Wednesday, September 28, 2016
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.”
The 2016 Lucerne Festival opened with Mahler Symphony no 8. Mahler's Eighth celebrates a powerful life force, the spirit of creativity itself, pulling together images from diverse sources. Thus it epitomizes the ideals that led Claudio Abbado to found the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, where the finest musicians from the best orchestras in Europe join together in communal harmony. Claudio Abbado and Riccardo Chailly were very close, and now Chailly carries on Abbado's ideals. Wherever Abbado might be now, his spirit hovered over this performance. This was an extraordinarily thoughtful performance culminating in ecstatic serenity, accessing "the peace that passeth all understanding", absolutely relevant to what the symphony might mean. Listen here on arte.tv (all areas) Although Mahler's Eighth is known as "the Symphony of a Thousand" the title wasn't Mahler's but a marketing slogan invented by a concert promoter. But quantity is not quality. At Lucerne, the orchestra and soloists were supplemented by 222 choristers , arranged in six rows across the width of the hall, the Tölzer Knabenchor along the sides. Voices and orchestra were well balanced, allowing much greater freedom of expression. The boys choir can often get lost in an uproar, but here their relatively small but important role came through clearly. This matters. "So far I have employed words and the human voice to express only with immense breadth", Mahler wrote specifically of this symphony, "But here the voice is also an instrument used not only as sound but as the bearer of poetic thoughts". Poetic thoughts, some so delicate that they can be overwhelmed in interpretations that stress volume over artistry. No chance of that here. In Chailly's Mahler 8, every voice has its place in the grand scheme of things, a concept absolutely in tune with he concepts behind the symphony. And what concepts! This symphony often confounds because it's so unorthodox. The First Part is relatively straightforward, being based on a hymn believed to have been written by Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz (c780-856) which describes the anxiety Jesus's disciples felt after Jesus had gone on ahead. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven upon them in the form of holy flames, inspiring them to go forth into the world, spreading the Gospels. Throughout his oeuvre, Mahler deals with death, but seeks resolution in some form of eternal life. Thus the symbol of the Pentecost as a metaphor for divine inspiration and continuity, and by extension, the mission embraced by a truly original, creative artist. "Veni Creator spiritus".and "Accende lumen sensibus": images of light and fire illuminate this music. Chailly's clarity let the colours shine unsullied, absolutely essential to meaning. Only technical excellence can produce freedom as exhilarating as this. Everyone on message, singing and playing as if divinely inspired yet in complete harmony. This unity matters, since the concept described in the text applies to all creation. The inspiration was so strong that it seemed to Mahler "like a vision" which struck him "like lightning", making him write so quickly that the notes seemed to fly onto the page as if they were dictated by some unknown force. Chailly's tempi were brisk, reflecting thus sense of urgency, but were not so driven that they obscured contrapunctual detail and the cross-currents that give the music depth. The singing was equally ardent. Many of this cast are Mahler veterans, like Mihoko Fujimura and Peter Mattei (who was on Gielen's second M8 recording and on Chailly's with RCOA). Andreas Schager is less well known, though he's been a very distinctive Siegfried. Here, he sang with fervour, giving his parts great character. The other soloists, all superb, were Ricarda Merbeth, Juliane Banse, Anna Lucia Richter, Sara Mingardo and Samuel Youn. For me, they're all like old friends, so hearing them together, singing with obvious enjoyment, gave added meaning to the experience. Some members of the orchestra are spotted smiling too, caught by a camera crew who knew when and who to highlight. The pause that binds together the two Parts of the symphony was marked with dignity, for out from this silence rises the slow movement which is in many ways the heart of the symphony. It marks the transition, a transition so esoteric that its meaning can't be expressed through text. Although the big choral flourishes catch more attention, this section shows the true measure of a conductor. Chailly's textures here reflected a sense of wonder and mystery.. Absolute refinement and attentiveness. In liturgical terms, this replicates the moment in the Catholic Mass during which the congregation meditates upon the Consecration which symbolizes the union of God and mankind. Hence the delicate but firm woodwinds and strings, and hushed, reverential voices. This section also refers to the moment in Goethe's Faust when Mephistopheles thinks he's won Faust's soul, but is thwarted by angels who scatter rose petals from Heaven, marking the beginning of Faust's redemption. Bergschluchten. Wald. Fels, Einöde. (mountain gorge, forest, cliff, desert), Mahler wrote on the manuscript on the Second Part, a direct reference to the scene in Act Five of Goethe's Faust, which describes a bizarre landscape inhabited by anchorites, complete with tame lions who pace about stumm-freundlich (placid and peacefully). Anchorites are hermits who live alone in the wilderness, but are so close to God that they can tame savage beasts. Again, a clue to what the symphony might mean: the disavowal, of earthly games of domination and greed, sublimated in idealized transcendence. Medieval art wasn't fussed about literal realism. Figures inhabit surreal perspectives, sometimes even hovering over the ground, defying gravity and rational logic. In musical terms, such perspectives, however, work perfectly well. Thus we have Pater Ecstaticus auf and ab schwebend (soaring up and down). Later the angels lift Faust’s soul and they fly off in der höheren Atmosphäre. There’s movement everywhere, which Mahler translates into music that soars and flies ever upwards in different levels. Thus the off-stage trumpets, the organ way above the platform and the Mater gloriosa singing from on high. Yet for Mahler, as for Goethe, redemption comes through Das Ewig-Weibliche that draws us heavenward, as the Chorus mysticus tells us, the Eternal Feminine, embodied in the Mater Gloriosa, the “Jungfrau, Mutter, Königen, Göttin” thus dialogue between "masculine" and "femninine" runs through so much of Mahler's post-Wunderhorn work but few conductors highlight it the way Chailly does. He highlights the interplay between outburst and delicate detail, between combinations like piccolo and harmonium, timpani and harp. Perhaps this dichotomy represents Mahler and Alma, perhaps not, but Chailly is unusually sensitive to this aspect of Mahler's work. A few years ago, Chailly conducted Mahler's Symphony no 10 , creating the duality in the first movement with such grace that it drove some listeners crazy; but that reflected I think more on the misogyny of some listeners than on the performance itself. In Symphony no 8 with its message oif equanamity, union and creative rebirth, that graciousness and sensitivity is paramount. Thus the luxuriant conclusion, in which triumph is achieved without violence; redemption reached through love, not dominance, affirmation, not neurosis. This Second Part proved the wisdom of the size and spacing of the choruses (Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Orfeón Donostiarra, Latvian Radio Choir, Tölzer Knabenchor). Because the sound was thoughtfully spread across the auditorium, the singers could sing naturally, without undue force, thus exemplifying the idea of angels and innocents, purity trouncing demonic forces. " Gloria ! Gloria!" for good reasons. The finale connected extremely well with the final chorus in the First Part. This performance probably wasn't "Mahler 8th for beginners" because it emphasized the "poetic thoughts" Mahler referred to rather than the "Barnum and Bailey" (Mahler's own words) aspects he so feared. The technical excellence of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the singers allowed a performance of genuinely inspired insight : freedom doesn't come from free for all but from a mastery of the forces at hand. Conducting Mahler 8 is no joke. This Lucerne performance, with Chailly wasn't "big blast" but extraordinarily beautiful, revealing the true brilliance of Mahler's vision.
Riccardo Chailly is taking the Filarmonica della Scala on a 10-stop Europe tour, including a first visit to Moscow. A date will have been offered to the BBC Proms, which evidently declined. Who needs La Scala at the Proms? press release: Riccardo Chailly and Filarmonica della Scala will return to Europe for a 10-concert, August 21- October 2, to include stops in major musical cities in Austria, Germany, France and Luxembourg. The FDS’s 2016 European tour will feature the orchestra in performances at Gstaad (Festivalzelt, 21/8), Salzburg(Großes Festspielhaus 22/8), Moscow (Bol’šoj 15/9) Essen (Philharmonie 24/9), Vienna (Musikverein 1/10). Chailly leads the Orchestra in Cherubini’s Symphony in D major, Verdi’s Four Season from Vespri Siciliani and Rossini’s Ouverture from Guillaume Tell. Pianist Daniil Trifonov will join Filarmonica della Scala and Riccardo Chailly for concert in Dortmund(Konzerthaus 25/9), Luxembourg (Philharmonie, 26/9), Hamburg (Konzertsaal 28/9), Baden Baden(Festpielhaus 30/9) while Martha Argerich for the FDS’s debut at Philarmonie Paris (2/10), both performing Schumann’s Piano Concerto. These concert will also feature Mr. Chailly leading FDS in Schumann’s Manfred-Ouverture and Symphony n. 2. Filarmonica della Scala’s Activity is supported by the Main Partner UniCredit.