong chords in ensemble introduce the next song, "Wenn einer in den Spiegel siehet".  which flows  with great freedom, as if the clarity ofthe mirror were drawing ideas into sharper focus.  The tento for guitar, which follows, is titled "Sohn Laios" which connects to the references to Oedipus in this and the final song, "Wie Bäche reißt des Ende von Etwas mich dahin".  Henze  creates a stream of consciousness, weaving text, music, ideas and images together in a stream that's at once elusive yet intriguing.  Hölderlin contemplates the destiny of suffering. "Leben ist Tod , und Tod ist auch ein Leben". Long, plaintive vocal lines, yetnoddly affirmative, merging into a beautiful wind melody, which might suggest ancient flutes. Horn, cor, bassoon and contrabass create mysterious atmosphere, lightened by strings. This last Epilogue, added by Henze in1963 is extraordinarily moving, very "inwards", true to Hölderlin and his visionary imagination.  In the notes, Jürgen Rock comments on the connections between the Oedipus legend and Henze's socio-political views and his work in music theatre.  In some ways, the Oedipus theme might also apply to other things in Henze's life,including his relationship to Britten. 

The Sharoun Ensemble Berlin paired this Henze Kammermusik 1958 with Henze's Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge  (183/1996) for Bassoon, Guitar and String Trio. Excellent choice, for these extend the idea of Arcadian "Shepherd" songs and fit well with Hölderlin.  These songs were premiered by the Sharoun Ensemble Berlin in 1997, presumably with Henze himself in attendance.   

Original Content: Hans Werner Henze Kammermusik 1958 Sharoun Ensemble

Friday, 13 October 2017

Oxford Lieder Festival - a Different Rosenkavalier

As part of the Oxford Lieder Festival's 2017 season, focusing on Mahler and his contemporaries, a very different Der Rosenkavalier, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenmnt, conducted by Thomas Kemp. Not Der Rosenkavalier the opera, as we know it, but a screening of the 1926 film by Robert Wiene, the director of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1921) and Genuine the Vampire (1920)  Tickets still, available, book here.

The film was made with the enthusiastic support of Richard Strauss himself, who appreciated the power of the new medium of cinema. The film was  first screened at the Dresden Opera House, where the opera itself had premiered fifteen years previously.  It wasn't an "opera movie" in any modern sense of the word, because it was made when movies were silent. In those days, films were accompanied by live performance, with music adapted to the action on screen. Obviously, the music for the opera would not fit. In any case, what would be the point in a silent movie?  Instead Strauss wrote a new soundtrack, based on an orchestra of 17 parts, which mixed extracts from the opera with snippets from other works  including Arabella, Burleske, Till Eulenspeigel and  Also sprach Zarathustra. He  threw in bits of Wagner and Johann Strauss for further effect. Strauss himself conducted the blend live while the movie screened.

The plot follows the novel from which Hugo von Hofmannsthal  derived the libretto, with extra scenes like the battlefield on which the Feldmarschall rides to victory and an opera bouffe in a small theatre, where the principals watch their dilemma being acted while the movie is screened. How will today's opera snobs react?  Methinks they take themselves too seriously, because the "silent" Rosenkavalier is a heady cocktail of good film and fun. It captures the savage satire while dressing it up with visuals so frothy they border on excess. This in itself is a dig at the materialistic culture that values frills, yet turns fresh young women into commodities in a cynical marriage marketplace. Swoon at the wigs and acres of lace, but this is no costume drama.

The technical film values are very high, as one would expect from the director of Dr Caligari (full download here) and Genuine the Vampire (more here). Scenes are carefully planned so they seem like tableaux in some elegant object of art, designed to distract from the grubbiness around it.  The Marschallin's boudoir suffocates in luxury: one imagines that any man kept like this would lose his masculinity. For all her wealth, the lady isn't happy. She sighs and uses exaggerated gestures and poses: Wiene is satirizing popular theatrical excess. Baron Ochs wears embroidered silks but is a boor. He somersaults, arms and legs akimbo like a broken puppet. Later, when Octavian challenges him to a duel, he collapses  though he's barely been scratched. The camera pans closeup on his face and then his mouth, wide as a grotesque sculpture. We can almost hear the screaming.  

Lots more about this Rosenkavalier some years ago, and also, about Robert Wiene, other Weimar films and music, and of course Mahler and his contemporaries, who are my main thing. This is one of the most comprehensive sites on the internet -I am frequently borrowed from, to put it delicately. So check here first for many things.

Original Content: Oxford Lieder Festival - a Different Rosenkavalier

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Unique Santa Rosa Firestorm Photo

Photo copyright : Emily Wood
From the Tubbs Firestorm in Northern California, this photo above.  The fires are still raging. Embers are falling, swept by the wind, for many miles around.   The fragment above landed on a house very near Coffee Park which as flattened, block after block  Everyone's seen Coffee Park before and after on TV, but this photo is unpublished til now. Credit the photographer !  This is professional quality work.  Someone, somewhere, once had book which is now dust. But the fragment speaks.  Enlarge the text, identify the book and imagine who the owner might have been.  A reminder that not everything is up in smoke.  

Original Content: Unique Santa Rosa Firestorm Photo

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A worthwhile Journey to George Li’s triumphant Davies Hall piano recital

Facebook was abuzz with reminders of George Li's touchdown in the Bay Area's glittering Davies concert hall, a venue that absorbs a splash of pastel beams from the neighboring flagship government building. Glass panels reflect back montages of color that provide a rush of excitement for ticket holders slipping into seats right under the bell.

FB "friends" and faithful George "followers" were PAGE alerted to a MEET and GREET event in the lobby following the recital. It would be a shower of support for a pianist we'd seen and heard by LIVE-Stream from exotic locations including Moscow and Verbier. Frames in progress had included George's Silver Medal triumph at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, magnified on computer screens around the world!


The Back Story

From my humble perch in Berkeley, I'd set aside 75 conscientious minutes to get to Davies Hall. It was a conservative travel measure, given lax Sunday train schedules and my propensity to get mired in Civic Center traffic as a clueless pedestrian in foreign urban terrain. (San Francisco's maze of complex street crossings and intersections, bundled in congestion, had always seriously confused me, impeding on-foot progress in any direction).

Yet, despite well-intended, precautionary travel efforts, I couldn't have anticipated a vexing single platform BART crisis that launched a crescendo of complications right up to my shaky finish line arrival at Davies. There, at its entrance, my concert companion/adult piano student stood patiently, dispatching block-to-block text messages to keep me on track.

With good luck and concerted teamwork, we made it to our first tier balcony seats just as George advanced toward a shining model D Steinway grand.

It was a pure bliss erasure of prior travails:

Melted deceptive cadences rippled through a crystalline rendering of Haydn's B minor Sonata (No. 30) as trills and ornaments immaculately decorated clear melodic lines in a liquid outpouring of phrases. The middle Minuet movement was charmingly played passing with grace to a culminating Presto in brisk, bravura tempo with unswerving attention to line, shape, and contour.

Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata in F minor, op. 57, followed with tonal variation and keen structural awareness. The performance was both gripping and directional, wrapped in ethereal tonal expression.

Li's singular sound autograph permeates his performances amidst an array of varying nuances and articulations. He has what pianist, Uchida terms "charisma" and a singular tonal personality.

Meaning and musical context are core ingredients of Li's artistry and his wide palette of colors are at his liquid disposal through deeply felt effusions of expression. (While Li is a natural, intuitional performer, his sensitive fusion of aesthetics and intellect is always on display, exposed, as well in media interviews.)

A Presto Classical set of queries elicited thoughtful responses.


The Davies Hall recital, continued after Intermission with a rippling roll-out of works by Rachmaninoff and Liszt, all imbued with a permeating spirit of mature music-making that's intrinsic to the Li's ongoing ripening process. And as a cap to a memorable evening of inspired artistry, George played his final encore–a pyro-technically charged Bizet/Carmen transcription that drove listeners to their feet in a chorus of BRAVOS!!! (This snapshot was provided by a friend who had permission to publicly post it, thanks to Li's generosity and that of his representatives)

In a culminating MEET and GREET event, post-recital, audience members had an opportunity to share IN PERSON enthusiasm and appreciation of George's artistry, while purchasing the artist's newly released CD.

For me, a tete a tete with George, provided an opportunity to thank him for his generosity as a teen when he delivered well-conceived responses to my reams of technically framed questions about practicing, technique, and repertoire.

Finally, here's an encore of gratitude to George for his inspired love of music, and for his reach into our hearts with each memorable performance. Come back soon!

Original Content: A worthwhile Journey to George Li's triumphant Davies Hall piano recital

Secret Lutosławski - Derwid Songs

Witold,Lutosławski Cabaret songs ! Derwid, Lutosławski's "concealed Portrait".  In the sale, which often produces interesting things, I found this CD, originally recorded in a castle in Warsaw in 2004 but more recently re-released on Acte Préalable,  a leading label promoting Polish Music. I put it on without reading anything about it. Snare drums, bongos, tenor sax and piano ! 

Yes, "the" Witold Lutosławski  writing songs under the pseudonym Derwid for Polish radio between 1957 and 1963. A touch classier than commercial, pop, resembling the middle of the road  feelgood music that swept the world before  Rock and Roll and Teenage Rebellion.  The last vestiges of the old Lieder tradition, or dance band music, or even both  genres?   They aren't quite as sophisticated as semi-art songs  by poet/composers like Kosma and Prévert or Jacques Brel or Bob Dylan, but they are worth listening to.   Lutosławski's originals, written for voice and piano were apparently very simple, lending themselves to more elaborate orchestration. Orchestral versions were done for Polish Radio who recorded them with famous singers of the era.  This particular version, arranged by the pianist Krzysztof Herdzin translates them as semi-jazz with bluesy riffs -nothing too low down and dirty., because it wouldn't suit the period for which the songs were written.The singer, Mariusz Klimek, is classically trained and musically erudite, and  sings with fluidity and lyrical freedom, which I think suits the composer very well indeed. The songs come over with refreshing charm, the accompaniment adding a bit of exotic spice.   In Cold War Poland this might  have been plenty racy enough ! 

Some of these songs are good enough to stand on their own, as concert pieces.  Warszawski dorozkarz (Warsaw Taxi Driver) (1958) is atmospheric, with long curving lines: perhaps the guy spends a lot of time waiting for custom, observing the world around him. But when he gets a fare, he connects with people and has to rush.  Another good song, Nie oczekuje dzis nikogo (I haven't been waiting for you today (1959) is subtly understated.  It seems casual, even nonchalant, but the voice drops to near whisper, as if the feelings therein are too private to voice aloud. No translations. The singer is so clear that Polish speakers will, get every nuance. The rest iof us have to be sensitive and guess.  And Z lat dziecinnych (Childhood Days) (1962) carefree but nostalgic.   See this site for more details and other recordings.  Definitely an addition to the repertoire. 

Original Content: Secret Lutosławski - Derwid Songs

Monday, 9 October 2017

Unfinished Business: London Sinfonietta 50 years

"Thank goodness for the London Sinfonietta!" (as the London Sinfonietta quotes me on the front page of their website. True, indeed ! without the London Sinfonietta, music in this country would have been dull indeed. The London Sinfonietta were pioneers, much more than "just" an ensemble. They were a powerhouse of creative, innovative thinking, generating a sea change in musical thinking which continues to flourish today.  Thus Unfinished Business, marking the forthcoming 50th anniversary of the London Sinfonietta, which starts Wednesday 11th October at St Johns, Smith Square, starts with Hans Werner Henze's iconic Voices. Henze  himself conducted it with the Sinfonietta on their 1978 recording, re released a few years ago. Please read my review here
Henze was closely associated with the London Sinfonietta who played a lot of his music, composer and orchestra both defined by the events of 1968.  They hosted a major retrospective to mark his 75th birthday, which is when I  met him.  He was a lion, but kind hearted enough to be nice to a nobody like me.  Henze is dead, but not forgotten. Currently I'm enjoying a new recording of his Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge  and Kammermusik 1958 with Andrew Staples and the Sharoun Ensemble Berlin, conducted by Daniel Harding - review to follow.  This time round, David Atherton conducts Voices.  He's a Sinfonietta veteran too : the concert should be an almsot hstoric occasion.

Later in the season, Iannis Xenakis, Luciano Berio, Harrison Bitwistle, Gyorgy Ligeti, Wolfgang Rihm, Karlheinz Stockhausen and others, just a few of the numerous composers who have been associated with the ensemble from way back.  the London Sinfonietta has a lot to be proud of !   A welcome return to the Glory Days of the London Sinfonietta, when presented excellence with style and committment.  For a while, it seemed that the ethos had changed. Governments promote the idea that norchestras should make education a priority but that's political argument, not artistic logic.  If governments really cared about education they';d fund it iun the furst place, and let orchestras do what they do best., which is make music that inspires listeners to learn.   Excellence itself "is" education.  Please see a few of bthe numerous concerts and recordings I've covered over the years, including:

Beat Furrer FAMA 2016
Hans Abraham Schnee Simon Holt
George Benjamin Into the Little Hill
Stockhausen Trans und Harmonien
  and scads more ........9click on composer names0

Original Content: Unfinished Business: London Sinfonietta 50 years