Thursday, April 27, 2017
Mahler rehearsing his Symphony no 8Vladimir Jurowski conducts Mahler Symphony no 8 with the LPO at the Royal Festival Hall. Time to reflect on M8's past! Organizing the logistics of performance are daunting, so Mahler 8s don't come along as often as other symphonies, but live M8s are by no means rare. Indeed there was a Mahler 8 at the Royal Festival Hall only two years ago, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Philharmonia. For some reason that concert wasn't as heavily promoted as the Jurowski concert has been this time round. "South Bank Mahler" is a strange beast, conjured up by hype and the South Bank management's downgrading of serious music - even their website's a nightmare to navigate. That might fit in with the dumbing down of government arts policy, but it isn't necessarily a good thing, because it creates false expectations. Mahler's 8th has been cursed from birth by false assumptions that it should be a "Symphony of a Thousand", that quantity is better than quality, that volume matters more than art. In any case, the Royal Festival Hall couldn't physically accommodate 1000 musicians,. Besides everyone's hearing would be damaged. . Twice, I've heard Mahler Symphony no 8 live at the Royal Albert Hall which is big enough, but the results haven't been worth the effort. Once I heard it live in a sports stadium in Paris which seats 8000 (see more here). That, surprisingly, was a good experience because the crowd was relaxed, having a good time. No illusions about music as status symbol! The whole thing was being filmed, and there were screens round the stadium so people could see the musicians close up. They were having a whale of time, too. The sound was amplified, but properly done, so the music wasn't lost. That concert was a one-off, never to be repeated extravaganza. Extremely enjoyable, because the atmosphere was so cheerful. Later, when I heard the tapes and saw the film, they proved that it wasn't a bad musical experience, either (Eschenbach, Orchestre de Paris). Two years ago, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia did M8 in the RFH. I wasn't convinced that some in the audience were really listening since there were problems with one of the choirs and some of the soloists. What a relief it was when Salonen and the Philharmonia got to the long, hushed section at the beginning of the Second Part! Holding the vast forces of M8 together is a challenge. Twice, I've heard performances go awry because the choirs came apart. Once, the First Violin saved the day, leading the orchestra while the conductor (Daniele Gatti) brought the choirs back in line. Even Bernard Haitink had problems, in the notorious performance where Dame Gywneth Jones's voice cracked and then went progressively into meltdown. No one's fault! Jones was the diva of her day, and very, very good. She struggled on until the end and probably has never lived that down. Ive also been to a M8 where the choirs were astonishingly good, compensating for a non-idiomatic orchestra (oddly, the same band that did so well for Salonen). That was at the Three Choirs Festival last year in Gloucester Cathedral. The choirs at Three Choirs are a phenomenom, arguably the best large-scale choral ensemble in the world. They sing together, and in their own Cathedrals all year round, and inherit a tradition of excellence that goes back 300 years. No way is there any comparison with other choirs, no matter how good. That M8 was truly memorable. Read more about it HERE. Another interesting thing about Mahler 8 is that it is not operatic, though it employs multiple voices. The various "names" don't sing "parts" or really interact. Mahler, and Goethe before him, were inspired by medieval paintings where modern perspective doesn't apply. Exquisitely detailed figures stand proud of one-dimensional landscapes. They don't interact, like roles in an opera. Mahler's Eight is a symphony, employing voices to extend the instrumental palette. The structure is bizarre, but that, too, reflects the idea of unworldly non-realism. Good music should stretch the soul, always opening out new possibilities. Otherwise why listen? Even when you're listening to a recording, when the sound is fixed, you yourself are different to what you were the last time you heard it. Revelatory isn't a word to be used lightly, but the two most revelatory performances I've ever heard expanded my understanding of the music, the composer and of myself. Of all the many M8s Ive heard, these two stand out. Both are game changers, so might come as a shock to anyone who thinks they know everything there is to know. But these two are immensely rewarding, for they engage with the spirit of creative illumination that runs so powerfully through this symphony. Light, illumination, the coming down of divine wisdom through creative growth. Pierre Boulez, with the Staatskapelle Berlin at the Philharmonie, Berlin. Prof Henry-Louis de La Grange was in the audience, and wrote the notes to the recording, made a few days later at the Marienkirche. Read more about that performance HERE. Riccardo Chailly, with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The M8 that Claudio Abbado never got to conduct. The more I listened to it, it felt like a mystical experience of great emotional depth. Truly in line with the "Poetic thoughts" which Mahler was referring to. Read more about that performance HERE.
Filarmonica della Scala/Chailly (Decca)Riccardo Chailly has had a recording contract with Decca for 30 years, which has followed him through his association with four orchestras. It began with the Berlin Radio Symphony in the 1980s, then 16 years with the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Leipzig Gewandhaus from 2005 and 2015, and now the orchestra at La Scala, Milan, where he took over formally as music director in January. Chailly no doubt intends to raise the profile of the orchestra in the concert hall as well as in the opera house itself. His first recording with them makes a neat bridge between the two, as well as signalling his determination to promote a much wider range of Italian music than the house has programmed in recent years.The 16 orchestral pieces included here are taken from operas that received their premieres in Milan; all except the two by Leoncavallo were first performed at La Scala. Chailly has resisted the temptation to present them chronologically, preferring to vary and contrast the mood of the numbers, but it’s still a fascinating forage through almost 100 years of Italian music, from the earliest, the overture to Rossini’s La Pietra del Paragone, first performed in 1812 (and later reused to begin his better known Tancredi), up to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly of 1904. The intermezzo from Butterfly is one of only four pieces on the disc that could be described as well known, together with the overture to Bellini’s Norma, the intermezzo from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and the Dance of the Hours from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. Continue reading...
Music director Riccardo Chailly has announced that the 2018 season with open with Andrea Chénier, starring Anna Netrebko and her husband Yusif Eyvazov. When was a major-house opera season last launched by a married pair of singers? Quiz fiends, here’s your chance.
The BBC were offered a Proms visit last summer by the Bavarian State Orchestra conducted by Kirill Petrenko. The Proms team declined on the grounds that the conductor was unknown in this country. Petrenko had recently been elected music director of the Berlin Philharmonic. Now the Barbican has announced a visit next season by Petrenko and his orchestra. Good for them. Sad for the BBC. Sir Nicholas Kenyon, the Barbican’s director, is a former head of the BBC Proms. Other orchs visiting the Barb next season are: Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons; Orchestra of La Scala conducted by Riccardo Chailly; Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Herbert Blomstedt.
Puccini Madama Butterfly at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, but not in the famous version, but the original so reviled at its premiere that it was immediately revised by its composer for a second premiere four months later on 28 May 1904, in Brescia, not Milan, the modern "standard" being the score published in 1907. The original Madama has never been lost, but has remained in the archives of Ricordi ever since. Puccini continued revising the opera until 1920 : Riccardo Chailly included parts of that last revision when he conducted the opera ar La Scala in 1996. The February 1904 version, which Chailly conducted this month at La Scala with Bryan Hymel, the Pinkerton of choice these days, was broadcast live all over the world. Alas! I missed it having endured the appallingly awful Magic Flute (Adam Fischer/Peter Stein) but this "new" Madama Butterfly is available audio only on BR Klassik HERE. Hymel is, of course, outstanding, especially since, in the original, Pinkerton is unsympathetic, a callous cad, with no "regret" aria to redeem him and soften the narrative. He also mocks the locals and calls them scum. The beauty of Hymel's singing underlines the venality of the character he portrays. The "love duet" is thoroughly creepy. Such glorious music, such depraved morals. This is infinitely closer to the way things were in an era when imperialism and racism went unchallenged. All the more respect to Puccini for seeing past the "romantic" surface and through to the fundamental brutality in the story. Please read my other pieces on Madama Butterfly, on Asian stereotypes and race issues by using the buttons at right and below. Maria José Siri sings Cio-cio San. (Full cast list here)