Thursday, December 8, 2016
A landmark new recording from Harmonia Mundi of Luciano Berio's responses to Gustav Mahler, with Matthias Goerne, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Joseph Pons, featuring Berio's orchestrations of ten of Mahler's Early Songs with the Sinfonia, in which references to Mahler's Symphony no 2 provide, as Berio said "a generator of harmonic functions and the musical references they imply". Berio describes the Sinfonia as an "internal monologue" which makes a "harmonic journey". It flows, like a river, sometimes in full flow, sometimes underground. Mahler 2 is called the "Resurrection" because it's based on the idea that death isn't an end but a stage on a journey to eternal life. In Sinfonia, there are quotes from at least 15 other composers, but specially significant are references to Don, the first movement of Boulez's Pli selon Pli (which means fold upon fold, ie, endless layers and permutations. Don means gift, so this is like a gift from one composer to another. What has gone before shapes what is to come, but absolutely central is the idea that creativity never ends, but is reborn anew. Stagnation is death. Berio's river in sound flows swiftly, bringing in its wake the streams and springs which have enriched it, adapting them and changing them, surging ever forwards towards the freedom of the ocean. It's filled with subtle references to many things: to Cythera, one of the cradles of Greek civilization and the home of the goddess of regeneration. Sinfonia is truly a "symphony that contains the world" but it is by no means just collage. Like a river it also symbolizes constant fertilization and renewal. Don means gift, so this is like a gift from one composer to another. What has gone before shapes what is to come, but absolutely central is the idea that creativity never ends, but is reborn anew. Stagnation is death Every performance is unique. This performance naturally names Pons as conductor, and Synergy Vocals by name, but is remarkably fresh and clean-sounding. Nothing comes close to Boulez's recording, though Chailly and Eötvös are good challengers, but Pons sparkles. Over the years Synergy Vocals have done Sinfonia many times with different personnel, but present it with such a sense of wonder that it feels like new discovery. Which is what a good Sinfonia should be, bringing new detail to the surface, vibrantly dancing with energy like the fishes listening to the saint, but nonetheless going on in their individual ways. The BBCSO, for a band happy in the mainstream, sound like they're having a whale of a time being playful and contrary, for fun was very much part of the Berio mystique. "Down with Dogma!" another thread in Sinfonia is apt, since this recording places Sinfonia together with Berio's orchestrations of Mahler's songs for voice and piano. Mahler himself worked from song to symphony, so, as Berio explained, "One of my aims was to use the orchestration as a respectful and loving instrument of investigation and transformation". Berio's arrangements were premiered at the Mahler Musikwochen in Toblach where serious Mahler minds meet. The ten songs on this recording come from sets of frühe Lieder Mahler wrote between 1880 and 1889, which Berio adapted in 1986/7. Thomas Hampson made the first recording in January 1992, with Berio himself conducting the Philharmonia, London. Much as I love that recording, this new recording is even better. Although Goerne has not recorded much Mahler, Mahler has been central to his career. In 2000, he did a programme where the Early Songs and Des Knaben Wunderhorn were presented by theme, bringing out deeper ideas. At other times, I've spotted him unobtrusively in concerts, listening with rapt attention. Hampson's voice is elegant, even stately, but Goerne's more individualistic, which suits the earthy irony in Wunderhorn. All these texts come from Brentano and von Arnim's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, though the songs themselves were written fairly early in Mahler's career, but without Wunderhorn, Mahler would not have developed as he did. The texts may be folksy but the sentiments are sophisticated. They're not quaint for quaintness sake, but, like fairy tales, operate like miniature morality fables in a pre industrial oral tradition. Thus the sense of non judgemental wonder Goerne brings to songs like Ablösung im Sommer, Goerne sings the words "Kuckuck ist tod!" with genuine alarm. Although the nightingale will take over, the death of a humble cuckoo is something to be sad about. Berio's version of Zu Straßburg auf der Schanz is magnificent. Goerne sings the first words alone, for the protagonist is alone, awaiting execution. then we hear the Alphorn, calling across a vast chasm. This dialogue matters, for this song is about freedom. Die Gedanken sind Frei. Please read my analysis of the song here. The depoth of Goerne's voice suggests strength, not fear, yet also wistfulness. The soldier doesn't want to die but at least he'll be free. Listen, too, to the tenderness Goerne brings to Nicht Wiedersehen. Th poem might seem trite, but when Goerne sings "Meine Herzeallerliebste Schatz", his voice soars, emboldened by the sincerity of genuine grief. Berio's orchestration brings out the dance in Hans und Grete, Big sweeping arcs evoke "Ringel, ringel Reih'n"., the force of Nature that pulls together the two timid lovers. Peasants they may be but their love is such that it deserves the full force of a big orchestra. Ich ging mit Lust is also greatly enhanced, connecting to the way the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesell'n connect to Mahler's Symphony no 1. Dark-hued baritones don't do delicate easily, but Goerne's touch emphasizes the spring-like freshness in the song, and the warmth of summer to come. This gentleness flows naturally into Frühlingsmorgen.the words "Steh' auf" charming yet assertive. In Phantasie, Goerne alternates the top of his timbre with darker depths: The fisher girl cast nets into the sea, but her heart is cold. On this recording the set ends with Scheiden und Meiden. The orchestration is richly generous. "Ade "! Ade!" Goerne sings, expansively. "Ja, scheiden und meiden tut weh", but that's the way of the world. Even babies grow up and change. Moving on isn't a bad thing. An utterly brilliant entree to the world of the Sinfonia. Goerne is singing very well at the moment : Grab tickets to his Mahler Das Lied von der Erde with Joseph Pons at the Royal Festival Hall on 16th October. they've been touring with this a while, so it should be good.
From the Lebrecht Album of the Week: It is so rare to hear the Gurre Lieder live that most of us are acquainted with it only on record — in memorable interpretations by Rafael Kubelik, Pierre Boulez, Riccardo Chailly, Claudio Abbado and others. The work employs a vast orchestra and chorus for an unbroken duration of ninety minutes, much of which occupies a zone of uncertainty as to whether what we are hearing is ancient or modern. Schoenberg began composing the cycle in Wagnerian modalities in 1900, abandoned it three years later, finished it in 1911 as a provocative atonalist, and achieved the greatest triumph of his life at its 1913 Vienna premiere, turning his back on the cheering audience and acknowledging only the participant musicians. Austere Arnold was not cut out for popular acclaim…. Read the full review here. And here. Also here. Take your pick.
Zemlinksy Lyric Symphony Prom 62, with Simone Young and the BBC SO. But first, BBC researchers should wake up and realize that this symphony is NOT rare ! There are numerous recordings, and many performances, including Salonen and Jurowski in London in recent years, and many others which I haven't written about. Even three previous Proms performances. Perpetuating the myth that the Lyric Symphony is counter productive because it fools audiences into accepting mediocrity when there are so many excellent performances to explore. This symphony is such a masterpiece that it's shameful how clichés have got in the way of insight. Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony was written in 1926-7, at a time of groundbreaking creative change. That the texts come from Tagore is no accident. Tagore was a literary superstar, at a time when western culture was more open to change and alien influences than ever before. The Exotic East represented new, unknown frontiers . Zemlinsky was doing what Debussy, Stravinsky and Ravel had done before him, and also imbibing on a long standing German fascination with Asia. Tagore was popular in progressive circles because his rejection of materialism ran counter to the values of a a western world that had been shaken to its foundations by war and revolution. Embracing Tagore's spirituality was a kind of liberation. By using Tagore as the basis of this symphony, Zemlinsky is doing more than adopting pseudo-oriental exoticism. Zemlinsky used a large orchestra, rich with colour and texture, not to look backwards. The ending does not represent resignation. "Ich halte meine Lampe in die Höhe, um dir auf deinen Weg zu leuchten". I hold my lamp up high to light you on your way. Zemlinsky, like the Prince is looking forwards, toward directions unknown. The Lyric Symphony deals with love, but it is by no means a romantic symphony : the protagonist move on, and apart. The Alma Mahler connection is also very much overrated. So beware of heavy handed "romantic" interpretations, more suited to Hollywood than to a key work of the 20th century. Just as Zemlinsky recognized the clear sighted non-sentimentality in Tagore's texts, so too should performance be based on clarity and intellectual precision. Anthony Beaumont, the paramount Zemlinsky authority, without whose work Zemlinsky studies would be nowhere, wrote in his analysis of this symphony, that “often the singers are engulfed in a dark forest of orchestral filigree work. In performance, the score requires Mozartian grace and precision. For all its abandon, this music reveals its true beauty and power only in performed with discipline and cool headed restraint”. Simone Young's approach to Zemlinsky will no doubt be praised because it meets audience expectations, some shaped by unidiomatic performances and by the kind of clichés the BBC regurgitates. But audience expectations are fatal to art. A good conductor should work from the score, to find new insight, even though these days, some audiences don't want change so much as processed consumer product. Young's Zemlinsky is straightforward, earthbound, without much connection to the originality of the piece. The BBC SO is far too good an orchestra to "engulf" the soloists as Beaumont warned, though at this Prom the soloists Siobhan Stagg and Christopher Maltman, could have done with more cover from the "forest". Maltman was not on best form, his voice not quite lithe enough to finesse the trickier passages in the part. While the female voice in this symphony portrays a very young girl, youth itself is not enough. Siobhan Stagg is very young, her voice pretty enough but rather shrill at times. The Girl she's singing is made of such strong stuff that the Prince knows he's met someone who will surpass him. Nonetheless, Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony is such a wonder, those who liked this Prom would do well to listen further, to Chailly and to Eschenbach, and pray that Salonen does it again with good soloists. Baiba Skride was the soloist in Mozart's Violin Concerto No 5 in A major, K219, Turkish. Her playing has personality, well suited to the quirky nature of the piece. Here the BBC SO shone, rising to Skride's agile enticements. Throughout this Proms season, there have been odd mismatches between performers and repertoire,. Though Bayan Northcott's Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned for the BBC SO is well within their natural territory, I felt it might need time to settle It's a good piece with lots of interest, perhaps too much to absorb without many hearings, which hopefully it will receive.
There has been general consternation abroad at the decision by Zurich’s Tonhalle orchestra to sack its young music director , Lionel Bringuier, after just one four-year term. Musicians tell us they found his rehearsals boring and unstructured and decided it was time for him to go. Is that so? The most boring rehearsal conductor in recent memory was Claudio Abbado, who drove most of the London Symphony Orchestra and some in the Berlin Philharmonic to despair. But the players persisted until they got used to his methods and eventually they reaped great rewards. Bringuier has been assistant to Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel, both of whom vouch for his talent. What he didn’t learn from them should have been augmented by experienced musicians in the Tonhalle orchestra. But they showed no patience or sympathy for a conductor on a learning curve and let it be known that they’d had enough. A weak manager and a dumb board of bankers and local worthies simply did their bidding. That’s how the Swiss run their orchestras. In Geneva, where two managers walked out of the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande, they still don’t know if Jonathan Nott will sign his contract as music director. If he sees what’s happening in Zurich, he should decline. Zurich and Geneva are the two premier orchestras in Switzerland and their clockwork has broken down. Happily, the Lucerne Festival has saved the nations reputation. Its new music director Riccardo Chailly has begun with a Mahler Eighth blast and the orchestra is the envy of the continent. Bringuier, meanwhile, made his Salzburg Festival debut this week.
Santa Cecilia Orchestra/Pappano (ICA Classics)Though Italian orchestras don’t often figure prominently in lists of the world’s greatest orchestras, two of them are currently on a rapid upward trajectory. Riccardo Chailly’s project with the Orchestra of La Scala Milan is still in its early stages, but Antonio Pappano’s creative journey with the Rome-based Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is much farther advanced. Pappano has been its music director since 2005, and a measure of just how good that band is now is shown by two new discs taken from performances recorded live in Rome over the last five years. There’s a pairing of Schumann symphonies, the second and the fourth, and this account of Elgar’s First Symphony, which is coupled with his Mediterranean travelogue, the overture In the South, taken from concerts in 2012 and 2013, respectively.As the Elgar performances demonstrate, Pappano has created a very fine orchestra indeed, one of true international quality. Its playing is not particularly Italianate, but then nowadays it’s rare for one of the world’s great orchestras to have an instantly identifiable sound. There’s nothing specifically recognisable about, for instance, the sound of the Royal Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic or the Cleveland Orchestra, and of today’s outstanding bands perhaps only the Staatskapelle Berlin and, on a good day, the Vienna Philharmonic, have a sound that is truly their own. Continue reading...
Mark Swed: “These pages have chronicled L.A.’s history of women in classical music for more than a century. We’re on top of that. But our history with Chailly is another matter. We were too quick to write him off.”