7 years ago

Volume 20 Issue 9 - Summer 2015

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!! Still not yet 40 and

!! Still not yet 40 and full of his creative powers, Rossini certainly went out with a bang, creating something original and big for the wealthy Paris audiences of the Second Empire. With a cast of thousands William Tell easily became very long, even overblown, so Rossini’s biggest problem was how to cut back and tighten the reins. For posterity the opera was very successful even in its excised form, but for the Wildbad Festival in Germany, 2013, it was decided, wisely (or unwisely) to perform the entire score for the first time in its history. If authenticity is a guiding principle it will certainly please musicologists and completists and assorted people with good intentions, but we all know where good intentions tend to lead… Much could be written on the updated staging that carries an inevitable political message, rather explicitly of oppressors vs. the oppressed, unfortunately neglecting the gorgeous Swiss scenery that’s omnipresent in Rossini’s score. In purely musical terms the festival did gather optimum forces. First and foremost, conductor Antonino Fogliani (who is beginning to look like Rossini himself) has this music in his blood and moves it with a sparkling upbeat tempo, finesse and humour, having a great old time doing it. The soloists are all of high quality. Six topnotch singers are required to cope with the enormous demands of the work. American heroic tenor Michael Spyres as Arnold carries the Olympic torch in one of the most gruelling tenor roles and he is undoubtedly best in show. Highest credit must also go to the chorus, the Camerata Bach Choir that sings and even dances the many ensembles this opera is famous for. And a resounding yes to the fully complete ballet no French opera would do without (even if it’s written by an Italian). My fondest memory however will always be the “sublime second act” (Berlioz) that even another bel canto genius, Donizetti, admitted was “written by What if you could listen in? Now you can! the Gods.” Janos Gardonyi Berg – Lulu Mojca Erdmann; Deborah Polaski; Michael Volle; Thomas Piffka; Stephan Rugamer; Staatskapelle Berlin; Daniel Barenboim Deutsche Grammophon 0440073 4934 !! After Alban Berg’s death in 1935, his great opera Lulu remained incomplete – until Friedrich Cerha orchestrated the final act in 1979. For this production from the Berlin Staatsoper in 2012, a new version of all three acts has been created. Berg’s sardonic Prologue has been replaced by an actor lying on the floor reciting Kierkegaard. Instead of Berg’s precisely described silent movie, we now see Lulu’s blinking eyes projected on the windshield of one of the cars that litter the stage. The first scene of Act III has been cut altogether. What remains of the third act has been newly orchestrated by David Robert Coleman, using noticeably leaner textures than Berg and Cerha and some non-Bergian instruments like steel drums and marimba. His completion doesn’t fit in, but it brings out Berg’s expressionist lines. Director Andrea Breth’s staging fails to reveal how exciting the plot of Lulu is. The single set – with wrecked cars piled up on one side, and what appear to be cages or prison bars erected on the other – is relentlessly grim, especially when watched through camerawork so close that we rarely see the whole stage. Breth’s Lulu is a victim, as affectless as a puppet. But the Lulu created by Berg and playwright Frank Wedekind is an amoral, willful seductress. Mojca Erdmann makes a lovely, alluring Lulu, but can’t convey the spine-tingling danger that the great Lulus, from Evelyn Lear and Teresa Stratas to Christine Schäfer and Barbara Hannigan, present. Michael Volle makes a powerful Dr. Schön and Jack the Ripper and Deborah Polaski is moving as the doomed Countess. But the most enthralling moments come from Daniel Barenboim’s amazing Staatskapelle orchestra. Pamela Margles Aribert Reimann – Lear Bo Skovhus; Staatsoper Hamburg; Simone Young ArtHaus Musik 109063 !! Shakespeare’s King Lear was an obsession with Berlioz and even more so with Verdi who, as the legend goes, threw his halfwritten score into the fire in a fit of selfdisgust. It took 100 years and two world war disasters before German composer Aribert Reimann actually succeeded in turning it into an opera at the suggestion of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who sang the title role in Munich in 1978. Since then it has enjoyed a moderate success around the world, but in 2012 the Hamburg Opera, now under the leadership of Simone Young, very much devoted to the avant-garde, revived it with this inspired, completely original staging by Karoline Gruber. Apart from being brutal and gruesome, Lear is the hardest hitting tragedy of the Bard because it hits so close to home. Everyone will sooner or later become old and will sympathize with Lear’s predicament. The tragic fault that causes his downfall is self-deception and an over-inflated ego that make him subject to flattery and an easy victim to his avaricious daughters. Reimann uses the entire play as his libretto, a play that moves on many different levels – personal, familial, political, psychological and philosophical (one of the most often quoted of all Shakespeare) – and must have been horrendously difficult to come to grips with. Reimann’s expressionist, Previously uploaded to the Listening Room For more information Thom McKercher at RED CHAMBER’S GATHERING Available at & iTunes Philippe Lauzier (bass cl. / so. sax) Éric Normand (e-bass) Limited sandwich bag edition CD “This performance of “Four Last Songs” is beautifully and sensitively sung ... “ Record Review / December 2014 80 | June | July | August, 2015

TERRY ROBBINS Gil Shaham has long been one of my favourite violinists, the grace, intelligence and warmth of his playing never failing to produce performances of the highest quality. I opened his latest release, a 2CD set of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas on his own Canary Classics label (CC14), expecting great things, and I wasn’t disappointed. Because of the great challenges they present, many players are in no rush to commit the Bach solo works to disc; in Shaham’s case he didn’t even start performing them in public until about ten years ago. His continuing exploration of the music led him to experiment with wound gut strings and a baroque-style bridge and bow in an effort to more closely reproduce the sound of Bach’s own violin. For this current recording Shaham started with a more modern set-up, tried both approaches and eventually settled for the baroque option; it’s a great choice, with the warm, bright sound a perfect match for his style, and the lighter baroque bow in particular allowing for much cleaner passagework in Shaham’s decidedly faster tempos. There’s never a sense of rushing, though; the multiple stopping is always clean, the melodic line always clear, and Shaham often uses a brief rubato to allow the music to breathe or to highlight phrase peaks. His approach to the sometimes thorny issue of vibrato in baroque music is a decidedly sensible compromise: “I use some vibrato, but I try to err on the side of not using too much.” It doesn’t always happen that you can put on a CD of the Sonatas and Partitas and just let it play; quite often there’s a gravity or seriousness to the performance that makes playing right through all six works quite demanding listening. Not with Shaham, though; he creates a world of warmth and light, and each of the two CDs just flies past. The playing here is light and brilliant without ever being superficial; fast without ever losing the sense of phrase; joyous and spontaneous without ever losing a sense of emotional depth; gentle but never weak; and strong but never strident. There’s a great deal of competition in recordings of the Bach solo works, of course, with a wide range of styles and approaches to choose from, but you’ll go a long way before you find a more beautiful and satisfying set than this. There’s another outstanding set of Bach solo works this month, this time the Cello Suites featuring the German cellist Isang Enders (Berlin Classics 0300552BC). The similarities with the Shaham set are quite striking: the 28-year-old Enders says that Bach has been in his life since early childhood, and that the challenges presented by the Cello Suites made him constantly doubt his abilities when it came to recording them. Then, after his first attempt had gone through the final production stages, he rejected it and returned to the studio to do justice not only to his own developing thoughts about the music but also “to do justice to Bach himself.” Above all, he addresses the discussion about “historically informed,” as opposed to historical, performance practices that has been ever-present for players of his generation; his quoting of Nikolaus Harnoncourt in this regard (“words that say it all for me”) is worth repeating: “We naturally need to acquaint ourselves with performance practice, but let us not retreat into false purism, into false objectivity, into misinterpreted fidelity to the original. So I beg of you: do not be afraid of vibrato, liveliness or subjectivity, but do be very afraid of coldness, purism, ‘objectivity’ and barren historicism.” Not only could that be a perfect guide for Shaham’s approach, but Enders also certainly takes this to heart: there is warmth and brightness to his playing and a real liveliness, especially in the dance movements where – as with Shaham – a judicial use of rubato helps to shape the phrases. For the two discs, Enders divides the suites into what he sees as light and dark colours, although he doesn’t really elucidate: Suites 5, 2 and 4 (in C minor, D minor and E flat major) on CD1 bring out the interval of a rising second, while Suites 3, 1 and 6 (in C, G and D major) on CD2 are keys in the circle of fifths. Whether or not that sequence contributes to the overall effect is irrelevant; all that matters is that, like the Shaham, this is a set that can more than hold its own against strong competition, and it’s as enjoyable a cello performance of these Suites as I have heard. If you’re interested in contemporary cello music then you’ll certainly want to check out Crossings: New Music for Cello, a new CD featuring the American cellist Kate Dillingham and pianist Amir Khosrowpour (furious artisans FACD 6815). Expenses for the recording, which Dillingham calls a CD of cutting-edge contemporary compositions, were raised through the online crowdfunding platform RocketHub. Dillingham’s description of the music will give you a good idea of what to expect: “The musical expression varies widely: from driving rhythms to expansive, contemplative phrases; long, lyrical lines to in-your-face badass riffs; simple musical statements to bow hair-shredding technical challenges!” American composers represented here are Gilbert Galindo, David Fetherolf, Gabriela Lena Frank, B. Allen Schulz and Jonathan Pieslak, although the four composers born outside the U.S.A. – Jorge Muñiz, Yuan-Chen Li, Federico Garcia-De Castro and Wang Jie – are all currently active in the American music scene. The CD booklet includes bios of all the composers, but unfortunately not a word about the music – when and how it came to be written, for instance – although it’s clear from Dillingham’s comments on the RocketHub site that she works closely with most of the composers represented here, particularly those belonging to the composer collectives in New York (Random Access Music) and Pittsburgh (Alia Musica). Four of the pieces are for solo cello and five for cello and piano. It’s difficult to make any meaningful comments about such a variety of recent pieces, but they are all clearly quite strong, colourful compositions that make an immediate impact; no single work here seems out of place. Both performers are more than up to the challenges – and believe me, there are quite a few! With a playing time of almost 80 minutes it’s a fascinating portrait of contemporary American cello music. Watch the eight-minute Crossings Documentary on YouTube for background information on the making of the CD; there are also short clips of Gilbert Galindo and Federico Garcia-De Castro discussing their compositions. Myth, the latest CD from the young Dutch violinist Rosanne Philippens, features the music of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski and it’s outstanding (Channel Classics CCS SA 36715). The main work here is the Violin Concerto No.1 Op.35 from 1916, with Xian Zhang conducting the NJO (the National Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands). It’s a beautifully lyrical work in one movement with a glorious rhapsodic main theme, and was written for the Polish violinist Pawel Kochański, who contributed significantly to the solo part and also wrote the cadenza. A good deal of the violin part is up in the stratosphere and requires not only a brilliant, shimmering tone but a rock-solid technical assurance. Philippens has both in abundance. She also clearly has a feel for Szymanowski’s music, having been introduced to the three-movement Myths, Op.30 a few years ago June | July | August, 2015 | 81

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