6 years ago

Volume 22 Issue 6 - March 2017

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On our cover: Owen Pallett's musical palette on display at New Creations. Spring brings thoughts of summer music education! (It's never too late.). For Marc-Andre Hamelin the score is king. Ella at 100 has the tributes happening. All; this and more.

The opening introduction

The opening introduction of Symphony No.1 in D Major (1813) leads into the Allegro through an attractive chain of suspended notes, a feature that recurs as the Allegro theme returns. Végh shapes the lyrical second theme beautifully. The lilting Andante and the Trio of the Menuetto movement are also fine examples of the lyrical style, with strings and winds equally integrated. Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major (1814-15) opens more promisingly with woodwinds in dialogue, followed by an Allegro energetic and melodic in turn. Clarity in the strings is matched even by the cellos and bass; the winds are flawless. In Symphony No. 3 (1815) Schubert returned to the key of D Major with more formal assurance and ability to develop first-movement themes. The charming Allegretto that follows is the highlight of the work for me. Symphony No. 4 in C Minor “Tragic” (1816) reinforces our astonishment at Schubert’s rapid progress before he reached the age of 20! The Introduction of this minor-key work is moving indeed and Végh communicates the changed mood convincingly throughout. Good intonation, excellent ensemble and orchestral balance prevail. Idiomatic and elegant performances have raised my estimation of all these works and of Végh as conductor; they will receive many hearings. Roger Knox Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition Wiener Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel Deutsche Grammophon 479 6297 L/R !! Of all the composers in the Russian nationalist school “The Mighty Handful,” Mussorgsky is arguably the greatest. True, Rimsky-Korsakov’s highly colourful style left its mark on Glazunov and Stravinsky, but it was Mussorgsky’s works that were groundbreaking. And though Rimski-Korsakov disparaged Mussorgsky’s work as having “absurd, disconnected harmony, ugly partwriting, sometimes strikingly illogical modulation…” these characteristics were grist to the mill for Mussorgsky’s power, earthiness and sheer musical invention that inform, for instance, the mighty work: Pictures at an Exhibition (1874). This tribute to the architect and painter Victor Hartmann was written as a suite of piano pieces and, like other versions, not performed until after Mussorgsky’s death. This Wiener Philharmoniker version conducted by Gustavo Dudamel comes from Maurice Ravel’s 1922 orchestration. Unlike every previous recording of Pictures at an Exhibition – including Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado’s – in this interpretation (of Ravel’s Mussorgsky) Dudamel restores Mussorgsky’s Pictures to its architectural grandeur. The ten pictures – each one an atmospheric miniature – are connected by a recurring theme (the Promenade) and suggest Liszt’s influence, but with a greater psychological insight. The sinister melancholy of Gnomus, playfulness of Tuileries and grand triumphalism of The Great Gate of Kiev are dazzling. The intense beauty of the performance is completed by Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Now all we need is a documentary of the 900 Superar children aged 5 to 16, from Vienna’s tenth district that contributed to this project. Raul da Gama Editor’s Note: Superar is a high quality musical program for young people. The program is free for participants and offers courses in choirs and orchestras. Superar is an offer to young people who for various reasons have little or no access to cultural education. Superar was founded in 2009 by Vienna’s renowned institutions the Wiener Sängerknaben, the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Vienna and the Wiener Konzerthaus. Bruckner – Samliche Sinfonien (Symphonies 1–9; Student Symphony; Symphony “0” – Original versions) Philharmoniker Hamburg; Simone Young Oehms Classics OC 026 !! The legendary Sergiu Celibidache, perhaps the greatest Bruckner conductor ever, once said: “Time for the average person begins at the beginning, but for Bruckner time begins after the last note has been heard.” This distinguishes his music from, say, Beethoven or Brahms which moves logically from beginning to end. A Bruckner symphony must be heard in its entirety to begin percolating through one’s senses with the full effect emerging from the subconscious, sometimes as a jolt like the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. Bruckner is in no hurry. He ambles along at a leisurely pace, often stopping for breath or a backward glance. His music is “elemental rather than intellectual, it is hypnotic and incantatory” (Richard Capell). A great live performance could be breathtaking and cataclysmic. This new set of complete Bruckner symphonies has been released one by one over the past few years and reviewed extensively by the most respectable music journals to rave reviews. After listening to every single one of them I most emphatically concur; in fact it’s been hard to contain my enthusiasm. And the conductor? Simone Young, a young lady from Sidney, Australia, who arrived in Germany in her 20s and quickly became assistant to Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin Staatsoper and soon thereafter took over the entire musical life of Hamburg (i.e. the Symphony and the Opera that dates back to the 17th century under such directors as Telemann, Gluck, Handel, Bulow, Mahler and a list of venerable conductors like Klemperer, Wand and Nagano). Now, this already indicates an extraordinary and enormously gifted musician, but a first foray into the recording world with a statement on one of the most complex and difficult composers, Bruckner (who conductors have spent a lifetime studying and struggling to interpret) is a feat no less than miraculous. Notable also that she opts for the original versions (Urfassung) unlike most other conductors who use one of the many revised versions. Minor point, but Symphony No.4 is completely unrecognizable in its original form; the 1880 version is the way it’s always performed and as such is sadly missing from this set. Bruckner’s oeuvre divides itself into three categories, the early symphonies (1 - 4), the middle period (5 and 6) and the final masterworks (7, 8 and 9). Symphony No.1 is youthful, tempestuous, strongly rhythmic and then there is a curiosity, Symphony 0, a piece Bruckner rejected as “not good enough” so it became known as the Die Nullte (annulled) but luckily survived. Both of these are driven joyfully with exuberance, very un-Bruckner as it were, but in the Third Symphony (1873, D Minor) Young passes the first real hurdle with great aplomb showing youthful lightheartedness in the lovely Scherzo that really dances; it’s an absolute delight. The second movement with its Tristan quotations is majestically developed with beautiful lyricism and an almost Schubertian joy in melodies. The fourth movement is fast and turbulent, exciting and suspenseful with a nice Brucknerian finale. As we now enter the middle period there is a quantum leap in Bruckner’s output and although he keeps to his original format the music is entirely different like the giant Fifth Symphony of churchlike solemnity and unheard-of complexity. A real stumbling block for conductors, it is rarely performed but – and here comes the miracle – she is simply magnificent. “Probably the finest [new performance] I’ve heard for a long time… Young manages the rare feat of honouring all Bruckner’s changes of gear and tempo while keeping a powerful forward flow… no doubt I shall listen to other accounts which are as fine, but for the moment I find that hard to believe” (BBC Music Magazine, December 2015). I would love to watch her do the giant fugue of the last movement at the helm of the thundering orchestra like a Napoleon commanding his armies. And what made Napoleon able to conquer most of Europe was not the size of his armies, but his uncanny ability to manipulate his troops and outwit the enemy, much the same as what Young does. With a tremendous insight and overview of the score she always has the 76 | March 1, 2017 - April 7, 2017

ending in sight and by shifting the emphasis of the thematic material the progress is kept interesting, never boring. The last three symphonies are the pinnacle of Bruckner’s art and this is where Young brings out the big guns. The unfinished, enigmatic and otherworldly Ninth with its valedictory Adagio is simply musical heaven and the greatest thing he ever wrote, but the monumental 90-minute long Eighth Symphony, being 100 percent complete, is also an incredibly satisfying, glorious work to which she brings grace and lightness in the Scherzo, and a hushed intensity to the Largo like a long, long prayer with a single earth-shattering fortissimo climax achieved after a long sustained crescendo of some 22 minutes. Big guns, indeed. Unhesitating recommendation. Janos Gardonyi Mahler – Symphony No.3 Gerhild Romberger; Augsburger Domsingknaben; Frauenchor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Bernard Haitink BR Klassik 900149 !! This is Bernard Haitink’s most recent recording of Mahler’s monumental Third Symphony, preceded by a boatload of discs from his days leading Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw (five versions) and subsequent recordings with the orchestras of Berlin, Chicago and London. Despite his apparent affection for Mahler’s work in general and this symphony in particular, his name does not often rise to the top of the list in this repertoire as often as those of Bernstein, Kubelik or Abbado. This latest incarnation may settle the score in this regard, thanks to the excellence of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in this splendidly recorded disc. Haitink is particularly fine in the central sections of this sprawling six-movement work, the lengthiest symphony in the standard symphonic repertoire. The fleetness of the second movement is utterly charming while the third movement’s vivid rusticity includes a very simply played posthorn solo, which is too often over-sentimentalized. The fourth and fifth movements introduce vocal elements to the work and feature mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger in a merely adequate reading of Mahler’s setting of Nietzsche’s Midnight Song; the oboe solo here also skirts around the quite striking minor-third glissando called for by Mahler. The pace picks up again with the excellent Augsburger Domsingknaben boys’ choir joining Frau Romberger and the BRSO women’s chorus for the following Es sungen drei Engel movement. I was quite pleased with the well-nigh perfect Finale, which builds inexorably to a masterful climax marked by mellifluous contributions from the admirable brass section. My only major reservation concerns the vast first movement, which Mahler subtitled with the motto, “Pan awakes – Summer marches in;” I did not feel Haitink’s circumspect approach completely exploited the chaotic play of elemental forces at work here. However, the fluidity of the finale more than makes up for this shortcoming and I have no hesitation in recommending this live recording from June of 2016. Daniel Foley Strauss – Ein Alpensinfonie; Tod und Verklarung Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Mariss Jansons BR Klassik 900148 !! Long in gestation with its roots extending down to the composer’s teenage years, Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony is the last and arguably the greatest of his series of orchestral tone poems. After many false starts, he began to work seriously on the score in 1911, prompted in part by circumstances surrounding the death of his esteemed colleague Gustav Mahler. It was completed and premiered in 1915 under the composer’s direction. Strauss proudly proclaimed that with this work, which is scored for a gargantuan ensemble of 130 musicians, he finally understood how to orchestrate. You can take his word for that! Strauss indicated 22 distinct scenarios, some lasting less than half a minute, in the score of this musical depiction of a hike up and down the Bavarian Alps through forests and meadows in weather both fair and foul. The work is on one level naively descriptive (some might say crassly cinematic) yet there remains a greater dimension to the Alpine Symphony in its vivid celebration of the power of Nature, comparable in an oblique way with Mahler’s Third Symphony. It hardly comes as a surprise that the exemplary Munich orchestra does their level best to honour the reputation of Bavaria’s greatest composer, nor that they are in complete accord with their cherished principal conductor (Jansons’ contract was recently extended to the year 2023, a commitment of 20 years since his arrival). The performance is utterly transcendent and the live recording from October of 2016 is richly detailed. A significant bonus is included in the form of an equally fine 2014 live performance of Strauss’ popular tone poem of 1888, Death and Transfiguration. Of the numerous renderings currently available of this grandiose Alpine work this one rises triumphantly to the summit with the greats. Not to be missed! Daniel Foley MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY Romanza – Music from Spain and South America Azuline Duo Independent ( !! The Azuline Duo’s program on this, their first CD, is a winning combination of well-known pieces by Granados, Villa- Lobos, da Falla and Piazzolla and music new to most of us by two Argentinean guitarists/composers, José Luís Merlin and Máximo Diego Pujol. Some highlights are Villa-Lobos’ Distribuiçao los flores, where flutist Sara Traficante’s controlled vibrato and evocative changes of tone colour and dynamics are just right. In Piazzolla’s Libertango her extended technique tone-bending gets things off to a great start and she plays the tango as if she knows how to dance the tango (maybe she does!). She brings a lovely, haunting sound – a bit husky and not too loud – to Merlin’s Evocacion – conjuring up an air of mystery; and in his Joropo (a joyful Venezuelan dance, according to the notes) she handles the technical challenges with verve. However, particularly in the Spanish Dances by da Falla and Granados and in the Suite by Pujol I longed to hear more depth in her sound. Emma Rush is a fine guitarist, a rock of stability, poised and rhythmically solid – a joy to play with, I’m sure Traficante would agree – although sometimes I found myself wishing she would let down her hair a bit and let her guitar “gently weep.” These qualities, we all understand, take time and life experience to develop, and the excellent work so evident in this CD gives me confidence that they will come. Allan Pulker Garden of Joys and Sorrows Hat Trick Bridge Records 9472 !! This CD features the first recording of Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp (1915) using the new Carl Fischer edition, incorporating original score details differing from the initial publication. The opening Pastorale is somewhat reminiscent of Debussy’s piano prelude The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, yet more mysterious. The New York-based trio Hat Trick plays it with suggestions of light and colour, but without the languorous drooping at cadences I have heard sometimes. In the Interlude following, Hat Trick again March 1, 2017 - April 7, 2017 | 77

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