Monday, August 29, 2016
The music of Dmitry Shostakovich is very much a reflection of the times during which he lived in the Soviet Union. Now we have a new recording that allows us to listen to his last three works. Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141, performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Eduard Serov conducting. Suite on verses by Michelangelo Buonarroti, for bass & orchestra, Op. 145a, performed by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Frantisek Vajnar conducting.k Novorosiisk Chimes, Op. 111b, performed by the Radio-TV USSR Symphony, Arvid Jansons conducting. Ever the humorist, Shostakovich delighted in placing references to his works and of other composers in his final, Fifteenth Symphony: in addition to the cryptic references to his own music, it includes an outburst of Rossini’s ‘William Tell’ Overture in the first movement; allusions to Mikhail Glinka and Gustav Mahler; and the use of Richard Wagner’s ‘Fate’ leitmotif from the Ring Cycle. There is little humour however in the orchestral version of the ‘Michelangelo Suite’: a cycle profoundly personal and deeply felt. ‘Novorossiisk Chimes’ (also known as The Flame of Eternal Glory or The Fire of Eternal Glory), Op. 111b, was written in 1960 for the war memorial in the city of Novorossiisk. The piece consists, mainly, of material Shostakovich had originally written in 1943 as an entry in a contest to compose a new national anthem for the USSR. Here is a recording of the symphony number 15 by Shostakovich:
Readers know already the magnificent results of the rentrée concert at the Colón of the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta. The same programme was repeated last Tuesday at La Plata´s Argentino with huge success. For that theatre it was a very special event, for they hadn´t received such a high-powered combination since 1923, when no less than Richard Strauss and the Vienna Philharmonic were there. I have partial information about a closed benefit concert presumably on Monday, which included a rare and difficult work: Schumann´s Concert Piece for four horns and orchestra. Apparently both conductor and orchestra are tireless, for in their second concert at the Colón for the Abono Verde (Green Subscription Series) they tackled no less than Gustav Mahler´s enormous (95 minutes) Third Symphony. Mehta brought along mezzosoprano Lioba Braun (debut) but the session was possible because the Colón contributed the women section of its Resident Choir (Fabián Martínez) and the Children Choir (César Bustamante). By the way, it is a curious circumstance that no less than four concerts of the Abono Verde happened in August, and two of them in consecutive days: Lang Lang and Jonas Kaufmann. And I have to mention that the best tickets were very costly, equivalent to about 300 dollars; the current economic situation makes such prices almost prohibitive, and even if they were famous artists, it showed in empty seats. And now to the Mahler Third. It was an audacious act by Gregor Fitelberg to première it in the early Thirties at the Colón, for the Mahler enthusiasm was forged in the Fifties worldwide thanks to the LP (long playing) record. My generation owes it to our great Mahlerian Pedro Calderón to have heard the whole lot, even the Tenth completed by Deryck Cooke. In 1973 Calderón and myself programmed the Buenos Aires Phil´s cycle, ad referendum of Artistic Director Antonio Pini; the conductor proposed to exhume the Third to launch the cycle, I agreed and Pini took the still audacious plunge: it was a complete success and the battle was won. Calderón repeated it in 2011 with the National Symphony and last year Rettig did it with the same orchestra. Franz-Paul Decker also conducted it in his almost complete cycle with the BA Phil. But no foreign orchestra ever ventured it here until now. And with all the undoubted merits of the previous occasions, we had the most radiant Third that BA has heard live. The Third was never recorded before the LP era: too long for the 78rpm times. Charles Adler had the privilege of the first recording in 1951, and after him, a cataract of 28 recordings up to 2000 (that´s as far as my RER catalogue goes) from most of the great conductors, including Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1978). So all Mahlerian aficionados know it well by now, but its complexity leads to less frequent programming than others such Ns. 1, 4, 5 and 9. Mahler was a Summer composer; for the rest of the year he was one of the main conductors of his era. The continuous contact with orchestras allowed him to invent new textures, and in fact as an orchestrator his only rival was Richard Strauss. The period that goes from 1890 to 1910 is the last stretch of Postromanticism, gigantic and harmonically advanced. For Mahler, each symphony was a world, and in the Third his ambition was to reflect the world of Nature in seven movements; eventually he decided to postpone the seventh; he used it as the closing song of his Fourth Symphony. The first Movement is problematic due to its inordinate length (about 35 minutes) and loose construction, and –as all his symphonies- it includes a funeral march (he had a fixation with death). But that is contrasted with the very affirmative initial melody played by the massed horns; later two elements are essential: a solemn trombone solo and turbulently joyful music. Mehta followed scrupulously every instruction of the score; he doesn´t hurry the morose passages but knows how to grade the climaxes so that they seem the natural issue. In the impeccable playing two things are worth remarking: the clean unanimity of the horns and the admirable trombonist (Nir Erez). The lovely Second movement, Tempo di menuetto, in fact has plenty of variety in its rhythms and is supposed to portray the flowers. The phrasing and playing was simply exquisite. The Third is one of those inimitable Mahler scherzi of immense resource; its Trio is a long posthorn melody similar to the Carnival of Venice. I don´t think we heard a posthorn but the offstage trumpeter played pianissimo with the utmost delicacy and beauty. The Fourth incorporates the mezzo voice in a typical Nietzsche text, the slow and metaphysic "Night Song". The Fifth is the world of angels and bells; bim-bam sing the kids whilst the women give us "Three angels sang" (poem from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn") interrupted by the mezzo evoking Peter´s remorse and Christ´s pardon. Lioba Braun sang well though her timbre isn´t the most alluring, and both choirs did nicely. But it is the sublime last movement that stays in the memory, for it concerns the love of God. The music is slow, noble and moving , gradually coming to an intense final climax. Mehta was masterful and the orchestra responded with total concentration. A memorable end to a great experience. For Buenos Aires Herald
Zubin Mehta was recently eighty-years-old. His father Mehli Mehta was the founder of the Bombay Symphony and gave Zubin his first training, but he was promptly sent to Vienna to study with the famous Hans Swarowsky. Mehta soon won competitions in Liverpool and Tanglewood, and at the incredible age of 25 he had conducted the Philharmonics of Vienna, Berlin and Israel! Well, just one year after (in 1962) he was in BA conducting the Orchestra of Radio Nacional and that of Amigos de la Música; with the latter he included no less than Schönberg´s First Chamber Symphony. It would be the beginning of the enormous amount of visits we had from him, certainly the most assiduous of the great conductors. He had already been named head of the Montreal Symphony (1961-7) and of the Los Angeles Symphony (1962-78). In quick succession he became musical director of the Israel Philharmonic (1977) and the New York Philharmonic (1978-1990). From then on he came innumerable times with the Israel and several with the New York. From 1985 to next year will have been his tenure at the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, which he also brought to BA. One aspect of his intense life didn´t reach us: his strong connexion to opera, both at the MMF and from 1998 to 2006 Musical Director of the Bavarian State Opera (Munich). And of the mediatic connection as conductor of open-air concerts by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras). A gigantic career with special emphasis on Israel, as he is conductor for life of the Israel Phil. In recent years he has been interested in promoting young talents at the Bombay Mehli Mehta Musical Foundation and at the Tel Aviv Buchmann-Mehta Music School. And now, the other important anniversary, that of the Israel Phil. It was created in 1936 by Bronislaw Huberman and no less than Toscanini conducted the first concert. Surely an act of faith in a then not existing country prior to WW II; after it there were the turbulent times of the creation of the State of Israel and the orchestra stood fast, always accompanying the growth of an identity and building up a reputation as one of the great orchestras of the world. I witnessed in 1972 a splendid concert at the modern Tel Aviv Mann Auditorium (very good acoustics) in a memorable combination of Claudio Abbado and Isaac Stern. The players were admirable then, and generations after, with the influx of Jewish Russians but also of young Israelis, they keep their high standards and show love and discipline to their longtime Principal Conductor, now seconded during the season by the talented Gianandrea Noseda. Mehta has always shown a proclivity for the Late Romantic repertoire and the Impressionists, for in them an orchestra can fully show a variety of colors and textures, and the conductor has a sharp perception of such music. Also, he has a dynamic and strong personality that communicates enthusiasm to the players. But Mehta also adds a sense of form, a clarity of gesture that makes complex pieces transparent. He may not have been as attuned to the early German-Austrian School as to Tchaikovsky or Ravel or Strauss, but he has generally stuck to what he does best. In recent decades he has shown a growing interest in Mahler (I remember a memorable Second). At 80 he looks much younger and the stamina is still there, though with more controlled gestures. And the memory is still perfect. What he did in this concert was magisterial and he chose a programme that fits him ideally. More serene but with no loss of control or intensity, he brought to us the joyful "Carnival" Overture by Dvorák, the Second Suite of Ravel´s "Daphnis and Chloe" and Richard Strauss´ tremendous "A Hero´s Life" ("Ein Heldenleben"). Dvorák´s lust for life and exuberance makes this Overture a favorite, and it has a contrasting nostalgic melody. In fact it is the first of three contrasting overtures that form a beautiful cycle; the others, much less done but quite interesting, are "In the Reign of Nature" and "Othello". The "Daphnis" Suite is the absolute masterpiece of Impressionism, almost a miracle, and has often been done wonderfully in BA during the last half century. We can now add that of Mehta and the Israel players. The marvelous subtlety of dynamics and color, the virtuoso solo playing (Yossi Arnheim), the dionysiac final dance, were memorable. And I recall Mehta conducting the same piece with the Vienna Philharmonic in February 1964 with as great a comprehension and control as now! I know that "Ein Heldenleben" (1898) will always find its detractors for it is an egocentric act: the hero is Strauss... But it is also a 46-minute marvel of six connected fragments of sustained inspiration and orchestral science, fantastically orchestrated and with a command of intricate counterpoint with no paragon. It is a thing of beauty as well as a testimony of enormous intelligence. Mehta´s version was among the best I ever heard live. The long violin solos of Ilya Konovalov were ideal, and so was the last dialogue between him and horn player James Madison Cox. And the cohesion and precision of the whole with no loss of impact deeply moved me. Two encores, Dvorák´s Slavonic Dance Op.46 Nº 8, and Mozart´s Overture for "The Marriage of Figaro", ended an unforgettable evening. For Buenos Aires Herald
At a launch of his arts programme in Scotland this weekend, the Labour Party leader said ‘he had a deep affection for the work of Mahler and liked other “pretty heavy classical music”.’ He added: ‘I hate the elitism [that says] only the wealthy can go to ballet, only the wealthy can go to opera, only the wealthy can go to Glyndebourne, only the wealthy can enjoy what’s termed highbrow music.’ Would Gustav Mahler love Jeremy Corbyn?
“What is disappearing, some say, are the light classics that once were staples of mainstream classical concerts that, around the middle of the last century, migrated to pops” and which pops orchestras have now abandoned in favor of classic rock and the like. Says conductor John Mauceri, “If you’re going to do a Mahler symphony as the centerpiece of a concert, you don’t have any room for von Suppé or Offenbach.”
Today is the birthday of Leonard Bernstein. He was born in 1918, and he died in 1990. For most of his adult musical life, Leonard Bernstein was a champion of the music by Gustav Mahler. Like Bernstein, Mahler himself was also the conductor of the New York Philharmonic for a few seasons at the beginning of the 1900’s. Bernstein became the authority on Mahler works. On at least one occasion he said “…some times I feel like I AM Mahler…” While Bernstein often conducted the Vienna Philharmonic, he was on occasion frustrated with them, saying “This is not Mahler…. He was among you , yet you do not bring the passion, the bitterness, the raw energy to his music…” The Symphony number 9 was Mahler’s last completed work. Here is Leonard Bernstein conducting and speaking to the orchestra about this amazing piece of music: Rest in Peace, Leonard Bernstein.
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