Thursday, June 30, 2016
The opera “Don Giovanni” by Mozart is one of my great favorites. When you get to enjoy it as sung by Anna Netrebko, one can just imagine the fireworks… Mozart: Don Giovanni, K527 Performed by Erwin Schrott (as Don Giovanni), Anna Netrebko (Donna Anna), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Malena Ernman (Donna Elvira), Charles Castronovo (Don Ottavio), Katija Dragojevic (Zerlina), Jonathan Lemalu (Masetto), Mario Luperi (Commendatore), and the Balthasar-Neumann-Orchestra, Balthasar-Neumann-Choir, Thomas Hengelbrock conducting. This is a llive recording of Don Giovanni from the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Germany. Opera Today wrote that “Schrott creates Don Giovanni in all his malevolent glory — virile, confident, arrogant. He is bursting with animal sexuality, yet manages to hint at the manic obsession that drives the character. Stunning.” Here for your own enjoyment is a recording of the opera from La Scala Milan, under the direction of Daniel Barenboim. (Recording starts with the Italian National Anthem):
A recent thread On An Overgrown Path that culminated in a reader's assertion that it's OK to program something that isn't perfect, received widespread support. This strand was an extension of my argument that audiences need permission to like unfamiliar music. In turn this reflected the response of "I've always felt that it is and will be strong enthusiasm that will change the world" by the much-missed Jonathan Harvey to my early advocacy of his music. But despite this, I am proposing today rather contrarily that excessive enthusiasm as well as excessive neglect can harm a composer's music. In his 1961 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America the historian Daniel J. Boorstin coined the term 'pseudo-event' for events that are staged specifically to attract media coverage. He asserted that pseudo-events are in reality 'synthetic news', and that manipulation to maximise media exposure reduces the spontaneity and intrinsic merit of the event. In The Image Boorstin discusses pseudo-events in the context of art; suggesting that the pursuit of accessibility has turned art into a commodity, and that pseudo-events distance audiences from the felt experience, an effect that he terms 'disembodying'. The Situationist Guy Debord took a more extreme view of this commodification in his 1967 treatise The Society of the Spectacle, proposing that "passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity" and observing that we need "to wake up the spectator who has been drugged by spectacular images". Like Marshall McLuhan's paradox that the medium is the message, Boorstin's theory of pseudo-events predates digital technologies and social media by decades. But despite this it is very relevant today; because pseudo events provide social media with its click bait lifeblood, and an infatuation with accessibility and new technologies means that virtual experiences - pseudo-events by another name - take precedence over visceral engagement. The theory of pseudo-events can be productively applied to the topical subject of neglected composers; that is Havergal Brian in the photo above and I will use him as a case study. The Havergal Brian mythology is celebrated and has become a pseudo-event in its right. The myth tells how he was the most prolific 20th century composer, that he was the longest-living active composer, that he composed the longest symphony ever written, that when he died aged 97 in 1982 not a note of his music had been commercially recorded, and that therefore he ranks as the most neglected composer in the history of music. Some of which is true, but some false. In the foreword to the highly recommended HB: Aspects of Havergal Brian, the authority on the composer David J. Brown points out that between 1954 and 1980 there were a number of broadcast performances of Havergal Brian's music due to the advocacy of BBC producer (and distinguished composer) Robert Simpson. Moreover in the last decade of his life Brian became something of a minor celebrity - note the tell-tale champagne bottle in the header photo - and unlike many other 20th century composers, interest in his music has not diminished since his death. Although HB: Aspects of Havergal Brian sometimes lapses into boosterism - there are chapters titled 'Brian and Mahler: four symphonies in comparison', 'Brian, Mahler, Shostakovich and Schoenberg: some idle thoughts' and Beethoven's Ninth in relation to Brian's First' - David J. Brown provides some reassuring reality checks. In the 1990s Klaus Heymann's Marco Polo label, the full price forerunner of Naxos, recorded a complete cycle of Havergal Brian's symphonies - see above - many of which are now re-issued on Naxos. Which would seem to be a laudable achievement. But in an online article on the gestation of the Marco Polo cycle David J. Brown provides an invaluable insight into the machinations that made the recordings such a fraught venture. While in his introduction to the Havergal Brian anthology he sounds a warning against classical music's current obsession with completism, concluding with the startingly honesty observation that: It is of course clear that not all [Havergal Brian's] compositions are of the same high quality, but whose are? It might have been better to pick out the best of his works, instead of getting Marco Polo to record all 32 symphonies, with not always first-rate results.Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony provides an illuminating case study of the perils of pseudo-events. Before 2011 there had only been two performances of Brian's symphonies at the BBC Proms. So Proms director Roger Wright decided to correct that in style. Now Roger Wright was responsible almost singlehandedly for making pseudo-events a classical music fixture, including broadcasting nothing but Schubert's music for eight days in 2012. So the Havergal Brian correction came in the form of a pseudo-event par excellence: a first night performance of the 110 minute choral Gothic Symphony, backed by the BBC's mighty spin machine complete which cited the symphony's place in the Guinness Book of Records. However, the problem is that the Gothic is a sprawling and sometimes derivative work. The symphony is certainly not without merit, but it all too easily reinforce Havergal Brian's reputation as a one man classical music freak show. If you set a composer up on a shaky pedestal he is likely to take a tumble, irrespective of his arguable genius. Which is what happened with the Gothic: with Ivan Hewett in his Telegraph review opining that the symphony is "turgidly written and lacking a coherent trajectory" and dismissing the setting of the Te Deum with these words: "Occasionally resembling Bruckner on a bad trip, it sounded more like an overblown soundtrack to a bad movie". So for a new generation of concert goers the myth of Havergal Brian as a one work composer remains intact, and the undoubted merits of his other symphonies - which are particularly accessible to devotees of the perennially popular Mahler - remain a well-kept secret. And it is not a coincidence that the reputation of John Foulds - a seriously underrated composer - suffered a similar blow when a 2008 Albert Hall performance of his unrepresentative A World Requiem by the BBC Symphony Orchestra - again masterminded by Roger Wright - was also hyped into a pseudo-event. (I am told anecdotally that Sakari Oramo, who is a great champion of Foulds' music, bravely declined to conduct that World Requiem performance because he considered - quite rightly - that the work is inherently flawed.) Of course we should programme music that isn't perfect. But excessive enthusiasm can harm a composer's reputation; particularly when the hype takes the form of a pseudo-event showcasing a not entirely representative work. The Gothic is the first of Havergal Brian's catalogued symphonies, although there is an earlier lost symphony. What a difference it would have made to the reputations of Beethoven, Mahler and Mozart if we judged them solely on their first symphonies. As Havergal Brian matured his compositions became more succinct, better argued, and as a result more meritorious. His last symphony - No. 32 - was composed when he was 92. It lasts for just twenty minutes and is scored for much smaller forces than the Gothic, while his 'Symphonia Brevis' (No. 22) lasts for just nine minutes. Thankfully, others have recognised that there is more to Havergal Brian than the Gothic. In 1972 Unicorn recorded Symphonies Nos. 10 and 21 in outstanding performances by the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO). This was the first recording of his music to be released commercially and is still available - see below - coupled with CBS' 1974 recording of Symphony No. 22, 'Symphonia Brevis'. These were the recordings that won many - including this writer - over to the Havergal Brian cause. If you do not own the CD transfers do not be put off by the amateur status of the orchestra. At its peak the LSSO was arguably the equal of the National Youth Orchestra. This is fiendishly difficult music to play; but any minor intonation aberrations are more than compensated for by the sheer commitment of the young players. Commitment is what Brian's music needs, and the playing of the Leicestershire youngsters makes some of the more recent recordings of his symphonies by professional orchestras sound like first read-throughs. That is Robert Simpson with Havergal Brian on the disc cover; Simpson produced the LSSO recordings with the exception of the English Suite, and all were engineered by Angus McKenzie. In addition to my day job in the music industry I did a lot of freelance writing for Hi Fi News in the 1970s when Angus Mckenzie was a regular contributor of uncompromising pieces on the vital importance of recorded sound quality. In those days we were all evangelists of sound quality; by contrast in today's brave new MP3 world recorded sound quality scarcely gets a mention in record reviews . Angus McKenzie was a legend among tonmeisters, not only for his golden ears but also because he was probably the only blind member of the British Astronomical Association. More than forty years after they were committed to analogue tape his recordings of Havergal Brian's symphonies reproduce with a visceral impact that puts recent digital recordings in the virtual shade. This music demands committed playing and top draw sound, and the Leicestershire Schools Symphony recordings deliver both in bucket loads. If you are a Havergal Brian convert they should without a doubt be in your collection. If you are a Havergal Brian doubter they should without a doubt be in your collection because they will almost certainly convert you. In an outstanding recording for EMI - now deleted - Sir Charles Mackerras, who championed Brian, wisely coupled the Seventh Symphony - one of Brian's most accessible works - with the 13 minute Symphony No. 31. In 1966 when pseudo-events had not yet become a major driving force, that supremely intelligent conductor Norman Del Mar coupled the first ever Proms performance of a Havergal Brian symphony - the 12th which coincidentally lasts for 12 minutes - with a Beethoven piano concerto, a Gordon Crosse premiere, and Brahms' Fourth Symphony - see programme below. To enhance a composer's reputation the right amount of enthusiasm is needed, and slipping a concise Havergal Brian symphony in with two mainstream classics is the right way to do it. All of which leads me to suggest, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, that a pseudo-event could be created around Havergal Brian's 9 minute 10 second 'Symphonia Brevis' by hyping it as the world's shortest symphony. But is it? Please could erudite readers enlighten us as to what is the shortest symphony by an established composer. This case study has dwelt at gothic length on the impact that pseudo-events can have on the reputation of neglected composers. But these negative impact are if anything even greater for established composers, and nowhere is this more true than in the 'synthetic news' of a composer anniversary. The exposure a composer receives should depend on one thing only, the merit of her/his music. But the gross overexposure generated by anniversaries distorts the crucial balance between exposure and merit. Schubert was undoubtedly a genius; but the BBC Radio 3 pseudo-event created by Roger Wright for the composer's numerically meaningless 215th anniversary in 2012, which involved broadcasting nothing but Schubert's music for more than a week, resulted in the station's audience plunging by 15%. Roger Wright's successor at Radio 3 Alan Davey has taken pseudo-events to new and dangerous heights by joining with Universal Classics to promote Max Richter's Sleep. This frenzied and quickly forgotten attempt in 2015 to boost audience ratings and record sales was vigorously spun by the BBC Media Centre as "the longest single continuous piece of music ever broadcast live on the BBC" in yet another example of never mind the quality, feel the length, It can be argued that misguided commercial imperatives are turning the whole of classical music into a pseudo-event, and that as Daniel J. Boorstin postulated, the resulting distancing of the audience from the felt experience explains classical music's failure to engage both with existing and new audiences. Robert Simpson's pleading for Havergal Brian's music skillfully combined enthusiasm with balance, and his views on the advocacy process are relevant not only to neglected composers, but to the whole of classical music. So I will close with this extract from his contribution to HB: Aspects of Havergal Brian: You can exhibit fifth-rate painters without too much waste, but time which music must illuminate, cannot be wasted, and only a small proportion of music is worthwhile; in this field we are the more compelled to discriminate. There is a danger in thinking that if a composer is neglected he is something special! Even so, we must find out - both advocacy and rejection should come with knowledge, not hearsay, and it is in any case the duty of a public body like the BBC to give the listener, without obvious limits, the chance to judge for himself; most listeners can't read scores and their only means of judging is through the ear. And it's the listeners right to ask for it and to receive a sensible, fair reason for non-compliance.Sources include: The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America by Daniel J. Boorstin HB: Aspects of Havergal Brian edited by Jürgen Schaarwächter (Out of print) The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord Havergal Brian The Gothic Symphony: Martyn Brabbins conducting BBC National Orchestra of Wales and BBC Concert Orchestra (Live recording of 2011 BBC prom) Hyperion Havergal Brian Symphony No 3: Lionel Friend conducting BBC Symphony Orchestra Hyperion Havergal Brian Symphonies Nos. 7,8, 9 & 31 and The Tinker's Wedding: Sir Charles Mackerras conducting Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra EMI (Deleted) Havergal Brian Symphonies 10, 21 & 22 Psalm 23, English Suite No. 5: Leicestershire Schools Youth Orchestra, various conductors Heritage That copyright minefield YouTube contains many Havergal Brian symphonies. Better to search for CDs listed above - the deleted Mackerras/Groves can still be found - but, if you must, sample Sir Charles' account of Symphony No. 31 on YouTube here. Header photo source Sydney Morning Herald. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.
English Baroque opera at St Jiohn's , Smith Square, ready for booking now. The English baroque style is unique, more "classical" than mor exuberant, southern forms, yet connected to contemporary theatrical values. St John's, Smith Square is a gem of British baroque architecture, an ideal place in which to enjoy English baroque music. Bampton Classical Opera starts the new season with "Diviner Comedies"| on 13/9, pairing Thomas Arne's The Judgement of Paris, "a witty account of a celestial beauty contest" with "the supremely lyrical Gluck Philemon and Baucis, continuing Bampton's, enterprising exploration of Gluck's lesser known operas. Paul Wingfield will conduct CHROMA Henry Purcell Dido and Aeneas on 29/9 with the celebrated La Nuova Musica, led by David Peter Bates. Major headliners - Dame Ann Murray will sing Dido and George Humphreys will sing Aneas. Again, a very good cast. What's more, with typical adventurous La Nuova Musica flair, this performance will be illustrated with dancers, choreographed by Zack Winokur. This should be one of the highlights of the season - book early ! Thomas Linley's Lyric Ode: on the Fairies, Aerial Beings and Witches of Shakespeare features in Bampton Classical Opera's second concert on 15/11. A glorious piuece,, vivisly dramatic. It's being paired with excerpts from Georg Benda's Singspeil Romeo and Juliet,which Bampton Opera did in 2007. Gilly French conducts the Bampton Classical Players and cast that includes Rosemary Coad, Caroline kennedy, Thomas Hereford and James Harrison. Anothernhighlight ! The Early Opera Company, conducted by Christopher Curnyn malkes a werlcome return to St Jihns Smith Square on 18/11 with Handel's Serse HWV40 , this time with Anna Stépany, Rupert Enticknap, Callum Thorpe and Claire booth, among others. Lots more, too. La Nuova Musica is doing Bach Mozart and Haydn in December. And don't foirget the famus SJSS Christmas season, which sells out fast because it's so much fun. For more details visit the SJSS . website HERE>
Goethe in the Roman Campagna by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1751–1829), Rome, 1787 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ’s works have inspired us for almost 250 years. They speak to us today as freshly and as radically as they did in his own lifetime. This is partly thanks to the adaptation and reworking of Goethe's works by composers and writers including Mozart , Nietzsche , Beethoven, Freud , and Mahler ; who were all influenced by the Frankfurt-born writer and ensured that they resonated in their own times. Two of history’s most popular French operas – Gounod ’s Faust and Massenet ’s Werther – are Goethe-inspired. Their two unhappy heroes live today through these operas as much as through Goethe’s words, communicating with us in ever-evolving ways. The eponymous characters Werther and Faust share a similar preoccupation: neither of them is very satisfied with life. Werther wishes the world approximated more to his ideal and Faust’s thirst after knowledge and new, more exciting experiences is never slaked. Both characters attempt suicide: one is ultimately successful; the other is averted by voices singing. Goethe’s first novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther) is often credited as the first ‘psychological novel’, with the sensitive young hero enraptured by the wonders of the world but ultimately disappointed by its failure to live up to his ideals. Wracked with grief over the private and indulgent tragedy of his unsatisfied desires, Werther finds no alternative but self-destruction. Massenet’s opera highlighted the powerful relevance for fin-de-siècle Europe of this cautionary tale of the conflict between reason and passion. Just as Goethe had created a new genre in Werther, he sent the familiar Faust legend into unchartered territory in his most famous work, the verse drama Faust . Goethe invents the character of Gretchen, a figure who becomes so fraught with guilt that she refuses to escape to freedom with Faust. In Gounod’s opera, the helplessness of the human condition that Goethe explored clashed with the mid-19th-century vogue for the theatrical spectacle of human suffering. In Faust Goethe added a new element to Faust’s pact with the devil: if he, in his new life of adventure, becomes so utterly satisfied in any one moment that he would wish to remain in that moment forever, he will die at that moment. There’s possibly an echo of this in the way Massenet’s librettists altered the ending of Werther in their adaptation. In the novel Werther never knows of Charlotte’s love; unable to live without it, he takes his life. In the opera Charlotte rushes to the dying Werther and admits she really does love him. Perhaps for Werther the realization that he was deprived of what he wanted, but at least not rejected, was a moment that, were it to last forever, would be paradise, but in its transience is beautiful enough that one might immediately die. What sustains in both Werther and Faust – and the operas they inspired – is Goethe’s belief in the power and vitality of individual human experience. We must ‘dream big’ (for small dreams have no power to move the hearts of men); we must yearn for the impossible and seek after new and diverse experiences, rather than settle for dissatisfaction or imperfection within the constraints of arbitrary conventions. What has been accepted for a long time, or what remains of it, is not necessarily a comfortable paradise. But we can learn from both heroes that in the pursuit of our ideals we must be wise to the nature of our passions, for in self-destruction lies folly. Werther runs until 13 July 2016. Tickets are still available . Cinemas around the world will be showing encore performances of Werther until 27 August 2016. Find your nearest cinema . The production is generously sponsored by BB Energy and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, The Taylor Family Foundation, Susan and John Singer, Spindrift Al Swaidi and the Maestro's Circle. The production is owned by Paris Opéra.
Kraggerud/Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Naxos)Here’s a Naxos recording of standard classical repertoire that would make any full-price label proud. Henning Kraggerud is soloist and director in Mozart’s violin concertos 3, 4 and 5, creating a breezy but neat partnership with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. The performances are light and energetic. Kraggerud’s tone is eloquent and beautiful, marrying richness in the low notes with sweetness at the top, and he plays his own long, sparky cadenzas. The first movement of No 3 goes with an elegant swagger; the third is playful, Kraggerud’s violin tumbling down precipitous slopes. He and the orchestra spin long melodic lines in the slow movements, and the last movement of No 5 is artfully judged – the music keeps returning to the same theme, but Kraggerud manages to create a sense of increasing momentum. This, like the other two finales, has rustic character that’s colourful without sounding like it’s been slapped on with a trowel. Continue reading...
Berliner Philharmoniker/ Abbado/ Barenboim/ Boulez/ Dudamel/ Haitink/ Mehta/ Muti/ Rattle (Warner Classics, 25 DVDs)The Berlin Philharmonic gave its first ever concert in 1892, on 1 May. Since 1991, it has been marking that anniversary with a one-off May Day concert, which is given in a different historical-cultural centre in Europe each year, and which is televised live widely across Europe, though not in the UK. This set of DVDs documenting the first 25-year history of the Europa Concerts has been taken from these broadcasts. Though some of the performances are far more memorable than others, it makes for a fascinating collection. The recordings are generally first-rate, and are blissfully free of video gimmicks, voiceover introductions or commentaries, though there are no subtitles or printed texts for the vocal works. It’s the performances pure and simple, though a few of the discs include additional short documentary films about the cities in which the concerts took place. Those venues range from St Petersburg to Palermo, Istanbul to Oxford, with no fewer than three of them, for some reason, having been in Prague.Concerts under nine conductors are included in the set. As you might expect, the Berlin Philharmonic’s two principal conductors over the quarter century concerned, Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle, feature most prominently, but Daniel Barenboim conducts five concerts, as well as making two appearances as a soloist. Programmes tend to be determinedly populist and mainstream – there’s lots of Mozart and Beethoven, and quite a bit of Brahms; even the one concert that Pierre Boulez conducts, in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, in 2003, includes a Mozart piano concerto, the D minor, K466, with Maria João Pires as the wonderfully fluent soloist. Continue reading...
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 - 5 December 1791), was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. Mozart composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers. Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood in Salzburg. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. At 17, he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of Mozart's death. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons. Mozart learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate. His influence on subsequent Western art music is profound. Beethoven wrote his own early compositions in the shadow of Mozart, of whom Joseph Haydn wrote that "posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years."
Great composers of classical music