Saturday, October 22, 2016
From the Lebrecht Album of the Week: For a troubled London teenager in the 1960s, there were three available sources of relief. One was illegal, one was immoral, and the third was available every other week at the Royal Festival Hall. I took myself to hear the Tchaikovsky Pathétique more often than I remember, sitting in the backless choir seats, watching the wealthier part of the audience indulge in plush catharsis. Over time, the relief wore thin. Tchaikovsky gave way to Mahler, and the Pathétique became a rare item, out of fashion, off the concert menu….. Read on here.
St David’s Hall, Cardiff Tomáš Hanus marshalled his forces – including a stellar Karen Cargill – for a performance that seized the audience from the outsetTomáš Hanus has recently taken over as music director of Welsh National Opera, but this was only his second public appearance with his new company – the first being the occasion that effectively secured the appointment, so immediate was the rapport. In this performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony, the Resurrection, there was indeed chemistry between Hanus and his forces, and it could hardly have augured better. The conductor combined dramatic intensity with moments of great tenderness, suggesting an instinctive feel for Mahler, who was one of the great opera conductors of his time. Continue reading...
Alberto Menéndez Escribano was today named principal horn of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orch. Until today, he was principal horn of the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester. No reason has been given for the move north. The press release (below) has misspelled his name. BBC Scottish has also chosen Charlotte Ashton as principal flute. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (BBC SSO) has appointed Alberto Menédez Escribano as its new Principal Horn and Charlotte Ashton as Principal Flute. French Horn player Alberto Menédez Escribano has built up a career as a soloist and orchestral musician throughout Europe. Speaking of his appointment, Alberto said, “I am delighted to be taking up the position of principal horn with the BBC SSO which I feel musically and personally very close to and I am very much looking forward to my first official concert: Mahler 4th Symphony with Maestro Runnicles.”
For decades the Mozarteum Argentino has been the main force in bringing us important orchestras from all over the world. Back in 1978 we had the first Argentine visit of the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra, conducted by their Principal Conductor Gerd Albrecht. The presence of the Tonhalle confirmed its European prestige. Then, in 1988 they returned with Hiroshi Wakasugi, their PC at the time, with pianist Rudolf Buchbinder; another positive experience. The venue was then and now the Colón. And this season they returned with their new PC, Lionel Bringuier, and the violinist Lisa Batiashvili. And the results were nothing short of stunning. The artists have youth in common: Bringuier is only 30, born in Nice, and was named PC at 28! And the violinist looks a similar age, though the biography gives no details about age; nor her place of birth, but her surname is Georgian. However it does inform about her career, and it is quite impressive, for she has played with the best orchestras and conductors of the world. As to Bringuier, he studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he received the influence of conductor and composer Peter Eötvös, for long the leader of the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain; now Eötvös has been named Creative Chair of the Tonhalle during this season, and several works of his will be played, one of them in BA. The other essential influence came from his six years as Resident Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, first with Salonen and then with Dudamel. About the Tonhalle: it started in 1862; after World War II it had eminent artists as PC: Vokmae Andreae ended his dilated tenure in 1949 and was succeeded by Rosbaud, Kempe, Dutoit, Albrecht, Eschenbach, Wakasugi, and before Bringuier, by David Zinman from 1995 to 2014. There´s a mistake in their hand programme biography: it isn´t the orchestra of the Zürich Opera, and it could hardly be: the Opera´s orchestra, called the Philharmonic, plays 250 performances a year! The 2016-17 season of the Tonhalle Orchestra boasts such names as Haitink, P.Järvi, Nagano, Ch.Von Dohnányi, Dutoit, Blomstedt, Zinman , Eötvös and Runnicles. They play at their New Hall, 1600 capacity. Their South American tour started at BA and continued at Montevideo, Sao Paulo and Rio, where the soloist was pianist Nelson Freire. Here they played two programmes, both having Batiashvili in Tchaikovsky´s Concerto. From the moment she started playing, there was no doubt that we were hearing an exceptional violinist: the timbre was as beautiful as she is, the phrasing was exact, the impulse and excitement were contagious, and when she had an ample melody she sang it as the best opera singer. She is also consistent, for on Tuesday she was as splendid as on Monday. And the Orchestra under Bringuier never lost pace nor technical perfection. The encore was unusual and welcome: the Kreisler arrangement for violin and orchestra of the principal melody of Dvorák´s Second Movement from the New World Symphony, interpreted as meltingly as can be. Two symphonies were heard: on Monday, Shostakovich ´s Sixth; on Tuesday, Mahler´s First. Before Shostakovich, a seven minute score by Ötvös with a particular title: "The gliding of the Eagle in the skies" (première). Written for the National Basque Orchestra in 2012, it features a big orchestra with much percussion, especially a "caja" (drum case), and flighty sounds from the flutes. I found the music evocative and interesting . The Sixth was premièred just as World War II started, and as it ends with a sarcastic Presto it was rejected at the time, but it starts with a desolate Adagio in the best stark mood of the author, and it is an important score. Apart from being overfast in the second movement, Bringuier was impeccable, and the orchestra, a round hundred players, showed first-rate quality in all sections. Mahler´s First was heard for the third time this year, but the music resists repetition as few others, for it is immensely creative and atractive throughout. Bringuier´s reading was quite satisfactory, and the playing had many moments of moving communication. Encores: on Monday, a sprightly rendition of Rossini´s Overture for "L´Italiana in Algeri". On Tuesday, a surprise: Florian Walser, the Tonhalle´s clarinettist, composed a funny showpiece with no name on traditional Swiss tunes, featuring characteristic wether bells, played with gusto by his colleagues. For Buenos Aires Herald
Kent Nagano is one of the most complete conductors and some years ago vividly impressed the Mozarteum audiences when he came with the Montreal Symphony. Now he was back with the Hamburg Philharmonic at the Colón with two programmes focussed on German/Austrian Postromantics and they became a major event of the season. Nagano has had a great European career which in principle one wouldn´t expect from a Californian of Japanese ascendance, but he explains that he was trained by a German teacher who imbued him with the very essence of style in the greatest symphonic repertoire. In his DNA there was an innate musicality and it was nurtured by an intelligent guide. A brief résumé. He has held main posts at Lyon Opera (a very innovative tenure), the Hallé Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera, Deutsche Symphonie Berlin, the Bavarian Opera (Munich). And since September 2015 he is Musical Director of the Hamburg State Opera, whose Philharmonic Orchestra gives two hundred performances of opera and ballet plus thirty symphonic and chamber concerts, a tremendous amount of work. I recall that this orchestra came here decades ago led by Aldo Ceccato and for the Mozarteum: a solid ensemble, though not as important as it was on this year´s visit. They trace their origins to as far back as 1828, and during the Twentieth Century they had illustrious conductors: Muck, E.Jochum, Keilberth, Sawallisch and G.Albrecht. Then Ceccato, and afterwards Metzmacher and for ten years before Nagano, Simone Young, the outstanding Australian lady conductress. As it came in this tour they numbered 96 players, big enough for Strauss. They really have 130 players because their enormous yearly task necessitates some rotation of players. And with them came two admirable artists: cellist Gautier Capuçon, who with his violinist brother Renaud played a memorable Brahms Double Concerto here in one of the Argerich Festivals; and Japanese mezzosoprano Mihoko Fujimura, unknown here but very appreciated in Germany, particularly in Wagner. Richard Strauss´ "Don Quixote" (1897) demonstrates his inexhaustible orchestral imagination, who had only one possible match in the late Nineteenth Century: Gustav Mahler. "Don Quixote" has a subtitle, "Fantastic variations on a chivalric subject". The cello is the Don and the viola is Sancho. Between the Introduction and the Finale there are ten variations, some of them with astounding orchestral effects (the sheep sound like advanced atonalism, and flying is cunningly imitated). But it is also a warm portrait of character. It needs a crack orchestra and an inspired cellist: it had both this time. True, Capuçon was somewhat arbitrary as to note values, but his interpretation was expressive and convincing, with beautiful timbre and fine technique. Nagano and the orchestra were stalwart throughout, with perfectly chosen tempi and immaculate playing of the very difficult music, as well as intensity and sustained concentration. Naomi Seiler (viola) and Konradin Seitzer, the concertino of imposing presence and virtuoso quality, made fine contributions. Brahms´ Symphony Nº 1 is probably the best First in history; to say that what we heard was outstanding in the myriad versions we have heard through several decades is no exaggeration. The composer was born in Hamburg and was homaged by the players fully and excitingly. The encores were the subtle Entr´acte from Schubert´s "Rosamunde", lovingly done, and curiously with no hiatus, a fascinating movement from Ligeti´s "Concert Romanesc", as wild a piece as can be imagined, where conductor and orchestra showed that the moderns have no secrets for them. The second programme was very coherent. Before the interval, Wagner´s Prelude to Act One and Love-Death from "Tristan and Isolde", the latter in the orchestral arrangement of the composer; and the five "Wesendonck Lieder", arranged by Felix Mottl the first four and the fifth by Wagner from the original for voice and piano. As two of them have melodies that reappear in "Tristan...", it was a good idea to programme the songs on the poems of Wagner´s muse, Mathilde Wesendonck. Nagano proved a fine Wagnerian, and Fujimura sang with powerful voice and clear understanding of the style. Bruckner´s Sixth Symphony (1881) isn´t as long as the following ones (55 minutes); I find it more technical and less attractive than the Seventh or Eighth, but quite representative of his distinctive personality. Again Nagano and the orchestra showed conclusive professionalism, energy and power of communication. There were no encores. For Buenos Aires Herald
Walter Braunfels Orchestral Soings, Vol. 2 with Hansjörg Albrecht, this time conducting the Konzerthausorchesdter Berlin, with soloists Camilla Nylund, Genia Kühmeier and Ricarda Merbeth, an excellent companion to the outsanding Braunfels Orchestral Songs vol 1 (reviewed here). Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less. Braunfels' Drei chinesiche Gesänge op 19 (1914) sets texts by Hans Bethge whose loose translations of Chinese poetry, Die chinesische Flöte (1907) had a huge influence, building on the mid-European fascination with the East, which dates back at least to Goethe. The East represented an alien aesthetic, something possibly purer and more mysterious. Hence the appeal to Jugendstil tastes and the new century's quest for new ideas and forms of expression. Braunfels's songs are not specifically"oriental", but evoke an attractive ambiguity, as if the forms of 19th century tonality were being gradually evoked from within. Ein Jungling denkt an die Geliebte, in particular, seems to float in timeless space, evoking the moonlit night beside a pool where "ein feiner Windhauch küsst den blanken Speigel des Teiches" : a mood which Braunfels captures with great poise. The image will be familiar to anyone who knows Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde - the last line even refers to "der dunkeln Erde" - but Braunfels's treatment is very individual. The high tessitura of Camilla Nylund's voice complements the long, searching lines for the strings. Extremely refined. In Die Geliebte des Kreigers, dying diminuendos suggest the despair of the maiden as she thinks of her soldier, far away. The horns evoke the sound of a (European) battle and the rhythms the sound of galloping horses. Somewhat reminiscent of Mahler, though the rest of the song is more turbulent, culminating in several climaxes, the final "dem mein Herz gehört!" a shout of anguish. Braunfels' Romantisches Gesänge op 58 were completed by 1942, but some date back to 1918. The first, Abendständchen to a text by Clemens Brentano bears resemblance to the Bethge songs, but Der Kranke, to a text by Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff is altogether more individual. In Ist der lebens Band mit scherz gelöset (Brentano) the searching woodwinds and sliding vocal ellipses are echt Braunfels. Der Pilot (Eichendorff) with its rousing trumpet calls and choppy rhythms is heroic, the second strophe swelling magnificently. "Liebe schwellet sanft die Segel" - the wind in the sails, propelling the boat forward. Nylund emphasizes the word "Morgen!", which Braunfels marks with a short pause. With Die Gott minnende Seele op 53 (1935-6), we are firmly in Braunfels' characteristic territory, medievalism employed as disguise for dangerous modern thoughts, beating the Nazis at their own game. The poems are by Mechthilde von Madgeburg, a 13th century mystic. As so often in Braunfels, background matters. Mechthilde's writings, collected together as Das fließende Licht der Gottheit, were controversial because she criticized the Church hierarchy practices that didn't the purity of faith. Had she lived 300 years later, she might have been a protestant, in every sense of the word. For Braunfels, living under the Third Reich, Mechthilde would have had more than mystical appeal. She could have been a prototype for Jeanne d’Arc – Szenen aus dem Leben der Heiligen Johanna op. 57. Please read my piece on Braunfels Jeanne d' Arc HERE The magnificent introduction to Die Gott minnende Seele with its haunting horn melody prepares us for the dark richness of the vocal line to come. It feels like slipping through a time tunnel, for the text isn't poetry so much as prayer. In the first song, the same phrase repeats with pointed variation "O du giessender Gott in deiner Gabe, O du fliessendern Gott in deiner Minne!", the pattern recreated in the orchestration. Utter simplicity, yet great depth and sincerity. Gradually the pace quickens : sudden flashes in strings suggesting rapture, then a quiet humble ending "ohne dich mag ich nicht sein". An even lovelier melody sets the tone for the second song, where Genia Kühmeier sings the sprightly lines so they suggest excited palpitation. The song ends with the melody, this time on low winds and brass. There's something vernal and innocent in the "medievalism" in this cycle, where voice and orchestra interact, as if Mechthilde is singing to invisible voices : not a bad thing hostile world, and very Joan of Arc. When Kühmeier sings "Herre, Herre, wo soll ich hinlegen?" her voice flutters and the flute answers. A duet between birds, another Braunfels signature. This delicate fluttering is even more prominent in the last song Eia, fröliche Anshauung which begins with quasi-medieval pipes and develops into a merry dance. Mecthilde may be isolated, but she's happy. This wonderful, tightly constructed song cycle is a miniature masterpiece. From a nun to an Egyptian queen : Braunfels' Der Tod der Kleopatra op 59 (1944). The harp suggests a lyre, and there are suggestions of bells but Braunfels know what's more important to Cleopatra : the man without whom she'd rather be dead. Braunfels marks this moment with an orchestral interlude, suggesting that Kleopatra is thinking about what really matters in life, not the trappings of wealth. This song runs nearly 10 minutes but proceeds in carefully marked stages, the point at which Kleopatra takes hold of the snake also highlighted by the orchestra. Back to Bethge with Braunfels' Vier Japanische Gesänge op. 62 (1944–45) based on Bethge's Von der Liebe süß’ und bittrer Frucht In these songs, Braunfels doesn't even bother with fake japonisme, but treats each song on its own merits. Whatever the culture, human emotions remain the same. All four songs are dramatic art pieces, the third, Trennung und Klage particularly interesting, with the lovely dialogue between instruments in the orchestra, the strings suggesting night breezes "the Dämmerung den Mond". The singer here is Ricarda Merbeth. It's worth noting that Bethge, despite his interest in exotic cultures died only in 1946 and was a contemporary of Braunfels. On this second recording of Braunfels's Orchestral Songs, Hansjörg Albrecht conducts the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, which doesn't have an ancient pedigree like the Staatskappelle Weimar on the first recording, but does have Braunfels connections. The orchestra, set up by the DDR to counterbalance the Berliner Philharmoniker was conducted for many years by Kurt Sanderling, like Braunfels no friend of the Nazis, and by Lothar Zagrosek whose recording of Braunfels Die Vögel is outstanding. Quite frankly, unless you know Zagrosek you don't know Braunfels. DDR musical traditions weren't as dominated by commercial pressure as in the west, so they represent much deeper traditions. In recent years there seems to have been an attempt to pigeonhole Braunfels as a "romantic" . When his Berlioz Variations were done at the Proms. the most interesting variations were cut so the piece came over like Hollywood pap. That might please some audiences but it's unfaithful to what Braunfels really stands for. In any case what passes for"romantic" bears no resemblance to Romanticism as the cultural revolution which reshaped European history and aesthetics. Although Sensucht was a typical Romantic meme, Romanticism as a movement was progressive, radical and very political. Although the notes for this recording are more focused than in the previous volume, they are too concerned with fitting Braunfels into a category, which is not the author's fault since she clearly knows Braunfels and his music, but may be marketing imperative. But what is so wrong with evaluating a composer on his own grounds, without having to force him into the straitjacket of categories ? Why not listen to his music, as music, without preconditions ? Braunfels is a good composer because he was himself, whatever the Reich around him might have wanted. The Nazis liked "romantic", backward-looking music, so re-branding Braunfels would be ironic. All the more we can thank Oehms Classics and Hansjörg Albrecht for bringing us Braunfels as Braunfels, revealing his true originality. Please also see my other pieces on Braunfels and on music and culture of this period.
Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 - 18 May 1911) was a late-Romantic Austrian-Bohemian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer, he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 the music was discovered and championed by a new generation of listeners; Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, Malherhe held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Late in his life he was briefly director of New York's Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. Mahler's uvre is relatively small and is confined to the genres of symphony and song, except for one piano quartet. Most of his ten symphonies are very large-scale works. These works were often controversial when first performed. Mahler's immediate musical successors were the composers Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten are among later 20th-century composers who admired and were influenced by Mahler. The International Gustav Mahler Institute was established in 1955, to honour the composer's life and work.
Great composers of classical music